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The Year with No New Games–Part 3: Once You’ve Popped, You Can’t Stop

by Kim Wong

If you’ve ever played an Xbox 360 or Xbox Live Arcade game, you’ll know the sound. That addictive little pop that draws the gamer into a positive reinforcement loop that some call ruinous, while others acclaim as purpose-creating. It’s the sound of achievements unlocking, and it played a huge role in derailing my quest to complete 29 downloadable and retail games in 12 months.

Let’s take a look at that original gaming schedule again:

January 2011: Vanquish, Super Meat Boy, Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam
February: Alan Wake, Splosion Man, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
March: Dead Space, Halo Wars, Wolfenstein
April: Singularity, Conan
May: Metro 2033, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
June: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, LEGO Rock Band, The Beatles Rock Band
July: Fable II, Penny Arcade Adventures 1 and 2
August: Alpha Protocol, Modern Warfare 2 (Veteran difficulty)
September: Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4 (Veteran difficulty)
October: Saints Row 2, Prince of Persia
November: Bully: Scholarship Edition, The Secret of Monkey Island
December: Grand Theft Auto IV, Trials HD

Of those 29 games, I only managed to complete Vanquish and Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam. I unlocked all achievements in Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam, while I only have one achievement left in Vanquish. But it’s not the actual pursuit of achievements in the games on the schedule that derailed this project. Rather, it’s the pursuit of achievements in games that I had previously completed and hadn’t thought about until I started this project. Let’s take a look at some of what I’ve accomplished in 2011:

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance: started in October 2007, last previously played in June 2009, completed to 100% January 2011
Aegis Wing: started in November 2007, last previously played in February 2009, completed to 100% in January 2011
Gears of War: started in May 2008, last previously played in March 2009, completed on Insane in co-op in January 2011
Magic: The Gathering-Duels of the Planeswalkers: started in June 2009, last played in November 2009, completed to 100% in February 2011
Halo 3: started in October 2007, last played in July 2010, completed to 100% in February 2011
Alien Hominid HD: started and last played in April 2009, completed to 100% in February 2011
Ticket to Ride: started in June 2008, last played in June 2009, completed to 100% in February 2011

While attempting to complete games from my backlog, I actually dug deeper than intended and exhumed games that I had originally considered completed to my satisfaction. Instead, I tried to achievement 100% completion on as many as possible. More than anything else, this pursuit of 100% completion derailed my project. And I couldn’t be happier for it. An explanation next time.

The Year with No New Games–Part 2: Making a List, Checking it Twice

by Kim Wong
Let’s take a moment and take a look at that original gaming schedule from the first article:
January 2011: Vanquish, Super Meat Boy, Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam
February: Alan Wake, Splosion Man, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
March: Dead Space, Halo Wars, Wolfenstein
April: Singularity, Conan
May: Metro 2033, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
June: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, LEGO Rock Band, The Beatles Rock Band
July: Fable II, Penny Arcade Adventures 1 and 2
August: Alpha Protocol, Modern Warfare 2 (Veteran difficulty)
September: Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4 (Veteran difficulty)
October: Saints Row 2, Prince of Persia
November: Bully: Scholarship Edition, The Secret of Monkey Island
December: Grand Theft Auto IV, Trials HD
In 12 months, I had aimed to complete 19 full retail games, 2 ports of classic retail games (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and The Secret of Monkey Island), 3 games that are nearly impossible to master (Super Meat Boy, Splosion Man, and Trials HD), 2 games that I wanted to master on higher difficulties (Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2), a downloadable multiplayer expansion (BF:BC2-Vietnam), and 2 downloadable RPGs. This would have been a tall task if I didn’t work full time, went to graduate school part time, and weren’t a husband and a father of a toddler. With those obligations in hand, I probably should have scaled back the scope of this project. So how did I create this schedule?
There was purpose to this madness, and it’s easier to explain if viewed in chunks.
I had dedicated January to March to atmospheric third person shooters. Vanquish, Alan Wake, Dead Space, and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West each presented a different take on how to pace third person games and give the player a different experience. Dead Space was also timed for March to be near the release of Dead Space 2, so I could at least understand the chatter about how the sequel would compare to the original. Super Meat Boy and Splosion Man were going to be compared as two takes on the modern sadistic puzzle platformer. Wolfenstein would have laid the transition to the next segment.
From April to May, the goal was to experience two first person shooters that created rich worlds for the players to explore. Singularity has been compared to BioShock in various reviews, while Metro 2033 tries to strike the middle between open world shooters like the STALKER series and Half-Life 2. Conan would have provided the mindless hack and slash, while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night would have segued to the next segment of the year.
What’s better than to immerse yourself in a full role-playing game during the summer? From June to September, I would have taken on three of the biggest role-playing games of this generation, two downloadable role-playing games, and one that’s become an underground hit. The Rock Band games would have been a palate cleanser from heavy role-playing games. The two Call of Duty games would have been also interesting contrasts to how Alpha Protocol and Mass Effect handled the mechanics of shooting. Because Modern Warfare 2 lacks infinitely respawning enemies, I scheduled it before Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
The year would have ended on the great open world games of this generation, from the satirical Saints Row 2 to the beginning of Rockstar’s evolution in open world gaming design this generation with Bully: Scholarship Edition. Theoretically, I would have followed Grand Theft Auto IV with Red Dead Redemption in January 2012.
Each segment of the year focused on a theme and would have provided potential for comparison and contrast. Over the course of a year, I would also have played some of the best games of this console generation, and I would be able to participate in more conversations. But this didn’t come to pass, and the reasons for this will explored in the next article. 

