Top 64 Games: 8 to 1

 By Shamus Nov 11, 2014 220 comments

And so we come to the end. Try not to stress out too much if your game didn’t make the list, or if it wound up lower than you’d hoped. This list was just PC games, limited to the ones I’ve played and I thought were worth discussing. 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 did this.

EDIT: Due to mis-numbering, I have nine games here. I didn’t notice until after the post went up. So the list ends on zero instead of one. Meh. Close enough.

8. Tomb Raider


Obviously Tomb Raider makes the list, but which entry? Is it the first one, which gave us the character, the gameplay, and a gunfight with a T-Rex? Or do we use one of the later entries, which more firmly established the look and personality of the character that would eventually grace the big screen? Or do we go with the one game that’s completely unlike all the others in tone and gameplay, but which is actually good? I say we go with the good one. No offense to 90′s Lara, but… actually there is no way to finish that sentence without insulting 90′s Lara. She was a narcissistic pinup girl, and her stilted platforming gameplay could never hold a candle to the graceful and satisfying feel of the Prince of Persia.

But I do thank 90′s Lara, because if not for her then we never would have gotten Reboot Lara. And Reboot Lara is an interesting lady in a mechanically solid game. The platforming here holds up when compared to your Uncharteds and Prince of Persias. The tomb puzzles are great, and their only flaws are that they’re too short and too scarce.

I’m a little uncomfortable having a game this new so close to the top of the list. I was crazy about the game when it came out, but I don’t know if it will stand the test of time. Will I still be playing this game next year? Will I still regard it as noteworthy? I dunno. Furthermore, my opinion of this game may shift based on how well this rebooted series evolves. If the series falls apart, the things this game did right will look like an accident. If the new series thrives, then this game will get credit as the start of something great. It’s almost as if these “Top X Games” lists are perilously arbitrary.

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Diecast #80: Gotham, John Wick, The Fall, Overwatch

 By Shamus Nov 10, 2014 109 comments

I have two pieces of exciting news for you! The first is that Mumbles is on this week! The second is that Rutskarn isn’t!

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Hosts: Chris, Josh, Shamus, and Galaxy Gun.

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Kicking and Screaming into the Future

 By Shamus Nov 9, 2014 147 comments

We’ve talked about it on the podcast at various points, but I’m still using a 2008 style flip phone. Like so:

Inside, there's a panel of 12 buttons, perfectly sized for infants and hobbits. Dialing a number on this thing is literally like trying to type with boxing gloves on.
Inside, there's a panel of 12 buttons, perfectly sized for infants and hobbits. Dialing a number on this thing is literally like trying to type with boxing gloves on.

I did have a smartphone here that I used for testing the mobile version of my site (passed on by someone who didn’t need it anymore) but I never really learned anything about it beyond loading up a single website. (This one.)

But now my wife has upgraded her smartphone, and her old smartphone was passed to me. So I have officially joined the rest of the world: Continue reading »

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The Last of Us EP18: Prince of Pittsburgh

 By Shamus Nov 7, 2014 80 comments

Link (YouTube)

Rutskarn is correct, the subtitle did indeed have a glaring error: “I saved you’re ass from that clicker last week.” This is all the more alarming when you realize this is the remastered edition of the game. Either nobody noticed it, or people noticed it but nobody bothered to fix it. Strange.

At the two and a half minute mark, the vehicle outside sees movement inside the building and instantly begins pumping turret fire into the room, despite the fact that their own guys are also in the room. That turret is flagrantly robotic, to the point where it has no regard for friendly fire or ammo conservation, and continues to track the player even when they are out of view. Oh, videogames.

This “leaving Pittsburgh” thing is starting to feel like that one plot door in Neverwinter Nights 2 where a significant percent of the running time is expended doing something that feels like it should be simple. Our only goal is to get away from these idiot raiders. If they were just a group of a hundred tightly-packed guys then it should be easy to get away from the area where they patrol. The way they infest every building and parking lot – and the fact that they ambushed Sam’s party earlier in a different part of the city – makes it feel like they are everywhere. Are there ten thousand raiders downtown? Is this a city where ten thousand adult men do nothing but drive around their own desolate town looking for random people to gank?

We entered Pittsburgh at the end of episode 12. We’re now on ep 18. A full third of our running time has been spent trying to leave this town, and we’re still not close to done.

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Top 64 Games: 16 to 9

 By Shamus Nov 7, 2014 193 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. 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.

Also, the header image is embarrassingly easy this time. Sorry. I made them before I realized people were going to be treating them like a puzzle, but they aren’t really balanced in a meaningful way.

16. Civilization IV

Be immortal, rule as you see fit. Just one click and you can decree shit.

