Take Your Health Seriously, or Risk The Video Games You Love

You may have noticed we’ve had another one of our little breaks here at nowisgames.com, not for quite as long as in the past, but a sizeable gap to be sure. A summer holiday of sorts, even though it poured with rain here in England for most of August.

I’ve been aiming for two posts a month since my last return, which I was hitting reasonably well, until recently. This wasn’t a break I intended to take, I really didn’t have much of a choice this time.

I stopped streaming a little while ago too, because I was tired of sitting at my desk all day for work, then all evening to stream. I took refuge in The Last of Us Part II and Spider-Man trophy hunting/second playthroughs. All of this to escape the apocalypse that is 2020.

It was all going so well, my platinum trophy was awarded for TLOU2 after another 25 hours, 5 consecutive hours a day for 5 days. I went to bed that night feeling like I’d done something. Felt something.

When I woke up, I was in agony, both arms were tingling from the shoulder to the tips of my fingers. Shooting pain right to the fingertips.

As the day went on, my arms didn’t spring back to life, they just got worse. My wrists were feeling sore, numb, sharp pains, then numb again. My left arm and shoulder felt cold on one of the hottest July days.

I knew at this point I’d overdone the video games, the controller based play in particular. Both Spider-Man and TLOU2 require some serious button mashing at times and I was chasing trophies and 100%. I’m a grown man, I knew what I’d done, I knew why I’d done it, I am starting to become aware of the long term consequences some five weeks later.

Repetitive Strain Injury

I’ve been aware of RSI for a long time, which has other names too, but it was a big deal back when computers were starting to appear in homes all over the world, just as Bill Gates had predicted.

I’ve always, always taken RSI seriously; I’ve used ergonomic keyboards, mice, always sure to take those silly workstation assessment things, tried to sit up straight and so on.

Here’s where taking it seriously stopped, sloping around on my sofa pretending to be the webhead swinging through New York? Seeking revenge against Abby in Seattle?

Clawing my controller with hook hands and staring at the TV for 4 hours at a time is comfortable right? Sure, unless you take it too far like I did. 🤦‍♂️

I’m too young for this!

This isn’t the only catalyst responsible for this turn of events, I recently moved into a new house of my own, so I’ve been doing DIY, gardening and more activities involving my upper body and so on. This lockdown encouraged gaming stint was definitely the tipping point.

I couldn’t lift or carry my own son, open jars, use a keyboard for long, the controller was out of the question. Any day to day task you can imagine became either impossible or very bloody painful.

“I’m 38 years old, I’m too YOUNG for this.” I thought, so I turned to the ibuprofen to make it go away. This helped, but I swore myself off the video games, which is how I knew this was serious. Little did I know, five weeks would pass before I started to feel like things were improving.

While I was no longer playing video games, I continued to watch Twitch streams, binged Community, Fringe, dozens of films, copies of EDGE magazine. I avoided typing at much as I could for work too.

It’s fair to say I sank further into an existing depressive state, giving up all exercise or even just movement beyond sitting at my desk and walking up and down my stairs.

Painkillers have their own dangers

I gained weight (obviously) and comfort ate to keep up with the influx of ibuprofen, which destroys your insides if you’re not careful.

This isn’t a long term solution. After two weeks, you’re not really supposed to take things like ibuprofen tablets apparently, so my doctor told me to use ibuprofen gel and treat the pain directly, which was way more effective. Thank !@#.

Unfortunately, within a few days of finishing the gel treatment and starting to feel like things were on the mend, back pain kicked in out of nowhere and I began feeling “ill” shall we say.

That is an unwelcome side effect of:

  • taking so much ibuprofen
  • not staying even remotely active
  • eating way too much junk
  • not drinking enough water

My digestive system had enough and my body was generally turning against me at this point. I had to snap out of it, so I went for a walk and sorted myself out. I’m feeling much better 6 days later as I write this.

Crucially, I’ve booked an appointment with my doctor to talk about the depression and anxiety I was already feeling before this stupid !@#ing virus changed the entire world and made everyone unhappy, instead of it feeling like just me. What do you do when the whole world is pissed off?

In the middle of all this going on, I read an incredible blog post from Athena over on Ambi Gaming. Sanity meter in 2020 you say? Yeah, mine was definitely depleted. It made me realise how I was feeling and helped put a few things in perspective. I started to take real action at that point, thank you, Athena. ♥

Take those breaks

I still love video games, I still have a ridiculous backlog to get through, so how can I take this hobby forward more sensibly? I’ve been preparing to introduce my son to technology, including the restrictions he will have in place, why on Earth am I not thinking about the restrictions I should be imposing on myself too? I should be setting an example!