The Year with No New Games–Part 1: Mining the Backlog

by Kim Wong

In early December last year, I knocked over one of my piles of shame. Everybody has one, whether it’s made of foods to try, books to read, movies to watch, places to visit, or in my case, Xbox 360 games to play. (There’s a separate pile of Nintendo DS games, but that’s a story for another time.) What made my pile particularly shameful was the fact that I had bought each game with the full intention of playing them, but there they sat in their shrinkwrapped packaging, hidden away from the sun and sight. The nature of being a gamer, faced with great new games to play released every month, made the idea of balancing the new with the old impossible. It was at that point that I resolved that I would buy no new games until I had played to my satisfaction every game in that pile.

For context, here is the pile, broken down by category:

Shooters: Alan Wake, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – Vietnam, Dead Space, Metro 2033, Singularity, Vanquish, Wolfenstein,

Role-playing games: Alpha Protocol, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fable II, Lost Odyssey, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episodes 1 and 2

Rhythm: The Beatles Rock Band, LEGO Rock Band, Rock Band 3

Platformers: Splosion Man, Super Meat Boy, Trials HD

Action/Adventure: Brutal Legend, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Conan, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, Prince of Persia (2008), The Secret of Monkey Island

Open World: Bully, Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, The Saboteur, Saints Row 2
Strategy: Halo Wars

Driving: Burnout Paradise

As always, classification can be a tricky proposition. The heart of the matter was that there were thirty-six games in total, each a good game in its own way, unplayed and shoved further down the pile each time I get a new game.

My original was ambitious. I had aimed to complete at least one retail and one downloadable game a month, which would have cleared most of the backlog. Here’s the original plan:

January 2011: Vanquish, Super Meat Boy, Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam
February: Alan Wake, Splosion Man, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
March: Dead Space, Halo Wars, Wolfenstein
April: Singularity, Conan
May: Metro 2033, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
June: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, LEGO Rock Band, The Beatles Rock Band
July: Fable II, Penny Arcade Adventures 1 and 2
August: Prince of Persia, Alpha Protocol
September: Mass Effect, Modern Warfare 2 (Veteran difficulty)
October: Saints Row 2, Call of Duty 4 (Veteran difficulty)
November: Bully: Scholarship Edition, The Secret of Monkey Island
December: Grand Theft Auto IV, Trials HD

While drafting this schedule, I clearly neglected a couple of essential factors, like work, family, and sleep. Here are the games from this I’ve completed thus far: Vanquish, Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam.

The aim of this column is to explore what happened to derail my quest so badly, some of the lessons I’ve learned about being a full time dad and part time gamer, the gaming communities I’ve encountered, and how I can salvage the rest of this year to complete some more games.

Please Welcome Kim Wong to Co-Op Critics!

With our second podcast segment in the can, we are now finally starting to generate some content for our little corner of the universe here at the Co-Op Critics blog.  Our good friend Kim Wong is going to be writing some articles and reviews with Dan and I on the blog here, and he’s got a great series of articles to kick things off.  Stay tuned later this week for Kim’s series on his decision to attack his pile of shame and buy no new games in 2011.

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SI #329–Co-Op Critics: Mass Effect 1&2 Show Notes

Hi All,

We’ve posted the latest episode of Co-Op Critics, which focuses on one of our favortie series of all time, Mass Effect. We also have a bunch of links for you to check out as you listen to the episode:

Mass Effect 1 Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqJuJTIus7U&feature=related

Brian’s Interview with Mass Effect writer Drew Kapyshyn (scroll down to the bottom of the page)
http://www.secretidentitypodcast.com/2008-interviews-archives.html

Brian’s Inter view with Mass Effect 2 writer Mac Walters & artist Omar Francia on the ME: Redemption comic:
http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=24300

Mass Effect 2 Trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2O-0-fQOOs&feature=related

Mass Effect 3 Trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnEej1RfqTs&feature=fvwrel

For more on the Mass Effect series, head over to www.masseffect.com.

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SI #318–Co-Op Critics: Bulletstorm Show Notes

We wanted to repost the show notes from our first segment on Bulletstorm, just in case anyone didn’t cath them over at www.secretidentitypodcast.com.  Without furhter ado:

The Bulletstorm launch trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjNEKnifT5M

A video showcasing Bulletstorm’s skill-based gameplay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xdk0auH5dVI

An interview that Brian did with Rick Remender, who wrote the story for the game: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=27404

Fore more info on Bulletstorm, you can head to the game’s official site www.bulletstorm.com.

Enjoy!–Brian and Dan

Welcome!

So, here we are–an official Co-Op Critics blog. Dan and I plan on doing plenty more segments for the Secret Identity Podcast in the future, but also wanted a place to put up reviews and discussions that might not make it into the show.  The philosophy behind Co-Op Critics is simple–all of our reviews and game discussons will feature at least two points of view.  We’ll also feature some articles that take a look at our own gaming habits, how we play. why we play, and so on. These article won’t necessarily have two points of view, but they certainly could.

We have some friends that will be contributing from time to time, especially to the site here. There’s a great series of articles coming up from a good buddy of ours in the next month or so, so stay tuned.

Upcoming segments that we’re already planning are a “Mass Effect” vs. “Mass Effect 2” discussion, and a segment on the just-released Nintendo 3DS.

Thanks for checking us out, and free to send suggestions for future segments to sipodcast@comcast.net.

–Brian