Experienced Points: Shadow of Mordor is Nothing But Infantile Revenge Porn

 By Shamus Oct 21, 2014 172 comments

My column this week is not a work of subtlety. This is one of those cases where I went in thinking I was just going to critique a few points, but the more I analyzed the story the more outrageous it seemed. Usually writing a column is cathartic, but this one made me angry to write.

Now, maybe you’ll argue that Tolkien is fundamentally incompatible with a visceral Arkham-style empowerment fantasy. But for the sake of argument, let’s imagine we’ve been given that very job by a clueless but well-meaning executive. Arkham gameplay is popular, LOTR is popular, they have the license, and it smells like money to them. We can’t do anything to change this, so how can we make the best of a tough situation?

Continue reading »

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Diecast #77: Shadow of Mordor, Twenty Sided Origins

 By Shamus Oct 20, 2014 121 comments

This is a special episode with a special guest. RandyIf you're asking "who?", then listen to the show. is on the show, and we talk about how the crew met and got this whole show started.


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Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Chris, and Randy.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Top 64 Games: 64 to 57

 By Shamus Oct 19, 2014 222 comments

Reminder: Try not to stress out too much about the order of the items on this list, what games made it and which ones didn’t. This list is just PC games, limited to the ones I’ve played and I thought were worth discussing. If you rage out because I left out your favorite game then you’re just making a fool of yourself. Also remember the rule: A particular franchise can only appear in the list once, so if Resident Evil 4 makes the list then Resident Evil 2 can’t.

Just use this as an excuse to talk about / praise / eviscerate games we might not get to discuss very often. Read the intro to learn why we’re doing this.

Continue reading »

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The Last of Us EP9: Bill Die the Violence Guy

 By Shamus Oct 18, 2014 156 comments


Link (YouTube)

I do wonder about the zombie mortality rate in this town. How many zombies do we kill during this 15 minute visit? Why would Bill live here if they’re THAT dense? And if there are only a few left, then why are ANY left? The point where there are just “enough to swarm you at a moment’s notice but not enough to overwhelm you” seems like a pretty narrow range. Since zombies can only reproduce by killing people, this ratio seems really unstable.

And while we’re asking questions we’re not supposed to ask, it’s about time to annoy everyone with this one:

What does Bill EAT?

Screw the traps. His main foe isn’t zombies, it’s his belly. How does he fill that thing? (He even eats enough to be overweight. Amazing!) It takes four acres (a little over three football fields) to feed a typical frontier family, including space for the livestock. Bill might not need that much space because he’s all alone, but I’m having a hard time picturing him maintaining just ONE football field of crops.

Bill doesn’t have a car? Pfft. If a car was available, and gas was availableAnd if gasoline didn't degrade into uselessness in just a few years. then Bill would have one ready right now, and he’d be using it to help plow his field during planting season. Tilling the land for planting is enormously labor-intensive, even if you’ve got the right tools, the right animals, and you know how to use both. And if you don’t have animals? Then you are not going to be fat, end of story. If you are very clever and lucky you might master farming quickly enough to avoid starving, but when you’re done you’re not gonna look anything like burly Bill.

He’s pissed at Joel for setting off his traps? He should be mad that Joel is burning up his precious supply of daylight hours when he should be working on the farm: Tending crops, chasing off wildlife and pests, mending tools, feeding and caring for livestock, gathering fuel for the fireAlthough the town's furniture would be a handy, if unwieldy supply of wood. and preparing food for the dayPreparing food from raw ingredients takes a long time, particularly when you don't have stuff like gas stoves, microwaves, blenders, refrigerators..

Shamus, this is a zombie story! You’re not supposed to ask these kinds of questions.

This season is going to be very hard for you.


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The Last of Us EP8: Grabbin’ Peels

 By Shamus Oct 17, 2014 85 comments


Link (YouTube)

Allow me to elaborate on the gameplay suggestion I made in this episode:

This was originally my idea for making a tabletop game designed around an “action blockbuster” aesthetic. In movies, heroes can get away with all sorts of outrageous stuff that you’d never do in real life: Long falls, ridiculous car jumps, standing in the open during gunfire, leaping between vehicles, etc. These moments make movies fun to watch, but if there’s too many of them then the whole world turns into a cartoon parody of itself. One car jump is fun, but ten car jumps is silly and dumb. The hero standing in the open shooting is cool for ten seconds, but it’s stupid if they always do it.

