Diecast #113: Cable Companies Suck

By Shamus   Jul 20, 2015   Diecast 140 comments

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

Direct link to this episode.

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

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

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Mass Effect Retrospective: Part 2

By Shamus   Jul 19, 2015   Game Reviews 233 comments

I really love the first Mass Effect game. I wouldn’t be writing the following 46,000 (and counting!) words on the series if it didn’t resonate with me on some fundamental level. I replayed it while writing this series, and was struck by just how well it holds up. It’s the lowest scoring of the three games on Metacritic, I’m sure it sold the least, and it seems to have left the smallest impression with fans in terms of memes and quotable moments. But for me it’s an experience I can’t get anywhere else: Large-scale, big-idea sci-fi space opera that’s grounded by technical detail and bolstered by careful, detailed worldbuilding.

Also, it has one of best best videogame soundtracks, ever.

A World by Worldbuilders

I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite Citadel in the game.

Continue reading »


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Arkham Asylum EP13: Bat-Ant Man

By Shamus   Jul 17, 2015   Spoiler Warning 96 comments


Link (YouTube)

Here is a challenge for the “What Were The Developers Thinking!?” file. The game has allowed you to fling batarangs without really aiming them. Just double-tap the button, and Batman will fling a ‘rang at whatever valid target is closest to the center of the view. The Titan fights have specifically instructed and conditioned the player to quick-fire a batarang when a large monster is charging them. But in this fight they change that rule, and they do so without comment or giving the player any way to know about it. In the Croc encounter, you can’t use quickfire for some reason. You have to use the other batarang control, which is to hold down one button to aim and tap another button to throw.

The result here is that most players are going to uselessly fling quickfire ‘rangs at Croc, and have no idea what they’re doing wrong. Even after you die, the game simply hints that you should “Use the Batarang”, which of course the player probably was already doing.

What am I doing wrong? Do I need to hit him several times? Am I supposed to dodge out of the way after I throw them? Or jump over him? Should I backpedal while I’m throwing these? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME, GAME?

Arkham Asylum is very strange, structurally. It’s mostly mook fights, with a Bane fight and a few Titan fights sprinkled around. Those fights all use the regular brawling mechanics. And then here at the end of the game we have three mechanically divergent boss encounters back-to-back. In this episode we face Killer Croc, in the next one we face Poison Ivy, and after that is the final fight that we’ll talk about when we get to it.

Show of hands: How many people walked in this section, and how many people Bat-crouched like Josh?


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Arkham Asylum EP12: Darkham Asylum

By Shamus   Jul 16, 2015   Spoiler Warning 94 comments


Link (YouTube)

I have to say this gimmick section where the game does Batman / Joker role-reversal is charming and funny. Unlike the actual beginning of the game, it doesn’t wear out its welcome by belaboring the point.

The last episodes of this game have been recorded, and we should finish the game up next week.


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Mass Effect Retrospective: Part 1

By Shamus   Jul 15, 2015   Game Reviews 406 comments

For the last few years I’ve half-jokingly suggested that there is no upper limit on how much people are willing to discuss the Mass Effect games. This series is going to put that idea to the test. This series is going to run for several weeks, and by the end it will be the length of a young adult novel.
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Yes, I have discussed this series to death over the years. In Spoiler Warning our group covered all three games, in excruciating detail, over the course of 36 hours of running commentary. You’d think there would be nothing left to say at this point.

But we played and commented on those games in their time. Today I want to look back and examine the series as a whole, now that we’ve seen it through to the end. The white-hot nerdrage has cooled, the reflexively defensive fans have moved on, and we have a couple of years of perspective between our expectations, the results, and where we are now. Mass Effect: Andromeda has been announced, and so I want to take one last look back over the whole trilogy with an analytical eye and (hopefully) without so much rancor.

Also be warned that since we’ll be discussing and contrasting all three games at once, there will be no spoiler tags for anything whatsoever. Use your head.

So much of the discussion of Mass Effect focuses on the ending of the trilogy. That seems to be where a majority of the audience checked out and stopped trusting the storyteller. But while the ending is the source of the controversy, I don’t think it’s the source of the problem, and it’s not where the interesting changes take place.

