Mass Effect Retrospective 6: Noveria

By Shamus   Aug 5, 2015   Mass Effect 212 comments

Like Feros, Noveria is a two-location planet, with a Mako drive between them. Port Hanshan has the corporate offices, while the labs are up the snowy, hilariously steep mountain path. The people of Hanshan evidently know how reckless and sketchy their research work is, since they put all of their labs and experiments on the other side of a glacier.

Port Hanshan

What a fun bunch. Think I`ll take my next leave here.

Well it wouldn’t be a proper RPG if we didn’t run into a plot-driven door at some point.

This is a simple quest that feels long because of the elevators we have to ride. Administrator Anoleis is a corrupt jerkfaceWouldn’t this quest be more interesting if he was a nice and funny guy, and was only an asshole to the people he had power over? You’d need a different reason to oppose him, but “Guy who is cool to the player but a tyrant to everyone else” might be a fun hook. who won’t grant you a pass to access the garage, which you need in order to reach the Mako and drive up the mountain to Saren’s lab. You go from Administrator Anoleis, to Agent Parasini, to Lorik, where each of them tells you their particular agenda. Then you have a little scuffle at Lorik’s office, and you decide which of the previous three people you want to work with in exchange for a pass. If it wasn’t for all the walking and elevator-riding the whole thing would be over in less than five minutes. But that’s not a very good reason to have all the walking and elevator riding.

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Experienced Points: The BioWare Romance Trap

By Shamus   Aug 4, 2015   Escapist 207 comments

We brought up this topic in the podcast this week, but here I wanted to give the subject a full column of its own.

Having said all that (assuming you actually went and read the column) I’ll say that’s probably only half the problem. The other half is that AAA action videogamesI’m not commenting on games dedicated to the topic. I don’t play them and have no frame of reference for appraising their quality. aren’t an awesome medium for doing romance. And even when it works mechanically, writers tend to be rubbish at it.

I was going to round this out with a list of action videogame romances I like. Here is what I came up with:

1. The Secret of Monkey IslandPLUNDER BUNNY!.
2. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
3. I guess the romances in KOTOR were sort of okay.

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Diecast #115: Rocket League, Black Flag, Romance in Games

By Shamus   Aug 3, 2015   Diecast 124 comments

Here is an example of the ultra-rare episode without Josh. I think Josh-less episodes are more rare than Shamus-less episodes.

Direct link to this episode.

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

Hosts: Shamus, Campster, Rutskarn.

Show notes:

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Can You Hear Me Now?

By Shamus   Aug 2, 2015   Personal 159 comments

My daughter Rachel has something like 45% hearing loss. We figure it’s a residual effect from her seizures as a child, but we don’t know for sure when it started. Unlike a lot of people with moderate hearing loss, she doesn’t shout. (I have a brother with much milder hearing problems who speaks much, much louder.) She’s louder than her siblings and tends to get really loud under stress, but that’s the sort of behavior that’s easily attributed to personality. Her problem is so difficult to observe that it took us a while to realize that there was a problem.

What we did notice was that she was incredibly stressed. She’s an extrovert and loves interacting with people, but unlike most extroverts she’d have this strained, almost panicked expression on her face when she was in a group. She loved meeting people and talking in groups, but at the same time it’s pretty much a worst-case scenario for her particular problem. In a one-on-one conversation she listens carefully, reads lips, and extrapolates missed words based on context. This is obviously difficult and requires a lot of brain power, which is probably why she’d be so stressed.

In a group, there’s a lot more room noise and you can’t watch everyone’s lips at once, which means she often couldn’t keep up with what everyone was saying. Before she was diagnosed, we had no way of knowing this stress stemmed from hearing loss. We just sort of assumed that she was a naturally stressed kid. We had no idea how hard she was struggling to understand in social gatherings, and as far as she knew this was how everyone conversed.

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Doom 3 Episode 3: The Laboriously Explained Space Laser in our Demons-From-Hell Shooter

By Shamus   Jul 31, 2015   Spoiler Warning 105 comments

Link (YouTube)

I loved all the crazy science machines spread throughout the complex. We were all used to videogames where we explored mostly static worlds, so these massive pounding, spinning, glowing, shaking machines really were something new. Their moving parts cast crazy shadows on the walls that really showed off the engine and gave monsters fun places to hide. Their deadly interiors made for a feeling of paranoia at the ongoing hazard. Their moving parts provided a fun justification for the various “puzzles” you have to overcome. As the guy who’s in charge of walking around in videogames asking, “What is this thing FOR?!?”, I loved that the game took time to do some fun worldbuilding by explaining their purpose. Okay, everyone thinks it’s completely superfluous worldbuilding, but I loved it anyway.

So I see Chris has quite the organizational system for his savegames. “ASDF” and “ASDFW”. I’m in the habit of naming my first save “new” or “start”, but then I’m too lazy to make another, so I replace it as I go. Eventually I have a save just before the final encounter in the game labeled “start”. Which means my system is objectively worse. Chris names his saves gibberish, but I give them completely wrong and misleading names that will no doubt confuse my later self.

