Diecast #69: Bulletstorm, System Shock 2, Games Writing

 By Shamus Aug 1, 2014 127 comments

This episode is a continuation of the same session as the previous Diecast. A side note about the recording of this episode is that – time zones being what they are – the sun was coming up for Jarenth when we finished recording this show, and at the same time it had only recently gone down for Josh. This might also explain why Jarenth isn’t as chatty as you were hoping.

Again, thanks for staying up so late to make these episodes happen.

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Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Jarenth, and Krellen.

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The Culture Ouroboros

 By Shamus Jul 31, 2014 68 comments

This is a treat. Both SuperBunnyHop and Errant Signal review the same game at about the same time. Er. Not “review”. I mean, “talk about”. See…

I’ve said before that we need a better word for what we’re doing here. We use the word “review” to describe bare-bones, short-and-to-the-point consumer advice: Graphics are great. Story is okay. Four out of five stars. Those are aimed at people who haven’t experienced the work yet and are considering whether they should make a purchase or not.

This is fundamentally different from the kind of “review” we get from Errant Signal, BunnyHop, MrBtongue and (on extremely rare occasions) myself, which is a look at a game with the expectation that the audience has played it and wants to discuss it further. These post-consumption reviews are more like the conversation you’d have with a friend on the way home from the movie.

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Diecast #68: Twitch, Crytek, Yogventures

 By Shamus Jul 30, 2014 121 comments

Double thanks to Jarenth and Krellen for filling in at literally the last moment. If it hadn’t been for them, there wouldn’t be a Diecast this week.

Instead, you get two! The second half of this conversation will appear later in the week.

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Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Jarenth, and Krellen.

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Experienced Points: Has EA’s Origin Service Improved Any Over the Last Two Years?

 By Shamus Jul 29, 2014 143 comments

Don’t let it be said that I never have anything nice to say about large corporations. On the other hand, if you wanted to claim that I rarely have nice things to say about large corporations, then I can’t really argue with that. Well the stars have aligned and it’s time for my rare non-bellyaching post, where I talk about something positive EA is doing.


Taking two years to figure out something they should have known on launch day, when the launch day in question was about six years later than it should have been, is perhaps not THAT impressive. EA is basically groping their way through this, gradually discovering things their customers have been screaming at them for years.

I realize the PC isn’t a priority for EA, but I don’t understand why they’re being so half-hearted about it. You should either show up to a battle with a plan to win, or you concede the territory. If you don’t want the territory, don’t waste resources by sending some piddly force that’s going to get demolished. Why bother building Origin at all if you’re not going to try and use it to compete with Steam?

Still, I feel the need to recognize growth and improvement when it happens. I’m actually cheering for Origin in my own contrarian way.

UPlay can still die in a fire on Cancer World, though.

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Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success

 By Rutskarn Jul 28, 2014 200 comments

Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success

by Adam “Rutskarn” DeCamp, Lead Writer

Lack of transparency is one of the ugliest trends in game development. Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes even legally required, but the standard of not talking about what’s going on with development can’t help but hurt old studios and new kids alike. There are a lot of pitfalls in this industry. It’s a shame to see people falling into the same ones again and again.

There are people out there setting up Kickstarters who have no idea what they’re doing or how they’ll allocate the money. Sometimes these people get nothing – or sometimes they get hundreds of thousands of dollars. When these teams fail, their follow-ups tend to be face-saving PR statements or grave silence, depending on which is more fiscally advisable. And thus, the way is cleared for another generation of well-intentioned misappropriations.

When we at Pyrodactyl Games launched our Kickstarter last June, we promised that we’d give our backers and the general public a frank postmortem. Now, we never did get in over our heads. We made mistakes, and to some extent I think you can argue we were in over our heads to begin with, but we managed to deliver a game we’re proud of. But we saw a lot of ways this project could have gone south, and part of what we’re here to accomplish is to make sure future teams deliver as well. This report comes from thirteen months in the trenches; it is based on experience.

But this post isn’t just for indie devs, and it’s not just for our backers: it’s for anyone who considers backing a game in the future. Before you support a project, it’s important that you know what money does for indies and what making a game with a small studio looks like. This is something that even the press sometimes doesn’t understand, if some of the questions we’ve gotten are any indication.

