Alan Wake EP22: The Hellevator

By Shamus
on May 30, 2012
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

198 comments


Link (YouTube)

The Mr. Scratch trailer I was talking about is here. And while looking up that one, I found another, much shorter one.

Also, I suppose we kind of broke our own rules with regards to political talk. On the other hand, we weren’t doing a critique of any particular viewpoint, but on the way a particular individual espoused a viewpoint while acting hypocritically against those stated values. So you can continue the conversation, but this isn’t some kind of open season pass to start sniping at various political groups.

However, while writing this post I read Schilling’s Wikipedia page, where it mentions that he campaigned for Bush. That makes it seem kind of unlikely that he’s actually a Libertarian. So, if I’ve mis-characterized or misunderstood his politics I apologize. Still…

  1. They moved an entire studio to Rhode Island.
  2. They did this to get their hands on a seventy five million dollar loan from the government.
  3. They got this loan by promising to bring 450 jobs to the area.
  4. They entered the crowded market of fantasy RPGs and their game failed to perform.
  5. The studio went broke and laid everyone off.

So the people of Rhode Island are out $75 million, and they didn’t even get the jobs in return. The studio is dead. The employees picked up, moved to a new place, slaved away making a game, and were then canned as soon as the thing was done.

There’s a lot wrong there, and I don’t think there’s much of a political argument to be made over this. It was a bad idea and everyone lost. The only winners are the people who liked the game. While it’s nice to see that the game scored 80% on Metacritic, that’s not all that impressive. I mean, the $75 million loan was bigger than the budgets of a lot of games. I’ll bet a lot of games could perform better if we handed them that kind of money. (Just imagine what Vampire: Bloodlines or KOTOR 2 could have done with just a tenth of that.)

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Footnotes:



A Hundred!2020202018I bet you won't even read all 198 comments before leaving your own.

From the Archives:

  1. Andrew B says:

    So, hands up if you kept waiting for the “Josh dies lots” montage? Whole episode long I was expecting a quirky intercut, but nope. No comedy death fantasia.

    • MatthewH says:

      “So I totally beat that fight and nothing killed me and I didn’t have to do it like six times.”

      Come-on! Show! Don’t Tell! Even in sarcasm!

    • Alex says:

      Hey, cut him some slack.

      Even the chairs in this game hate him, and they’re the only object that don’t get possessed by the darkness to kill him.

      • Bryan says:

        It might help if he slowed down a bit. Charging into the next group of enemies when you have like 2 hit points left, in a regenerating-health game, isn’t the best idea.

        On the other hand, standing around all the time waiting for your health bar to come back up is rather boring to watch, too, so I’m not sure if standing around is actually the best idea. Actually, given the entertainment we get out of watching Josh die all the time, it’s probably a demonstrably bad idea. :-)

        (I think the rushing-ahead is why the helicopter spotlight kept moving forward, too; he ran right into the spotlight — as you’re trained to do by the stationary ones, to be fair — and the AI decided to move to the next holding point. Perhaps not though; I don’t know for sure what the helicopter’s pattern is.)

  2. krellen says:

    On the bright side, you can use this as yet another example of why the industry really needs the $5 (rather than 50) million dollar budget game.

    • Alex says:

      I think they have those. The’re called Handheld games. That’s the sweet-spot.

      More ambitious than colour-matching or bird-tossing “app-games”, but not so expensive that they have to be dumbed down to appeal to the 18-25 dumbheads demographic. More and more, that’s where I see all of the creativity going in video games.

      And if your handheld game about something that isn’t cover-based shooting fails, well… big deal. It won’t bankrupt the company. And it won’t leave Rhode Island out of 75 mil. There’s so much more room for growth on a smaller scale than trying to start out big. There’s not as much prick-waving to see who can have the shinest graphics either, due to the limitations.

      And restriction is the birthplace of creativity.

      • newdarkcloud says:

        That’s what basically happened to JRPGs. Many of them moved to handheld just for that reason. Lower budget means a higher chance to profit.

      • Viktor says:

        The real issue there is that the most popular handheld gaming device is the iPhone. Why the hell aren’t we seeing people develop $20-$30 games for that instead of asking me to buy a $200 device that I’ll never bring with me anywhere anyways?

        • Klay F. says:

          Part of the reason we don’t see those type of games on smartphones and the like is because nobody will pay more than $7 or so for an iPhone game. Seriously, just look at pretty much any game that costs more than a dollar on the App Store, there is a good chance that there are absolutely shit-loads of one-star ratings who’s only criticism is “too expensive, got a refund.”

        • Rack says:

          On the app store a $20-30 game would have to be Deus Ex meets Planescape Torment meets Half Life meets Starcraft to have any chance of competing on value. Games like Espgaluda II, Hector, Ascension, Contre Jour, World of Goo, Chaos Rings and Battleheart offer so much value that it’s hard for any one game to compete.

  3. silentlambda says:

    Valve’s playtesting method sounds like a totally logical way to see the players’ reaction to the finished game before it is released. Why the hellivator does every developer not test this way?

    • krellen says:

      Because it’s expensive and time-consuming.

      • Mr Guy says:

        That.

        But also, it requires a degree of humility not common in the industry. You have to WANT people to tell you that at least some of your ideas suck. Or some neat mechanics, no matter how cool they might be, don’t work.

        Tragically, there are far too many people in the industry who don’t realize they’re making GAMES that are supposed to be FUN TO PLAY. They want you to do have fun on their terms. Witness Tim Schaffer telling Brutal Legend players they were “playing it wrong” when the bad reviews started coming out. And he’s better than most. *cough*Molyneux*cough*

        • newdarkcloud says:

          At least that was partly EA’s fault by advertising the game in a way the completely masked the RTS elements.

          But the point stands, developers do need some humility.

        • Sumanai says:

          I’m pretty sure Schafer was kidding. I can’t remember right now running into a single post by him on the Double Fine site that was completely, or mostly, serious. There’s a similar comment about Psychonauts as well on the FAQ, and they changed that part of the game when they got the budget for it. Don’t know how much, since I haven’t played that far on the Steam version (the only one I know has the update).

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Another problem with playtesting: when do you actually playtest? If you do it too early a lot of complaints will likely be dismissed with a “well it isn’t a finished product yet…” if you do it too late it’s impossible to change anything substantial and most fixes that you can apply will either be cosmetic or will have the feel of being last minute changes. If you want to do it all the time it increases the costs, lengthens development time and increases the risk of a leak as you introduce more people into the team.

        • newdarkcloud says:

          I say do it as often as you are able. Feedback at all stages is critical. That way, you can fix things as they become problems.

          That’s the ideal, but the real world isn’t so ideal.

        • Klay F. says:

          If you want to take Extra Credits’ advice to heart, then you start playtesting as soon as the level you’re building can run without crashing, so basically, as soon as you have the basic level geometry built, start testing.

          • An Author Dreaming of a Poet says:

            Guys, you we don’t have any evidence that these people don’t playtest. They almost certainly do. The reason Valve is famous for playtesting is they release commentaries explaining the changes they made on a playtest which other teams don’t. This doesn’t have any bearing on whether other games playtest or not. In fact considering playtest was a word before Valve, I suspect playtesting is an industry-wide standard done better by some people than other but always done.

            Heck Bulletstorm casually talked of playtesting results.

            The thing about Valve is Valve has a steady enough source of income that they can just not release a game, or wait 5 years if they playtest and no-one likes the game. Other studies would go bust if they try this

    • RTBones says:

      …and to further Krellen’s point – if you are working to a budget, and it looks like you will run over, in many cases one of the first things that is cut is testing – primarily because it can be so costly and is ‘intangible’. Your writers can give you some idea of how long it will take to finish a story. Your coders can tell you how long it may take to finish XYZ part of your game. But testing? Unless you have historical data to back up your analysis, is largely a guess.

      The same goes for time – if you are coming up on a release date, you may forgo some testing to facilitate release.

      • swimon1 says:

        I’m sure that’s part of it but I would also like to point out that I think pretty much every game company do playtest, Remedy probably did too. But playtesting is a skill to like anything else. You need to know who should playtest, what they should test in what order and then how do you gather the information? You could ask them but what do you ask? If you forget to ask the right question you will miss out on vital information but if you ask the wrong question in the wrong way you skew the testers view of the game and all their answers will be wrong without you knowing it.