How many of us regularly play video games for several hours at a time? Can you sit through a 3-hour movie without taking some kind of break? How about a 3-hour session of your favourite video game, completely different right? No problem to just keep going, at all.

Xbox has a feature to remind you at chosen intervals how long you’ve been signed in/playing, to take a break. You can get software on the PC to do the same thing, you’ve got timers on your phone, smart speakers, who knows what.

Make use of the technology available to take a break from that technology, it does break the immersion, but your health in real life is more important than the health bar on the screen.

Thoughts on Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

This whole world-on-a-lockdown thing sucks, right? One thing it has allowed me to do, completely guilt free, is tackle some video games on my backlog.

Some of them have been there for a long time. Others, such as Spider-Man on PS4, have been intended since release (2018), but only recently acquired.

Something made me start this game within weeks of picking it up, quite unusual for a backlog slave such as myself. In just a few minutes, thanks to an explosive, action packed introduction tutorial, I was hooked. This is a pretty spectacular video game. This has been 3am stuff for me, I definitely have a problem.

If you’re a Spider-Man fan and PS4 owner, this video game is a must play. Of all the superheroes out there, Spider-Man is without a doubt my favourite. I’ve never really been into the comics, but I did watch the cartoon as a kid. I also adored the Sam Raimi directed trilogy of movies, the first of which is a shocking 18 years old this year. Re-watching these movies, to take a break from playing the game, took me back to a simpler time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Enemies vary enough for my tastes, but there’s a lot of repetition

Back to the video game; rinsing the collectibles, challenges, research stations, basically as much as the game had to offer, before the final hour or so, nothing felt like a chore. Swinging through the high rise buildings of New York and continually levelling up Spider-Man, unlocking new abilities, suits and gadgets. It was an absolute joy.

This was a very rewarding story to follow too, with a satisfying ending, great motion capture and acting throughout. The action, combat, cinematics, UI, music, animation, controls and I can just go ON AND ON. There’s so many good things about this video game, it becomes much easier to talk about the handful of things I didn’t care for.

A few of the boss battles are against two villains, I found this hugely irritating, particularly earlier on, before I really got to grips with the game.

I couldn’t keep track of two of them at once, with so many visual effects on the screen it was baffling. I was getting the stuffing knocked out of me by villains and attacked I couldn’t even see coming.

Sometimes the momentum you build up is so vast, you overshoot where you’re aiming for despite your best efforts. This becomes incredibly annoying when precision is required, against the clock or otherwise.

Some of the unlocks are gated behind “challenge tokens” which are quite, er, challenging. I’ll never be good enough to acquire some of the challenge tokens from the base game. Thankfully it seems the DLC and New Game+ released since launch might address this, for those of us not up to scratch. I want to unlock everything, but I’d hate for it to be behind the kind of skill barrier I don’t have time to overcome.

A number of physics items in the game world can be utilised during combat, including bringing down shelves, lobbing manhole covers, returning enemy grenades and rockets

The DLC will make or break this game for me. New Game+ does add a certain amount of re-playability, in addition to the increasing difficulty modes (I played somewhere in the middle). If the DLC adds another 6-10 hours of interesting gameplay, I can see myself revisiting this title in the future, otherwise it might just be a little on the short side at 25-30 hours.

I’m intending to stream a playthrough of New Game+, possibly on the hardest difficulty too, but we’ll see how that goes!

For now, I’ll return this week to tackle the DLC at a normal difficulty, as I’m keen to see how the story progresses. I’ll update this post if more words spring to mind.

Pick this video game up and you won’t regret it, I’m sure, definitely if you’re a Spider-Man fan. You’ll likely know whether it is to your tastes within the first 15 minutes, it starts as it means to go on!

An Epic Debate: Dan’s Argument (Now It’s Personal)

Read Ben’s thoughts over on Later Levels here!

I’ve tried to remain calm about the Epic Game Store, exclusivity and all that stuff, even though I haven’t felt this strongly about something gaming related, well, ever really. Gaming is supposed to be fun, when it isn’t fun, I tap out. Mostly, I stay out of this kind of thing, but this time, it feels personal.

I get it, competition is a good thing, I don’t have to buy games from Epic. If they’ve secured exclusivity, then I’ll just have to wait(!) to buy it on Steam, if that is my preferred store, which it is for multiple reasons. That’s probably the subject of another post all to itself.

Having seen Metro Exodus, The Outer Worlds and World War Z fall victim to Epic’s Fortnite fortune, I knew eventually they would come for something I truly care about. Something for which, I just cannot wait.

Then it happened, the unthinkable, Gearbox Software announced Borderlands 3. That alone was exciting, but then they simply said it was coming to PC, without talking about specific stores.

