Good Robot #39: Teaching Players to Good Robot

By Shamus
on Dec 1, 2015
Filed under:
Good Robot


Some other indie developers were nice enough to play the game and send us their feedback. A common theme in the feedback was that things were too chaotic. Or too random. Or unfocused. Or too busy.

Looking at the game, it’s easy to see why, and it’s easy to see how we slipped into this state. We made a system that let you make wildly divergent robots, simply by tweaking a text file. Since creating robots is easy and variety is good, then more robot types = more good, right? Aren’t games always bragging about how many enemy types they have? Isn’t this a selling point? “Fight over 12 different enemy types!” it says on the back of the box.

Only 12, AAA game? Pshaw. We have that many in the first 15 minutes of the game!

It made sense at the time, but when the feedback rolled in it was a forehead-slapping moment for all of us. Of course this will seem like random chaos to someone who hasn’t played the game constantly for 6 months.

It’s like a version of Half-Life 2 where your first fight is against a group of foes with the behaviors of an antlion, a zombie, two soldiers, a metrocop, a strider, and a gunship. It’s not about being “too hard”, really. Even if you lower the hitpoints and damage output on the gunship and the strider to bring them into line with (say) a metrocop, the player still can’t be expected to parse all this chaos. They’re not going to appreciate the differences between the soldier and the zombie when both foes die in the same panicked volley of weapons fire.

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Hangout Friday Dec 4: Steam Controller!

By Shamus
on Nov 30, 2015
Filed under:


No Diecast this week, due to a bunch of excuses that aren’t worth presenting. Also no column, because of the holiday last week and also because I really didn’t have anything to write about.


Before you slam that back button and look for greener pastures, note that this coming Friday we’ll be doing a hangout. This time around we’ll be streaming… the Steam Controller? Somehow? I think the plan is just to play games that normally require a mouse, but using Steam Controller. We’ll see how it goes. Josh and I both have one. It’s a daring, strange, ambitious little device.

The hangout is at 10PM GMT on Friday. That’s 5PM on the east coastI can’t tell you which continent. It’s a surprise!. Josh and I will be there. Other people might show up. Twitch might actually work and let us stream to you! It’s a universe of possibilities!

Here’s a widget to countdown to the event, which make or may not work based on noscript / adblock settings:

When the time comes, the stream will be here:

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Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year (Repost)

By Shamus
on Nov 27, 2015
Filed under:


Let’s all do our part this season and recycle as much as we can. I’ll start with this post from last year, because today is Black Friday in the USA and this seems particularly relevant.

Like all old codger stories, this one begins with the phrase, “When I was young.” I realize this is cliche, but it’s probably less annoying than using, “Before you were born” as an opening.

In any case, when I was young the Christmas shopping season began much more gradually. There was no “Black Friday” shopping blitzkrieg the day after Thanksgiving. The process took time and not everyone did it at once.

But today, as soon as Halloween is over the Christmas decorations come out and the Christmas sales begin. We roll our eyes. We joke. We grit our teeth. But it still happens this way every year. People write op-eds about how ugly and consumerist America has become, because it wasn’t like this in the “Good old days.” Unfortunately our current grotesque, soul-crushing orgy of prolonged and rapacious spending was unavoidable. We all hate it, even as we participate in it. It’s nobody’s fault, really. It’s just the unintended consequence of a couple of perfectly understandable forces.

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Mass Effect Retrospective 24: Collectors Addition

By Shamus
on Nov 26, 2015
Filed under:
Mass Effect


After the mission on Freedom’s Progress we discover that Cerberus managed to build the Normandy 2. There’s a lot to unpack with this idea, and so I’m going to take the problem of Cerberus and their unlimited (yet somehow secret?) GDP, and put that discussion off until Mass Effect 3. For now, let’s just roll with it.

Besides, as ridiculous as it is for Cerberus to build a better version of the most advanced ship in the galaxy, this reveal is only the second most implausible thing in this scene. The real stunner is that Joker is already working with Cerberus.

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Good Robot #38: Spec’ing a Feature

By Shamus
on Nov 25, 2015
Filed under:
Good Robot


When you’ve got more than one person working on a complex bit of software, you generally need a specification (spec) for new features. The bigger the team, the more you need a spec. The more complex a feature, the more you need a spec.

