Mass Effect Retrospective 46: Kai Leng

By Shamus
on May 5, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

206 comments

It’s finally time to talk about Kai Leng. Except not. Because first we need to talk about…

Dungeons & Dragons

NERD!

NERD!

Imagine you’re going to play one of those nerdy tabletop games with your friends. The group has a kind of grounded, low-key approach to worldbuilding. The world is basically “middle-ages Europe”-ish with a very understated dash of magic. Rather than invent new characters for my hypothetical game, let’s just borrow a few. The players around the table have the following characters:

Boromir: A son of nobility but not royalty, he’s a stalwart man who trusts more in arms than in magic. His mind is often on his troubled homeland.

Frodo: A gentle idealist. He hates violence, but understands the necessity of it. He’s reluctant to draw blood, but also curiously wise and forward-thinking for a halfling.

Gimli: Dwarf. Proud. Practical. Loyal. Simple.

And then there’s this guy. Let’s call him JoshNot my friend Josh from our podcast. I’m talking about this Josh.. Josh brings in this character:

Xantar Shadowwalker: A reincarnation of an elven god that was slain by an army ten thousand years ago. He’s a half-elf with a clockwork robo-arm. He carries a glowing samurai sword, wears a Zoro mask and a black cape, and has glowing white eyes. Xantar doesn’t have a fixed personality, but seems to jump from being a swaggering sarcastic joker, to a gravel-voiced agent of vengeance, to an unflappable gentleman, depending on whatever will make the biggest scene.

Some people will complain that he clashes “thematically” with the setting. And he does. Others will worry about his character being overpowered. And he probably is. But that’s not really the problem with Xantar. The problem is that Josh is trying to make him the main character. Xantar is so outlandish that he will stand out in every scene. He’s screaming for attention, and the other characters look like extras when they stand next to him.

The other players are here for a cooperative and symbiotic experience. They want to work together to make an interesting story about their adventuring party. Josh is here for a competitive and parasitic experience. He sees the other players as people to play audience to his one-man show of attention-whore badassery.

Josh is fundamentally a problem player in this particular group. Unless his real-life charisma is so astounding that people don’t mind mind playing his sidekicks and passively watching his antics for hours at a time, then he’s a social vampire and he’s going to suck the life out of the game. Good D&D games – and even a few friendships – have been ended because of selfish assholes like Josh, who entertain themselves by magnifying their own glory at the expense of others.

Now imagine Josh isn’t just a player. Imagine Josh is running the game. Everyone still has to play grounded characters like Boromir and Frodo, but Josh designs the villains using the same self-indulgent approach he used to design Xantar.

That’s how you end up with Kai Leng.

Continue reading »


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SOMA EP15: Under Pressure

By Shamus
on May 4, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

33 comments


Link (YouTube)

We keep coming back to the question of “Did Simon need to be such a dummy?” Which leads you to the question of “Who was this game designed for?” The problem facing the design team is that there’s a huge difference between people who read sci-fi novels and people who get all their sci-fi from television.

I’m reminded of the time we showed off Good Robot at a trade show. Everyone played through one or two levels before they died and walked away from the game. But then one guy completely destroyed the demo. Instead of reflexively running from bullets like most people, he held his ground and weaved between them. He was obviously a fan of bullet-hell shooters, and so our game was completely trivial to him. He plowed all the way through the entire gameWhich wasn’t done, so it was maybe half the size of the completed version. The game was also much easier at that point. on the first try.

This led to a question, “Who is our game for?” This guy is obviously our core audience, but anything that’s fun for him is going to be impossible for everyone else. Do we tune the game to appeal to the most likely fans, or to the masses, where we might have some prayer of making money? And really, somehow we’d like it if the same game could satisfy both groups.