Oh dear, I knew there and then I was in trouble. Would Epic really come for my beloved Borderlands?

Surely not, it’s been on Steam from the beginning, they axed the GameSpy integration when that was shut down, retrofitting Steamworks to keep the Borderlands 1 multiplayer alive.

Gearbox started out by making impressive add-ons for the original Half-Life. Would they really turn their backs on Valve and Steam?

Then it hit me, Borderlands runs on Unreal Engine, a heavily modified version admittedly, but there it is, an existing relationship with Epic…

Exclusivity isn’t necessarily Gearbox’s choice

As mentioned by Gearbox’s CEO, Randy Pitchford, Gearbox apparently has no say in where it’s publisher chooses to distribute their game. Gearbox are simply the creative talent; they’re making the thing, 2K sells the thing.

That’s cool Randy. I believe you. He was sure to tweet all of this, and not mention it at all during the games reveal, because he knew what the reaction would be.

Then it was announced, Borderlands 3 is to be an Epic Game Store exclusive on PC.

The newly minted official Borderlands Discord server erupted, moderators were quick to create a new channel called #rant-discussion and filter the conversation into there, but it was impossible to keep up, even with slow mode enabled.

Hundreds of people were venting their frustration with tens of thousands probably looking on, some in agreement, others not.

Twitter and Reddit were a similar cesspit of comments. In the days and weeks since, conversations have taken place, with the Borderlands PC community now divided, as they all come to terms with the exclusivity.

What about consumer choice?

Many people in the community want to play this game as soon as it’s available, so what choices do we have in this case?

  1. Buy the game on the Epic Games Store. 2K would definitely prefer we did this, as they will receive a bigger cut of the profits versus sales on Steam. Will 2K pass on that additional profit to Gearbox? Let’s be clear here, it’s most likely the publisher that’s getting the bigger cut, not the developers as Epic keeps yelling from the rooftops.
  2. Wait for the exclusivity period to end, buy the game on Steam. This is a tough one to swallow, I’m a big story junkie and I need my fix. The ending of Borderlands 2 set up a sequel that is sure to be epic, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s been 7 years, I need to know, first hand, what happens next!?
  3. Pirate the game when it’s released and buy it on Steam once available. This is not something I condone, at all, nor is it something I’ve ever done; I’ve always legitimately purchased my games. There are others out there who see piracy as simply another method of acquiring games, rather than theft. In many cases, they’ve reduced their reliance on piracy once digital distribution caught up, thanks in no small part to Steam. They won’t touch the Epic Game Store, so they simply move on to the next method of obtaining the game.
  4. Buy the game on console. This is the path I’ve chosen, not because there’s anything particularly egregious about the Epic Game Store itself, or because I prefer to play on console. In the case of Borderlands, I definitely prefer the PC experience.

Why abandon the PC for this game, just because of Epic Game Store exclusivity?

As a consumer, there’s very little I can do to make my voice heard, there’s the old adage though; vote with my wallet.

So that’s what I’ll be doing. Exercising my ability to make a choice, by avoiding the Epic Games Store and purchasing on a completely different platform.

I choose to do this because I draw the line at yet another store application on my PC. I completely disagree with Epic’s strong arm tactics. I resent not having the choice to buy the game on Steam, if that’s what I prefer, that should be my choice to make.

It’s not about just installing another launcher, because there are ways of dealing with all that, Steam works for me and that’s where I prefer to buy my games. I only buy them elsewhere if I absolutely have to, but now, I’m just increasingly finding console gaming more appealing. I wonder, what is the revenue cut for publishers and developers on digital sales from Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, the Nintendo eShop?

In the time since I started writing this post, Epic have been making headlines about developer crunch, as well as purchasing an entire studio, with plans to ultimately moving it’s game off Steam! It seems they’re not content with just purchasing exclusivity rights any more.

Just days before this collaboration went live, an “Epic Mega Sale” was started on the Epic Games Store, but seemingly without warning publishers and developers first, two of which swiftly removed their games from the store, including 2K removing the Borderlands 3 pre-order! What a kerfuffle!

There’s also an interview with Tim Sweeny in this month’s EDGE magazine too, which sheds some light on the plays Epic have been making over the last several months, but my favourite quote is “For a typical game, the store makes more profit than the developers themselves make, and that’s wrong. It’s got to change.”

Well yes, if the store is making 30% and the developers are making less than that from the remaining 70% cut, clearly there is something wrong, but not with the store, because they’re taking the 30% cut and they’re done. What is happening to that 70% then Tim?