According to stereotypes, big firms usually lean too hard on specs, to the point where they might spend more time writing the specs than coding the feature:

“The button will be ten pixels from the left margin and will conform to the usability guidelines sheet 201-a. It will be labeled “Join Game” and will – after a confirmation popup as outlined in the interface framework – begin polling the designated server in request for an open slot. If no slot is found, then the fallback behavior […]”

Meanwhile, little indie houses have a slightly less formal approach:

Bruce: Can you add a button that will let players join the game?

Barbara: Sure.

Stuff gets done either way, but sometimes indies are a little slapdash and sometimes big firms are a little too bureaucratic. On Good Robot, our spec is usually a sentence or two in the shared Google doc that we use as a universal to-do list.

But this week I ran into something that I realized was too complicated for that. It was one of those features that sounded obvious and simple in the meeting, but then became mysterious when I sat down to write the damn thing. (This is the point of a spec: To reveal the unknowns BEFORE coding begins. This is important in big firms, since once you’ve begun coding you’ve ALREADY been allotted a fixed time budget, which means this is a bad time to begin figuring out what you need to do.)

So I proposed a spec. And then I thought I’d post it here, just to show what the non-exciting bits of game development look like. This is pretty informal as these things go, but it should give you an idea of what needs to be hammered out before you start coding.

Also note that I’ve replaced the names of the stuff in our game with DOOM references to make it easier to follow.

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Half Time CH9: Season and Salt

By Rutskarn
on Nov 24, 2015
Filed under:
Lets Play


I spend the next twenty-four hours in a state of the most perfect bliss I have ever known. Every little thing makes me happy: the free flexion of my knees and fingers, uninhibited by plaster cast or staples, like chipper little stirrings of cicadas coming out of hibernation; the smell of a pot of sublethal locker room coffee, denatured into something digestible by sugar and hell’s own fires and served early with a side of bacon and toast-ed butter; a fresh newspaper, sports page open to the headline WAIT WHAT; the little engraving of the elf coach on the sidelines, three goals in and just starting to process the concept of disappointment; Bugman’s attitude adjuster in serious quantities. But this was all window-dressing. Like all really worrisome ascetics, my happiness isn’t created by what I did so much as what I understand. Something about our victory, our sweet, glorious victory, was clear:

It was definitely a fluke.

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Experienced Points: Why is the Fallout 4 Protagonist Voiced?

By Shamus
on Nov 23, 2015
Filed under:


My column this week is not an answer to the question posed by the title, but instead a diatribe on why this is a really good question. It’s a baffling design decision that hurt the game in numerous tangible ways and doesn’t seem to have any benefit.

Actually, it’s possible this design decision can be explained by the same thing as the terrible design decision I talked about last week. It’s awful and a waste of development resources, but it also makes it easier to make trailers and press demos.

Earlier today, Supahewok said this in response to the podcast:

Most journalists go through a honeymoon phase with Bethesda titles. RPS gave Skyrim their GOTY for… 2011, was it? The game had been out for only a month.

Fast forward a year and most of their reviewers were saying, “In hindsight, it was rather shallow and dull, wasn’t it?”

Bethesda seem to have become masters at a sort of inherently shallow but greatly immediately gratifying gameplay, which means everyone loves it for a few weeks. Eventually the shine wears off, and the rather skeletal, half baked mess of the game’s underlying systems become more visible. However, Beth times their releases for Christmas (anything late October through November is Christmas Season for games nowadays), when all the game journos are doing their “Best of the Year” and award shows are handing out trophies, so the game is more immediately in their minds than the great games from earlier in the year (betcha nobody is keeping Pillars of Eternity in mind for Best RPG, although to be fair Witcher 3 seems to have had equally as good, yet more accessible writing, and a crap ton more production value. Yet even W3, who at its release had a lot of folks calling it the Best RPG for the Past Decade, is gonna have stiff competition from FO4, when there really is no contest between them).

Basically you’ve got a perfect recipe for immediate critical adoration, and by the time people move on in January or February what’s done is done. Honestly, the true, Miyomoto-ian stars of the BethSoft production team are the marketers.

That is… alarmingly plausible.

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Diecast #130: Still More Fallout 4

By Shamus
on Nov 23, 2015
Filed under:


Yes. Another entire hour of Fallout 4 talk. I suppose this is annoying if you don’t care about Fallout 4, but we can’t talk about games we’re not playing and right now this is what everyone is playing. This time we get to hear from Rutskarn and Mumbles.

