Doom 3 Episode 3: The Laboriously Explained Space Laser in our Demons-From-Hell Shooter

By Shamus   Jul 31, 2015   Spoiler Warning 88 comments

Link (YouTube)

I loved all the crazy science machines spread throughout the complex. We were all used to videogames where we explored mostly static worlds, so these massive pounding, spinning, glowing, shaking machines really were something new. Their moving parts cast crazy shadows on the walls that really showed off the engine and gave monsters fun places to hide. Their deadly interiors made for a feeling of paranoia at the ongoing hazard. Their moving parts provided a fun justification for the various “puzzles” you have to overcome. As the guy who’s in charge of walking around in videogames asking, “What is this thing FOR?!?”, I loved that the game took time to do some fun worldbuilding by explaining their purpose. Okay, everyone thinks it’s completely superfluous worldbuilding, but I loved it anyway.

So I see Chris has quite the organizational system for his savegames. “ASDF” and “ASDFW”. I’m in the habit of naming my first save “new” or “start”, but then I’m too lazy to make another, so I replace it as I go. Eventually I have a save just before the final encounter in the game labeled “start”. Which means my system is objectively worse. Chris names his saves gibberish, but I give them completely wrong and misleading names that will no doubt confuse my later self.

How do you name saves?

202020208Great Scott! 88 comments! If only this post was a DeLorean.

Doom 3 Episode 2: The Death and Redemption of Reed Rickles

By Shamus   Jul 30, 2015   Spoiler Warning 54 comments

Link (YouTube)

In this playthrough, Chris is keeping things fast and interesting by skipping all the “secret” containers. What you’re supposed to do is listen to all of the audiologs and read all the emails to find the cabinet codes, and use those to unlock the item stashes. I imagine that most of us – trained by years of item-scarcity mechanics – reflexively did all that work without doing any sort of cost / benefit analysis. In my case, I frequently found myself popping open containers to find everything inside was useless to me. I was maxed out on the offered bullets, my health was topped off, and I really only needed a fraction of the armor pickups. But I kept opening them anyway because that’s how you do things in a videogame.

So here 11 years after the fact I’m really glad to see that the cabinets really do make a huge difference. Halfway through this episode is the point where I was able to start using the shotgun exclusively. Now I see Chris skip the containers and wind up completely starved for ammo. I guess I’m just glad to know all that hassle wasn’t a complete waste, only mostly a waste.

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Mass Effect Retrospective: Part 5

By Shamus   Jul 30, 2015   Game Reviews 143 comments

Feros is the most “Classic BioWare” of the planets. It’s packed with story beats, themes, and plot elements ripped from earlier games. You’ve got the bog-standard optional “help these villagers gather resources they need to live” type questing, you’ve got some charmingly lame puzzles, and you’ve got a little bit of local politics and personal drama for flavor. This would be my favorite location in the game if it wasn’t all the same unendurable shade of beige.

A lot of games from this time period made the mistake of making a world of tan and grey, but this particular example really bothers me. I can tolerate it if the people developing the Military Manshoots of 2007 thought that concrete dust and rubble was just the “most realistic” and therefore “best”, according to the artless simplistic tastes of the day. But here? On a strange and distant world meant to evoke a sense of wonder and alienation? I can’t help but feel like the people who designed this place should have known betterAnd perhaps they did, but were pushed to make it “more realistic” by some hack who doesn’t deserve his job..

Fridge logic: How did the massive ruins on this world escape the Reaper mop-up crew? Did they overlook it because of the cloud cover? Because those buildings sticking out seem kind of... obvious.

You could go either way. You could make the old parts of the planet – the ruins and underground caves – look vibrant and full of color, and make the prefab human housing look drab and boring. This would make the human stuff look ordinary and pedestrian in contrast to this alien backdrop. Or you could go the other way and have the human structures be bold and garish against the understated backdrop of the ruins and nature. Perhaps human stuff would be painted, or made of colored plastic. This would make the human structures stand out as new and out-of-place, like building a McDonalds in the Greek Parthenon. Either way, there should be stark contrast between new and old.