Valve has essentially been printing money for the last 15 years, Steam brings in billions of dollars every year. They’ve probably got enough money in the bank to ride this out and not doing a thing, while Epic trips over itself to look like the good guy, but simultaneously driving customers away. You know, customers, the people who actually buy the games they give a bigger cut to the publishers for. Lets gloss over the idea digital distribution, even with that fabled 70/30 split, represents better profit than traditional retail, because it cuts out the middle-man. That’s probably why we all think games should be cheaper and love a good Steam sale in the first place.

All of this has left a bad taste in my mouth, so while my PC gathers dust upstairs, I’ll be training myself on Xbox with Borderlands 2. By September, I’ll be ready for Borderlands 3 with a controller, well away from the PC.

Rumour has it, I’ll be able to cross-play with PC users of the Epic version. Ah cross play, that’s great isn’t it? The freedom and choice to play with friends, regardless of platform… Cheers Tim.

It’s OK To Play Video Games On PC With A Controller

Back in September, Valve revealed the results of one of their regular hardware surveys. Something surprising was mentioned; the number of PC players plugging in a controller of some kind.

Like many PC players, I used to think of controllers as a console only affair. I assumed most PC players still felt that way. Why would you use a controller when you have the “superior” option of keyboard and mouse available? Simple, because it isn’t always superior.

Yes, you can aim, without help, with a mouse. Yes, it is definitely more accurate, movement and 180 degree turns are often more fluid and rapid. My aim is still dreadful, even after twenty something years, with a mouse and keyboard. Why not accept that and be comfortable instead?

Git gud? Get lost.

My avoidance of controllers on PC stems back to not wanting to play an FPS with a controller, back in the day that was mostly what I was playing and I did so exclusively (until recently) with a mouse and keyboard on PC.

A couple thousand hours of controller use on PC and various consoles over the last several years has seen me re-evaluate my stance on that, after bitter disappointment with the Wii and Valve’s Steam Controller, both now gathering dust.

I ran through Tomb Raider, Battleborn and The Division solely with a controller on PC, I have played a fair bit of Borderlands 2 and have done some of that with a controller, to the point where I can swap between inputs when it suits. I do this frequently on GTA V too, a game which is significantly responsible for my improved controller skills, after more than a thousand hours of flying, driving and shooting my way around the streets of Los Santos, once I repurchased the game on PC. I’d already played it with a controller on the PS3, so it seemed completely natural to me to do so again.

I started to feel more comfortable with a controller, compared to how it felt playing The Last of Us and GTA V on the PS3, the first time I had personally owned a console. It wasn’t pleasant back then, I was all fingers and thumbs, it almost spoiled my enjoyment of both games, but I persevered. These were two games for which I absolutely had to put all my reservations about consoles and controllers behind me to experience.

Sort-of accidentally, particularly over the last few years, I’ve slowly become a more console orientated gamer, who happens to own a PC. I find myself increasingly, for almost every game, using a controller on said PC, which is hooked up permanently to a 42″ TV in my home office since the move.

You may notice I wrote “almost” every game. This week I’ve blitzed playthrough 1 of Borderlands GOTY Enhanced, solely with the controller, stunned at my own abilities, but despite that, I can’t bring myself to play Overwatch with a controller. It simply isn’t quick enough to keep up with the pace of the game for me.

Rather than try to improve my mouse and keyboard skills any further, with things like KovaaK’s FPS Aim Trainer, I’ve just become increasingly better with a controller and accepted that I’m average with both inputs. Sometimes it’s nice to chill in front of the TV with a bit of aim assist, sometimes you want pinpoint accuracy. It’s good to have options. Increasingly, I find myself choosing comfort and aim assist.

Catching up instead of missing out

Recently, Killzone Shadowfall was an absolute delight on PS4; I enjoyed it so much I’ve started hunting down all the installments that came before it, grabbing bargains in the process.

I’ve started Halo The Master Chief Collection and that is proving to be a blast too, I’ve repurchased and played the main story in Fallout 4 on the Xbox One X, enjoying the enhanced visuals on my 4K TV.

I don’t regret my stealth move into heavy controller and console use, because I’m now in the position where I feel comfortable using any input on any device, which comes in handy at gaming shows and when your mate hands you a PS4 controller for a quick go on something.

Do you enjoy PC games with a controller? How do you feel about keyboard and mouse support coming to consoles? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

The PC Launcher Wars Must Come To An End

This madness has to end. One of the things which drew me to PC gaming over consoles back in the mid to late 90s was the freedom of choice. The mods, the tweaking, squeezing slightly better frame rates out of my beloved video games. Choice. Good times.

The PC as a gaming platform is an evergreen land, if you can afford it, where your hardware is always up to date, and where “exclusives” were not a concern; it was on the PC or it wasn’t. Hello Red Dead Redemption.

