The Last of Us EP12: Shooty Time

 By Shamus Oct 24, 2014 68 comments


Link (YouTube)

It’s a credit to the game that after Bill was such an insufferable asshole I was able to feel sorry for him. He got a note from his partner that boiled down to “I never loved you.” He’s all alone in zombie town. He’s living a doomed existence. And then Ellie stole his porn. Poor guy.

Then again, maybe his existence wouldn’t be so bleak if he wasn’t a horrible, angry, bickering, confrontational, and borderline abusive human being. Maybe Bill’s curse isn’t living alone. Maybe his curse is being Bill.

Observe at 14:45, Ellie does a yawn. This might be the first natural-looking yawn in videogames. A yawn is one of those expressions that usually looks horrifying when done in videogames.

As they head into Pittsburgh, I joke that the zombies are gonna have the worst accent. Turns out a lot of people agree with this. The Pittsburgh accent was recently voted Americas Ugliest Accent. This is my favorite example of the accent and the culture that surrounds it. I’ve known quite a few Greg & Donny types in my day.

And now let’s nitpick this episode, because I can’t help myself.

Frank hung himself in a house with the doors and windows closed. The stench of the rotting corpse should have been overpowering when they entered. It should have been strong just getting near the place. Now, you could argue that it’s been so long that the worst of the smell has dissipated. But if that’s the case, then there’s no way the body is in good enough condition to see bite marks.


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Top 64 Games: 48 to 41

 By Shamus Oct 24, 2014 79 comments

Reminder: Try not to stress out too much about the order of the items on this list, what games made it and which ones didn’t. This list is just PC games, limited to the ones I’ve played and I thought were worth discussing. If you rage out because I left out your favorite game then you’re just making a fool of yourself. Also remember the rule: A particular franchise can only appear in the list once, so if Resident Evil 4 makes the list then Resident Evil 2 can’t.

Just use this as an excuse to talk about / praise / eviscerate games we might not get to discuss very often. Read the intro to learn why we’re doing this.

Also! Some people are having fun trying to identify the games in the header image. That’s actually a fun idea. Sadly, this one is a little odd: They’re all really easy except for one, which is completely unreasonable. Good luck!

I’ll post the answers for each image at the end of this series.

48. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

Wakka-wakka-wakka-wakka-wakka-wakka-wakka-wakka GLUP!

Yes! I found a way to sneak Pac-Man onto this PC gaming list. Maybe this is a cheat. The Pac-Man name is legend, but this isn’t a re-creation of the original and this version isn’t nearly as famous as the various 80′s versions.

Still, this feels like a genuine evolution of the idea. This is a better game, and not just because of the shiny graphics and head bobbing electronic soundtrack. There have been a lot of variants to the Pac-formula over the decades: Bigger mazes, giant Pac-Man, jumping Pac-Man, girl Pac-Man, quiz Pac-Man, Pac-Man with a pinball machine attached, or isometric Pac-Man. This is the first one since Ms. Pac-ManI think having the fruit move around the maze was a really brilliant design choice. that still felt like a game of the same lineage and also improved on the original formula.

47. Rollercoaster Tycoon 3


Link (YouTube)

There were a lot of various “management sims” put out by various teams at various times. You could run a hospital, a railway company, an airline, a farm, and a dozen other things. But the Rollercoaster games had a neat trick where you were using the somewhat dry and prosaic financial sim to build visually appealing thrill-rides. You were building things that were fun to ride and to look at.

46. Descent

Auto-leveling is for noobs. Real pilots don't care which way is up.

A game where you fly through tunnels in “real 3D” That is: You can freely move in all 3 dimensions, as opposed to its contemporaries which used 2D maps to create 3D spaces. Because CPU cycles were precious and nobody had graphics cards.

I can imagine an alternate history where this game had the kind of explosive popularity and endless clones that Doom and Quake enjoyed. It is a very strange alternate history. There were a few games that built on the Descent formula, although Forsaken is the only one I remember. Ultimately I think this genre – if you want to call shooting stuff while floating around so you can’t tell which way is up a “genre” – was doomed to be a niche from the beginning. The movement is nauseating for some, and the controls end up being significantly more complex than anything else this side of mech piloting.

Sadly, the series kind of lost its way. The first game had this dark cyberpunk vibe, like you were Han Solo by way of Bladerunner. The story was just a few paragraphs of occasional flavor text to preserve the mood. By the third game the protagonist had morphed into a grouchy hero in a Star Trek future, and his story was told in cutscenes that have aged very poorly. The color palette was drained a little, the contrast was muted, the brightness was boosted, and the result was a bland game that had lost its original charm and had very little to offer newcomers except confusing levels and disorienting gameplayI know it's petty, but I was always miffed at how dull and pale the shield orbs were in Descent 3..