How do you name saves?

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Doom 3 Episode 2: The Death and Redemption of Reed Rickles

By Shamus   Jul 30, 2015   Spoiler Warning 56 comments

Link (YouTube)

In this playthrough, Chris is keeping things fast and interesting by skipping all the “secret” containers. What you’re supposed to do is listen to all of the audiologs and read all the emails to find the cabinet codes, and use those to unlock the item stashes. I imagine that most of us – trained by years of item-scarcity mechanics – reflexively did all that work without doing any sort of cost / benefit analysis. In my case, I frequently found myself popping open containers to find everything inside was useless to me. I was maxed out on the offered bullets, my health was topped off, and I really only needed a fraction of the armor pickups. But I kept opening them anyway because that’s how you do things in a videogame.

So here 11 years after the fact I’m really glad to see that the cabinets really do make a huge difference. Halfway through this episode is the point where I was able to start using the shotgun exclusively. Now I see Chris skip the containers and wind up completely starved for ammo. I guess I’m just glad to know all that hassle wasn’t a complete waste, only mostly a waste.

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Mass Effect Retrospective 5: Feros

By Shamus   Jul 30, 2015   Mass Effect 146 comments

Feros is the most “Classic BioWare” of the planets. It’s packed with story beats, themes, and plot elements ripped from earlier games. You’ve got the bog-standard optional “help these villagers gather resources they need to live” type questing, you’ve got some charmingly lame puzzles, and you’ve got a little bit of local politics and personal drama for flavor. This would be my favorite location in the game if it wasn’t all the same unendurable shade of beige.

A lot of games from this time period made the mistake of making a world of tan and grey, but this particular example really bothers me. I can tolerate it if the people developing the Military Manshoots of 2007 thought that concrete dust and rubble was just the “most realistic” and therefore “best”, according to the artless simplistic tastes of the day. But here? On a strange and distant world meant to evoke a sense of wonder and alienation? I can’t help but feel like the people who designed this place should have known betterAnd perhaps they did, but were pushed to make it “more realistic” by some hack who doesn’t deserve his job..

Fridge logic: How did the massive ruins on this world escape the Reaper mop-up crew? Did they overlook it because of the cloud cover? Because those buildings sticking out seem kind of... obvious.

You could go either way. You could make the old parts of the planet – the ruins and underground caves – look vibrant and full of color, and make the prefab human housing look drab and boring. This would make the human stuff look ordinary and pedestrian in contrast to this alien backdrop. Or you could go the other way and have the human structures be bold and garish against the understated backdrop of the ruins and nature. Perhaps human stuff would be painted, or made of colored plastic. This would make the human structures stand out as new and out-of-place, like building a McDonalds in the Greek Parthenon. Either way, there should be stark contrast between new and old.

And no matter what, the Thorian should have some kind of green or yellow motif, even if it doesn’t photosynthesize with chlorophyll like Earth plants. It’s mind boggling that the exact same color palette is used for the human colony, the Prothean ruins, the ExoGeni Offices, and the Thorian caverns. What a wasted opportunity.

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Doom 3 Episode 1: Steven Blum is Everyone On Mars

By Shamus   Jul 29, 2015   Spoiler Warning 112 comments

Link (YouTube)

I can’t convey the sadness that I missed out on our Doom 3 session. I’ve wanted to talk about this game for ages. While I don’t hold up Doom 3 as a timeless classic or anything, I really do think this game did a lot of things right. I’d even go so far as to say the first couple of hours are really enjoyable. It doesn’t feel anything like what we expect DOOM to feel like, but viewed as its own thing it actually does a good job of setting a mood and letting you explore freely at the start. This is very preferable to the more modern approach of having lots of flow-breaking cutscenes and bossing you around with waypoint markers.

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Newsflash: Half-Life 3 Still Isn’t Coming Out

By Shamus   Jul 28, 2015   Escapist 118 comments

My column this week talks about the recent Half-Life 3 rumors and counter-rumors, but more broadly it’s about the larger pattern of anticipation, speculation, and frustration surrounding this game.

Going into detail on the first rumor a little more:

The rumor claimed that the game is never coming out, but it also claimed that there are “only” 10 people working on it. Ten is a very confusing number of people to have working on this. It seems like this number should either be much larger, or zero. Ten people is not a large enough team to make a AAA content-muncher happen. It would take them so long to finish that by the time they’re halfway done, the first content they made would be an entire graphics generation behind the times.

A rule of thumb I learned in my dot-com days: To figure out what it costs to employ someone, multiply their base salary by two. This is how much it costs the company to keep you, given that they pay various taxesThis was explained to me once but my eyes glazed over., health insurance for you, various other types of insurance for the company, and the company resources you consume. This is less true when you’re talking about executive pay, but for us rank-and-file mooks the “multiply by two” number seemed to hold well enough. Obviously your mileage may vary.