Sometimes when a game wasn’t available, that didn’t even matter if you were willing to bend the rules a little, thanks to emulation, such is the joy of the platform. We’ll always find a way.

Here we are, in the year 2019, PC gaming is arguably more popular than ever, thanks in no small part to the rising tide of Valves Steam platform and its seasonal sales, offering steep discounts. Other digital distribution platforms have come along, publishers and developers such as EA and Ubisoft fancying a slice of the pie.

In typical EA fashion, if you want to play their games, they’re only on the Origin store, after a certain point in history. Ubisoft have played a little nicer, allowing much of their catalogue to still be available on Steam as well as their own store. Until recently that is, but we’ll get to that.

On my PC, I now have Steam, Uplay, Origin, Gog Galaxy, Twitch Desktop (for freebies), Battle.net (to play Overwatch and Destiny 2), Bethesda.net (to play Fallout 76) and my head is spinning already. Recently I found myself installing the Epic Games Store for more freebies.

Epic’s store will obviously gain features at a rapid pace, thanks to modern software development methodologies, so I have no concerns there, I’m sure it will become an excellent platform in a very short space of time. Many others disagree, justifiably at present; they can’t purchase games in their local currency, play offline, leave reviews or join communities. These features will all come soon enough.

Epic is a business like any other, they know Fortnite will not continue to make them money forever, that’s why they want a cut of video game sales from other publishers on their own distribution platform. What better way to do go about it than undercut the big dog and make some waves in the industry, while you’re at the height of fame already?

Exclusivity hurts gamers

Not content with having one of the most popular games in the world, they’re now investing their new found fortune from Battle Passes and cosmetic sales. By scaling up the content available on their own digital distribution platform, they’re taking on Steam directly, calling out the established 30% cut Valve takes from sales.

Dangling the carrot of a higher percentage of revenue from sales, the difference going straight to the developers/publishers rather than Epic, it appears to be working. Publishers are eating it up, because lets face it, all they’re interested in is money, the developers are generally the altruistic bunch who do it for the art, not the cash.

Yanked from Steam shortly before release, The Division 2 was always going to be available on Uplay as well… but seriously!?

Here’s where the problems start, they’re also ensuring distribution of these games is exclusive to their store for 12 months, even where pre-orders have been taken for months on Steam, such as Metro Exodus and The Division 2.

Those are two high profile video games, making this feel like some serious anti-consumer nonsense.

During the Game Developers Conference, they’ve announced a number of additional titles coming to the Epic Games Store, including one title developed by Obsidian Entertainment, The Outer Worlds. As little as four hours before the announcement, Obsidian were updating the Steam Achievements. They were seemingly unaware of the deal going on behind closed doors with their publisher.

Although they might receive a bigger cut from sales, how many lost sales are they missing out on by players boycotting the game, due to their publishers decision to sign up for 12 months exclusivity on the Epic Games Store? Are Epic offsetting that cost by paying for exclusivity?

I can’t help but wonder what they’re trying to achieve here, short of pissing off what is probably a vocal minority I’m sure, but I consider myself a part of that minority now.

Thanks, but no thanks Epic

I’m tired of installing more software on my PC to play games. Enough!

There are so many features of Steam I miss when I play a game on a different platform. In-Home streaming is chief among those features, with a small child now asleep in the next room from around 7pm, it would suit me more to play PC games on the TV downstairs, with a controller. There’s a whole host of games I can’t do that with, because the Steam overlay just cannot work with them.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but out of everyone, I think Ubisoft had it right. Build out your own platform, but integrate with Steam and keep your games available there. My free code from a graphics card for The Division was my first foray into Uplay after years of avoiding it. After I realised it wasn’t so bad after all, I bought a whole bunch of Ubisoft titles on Steam and have enjoyed them immensely.

After begrudgingly installing the horror show that is Besthesda.Net, because of my love for Fallout 4, just to play Fallout 76, now with this nonsense… I’m definitely done. It looks like Rage 2 isn’t going to be on Steam, that looked like fun, but screw this, I’m out. I will support the developer by acquiring these games on a frigging console. Oh the irony!

Update (26/03/2019)

A few days after this post was first published, Bethesda tweeted they would be bringing Rage 2, new Wolfenstein, Doom Eternal and Fallout 76 to Steam. Maybe there’s hope after all!?

Are you fed up with having so many different launchers? Are you primarily a console player chuckling from the sidelines? Are there any games you’re missing out on because of where they’re distributed? Lets hear about it in the comments!

One Thousand Hours, Ashamed Or Proud?

A few days ago, I was introduced by a colleague to a consultant we’ve hired at work, “This is Dan, he’s into PC games too. He’s done over 1,000 hours on Borderlands 2.”

