As the years go by, I’ve noticed something strange and terrible happening. The amount of time I have to relax gets steadily smaller, and the amount of time I have to spend on “necessary” things like college and homework and friends keeps growing. A busy (and getting busier) schedule doesn’t always leave time for gaming, a hobby that prides itself on breadth of content. Many days, there simply isn’t time to play games, and when I do get time it’s usually right at the end of the day when I have to convince myself that I won’t regret going to bed late this time. I’ve found that larger, more complicated games that require the juggling of a number of long-term goals are harder to maintain on a schedule that doesn’t allow for gaming on a regular basis. Over the summer, I dove into Skyrim again. At first, I put as many hours into as I could, but once classes started up, the days I got a chance to play became more infrequent. The urge to play dwindled as I knew that the simple act of reorienting myself in the world and what I was doing would take up time. So to all the people who feel like that pesky thing called life too often gets in the way of gaming, here are the four game types that I’ve found work best on a busy schedule.
Roguelikes – At first, roguelikes (and games that borrow roguelike elements like high difficulty and permadeath) might not seem like the best choice because their often-punishing difficulty impedes easy progress, but it’s that same difficulty that I think makes them perfect for a person with a dense schedule. Games like The Binding of Isaac and FTL have relatively simple base mechanics which means that they’re easy to pick up again after a long time away. Yet, they’re short, highly replayable campaigns keep them interesting over long periods of time. Unlike games like Skyrim, roguelikes tend to be focused on simple, short-term goals rather than long-term ones. Many roguelikes follow Nolan Bushnell’s old saying of “easy to learn, difficult to master” and that philosophy is perfect for a tight schedule.
Episodic games – The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s latest episodic adventure game, released earlier this month, and after buying it and playing through the first episode in just a couple of hours, I was struck by how well it worked within my schedule. Telltale releases one episode every four to seven weeks until the season of five episodes is complete. Each episode is part of a larger narrative that runs throughout the season and decisions made in one episode could affect events in the others. Each episode is relatively short by video game standards (it took me about two hours to finish the first episode) but that’s perfect if you don’t always have large chunks in your schedule to play games. With regularly released content, you don’t need to feel the need to play through the entirety of a game in a short time-span; you can just play the parts as they come out. As a bonus, part of the fun with episodic games is discussing what decisions you’ve made and speculating how they might affect the story later on. Even if you aren’t playing a lot of games, episodic games allow you to participate in discussions without having to invest a lot of time.
Classic games – Playing through old-school classics like Super Mario Bros. or Mega Man on a tight schedule works for many of the same reasons that roguelikes do. They’re often based on very simple concepts, but with extreme challenges. There isn’t actually that much content in the original Mario but its difficulty makes it a longer game. The levels and worlds keep the gameplay in small chunks, and they’re are no overarching story or mechanics to keep track of. Finding a few minutes to play Mario feels rewarding because you’ll often make steady progress, but you won’t beat the whole game very easily.
Indie games – The independent game scene has become rather infamous recently for taking classic game design and retrofitting it for a modern audience because of the limited budget and tools they’re often forced to work with. As a result, many indie games have aped the “simple-learning, hard-mastering” design of classic games, making them perfect for playing on a difficult schedule. Games like Braid or The Swapper take easy concepts and then slowly expand upon them as the game progresses. Even after long periods of time away from them, it doesn’t take long to relearn the basics and then keep making progress.
Come back every Tuesday for more posts, and check out Blackman’N Robin where my stuff goes up first. Also, follow me on Twitter @cam_wade37 for bite-sized ramblings.