So ten mooks at Valve are supposedly working on Half-Life 3. I don’t know if we’re talking about ten artists, ten programmers, or ten Eric Wolpaws. Let’s just be conservative and say they all make $75k, which means Valve spends $150k on each one. Which means Valve would be spending a million and a half a year producing a game that will never come out, because the team isn’t even large enough to stay ahead of glacial forces like game engine turnover.

Then again, maybe they’re just prototyping ideas, and the plan is that the project will spin up once the gameplay crystallizes around a few core ideas. If they’re looking for something that’s as iconic and game-changing as the gravity gun, they might be in for a long search.

Who knows?

I’m not that upset that Half-Life 3 isn’t coming out, but I am kind of upset that nobody else has managed to fill this niche. Crysis tries, but it’s too loud, stupid, and clumsy to maintain any kind of tension, atmosphere, or sense of discovery. Wolfenstein is the closest thing we get these days. Those games are pretty good, but they’re not nearly as masterful as Half-Life at hiding their scripting and their rails.

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Diecast #114: Mailbag, Dragon Age, TF2, Tacoma

By Shamus   Jul 27, 2015   Diecast 129 comments

This Diecast barely happened. Thanks for Josh and Rutskarn for making the effort to show up when they had so much else going on. Thanks also to my daughter Rachel, who edited this so I could do other stuff. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions.

New record: We made it through half the available questions!

Direct link to this episode.

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

Hosts: Shamus, Campster, Rutskarn, Josh.

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Mass Effect Retrospective 4: Therum

By Shamus   Jul 26, 2015   Mass Effect 203 comments

These first few entries might be a little dry. We’ll get to the good stuff eventually, but we have groundwork to lay before we can cover that.


Yuck. I`ve played 8-bit games with more colors than this. Heck, I`ve played 8-bit games with more shades of RED than this.

Even though I do this planet first, it feels like a bad place to start exploring this particular universe. It’s short on expensive content like characters, dialog, cutscenes, and detailed environments. The combat can be kind of newbie-unfriendly at low levels, and the mission ends with a fight against a Krogan that can be ridiculously hard for some classesOh, you’re an infiltrator that specializes in sniping at a distance? Well enjoy being locked in a confined space with a charging Krogan that can kill you in five seconds. Also enjoy the fifteen seconds of un-skippable cutscene leading up to the fight.. The brown rocky landscape is monotonous the moment you lay eyes on it, and it only gets worse as the mission drags on. This is the kind of stuff developers usually save for that late-game slog.

On the other hand, the interface shows the the player’s squad is still one member short, and it’s natural to expect they will be eager to come here and complete the team. On the gripping hand, I’m not sure the player has enough information to know or guess that Liara will be the final squadmate. Basically, I’m really curious what the designer’s intention was, and how people responded. I can’t remember my first play-through. Did people understand Liara was going to join the team, and did they make a beeline for Therum to get her?

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Arkham Asylum EP15: Batman’s Punchline

By Shamus   Jul 24, 2015   Spoiler Warning 176 comments

Link (YouTube)

The game spends the first 85% of it’s running time building up a collection of brawling and stealth mechanics. And then you get to the end and they throw you into three completely new encounters, which are as different from the rest of the game as they are from each other. We slog through Croc’s lair. Then we fight Ivy by way of Super Mario Sunshine. Then we fight monster Joker.

Superhero games are tough to get right, and the losers vastly outnumber the successes. This goes double for existing heroes. When talking about bad superhero games everyone jumps right to Superman 64, and so we kind of lose track of just how many other awful licensed games there are.

But here we have a game that managed to nail it. The tone is right. The art is right. The gameplay fits the character. (As opposed to the Gameboy / SNES days of just making everything a super-unforgiving platformer built around projectile avoidance.) They had multiple gameplay types blended together, and managed to keep it all contained at a single location without things ever feeling stale.

And then we get to the end and it all comes apart. I understand if they felt they needed to put a boss fight at the end because of videogame expectations. But three? Next to each other? And what about turning Joker into a huge brute? Didn’t that strike anyone as dangerously off?

In the comments, reader Ledel has been keeping a running tally of the apparent knockouts, maims, and kills (ignoring that the game claims people are “unconscious” regardless of what happens to their body) that Batman commits during the course of the game. You’ll have to go back and read the comments to get the details – Ledel regularly explains the thinking between what constitutes a “maim” or a “kill” here – but the idea is to count up how much damage Batman is doing if we assume these mooks are about as durable as a typical human being outside of comic books. The final counts for the whole series:

K.O.ed: 321

Maimed: 42

Killed: 26

Thanks Ledel!

I really enjoyed this season. It was nice to be able to say something nice about a game after the outrage and ranting of last time. Thanks for watching.

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