So my idea was to have some sort of “credulity” based economy, where the players could spend some pointsI actually called them "bullshit points". to do something amazing. Lots of tabletop systems have stuff like this (fate points come to mind) but my plan was to build a game around this one mechanic.

That never panned out, but I’d love to see something similar used in a videogame:

  1. A bad guy shoots at you in the open and he misses automatically, because of course the bad guy always misses on the first shot.
  2. The second shot starts eating away at the player’s “hero meter” or whatever, with each successive shot eating more and more of their supply of hero points. The bad guys keep missing, but the audience will only accept them missing for so long. The player needs to dive behind cover or else…
  3. If the player runs out of hero points, then they get shot and die.
  4. Hero points can be (partly) replenished in combat if you do something impressive, exciting, or action-movie-esque: Shove a guy off a ledge. One-shot someone in the head. Shoot something explosive that blows dudes up. Swat a grenade back at the bad guys. Use some bit of environment to kill a dude. Use the environment to do something cool. Basically, the goal is to keep the player moving, looking for interesting ways to dispatch foes that don’t involve standing in the open or playing boring stop-n-pop cover shooting. Our other goal is to do away with the “health” mechanic itself, where you take dozens of gunshot wounds on your journey but patch over them with “medkits” you find.

Tonally, I don’t think this would work with a Last of Us style game, which is more drama than action adventure. But this could work for something Uncharted-ish.

Also, this episode totally went up on the 17th.


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Top 64 PC Games: Introduction

 By Shamus Oct 17, 2014 132 comments

In keeping with the spirit of this project, the logo has been made crappy (roughly) on purpose, to symbolize the shallow and half-assed nature of this sort of thing.

A few weeks ago we dumped on PC Gamer for their list of Top 100 Games that gave top honors to Mass Effect 2It was a mess of dodgy tone, fake choice, plot holes, retcons, and cliches, but at least the shooting was... pretty standard.. A really interesting discussion about “Top Games” ensued, and it occurred to me that I’ve never really analyzed the thought process behind these lists or questioned the criteria that go into them. The more I thought about it, the more questions I had about how this is supposed to work. Eventually I realized that after deriding Top X lists for years, I hypocritically want to make one. Not because I think the final product is useful. (I don’t care who makes the list, it’s still hogwash. Look, I worked for a couple of weeks on my list and I still think it’s hogwash.)

This is a kind of experiment, “What is it like to make one of these, and how would it turn out if I made one?” I realize this is terribly crypto-hipster of me to both deride and then ironically indulge in something shallow. Just humor me.

What do people mean by “Top Games”, anyway? Continue reading »

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The Last of Us EP7: Shiv and a Haircut

 By Shamus Oct 16, 2014 95 comments


Link (YouTube)

Check out that little breath out that Joel gives when he sees the wound, like he’s just been punched in the gut. Again, I really don’t want to encourage this industry of motion-capture obsessed wannabe movie-makers, but that’s really something. It’s like… acting.


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Something in the Water, Part 4

 By Shamus Oct 15, 2014 102 comments

And here’s the end of the story, which you probably guessed.

October

The thing about apartment hunting is that it’s all failure, because if you succeed you stop doing it. All the places are losers until you find the winner.

We finally found a winner. We met the landlord, toured the place, and signed the lease in the space of a couple of days. We were ready to accept any hovel, no matter how ugly or sketchy, just so I could escape the cats. But when we did find a place it turned out to be more than we could have hoped for. It was actually nicer than any of the other places we looked at.

“This place feels like it’s too good for us,” my wife says.

I nod. My oldest daughter said the same thing earlier, and I’ve been thinking it to myself all day.

We had a list of stuff we needed. (Three bedrooms, no pets, good wiring, in our price range, available NOW.) We had a list of stuff we wanted. (FOUR bedrooms, two bathrooms, a place for my office, nice neighborhood.) We had a list of stuff that we would wish for if we found a genie. (Laundry appliances. Four bedrooms. Nice view. Good sound insulation. Whole-unit air conditioning. New appliances. A spot for a bit of a garden.)

I love the view here. I mean, it's not glorious or anything, but we're up on a hill so we can see the sky when we look out a window, and not the side of a crappy building.