First warning: the content that follows may come off a little bittersweet. That’s just what things are like for indie developers. Know before I continue that we are all personally, deeply, humbly grateful for each and every person who took a chance and backed Unrest. We loved making Unrest, we are all incredibly proud of it, and that we hope it will succeed. I don’t know if I’ve ever worked on something I thought was so wonderful, different and rule-breaking. I’m deeply grateful to the people who made it possible.

Next warning: I am going to be talking about things that are almost always considered taboo. I will discuss my salary. I will discuss the salaries of other team members. I will discuss what my work situation was like and how we stand to fare in the future. I will do this because practically no-one else does, and it’s a gaping hole in the discussion.

But first—let’s talk about the biggest mistake you can make.

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Bulletstorm: Lowbrow, Loud, Juvenile, and Proud

 By Shamus Jul 27, 2014 64 comments

I loved Bulletstorm. You think it’s strange seeing those words on my website? It feels even stranger to write them. It’s the most coherent shooter I’ve played since Spec Ops: The Line. I’m sure that also sounds strange. Spec Ops was a blistering condemnation of mindless violence and Bulletstorm is a gleeful celebration of it. Spec Ops was a dark, disturbing look at quasi-real-world warfare and Bulletstorm is a funhouse ride where you murder screaming space mutants.

In both cases we have games that know exactly what they’re doing and what they’re about, without the strange gameplay / cutscene dissonance that so many shooters suffer from. They nail the tone early on, and and use the conventions of the shooter genre to support their message rather than seeing them as an unwelcome obligation that the game designer has to meet between story beats. In both games you’re treated to absolutely gorgeous visuals that demonstrate that you can make a world “gritty” without making it dull, repetitive, and beige.

Also, both games have you playing a crazyman who is chasing a general who is responsible for mass destruction. That’s not supposed to be a profound parallel or anything. I just thought it was interesting.

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Skyrim EP53: You Win at Skyrim!

 By Shamus Jul 25, 2014 200 comments

Link (YouTube)

We give Bethesda a hard time for how shallow and unambitious the ending sequence is. And it really is. But in their defense, only 30% of all players ever see itOnly 30% of players have the Dragon Slayer achievement, which is given after completing the main quest.. (I only saw it once, despite the many hours I’ve clocked in Skyrim.) So if they want to focus their efforts on the parts of the game people are more likely to see, I can’t really blame them. On the other hand… where did they focus their efforts? Sure, there’s lots of fun / interesting / cool / hilarious stuff in Skyrim, but none of it stands out as particularly polished. Oblivion was criticized for being a mile wide and an inch deep, and Bethesda responded to this by making Skyrim even wider.

None of this makes it a bad game. It’s just that Skyrim is an incredible toybox of ideas and gameplay that always leaves me feeling vaguely unsatisfied.


Project Unearth Part 7: Oh Please, Shut Up About Shadows Already

 By Shamus Jul 24, 2014 63 comments

I know this shadow volumes stuff is getting to be pretty tedious. I kind of whiffed my initial explanation, so lots of people are a little confused about how it works. Then I’ve endlessly fussed with it without clearing up the earlier confusion. I think this is the last time I’ll bring it up for a long while. It won’t even take up the entire entry. And next we’ll do something fun. Just humor me for a bit longer.

Right now the world is cut up into chunks, and those chunks are often irregular shapes. In 2D, they’re something like this:

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Skyrim EP52: It’s All One Big Yoke

 By Shamus Jul 23, 2014 106 comments

Link (YouTube)

Yeah, we’ve reached the part of the season where we’re all just phoning it in and recycling the stuff we’ve done before. (Although be sure to check out Rutskarn’s freestyle Skyrim Draugr fanfiction at the 15 minute mark.)

In fairness, Skyrim is just as out of ideas as we are. This is a parade of missed opportunities and disappointments. We capture a dragon, which sounds dangerous and audacious but ends up being awkward and stilted. We speak with it, but it just info-dumps on us with no character development, worldbuilding, or player agency. Then we “ride” the dragon, but it’s just a scripted fast-travel. It carries us to the ends of the earth, but it looks exactly like the places we’ve already visited. We arrive at the home of the big bad, but it’s just another mook maze filled with the most-overused monster in the game. We enter his lair, but it’s the same dungeon assets, sounds, and foes we’ve seen dozens of times already. There are puzzles, but they’re all recycled from earlier in the game.

Even if you’re criminally unambitious and lazy, you could still decorate the dungeon with red lights for zero cost, so the place feels somehow different from all the others.

