My Steam record indicates that I finished 2020 with 1,934 hours. Vs. the finishing line of 1,566 hours last year, that means I somehow only accumulated 368 hours of Steam gaming for the past year. Seems like I would have played more, given the state of things in 2020.
I still played too much They Are Billions. There was that whole thing with a virus and being technically required to stay in the house, plus being unemployed for a spell. There were too many days in which I sank into playing endless hours of Billions while listening to audiobooks or podcasts and not leaving the house.
Not a complaint, necessarily.
Over at MobyGames, I managed to contribute a bit more than 600 points’ worth of historical game data, again skewing toward promo art harvested from old magazines, catalogs, and press assets CD-ROMs. I stalled out early in the year, however, because I felt like it was moving too slowly. There is a lot of manual tedium in the processing of each promo image and I started to brainstorm process improvements to help alleviate that tedium. This is still an ongoing project as I am preparing better tools to help with the extraction, processing, and submission of these promo art assets, both for myself and any other contributors who would like to assist. Thus far, I have downloaded more than 7000 computer and video game-related magazines from the Internet Archive, nearly all of which are known to contain some video game advertisements– and I only prioritize the downloading of English-language magazines too! Clearly, some optimizations are called for.
Further, I have finally started taking my MobyGames approval role seriously. I have been an approver for well over a decade. But in the past month, I have actually started approving a few of the backed-up queues, starting with the promo art queue, which doesn’t get much love. During December, I managed to approve more than 2000 pieces of promo art.
I have also finally started uploading some material to the Internet Archive. It’s a bit slowgoing because I have a lot of material, but the physical artifacts still need scanning, and I’m working on those process improvements (see above) so it doesn’t take me so long.
Some details about all the games I touched this past year…
- Cursed Treasure 2: I managed to stay off of video games entirely until January 24 this year. I started picking up a few cheap games during the Year of the Rat Lunar New Year sale. This is tower defense that reminds me strongly of Kingdom Rush, just not quite as good. The biggest problem I had was getting the game running in full screen, with a visible mouse pointer, and with a reasonably sized UI.
- Ancient Planet: Another TD game from the Lunar New Year sale. This was a good deal more enjoyable than the previous TD game. It definitely feels like a mobile-first title based on the controls. Indeed, it is available on mobile platforms. But it still hooked me for a little while.
- They Are Billions: Okay, after 2 TD games, I fell back into Billions. Maybe I’ll just resolve to only play once a week, just to have a go at the weekly community challenge. Eventually, a particular Saturday in March rolled around and I realized it was the one-year anniversary of when I got hooked on this game. My total playtime on this momentous occasion stood at 473 hours. A week later is when the quarantines/lockdowns hit my area and I’m pretty sure I decided to just sit inside my house and play this game for 3 days straight. At 568 hours (April), I finally beat a game at 220%, beating the previous best of 170%. Somewhere along the line, I also completed a game at 270%. As of August 12, I wiped the game from my system yet again after logging 653 hours total. I fell off the wagon in early December (clean for 4 months!) and started playing again. I ended this year with 710 hours in the game; last year’s entry indicates that I had nearly 400 hours. So, about 300 of my 368 Steam hours this year got sunk into this game… I believe the correct internet acronym is smh… By the end of the year, I kept falling into this trap of playing at 350% and not playing at a high-enough level of skill to get very far. It’s roughly the equivalent of bouncing a rubber ball against the wall– something to keep my hands occupied while I’m listening to audiobooks. If I return to this game in the coming year, I hope I just keep it to the weekly Community Challenge, which tends to be manageable. It’s one of those games where I realize I’m already as good at this game as I ever care to be– I’ve watched numerous Twitch streams of really awesomely skilled players cruising through the game at 900% (the highest difficulty) and it’s something I don’t really want to pursue.