This place has everything except the dedicated office space. Aside from needing to steal half the living room for my office, this is better than we could possibly have hoped for.

Everything came together quickly. We saw the place, signed the lease, transferred the utilities, and moved the bulk of our stuff in the space of four days. This is the most panicked, ad-hoc move we’ve ever done.

I was in really bad shape by the end, walking around glassy-eyed and open-mouthed, pumped full of inhaler that did just enough to keep me out of the hospital. I wasn’t in physical danger yet, but I had pretty much stopped being a functioning adult. I didn’t really grasp how bad I was until a couple of days after we moved in. My lungs cleared up, my head cleared up, and I got some blissfully peaceful sleep.

Now that I’m alive again, I’m anxious to get back to work. But we’re on day two of a five-day internet blackout. So no work. (Except for writing this.) So I’m running a massive decontamination operation here at the new place. Everything has to be cleaned as it enters the house, or we’ll end up dragging the poison into the fresh clean new place. All the clothes need to be laundered. All the furniture needs to be wiped down. Instead of packing the empty cardboard boxes away (like we did after out last move) we throw them away. (Boxes are magical dust magnets. Dust can even stick to the sides!)

The vigorous cleaning is a lot of work on top of the move itself. It might be overkill, but we’re better safe than sorry. I don’t fully understand the mechanics of how dander works. I doubt anyone really does. It’s not like there’s an animal dander equivalent of the Geiger counter that I can just point at some blankets and know how sick they’ll make me or how much they will contaminate the air around me. The only testing apparatus we have are my lungs, and exposing yourself to possible hazards to see if they’re hazardous so you can later avoid them is probably the stupidest possible approach to safety. So, we’re just assuming that all fabric from the old place is poisonous until washed.

There are many bad things about this move, but the most vexing is the load it has put on Heather. In an ideal world, we would have had friends and family lined up to help with the move, but we couldn’t get help on such short notice. (There was actually a long-planned family event going on the day of the move. There were other family members we might have asked, but all the healthy young people are busy.) I don’t dare go back to the old pace, which means she and my oldest daughter (16) did most of the literal heavy lifting. So Heather has been working full-time, then coming home and moving all of our furniture herself.

All moved in.

As if to drive the point home, the neighborhood around the old place has gotten suddenly creepier. Some idiot drove by the apartment building across the street from the old place and fired a shotgun through one of the windows. (At the old place, my son could look out his bedroom window and see in the window where the attack happened. Thankfully, this was a couple of days after the move.) While my wife and youngest daughter were loading the car, a sketchy guy walked up to her, grabbed heather firmly by the arm, and started telling her how sexy she is and how big his dick was. The water company is back for some reason, and even swiped my wife’s parking spot in front of our old place, forcing her to lug furniture half a block. The thoughtless jerk could easily have moved anywhere he liked, since he was just sitting behind the wheel, but instead the guy from Pennsylvania American Water just sat in his truck and watched my wife and kid schlep stuff down the street while he sat in our parking spot at the bottom of our steps.

Basically, the old neighborhood is like this twilight zone where people are always thoughtless, mean, and dangerous. We had a good first year at the place, but I don’t think I’ll be nostalgic for it anytime soon. While I wish we could have moved under less panicked circumstances, I’m really glad to be out of there.

Epilogue

Image unrelated. Sort of. It's not worth explaining. The point is: Here are some pretty plants.

We’re doing good now. The worst of the move is over, and the family was able to help clean the old place up. I’m healthy again, Heather has recovered, and it looks like we’ll end up better off in the end. The house is nice, the neighborhood is nice, the water isn’t cloudy with bits of plastic, and I’m not suffocating.

I’ve run the numbers. Because we couldn’t properly plan the move ahead of time, we’re going to have a full month of overlap where we’re paying for both places. Rent for the old place, then (modestly higher) rent for the new. Plus the security deposit. Plus utilities at both places. Plus the cost of missing out on an Escapist column. Plus the cost of the stuff that got broken in the move. (My main monitor, and some random bits of furniture.) Plus the incidental costs of moving, which actually aren’t all that incidental. The final cost of this move will be thousands.

Here’s the thing: The only reason we were able to do this was because of my Patreon money. It probably sounds like hyperbole to say that the campaign saved my life, but I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten out of that jam without the support. You folks really did make a huge difference and saved our family from all kinds of heartache, uncertainty, and (much worse) financial loss.

