Fallout 4 EP24: Enjoy Your Coffee

By Shamus
on Jul 29, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Mumbles commented that the blood mechanics in this game are crazy. This seems to be a thing with late-period Bethesda games: Ragdolls act like balloons full of strawberry jam. Which makes it all the more inexplicable to me that “high-definition blood splatters” is always among the most popular mods. There are a lot of things visually wrong with how people die in this game, but “the blood decals are too low-res” isn’t one of them. If anything, the extra detail would draw attention to the problem.

I dunno. It’s just strange, is what I’m saying.

20201050 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

Fallout 4 EP23: Hancock for President

By Shamus
on Jul 28, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Here’s a spoiler for Josh: I watched the episode and I SEE WHAT YOU DID.

I never teamed up with former mayor MacCready, so I can’t really comment on what they’ve done with him. I hear people say that he’s actually a pretty good companion, but I favor stealth gameplay and companions do not mix well with stealth. I thought it was surprising that he was in the game, but it doesn’t even make my list of top 100 Fallout 4 gripes. I mean, if I was given the choice between:

  1. Re-work an unpopular character to give them another chance. (MacCready in Fallout 4.)

  2. Hopelessly butcher an existing popular character by bending their story into nonsense and mercilessly flanderizing their personality quirks. (Harold in Fallout 3.)

I will take #1 every time.

202020209There are now 89 comments. Almost a hundred!

Fallout 4 EP22: Reginald’s Suit

By Shamus
on Jul 27, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

“Does this game look good?” is the question. I had a bunch of nice things to say about it when the game was new:

  1. It’s got lots of color and they don’t abuse the color filter like in Fallout 3.

  2. The faces don’t look like potatoes, like they did in Fallout 3 and New Vegas.
  3. The weapons look pretty cool compared to Fallout 3.
  4. The supermutants are a little less like Fallout 3 and a little more like Fallout 1.

But that’s praising the game by pointing out how awful Fallout 3 looked. A more fair question would be, “Does Fallout 4 look good for a game in this time period, with these system requirements?”

I don’t know. I’m just glad that wretched green filter is gone.

A Hundred!205There are 125 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

Ruts vs. Battlespire CH19: Hot, Cold, and Hott

By Rutskarn
on Jul 27, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play


So after last week’s fun, painless, and intuitive teleportation process, I’m now standing in the “Shade Perilous.” So far every other place I’ve gone has been named for how much it’s going to kill me, so maybe I’m not as scurred as I ought to be.

Time for an in-game story update! Gather the wee ones and cuddle around Grandma Cahmel’s rocking chair as I regale you with another classic tale of actual rather than assumptive narrative. You can tell which is which because one’s broken and the other one’s just complicated.

As you may dimly recall, the one living humanoid still in the mix is a woman named Vatasha Trenelle. She’s left various notes indicating she’s shadowing the invading party and seeing what happens. Anyway, this is what happens.

She`s gonna get captured. That`s the take-away. Please don`t ever feel like you need to read these.
She's gonna get captured. That's the take-away. Please don't ever feel like you need to read these.

It’ll be a bit of a shame to see her go, because she was a novice who was, like us, putting it all on the line in a desperate situation. And she probably had pants when she showed up today, so that puts her one above us on professionalism. If she was a little bit better at exploiting bugs she’d probably be the main character.

Whoop, gotta go, the level’s greeter is on fire.

Because the fire`s blue, you can tell it`s that much more hot and powerful than a regular fire daedra. Or, uh, wait. That might be an ice daedra? Well, you can tell that it is either quite hot or very cold, and you can`t get any clearer than that.
Because the fire's blue, you can tell it's that much more hot and powerful than a regular fire daedra. Or, uh, wait. That might be an ice daedra? Well, you can tell that it is either quite hot or very cold, and you can't get any clearer than that.

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Good Robot Postmortem #3: Story

By Shamus
on Jul 26, 2016
Filed under:
Good Robot


There’s almost nothing in the way of story in the game, although it’s not for lack of ideas.