Continue reading »

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Experienced Points: Batman Needs Robin

By Shamus   Jul 14, 2015   Escapist 49 comments

My column this week is a little bit about why Robin is often overlooked in movies and games, and why now is a good time for the Arkham games to start using him.

I was really disappointed in how limited the team fights are in Arkham Knight. You team up with Catwoman in Riddler’s stuff, you team up with Nightwing to fight Penguin, and you very briefly team up with Robin somewhere in the middle of the story. That’s a trivial slice of the overall game. There are more predator encounters than team fights. More Ubisoft-style towers to clear than team fights. There’s way more tank fights, more Batmobile races, and more puzzles.

It’s a shame that the strongest and most promising feature in the game was left as sort of an afterthought.


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Diecast #112: Wii U, Marvel Movieverse, Mailbag

By Shamus   Jul 13, 2015   Diecast 201 comments

Direct link to this episode.

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

Hosts: Shamus, Campster, Mumbles, Josh.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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The Network Effect: MP3 versus OGG

By Shamus   Jul 12, 2015   Random 119 comments

A few weeks ago Peter H. Coffin asked how many people downloaded the podcast as MP3 compared to the number of people who chose OGG. Normally these numbers are greatly distorted by the fact that Google Chrome (and possibly other browsers) will auto-load the MP3 whenever the page is viewed, even if the user doesn’t explicitly try to download or play the file.

But the following week I used a quick work-around. The embeded player used a different file name, so we can have a proper apples-to-apples comparison. We can compare people who downloaded each file by clicking on the link, and filter out everyone who used the embedded player. Of people who deliberately clicked on the download links to save Diecast #109, 9,244 chose the MP3, and only 240 chose OGG.

If you’re curious, OGG files use an open-source file formatMP3 is licensed or proprietary in some way that I’ve never bothered to investigate. and it usually has a much smaller file size for the same audio. In this case, the MP3 version of Diecast #109 was 57MB while the OGG was just 31MB. That’s a pretty huge savings for what audiophiles assure me is “the same quality”.

Continue reading »


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Arkham Asylum EP11: I Wanna Pony Ride!

By Shamus   Jul 9, 2015   Spoiler Warning 132 comments


Link (YouTube)

I’m not sure why this game is so obsessed with making sure that the people you rescue end up dead a few minutes later. I guess they were trying to show that Joker was a serious threat, but they just ended up making Batman look careless and dumb. The number of survivors of this night must be pretty small. I could accept a few deaths, like the initial burst of guards and the death of Dr. Young, but this “everyone dies” thing feels like an accidental theme. It’s this ongoing problem that nobody recognizes or talks about.

Paul Dini wrote this game, and he also worked on Batman: The Animated Stuff. I have to wonder if he intended this, or if this is a side-effect of Batman inhabiting a videogame. Once Batman saves someone, their purpose in the story is concluded. In a show, they can just stop appearing in scenes and the audience can assume they’re just off-stage someplace, still safe. But in a game, there is no “off stage”. So then the game developer starts thinking, “Wait, what happens if Batman comes back? I don’t want to have to add more lines of dialog, and it makes no sense to have them always repeat their “You just saved me a second ago!” dialog. Bah, I’ll just kill them off. Easy solution.

I don’t know. I’m just trying to make sense of what seems like a very odd design decision.


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Why Batman Can’t Kill People, Part 2

By Shamus   Jul 9, 2015   Nerd Culture 162 comments

Remember that for simplicity I’m just talking about Arkham videogame Batman. Also, when I say things like “Batman is all about…” I’m not trying to make a definitive statement about what THE BATMAN means to all people, in some final and authoritative way. I’m not saying you’re enjoying Batman wrong if you like it for other reasons. Don’t make me cover this in footnotes and disclaimers. You know how this works. I’m just talking about my personal perception of Batman, under the assumption that if I feel this way, there’s a good chance a lot of you do too.

The World of Gotham

I’m happy with all I’ve done for Gotham, but when it comes right down to it, I have to admit I’m not really using my degree.

Assuming that you’re like me, then you want your Batman stories to deliver your escapist fiction on a very particular wavelength. Twilight is contrived and engineered for a particular type of gratification, and Batman is aimed at another.