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

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster, Mumbles. Episode edited by Rachel.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Fallout 4: My Mods

By Shamus
on Nov 22, 2015
Filed under:
Video Games


Like all Bethesda games, Fallout 4 is something I’ll play for 1,000 hours and complain about for 2,000. It’s deeply flawed but wonderful. Annoying but unique. Brilliant but stupid. The game is only about two weeks old at this point, but I’ve already begun applying mods and I doubt I’ll play the vanilla version ever again.

So let’s talk about the mods I’m running… Continue reading »

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Rutskarn’s RPG Tales: Neat Characters Are Easier Than You’d Think

By Rutskarn
on Nov 21, 2015
Filed under:
Tabletop Games


In part because Fallout 4’s thrown my perspective for a loop, I’m still tinkering with some of my arguments about Skyrim, so Altered Scrolls is on hold for a few weeks. In the meantime, I’ll be running a few tabletop-roleplaying-related posts. Below: tips for new players on making interesting character.

There’s absolutely no reason to be anxious about getting into tabletop games—I say this as a man whose first major, campaign-running dungeon master was a scabrous miscreant—but most new players are anyway. Everyone has a pretty identical fear-portfolio:

“The experienced players are going to be frustrated with me. I’ll look silly playing my over-the-top character. I’ll look boring playing my conservative character. People are going to laugh at me and then Jack Chick is going to jump out of a broom closet and kill me with a chainsaw.” These are rarely true, particularly if you follow my golden rule of tabletop gaming, which is: it’s almost always smarter to get your existing friends to play with you and all fumble around together than it is to put yourself in the hands of strangers. That evits about 99% of most peoples’ horror stories. The remaining 1% have to do with Jack Chick and chainsaws, but we live in an imperfect world.

That said, a common fear I run into with new players that isn’t just a confabulation of general unreasoning social anxiety—that is to say, a fear that can be handled directly rather than just dulled through exposure–regards playing one’s character well. The idea of creating a fictional person and playing them as a kind of performance scares a lot of people. It especially scares them when they know they’re going to be playing with people who’ve been doing this for a while and have gotten pretty good at it. It doesn’t take long for these new players to learn it’s not as hard as it looks, but there’s definitely a hump to get over.

Here’s some advice I’ve picked up and formulated over the years about how to create your first fun, interesting RPG character. I’ve aimed this advice at D&D players, but with a little imagination you can adapt it to just about any kind of game or system.

Continue reading »


Knights of the Old Republic EP33: Non-stop Action Gameplay

By Shamus
on Nov 20, 2015
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


I know it was rough earlier this week when we sat through a 15 minute expositional dialog, but we’re finally past that stuff and back into the space-fights and lightsaber battles.

Link (YouTube)

Ha ha. I tricked you. It’s actually just more talking. You’re far too trusting.

In this episode I unfairly picked on the Extended Universe novels. This was based entirely on the things people have told be about them. (I think? Maybe I’ve read some? Back in the 90’s I read a bunch of Trek novels and I might have thrown some Star Wars in there. In any case, if I did read some, I don’t remember the details.)

Anyway. So now I’m curious: What’s good? I don’t mean “which books?” I mean: What new ideas did the books introduce that made for good stories and fit within the pre-existing framework? (EDIT: Any media or time period is good. I’m just curious what EU ideas have resonated with people.)

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Knights of the Old Republic EP32: Star Trek!

By Shamus
on Nov 19, 2015
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Worldbuilding, man. I made fun of it on the show, but I love me a good worldbuilding dialog. Tell me a backstory that gives greater meaning or depth to the story I’m currently participating in.

Keys for making a good worldbuilding dialog.

  1. It should be optional. The player should be able to jump in and out of the conversation quickly and move on. Not everyone likes worldbuilding. Sometimes even people who like might not like this particular story. And even if they’re into lore and they like this lore, sometimes those people are on their sixth playthrough and don’t need to hear the story again.

  2. A good backstory is not a list of dates and people. It is a list of events and consequences. The lore should explain something about the state of the world right now. Culture, politics, religion, language, technology, etc. Everything else is cruft.
  3. Seriously, though. Make it optional.

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