My original idea – which you can still sort of see scraps of here and there – was for an insane world. Since “robots go haywire and kill humans” is such an ever-present trope in fiction, I wanted to create a silly world where the reality was just as common as the trope. A world where homicidal robots were just a fact of life. A world where the solution to killer robots is to build more robots to protect you from the killer robots, and then when those go haywire you get more to protect you from them, and so on, until the air is thick with robo-warfare. The companies that make the robots are terrible at engineering, and the people are all mindless consumers with no sense of self-preservation.

This wasn’t intended to be some heavy-handed social commentary on consumerism or anything. It was really just an excuse to make “crazy robot” jokes and gently poke fun at well-worn genre tropes.

It’s a bit like Saints Row The Third, where the player is encouraged to not feel bad for the idiot civilians they run over, since they’re all shallow and stupid. In Saints Row, people vapidly worship the endlessly destructive, mass-murdering gang. So when they die it’s not an injustice, but comeuppance. Maybe throw in a dash of “Everyone is insane” from Borderlands.

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Diecast #160: Doom, Civil War 2, Mailbag

By Shamus
on Jul 25, 2016
Filed under:


This episode of the Diecast contains equal amounts of Shamus Young and gluten. I’m going to write up these show notes as I listen.

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

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Campster, Mumbles.

Episode edited by Rachel.

Show notes: Continue reading »

A Hundred!2014There are 134 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

Rutskarn’s GMinars: Finally Answers

By Rutskarn
on Jul 24, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games



At long last, my answers to some reader-submitted questions about GMing:


1. Where do you tend to fall on a scale of simulationist vs narrativist games? I used to prefer the former in my early years for their structure, but as I get older I find myself drawn more and more to narrative-focused games. Is this your experience as well?

2. When you set out to create a one-shot, campaign, etc do you start with the themes and craft a game around it or do you start with an idea or image and build the themes around it?

I have no straightforward answer to your first question–it’s like asking if I prefer apples or onions. What I seek out and what I recommend depends entirely on the other ingredients.

If I’ve got my STEM group, six hours, a six-pack, and a thick monster manual, I might choose a system that offers a high level of fiddly strategic detail. If I’ve got my looser humanities group and two hours, I might pick a system that’s low-maintenance and primarily narrative. If I’ve got my serious game-design people over, we might whip out something experimental and obscure that uses dreamcatchers instead of dice or some other nonsense. In RPGs, as in other things, my tastes run pretty eclectic–it’s all about the group I’m experiencing it with and what system compliments their strengths best.

Anything shorter than a long-term campaign I tend to improvise rather than design. When I do design a campaign world, the watchword is always tone. I tend to settle on sense of stakes, attitude, and pacing and create central elements that evoke it. I also find it helpful to think in terms of genre and pastiche. An office comedy fantasy game. Southern Gothic that feels like a Spaghetti Western. A post-apocalyptic LA Dusk Til Dawn rock opera. These glib summaries are useful to have on hand for when you start explaining the game to players, who (all being well) would like to make their characters fit into whatever you’ve been working on.

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202040 comments. (Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.)

Ruts vs. Battlespire CH18: Voyage of the Yawn Treader

By Rutskarn
on Jul 22, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play


We’re about to quit the Soul Cairn for good, and I’m very happy to say we’re going to miss a few chunks of it. There’s several things in this level novel enough to talk about without really being compelling enough to do. Apart from being stitched up with dental floss, I’d say the defining characteristic of Battlespire is that it never ruins an interesting idea by thinking it through.

For example: remember those annoying, immortal, ceaselessly pestering “wraths”? According to the wiki, there’s a scroll somewhere in the level that teaches you a phrase to kill them instantly. I was surprised to learn this. I was even more surprised to learn that I’d found that scroll and apparently made no note of any magic wrathtaking incantations. It could be that the information in the scroll was poorly presented, it could be that I noticed it but didn’t get a chance to apply it, or maybe it’s related to how after several hours exposure to Battlespire I lose the ability to read or perform simple math and must be jump-started with a season of Sesame Street.

Anyway, I didn’t miss much by not figuring out the killphrase. The same strategy that worked on the wraths in the first half of the level–running away from anything ghost-shaped–remains applicable. Sometimes it’s pleasant for an RPG to reward lazy gormless cowardice.