- DOOM (2016): This game made a considerable splash among FPS fans when it came out a few years ago. It was on sale for cheap early in the year and I figured it might give my new GPU (RTX 2070) a run for its money at 4K. Actually, it’s not that stressful– only about 70% utilization on max possible settings for 4K. And unlike with Quake/RTX, I can actually perceive how awesome the graphics look. And it’s fairly fun and doesn’t make me too dizzy. One issue, however, is the 70 GB of HD space it requires when fully downloaded and installed. I have a large conventional HD but also a smaller SSD that is reserved for games I would like to access quickly (as well as an M.2 SSD boot drive). I had to do some juggling between the HD and 120 GB SSD to free up enough space that I could move DOOM over to the SSD. I’m so bad at the game that I frequently have to continue from the previous checkpoint, which incurs an intolerable load time from the HD. With the SSD, I’m back into the action in under 10 seconds.
- Concrete Jungle: Sounded like a neat concept so I finally gave it a spin. It’s one of those titles that elicited a “GAH! I’m sooooo bored!” reaction a few minutes into the tutorial and I quickly bailed out.
- Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle: The King of Dragons: I dusted off the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle, which has 7 classic Capcom arcade brawlers, many of which I never actually saw in the arcade. I gave this one a spin until I couldn’t handle the monotony of the classic arcade style of free play anymore.
- Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle: Armored Warriors: Another item from the Beat ‘Em Up Bundle that I never actually saw in the arcades back in the day. It definitely has a unique aesthetic with its mech combat.
- Shadowgate: Trying to get back into this. I’m not sure how much I need to keep the classic Shadowgate in mind as I play this, i.e., how much is just a straight remaster of the original.
- Castle Crashers: After playing the classic Capcom arcade brawlers, I had a desire to play a similar game with deeper gameplay, and Castle Crashers fits that bill.
- Zen Pinball (iOS): Prepping for a long plane ride, this is the first game I put on a refreshed iPad.
- Hitman GO (iOS): Good airplane game to occupy my time while I simultaneously listen to an audiobook. I’ve played this game’s companions (loved Lara Croft GO; couldn’t figure out Deus Ex GO) and this still manages to be unique among them. I’m a sucker for novel aesthetics and I love the commitment to the board game look of this game.
- Dissembler (iOS): Another fun casual puzzle game for my iPad.
- Monument Valley (iOS): The Escher-inspired title continues to be a fallback when I need an iPad time-waster.
- Pocket City: It didn’t make an impression. I think this was the point on my long plane flight that I decided to just read a book on my iPad.
- F-Zero (SNES Classic Mini): I reorganized my entertainment center which made it easier for me to play my SNES Classic Mini. I’m trying to get somewhere on F-Zero. I’ve never made it past the fourth track (Death Wind).
- Mahjong Epic (iOS): I wanted a good Mahjong Solitaire game for my iPad. This fit the bill nicely. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find a mobile Mahjong game that doesn’t have a subscription for removing ads, but I found one.
- Party Hard 2: The first game in the series grabbed me hard. Seriously, I couldn’t quit playing until my main gaming computer started to die (main hard drive started to give out). I remember seeing a few screenshots of this sequel while in development. I thought that they were trying to make it look like PS1-era graphics as an evolution to the original entry 8/16-bit type of graphics. Fortunately, the final 3D environments are much better– perhaps the dev screenshots were just early development scaffolding without the polish. Anyway, I want to like this game but it’s just not grabbing me like the original. In this facet, it reminds me of the Dungeon Warfare franchise– the first one grabbed me and wouldn’t let go until I completed the whole thing, while I’m just not as good at the sequel and can’t bring myself to get more motivated. I have to say, however, that the audio engineering is on-point– as you move in and out of the area where the main party is taking place, the audio level reflects that.
- Ori and the Blind Forest: This falls into the category of “really beautiful platformer,” like Astal or Seasons of the Fall. Amazing watercolor art style. I learned of it from a Penny Arcade comic and it made me curious.
- Resident Evil 3: Raccoon City Demo: It’s free so I tried it out. First, I had to go through the ritual of letting it mess with my monitors’ resolutions as it tried to spread one continuous game window across 2 (but not all 3) of my desktop monitors. When it started running, it decided to run on my main 4K monitor, which was nice. I gave it a few minutes and mostly spent that time gawking at the Easter eggs / member berries in the game (toy store with the Mega Man doll; “1942” movie poster as a pastiche of the Top Gun movie poster style).