Maybe an alternate future where this become a viable genre is unrealistic, but I would have liked it if this series had survived just a little longer.

45. Papers, Please

You can protest and be jailed, fight back and be killed, or acquiesce and be left alone. But no matter what: You will be watched.

The rule in movies is “Show, don’t tell”. The rule in games is “Do, don’t show”. Papers, Please has almost nothing to say directly about its subject matter, but instead lets you participate in the utterly mundane horror of bureaucratic oppression. The mechanics perfectly show concepts that are hard to convincingly explain, such as how even a short list of seemingly reasonable regulations can make for chaos and confusion. You can see on one side some policy-maker concluding that issuing work permits would “simplify and streamline” the processing of visitors, and you can experience first-hand just how hilariously wrong this idea is. It’s a game with mechanics that work perfectly with the message, with art that wraps you in the desperation and smothering indifference of the Eastern bloc.

When we complain about ludonarrative dissonance, we’re usually complaining about games that have some kind of conflict between their mechanics and their tone, theme, story, or message: The main character is supposedly a fumbling aged alcoholic loser, but in gameplay he’s an unstoppable killing machine both before and after giving up the booze. You’re supposedly haunted by the deaths of twelve soldiers, but in gameplay you’ll kill a hundred guys and a couple dozen innocents in the process of doing some side-job for a modest paycheck at the behest of some idiot you barely know. But in Papers, Please the mechanics are the message, and the result is a wonderful of example of communicating through play.

44. Dungeon Keeper 2

It is payday.

Ah Bullfrog. The development house that served as the secret lair for the madman Peter Molyneux, before he moved to Lionhead. Both companies made games that sounded brilliant on paper but always felt a little rough in execution. Populous, Syndicate, Magic Carpet, Black and White, Fable. The list of auteur experiments is long and equal parts distinguished and infamous.

For my money, Dungeon Keeper (and its sequel, pictured above) were the most mechanically sound of the games. You could make a similar case for Fable, but Dungeon Keeper was much surer of its identity. Fable always seemed to be groping for a specific tone, theme, or idea, and never figured out what it was or who it was for.

43. Starflight II

*Cue ear-splitting PC speaker music*

Part adventure game, part space sim, part roleplaying game, the Starflight games (both of them) come from a strange era when we hadn’t yet mapped out the perimeter of our genre pigeonholes. It feels wild and random now, but it’s also a shining example of what you can accomplish with just some text and a few tiny images. This was big-idea sci-fi on a grandBy the standards of the day. scale. Elite is given credit as the progenitor of future space sims, but I have to give respect to Starflight for doing so much with story in such a limited medium.

42. King’s Quest III

THRILL AT THE INNOVATIVE TRIPPING-OVER-CATS GAMPLAY!

King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, The Colonel’s Bequest… Sierra had certainly found a niche they were happy with in the 80′s. They excelled at fiddly adventure games with dumb parsers, horrible arcade sequences, and batshit insane puzzles. But at the time we didn’t mind, because nobody else was doing any better. We didn’t have the internet so developers didn’t have people screaming at them over twitter how annoying this stuff was. So it took many iterations for everyone to sort out what worked and what didn’t. In fact, even when a far better template came along (we’ll get to that later in this list) it took Sierra a long time to adapt.

I think the Sierra formula actually suffered with the introduction of better graphics and voice acting. The step up in visual fidelity demanded a equivalent step up in the rest of the game, and they just didn’t have that. King’s Quest III retains a lot of its charm, and you can forgive its brain-dead parser, lame stair-climbing gameplayUgh. The number of spiral staircases you have to navigate in this game is horrendous. One bad step and it's game over. It's the only game where I had to save-scum to CLIMB STEPS. and goofball puzzles because it still looks like the product of an era what that sort of thing was still okay.

41. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

Not bad by the standards of lightsaber art, but you're no Banksy, Kyle.

What a strange franchise. It began as Dark Forces in 1995, a shooter of the DOOM variety. People played it, shot Storm Troopers, and – as with all Star Wars games without lightsabers – complained that they wanted lightsabers. So the sequel gave you one, and the entire franchise re-named itself mid-stream to “Jedi Knight”. The series reached its peak with Jedi Outcast in 2002, and still stands as one of the best examples of action swordplay in the world of games. That’s a shame really. It’s been a dozen years and few games have done better. (Not that Outcast was especially brilliant, but proper swordplay is hard.)

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The Last of Us EP11: Joel Punchman

 By Shamus Oct 23, 2014 53 comments


Link (YouTube)

Here is one of many videos showing what you can do with the fresnel lens from a huge projection TV. (To be clear, the big screen TV in this episode isn’t this kind of unit and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have this kind of lens in it.) Still, if you did find such a thing, it would be amazingly useful here in post-zombie world.