Civilization is one of those games that seemed to spring fully-formed from the mind of its creators. It took us several years of iteration to figure out adventure games, or shooters. But the essentials of Civilization were there from the earliest stages: Cities,taxes, tech tree, accelerating timescale, diplomacy. Since then it’s been a matter of balance and refinement.

Any of the Civ games would be worthy of this list, and I debated whether Alpha Centauri should be counted as a Civilization game. Clearly it’s of the same lineage, and the only reason the name is different is because of business reasons. And when you’re compiling a list of “top games”, the last thing you care about is the politics of idiotic IP wars between ninny publishers. From a purely gameplay standpoint, Alpha Centauri fits in the series better than Civilization V, which greatly altered the combat by moving to hex grids and removing unit stacks.

But ultimately I think I want to give the top honors to Civ IV. It’s a stellar entry in the series (although they’re all pretty good) and it has Baba Yetu.

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The Last of Us EP17: The Brady Bunch

 By Shamus Nov 6, 2014 74 comments

Link (YouTube)

I think I’ll steal some commentary from tomorrow’s episode and bring this up now: How many guys live in Pittsburgh? We must kill 50 or so on our way through. Either we are so unlucky that in this vast city we somehow blunder into the only inhabited buildings, or we’re only seeing a fraction of the inhabitants.

Let’s split the difference and say there’s a only hundred dudesOr were, before we showed up.. If they ganked an entire family every single day, and every family had a week worth of food, these raiders would starve to death in a hurryAssume a "family" is five people, then each car has 35 daily rations, while Raidertown needs 100.. And it’s pretty clear they don’t get nearly a carload of rubes a day. This is the same stupidity we saw in Fallout 3: Raiders cannot outnumber civilians. Ever. Every dude we encounter makes the entire world that much less plausible.

That initial raider attack by six guys was barely tolerable. But this is Planet Sillypants. We’ve got hundreds of guys, spread evenly throughout the buildings, many of them on the second floor. These idiots aren’t going to find any travelers to rob on the second floor of an office building. They’re not doing any useful work. They’re not amusing themselves like a group of perpetually bored men might. No, they’re sprinkled around like DOOM imps and cacodemons – mindless monsters waiting to attack the player.

If the roads are busy with constant traffic with people moving from town to town, then the existence of a hundred raiders in Pittsburgh should be common knowledge. If travel is rare and towns are isolated, then these morons starved to death years ago.

If this section had been limited to the initial ambush and one of the adjoining buildings, then I could give it a pass. But why, in this ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE game, are we shooting at so many human beingsYeah, I know why. "Because it's a videogame"!? This is preposterous, and we’re only halfway through Pittsburgh.

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A Pyrodactyl Postmortem Postmortem

 By Rutskarn Nov 6, 2014 99 comments

This post is a follow up to “Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success.”

I really don’t know how it is for your big studio-renting, T-shirt-printing, San Francisc-ing game development studios when their magnum opus wraps. I imagine many of them do schedule a few months to tear through feedback, patch, run tech support, and wrangle the convention circuit. But barring an ongoing investment, like an MMO or MOBA, that’s all sideline stuff. You can bet in ninety-nine out of a hundred cases the development leads get together right away, stick another figurative sheet of paper in the typewriter, and start on the next project.

Part of this is a matter of principle. You’re only as good as your last good title, and dwelling on success or failure doesn’t help your studio. But there’s a much more far-reaching practical side to it than that, and it’s one you don’t appreciate until you try to survive as a developer: it’s the fact that every month not working on a game is a catastrophic and potentially fatal waste of your precious resources.

You can embrace it or hate it, but the formula is simple: games are profit, profit is time, time is games. Having a smash hit release isn’t an “and then they lived happily ever after” success story. It’s the equivalent of winning extra time by executing a flawless lap in a beat-the-clock racing game. You’ve won a buffer–a grace period to work on your next project. And that’s if your game’s successful. If it isn’t, then you’ve really got to hustle.

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The Last of Us EP16: Butt Parchment

 By Shamus Nov 5, 2014 95 comments

Link (YouTube)

So I guess now we’re duty-bound to come up with more euphemisms for toilet paper. Do your best!

The game improves so much the moment we rejoin Ellie. I think one of the reasons that I can tolerate Joel being a heel is that we aren’t given any agency at all over his actions. If the game gave you a BioWare / TellTale style dialog choice once in a while, or offered you a “Press X to punch Bill in the face, square to give him a high-five”, then we’d resent all the other occasions where the game didn’t give us a choice. Being offered meaningless choices is more annoying than having no choices at all.

I suppose it also helps that we have a character-based reason for Joel’s behavior. We can see he’s wrong, but he’s wrong because of personal problems that are central to his character. He’s not just denying her a gun because the game designers didn’t think it would work from a gameplay perspective.

