Backlog: Moving in Stereo edition

Everyone's got opinions. And on the Internet, that's true in spades.

Facebook announced earlier this week that it's acquiring Oculus VR, makers of the Kickstarter-launched Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset. Since then, social networks and forums like Reddit have been flooded with all sorts of opinions — some positive, many negative.

The issue for me isn't whether this acquisition is a good or bad thing. I don't claim to be an expert on launching a company, soliciting crowdfunding or raising funds through venture capital, but those are all hurdles the Oculus VR team has crossed in a very short time. So if you're curious about the history of Oculus VR, I suggest you check out Patrick Klepek's level-headed analysis over at Giant Bomb.

No. The thing that really bothers me is the tone in which these conversations are being held. I realize it probably sounds futile at this point to criticize anonymous voices on the internet for lobbing barbed, vitriolic hatred at each other, but it's also a problem that I find is endemic to gaming in general. Everyone wants to be the smartass, the cleverer one, the one who out-bullies the other bullies. You see it in the snarky and sometimes threatening comments and opinion posts that constitute a huge portion of gaming discourse. And either it's got to get better or, frankly, I'm gonna have to bail.

Should you feel justified in your anger at Oculus and Facebook? Maybe. Are there legitimate reasons to distrust Facebook's intentions with Oculus VR? Possibly. But do you have the right to feel burned because you gave money to Oculus VR during its Kickstarter and expected it to stay independent forever? Absolutely not. As far as I can tell, at no point did the company ever state that it would aim to stay independent or raise most of its money from individual backers.

My fear is that this focus on being the most furious — and most justified — voice on the Internet is so pervasive that it makes it almost impossible for us to have an objective, productive debate about what these sorts of events really mean.

I'll hop off my soapbox now. After all, we've got another Backlog for you this week. That's why you're here, right? Come read about all the games we've been playing!

Besides, I'm sure things will die down over the next few days, but in the meantime it's too damn loud in this echo chamber for me. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to don my old man's hat and walk outside to yell at you loudmouthed kids to get off my damn lawn. Some adults are trying to have an actual conversation in here.  – Nick Cummings


Dark Souls wasn’t meant to be modified on PC, but it’s possible — and it can provide some much-needed levity after you’ve fallen off the same cliff for the third time in a row

Dark Souls wasn’t meant to be modified on PC, but it’s possible — and it can provide some much-needed levity after you’ve fallen off the same cliff for the third time in a row

I’m back from GDC! In case you missed it, you can read all three parts of my travelogue here on this very same website.

Now that I’m back in Seattle, things are finally starting to settle back into a dependable routine. I wake up, work on a game during the day, and spend my evenings with my nose buried in my iPad as I barrel my way through the seemingly infinite chapters of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ll admit I waited until well after the show launched to dig into A Game of Thrones, but ever since then I’ve been utterly engrossed in the rich, detailed narrative that binds the books together. I’m about halfway through the third book, A Storm of Swords, so please: no Red Wedding spoilers (You know about it, that means it's too late -- Doug). Either way, the richness of the narrative has me excited to check out the HBO adaptation as well as the upcoming Telltale game series.

It’s only fitting that the game I’m spending most of my time with is a vast and exhaustive grim medieval fantasy. I’ve logged 65 hours into Dark Souls according to Steam, and I can feel the toll each of those hours has taken on my psyche. Yet as I approach the final challenges of the game, I can tell a lot has changed about me since I began. My timidness has transmuted into temerity, and I now barrel headlong into new areas with my halberd at the ready. Death is an inevitability, I now understand — a necessary pain on the road to progress. But I’m also not going to let Dark Souls get the drop on me without a good fight. The game is designed to prey upon your fears with its constraining corridors, brooding darkness and towering, otherworldly boss enemies. But once you realize that Dark Souls is a game of wits as well as a game of persistence, you’ll see that a little confidence goes a long way. Case in point: the hydra at the base of the world is formidable and deadly from a distance, but if you run right up to slash away at its necks, it drops in just a couple of minutes. It’s refreshing to play a game that understands its mechanics so well — and importantly, the limits of those mechanics — that it can speak a common language with the player.

Shameless plug: I'm always streaming on Twitch whenever I'm playing Dark Souls! Subscribe to my channel and come hang out sometime.

Otherwise, I’m still logging the occasional hour of deathmatches on Titanfall here and there. My opinion hasn’t wavered, even as I’m approaching the highest rank: this is an immaculate and incredibly well-realized competitive shooter. I just wish I could find more people to play with, so if you’re on Origin feel free to add me! (My username is whymog.)


Interesting that Doug chooses to escape his day-to-day work at Japanese schools by playing a game about being in a Japanese school.

Interesting that Doug chooses to escape his day-to-day work at Japanese schools by playing a game about being in a Japanese school.

My gaming of late has been eclectic, to say the least. What’s been in the system? Let me see.