I guess I’d feel better about Simon’s apparent slowness if I got the sense that a large number of people needed the extra explanation. I can imagine a scenario where a bunch of relative sci-fi newbies were working with the mental model of (say) consciousness working like a “soul”. They begin with the assumption that there can never be more than one version of you at a time, and they never examined the idea of what would happen if you could copy a brain. Maybe those people needed the extra hand-holding not just to explain how a mind-copy works, but to disabuse them of their original assumptions.

There’s going to be a massive difference between people who have never been exposed to these ideas before, and people who have read dozens of different versions and detailed explanations of this over many sci-fi novels, to the point where the core concept is now boring and needs to be mixed with some other idea to be at all interesting. Maybe the developers were thinking, “Better safe than sorry” when it comes to explaining the premise that drives the conflict.

Still makes him annoying, though.

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Ruts vs. Battlespire CH7: A Wizard Hid It

By Rutskarn
on May 4, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

15 comments

That`s probably for the best.
That's probably for the best.

I think I’ve hit on my primary stumbling block in this game: I have no idea where I am, who anybody’s talking about, what’s happening, why it’s happening, or how I go about fixing it. In this exciting chapter of Ruts vs. Battlespire, nearly one of these mysteries will be revealed.

Continue reading »

1515 comments. (Fifteen is the smallest natural number with seven letters in its name.)



This Dumb industry: This Game is Too Videogame-y

By Shamus
on May 3, 2016
Filed under:
Column

167 comments

In the decade or so I’ve been doing this whole quasi-videogame journalistI’m actually not a journalist. I’m either a pundit or a critic. But these days everyone who writes about games gets called a “journalist”. thing, I’ve seen my share of pointless arguments that stem from simple misunderstandings. Again and again I see the same points, and counter-points, and counter-counter points, until I feel like I could jump into a random forum somewhere and single-handedly write both sides of a 50-person flame war.

This can be really irritating.

So in the interest of having one fewer endlessly looping debate in the mix, let’s try to put this one to rest:

Continue reading »

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Diecast #151: The Hugos, Fallout Mods, Mailbag

By Shamus
on May 2, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

193 comments

It doesn’t sound like it at first, but Mumbles is actually on the show this week. Also, thanks for the mailbag questions. As always, the email is somewhere in the header image.


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

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster, Mumbles.

Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


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Lord of the Rings Online #10: Gold Farming

By Shamus
on May 1, 2016
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

28 comments

It has come to this. I am about to work for the post office. This is after their incompetence led to the destruction of an entire city and the death of Dirk Mudbrick. (That’s how I see it, anyway.) Then I took a bunch of mail and threw it away. In front of the postmaster. Multiple times. While maintaining eye contact. And humming.

The upshot being, I do not have a warm relationship with the Shire Post. But if I want fancy dresses and expensive dye, then I need money. And if I want money I need a job. And this is the best job around.

Which is a shame, because this is a terrible job.

Continue reading »


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Rutskarn’s GMinars CH2: You Are the Illusionist

By Rutskarn
on Apr 30, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

88 comments

Last week I explained the basic principle of GMing: above all else, and whenever possible, give your players something to do. Give them problems to solve, environments to explore, and opportunities to show off their character’s strengths and quirks and you’re well on your way to running an entertaining session.

Today I’m going to explain something that I think is nearly as important. It’s an idea I’ve never seen or heard comprehensively explained before, and call me paranoid, but I think there’s a reason for that. I think even such GMs as have figured out how to put this idea into words leave each other to figure it out on their own. I think there’s a fear, and a not entirely unreasonable one, that some secrets shouldn’t be given legs–some illusions should be protected at all costs. If that means failing to write down or explain some of the practices that contribute to those illusions, then that’s the price they pay.

I don’t really buy that, and this isn’t just any GMing trick–when you get right down to it, it’s the heart of your role as storyteller. I’m going to take the time to explain as completely as possible the artistic theory of GMing.