So thanks. To all of you. Thanks for giving, thanks for reading, and thanks for taking interest in our little adventures.

- Shamus Young

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Experienced Points: All My Hard Work and I Get THIS Ending?

 By Shamus Oct 14, 2014 114 comments

My column this week is actually a Diecast mailbag question that I ninja’d from the rest of the cast. Wide and Nerdy sent in this one:

Dear Diecast,

I don’t understand this argument fans make about “after all this work we put in” in reference to playing a video game and the payoff that comes at the end. I’ve seen people defend this point.

It seems to me that if a game is work, you should be playing a different game, not hanging in there and then getting upset when the bit at the end fails to justify 20 to 30 hours of what is apparently considered “work.” Am I missing something?

It seemed interesting enough that I stole the question and used it for my column. Although, I might have drifted away from the question he posed. I dunno.

Hopefully I managed to answer his question somewhere in the column.

And yes, I avoided Mass Effect 3 on purpose. If you bring up ME3, then ME3 will overshadow the topic, and I really did want to discuss game endings in general. I’d be thread-jacking my own column.

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Diecast #76: Titan, Alien: Isolation, Steam Curation

 By Shamus Oct 13, 2014 82 comments


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Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Rutskarn, Chris, and Arvind.

Show notes: Continue reading »


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Something in the Water, Part 3

 By Shamus Oct 13, 2014 112 comments

The story of Why I Moved continues…

Early August

Halfway down our staircase is a single step that’s twice as long as the others. We’ve lived here a year and a half and I STILL trip on it.

The music roars from downstairs. I was just sitting at my desk, enjoying a hot cup of PVC herbal tea when someone downstairs decided to pump up the volume. Downstairs, Wilma has brought her sisterI assume. Betty to live with them, who likes to crank up the music until we can feel the furniture vibrate.

On the upside, she does this during reasonable daytime hours. On the other hand, my wife sometimes works nights and needs to sleep during the day. I try not to get upset about this. It’s entirely possible that we’re worse offenders when it comes to noise. We’re on the top floor and we’ve got three teens. That can’t be quiet. Moreover, they’re probably blasting music to cover up the the furious tunneling of the water company. Judging by the sounds I’m hearing, I figure that they have uncovered a balrog, which they are now fighting.

I kept hoping the problems with my asthma would blow over. I really don’t want to move. Apartment hunting is ruinously time consuming, tedious, and stressful. Moving is expensive. I have multiple projects going right now and I can’t bear to have everything interrupted with that hassle. So I’ve been foolishly hoping that the cat wouldn’t be a problem. Or that it would be a nuisance instead of a danger. I’ve been telling myself that my recent allergy problems were just seasonal pollen, and that the apartments should be isolated well enough to keep me safe. I’ve been ignoring the signs, huffing on the inhaler, and hoping for the best. In the meantime, the dander has been building up.

Continue reading »

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So Much Content, So Little Content

 By Shamus Oct 12, 2014 30 comments

I have a ton of content in the queue, but it’s all sort of stuck at 80% complete. I have some programming posts in response to Jon Blow’s language proposal. I’ve got this massive 8-part series that I’m simultaneously ashamed and proud of. I’ve got the end of my “Something in the Water” series. I keep getting yanked from one project to the next without finishing things up, which isn’t usually one of my vices.

The move is still keeping me busy and distracted, but at some point I’ll get back into my groove and the content will flow again. Right now I’m going slightly crazy. I have this thing where I get really antsy if the front page of the site has content that’s more than two weeks old. I realize this probably only matters to me. Most of you use RSS and the rest just hit the back button when there’s nothing new. But the desire to push Old Stuff off the front page is one of the drives that keeps me going.

In the meantime, here is some more of my alleged music:

The title doesn’t mean anything. I’ve just always found the phrase “shotgun wedding” inherently funny, like “chainsaw birthday party” or “gatling gun bat mitzvah”.

I just realized recently that I’m getting pretty close to have an “album” of music content. That’s really strange.

One final note is that if you’re looking for good electronic music, check out Corporate Lifestyle Simulator. It’s cheap, it’s modestly fun, and it’s the best soundtrack since Hotline Miami.


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