Some Kind of Witcher-ful

Rating: 6 out of 10.

The hype around The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt reminded me of a time back in about late-2011 when I first bought and played Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. That is to say, everyone everywhere seemed to be playing the latest, greatest RPG. I too had jumped on the bandwagon, taken an arrow to the knee, and spent some serious attention on that wide world of dragons and swordplay adventure. I’ve easily sunk over two hundred hours into that game across multiple campaigns on at least three platforms.

The biggest difference was that a few years later, in 2015, when Witcher 3 was released for sale I was busily preoccupied by a few other side interests that had me neglecting most video games.

I let the whole Witcher 3 craze slide past me: Never bought it. Never played it.

The advantage therein, of course, is that four or five years later when this award winning title appeared for a song in an online discount sale I found myself enticed into picking up a licence to a new-to-me game with incredible ratings and amazing community insight.

…if I could ever find the time required to play yet another massive RPG.

Thus The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been sitting in my virtual Steam library for a long while now. And being a fan of massive RPG games it has been teasing me to actually download and install it. Oh, and maybe even play it, too.

Thanks to my speedy internet bandwidth, the 32 GB install only took about an hour this morning. I killed the time with a five mile run around the neighbourhood, a shower, some lunch, and then a backyard play with the dog. After that, I settled into my office chair, in the dim glow of my PC monitor, and booted the game… five and a half years after everyone else.

As the game opens, I was treated to a five minute cut-scene with plenty-o-exciting action. Oh, and then a fade to some soft-core animated action. (Um?) And then a twenty minute combat tutorial which turned out to be a character dream. And then I rode a horse for about fifteen minutes… and onto the actual game.

What I would call playing Witcher 3 commenced about forty-five minutes after loading the software.

I suppose since I started off comparing this game to Skyrim at the beginning, I can continue. In Skyrim I seem to recall opening my virtual eyes as a prisoner being transported to my execution, watching a scant few minutes of story play out, then running for my life from a dragon attack… and into the game.

Playing commenced about ten minutes after first loading the software.

I offered to give my neglected game titles each about 90 minutes of my time. But for Witcher 3 so far half of that I was pretty much just watching a short film play out as I opened doors and followed the fighting instructions on screen.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that my introduction to the game today resulted in only about 45 minutes of actual gameplay which amounted to a half dozen combat encounters, a lot of horse riding, a few lengthy conversations, and the kicking off of the first (of many?) fetch quests… and then a random monster killed me and I figured that was a good place to stop.

Does that position me to offer a fair assessment of a five year old game that has recieved otherwise stellar reviews around the web? It’s a beautiful game and I can sense both the depth of story and action behind it all. And the thing is… I’m not a game reviewer, but I am a gamer …in my forties… who doesn’t often have two hundred spare hours to devote to complex, slow-burn gaming titles these days. Economy of time and playtime and… gah, get on with it! I’m very tempted to leave it installed and come back to it again, and I very likely will, but I’m also just as apt to open up one of my old Skyrim campaigns and revisit a world I don’t need to watch any more cut scenes to understand.

Neglected Games Project

I buy too many video games.

To be precise, I thrift purchase a lot of video games when they show up on really good sales or in humble bundles or in clearance bins.

A small number of my games I do buy at full price, things I really care about or titles that I’ve been tracking through their release and am excited to play, but my honest self would tell you that I am a bit of a digital hoarder and I’ve built a fairly extensive library of titles that looked interesting or piqued my curiosity, yet have never once been loaded on my system to try out.

Some day, I tell myself, I’ll have time to play them and then rather than pay full price I’ll realize I already own them and

It’s been a kooky year and while most people have been struck by an abundance of free time as they stay home and isolate, I’ve been working more than ever. I do one of those jobs that has a key role to play in a piece of the public pandemic response, but is neither front-line nor considerably public. I just need to put in long, often 10 hour days, to get my little part done, and then also the other parts of my job that have nothing to do with living through a pandemic. In other words, I’ve had a lot less free time than many. And what little free time I have had has recently gone to writing a novel and caring for a puppy.