The next episode will finish off Skyrim for good.

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Experienced Points: Why is a Bare Breast More Offensive Than a Severed Arm?

 By Shamus Jul 22, 2014 241 comments

In today’s column I stray dangerously close to politics. Or if not politics then the culture war, which is the same argument but without the policy side of the debate. ALSO, this article is even more USA-centric than usual. Either way, sorry about that. In my defense, I’m just trying to answer a question and not trying to force my views on anyone or tell them how to live their lives. I recognize this is touchy stuff.

I don’t really have any answers. I think this is a bit like the Empire vs. Stormcloaks fight in Skyrim: You’ve got two sides, both of which want reasonable thingsReligious freedom and peace in the case of Skyrim, and healthy children and artistic freedom in the case of television., and which could easily resolve their differences if not for a malicious third party. (In this case, cable companies. Read the column for the long explanation of that.) There’s no good, clean answer, only a bunch of ugly trade-offs.

This post grew from this comment back in April. I’ve been thinking about this on and off since then. I thought it would make for a good column, but it was actually really hard keeping this thing at a manageable size. (At 1,800 words, this is one of my longest Escapist columns to date.) The topic would probably be better served by a series, but I didn’t want to talk about adult content and social norms for three weeks. (And as of this writing, I have no idea if people will even care.) We end up with a column that spends 1,500 words just setting up the debate and trying to ward off all the usual digressions and distractions.

Whew. This is a tough subject. It’s really interesting, but covering hot-button stuff is stressful for me. Glad I don’t do this often.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts that I didn’t want to put into the article:

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The Next Big Thing In Music

 By Shamus Jul 21, 2014 97 comments

This commercial is probably the stupidest thing I’ve seen in ages. It’s for the music service Milk. The actual pitch:

Welcome to Milk, a new way to discover music. Just turn the dial and listen. [Shitty manufactured auto-tuned pop music plays.] No lists. No searching. Just millions of songs. You’ll find songs you like, ones you haven’t heard yet, and ones that make you dance.

Milk. The next big thing in music is here.

That’s right millennials! We’ve invented a BRAND NEW way to listen to music. Instead of picking songs you like, you TURN A DIAL and a giant company will CHOOSE FOR YOU.

Congratulations. You idiots just invented RADIO.


According to the website, it’s ad-free. For a limited time. This is assuming you don’t count the stations themselves to be ads. Even though they are.

I can just imagine the 50-something record exec who came up with this, wide-eyed and cry-laughing, “See? Once we get them hooked on the music, we can put in some ads. Then we’ll gradually ramp it back up to 15 minutes of commercials per hour of music, just like back in the old days. Oh! Oh! And the music we play can be chosen based on which artists we want to promote. We’ll be back in control again. And then everything will go back to normal. It’ll all be okay again. It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay…

For decades the big publishers decided what songs got played. No matter where you went in America, we all somehow preferred the exact same 40 songs that were forgotten a year later. Horrible mass-produced dreckYeah, you millennial hipsters think it's so funny to listen to that thing ironically, but I lived in a world where that song was on the radio ten times a day. For real. And nobody was kidding. that became popular not through artistic merit, but through an aggressive campaign of musical force-feeding. Record companies would choose the artists they had the most power over. The ones with the most exploitative contracts. The ones that were least likely to cause problems. They pushed that music on top 40 stations, and they pushed it hard.

Record companies were overbearing middlemen who ate something like 95% of the profitsYou can nitpick Courtney Love's numbers here and there, but the overall point is solid: Pre-internet record deals were a long, complicated con.. I’m sure it was nice while it lasted, but those days are gone.

Normally when I see a Dumb Internet Venture I just laugh it off. But this one makes me a little angry. The old record company paradigm was a sick, broken, corrupt, and exploitative thing. It’s been fun watching that thing burn down and sink into the swampIt's not dead yet by any means, but the labels don't have nearly the power or control they used to., and seeing this pitch for Milk is like seeing a political ad for a NEW class of WORLD LEADER who has the NEW IDEAS we need for the future, and it’s actually just the desiccated corpse of Richard Nixon in a Marilyn Monroe wig.

Yeah, I’m sure the millennials will give up their smartphones with gigabytes of hand-picked music so they can listen to someone else’s iPod shuffle. Guffaw.

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Diecast #67: Unrest, Mailbag

 By Shamus Jul 21, 2014 97 comments

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

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