Feeling ashamed, I replied “Jeeze man, don’t tell everyone in the canteen that!”

His reply? Apparently, I should be “proud of that milestone“.

Video games are now my primary hobby, my main source of entertainment, a topic I discuss with many people at work and the nowisgames.com team. I read about them, now I write about them too.

You could say, over the last 25-ish years, I’ve fallen in love with them. Now I have the pleasure of going back decades, discovering wonderful titles I missed the first time, because I was too busy being a spotty oik playing football and having zero success with girls.

We’re truly spoiled as gamers today too, with a deluge of indie titles and Early Access, bigger AAA games easily lasting 50-100 hours out of the box, Season Pass content extending the base game. Digital distribution is bringing old treasures back to life on modern PC’s, such as Ignition, an obscure title I enjoyed back in the day!

With this much choice, what makes it possible to play just one game for this amount of time?

Obsession

To play one game for 1,000 hours in a year, that’s just under 20 hours a week, it’s like having a part time job. Once you’re hooked enough to become that invested, it’s easier to play more, how does 40 hours a week sound? Maybe 60? I’ve done it, especially when taking time off work, it’s very easy to convince yourself this is acceptable, if you’ve got the time.

There is no time for sleeping, I’ve got a robot army to build in Fallout 4!

I get comments from people who “don’t understand how you can play one game that much” and heck, I’ve made similar comments to my brother-in-law about his 2,000 hour+ (continuing) stint on The Division. If he went to New York, he’d probably know his way around.

If I had spent over 1,000 hours in a year watching movies, would anyone have anything to say about that? What about reading books? Why is spending time playing video games a “waste of time” as I hear occasionally. It’s my time, I should be able to spend it doing things I enjoy.

Forget about that backlog, it isn’t going anywhere…

Borderlands 2 is a great deal of fun, especially with friends, but the story campaign is reason enough to go it alone and enjoy your time. The ability to play over 1,000 hours of this particular game comes from a few factors, common with other games in which you can invest that amount of time.

There’s the sheer amount of content for a start, plus the number of experience levels to progress through, which I’ve talked about here.

It doesn’t feel like repetition, or a loot grind, although that is what it’s really about. It’s relatively bug free, there’s no loot boxes (cough) and the whole experience is just rock solid.

An even guiltier pleasure is GTA Online; at the time of writing, this has been played for almost 1,500 hours, since June 2016. Most of that time was in the first year of owning the game.

Rockstar keep delivering huge amounts of new content and charging nothing for it, this game has become the cockroach of my library, it just doesn’t want to die.

I’ve infiltrated this submarine more times than I care to remember, but it seems to play differently every time

I went through a period of feeling guilty about playing one game, I should be playing “other stuff” and I keep staring at my backlog; all that money spent, on stuff I’ve never experienced.

Digital distribution is partly to blame for backlog growth, that much is obvious, this stuff is not taking up any real space, so it’s very easy to accumulate. The other reason is of course the amount of time invested in a handful of titles.

Keeping it regulated

Many games or platforms keep track of time played these days, which probably fuels the obsession I have with how much time I’m spending playing games.

I get annoyed when the game or platform doesn’t keep “proper” track of time spent playing. I generally avoid buying games on Uplay, because stat tracking is a mess over there; if I can buy a Ubisoft title on Steam, I do it solely for the reason of tracking time spent playing. Sad huh?

Overwatch seems to track only the time spent in a match/round, not the loading screens, character selection and round countdowns. On the one hand, that is good, because it reflects how long I’ve spent actually playing. Conversely, it led to an unhealthy habit for me. 

The game claims I’ve spent 111 hours playing, but I’ve played precious little else for the last 6 weeks, at an average of about 4 hours a day, so my estimation is closer to 168 hours.

I’m gauging how much time to continue spending playing this game (on a daily basis) with information which doesn’t match reality.

I should enjoy this hobby in moderation. At times, I think I invest too much time in it. My wife would probably agree! Thanks for keeping track Steam/devs.

On reflection, I am proud, particularly with my investment in Borderlands 2, but also a bit concerned in general.

Which games have you enjoyed to this degree, either breaking the 1,000 hour (or more) mark, or getting into the many hundreds of hours? What hooked you in? I’d be interested to read about your experiences in the comments below, so please don’t be shy!

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: An Early Access Overview

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) burst onto the gaming scene on the 23rd March. In a matter of days, all of my favourite Twitch streamers had switched from their comfort games and dived into the Battle Royale scene on a quest for their chicken dinners – a virtual prize for being the last player or squad standing.