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The Last of Us EP10: Free Range Zombies

 By Shamus Oct 22, 2014 54 comments


Link (YouTube)

If the start of this episode makes no sense, it’s because the whole conversation is a call-back to the first season of Spoiler Warning, which was the last time Randy was on the show.

I’m really struggling with this season now. I’ve nitpicked the plot as much as I dare, and I’ve praised all the stuff I like. At this point it would be time to talk about the mechanics, but I haven’t played the game myself. I don’t know if it’s hurting the commentary, but I feel like I’m not doing my job.

Like, the entire inventory system seems ludicrous to me, because I’m looking at it like a movie-watcher and not a player. Bricks are massively useful. Why can we carry only one? Why do they poof into nothing after being thrown? Why don’t we carry something smaller and lighter that can still make a lot of noise? Why do shivs break? THIS IS ALL RIDICULOUS NONSENSE!

Of course, these are all simply videogame contrivances. Like, I accept that Batman has infinite explosive gel but can only use three globs of it at once. It’s an abstraction around which puzzles and challenges are built. It’s a small compromise made with realism for the sake of gameplay. Arkham is full of silly little details like this that make perfect sense as a player and no sense as a viewer. I’m sure the same is true for TLOU. If I’d played the game myself, this contrivances probably wouldn’t bother me...as much..

I don’t know if this is hurting my commentary, but I I’m going to avoid covering games I haven’t played in future seasons.

Anyway: Story is great, characters are vibrant, scenery is amazing, etc etc.


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Top 64 Games: 56 to 49

 By Shamus Oct 22, 2014 128 comments

Reminder: Try not to stress out too much about the order of the items on this list, what games made it and which ones didn’t. This list is just PC games, limited to the ones I’ve played and I thought were worth discussing. If you rage out because I left out your favorite game then you’re just making a fool of yourself. Also remember the rule: A particular franchise can only appear in the list once, so if Resident Evil 4 makes the list then Resident Evil 2 can’t.

Just use this as an excuse to talk about / praise / eviscerate games we might not get to discuss very often. Read the intro to learn why we’re doing this.

Continue reading »

A Hundred!20827 comments. Suck it, base ten!




Experienced Points: Shadow of Mordor is Nothing But Infantile Revenge Porn

 By Shamus Oct 21, 2014 167 comments

My column this week is not a work of subtlety. This is one of those cases where I went in thinking I was just going to critique a few points, but the more I analyzed the story the more outrageous it seemed. Usually writing a column is cathartic, but this one made me angry to write.

Now, maybe you’ll argue that Tolkien is fundamentally incompatible with a visceral Arkham-style empowerment fantasy. But for the sake of argument, let’s imagine we’ve been given that very job by a clueless but well-meaning executive. Arkham gameplay is popular, LOTR is popular, they have the license, and it smells like money to them. We can’t do anything to change this, so how can we make the best of a tough situation?

Continue reading »

A Hundred!2020207Many comments. 167, if you're a stickler




Diecast #77: Shadow of Mordor, Twenty Sided Origins

 By Shamus Oct 20, 2014 121 comments

This is a special episode with a special guest. RandyIf you're asking "who?", then listen to the show. is on the show, and we talk about how the crew met and got this whole show started.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Chris, and Randy.

Show notes: Continue reading »

A Hundred!201There are 121 comments here. I really hope you like reading.




Top 64 Games: 64 to 57

 By Shamus Oct 19, 2014 220 comments

Reminder: Try not to stress out too much about the order of the items on this list, what games made it and which ones didn’t. This list is just PC games, limited to the ones I’ve played and I thought were worth discussing. If you rage out because I left out your favorite game then you’re just making a fool of yourself. Also remember the rule: A particular franchise can only appear in the list once, so if Resident Evil 4 makes the list then Resident Evil 2 can’t.

Just use this as an excuse to talk about / praise / eviscerate games we might not get to discuss very often. Read the intro to learn why we’re doing this.

Continue reading »

A Hundred!A Hundred!20220 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?




The Last of Us EP9: Bill Die the Violence Guy

 By Shamus Oct 18, 2014 156 comments


Link (YouTube)

I do wonder about the zombie mortality rate in this town. How many zombies do we kill during this 15 minute visit? Why would Bill live here if they’re THAT dense? And if there are only a few left, then why are ANY left? The point where there are just “enough to swarm you at a moment’s notice but not enough to overwhelm you” seems like a pretty narrow range. Since zombies can only reproduce by killing people, this ratio seems really unstable.

And while we’re asking questions we’re not supposed to ask, it’s about time to annoy everyone with this one:

What does Bill EAT?

Screw the traps. His main foe isn’t zombies, it’s his belly. How does he fill that thing? (He even eats enough to be overweight. Amazing!) It takes four acres (a little over three football fields) to feed a typical frontier family, including space for the livestock. Bill might not need that much space because he’s all alone, but I’m having a hard time picturing him maintaining just ONE football field of crops.