        Bottom line: playtesting is really difficult and just because you do it doesn’t mean the game will turn out good. Valve is good at playtesting and that’s is why they can gain so much insight from it but I’d guess that any mainstream game released in the last few years was extensively tested.

        • Michael says:

          You’d guess incorrectly, then. Most games get a quality assurance test, that is playtesters who are looking for bugs, errors in code, and the like. But playtesting the way Valve does is a rarity. The only games that tend to get that kind of testing these days are MMOs, and in most cases, their betas aren’t seen as valuable data on player behavior so much as ways to drum up attention for your imminent release.

          • An Author Dreaming of a Poet says:

            Evidence? My counter evidence is that in dev diaries from games like Bulletstorm, to Gears of War, to Uncharted I’ve heard devs casually speak of the playtesting they did as if it’s standard.

            Also when Extra Credits spoke of it, they did not speak of it as one of those rare oddities only done by Valve, but something that you have to do to be a good developer and Extra Credits work with way more developers and have (hopefully) good opinions of way more developers than Valve

            • swimon1 says:

              Yeah I haven’t worked in the industry or anything so I don’t really know but all I’ve read makes me think it’s an industry standard. I was googling around and I found both Microsoft and EA hiring playtesters on the other hand it was harder to find then I would’ve thought (mostly I got hits for playtesting D&D or magic the gathering) so either they’re being quiet about it or it’s not as standard as I thought. I’m leaning towards the first option actually, the one book on game design I’ve read (A book of lenses, it’s a great read) mentions there being companies that rent out special labs specifically to make playtesting easier and I don’t see how they could stay in business unless it’s really common.

              I could buy that valve playtest more than other companies but I very much doubt that they are the only company that does a lot of it.

    • Eric says:

      Playtesting is important, no question, but I think a lot of the things playtesting solves are the things good designers should look out for in the first place. No question that there’s a lot of value in it, but the basic things like leading players correctly with level design, intuitive controls, pacing etc. should be things that designers should have a sense for without needing to heavily consult with others to nail down. Individuals can make mistakes, but a group of talented people? I just do not expect those sorts of problems to appear.

    • Klay F. says:

      Most likely because they don’t want to fall into the same trap Valve have fallen into with their most recent games. Valve now lets playtesting have complete authority over every single aspect of their games. This is not a good thing, because then you get games like Portal 2, where the game is basically a nanny unrelentingly leading you through its set pieces. Think back, how many times did Wheatley say something along the lines of “This Way!”, even when there is only one direction to go because of how aggressively linear the game is. Its something that really become evident (and annoying) with subsequent playthroughs. My point with all the rambling is that playtesting should never be the dictatorial ruler that it is at Valve.

      • Thomas zzzzz says:

        I’m not disagreeing or agreeing with you here, but to add a perspective to your side, the equivalent of playtesting in films is called ‘focus groups’. Think of how those are normally viewed

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Because obviously play-testing completely ruined Portal 2 and made it the market flop with horrible critical reviews that it is…

  4. Dennis says:

    Haven’t played Amular yet, but as JC would say:

    What a shame.

    • PurePareidolia says:

      I played the demo. It’s really the most generic fantasy imaginable, but with like a slightly prettier setting. Like all the plants are weird, but it’s still forests, villages, crypts, all the staples.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The strength of amalur isnt its story,but its gameplay.You can switch classes at any time,and thats great.Plus the faith thing is pretty interesting.Sadly,they didnt advertise to those strengths.

        • Tse says:

          It suffers heavily from Single Player MMORPG, though. The quests are boring and the world feels empty and bland.

          • danman says:

            This is actually what sold me on it. I pick up MMO’s once they go free to play so that I can play them, single player, until the “pay for this dungeon” gets too annoying. I love the concept of a single-player “MMO”.

            However, if that sounds like a boring chore to you, then you will hate this game. It is basically this.

        • X2Eliah says:

          Really? Hotbar-ability MMO-style mouse-and-numberbutton bashing that relates to ingame hackandslashing is considered a strong gameplay?
          Endless soulless, unengaging fetch/kill-10-things quests are strong gameplay?

          May Thor have mercy on our souls…

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Its not mmo style at all.First,the combination of mouse buttons alone leads to different moves.Then there are moves you learn later that involve dodges and jumps.And atop of that,you can switch between your two weapons at any time,even mid combat,for additional combos.The numbers used are mostly 1-4,and even those were used in combination with your weapons for more combos.Further,depending on your weapon,you rely more on chaining attacks,dodging,or stun locking a single enemy.Add to all of that the faith bar which fills quicker if you dont spam the same attack over and over,and you get a solid combat system.So unless by mmo style you meant terra,its nothing like.

            Then there is the fluid change of classes any time you want.If you get tired of playing a sword fighter,you simply go to a town and become a thief,or a mage,or a hammer weilder.And more games need to incorporate that.Not being bound to just one class is a strong plus.

            Then there is the crafting system,which lets you harvest components from crappy stuff you find,and make something awesome for you to use.

            The questlines were pretty unimpressive,I admit that.And Ive already said that its a shame theyve focused on that bland story more than gameplay.

            • newdarkcloud says:

              That’s what killed it for me. I really did enjoy the combat, but without an interesting story to keep my interest, that just wasn’t enough to keep me in just the demo alone. I don’t think I could handle a whole game of that.

  5. Alex says:

    Regarding Shamus’ talk about “Valve playtesting”, in letting random, non-gamer people play through the game without any help:

    Bungie does the same thing. Almost every Halo game used that exact method of playtesting.

    It turns out that basing important business decisions around people who don’t understand your line of work tends to produce terrible products.

    • Shamus says:

      For the record, I didn’t say they should be random non-gamers. I mean, if that’s how Bungie does it then it’s their business, but that’s not what I was advocating. I believe Valve has friends and spouses come in and play their games and give feedback on all aspects of the experience. Not just “was the shooting fun” but also the story, the setting, player direction, etc.

      • Ben says:

        One of my favorite features of Portal (and to a lesser extent 2) is the dev commentaries. You run through the levels and hear exactly where playtesters got hung up and what not.

      • Alex says:

        Well, when you put it that way, I guess it’s not a bad idea on its own. I guess, like any idea, there’s potential for abuse from people who don’t understand what they’re doing.

        That, and I haven’t liked a single Valve game from the last 5 or so years, so I’m a little doubtful of their practices right now as well. So when someone uses them as an example for how to do it right, I’m naturally a bit sceptical.

      • MatthewH says:

        This is probably advice in a lot of fields. Before taking anything to the final audience, get a person of average ability who hasn’t spent days pouring over this material to read it for coherence.

        In the old days, secretaries were the go-to person for this. Now that so much of office maintainance is automated I suspect family fill in.

      • JPH says:

        Fun fact: Gearbox hires paid interns to focus test their products.

    • Amnestic says:

      I can’t imagine Halo being described as “terrible”. People might not like it, they might find it boring or uninteresting or the community reprehensible but “terrible”? I can’t see it.

      • Alex says:

        Amnestic: The Halo series is a national embarrassment. With the slightest effort, they could have risen to the level of forgettable popcorn entertainment. But it’s like living in an alternate universe where Daikatana is exactly the same miscarriage it always was, but somehow got worse sequels.

        • Exetera says:

          Don’t waste time trashing the “Microsoft wants to cash in on these, so they’re making Bungie extrude uninspired sequels” games. Tell me why the original was no good.

        • Exetera says:

          Please don’t focus on the recent “Microsoft wants to cash in so Bungie is (and now 343 Industries is) extruding sequels” games. To be honest, I can’t stand any of them (speaking as a primarily PC player) aside from the original Halo: Combat Evolved… which I thought was excellent and which seems to be widely admired. Tell me why that game is no good.

        • Volfram says:

          I fail to see how Halo: Reach represents an entire series games, none of which it shares an engine with. I’m a huge fan of Halo 1-3, and I haven’t really worked up the motivation to continue in Reach.(I think I’m around mission 5…)

          So how does 1 mediocre game in 5 count as a “national embarrassment?”

        • JPH says:

          You’re going way over the top comparing it to Daikatana. The Halo games might not suit your tastes, but they’re highly refined, polished, and well-constructed. Daikatana, on the other hand, was an absolute shoddy mess.

        • Danel says:

          No, a reviewer who talks about “tiny mongoloid brains” is the real embarrassment.

          • Bret says:

            Yeah.

            Going to say the Halo games are good. The reviews are dreck by a self admitted idiot.

            Basically, your “evidence” and we’re going full Turian for those finger quotes, is one person saying it sucks.