- TIS-100: I’ve owned this assembly language programming simulator for a long time now and Steam still reports it as one of my most played games, at 10 hours. This is because the first time I booted it up, I clicked the button in game to view the programming manual, which launched an external PDF viewer while the game was still running, and then I went to bed, and accidentally logged 10 hours. Not sure why that matters to me. Anyway, every time I booted up the game, I was just confused about what to do. Finally, I started it up and I understood what I was supposed to do. Now I’m having a great time with the game.
- Halo: Spartan Strike: I’ve played the preceding game– Spartan Assault. I remember wanting to like it but that it didn’t really grow on me. I knew this would be more of the same. But it was on sale for about a dollar, so why not? I knew it would at least be pretty, and I was right– runs beautifully at 4K. And it actually is growing on me just a bit more than the previous game.
- Elite Dangerous: I wanted to give this game another honest attempt. So I jumped into the pilot training / combat simulator mode with a keyboard control cheat sheet up on a side monitor. It made me dizzy. Runs great at 4K, though.
- Halo: Spartan Assault: I was enjoying Spartan Strike so much that I decided to give the predecessor another spin.
- Kingdom Rush: This old favorite boasted some new content so I decided to fire it up again to enjoy it again, but on a bigger 4K monitor. Regrettably, playing the game in fullscreen hides the mouse pointer so I have to play in a window.
- Bloons TD6: I remember playing a Bloons game in the very early days of the iOS App Store, where the point was just to pop balloons (until writing this, I completely forgot that I’m the one who submitted the iPhone screenshots to the database). Somewhere along the line, the developer morphed the Bloons brand into a tower defense franchise. Steam had a TD sale in April and, improbably, this is the only game I purchased. This is my first foray into Bloons TD and they have somehow already gotten to volume 6. It’s super-cartoonish, but that doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is the complicated upgrade paths, apparently a holdover from the mobile, IAP-enabled edition. I only played it for a few minutes, getting past the first level. The gameplay experience had me wondering if the game was written in a garbage-collected programming language since the engine seemed to noticeably pause often. That’s not something I ought to be thinking while playing a real-time action game.
And then I arrived at the now-traditional Steam Spring Cleaning event, which attempts to induce players to actually play little-touched games in their libraries. This time, there is a machine learning algorithm surfacing 3 games per day for 7 days. Fortunately (?), I have absolutely every game in my Steam library downloaded, just for laughs, because I installed a larger conventional HD recently, and because my ISP suspended download caps early in the pandemic.
- Anomaly Defenders: I can already tell this is going to be hugely frustrating to boot up a bunch of fresh, never-been-launched games. Each one wants to monkey with my resolution at first start-up. This launched at 1440×809, a bizarre resolution that I’m led to believe is a fractional scaling factor applied to a more sane resolution. Still, everything appears to be in the wrong aspect ratio. I tried to change it via the main menu’s settings but the controls didn’t work. Some of the controls were also covered by the logo. However, upon a relaunch, the game sorted itself out and showed up in proper 4K rez. I’m glad I got to experience the game properly because it’s a reasonably competent tower defense game. It adds something new to the genre that I don’t believe I’ve seen yet– the enemies can hit back at your towers. So you need to be concerned with upkeep. I just wish the game had some keyboard controls. As it stands, all the controls flow through the mouse. Also, the art style isn’t particularly distinctive and the different types of units (both friendly and not) are difficult to distinguish.
- rymdkapsel: For the second day of Spring Cleaning, Steam surfaced this game as one of my 3 choices. I remember giving this a try a long time ago when I bought it on sale, but it didn’t capture my interest. It feels like it should, however. So I tried again. While it correctly goes fullscreen at full 4K upon launch, the UI is still relatively tiny. Also, there is no mouse cursor, a problem I see more and more these days, in fullscreen modes. If I could get the game out of fullscreen mode, it would probably be playable. I couldn’t find any textual configuration files pertaining to the game. Instead, I radically lowered the resolution on my 4K monitor so that I had a chance of hitting the “Options -> Fullscreen” item with the hidden mouse cursor. I was also able to scale up the UI via the options. I’m glad I stuck with it because once I figured out the game, it turned out to be quite a delightful — if brief — romp about building a base using Tetris pieces that kept me occupied for a few hours. I eventually sunk a few more hours into it in an effort to earn more achievements. It’s always a good sign when a game induces me to do want to do that.
