The next entrant in the Cheerful Ghost Community Interview series I have been doing is Will Owens. Will is the creator of Backlog Killer, a blog dedicated to completing his large pile of awesome games.

jdodson: You are playing through Ultima Underworld right now. How is that going?

Will Owens: Slowly but surely. Ultima Underworld is actually one of the two or three games that motivated me to begin writing the Backlog Killer blog last year. The problem of too little time and too much to play remains, but I now have a system that allows me to focus and not be distracted by other games that may be laying around, too. I usually only have the opportunity to play games three to four hours during the week and having the goal of blogging my experience really cuts down on any anxiety that may spring up about deciding what to play during this limited time. I wish I had more time to write and play because content output is important for a blog's survival, but I'm doing the best I can.

As for the game itself, I am having a complete blast. I have only logged about five or six hours and just completed the first level of the dungeon, but I am anxious to play more. The game plays surprisingly well for being twenty years old and also makes me feel super old knowing it came out while I was in elementary school. It has grabbed me more than many modern games I have played because of its complexity and unclear nature. That's not to say I don't enjoy any modern games, but I am always drawn to experiences that don't do much hand holding and let me do whatever I want so that I can discover the mechanics and systems all on my own. This can be taken to the extreme if things get too complex, but I have always preferred to be left alone rather than artificially stifled and forced to learn things in a ham-fisted tutorial. Having ironed out most of the problems and getting used to the interface of Ultima Underworld, I hope to complete about one level each week. Who knows, if I get some extra time I may be able to do even more!

jdodson: I remember playing Out of This World and loving every second of its cinematic creativity. Recently I read this and was transported back to how awesome that game was. http://magicalgametime.com/post/40111290173/line-work-from-my-five-page-tribute-to-another Have you played anything that time-warped you back to this kind of experience recently?

Will Owens: Dark Souls and Demon's Souls were huge for me in that they reminded me of older gaming experiences I had as a kid rather than any singular game. Because I played so many older games in my youth, I am very sensitive to many influences that have continued into modern games and have become semi-obsessed with finding ones that recapture these feelings. I always remember being dropped in the middle of games with little to no instructions regarding what I should be doing. I guess some older examples are Wizardry, System Shock, and Ultima. Even though you are given an idea of what the goal is, there is no indicator telling you where to go or what to do. This usually led to exploration that made the world seem bigger and more interesting. Dark Souls did the same thing by dropping me into the game with minimal instructions and left to my own devices.

Another example of its influences are overpowered enemies placed just outside of the starting area to tell the player "don't go here!" without actually telling the player with a narrator or physical gate. Wizardry and Might and Magic did the exact same thing and is a much more satisfying deterrent than an artificial barrier because you can come back and whip those same monsters later. I hope more games will trust players to invest at least a little effort into enjoying the game rather than sticking with the current hand holding trend. I think this philosophy of game design has gotten a little out of hand.

jdodson: Is there any game you can think of that doesn't get as much attention as it should?

Will Owens: This is a tough question, but I would probably say the original System Shock. I remember playing the demo of the game with friends late into the night and being impressed at how many innovative things it did. What kills me is that many modern games get regaled for doing things that System Shock did almost twenty years ago such as implied story telling from the environment, plot twists, immersive environments to explore, and deep story lines. It is a little difficult to get into now because the controls and user interface were being developed when 3D action/RPG/adventures were just being sussed out, but it is still worth playing. Its combination of puzzles, action, and story presentation via audio logs was brand new and deserves to be experienced by everyone. Especially since blockbusters like Bioshock and Skyrim would not exist without it and owe a lot to the mechanics and storytelling methods it introduced.

jdodson: What was the last film you saw? What did you think about it?

Will Owens: The last movie I saw in the theater was Skyfall. I thought it was pretty good and seemed to push the idea that you need a strong hero to take care of things instead of bureaucracy. It was slickly shot and kept me engaged, but I don't think I enjoyed it as much as others. The last movie I watched in general was the original Django. I've seen it many times but wanted to see it again before seeing Django Unchained since it doesn't come out here until January 17th. Although it has many of the tropes of spaghetti westerns, it is uncharacteristically nihilistic taking place in a town that looks like hell on earth with a sense that literally nothing exists outside of it. It's violent, powerful, and one of my favorite westerns of all time.

jdodson: I have http://www.backlogkiller.com in my feed reader and enjoy your writings about games you are going through. I wonder where the idea for the site came from? Will there be a point where your backlog will be killed?

Will Owens: I was motivated to begin the blog when I realized I had bought far too many games while going through some difficult times a few years ago. Many of these were overly complex and time consuming games that I used to lose myself in, but they eventually became a pile of shame that seemed insurmountable. I would always get analysis paralysis when deciding what game to play and ended up doing nothing and feeling worse about it. Writing a blog was a good system to organize my playing and has served me well since I started.

The inspiration for the project came from several sources. The most direct inspiration is from the CRPG Addict (crpgaddict.blogspot.com) who is attempting the HUGE task of playing every RPG developed for the PC. I didn't want to go that far, but his success in generating discussions and thinking about game mechanics was interesting and I wanted to use the blog to discuss how the games relate to me and see how others felt. When a game really touches something deep in me I get very inspired and just spitball tons of ideas that stick. It's great therapy. When the game doesn't inspire these thoughts I still enjoy talking about its mechanics and what they mean to games and the experience. The voice of the blog is always changing but is mostly inspired by some humor I enjoy (although I restrain myself a lot for the blog) and the openness of other producers like Gary Butterfield, who is also a friend of Cheerful Ghost and hosts several notable podcasts, also influenced me. I figured if he can be open about his life to strangers, why can't I? It has really helped me feel better about myself and dig deeper into what games can be.