            Counterevidence is over a decade of glowing reviews, millions of sales (which I’ll be the first to admit is inconclusive considering Avatar), and personal experience filing it under pretty alright.

            I’m sticking with “Obsessive playtesting by outsiders is a good thing”.

        • Adam P says:

          I find it hard to take what you have to say seriously given that you stated that Bungie will cease to exist in 10 years. Your reasoning being that Activision closed down some studio and blah blah blah, point is you don’t (didn’t?) know what you’re talking about. Bungie is an independent studio and not owned by Activision! That changes the context of the rest of what you had to say because it sounds less like the game is bad and more that you’re just really disappointed in it and EVERYONE must know about how disappointed you are with it.

          • Earlindor says:

            Maybe so, but they do have a contract with Activision to spew out so many games and DLC within a very specific timeframe. Activision can sue Bungie out of existence if they feel they’re not living up to their end of the bargain. It’s happened before.

            • Irridium says:

              Bungie managed to survive Microsoft, I’m sure they’ll be fine.

              Well, I hope they’ll be fine…

              • Eärlindor says:

                Microsoft ultimately agreed to a Halo game (about) every three years. Activision wants a game every other year with DLC in between. That’s ugly. Bungie has never responded well to deadlines like that. Heck, there were times where they were struggling with the time they did have. Plus, this is Activision we’re talking about.

                I am in fear for Bungie…

      • el_b says:

        the big problem with the main Halo trilogy is that you play as the most boring character in the story. In reach I was sad to see that they killed off the most impressive member of your team first but the whole operatic feel of the game made up for playing another master chief. ODST on the other hand had an awesome cast and I think they should’ve made a sequel or even given them a Series of their own.

        • Alex says:

          I welcomed the new cast in Reach, for the same reasons you mentioned. They showed some promise. But they didn’t DO anything with them. They talked about THE MISSION, they shot some stuff and then they were dead. We never got to see them in a vulnerable position, they never got the chance to play off of each other’s personalities, we never got to learn about them. It’s like they just didn’t care.

          On the flipside, the problem with the Master Chief is that he’s a relic from the Oldene Dayse of faceless space-marine player characters. Back then, just naming him after a biblical passage might have been enough. But he has no place existing in an age where even the Gears of War games start giving their cast some emotional depth. As the series drifted away from those undertones, and after Half-Life came out, it just becomes more and more ridiculous that they haven’t given the guy a reboot, or a personality… or, anything.

          So, we didn’t get nearly enough time with characters we wanted, and they’re making us spend too much time with a character everyone hates. It’s like if Nintendo only made games about Waluigi, exclusively.

          Or Alan Wake, for that matter.

          • Varre says:

            Half-life 2 had plenty of memorable characters. Gordon Freeman was not one of them, and is actually blander than the Master Chief. The MC get a tiny trickle of characterization in cutscenes, where he speaks, if not much. Gordon Freeman never speaks to people he should be greeting, like Eli Vance, nor does he react in any meaningful way to events and the world around him. In a way, that makes the game more immersive, but all the warm greetings from your co-workers, the praise from the rebel fighters, and ALL of Alyx’s interactions seem like they’d fit better in a game where the main character isn’t a tool used by developers to increase immersion.

          • Volfram says:

            This is going to sound backwards, but I don’t get why people beat on Halo for being about a faceless space marine fighting aliens in a bunch of corridors.

            Is it realistic? No.

            Is it fun? YEAH IT IS!

            I think part of the reason Master Chief doesn’t have much personality is because so much investment went into the personality of the characters around him. I may not quote the player character in the Halo games very much, but I’ll quote Sgt. Johnson, Cortana, and the random faceless marines all day if you’ll let me.

            If you want a realistic shooter, go play Call of Duty or Modern Warfare. If you want a wise-cracking player-character who’s been updated to “modern” standards, play Duke Nukem Forever.

            • ehlijen says:

              The thing is: I didn’t find it fun. The levels were monotonous, the weapons weren’t that inspired, the enemies repetitive and from what I hear the story wasn’t that great either. Sure, many shooters had those problems and the vehicle multiplayer sounded promising. But I had no reason to pick over basically any other shooter of the time. It wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t inspired either.

              • AJ_Wings says:

                I respect your opinion but saying Halo has repetitive enemies is simply wrong. I won’t rank Halo as one of my favorite shooters but it does a lot of things right, Mainly enemy variety which is much better emphasized in the later games in the series. Every enemy type has unique AI behavior and characteristics and the game provides different methods of taking them down. Compared to its modern contemporaries whom mostly consist of badly voice acted middle-easterns with AKs, morally bankrupt Russians and zombies whom gameplay patterns are very one note.

                • Tse says:

                  I only played the first one, it was somewhat fun until the part with one type of swarming enemy (I think they were called the flood or something like that) in endlessly repeating corridors that you have to traverse twice. So, I would never associate Halo with enemy variety, because the first one sucked at that.
                  I’m also sick of military shooters.

                  • Volfram says:

                    I actually enjoyed fighting the Flood(and I’m not the only person I’ve talked to who did) because they’re about the only enemy type in the first game that either takes forever to kill(Elites, especially the Red and Gold ones at that point in the game) or falls before you like weeds in a mulcher(Grunts!).

                    It sounds like you ran into the Library, which is almost universally reviled. I think I’m the only person I know who doesn’t absolutely hate that level.

            • Thomas zzzzz says:

              I used to be a critic of Halo’s story. Than I played through it with some people and I have to admit it’s not bad. Especially when they get into the cross faction Arbiter/Master Chief/Covenant/Flood stuff. 4 fleshed out independently motivated factions is not something you see in many games

              Plus I read about a famous Director/Developer/Author or something who on another project quoted the Halo story as his inspiration, which I feel voids my opinion somewhat.

              Plus they have Ringworlds, Ringworlds are frickin’ cool

              • Volfram says:

                I love that the final chapters of Halo 1 have 4 factions in an all-out free-for-all. I do rather wish that the other 3 wouldn’t decide to team up the moment they spot the player, though.

              • newdarkcloud says:

                I’m with you there. I thought nothing of Halo until one of my friends actually started talking about some of the characters and the plot. It was actually fairly interesting to hear about.

                I’m a PS3 gamer, so I don’t play Halo, but it does have something there beyond generic space-marine.

                • Earlindor says:

                  Yeah, I would say Halo definitely has more going for it than most shooters these days. I would go so far as to say it has the potential to produce a Mass Effect style game, but it’s focus has been too much on the FPS military science fiction.

    • Eric says:

      Obviously, you need to playtest with your target market. You don’t go make a hardcore party-based, turn-based RPG and then get 12-year-old Call of Duty fans to try it out. That will neuter your game. There’s a big difference between “works for people who enjoy this kind of experience” and “works for absolutely everyone, even people who have never touched videogames before.”

    • Acman says:

      ARe you saying the Bungie makes bad games?

      I can’t say that I love the Halo series but I’d never say that they were bad games…

  6. Gary says:

    As a note, Big Huge Games were the main force behind Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Though I’m sure their acquisition was paid for in that funding they were based in Maryland and were not the team that were producing an MMO, Kingdoms of Amalur: Project Copernicus, using the funding given by Rhode Island.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      That was another questionable decision by 38 Studio. Of all of the projects to bank on, why an MMO? I understand that Shilling likes MMOs, but that’s a highly inadvisable. At the very least, they should have built up to that gradually. New Vegas taught me that you need to always build up your reputation with people before you get to do the cool stuff.

    • Eric says:

      I was going to point this out. Reckoning was the game everyone focused on, because it’s the only one the company has released, but the $75 million was actually provided in order to fund their Amalur MMO (Project Copernicus) and not Reckoning. Reckoning was created by a separate studio (and saved from near-death by 38 Studios’ last-minute buyout) and for all intents and purposes actually sold very well, even enough to make a profit if it weren’t for Copernicus.

  7. Littlefinger says:

    Wait, I thought bioware held the Tower of Hanoi copyright, patent and trademark?

    I’m pretty sure its illegal to put it in any (other) game, is what I’m saying.

    • krellen says:

      Nah, Bioware loves it so much because it’s public domain, and thus free.

    • Sumanai says:

      Oh, that’s the one they were talking about? I hate it, since it’s so time consuming to go through even if you have solved it and the controls are user friendly.

      The controls for Tower of Hanoi type minigames are never user friendly.