- Kingdom Rush Origins: The theme of day 3 of the Steam Spring Cleaning event was “old flame”, surfacing 3 games that I have already played a lot. I chose to gave Kingdom Rush Origins a whirl. I still haven’t come close to finishing this game. However, while writing this entry, I realized that the next chapter is called Kingdom Rush Vengeance. It’s only on mobile now but I’m sure I’ll buy it when it makes its way to Steam.
- Mafia II: Day 4 of the Steam Spring Cleaning event was “Time Machine”, which listed the first 3 games added to my Steam library. That means Just Cause II, Mafia II, and … Mafia II: Definitive Edition. So, really, I only had 2 games to choose from. The Mafia II game already in my library has been renamed to Mafia II (Classic). The Definitive Edition is some kind of HD remaster which was only released the week prior to this Spring Cleaning event. I’m not certain if this is one of those limited-time “free for everyone” things on Steam or if I automatically received it because I owned the classic version. The former seems more likely than the latter. Anyway, since I already had the Classic installed, I launched that. While I finished the main game 8 years ago, I realized that there are a bunch of extra missions (DLC?) that I have access to. I delved into “The Betrayal of Jimmy”. I didn’t play too long, but I did shoot up a few gangsters, including nailing several at once by aiming for the gas tank of a truck that they were using for cover; drove to escape a car full of other gangsters chasing me; eventually bailed on the car and got a $50 ticket for hit & run which I got out of with a $300 bribe (which I just realized doesn’t make much sense); tried to steal another car which earned me a police foot chase which I elected to resolve with my fists this time; successfully jacked a fresh car; then finally finished the tutorial mission of this content. So I feel like I got the quintessential open world crime game experience in this brief whirlwind play session.
- Terraria: Day 5 of the Steam Spring Cleaning event surfaced games in my library recommended by a friend. Only one game in my library qualified — Terraria — so Steam also recommended Black Skylands Origins (free game) and Trials of Mana Demo (also free). I wonder if Terraria will grab me anymore than it has in my previous combined play sessions, totalling all of 45 minutes? NOPE! I still can’t bear to learn how to play it. I did receive 2 new achievements simply for starting the game.
- Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle: Day 6 of the Steam Spring Cleaning event revolved around enticing users to try the Steam Remote Play feature. I don’t have a whole lot of Steam friends– gaming has never been a social activity for me. However, I realized that I could just launch the game and exit and still get credit toward the Steam badge.
- Tropico 6: This had a free weekend in July. As always, I like the idea of simulation games but I just couldn’t get into this. I made an effort to get through the extensive tutorial but didn’t finish before the weekend was over. Still, the graphics are a real treat as is the Latin/Caribbean soundtrack.
- Devolverland Expo: Due to the shutdown of every convention and expo and other large gathering, eccentric developer Devolver Digital put out this odd little commercial for their upcoming games. It did get me interested in their upcoming Carrion game.
- Oil Rush: This is a game from Unigine that I have had on my wish list forever, long enough to know that it will never go any cheaper than it already is ($8, $10 with full DLC). Unigine makes some impressive graphical demos that I have been watching since 2011, and this game is roughly the same vintage (2012). It puts a decent amount of stress on my RTX 2070 with maxed out settings on 4K. I’m trying to get into the RTS gameplay. It’s awfully stutter-y, as though it’s constantly reaching out to the HD and loading in more data. I give it credit for the music, though.
- The Ball: Whenever a publisher has a sale on Steam, I scan through to cherry-pick anything that looks interesting that’s also super-cheap. That’s how I ended up with this mysterious game, which turns out to be a first-person puzzle platformer built on some variation of the Unreal Engine. It reminds me a bit of Portal with its manipulation of the Companion Cube. Actually, it’s sort of like Indiana Jones prowling through the ruins of an ancient temple, except that instead of chasing you, the iconic rolling boulder works for you. Hey, it’s a gameplay twist and it works out pretty well.