As for actually finishing the backlog? I don't know. I still buy games fairly regularly and add them to the list. I will probably keep writing as long as I am enjoying it because the key is to have fun and get over the anxiety of all these unplayed games. I can't see it finishing for a long time.

jdodson: Are you playing any other games alongside Ultima right now?

Will Owens: I don't have much time to spend playing games; I only get a few hours on an average week. To manage this time, I usually have two games going at once. One would be the game for the blog I play when I have lots of time in a block (Braid was an exception) and a second I play when I have ten or fifteen minutes to kill. Right now I am filling those shorter times with The Binding of Isaac which I am enjoying a lot. It covers many of the bases I love such as high difficulty, unique vision, and player autonomy to discover mechanics. I have also been playing Spec Ops: The Line after lots of recommendation about its commentary on games, but I must not have made it to that part yet because I'm still just shooting dudes. I will admit, I have been cheating a little on my longer play times by going back to Dark Souls… but you can chalk this up to "research", maybe.

jdodson: Your posts on http://www.backlogkiller.com are really in-depth, I wonder about how long does it take you from concept to post?

Will Owens: When I first started the blog, I took assiduous notes and quickly saw it was not sustainable. I generally come up with the concept for the next post while I am playing and run with it from there. I never outline or have a rigid structure. My process has never worked that way and I feel much better about my work when format and content crystallize from a single core idea I want to get across. Posts are usually completed all at once and generally take less than an hour to write. I'll do proofreading and editing a few times and try to include reference links while posting, so the whole process usually involves about two hours of work for each post which isn't too bad. Finding the time to actually do it is what is tough. Many times I will complete it during my lunch hour at work.

jdodson: Nintendo needs an idea for a new game and they have no ideas. You have full creative control and they need an idea, what game do you lead them to make?

Will Owens: This is the hardest question and one that I wouldn't feel comfortable answering since I'm not a game designer, but if I were forced to design the game it would have to feature motion mechanics that illustrate AND solidify the main idea or plot of the game. I feel like those two elements need to come together to form a game that feels complete in some way.

jdodson: If you could add or change one thing about Cheerful Ghost what would it be?

Will Owens: I like the format of the site and think it is easy to navigate. I guess the only thing I can think of would be if by some miracle you could connect the game auto-update feature to GoG. I have so many games on there I don't even want to think about starting to add them to my profile's list. Otherwise, I think it's simple and efficient.

jdodson: I will see if that possible, I like that suggestion thanks.

jdodson: Do you think its possible you could be able to pull off a Binding of Issac run as well as Gary? I watch his runs and its like watching Magic Johnson play basketball, I can dream but it seems so far away from where I am right now with the game.

Will Owens: I think it's possible for anyone to become an expert at almost any game with enough practice. Games that require hand eye coordination and fast reactions have a higher skill level threshold that may fall outside of some players' abilities, but enough experience can produce a player with expert knowledge. I do think games with more twitch requirements (Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, etc.) do require something extra to be a truly transcendent player, though.

Games with severe leanings toward strategy, thinking, and planning can be mastered by anyone with enough practice. In my opinion, games like Dark Souls, Nethack, and simulations can be conquered by almost any player. It just depends on how much you want to dedicate yourself to the game to learn all the ins and outs so that every situation is covered. That can be a huge hurdle and I understand if people give up and say "it's not worth it". It's probably not if you don't care about it, but, from personal experience, practice will always lead to success and I don't consider myself to be any better than an average player.

My first winning run of Isaac felt pretty close to Gary's videos, but he has far and away more knowledge about the game than me. I just got lucky with items and rooms. Watching his videos is actually what got me through the wall by inspiring me to think differently about the game's mechanics. Just like other roguelikes, once you are aware of all the rules and can bend them to the breaking point, it becomes very easy to win most of the time. Winning every time will always be impossible, though.

jdodson: Any video game music stand out to you above the rest? Anything you have heard from a modern game you loved?

Will Owens: I've always loved music produced in trackers that sound a lot like music in older video games, so I do find myself listening to it from time to time. Even though I was never particularly a fan of the series, I liked many of the old songs from the Mega Man series (especially Dr. Cossack Stage 2 from Mega Man 4). Ninja Gaiden also had some of my favorite songs with its emphasis on drum patterns and bass lines.

My favorite modern game soundtrack has always been Arcanum and I can't see that changing for a long time. It is scored with four piece chamber music that is melancholy and beautiful. It evokes the feeling of the game expertly and stands by itself as some of my favorite music to listen to while relaxing. It is also freely available with the blessing of the composer, Ben Houge. 'Tarant' is my favorite piece from the game.

jdodson: If you could put together your ultimate Humble Bundle what games would you pick? Limit it to five games. You can add three if people pay over the average for good measure.

Will Owens: A very tough question. I would probably put out a must play of older or classic games that epitomize or changed a genre. I would probably include the Zork series, Doom, System Shock (1 or 2), Baldur's Gate 2, and Myst. For extra games I may include good games that have taken those ideas to the extreme like Bioshock, Morrowind, and the original Modern Warfare. Even though there may be better games that exemplify certain genres, these would be my picks… I feel bad about leaving out Quest for Glory, though.

jdodson: I have heard that Avatar 2 will take place in the oceans of Pandora. For that matter Cameron plans to do another 3 Avatar films and has stated that's all he will be working on for the rest of his career. I am not sure this is a question.

Will Owens: I thought Avatar was a bad to average movie that looked gorgeous, much like Crysis as a game.

jdodson: I want to thank Will for taking time to do the interview.

http://www.backlogkiller.com/
http://cheerfulghost.com/Will_Owens/


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