      • Friend of Dragons says:

        Well, they are getting better at it, though. The one in mass effect was just a few buttons, where the one in Kotor was a fucking dialogue screen.

        • Mephane says:

          Well in SWTOR they have an entire raid boss encounter centered around a tower of hanoi puzzle. They must really love it.

        • Sumanai says:

          The ridiculous thing is that the interface can’t be all that hard. Bind a button for each peg. Press button, pick up the top piece on that peg, press another to put it on a peg. One extra button for toggling painfully slow animation on and off. In ‘off’ position there’s no animation and the piece is instantly there allowing solving the puzzle as fast as possible.

          Allow mouse control, of but course, but don’t make the system act finicky. If I click one a piece under another piece, it’s obvious I want to pick up the piece on top of it. And if I press close by, but not quite on, the peg it’s obvious I want to place it on the peg right next to my cursor and not on the ground.

          If it’s like that in Mass Effect and SWTOR, then good. *slowclapforBioware*

  8. TMTVL says:

    As you say, Shamus, companies like to put puzzles right in the home stretch where they should focus more on creating suspense.
    And it’s horrible.
    But it isn’t easy to fix, if you go all out on combat, you get V:tMB, where the combat gets too hard for some players.
    Other times the designers want to put in something to get the players even more invested, and you get something like in Shadow of the Colossus, where you suddenly learn your horse can jump (i.e. pulling new mechanics out of thin air).

    On the other hand, if they try to create suspense, you might end up with something like SShock2, where the run up to the final boss is kind of boring compared to the tension of the earlier fight.

    Finally, even if they get it right, there might still be some troubles with it, like in LoK: Soul Reaver, where they put in flashbacks to certain scenes, but wound up short on time to put all of it in (though it did allow for an interesting ending with the time alteration).

    • newdarkcloud says:

      Like the cast said, a puzzle can work if you add some exposition and dialog while the puzzle is being solved. Just add some character interactions if you want a puzzle to break things up. If you have nothing to add to the plot, then allow for some character development.

      • Mr Guy says:

        This seems like it would be hard to do.

        Having a conversation with an NPC while solving a puzzle would get distracting. Also, if you solve the puzzle too fast or too slowly, the conversation would either cut off abruptly or drag out uncomfortably.

        Non-conversation like exposition feels like distraction, or at best multi-tasking at time wasting.

        Do you have an example of when you’ve seen this done well?

        • newdarkcloud says:

          There were a couple of moments in the Uncharted games that did this rather well during some puzzle/platforming sections. Of course, the puzzles in Uncharted never require too much thinking on the players part because Drake’s journal literally gives you the answers most of the time, but they serve to break up the combat really well.

          • Thomas zzzzz says:

            Plus the puzzles in Uncharted serve two good narrative purposes. One ‘Holy Crud I’m Indianna Jones’ and too ‘Look how frickin’ beautiful this is as you hang from a hundred metre giant dagger, is your treasure hunt not epic?

      • swimon1 says:

        It’s also great for building atmosphere since it’s a slower ponderous moment worked great for q.u.b.e and I’d argue it’s the reason so many people like Myst, even with the clearly broken spaceship puzzle.

        • crossbrainedfool says:

          Another place I liked was the Towers of Hanoi on Noveria in Mass Effect – we’re still in the buildup phase, and it’s okay as a representation of digging around to make the reboot work. Also, it’s rather short, and skip able, so it’s back to the progression at the right pace.

  9. AJ_wings says:

    Wasn’t the governor of Rhode Island the guy who wasn’t satisfied with the 1.2 million sales out of 3 million. Big Huge and 38 were already working on a sequel and Curt Schilling was raving about how well the game did for the company.

    And regarding Shamus’ comment on “Valve playtesting”. While I would love to see developers’ playtest their games like Valve, let’s remember that a lot of developers don’t have Valve’s luxury of sitting on their games until they’re done with it and a cashcow in the form of digital store. Developers have to worry about budget constraints, deadlines, publisher demands…etc. Nothing wrong with the comment and I agree with it, just wanted to point that out.

    • Alex says:

      Developers have to worry about budget constraints, deadlines, publisher demands…etc

      I’d say most, if not all of those things can be blamed on draconian, clueless publishers. Yes, not every developer gets to be Valve. And Duke Nukem Forever proved that more time =/= a better product.

      But Alan Wake had a long development cycle too. Brevity is the soul of wit, but I still think the version we got now probably beats what we would have gotten if it were pushed out the door in 2006.

      I think Valve just understood that they take longer to get it right than other companies… Maybe that’s why the less-than-a-year developed Left 4 Dead 2 was such a tragedy.

      • Mr Guy says:

        The problem stares you back in the mirror, tragically.

        Game publishers, in general, publish games to make money. Why spend the time to create a polished gem when churning out a samey AAA shooter with good graphics and “not awful” mechanics will sell almost as well and cost significantly less?

        Until people stop buying terrible games, publishers will supply terrible games.

        • newdarkcloud says:

          There’s also this constant push for higher fidelity graphics when that’s hardly what the industry needs. Note to developers: We’re okay with how graphics were a few years ago, we don’t need you to spend millions following this pointless road.

          Perhaps then you’d have more money for goddamn polish and testing!

          Sorry, but this part of the industry does it’s very best to piss me off.

          • Alex says:

            I think Minecraft has successfully debunked the myth that people want or need “tight graphix” in their video games.

            • Irridium says:

              And yet we keep pushing to make things more graphically advanced. Yeah yeah, Unreal Engine 4 looks nice, but I’ll only be impressed if it can be used to make a game on a budget that doesn’t risk complete bankruptcy.

              • Sumanai says:

                Someone claimed elsewhere that more powerful hardware would drop development costs because right now character models and textures are created at a higher quality*, which are then downscaled and edited to look good at a lower quality.

                Which neatly ignores the fact that more powerful hardware means more expensive hardware which means either costing revenue (less people with the hardware or willing to upgrade for the game) or just costing more (development boxes and licensing for consoles). And that it’s unlikely the hardware needed for that level of quality will be priced at consumer levels any time soon.

                Edit: And they forget that the high quality work would have to be polished like the low quality versions, so that might cost just as much.

                * Or fidelity. Or whatever the correct word for it is when it supposedly looks better.

                • Alex Yedidovich says:

                  The way it works and the way it will work until we reach a rather significant milestone in hardware or use a totally different system, like voxels( if only those damn things would animate and not kill the system)is: you create a very detailed sculpt( a character for instance), you then create a mesh of a significantly lower density that matches the contours of that sculpt, finally you apply textures and a nice material( a special one for skin that’s kinda tricky to set up). That’s how you make a game model.

                  The thing that really takes a long time on the art side is optimizing everything. That beautiful cityscape can only be made up of 30 Mb of textures, because everything else in the game needs to fit into the VRam. Once you get constrained that much, you need to start making use of some tricky tricks that are hard to implement and worse yet are harder to alter if your art director comes in and want something different.

                  • Sumanai says:

                    So what the people were really saying was that more powerful hardware would make optimisation cheaper? That makes a lot more sense, although if they really think the extra power goes to them, they’re sorely mistaken.

                    I’m certain that optimisation could become easier, but in order to justify more powerful hardware you need to show something enticing to the people you’re selling it to. And that means blinged out graphics, which means just as much, if not more, time optimising it so it can look as good as it can.

                    Except this time it happens with unfamiliar hardware with potentially higher licensing fees and a smaller customer base.

          • Volfram says:

            In many ways, I actually prefer how graphics looked a few years ago. On PC, the first thing I always do on a new game is go into the graphics options and disable Bloom, Motion Blur, and Depth of Field. Your eyes don’t see things like that.

            • Sumanai says:

              Bloom tries to mimic glare caused by bright light, if I understand correctly. HDR is better, though, since it does the whole “eyes adjusting to light/darkness” thing, which when done right allows a better range of lighting in areas without forcing you to squint half of the time.

              Natural motion blur, not the sort in video games, happens when something moves too fast compared to your eyes. When something moves quickly it doesn’t appear in your eye like a frame in a video game, but closer to a frame in a film.

              When you look at something, everything at a different distance to it is blurry. That’s depth of field. You might not notice this because looking at the blurry part focuses your eyes to that distance, so it’s not blurry any more.

              It’s a whole different thing if the simulation of any of those is well done, represents the real world at all or is in anyway beneficial to the experience. Depth of field, for instance, can be used to help focus the player of important stuff, but rest of the time can feel wrong, since you’re not really controlling the player character’s eyes, but head and/or body.