And no matter what, the Thorian should have some kind of green or yellow motif, even if it doesn’t photosynthesize with chlorophyll like Earth plants. It’s mind boggling that the exact same color palette is used for the human colony, the Prothean ruins, the ExoGeni Offices, and the Thorian caverns. What a wasted opportunity.

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Doom 3 Episode 1: Steven Blum is Everyone On Mars

By Shamus   Jul 29, 2015   Spoiler Warning 112 comments

Link (YouTube)

I can’t convey the sadness that I missed out on our Doom 3 session. I’ve wanted to talk about this game for ages. While I don’t hold up Doom 3 as a timeless classic or anything, I really do think this game did a lot of things right. I’d even go so far as to say the first couple of hours are really enjoyable. It doesn’t feel anything like what we expect DOOM to feel like, but viewed as its own thing it actually does a good job of setting a mood and letting you explore freely at the start. This is very preferable to the more modern approach of having lots of flow-breaking cutscenes and bossing you around with waypoint markers.

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Newsflash: Half-Life 3 Still Isn’t Coming Out

By Shamus   Jul 28, 2015   Escapist 117 comments

My column this week talks about the recent Half-Life 3 rumors and counter-rumors, but more broadly it’s about the larger pattern of anticipation, speculation, and frustration surrounding this game.

Going into detail on the first rumor a little more:

The rumor claimed that the game is never coming out, but it also claimed that there are “only” 10 people working on it. Ten is a very confusing number of people to have working on this. It seems like this number should either be much larger, or zero. Ten people is not a large enough team to make a AAA content-muncher happen. It would take them so long to finish that by the time they’re halfway done, the first content they made would be an entire graphics generation behind the times.

A rule of thumb I learned in my dot-com days: To figure out what it costs to employ someone, multiply their base salary by two. This is how much it costs the company to keep you, given that they pay various taxesThis was explained to me once but my eyes glazed over., health insurance for you, various other types of insurance for the company, and the company resources you consume. This is less true when you’re talking about executive pay, but for us rank-and-file mooks the “multiply by two” number seemed to hold well enough. Obviously your mileage may vary.

So ten mooks at Valve are supposedly working on Half-Life 3. I don’t know if we’re talking about ten artists, ten programmers, or ten Eric Wolpaws. Let’s just be conservative and say they all make $75k, which means Valve spends $150k on each one. Which means Valve would be spending a million and a half a year producing a game that will never come out, because the team isn’t even large enough to stay ahead of glacial forces like game engine turnover.

Then again, maybe they’re just prototyping ideas, and the plan is that the project will spin up once the gameplay crystallizes around a few core ideas. If they’re looking for something that’s as iconic and game-changing as the gravity gun, they might be in for a long search.

Who knows?

I’m not that upset that Half-Life 3 isn’t coming out, but I am kind of upset that nobody else has managed to fill this niche. Crysis tries, but it’s too loud, stupid, and clumsy to maintain any kind of tension, atmosphere, or sense of discovery. Wolfenstein is the closest thing we get these days. Those games are pretty good, but they’re not nearly as masterful as Half-Life at hiding their scripting and their rails.

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Diecast #114: Mailbag, Dragon Age, TF2, Tacoma

By Shamus   Jul 27, 2015   Diecast 129 comments

This Diecast barely happened. Thanks for Josh and Rutskarn for making the effort to show up when they had so much else going on. Thanks also to my daughter Rachel, who edited this so I could do other stuff. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions.

New record: We made it through half the available questions!

Direct link to this episode.

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

Hosts: Shamus, Campster, Rutskarn, Josh.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Mass Effect Retrospective: Part 4

By Shamus   Jul 26, 2015   Game Reviews 202 comments

These first few entries might be a little dry. We’ll get to the good stuff eventually, but we have groundwork to lay before we can cover that.