- Factorio: This is supposed to be the ultimate logic/programming game for nerd gamers, like myself. This is the year that it finally exited Early Access status. I played the demo but it just wasn’t grabbing me. Or perhaps I kept it at arm’s length because I was afraid that it would grab me.
- Armor of Heroes: Free game for Sega’s 60th Anniversary. It strikes me as a clone of Combat for the 2600, reskinned with a Company of Heroes theme.
- Kingdom Rush Vengeance: Works much better on 4K than previous installments, which I always have to run in windowed mode on my 4K monitor, lest I wind up with an invisible mouse pointer. I’m really enjoying the new angle of managing the traditional villains and attacking putative good guys of the franchise. I did get stuck at one level and I don’t have the persistence to push forward like I once had.
- Endless Zone: Another freebie for Sega’s 60th; this was is a Defender clone themed on Sega’s Endless Space franchise. It’s really frustrating.
- Streets of Kamurocho: A Streets of Rage (2?) rendition featuring characters and settings from Sega’s Yakuza franchise. This has been my favorite of the Sega 60th freebies so far. I can’t believe how much I remember the game mechanics of the SoR franchise. There is only one level in this particular freebie game and when you finish, you start over again. Play it through twice and you unlock a special character who, if you actually played the Yakuza franchise, might be familiar to you. Same with the various boss characters. Unfortunately, the characters all play exactly the same. Can’t expect too much from a freebie. It was still a fun 1/2 hour, even if I didn’t know any of the characters, and even if jump-kick was still the key to winning every single boss battle.
- Golden Axed: A Canceled Prototype: The last of the free games celebrating Sega’s 60th Anniversary. I was a big fan of the Golden Axe brawler back in the arcades of olden times and I was looking forward to this. It is, however, just the first level of the prototype. I still had fun for 10 minutes as I worked out all the possible move and attack combinations that they worked into the game. I played through the level twice since Streets of Kamurocho taught me to expect a bonus if I played it enough (like another character). But alas.
- SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics: Golden Axe: This is an emulator framework for the SEGA Genesis that features individual games as DLC. During the SEGA 60th Anniversary, the entire bundle of nearly 60 games was very cheap so I took the plunge. After playing Golden Axed, I wanted to see how it stacked up against my memories of the original game. Actually, I don’t think I ever played the Genesis version, only the arcade. This version doesn’t really compare favorably to the arcade.
- SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics: Streets of Rage: After Golden Axe, I wanted to give the original Streets of Rage a whirl, having played the freebie Yakuza remix. This shaped up to be much more fun than Golden Axe. The most humorous aspect that stood out to me while playing as a grown-up was that the fighters that the player gets to choose from are all ex-cops… who are each between the ages of 21-23. I guess they needed to keep the ages relatively young in order to make them a bit more relatable to the kids who would be playing the games.
- SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics: Alien Storm: At this point, I’m just starting to work through games I haven’t heard of before, such as Alien Storm. It has it’s charm. I appreciate that the artists didn’t stick to standard humanoid alien forms, rather letting their creativity flow.
- SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics: Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle: Now I’m just proceeding through the big game collection alphabetically. This is a frustrating platformer where you can only take one hit– my least favorite type of platformer.
- Super Gridland (iOS): Started auditioning some decent iOS games (with the help of No BS Games) and found this one. It’s surprisingly challenging.
- Minesweeper Genius (iOS): Another very simple logic/puzzle game in the tradition of the old Minesweeper game.
- Million Onion Hotel (iOS): Odd, but strangely fun. That’s all I can say about it.
And that was it for my game-playing for 2020. Too bad Steam doesn’t allow generating a pie chart of games played so that I could see how Billions dominated all the other games on this list. Billions is supposed to be an RTS and it seems like the many, many other RTS games in my collection should be able to slake the same appetite. To that end, I would like to give another try at completing StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm (Zerg campaign) and also jump into Legacy of the Void (Protoss campaign).
Further, at the end of the year, I finally scrubbed through my big spreadsheet of games and submitted outstanding cover art for games that used to be missing but have since been entered by other users. I think this is the first time I have performed the complete exercise in 2 years. It reminds me of how many fascinating[-sounding] titles I have in my collection that really need to be played and archived via MobyGames, lest the internet at large have no useful record of the game’s existence.