              It can also be used to tell the distances between things, but your mileage will vary on how helpful that is.

            • Irridium says:

              Actually, those things do happen in life. Only in life, you have your brain to regulate this stuff so it’s not annoying and distracting. Same with head bobbing (good lord head bobbing…).

              Since games aren’t connected to your brain, these “features” are just really, really annoying. Motion Blur and head bobbing makes me sick, Depth of Field is just annoying.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      At least me can say that Alan Wake is one game where they did NOT spend too much time on graphics. I think it really did come down to a lack of testing because everything could have worked well if they just changed a ton of minor things: Added more enemies, polish the manuscript, do more with the references, stuff like that.

      This begs the question: What was the budget of this game and what was the budget of American Nightmare? I’m genuinely curious.

  10. MatthewH says:

    Joseph Epstein’s The Big Picture talks about the economics of Hollywood and he has several rules (I paraphrase):
    1.) The Contract is everything.
    2.) The art of making movings is the art of financing movies.
    3.) Only rubes and state governments believe in the back end.

    Obviously, not fond of state or city incentive programs, but even if they “worked,” the state would still never get the payoff because the financing of movies is designed to make sure there is never a back end.

    If you want to be paid, get paid first.

    • ps238principal says:

      Welcome to why Freakazoid should be reclassified as an educational TV show.

      The basic way that even big-profit blockbusters can be “unprofitable” is that the production company (usually one that you never see again) which actually makes the movie contracts with a big name studio (WB, Sony, MGM, etc.) as a distributor. Said distributor then goes on to make apparently ludicrous decisions that “waste” the money, giving the production company a huge loss as they pay for things like “catering,” and the money vanishes. The production company folds with all involved getting paid whatever their contracts stipulated on the front end. Percentages, obviously, are for suckers.

      Oddly, I think this started out as less of a tax dodge and more of a way to dissuade lawsuits from people who claim a given movie stole their idea, didn’t pay what they were promised, etc.

      • MatthewH says:

        It’s less crooked. Everybody getting paid on the front end is a legitimate cost to the back end. There probably is waste -most businesses aren’t perfectly efficient -but the purpose isn’t to avoid “paying a percentage.” Rather, the cost of the production includes paying residuals to the actors and writers and producers and secured investors. And it isn’t like this is a secret. It is the same in other businesses too. Your paycheck is a cost -part of the gross.

        Incentive programs seem to forget this.

        Oh, and I got the name wrong -it’s Edward Jay Epstein, not Joseph. Here’s his website,

        • ps238principal says:

          Not waste; it’s “waste.”

          I’m not suggesting a billion spent on catering actually went to catering.

          I oversimplified and put in far too much snark, I think. Here’s a rather famous example of how Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ended up as a $167 million loss when the film took in almost a billion dollars in revenue.

          • Tse says:

            Tax evasion at its finest. Also, combined with shafting the people who do most of the work.

            • ps238principal says:

              Another weird thing is that all those titles you see on the credits have a pretty set salary attached. It (along with the desire to have a lot of Oscar nominations/wins attached to their names) was why there were so many movies with whole armies of executive producers who actually didn’t do anything to make the movie. They just got a payday and an entry on their IMDB page.

              Even more weird, Hollywood cracked down on the practice. I’d like to think it was to keep an impure business from getting even more impure, but I’m betting it came down to money.

      • Sumanai says:

        Percentages are fine, if taken from gross sales. I’m not certain I’m using the correct jargon, so I’ll make an example:

        If I get 10% of all sales of a movie, when a single BluRay copy is sold at $20, I get $2. If a DVD is sold at $10, I get $1. The percentage is way too high, but it’s easier to get the point across.

        But it’s impossible to get such a contract, unless, you are the Mong… I mean unless it’s standard for that type of work (I think most are from gross profit, though) or you’re doing something where your income shuts down when fired. Such as car maintenance, where you might get a percentage of what each client has paid for the work, but even then I’d guess it’s more likely you get paid from net income.

        • ps238principal says:

          The problem lies in how the net is calculated. For example, I was once presented with a contract to develop a property where the money would flow like this:

          Gross – expenses = net. Net would go to the studio head I would be signing with, and my money = 50% of what the studio head was paid.

          That sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a lot of variables between that gross figure and what the head gets paid directly. Without any hard numbers, I’d be trusting the head of the studio not to funnel any income directly into his entertainment company/studio and “paying” himself a dollar, of which I’d get half. This is also assuming that those “expenses” aren’t creatively figured (see an above post of mine about Harry Potter).

          The irony is after I turned this down and the studio head got angry, I found out that he’d been the victim of such a scam himself early in his career. I’d love to ask him why he thought doing something he thought was wrong to others when it was wrong to do it to him was somehow ethical, even on a personal level, but I doubt I’d get an honest answer.

          • Sumanai says:

            I didn’t mean to claim getting the net profit was good. I meant to say that gross sales are (though I should add now that it can be) good, but almost impossible to get. Gross profit might be possible in practice, though not quite as good. And net income as the likeliest to be offered. In fact, it’s most likely the only one unless they know you’re savvy enough to see through it.

            What I didn’t mention is that their value to me would be in the reverse with how likely they are, with net income being worthless and gross sales being too good for me to believe there isn’t a trick I’m not seeing. This applies to gross profit too. But I’m a cynical bugger.

            I can see three possibilities with the guy you had to deal with: 1) He wanted to spread the pain. 2) He thought it was clever, wanted to do it himself and got angry that it didn’t work for him. 3) Both.

  11. el_b says:

    not wanting to start an argument or anything but I just wanted to point out a common misconception about the whole slavery thing that was mentioned in the episode. The Confederate states were all Democratic whereas Lincoln and the union states were Republican. It’s always surprised me how many Americans don’t know about that. I thought that they would’ve had that in schools over there.

    I like how you managed to successfully exploit the rotating bridge so you didn’t even have to do that section. It probably made up for Lost time considering how much of dying you did :P

    • guy says:

      It’s actually taught in some courses, but the primary source of the confusion is that the parties flipped areas and policies over time. So all the former confederate states are either republican or split and New England is now democratic.

      • TheBigMus says:

        More specifically, Democrats (especially JFK and LBJ) were responsible for much of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s-1970s. These laws were intensely disliked in the more racially divided areas of the nation (also the areas which had supported slavery) causing the former Confederate states to defect to the Republican party, which they overwhelmingly continue to support to this day.

        And, no, this is no big secret. Most good US History or Government courses will touch on it. Most Americans also know enough about current events to realize that the political parties just don’t swing that way anymore.

        • MatthewH says:

          It’s even more complicated than that. (Though there are no Civil Rights acts in the 1970s, the last one is in 1968, then again in 1991 -unless you count reauthorizations. Kennedy didn’t do anything, it was Eisenhower and Johnson.)

          The South had been breaking away from the Democratic party for several years over the New Deal and the Democratic Party’s northern machines. Hoover had picked up Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Eisenhower picked up Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida. Nixon has Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and Florida. Goldwater picks up the Deep South, but then promptly loses it to Walace before Nixon picks it up again in the 1972 landslide. FDR usually takes everything, so he’s odd. Truman is tricky because of the Dixiecrats -the south is splitting, but it isn’t clear how. Regardless, the South doesn’t finish its swing to the GOP until Reagan, and the Congressional delegations don’t finish swinging until Clinton. Then it splits for Clinton, is GOP for Bush, and the splits again for Obama (he picked up several Rim South states like Eisenhower had).

          There’s a book here somewhere: “The Myth of the Solid South.”

    • Mr Guy says:

      Expecting political parties to have stable positions over time is like expecting a sports team to keep the same style of play and play at the same level over a long period of time.

      I guarantee you that not a single person who was a member of the Democratic Party in 1860 is still a member.

    • Volfram says:

      I think the point Rutskarn was making was that a Democrat would be opposed to slavery, and in a modern setting, he would.

      The fact that a Republican would ALSO be opposed to slavery is often glossed over(or outright denied if you’re browsing Gizmodo or Ars Technica), but is also irrelevant to the comparison he was making. His statement was both extremely accurate and hilarious.

  12. Irridium says:

    I couldn’t stand Amalur. In the demo I got as far as the first town before I quit. It was just so… [i]bland[/i]. I fought some elves, then a troll, talked to some old dude about something I couldn’t bring myself to care about in the least, told him he’s horrible at his job, killed some more elves, got to the town, realized everyone had the standard fantasy accent, and just quit.