Yuck. I`ve played 8-bit games with more colors than this. Heck, I`ve played 8-bit games with more shades of RED than this.

Even though I do this planet first, it feels like a bad place to start exploring this particular universe. It’s short on expensive content like characters, dialog, cutscenes, and detailed environments. The combat can be kind of newbie-unfriendly at low levels, and the mission ends with a fight against a Krogan that can be ridiculously hard for some classesOh, you’re an infiltrator that specializes in sniping at a distance? Well enjoy being locked in a confined space with a charging Krogan that can kill you in five seconds. Also enjoy the fifteen seconds of un-skippable cutscene leading up to the fight.. The brown rocky landscape is monotonous the moment you lay eyes on it, and it only gets worse as the mission drags on. This is the kind of stuff developers usually save for that late-game slog.

On the other hand, the interface shows the the player’s squad is still one member short, and it’s natural to expect they will be eager to come here and complete the team. On the gripping hand, I’m not sure the player has enough information to know or guess that Liara will be the final squadmate. Basically, I’m really curious what the designer’s intention was, and how people responded. I can’t remember my first play-through. Did people understand Liara was going to join the team, and did they make a beeline for Therum to get her?

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Arkham Asylum EP15: Batman’s Punchline

By Shamus   Jul 24, 2015   Spoiler Warning 176 comments

Link (YouTube)

The game spends the first 85% of it’s running time building up a collection of brawling and stealth mechanics. And then you get to the end and they throw you into three completely new encounters, which are as different from the rest of the game as they are from each other. We slog through Croc’s lair. Then we fight Ivy by way of Super Mario Sunshine. Then we fight monster Joker.

Superhero games are tough to get right, and the losers vastly outnumber the successes. This goes double for existing heroes. When talking about bad superhero games everyone jumps right to Superman 64, and so we kind of lose track of just how many other awful licensed games there are.

But here we have a game that managed to nail it. The tone is right. The art is right. The gameplay fits the character. (As opposed to the Gameboy / SNES days of just making everything a super-unforgiving platformer built around projectile avoidance.) They had multiple gameplay types blended together, and managed to keep it all contained at a single location without things ever feeling stale.

And then we get to the end and it all comes apart. I understand if they felt they needed to put a boss fight at the end because of videogame expectations. But three? Next to each other? And what about turning Joker into a huge brute? Didn’t that strike anyone as dangerously off?

In the comments, reader Ledel has been keeping a running tally of the apparent knockouts, maims, and kills (ignoring that the game claims people are “unconscious” regardless of what happens to their body) that Batman commits during the course of the game. You’ll have to go back and read the comments to get the details – Ledel regularly explains the thinking between what constitutes a “maim” or a “kill” here – but the idea is to count up how much damage Batman is doing if we assume these mooks are about as durable as a typical human being outside of comic books. The final counts for the whole series:

K.O.ed: 321

Maimed: 42

Killed: 26

Thanks Ledel!

I really enjoyed this season. It was nice to be able to say something nice about a game after the outrage and ranting of last time. Thanks for watching.

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Mass Effect Retrospective: Part 3

By Shamus   Jul 23, 2015   Game Reviews 246 comments

Last time I said that Mass Effect 1 missions feel like television episodes. I’m not saying these adventures would work as television scripts as we find them in the game. Some would be far too shortThe plot of Therum barely qualifies as a skit. and others would be far too longEven if you trimmed all the combat down to the essentials, Noveria is probably still movie-sized. but they still fit the overall pattern of American television where a cast of regular characters visit a new location, meet some locals, and have an adventure with one or more complete arcs. This is distinct from (say) something like Witcher 3, where the various arcs are all tangled together, nested, branching, meandering, and criss-crossing, and where the audience is dazzled with an ever-shifting cast of charactersEven the protagonist POV character shifts from time to time!. This is also different from something like Arkham City, where a half dozen (mostly unrelated, or barely related) plot threads are opened in the first hour or so, and then the player gradually closes them one at a time.