I like these more composed, busy rooms quite a bit. They give the dungeon crawl some much-needed texture and context. It`s also fun to play guess-what-the-furniture`s-supposed-to-be.
I like these more composed, busy rooms quite a bit. They give the dungeon crawl some much-needed texture and context. It's also fun to play guess-what-the-furniture's-supposed-to-be.

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Final Fantasy X Part 7: Operation Mi’ihen

By Shamus
on Jul 21, 2016
Filed under:


Our first chapter (Besaid Island) showed us how nice the world is when it’s not being ruined by Sin. The next chapter (Kilika Island) showed us how bad Sin is. The following chapter shows how the world copes with it. (By watching Blitzball and praying a summoner defeats Sin soon.) This next chapter anticipates the most obvious question that people will have by this point: Why can’t we kill Sin with guns or technology? Have people tried? Sure, the writer could just throw out a few lines of dialog explaining how guns won’t work, but instead we get to see the result first-hand when we witness…

Operation Mi’ihen

So when you say we`re going to fight Sin with technology, please tell me you`re not talking about all of these SPEARS.

So when you say we`re going to fight Sin with technology, please tell me you`re not talking about all of these SPEARS.

(It’s pronounced operation mee-hen. For some unfathomable reason. I guess you’d have to ask Tee-dus.)

The Crusaders are kind of the military arm of Yevon. They’re in charge of fighting sinspawn while waiting for summoners to do their thing. Most of their power is concentrated around Luca, because the Blitzball stadium is there. That sounds kind of messed up, but the way Wakka describes things it makes some kind of sense. Blitzball is their way of taking their mind off of the horrors of Sin. It’s the main coping mechanism of their entire society. If there’s one place they all collectively want to defend, it’s the stadium.

Yevon forbids the use of technology. Sort of. The rules seem pretty arbitrary and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it other than, “Technology is bad because the Maesters say so, the Maesters say so because the teachings say so, and the teachings say so because technology is bad.” Technology like the stuff used to run Blitzball is allowed, while weapons technology and most labor-saving devices are forbiddenThe real reason – as pieced together from the Ultimania guide and fan conjecture – is that Sin deliberately targets any area that looks too advanced. Yu Yevon is probably wary that some fancy weapons program would find a way to kill Sin if he let their technology run unchecked. He wants to keep the population reliant on magic and summoners..

Everyone in the party has a different take on this. Tidus notices that this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is gainsayed by the ever-faithful Wakka who accepts it without question. Auron seems to know how nonsensical the rules are, but he’s also wise enough to know that arguing is a waste of time. Lulu never once advocates for the teachings, and I was surprised at the end to find out she was apparently a firm believer the whole time.

The Al Bhed are the only people in Spira who don’t follow Yevon, and they spend a good part of their time salvaging old technology and trying to figure it out. Here the Crusaders have teamed up with the Al Bhed. Everyone is arming themselves with technology – guns, mostly – and are going to take a crack at beating Sin with conventional weapons.

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Ruts vs. Battlespire CH17: Super Spirio Bros

By Rutskarn
on Jul 20, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play


So according to my map, those watery tunnels of questionable hazard have brought me to…Somewhere in the Battlespire. I don’t know what I expected, but a guy can hope.

It`s hard for me to study this layout, since my eyes keep drifting wistfully back to the `exit.`
It's hard for me to study this layout, since my eyes keep drifting wistfully back to the 'exit.'

To be more specific, “Somewhere” is a cavern full of unkillable wraiths, projectile spam, impassable magically-locked gateways, and wandering skeletons. None of them are faster than you, and none of them are worth fighting, so it’s not threatening so much as very unfriendly. If Tamriel had a mall, and a Christmas for it to be two days away from, this is what it would feel like.

You know how in the original Doom you would come through a portal or locked door into a demon carnival and be thrust into a lunging, strafing, exhilarating struggle for survival? This area lets me imagine Doom without the speed or fun combat or power fantasy.

Did you get the joke? It’s that the people who made this game own Doom now.