    And yeah, functionally the combat was good, but since I didn’t care about the world or anything in it or the reason for fighting, what’s the point? Just another elven force trying to kill all humans, and I’m the chosen one and good lord someone turn into an ogre made of watermelons or something to make this stand out from every other damn fantasy story.

    • guy says:

      Okay, could people stop calling the Tuatha elves? I know elf is the standard term for fantasy/sci-fi long-lived creatures with magic, but the Fae are not the same as the actual elves in the setting! Half the possible choices at the start of character creation are elves!

      This has been contributing to my feeling that half the reason for the perceived overuse of elves and orcs in fantasy is that if you have non-humans in your setting, fans will call them elves or orcs if they bear even a passing resemblance to them.

      Anyway, the House of Ballads is the main Summer Fae questline, and it’s largely centered around the Fae love of reenacting their epic cycles and how the main character indirectly caused massive problems with that.

      The House Of Sorrows is the main non-Tuatha Winter Fae questline, and is just generally cool.

        • Aldowyn says:

          The problem arises when you have elves and super-elves, which is basically what Amalur has.

          It’s really hard to make decent fantasy races that aren’t Tolkienesque or from D&D, because they’re expected now. Sci-fi is MUCH less cluttered that way, leading to the diversity we have now. Which lets things like the best parts of Mass Effect happen. (I really like the races, politics, and history in ME…)

          • Amnestic says:

            Super Elves? Sounds like the Eladrin to me.

            • ps238principal says:

              I thought the Eladrin were half of the previous definition of “elf,” where they got the long lives, flighty/weird personalities, and magic. The other half got to be a bunch of Legolas clones.

          • newdarkcloud says:

            I really would like someone to make a new fantasy game with interesting races and such that aren’t the usual riff-raff, but I think you’re right. What some games are doing to revitalize fantasy is to put those standard cliches in different setting like Steampunk, Cyberpunk, and Urban settings. It is cool question to explore: What would happen if magic and technology grew together and played off each other? Sadly, even that has become somewhat cliched.

            I’m all for a new type of fantasy game that explored brand new races and political spheres.

          • False Prophet says:

            Former D&D developer Monte Cook made his own campaign setting, where the races included giants, faeries (basically halflings who could fly or run really fast), a psychic race with red skin, an anthropomorphic lion race, an anthropomorphic canine race, and an anthropomorphic reptile race. As someone on his forums commented, “when it comes to other races, you have a few options: a) humans stretched or squashed in one or more dimensions, b) humans with pointy ears or bumpy foreheads, c) humans with weird coloured skin, or d) some manner of furry.”

            And it’s true something like Mass Effect can get away with truly weird specimens like the elcor and hanar, but it’s also noteworthy you never get a non-humanoid as a squadmate. In today’s AAA environment you get to play a human or a humanoid of some sort.

            When my friend showed SW:ToR to me, I was disappointed that all the playable races were humanoids between 5 and 6.5 feet in height, with smooth skin, two eyes, two ears, a nose and mouth. No Wookies, no Ewoks, no Beasalisk, no Ortolans. Pah. Modern games can incorporate mandatory vehicle sections, but can’t work in non-humanoid playable characters? Forget about fidelity and voice-acting ruining gaming–mo-cap is ruining gaming!

            • Klay F. says:

              Related: I would buy the shit out of a Mass Effect game that let me play as Blasto. Hell, Blasto, as he exists now has more personality than male Shep.

              • X2Eliah says:

                Not just male Shep, but femshep also. If you strip out the I HAVE STRONG FEELINGS FOR EVERYTHING SO I EMPHASIZE EVERY SYLLABLE TO ITS MAXIMUM nonsense, there’s nothing left either way. Hale’s delivery sure is more loaded, but more credible/believable? Not really.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          I think what irks me in the context of Amalur is that when people say “elves” they mean the generic D&D elves. The Fae of Amalur definitely share a common ancestor with those, I can see that, but to me they are actually closer to their roots and I liked the shift of focus to the whole “the autumn years” and the “eternal through repetition” angle rather than “+2 dex, proficiency with bows”.

      • PurePareidolia says:

        Fun fact: One of the early inspirations for Tolkien’s elves was the Tuatha De Danann – a race of ancient, semi-divine beings from Celtic lore.

        Anyway, you can have non-human humanoids without them falling into elves and orcs, it’s really not that hard. The ethereal, pretty, well liked, in-tune-with-nature, superhuman race of immortals will probably always be considered elven though because that profile is such an accepted trope. Likewise, the off colour savages who know only war and make up for their lack of intelligence with numbers are always going to resemble orcs or goblins. Tolkien used the latter two names interchangeably in LOTR, because again, all high fantasy comes back to Tolkien.

        • Syal says:

          I thought there was some difference between orcs and goblins that was never clarified; wasn’t Saruman cross-breeding them?

          I want to see more Naga. Cities of Naga.

          • Sumanai says:

            From what I’ve understood, it’s goblins if you’re speaking whatever the humans are speaking and it’s orcs for Sylvan (Elvish) or Dwarvish. Can’t remember which, if not both.

          • PurePareidolia says:

            Also Satyrs. I don’t think they even have a civilization in anything I’ve seen, they just hang out around lakes playing pan pipes – they can’t climb trees or anything, they don’t seem to fit into any ecosystem, or ever explain where they get all that wine for their constant revelry.

            Anyway, I know the “orcs and goblin men” line from Lord of the Rings was a thing, but I’m pretty sure in the Hobbit they were always goblins, then they became orcs for LOTR, and they were clarified to be a tainted subspecies of elf in the Silmarillion. But that’s pretty much all I remember of them, so maybe Goblins were like a regional variant?

        • Eärlindor says:

          Technically, the “ethereal, pretty, well liked, in-tune-with-nature, superhuman race of immortals” are in fact Elves as they are of Faerie, or the Perilous Realm. Anything that is beyond human ability is considered “Elvish” or “Elvish Craft” as Tolkien explains in his essay On Fairy Stories. It’s not so much a new meaning accepted on a old trope so much as they are one and the same. When dealing with Myth, Faerie is involved.

          (And fun trivia: interestingly enough concerning the orcs/goblins, Tolkien considered anyone hard or foul of heart, shall we say, to be orcish, or an outright orc. He described the British government being filled with orcs, and that there were orcs on both the British and German sides during the World Wars.)

        • Friend of Dragons says:

          I’ve been playing some of the Dota 2 beta, and (while I’ve never played the original, it’s probably much the same), one of the reasons I like it it the variety of characters. Sure a good bit of them are human or humanoid, but there’s also a lot of other things like a 2-headed dragon, a sentient mass of water, a weird winged centaur made of crystal, among many others. I’m glad to see Valve isn’t shy about making a great deal of individually animated, unique characters.
          (Although the plethora of characters can make the game somewhat incongruous, at times)

          • Hale says:

            Well if you think about DOTA’s roots, many if not all of those characters come from Warcraft’s line up of heroes and creatures. The two headed dragon is probably based off the Chimera unit and the sentient mass of water would have been a Water Elemental.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its a shame that they focused on their bland story so much,when they shouldve focused on the gameplay.It really is good.The ability to smelt weapons and change them into what you want.The ability to switch classes at any time and keep your level.The dynamic combat and the fate combos.Its all interesting stuff.But the bland setting and story simply pull it down.

  13. guy says:

    Shame that they went out of business, I was personally rather fond of Amalur.

    Though, um, if they sold three hundred thousand physical copies of a game that required a content delivery system (Origin) to run and thus presumably made huge digital sales, where did the money go?

    A quick check indicates that they needed to sell 1.5 million copies at 50$ each, which seems reasonable for sixty retail minus the store markup, and the loan payments were presumably not due all at once.

    You might think business expenses, but wasn’t that why they had a loan in the first place?

    • newdarkcloud says:

      I dunno. I played the demo. While the combat was definitely fun, the story felt very much like standard fantasy without much to differentiate it from its peers (though I admit it was very pretty). The story did not grip me at all, and I was disappointing because I was genuinely excited about the game until I played the demo.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I have to say this. Man was that game undermarketed, at least around here, I think more than a half of the people I regularly hang out with are dedicated gamers with a strong feel for fantasy RP but a lot of them haven’t even heard the title when the game came out.