Within a few months, PUBG had sold millions of copies and sat firmly in the top row of the Twitch pages. Soon after, my friends list became alive with people throwing themselves onto the island – currently the only available map, as the game is in Early Access, with a release date planned for later this year. Never fear, there are more being made as we speak.

Yes, Early Access was just mentioned, but put down your pitchforks, this is different to any other Early Access game. Many of my friends used to spit in the direction of them, and quite rightly so in some cases, but I for one back this game as one of the good ones and even converted many non-believers to the dark side. It was easy, they just watched the game being played; it sells itself.

What they observed was fluid gameplay. It begins by throwing you onto an island from a plane with nothing but 99 other people. Your quest for a chicken dinner is simple; survive. As you hit the ground running (if you survive the janky parachuting mechanics) you either fight your way to the loot and dispatch all those around you, or pick up the loot and hide until the game forces you to move and fight.

Forcing you into different areas of the map to fight is an important feature of this particular genre. In PUBG, as in may others, it is achieved by randomly choosing a point around which to constrict the playable area, commonly referred to as “The Circle”. After a short time, a new, smaller circle is chosen inside the current circle, again around a random point, until eventually you are close enough to throw the bullets at the enemy. So far, staying inside the circle doesn’t sound too important, but that’s where “The Blue” comes in. While you are outside the circle, you will constantly take damage until you either make it to the circle, or die pathetically.

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Spend too long outside the white circle, which is the playable area, and it may be the last thing you do!

Of course this is just scratching the surface, people have different play styles and time limits. Each match can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Certainly in my circle of friends we like to have a quick warm up which generally means us landing in the middle of a war zone and we fight our way out. Once everyone on your team is dead, or you slay the rest of the server, jump into another game and off you go again.

For the loot hungry this game can be a nightmare, there are certain times when looting a body can get you killed or “just picking up this attachment that I probably will never need ever” can get your buddy killed. The race for loot drops which happen every so often can also lay you down to the same fate – but without risk there is no reward here.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, in its short life PUBG has had its fair share of controversies. We have seen players being banned for breaking a questionable “Code of Conduct” which sees “stream sniping” included in that, along with alleged publicity stunts and community displeasure at the addition of micro-transactions. Not to mention the often hilarious, but clearly game-breaking bugs that have plagued even organised tournaments. Stats, on the other hand, do not lie.

One of the most notable achievements sees PUBG sat 1st on the “Top games by current player count” above CS:GO and even the mighty Dota2. It comes down to this: PlayerUnknown got this right, he learned lessons from his work on DayZ and H1Z1, putting the best elements onto the PUBG drawing board.

So I will close out on this simple statement. Ignore the Early Access haters, the bad publicity, the bugs, glitches and embrace this game’s quirks, what is to come is something even more special than what is already available.

Borderlands 2 turns five

Borderlands was a love which began with the first game of the series, after getting bored with Call of Duty and Left 4 Dead games, as well as waiting for Valve to release another installment of Half-Life. I don’t recall where or how it came to my attention, but four of us ended up playing through the campaign when the game released in 2009. Three of us later started on the first DLC and didn’t finish it.

This was a pretty different game for me, although I’d always been into FPS games, Borderlands introduced me to something I’d never experienced much of previously, RPG elements. The developer, Gearbox Software, married the FPS and RPG perfectly, so without realising it, I got a taste of something new.

Borderlands 2 came out some 3 years later, in 2012, so the usual suspects gathered and played, reaching a whopping level 13 before everyone else got bored.

This time I knew it was at least playable solo, although not ideal, so I finished it on my own. Every side mission, many hours of inventory management (which there was never time for in coop), all the DLC as it released. I reached the maximum level of 50 (at the time) and a sense of satisfaction that I’d really played the game, finally. It was fun, but it still wasn’t coop, which is where the real amusement begins.

Gearbox released two expansions, both raising the level cap by 11 each, making the maximum level 72, but also introduced an arena; completing this allowed you to obtain level 80 gear, as well as fight level 80 enemies (above that in some cases) throughout the game.

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This is as far as you can level up your characters, but the equipment and enemies go to 80, so we’re not done yet!

This was the real deal, how the game should be played, but when I tried to go solo in “Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode” between level 50-72, it was just insanely difficult for me. I was a few hundred hours in, but I was now resigned to the fact I would never achieve these lofty heights. After a hiatus, during which I revisited the original Borderlands and all of it’s DLC, two crazy things happened.

The first was persuading Jon to start going through Borderlands 1 with me, from the very beginning, with the view to taking our sweet time, getting as far as we could, but just 2-3 hours a week on a Sunday morning, no pressure. We finished the first game, then all the DLC, having a blast along the way. Then we moved on to Borderlands 2 to do the same.