But I’ve decided to take a couple weeks off from work. We’re not actually going anywhere for the holidays, and given the lockdown, this ultimately means little more than sitting in a different chair, maybe some longer mid-day walks, and logging into a different computer each day.

Such as, say, logging into a computer with access to a couple hundred new or newish-to-me video games that may make for an interesting “not work” project for two weeks of deep-winter, pandemic lockdown, can’t go anywhere for Christmas fun.

My plan, and as always this is subject to mood and other obligations, is to load a previously unplayed or barely-played video game title each day, spend at least ninety minutes exploring it, playing it, enjoying it, and then posting a short update here. There are no strict rules other than me trying to find something in my library of games that I’ve spent less than ninety minutes on in the past, install it, play it, and accumulate some play time at least as long as a cheezy holiday film.

Stay tuned.

I’ll warm you up and tell you that my first title, and the title that inspired this, is playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the first time. Bought for a song on sale. Sitting there teasing me… never even installed. Let’s fix that.

Replayed: Cookie Clicker

Taking a moment away from clicking furiously on the giant cookie image on my screen, I can type the statistics numbers into my calculator and determine that twenty-three hundred and some number of days that the game considers me to have been playing this particular round is roughly… six and a half years.

Click.

Another calculation and I can easily see that to reach the next milestone in the game means I need to accumulate a “score” roughly equal to ten times the score I’ve accumulated in the entire six and a half years that I’ve already been playing. No problem.

Click. Click.

I watch the window for a few more seconds, then relegate the browser game to my second monitor with the corner peeking out from behind some other more important documents.

Cookie Clicker will run forever. And ever. Even if I close the browser, turn off the computer, pack it in a box and open it up next year to blow off the dust: opening the game URL will load my save and calculate that some impossible number of cookies have been created in my absence. On and on. Forever.

This is what’s called an “idle game”. Cookie Clicker is as much about planning and automating the accumulation of cookies — the score, currency, and namesake of the game — as the player waits minutes, hours, days, weeks… years. Idle. Playing if often not even remembering that the game is still active. Counting. Accumulating.

Accumulated cookies can be spent on upgrades, multipliers, enhancements, game states, and more. They are the ultimate McGuffin. I can attest to this as having accumulated over 107 nonillion virtual biscuits — roughly 107,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 — over my six and a half years of playing, my web browser has yet to deposit so much as one into my mouth.

Yet I click.

And click.

But mostly just let the game run idly in the background as I do other things: work, play, read, write, sleep.

If I imply some sort of obsession here, don’t read it that way.

I’ve been replaying — or more accurately, reloading and continuing playing the same round of — Cookie Clicker for the last few days because as with many past visits to this modest not-an-obsession, I accidentally stumbled across a bookmark or started typing a similar URL into my browser or was otherwise reminded of this mindless, mouse-destroying pastime for long enough to revisit the game. Temporary obsession may be a fair assessment, but over a year had passed since I last loaded the familiar chocolate chip-laden disc into my screen and in that span I had all but forgotten about clicking cookies for fun and distraction.

Click. Click.

The premise of the game is simple and addictive.

As you open a new window, a cookie floats on a bare dashboard. Clicking the cookie with your mouse cursor will produce a single cookie. One. You click it again. And about ten more times. Your ten cookies will buy an automated cursor that will hover over the cookie and click on the floating cookie once every ten seconds or so. Forever. You click more, obviously, then buy another cursor. Repeat.

The more you click, the more you buy, the more you automate, the more you accumulate. Soon you have enough cookies to buy a grandma who will bake one cookie per second… then enough to buy a cookie farm, then…

The game never really ends.

The more you buy, the more automated cookie production you add, the stranger things get, and always the more value your clicks create (I’m currently producing 46 septillion cookies with every click of my mouse and automatically 343 septillion cookies per second). Spectacular. Weird.

Cookie Clicker is not infinitely complex, obviously. Online there are those who have “finished” it — and it seems like that could be a strategic endeavour lasting decades at the frequency which I play — but for a game that can run quietly in the background and ignored for long stretches of time, returning to it for a few minutes at a time over the course of a day or a week, on a lunch break or while waiting for a call to start, it has a depth that is just enough to be worth appreciating. Re-appreciating.