Bill doesn’t have a car? Pfft. If a car was available, and gas was availableAnd if gasoline didn't degrade into uselessness in just a few years. then Bill would have one ready right now, and he’d be using it to help plow his field during planting season. Tilling the land for planting is enormously labor-intensive, even if you’ve got the right tools, the right animals, and you know how to use both. And if you don’t have animals? Then you are not going to be fat, end of story. If you are very clever and lucky you might master farming quickly enough to avoid starving, but when you’re done you’re not gonna look anything like burly Bill.

He’s pissed at Joel for setting off his traps? He should be mad that Joel is burning up his precious supply of daylight hours when he should be working on the farm: Tending crops, chasing off wildlife and pests, mending tools, feeding and caring for livestock, gathering fuel for the fireAlthough the town's furniture would be a handy, if unwieldy supply of wood. and preparing food for the dayPreparing food from raw ingredients takes a long time, particularly when you don't have stuff like gas stoves, microwaves, blenders, refrigerators..

Shamus, this is a zombie story! You’re not supposed to ask these kinds of questions.

This season is going to be very hard for you.


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The Last of Us EP8: Grabbin’ Peels

 By Shamus Oct 17, 2014 85 comments


Link (YouTube)

Allow me to elaborate on the gameplay suggestion I made in this episode:

This was originally my idea for making a tabletop game designed around an “action blockbuster” aesthetic. In movies, heroes can get away with all sorts of outrageous stuff that you’d never do in real life: Long falls, ridiculous car jumps, standing in the open during gunfire, leaping between vehicles, etc. These moments make movies fun to watch, but if there’s too many of them then the whole world turns into a cartoon parody of itself. One car jump is fun, but ten car jumps is silly and dumb. The hero standing in the open shooting is cool for ten seconds, but it’s stupid if they always do it.

So my idea was to have some sort of “credulity” based economy, where the players could spend some pointsI actually called them "bullshit points". to do something amazing. Lots of tabletop systems have stuff like this (fate points come to mind) but my plan was to build a game around this one mechanic.

That never panned out, but I’d love to see something similar used in a videogame:

  1. A bad guy shoots at you in the open and he misses automatically, because of course the bad guy always misses on the first shot.
  2. The second shot starts eating away at the player’s “hero meter” or whatever, with each successive shot eating more and more of their supply of hero points. The bad guys keep missing, but the audience will only accept them missing for so long. The player needs to dive behind cover or else…
  3. If the player runs out of hero points, then they get shot and die.
  4. Hero points can be (partly) replenished in combat if you do something impressive, exciting, or action-movie-esque: Shove a guy off a ledge. One-shot someone in the head. Shoot something explosive that blows dudes up. Swat a grenade back at the bad guys. Use some bit of environment to kill a dude. Use the environment to do something cool. Basically, the goal is to keep the player moving, looking for interesting ways to dispatch foes that don’t involve standing in the open or playing boring stop-n-pop cover shooting. Our other goal is to do away with the “health” mechanic itself, where you take dozens of gunshot wounds on your journey but patch over them with “medkits” you find.

Tonally, I don’t think this would work with a Last of Us style game, which is more drama than action adventure. But this could work for something Uncharted-ish.

Also, this episode totally went up on the 17th.


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Top 64 PC Games: Introduction

 By Shamus Oct 17, 2014 132 comments

In keeping with the spirit of this project, the logo has been made crappy (roughly) on purpose, to symbolize the shallow and half-assed nature of this sort of thing.

A few weeks ago we dumped on PC Gamer for their list of Top 100 Games that gave top honors to Mass Effect 2It was a mess of dodgy tone, fake choice, plot holes, retcons, and cliches, but at least the shooting was... pretty standard.. A really interesting discussion about “Top Games” ensued, and it occurred to me that I’ve never really analyzed the thought process behind these lists or questioned the criteria that go into them. The more I thought about it, the more questions I had about how this is supposed to work. Eventually I realized that after deriding Top X lists for years, I hypocritically want to make one. Not because I think the final product is useful. (I don’t care who makes the list, it’s still hogwash. Look, I worked for a couple of weeks on my list and I still think it’s hogwash.)

This is a kind of experiment, “What is it like to make one of these, and how would it turn out if I made one?” I realize this is terribly crypto-hipster of me to both deride and then ironically indulge in something shallow. Just humor me.

What do people mean by “Top Games”, anyway? Continue reading »

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The Last of Us EP7: Shiv and a Haircut

 By Shamus Oct 16, 2014 95 comments


Link (YouTube)

Check out that little breath out that Joel gives when he sees the wound, like he’s just been punched in the gut. Again, I really don’t want to encourage this industry of motion-capture obsessed wannabe movie-makers, but that’s really something. It’s like… acting.


2020202015There are now 95 comments. Almost a hundred!