If I can bring up Mass Effect 2 without opening old woundsActually, those wounds never closed. But whatever. then it provides a good contrast. Shepard makes TONS of galaxy-changing decisions, so us not being able to refuse to work with The Illusive ManThere are some who call him... TIM? feels really out of place. Worse, he doesn’t have a reason that works for usOkay, it works for some players.. He’s enslaved by the plot, which means we’re enslaved by the plot, which means all those other little choices feel frustrating and condescending. Like, I can’t refuse to work with this crazy terrorist moron, but I’m allowed to be a dick to Veetor for no reason.

Because of this difference, Joel’s reluctance to give Ellie a firearm feels like narrative tension and not railroading. And when he finally breaks down and trusts her to protect him, we understand he’s taking a huge step. It’s entirely possible this is the first positive step he’s taken in 20 years to cope with his daughter’s murder.

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Dear Esther

 By Esther Nov 5, 2014 118 comments
EDITOR’S NOTE: I was annoyed that some of my co-creators failed me today without warning, leaving me with no content. My daughter Esther (pictured above) heard me complaining, and to cheer me up she wrote this. The topic and the words are entirely hers.

Hello, My name is Esther. You should probably know me by the few posts my dad has written with my name contained within the pixelated borders of his posts. Anyways, I’m here to talk about video games as an art form, or art forms in general more like.

There’s been an ongoing argument since, well, long before I was born at least. About what is/isn’t ‘real’ art. People have spent decades arguing about this concept that differs so heavily from person to person, that it is almost an indefinable concept. For some, it is the ancient and the awesome. Only the greatest and oldest qualify for the title of ‘art’ and anything less is thrown aside. For others anything that seems to hold a deeper meaning. Such as sentimental value, or a story can qualify. For others its anything pleasing to the eye.

But the concept of art, in and of itself, is rather silly. The fact that we will throw aside one creation because another one is ‘more artistic’ is almost laughable. Because honestly we’re never going to get a specific, shining example of art that will push aside all other ‘fake’ art forms. Of course, it’s possible that there is some aspect of art that is very important to our current society. But if there is, I don’t know it. But even if there is, we aren’t going to get anywhere by arguing about what is and isn’t a ‘real’ art form.

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Experienced Points: Should Any Aspect of Gaming Be Off-Limits to Discussion?

 By Shamus Nov 4, 2014 116 comments

My column this week is a little on the rhetorical side. Even the title is one of those things that @SavedYouAClick…

…would boil down to a simple “No”. Maybe followed by “Duh”.

But it felt good to write and serves as a sort of mission statement for both the column and this site. Who cares how many stars the game got, how much it sold, or where it appears on one of those idiotic clickbait “Top X Games” lists? Let’s talk about this obscure mechanic, or why nobody wanted to bother with stealth, or how the marketing drove away the people most likely to enjoy it. That’s all way more to me interesting than “did the public like this game?”

It won’t do any good, of course. In a month I’ll dump on Beyond Earth and someone will tell me my opinion is invalid because I didn’t play multiplayer, or I didn’t have the difficulty high enough, or whatever. But we do what we can.

Really, this entire hobby would feel kind of empty if I didn’t have this outlet for obsessing over details. This blog is at least half the fun.

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Top 64 Games: 24 to 17

 By Shamus Nov 4, 2014 132 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. 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.

24. Eve Online

Come for the visuals, stay for the politics, corporations, griefing, intrigue, war, controversy, flame wars, shenanigans, stupidity, betrayals, and staggering financial losses.

In contrast to the endless procession of doomed WoW-clones, here is an immensely successful online game that has not a single challenger. It’s not that games have gone out of business trying to imitate this success, it’s that in the eleven years since its launch, nobody has made a serious try at cutting out a piece of this market.

To a certain extent, that’s understandable. This is a scary game. It’s a space game where people shoot at each other with player-built weapons, from player-built ships, made from player-built parts, made from player-harvested raw materials in player-built factories. The factions are entirely shaped by players. Everything interesting about this world from its politics to its wars – is emergent.

If you’re looking to make a quick buck copying an established and proven formula, just about anything else is going to look safer than this.

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Diecast #79: Re-releases, 1080p, FMV Games

 By Shamus Nov 3, 2014 117 comments

For the last two weeks I’ve had horrible internet connections during our recording sessions. Egregious throttling, lag spikes, etc. Very frustrating. This has made dialog even more problematic than usual. I’ve tried to clean up the interruptions and overlap as much as possible, but there’s only so much you can do in post. Please be patient.

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Hosts: Chris, Josh, Shamus, and Rutskarn.

Show notes:

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