The second was persuading my brother-in-law, who had tried Borderlands 2 previously, to try it again. Secretly I was trying to recruit more players. When I asked him what class he’d tried, although I can’t remember what his answer was, my reply was “That does not suit what I imagine your play style to be, try the Commando instead.” He did, then he was hooked. Really hooked.

Playing Borderlands 2 exclusively all week every week, before long, he caught up with our little Sunday morning play through – at around level 60 by that point – then overtook us! He completely left us in the rear view mirror.

The whole “no pressure” thing, at this point, kind of went out of the window. The brother-in-law made it to the arena where you fight through the overpower level challenges, intended for up to 4 players, then started to solo them while he waited for us.

By this time, I was hungry for it, the sweet victory of reaching maximum level, that shiny gear… there was no way I could do this without friends, but would I have any friends left at the end of this?

Brother-in-law made it to an impressive overpower level 7 of 8 without us, he just kept farming new gear and trying over and over for days until he’d get through. Eventually, we caught up with him through those short Sunday morning sessions. I admit, I think we played during the week too by this point…

We thrashed through the Overpower levels together, for the most part, until we were all on the final stage. This is where the nightmare began, we just couldn’t get through the final stage together as three. One particular section about half way through – where four challenging enemies spawn simultaneously – kept besting us every single time.

It seems when I started my play through with Jon, I’d picked the wrong character myself! I visited his house one weekend, he told me to “try the Siren” he was playing for his own solo run, around level 34 by that point.

Now I was properly hooked too. As it turns out, part of the joy of this game is trying characters and play styles you wouldn’t usually gravitate towards. I’ve always gone for the Commando class, but now I’ve had fun playing almost all of them, except the Psycho. I leave that one to Jon.

While we kept trying to beat OP8, I started a new Siren character and took it to level 72 solo, with full time dedication; this was some of the most fun I’d ever had playing the game solo, it was incredibly satisfying. Brother-in-law helped me get through OP1-7 without so much as a blip.

One evening, armed to the teeth and now sporting an Overpower Level 7 Siren, with oodles of confidence between us, the brother-in-law and I tried “one more time” to complete the arena and unlock Overpower Level 8. By now, I was several hundred hours into this game and what had once seemed so far off had been tantalisingly close for so long.

It was the sweetest of victories, finally we reached these lofty heights, I think on that first attempt, but honestly it’s all a blur now.

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After what felt like forever, we made it.

The farming for OP8 equipment began, then we ran through the final stage with Jon as three again, so he could join us!

What followed was another couple hundred hours taking on raid bosses never attempted before, taking more characters through to the max level, lots of gear farming and just a sense of relief that we’d broken this barrier holding us back.

Honestly, it completely sucked the fun out of the game for so long, being beaten over and over again at the same point. It became a hideous grind rather than what I believe most of us would say video games are supposed to be, which is fun! Borderlands 2 is so much fun, despite the horrible experience we had getting through to the max level, the enjoyment quickly returned.

About fifty hours shy of a thousand hours play (personally), we kind of all stopped playing. The Division was released and we lost my brother-in-law, he’s still playing that almost exclusively to this day. Jon is notoriously a “finger buffet gamer” in that he likes to play lots of different stuff, so he most definitely moved on too, scarred for life from the arena.

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Shooting things features very heavily, guns are randomly generated

I couldn’t let that remaining 50 hours taunt me, so I jumped into random public Steam groups and open matchmaking. I spent about 100 hours at various levels, helping people new get through their first play through, others trying to get through the final Overpower Level and struggling, as we had. I took on some raid bosses at max level I’d never attempted before, or repeated old challenges as a team of four, as there’d only been three of us at most previously.

When writing this article, I started playing again after a few months hiatus; I can tell you, it is the best video game I’ve ever played, so far. In my opinion, it’s definitely the best of the three Borderlands games.

During the journey to max level, I said I’d “never start another character” or “run through from the start” ever again. Turns out that’s complete nonsense, I’m just happy to play the game, whatever the level, particularly with others.

Since you can reset your campaign progress completely, you can start the game at max level (with all your gear) at any time. Couple this with the amount of content on offer, I’m still enjoying Borderlands 2 after all this time, I can imagine another 5 years (but probably not another thousand hours) is easily on the cards!

If this title is on your list, perhaps gathering dust on your virtual shelf, give it a shot. During Steam sales, the whole thing (with all DLC) can often be picked up for about £10, it’s a freaking bargain. It’s some of the finest DLC ever made for any game. The first game is often £5 for everything during sales too, although the main campaign is a little disappointing, the DLC once again makes up for it.

So, Happy Birthday Borderlands 2, bring on the next full game!