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.

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Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year

 By Shamus Nov 2, 2014 117 comments

Like all old codger stories, this one begins with the phrase, “When I was young.” I realize this is cliche, but it’s probably less annoying than using, “Before you were born” as an opening.

In any case, when I was young the Christmas shopping season began much more gradually. There was no “Black Friday” shopping blitzkrieg the day after Thanksgiving. The process took time and not everyone did it at once.

But today Halloween is over, and suddenly the Christmas decorations are out. The Christmas sales have begun. We roll our eyes. We joke. We grit our teeth. But but it still happens this way every year. People write op-eds about how ugly and consumerist America has become, because it wasn’t like this in the “Good old days.” Unfortunately our current grotesque, soul-crushing orgy of prolonged and rapacious spending was unavoidable. We all hate it, even as we participate in it. It’s nobody’s fault, really. It’s just the unintended consequence of a couple of perfectly understandable forces.

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Happy Halloween

 By Shamus Oct 31, 2014 36 comments

Hope you have a good night. My costume this year is “Guy who is getting a massive headache and had, like, a bunch of work he was planning to do today but instead he’s gonna sit in the dark with ice on his face”. It’s an easy costume to make, but REALLY uncomfortable.

In the meantime, there’s a new Homestar hulloween cartoon man show. And also I made this music which didn’t turn out very well but the hard work is validated if I share it anyway song:

I leave you with this wisdom:

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The Last of Us EP15: Rutskarn is the Worst Sort of Person

 By Shamus Oct 31, 2014 50 comments


Link (YouTube)

I like that we get the dark spooky basement fight here on Halloween.

I kind of feel like this basement section would have been stronger if Ellie’s fate was in doubt. If she made a scared noise and vanished, then we’d feel like we needed to escape and help her. But Chris is right, this does feel very videogame-y. Ellie is taken from you in a cutscene and you’re dropped into a new environment. The game makes it clear that she’s okay. There’s nobody to talk to, so the story and character development stop so you can have a shootout in the basement. (Or if you’re Josh, a zombie punch-up. For whatever reason.)

I can see why this section is here. The hotel was getting old. We needed a shift in gameplay. And it’s bad for the setting to spend too much time shootin’ dudes and not enough time fighting zombies. But this is a really clear example of the oil-and-water properties of story and gameplay. Still, it would have been a little more interesting with a good story hook to pull us along. “Is Ellie okay?” would be an obvious one, but I’m sure you could devise others. We just need something more than “Shoot the zombies so you can get back to where you left off.”


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The Last of Us EP14: White Gold

 By Shamus Oct 30, 2014 45 comments


Link (YouTube)

I feel pretty silly after praising the game for the little moment where Ellie shielded her eyes from the sun. In this episode she does that calm walk down the steps, right through the crossfire… twice. It’s the most ridiculous, derpy, immersion-breaking moment in the game for me so far.

But Chris is right: AI is hard, and companion AI is harder. You could tweak Ellie’s behavior for ages and still find edge-cases where the AI just isn’t equipped to deal with the current world state in a believable way. And the smarter the AI is – the more convincing her actions are – the more ridiculous it seems when the system fails. It’s a tough problem. I’m glad it’s not my job to fix it.


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The Last of Us EP13: Live, Die, Repeat

 By Shamus Oct 29, 2014 52 comments


Link (YouTube)

I love at the five minute mark when Joel and Ellie walk outside and she covers her eyes in the bright sunlight. There are so many small touches like this. Again, it happens naturally with live actors, but it all takes time and effot and attention to detail in videogame world.

Like Rutskarn says: This post-apocalyptic economy is suspect!

If we ever do have an apocalypse, I’ll probably end up captured by bandits by Thursday. I’ll be sitting in the cannibal pot, slowly boiling alive while saying things like, “This is totally unrealistic! No way should you guys be out of canned food by now. This is not a viable long-term survival strategy! Where did all the women and children go? Why are you living in a squalid warehouse when there are presumably comfortable homes available? Why is your warehouse so squalid, anyway? Where did you get this giant pot capable of holding an adult human? THIS IS BULLSHIT!”

And then it turns out they weren’t even cannibals. They just really hate nitpickers.


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Top 64 Games: 32 to 25

 By Shamus Oct 29, 2014 98 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.

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Experienced Points: How Shadow of Mordor is a Poor Man’s Batman: Arkham Game

 By Shamus Oct 28, 2014 88 comments

The Batman: Arkham gameplay is a lot like God of War and Diablo: It’s something that looks simple and easy to duplicate, but it’s not until you play a bad clone that you realize just how much thought and attention went into the original, and how difficult it is to replicate on anything other than a superficial level. My column this week is about how Shadow of Mordor missed a few core concepts that made Arkham work so well.

People were kind of surprised that I included Dark Souls in my Top 64 Games list. I’m on record as someone who hates punishing gameplay, and I’m not a huge fan of high difficulty. Or more accurately, I hate high difficulty when mixed with learning. I hate dying tons of times when trying to master a new system, but I’m happy to crank up the difficulty once I’ve gotten good at a game and decided I like it.