Continue reading »

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



The No Politics Rule

By Shamus
on Apr 29, 2016
Filed under:
Personal

265 comments

People that follow me know that I am firm in my enforcement of the “no politics or religion” policy here on the site. I don’t talk about it, and I don’t allow the comment section to veer into politics. While I’ve offered a few reasons in the past, and I imagine most people intuit the reasons for it, I think it would be useful to have all of the rationale in one post.

From here on, when I say “politics” I mean “politics and / or religion”, since the two are often linked or occupy similar head-space.

There are many good reasons for the ban on politics:

Continue reading »

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SOMA EP14: DOOMed

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

57 comments


Link (YouTube)

So Simon makes a copy of himself. Only instead of seeing the copy as the Best Ally Ever, he gets mad and calls Catherine “disgusting”. I think most people feel Simon is being a dunce here.

But there is an interesting dilemma. Simon is upset about the fact that a copy exists, which (at least in this context) I don’t think is a problemIf you’ve got a spouse, kids, and a social life, this becomes more complex.. But what I do see as a problem is that he’s made a doomed copy. There’s only one copy of Catherine. And Old Simon can’t follow New Simon into the trench, which leaves Old Simon here, alone, trapped in this single room with an unstoppable monster banging on the door.

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Mass Effect Retrospective 45: The Temple of Duh

By Shamus
on Apr 28, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

281 comments

Supply lines are cut. The military is being consumed by an implacable enemy. Resources are low. Millions have died and entire worlds have gone dark, production-wise.

And yet somehow the galaxyOr maybe just the Humans? If the other races are involved, they’re a footnote is building the Crucible, which is a massive mystery device of future technology built from ancient Prothean blueprints. This is like Great Britain building the Apollo program during The Blitz.

The Catalyst

The story never says where the Crucible is being built. I’m really curious about that, since there must be a constant influx of people and supplies to the place. It’s the most important thing in the galaxy right now. It should be very hard for the Reapers to overlook. The entire plot turns on this object, and it’s being built entirely off-screen, mostly by people we never meet, in an unknown location.

The the best scientists in the galaxy have gathered to build a device they don’t understand, they don’t know how to use, and don’t know what it will do when they turn it on. Imagine this. They literally have no idea what this does. Is it a weapon? Should we aim it at something? How? Where do we put it? Is it a super-shield to protect a planet, or a super-nuke that will blow up a star system? Do we need to stand way, way back when we turn it on? Does it need a crew? Fuel? A driver-side airbag and parking lights?

Despite that, they do know it’s not complete. They know they need one more part, but they don’t know what it is, what it’s for, or what it will do, but they’re calling it the Catalyst. Really, the list of things they do know and don’t know about this device are oddly specific.

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SOMA EP13: 696969696969

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

54 comments


Link (YouTube)

I love at around the 7:30 mark, Simon says, “This better be the right way.” What makes this amusing is that by putting in this line of dialog, the writers are implicitly telling the players that YES, THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY. Without that audio cue, the player might worry they were just jumping around on a bunch of crap intended to be background scenery. But by putting in a line of voice acting – even though the line itself questions the direction you’re heading – the writers are making it clear that you’re supposed to be here and that this was a path they anticipated or even intended.

And if you’re curious why I keep hammering on Josh to stop bunny hopping and mouse-whipping even though “Josh Trolling” is a running gag, here’s why:

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Ruts vs. Battlespire CH6: Clothes Stanketh the Man

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

22 comments

Some of you may remember that I yanked from a bag fractal a golden helm of overt, yet obscure, magical property. The question was raised as to what it actually did. Well, as of a few seconds after this screenshot was taken…

According to my compass, this featureless abyss is to the NORTH.
According to my compass, this featureless abyss is to the NORTH.

…I finally have an answer. The helmet remains on my head as I leap sideways off a bridge for no reason. I’m not saying this game’s controls are mishandled, but so far one hundred percent of my deaths have involved straight, narrow bridges with zero enemies.

Anyway, I can’t find the helmet again.

Continue reading »

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