    • Eric says:

      Pretty much the entire loan was dedicated to 38 Studios’ MMO, Project Copernicus. Amalur had little to do with that and was developed by Big Huge Games, after they were saved from bankruptcy by 38 Studios and their game was re-branded to use the Amalur universe.

  14. Mr Guy says:

    Much as I hate the “standard” Valve teeter-totter puzzle, at least they didn’t put it in the middle of the final boss’s lair…

  15. HBOrrgg says:

    Well, if he abused government spending policies to waste millions of tax payer dollars on his flop then as a libertarian that would make him something of an expert on wasteful government spending.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      This is kind of my thought as well (Leaving aside all the other problems with the development and history of Amalur). The thought process behind the argument “Libertarians shouldn’t take money from the government” seems to run along the lines of…

      If: I don’t think the government should subsidize private ventures.
      Then: I should never accept subsidy from the government.
      Which doesn’t hold together. Should a libertarian refuse to accept social services subsidies? What about listening to public radio? The government has already taken the money, and refusing to accept a subsidy isn’t going to fix that.

      Should a libertarian lobby or vote to support offering government backed loans to private parties? Probably not, that would be hypocritical. Should a libertarian accept government subsidies? I don’t see why not, it’s just good business.

      Like I said, there were a lot of things wrong with the whole deal. I just think that political views should affect your policy-making action, not your policy-acceptance (or exploitation, if you prefer) actions.

      • Shamus says:

        It’s like someone who advocates raising the minimum wage to a “living wage” of $15, but then they hire a kid / illegal immigrant for $3 to do their groundskeeping.

        If you say something is wrong, then you shouldn’t do it. And your excuse shouldn’t be, “Well, everyone else is doing it!”

        Even if you deem it harmless, it will give your political foes a massive, massive cudgel with which to pummel your ideology.

        • HBOrrgg says:

          If it’s a “greed is good” type libertarian philosophy then I don’t necessarily see “Don’t take my money! But I wouldn’t mind if you gave me some of yours.” as inconsistent. Which would give this particular instance a pass on that analogy.

          Anyways, I should knock it off with the politics. If someone wants to respond and needs my exact affiliation then just go with your gut feelings (ie it’s liberal if you’re a conservative, conservative if you’re a liberal, extremist if you’re a moderate, moderate if you’re an extremist, etc. etc.)

          • LunaticFringe says:

            Poli sci student to the rescue! Not to get into this too much but even the ‘greed is good’ libertarians would still be hypocrites because of certain moral concepts enshrined in Rothbardian libertarian politics like the ‘non-aggression principle’, voluntary associations of trade, etc. Even Objectivism (which massively enforces the idea that greed is good) has moral standards into how that greed is used (i.e. through productive means rather then arbitrary ones) with much of Rand’s work demonizing people who practice policies like Schilling’s.

            Anyway from what I gather Schilling self-identifies as a libertarian yet continuously seems to counter-act that with support for figures like George W. Bush (who isn’t exactly…popular in libertarian politics). My theory? He ‘Bill Mahered’ himself. Doesn’t exactly understand the politics behind it and just went with it. Either way, it’s pretty funny watching him complain about the government not supporting his company with tax dollars.

            Especially this quote: “What Government run/funded program in this country’s history has ever been run with an ounce of financial responsibility, prudence, or with the peoples best interest at the forefront? None, that’s which one.”

        • MatthewH says:

          Depends on the libertarian. The Ayn Rand devotees are remarkably few. Milton Friedman wasn’t totally against a welfare state (though he prefered a negative income tax to AFDC). Friedrich Hayak thought public support for the arts was justifiable. So the first question is whether Curt Schilling was the kind of libertarian who opposed government support for economic development/arts/et cetera.

          I’m unconvinced the “you already paid for it” argument works in this case because the company moved to Rhode Island.

          Even among libertarians, Friedman’s argument to “take the money” is controversial.

          • LunaticFringe says:

            Most libertarians (in the United States at least) are more associated with Murray Rothbard then anyone else. From the little google search I did Schilling backed both McCain and Bush, which don’t exactly link well with libertarian politics. There’s the possibility that Schilling used the term ‘libertarian’ to avoid being classified as a public figure with a ‘neocon’ or ‘Republican’ political stance.

            • MatthewH says:

              Libertarians are pretty diverse in the US, well at least the professional libertarians are. Murray Rothbard has a long reach, but Friedman, Hayek, von Mises, Rand, Goldwater, and many others have respectable followings. Even Edward Say has a following these days. You also get nice cross-libertarian debates between Will Wilkinson and Bryan Caplan, say, or the guys at CATO and the guys at Reason. Even the Rothbardian descendents disagree over what constitutes a person, property, and harm.

              I suspect you are right that Schilling was a poor libertarian, either due to where he lived or because he didn’t really think about it. Jonah Goldberg had a great bit when he debated Matt Welch that a lot of people call themselves libertarians but when you drill into their policies, they are really libertarian one one or two issues (drug legalization, police surveillance, and so on) and then not on anything else (they may be fairly doctrinaire liberals or conservatives or just muddled independents). However, many committed libertarians supported Bush and McCain because they were preferable to Obama for a libertarian and there was no other viable candidate.

              Here’s the AEI debate. The exchange is around the 20-minute mark. If you want Matt Welch’s lead in, it’s around 17 minutes.

              • LunaticFringe says:

                Indeed. Hence my ‘Bill Mahered’ remark a couple comments up, because Bill Maher has identified himself many times as a libertarian (when really only his drug politics and support for gay marriage are consistent with some kind of libertarian ideology).

          • Mumbles says:

            I did some fact checking after running my mouth in this episode and it turns out he’s been running around with the Tea Party instead of Libertarians. The details of it doesn’t matter, though. Whatever party you’re in, borrowing that much money from the state when anyone with even an inch of industry knowledge can tell you that your first game isn’t going to be the next Skyrim is just stupid. I can’t imagine that shit happening in California since we can barely rub two nickles together for education, so it’s even more haunting to me.

            That aside, calling him a Libero in my opinion was giving him the benefit of the doubt. I have a lot of libertarian friends that are the most well-meaning, intelligent, sweet motherfuckers I’ve ever met in my life.

            • newdarkcloud says:

              If anything, being in the Tea Party, which adamantly opposes gov’t support of anything (at least on paper, but that’s a side topic) makes it worse.

              But Mumbles is right. If you divorce the politics from the situation, getting that loan is an objectively bad move. Anyone who analyzes the industry would tell you that.

              • Alex the Too Old says:

                The Tea Party, ugh. Heartbreaking. I actually turned out for the first round of Tea Party protests, when it was purely about taxation, and caught some shit for it from my family. The instant they started to say word 1 about any sort of social issues, they lost me. There is a term that professional political strategists use often, called “message discipline”. It is highly relevant to any discussion of the various entities that have called themselves the “Tea Party”.

          • Peter H. Coffin says:

            “The Ayn Rand devotees (that actually understand Rand) are remarkably few.”

            I like this version much better.

        • Syal says:

          Wouldn’t its failure be a point in his ideology’s favor (assuming his ideology is “This is bad policy because you don’t know what you’re doing”)?

    • Lame Duck says:

      Well, I imagine it’ll probably dissuade Rhode Island from giving out any similar loans. So, mission accomplised, maybe?

      • Volfram says:

        If there’s one thing politicians are good at, it’s wasting other peoples’ money. If anything, they’ll probably try backing for $150M next time to see if it works any better.

        • ps238principal says:

          It’s not limited to politicians. How many execs get bonuses while laying off employees from companies they’ve helped to run into the ground, again?

  16. LadyTL says:

    Well if the studio behind Amalur hadn’t been trying to make three games at the same time off an unproven license maybe they would have done better. Instead they only did an okay job on the first game and the second and MMO that they were working on at the same time probably aren’t going to get made at all. Bad business decision all round.

  17. Hitch says:

    38 Studios got the loan to make their MMO, which seemed like a good idea in 2006 at the peak of the World of Warcraft boom. Six years later with the ground littered with MMOs that failed to recreate WoW’s success, not so much. Big Huge Games was acquired late in Kingdom of Amalur’s development cycle in order to be a revenue stream so 38 Studios could make their loan payment. Curt Schilling was upset that the Governor of Rhode Island called KoA a failure. The Governor’s “failure” comment was based on the game not selling enough for 38 Studios to make their loan payment.