Yes, it’s a power fantasy. But power fantasies come in many forms. Some power fantasies are about saving one person, or about a super-being that has the power to stop natural disasters. Or a spy that can unravel plans that threaten the world. Or the galaxy. This particular work is a power fantasy about bringing criminals to justice.

The Batman power fantasy has silly costumes, absurdly on-the-nose character names, and a hero in a rubber suit with pointy ears. It’s outlandish and fun, but it’s also grounded in some very pedestrian fears and frustrations. It has a lot of appeal for the sort of person that might watch the news, hear about some horrible monster that committed a crime, and wish there was someone out there who could bring them to justice – preferably in a way that lets us vicariously enjoy smashing them in the face. His foes aren’t so much criminals as the embodiment of crime itself, a punching bag with the face of today’s horrendous criminal-of-the-week taped to it.

So we want a hero that can bring down the bad guys that – in the real world – get away with it. Maybe they cover their tracks too well. Maybe they bought off the cops. Or they’re hard to apprehend. Or they’re just really slippery in court. Whatever.

Continue reading »


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Arkham Asylum EP10: Give me a Kiss

By Shamus   Jul 8, 2015   Spoiler Warning 69 comments


Link (YouTube)

A few weeks ago Mumbles brought up the Mr. Freeze fight from Arkham City, so let’s talk about that before this series gets bogged down in its own boss fights.

I think that Mr. Freeze is one of the best “big” boss fights I’ve seen in a game like this. Unlike other fights, it’s not about mindlessly repeating one attack pattern without making mistakes. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of that. It doesn’t bathe you in mooks that detract from the overall fight. It’s not about surviving until the next round of quicktime events. It’s not based on spotting tells and looking for big glowy weak spots. The boss isn’t just a mechanical reproduction of a regular mook, except with a massive health bar.

The fight is actually a deluxe version of the predator encounters we’ve seen here in Arkham Asylum: You need to ambush Freeze several times, and you can never use the same trick twice. Ambush from above. From behind. From a floor grate. Through a window. Explode a wall into him. Electrocute him in a puddle. Grab him with a “magnet”A device that really doesn’t survive any kind of in-world scrutiny. and trap him.

The thing is, I hated my first go at the Freeze fight. It was unbelievably frustrating and I had no idea what the game wanted me to do. (It doesn’t help that the fight is really poorly justified from a character perspective.)

The problem was that I only had a couple of predator tools that I relied on. (And my favorite was hanging from the ceiling, which you can’t do in this fight.) I had no idea what the other tricks were or how they worked. So you have to pause the game, look up this stuff in the list of Bat-moves, and then you have to experiment to get a feel for their proper distance and timing. If you do it wrong, Freeze will nearly kill you before you can escape. It was an excruciating example of Do it Again, Stupid.

If you’ve been learning all the different moves, then the Freeze fight feels like a great excuse to pull out all the stops and use the full extent of your knowledge. If you’ve just been doing inverted takedownsWhere you hang from the ceiling for five minutes, waiting until a mook walks under you, and then grab him to give him the jump-scare of his LIFE. So satisfying. the whole time then it’s a bad case of learning under duress.

My first time through the game I hated the Freeze fight. My second time through the game, I was kind of disappointed at how quickly he went down, and sad I didn’t get to use all my moves.

I’m not even sure how you can solve this. Maybe it would have helped to have a couple of sections in the game where the environments forced you to use some of the more esoteric moves. Maybe there should have been some predator encounters where you couldn’t hang from the ceiling. Then again, that might have seemed arbitrary and frustrating. The problem here is that inverted takedowns are just so much fun that they sort of discourage you from learning the skills you’ll need later.


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Experienced Points: The Perils of Porting

By Shamus   Jul 7, 2015   Escapist 93 comments

My column this week is on the difficulties of porting. I hope it doesn’t come off like I’m making excuses for lousy ports. Yes, porting is a massive pain in the ass, but you still need to do it and you need to be thorough if you’re going to ask for 60 dollarsOr in Australia: $60 and a kidney. for your videogame entertainment product.

Basically: Do it right, and I’ll do my best to help people feel sorry for all the hard work you had to do. Sell me a broken game and I’ll drag you over the coals.

On a totally unrelated note: As of the writing, Arkham Knight has still not returned to the PC after being pulled by Warner Brothers.

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