I tried Dark Souls a couple of months ago. As predicted, I found it stressful and unpleasant. I tried to fight that first boss, died twice, and decided I didn’t want to play anymore. I wasn’t having a good time, and unlike most Dark Souls fans I wouldn’t get a profound sense of accomplishment when I finally did get the patterns and timing down.

Strangely enough, it was Batman: Arkham City that enabled me to see what people liked in Dark Souls. People praise Dark Souls for being “fair”, and they say that, “When you die, it’s your fault.” That never made any sense to me, because as a new player the game is manifestly unfair. A sudden bolder rolls down the steps and does massive damage? Yeah. There’s nothing remotely “fair” about that.

But what we’re talking about is a lack of randomness or system noise. In Half-Life 2, even the greatest player in the world will get hit sometimes. Everyone takes damage. So when you complete a room you have no way of knowing how well you did. Could this room be done better? Is it possible to take less damage? Actually, maybe we should rate performance based on how long it takes to kill the enemies instead of damage taken. What’s the core mastery here? Am I working to maximize damage output or minimize incoming damage?

But in Arkham and Dark Souls, there’s no noise. The “fair” bit means that once you fully master the game, it is totally possible to get through the whole thing without taking a scratch. When you die, you don’t have to worry that you were just unlucky and a bad guy got a critical or something. Every death – and even every hit – is avoidable. This means that the longer you play the game, the better you perform. You can see and feel yourself improve.

Dark Souls just doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s the punishment, not the system. For me playing Dark Souls is like trying to learn to play the piano in a situation where fluffing too many notes will force me to go back and practice some other tune that I’ve already mastered.

If you found Batman “boring”, it’s probably because you thought your goal was just to survive, which is obviously pretty easy. But your real goal is to execute fights without getting hit and without breaking your combo. When viewed this way, I find Batman’s gameplay to be immensely enjoyable.


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Borderlands Badass Ranks

 By Shamus Oct 28, 2014 60 comments

The Borderlands games have this thing called “Badass ranks”. It’s this sort of meta-leveling system that’s not tied to any specific character, but is instead based on some global stateActually, in the first one it works a little different, but whatever. For now let's focus on the Borderlands 2 and Pre-Sequel.. You complete goals, the goals give you badass points, the points fill a leveling bar, and when it fills up you get a single badass token. These tokens can be spent on really, really small upgrades like “Plus a tenth of a percent more damage with guns”. But these upgrades apply to all your characters, now and in the future.

The goals are typical achievement-bait type stuff: Kill X people with fire damage. Open X loot chests. Loot X items of a given rarity. Sell X items. Kill X of creature Y with melee attacks. Get X headshots. Do X sidequests. Deal X points of damage with weapon Y. And so on.

This is Athena from Pre-Sequel. (Best character.) The bonus stats you see on the left apply to all the characters I create. The game lets you disable these if you want, presumably to allow serious players to set up "fair" duels.
This is Athena from Pre-Sequel. (Best character.) The bonus stats you see on the left apply to all the characters I create. The game lets you disable these if you want, presumably to allow serious players to set up "fair" duels.

There are numerous goals, to the point where you’ll be hitting new ones every couple of minutes. If you’re looking to maximize the number of badass tokens you earn, then it’s best to avoid getting stuck in a rut with one favorite character, weapon, and playstyle. Use all the weapons, fight all the foes, use vehicles, use melee, and generally mix things up.

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Diecast #78: Unity, Unity, Borderlands, Beyond Earth

 By Shamus Oct 27, 2014 137 comments


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Hosts: Chris, Josh, Shamus, and Rutskarn.

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Top 64 Games: 40 to 33

 By Shamus Oct 26, 2014 169 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.

Also! Some people are having fun trying to identify the games in the header image. That’s actually a fun idea. I’ll post the answers for each image at the end of this series.

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The Last of Us EP12: Shooty Time

 By Shamus Oct 24, 2014 86 comments


Link (YouTube)

It’s a credit to the game that after Bill was such an insufferable asshole I was able to feel sorry for him. He got a note from his partner that boiled down to “I never loved you.” He’s all alone in zombie town. He’s living a doomed existence. And then Ellie stole his porn. Poor guy.

Then again, maybe his existence wouldn’t be so bleak if he wasn’t a horrible, angry, bickering, confrontational, and borderline abusive human being. Maybe Bill’s curse isn’t living alone. Maybe his curse is being Bill.

Observe at 14:45, Ellie does a yawn. This might be the first natural-looking yawn in videogames. A yawn is one of those expressions that usually looks horrifying when done in videogames.

As they head into Pittsburgh, I joke that the zombies are gonna have the worst accent. Turns out a lot of people agree with this. The Pittsburgh accent was recently voted Americas Ugliest Accent. This is my favorite example of the accent and the culture that surrounds it. I’ve known quite a few Greg & Donny types in my day.

And now let’s nitpick this episode, because I can’t help myself.

Frank hung himself in a house with the doors and windows closed. The stench of the rotting corpse should have been overpowering when they entered. It should have been strong just getting near the place. Now, you could argue that it’s been so long that the worst of the smell has dissipated. But if that’s the case, then there’s no way the body is in good enough condition to see bite marks.


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