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Good Robot Postmortem #2: Gameplay

By Shamus
on Jul 19, 2016
Filed under:
Good Robot


My original design for the game was “2D Descent”. That was the core inspiration for the project: Bright colors, electronic music, shooting lasers at crazy robots in caves. But this design wasn’t working. I didn’t know how to fix it and I was worried I was too close to the project to be able to analyze the thing objectively.

Lots of people offered advice. I had a dozen different, completely contradictory suggestions on how the game might be fixed. Everyone was happy to tell me how to fix the game by making a completely different game, but if I couldn’t realize my own vision then I probably wasn’t qualified to build theirs either. My original vision didn’t work out, and I didn’t know where to go next.

One of the key problems was that I’d never really worked out a proper fail state for the game. I had the moment-to-moment stuff down, but the win / lose states were undefined. If you died you’d just respawn, BioShock-style. It’s not that I thought having a game with no lose state was a good idea, it’s that I’d just never settled on a particular system.

How should death work? Maybe like Borderlands, where you’re taxed 10% of your money / XP when you respawn? Maybe like Dark Souls, where you drop all of your money / XP when you die, but can recover it? Maybe like Pac-Man, where you have a fixed number of deaths before a game over? Maybe like a modern game, where death reloads the last checkpoint? I fiddled with all of these and a few other ideas, but none of them really jumped out as the “correct” solution.

I guess early in the project I sort of assumed the answers to these sorts of questions would become obvious as the game took shape. I expected mechanics to “click” into place, but that never happened. I had a dozen different directions the game could go in and I didn’t have a good sense of which way was best. I was paralyzed by choice. I realized I could spend the rest of my life prototyping stuff without ever moving any closer to my goal.

And so the project stalled.

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Review: Chime Sharp

By Shamus
on Jul 18, 2016
Filed under:
Game Reviews


You might remember that back when I was still doing comics for The Escapist, I was really, REALLY into Chime, a music / puzzle game from 2010. It’s perhaps the only game where I’ve ever posted top scores on a worldwide leaderboard. I’m not saying this to peacock about being good at the game, I’m saying this so you can understand just how obsessed I was with this thing. I usually played it until I was forced to take a break due to carpal aching.

It’s been six years, but we finally have a sequel. It was a long wait, but the sequel vastly improves on what was already an exquisite game.

Link (YouTube)

The Original Chime

(To be clear, while I’m going to describe Chime here, all the screenshots in this review are for the sequel.)

If you missed the original, it works something like this: You’re given pentominoesBasically “Tetris pieces”, except made out of five blocks instead of four. to place on a grid. You fit them together as best you can. As you form rectangles, they will vanish and you’ll be awarded points based on surface area. Since you’re building rectangles out of irregular shapes, you’ll frequently have some leftover fragments scattered around once the rectangle is removed. There’s a beatline passing over the grid in time to the music. Every time the beatline hits one of these fragments, the fragment decays. If it decays completely, then it vanishes and you lose your current score multiplier. The only way to prevent this is to clean up the fragments by incorporating them into more rectangles, which will leave behind more fragments to clean up, etc.

Building a rectangle would “claim” that area of the grid and give you extra time. To avoid running out, you needed to constantly build new rectangles over virgin territory.

The white piece is about to expire. When the beatline hits it in a few seconds, it will vanish and I`ll be penalized. In timed mode, you lose your multiplier. In Sharp Mode (pictured) you lose one of your 10 hitpoints, shown at the top.
The white piece is about to expire. When the beatline hits it in a few seconds, it will vanish and I'll be penalized. In timed mode, you lose your multiplier. In Sharp Mode (pictured) you lose one of your 10 hitpoints, shown at the top.

The original game had six songs. Each song had a unique board shape, a slightly different pace, and a different collection of pentominoes to work with. As you filled in the board, the music would progress to a new bit. The pieces and rectangles all make sounds in tune with the music to keep the whole thing groovy and holistic. The only reason I lost interest in the game is that there were only so many dozen hours I could listen to the same few songs.

Chime was a game that was split between two opposing goals. You needed to push into new areas in order to feed the clock, but if you wanted to keep your score multiplier up, then you needed to clean up all the bits you left behind. Which way do you go? Do you fill the board as fast as possible, or keep the board as clean as possible?

I loved the game, but I loved one half of it a lot more than the other half.

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