    Kingdom of Amalur was a game that many people liked and sold as well as could have been expected. More that EA thought it would, in fact. Unfortunately for the fans of the game, the right’s to the IP are (or will be as soon as 38 Studios officially defaults on their loan) held by the state of Rhode Island. They don’t seem eager to sell them at a loss, but may change they mind if they’re convinced that some game company’s offer is the most they’re going to get back from the loan.

  18. Earlindor says:

    The whole 38 Studios/Reckoning debacle super duper depresses me. Really bad.

    That’s all I want (and have the heart) to say on the matter…

  19. ENC says:

    American politics.

    I’m not even interested in Australian politics, let alone politics for a foreign country. SNORE!

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Guys,go and watch the walkthroughs of the dlcs.The signal,and the writer.The story is better,because it focuses on dreams and the weirdness,the strengths of the original.The combat,while still plentiful,offers improvement in using your environment to do it quickly and efficiently.And,of course,you get the beginnings of mister scratch,who is awesome.

    Kudos to remedy who have shown that not only can they recognize the problems in their games,they know how to fix them and improve their games.

  21. LunaticFringe says:

    Speaking of annoying Bioware puzzles, I loathe the A.I. Core puzzle in the original Mass Effect. I’m not willing to waste omni-gel on it (or I don’t have enough), and the puzzle just grinds that part of Noveria to a halt. I cheat-sheeted it every time.

    In short, the Tower of Hanoi should be renamed the Hanoi Hilton.

  22. Halfling says:

    Bleh politics in my Spoiler Warning. :(

  23. TechDan says:

    Towers of Hanoi puzzles are extremely easy after the first dozen or so times. Or maybe the first few hundred. I don’t know. The algorithm is the same regardless of the number of plates. I remember having one in my high school Calc class that had fifteen plates. My classmates and I messed with it constantly, eventually coming up with our own challenges.

    Whelp, I just wasted someone’s thirty seconds.

    Sorry.

    • ps238principal says:

      If anyone out there wants a TRULY evil puzzle, they need to program a game a teacher of mine had on an old TRS-80. I don’t remember the actual name, but I’ve referred to it as “Tic-Tac-Toe-Shift.”

      Basically, the computer generates a tic-tac-toe board, then randomly assigns the numbers 1-9 to the squares. The goal is to get three in a row, but you have to plan ahead, because after each round, whatever is in box 1 goes to box 2 and so on (it may have been each turn, I’m not certain).

      I may not have all the mechanics there, but that was the gist. Our teacher offered an increase of 1 letter grade to anyone who could beat it, and nobody ever did.

  24. JPH says:

    I just want to say, Mumbles has given a lot of interesting commentary lately.

  25. PhoenixUltima says:

    This is nitpicky as hell, but I have to say it anyway: the proper portmanteau for “hell” and “elevator” would be “hellevator”, not “hellivator”.

  26. Thomas says:

    Everything that is wrong about manuscript pages was wrong about the first one this week. They just didn’t sit down and think ‘how would the player react’ the whole stuff about the story not being finished should be shouted at you in big letters, not read on a piece of paper. It was a crutch not a tool.

    Also Alan Wake is really bad with explaining why you’re ever going somewhere and a lot of the story is plot story, it’s just ‘we are here now you have to go there, now there’ Not a lot of actual story in it, just a shell so the gameplay is somehow justified. I think that’s a problem of the game gets designed at the same time as the story, so the story has to fit on top.

    Finally I agree with Chris and Shamus that the dialogue wasn’t some failure/incompetence of direction, but Max Payne worked and they haven’t fully managed to see what works for Max Payne and what works for Alan Wake. I think a lot of the confused tone is down to that too

    • newdarkcloud says:

      There is one more complaint I have with the story. It’s Alan himself. We learn, or at least highly suspect, early on that what’s going on is a story that is coming to life. While we know that Alan wrote the story, that doesn’t matter for my next point.

      Why isn’t Alan Wake more genre savvy? As a writer, he should be fully aware of and expecting the cliches of the horror/thriller genres, regardless of whether or not they actually are played straight or subverted. This would have added much more to the story and made it a little more interesting at least. The fact that he is a writer is crucial to the story, but it isn’t used as much as it could have been.

      • Thomas says:

        Yeah I think this is the big thing. They just didn’t use the concept at all. If he’s a writer writing himself into the story then this should be about the nature of stories or the nature of games, instead it’s neither, it’s just a cool idea for the supernatural element, not an exploration

        • newdarkcloud says:

          That’s what I was expecting when I heard the concept. I thought Alan Wake was going to be an interesting commentary on the way stories are told. I was a disappointed when I realized it wasn’t. The stuff they have now is good, but it could have been great. As the cast keeps harping on, so much could have been done with a writer whose story is coming true.

          I want someone to make a game with the same premise as Alan Wake, but actually use the “Manuscript turned real” element in a more analytical way. Compare what it’s like living in a story to the real world. Analyze different tropes and how they stack up. Do something!

    • Vic says:

      I wouldn’t say a game not doing what you would’ve done in any given aspect makes that part of the game “wrong”. The manuscript was a tool for keeping the story in view, nothing more and nothing less. I liked how some of it foreshadowed (or “spoiled”) future events while others covered events that had happened already, even some events that Alan himself did not personally witness. Gave credence to the whole idea that Zane was trying his best but not always succeeding in delivering the manuscripts at the right place at the right time. Anything else would’ve gotten boring, fast.

      And you were given ample warning in the introduction that there wouldn’t be much explaining going on, either while you play or after you’ve finished.

      Also, to newdarkcloud, considering the direction it appears they may take the sequel (i.e., what they did with American Nightmare), I’m appreciative of the slow start they gave Alan in being “prepared” for, well, ANYTHING. And too, let’s not forget that Alan is a writer of crime fiction, not horror/thriller.

      Looking at the DLCs and American Nightmare, it is clear Remedy was only setting the scene. I do expect a lot of these elements to be capitalized on when the time is right, in the sequel (should they make one).

  27. The Truth says:

    0:19 – “That absolutely justifies (taking away the player’s equipment) for one bullshit fight and then giving it right back to you.”

    Did it not make the battle “more difficult” as one of you said than the one before it? Okay then, it served its purpose.

    I actually think the combat in American Nightmare is LESS enjoyable than the original Alan Wake. Despite adding some different types of enemies and weapons, it’s just too easy. They gave Alan way too much stamina, made it so the flashlight is practically infinitely powered, and made the whole “too much ammo” problem this game had to begin with infinitely worse. There’s also a lot less variety in locations. Not saying American Nightmare is a BAD game, but nowhere near as good as this one.

    2:40 – Nothing wrong with linearity in a game, so long as that game is either horror/thriller or story-centered. Unfortunately for its critics, Alan Wake happens to be both.

    7:30 – Maybe it wouldn’t have felt like an “obnoxious mechanic having to wait for the slow-ass (lift)” if you hadn’t have made the error which required you to do it TWICE? And also worth noting is that when you first approach it, it’s not all the way up, so it actually takes very little time waiting on it to lower the first time. So on two grounds, it’s your failure to pay attention that made it “obnoxious”. Like your general failure to pay attention to the story, however, it’s something you guys blame the game for.

    12:50 – The game’s not “hard” in this part because it’s limiting your resources. It does that the entire time. The only reason it’s getting hard now is that it’s later in the game and you’ve been relying on flares and flashbangs. In an earlier episode you guys implied the game doesn’t require any skill. I’m expecting a lot more game overs from here out, unless you guys figure out you were wrong.

    12:55 – I think they’re scouting ahead a bit. But they most certainly don’t go ahead of you until you indicate to them you’re wanting to run forward (by moving past where they have the light originally).

    18:00 – The monotone here actually fits BETTER than the monotone in Max Payne. It’s somber, and makes a sharp contrast with sudden bursts of combat which is actually SUPPOSED to stand out in this one. Further, I really got the feeling of trying to tip-toe through each location, rather than being bold and in charge all the time.

    But you will notice the monotone is gone when Alan’s actually talking to others in the game. That’s because both the manuscript and narration are meant to imply Alan is not really himself as he’s writing and narrating the story. They paid a great deal of attention to detail in their presentation, and you missed it.

    And I thought that was a GREAT place for a puzzle. Because for once you can’t just run through. You have that feeling that the Taken are going to be constantly spawning around you; what better way to take advantage of that suspense than make it so you have to take time with something you feel can get you killed in more than one way?

    And securing lights so you don’t DIE is not the same as searching for a library card. No, sir.

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