First, I’ve finished my first season on my play-through of Formula 1 2013. Moving on from my mid-season team change, I won one race in spectacular fashion, and then proceeded to finish in the top 10 throughout the final quarter of the racing season. I had a chance to lead or win in a few races, and messed up -- either with my driving or, more often, with my tire strategy. The useable life of the tires in the game comes to a screaming halt: one lap you’re fine, the next it’s a little loose, and then all of a sudden you’re driving like the track is ice. Finding the right time to change tires is vital.

But I finished that 2013 season ahead of both my teammate and my chosen rival, so I was duly offered my rival’s position for the second season. I accepted that offer and now am driving for Lotus-Renault, who had a surprisingly fast car in real life in the 2013 season. I was worried I’d be able to crush the field with a faster car, but that hasn’t been the case as of yet.

I picked up another classic game recently, too: Persona 3: FES. What I really, really want to play is Persona 4, which has received rave attention for the Vita version. As well, I’ve heard it’s focused more on countryside, small-town Japan life, which I’m fully engulfed in right now. But picking that up means also getting a Vita, and while I want to someday, that day isn’t now. Persona 3 is on PlayStation Network as a PlayStation 2 Classic, so a much cheaper way to give the series a shot.

But both games share a lot in common: high school life in Japan, starting and keeping friendships, and managing school life with your side job of exploring an evil labyrinth and tackling horrible shadow monsters during the middle of the night. It also only occasionally feels like it’s an old PlayStation 2 game. It’s to the game’s credit that the art style holds up really well, and even the controls don’t feel terribly clunky.

I’m only four hours into the game, but I’m excited to keep going. Time for an Endurance Run?

Lastly, I finally sucked it up and bought a fighting game stick. One has been taunting me at the recycle shop for months: a Hori Fighting Stick 3 for PlayStation 3. I’ve never owned one, but love playing fighting games; I’ve decided that this used stick will be the way I step up to the next level with my fighting game scrubbishness. Since I have a small gaggle of fighting games on my PS3 at all times -- Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition 2012, Marvel vs Capcom, Soul Calibur II HD Online, Virtua Fighter V and more -- I should probably spend more time improving my skills. And the chosen vessel for me to do that is with Skullgirls Encore.

I recently got the updated version, jumped back in with the controller a few weeks ago, and was reminded why I enjoyed the game. The art, design, and world are great, and I absolutely love the flow of battle in Skullgirls. It’s faster than Street Fighter IV, better balanced, but not as fast and batshit crazy as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and 3 got. Fast, but not insane. So it was what I fired up first when I got my arcade stick home last weekend. I still need to practice in order to adapt to using the stick, but it handled like a dream. I’ve played fighters for a long time with controllers and gotten used to that; I have a bit to un-learn. However, I can already tell this was a good investment.


This is Demon's Souls’ easiest boss. Yep.

This is Demon's Souls’ easiest boss. Yep.

I’ve seen a lot of death lately.

With the release of Dark Souls II and the avalanche of hype that dropped with it I thought it might be time for me to give the series another shot. I saw the appeal when I played Dark Souls for the first time, but too many elements of the game’s design were off-putting to me and the way I play. DS has specific expectations how players operate. Rarely do I focus on "tanking," or melee type characters in a role-playing game, but the archetype is Dark Souls' bread and butter.

Instead, I jumped back to the start. Demon’s Souls had been offered as part of PlayStation Plus’ ‘Instant Game Collection,’ so I created my mage and was hooked. I was ecstatic to be playing a Souls game with an actual MP system and viable magic strategy. I’ve always valued games that allow me to build my character into a veritable superman as I understand the systems as they are presented. Demon’s is challenging to be sure but it never felt unfair. Every time I found an enemy or area giving me trouble I went somewhere else and when I eventually returned, I came back with a vengeance. Success in the Souls games is satisfying because it feels earned and not simply given. The sense of relief from slaying one of the bosses is a feeling rarely experienced in most modern games.

After I slew the Old King, the game immediately threw me into new game plus. I backed up my save to the cloud and deleted the game from my hard drive. I needed something to de-stress. I’m sure I’ll eventually revisit the Souls games, but right now I can’t…I just can’t.

What better way to relax though than to start The Walking Dead: Season Two?

After picking up the season pass recently, I dove into the first two episodes. Season Two is less exciting because it’s a known quantity. After playing Season One’s DLC episode, "400 Days," I’m a little disappointed to be seeing Clementine again; I can’t help but wish her fate had been left deliberately ambiguous after the first season. Experiencing a zombie apocalypse as a twelve year-old girl, one I had grown attached to at that, is less engrossing and more depressing. I know that no matter what, just based on the tone Walking Dead sets for it’s story and characters, that Clem does not get a happy ending.

With how impressed myself and the other Sasquatches were with The Walking Dead: Season One, it’s hard not be concerned that Telltale Games might be stretching themselves too thin. The release schedule for The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us has become inconsistent, and there are at least two more series in production for 2014: Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands. Season Two remains compelling enough for me to see it through to its conclusion, though, and it’s too early to jump to conclusions.

Next, I think I’d like to play something less focused on mortality.