I really enjoy the Classic BioWare episodic style, and I’m not sure why it isn’t more popular. It seems like a good way to compartmentalize game development. It must be insane trying to coordinate something interconnected like Witcher 3, but in a game with lots of discrete locations you can probably hand each episode off to its own small team and let them work without worrying the teams will get in each other’s way. And as others have pointed out, it makes for a better safety net if you start to run out of time or budget. It’s easier to cut a location from the game and patch over the hole if the locations aren’t deeply interconnected.

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Arkham Asylum EP14: Titan up the Gameplay

By Shamus   Jul 22, 2015   Spoiler Warning 119 comments

Link (YouTube)

This episode does a good job of showing off one thing about the Arkham combat that I’ve never liked, which is that when the fight gets near a wall, the camera becomes your most dangerous enemy. In an ideal situation, the game will have some sort of concept of the “arena” where the fight is taking place, and position the camera on the outside, giving you a complete view of the field. And the game seems to do this right up until the fight gets close to a wall.

It wouldn’t look right for the camera to go into the wall, so instead it swings around to the other side, pointing outward. This means all the player can see is themselves, the wall, and the guy they’re currently punching. Other foes might be hidden just off to the side, within punching distance but out of view. At this point the whole system falls apart. You could say, “It’s strategic! You need to stay away from the walls and don’t let the mooks corner you!” Fair enough. But…

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Experienced Points: The Reason You’re (Not) A Console Gamer

By Shamus   Jul 21, 2015   Escapist 102 comments

I’m afraid that if you read this site and listen to the Diecast, then this week’s column is going to feel like a ripoff. It’s basically a more organized version of the monologue I’ve been doing on how “furniture shapes platform decisions” followed by “if it’s not shaped by furniture, it’s shaped by the people you live with”.

Speaking of the people you live with…

Our family just got a Wii U. I’d post my thoughts on it, but aside from, “Wow this is charming!” I can’t offer any insight. My oldest daughter has decided that now is the time to do the 100% run-through of Harvest Moon that she’s always wanted to do. So our Wii U has spent the last 12 days playing what seems to be the most tedious Wii game ever devised.

It’s a game about growing crops and animals, but also about friendship or somesuch piffle. It’s got more repetitive grind than any Final Fantasy I’ve ever seen, it requires more exhaustive Wiki-reading than the most obtuse Minecraft mods, and the relevant locations are spread out over an expanse of mostly gameplay-free space, requiring long walks between often-repeated tasks. Add in some unskippable interludes, repetitive dialog, and an interface that’s too concerned with looking cute rather than giving you convenient access to the terrifying volumes of resources and information you’re dealing with, and you have a game designed to devour your time before demanding also your sanity.

Over the past week I’ve watched my daughter research the wiki and build up an impressive collection of handwritten notes. On one hand, I want to be the cranky old dad and boot her off the couch so someone else can use the new console. On the other hand, I find myself looking back on the notes and maps I made for Eye of the Beholder and thinking, “Yeah. It’s about time she worked for a game. You know back in my day…”

So I don’t know much about the Wii U yet. I’ll report back when she relinquishes control.

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Diecast #113: Cable Companies Suck

By Shamus   Jul 20, 2015   Diecast 140 comments

I wasn’t on the show this week, but the rest of the cast (by which I mean almost nobody) carried on without me. As of typing this paragraph, I have no idea what the show will be about. I’m just going to post the show now, and fill in the show notes after it’s up. So we’re going to listen to the show together! This will be fun! These exclamation marks are persuasive!

Direct link to this episode.

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

Hosts: Campster, Josh, Josh’s Imitation of Rutskarn.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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