Diecast #278: New Steam, Spreadsheet Games, Pretentious Games

By Shamus Posted Monday Nov 11, 2019

Filed under: Diecast 124 comments

I notice some people would rather ask us questions in the comments rather than use the email in the header image. That’s fine and I don’t blame you for taking the path of least resistance. However, your laziness is compounded by my laziness. I usually gather up questions just before we record the show, and I rarely remember the questions that were asked in the comments a week earlier. You’re free to ask questions however you like, but I’m old and forgetful. If the question is really important to you, then you should probably email it.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:

00:00 Church Cultures and Funeral Traditions

Hopefully I got through this without offending anyone.

There was one small point that I wanted to make before I got sidetracked talking about impressive buildings, and that’s how movies tend to create the perception of a monoculture. They want to shoot their scenes in the most impressive churches and foreboding graveyards, which means you never get to see the other stuff. I never cared about this because most of the movies I watch are set in my country and I don’t care that they leave out the small churches and modest graveyards. I already know that stuff exists. But now I’m wondering what I’m missing in all those other countries. When a movie shows me yet another example of building X in country Y, what sort of details am I missing? How does Hollywood skew our perception of your country / region?

Sorry. The funerals I’ve attended lately have made me curious about this sort of thing.

Another fun detail I wanted to put on the show:

Coming home from the funeral parlor, my wife and I were talking about the practice of embalming corpses, placing them in ornate boxes, and burying them in a spot of prime real estate. I told my wife I didn’t care what happened to my body, but I was worried about my website. I told her, “Just have the cheapest funeral you can and take what you would normally spend on the burial and instead renew my domain and web hosting for as long as you can.”

This website is my favorite thing that I’ve ever made, and it would break my heartExcept not really, because I’d be dead. if it were to lapse to domain squatters a year after I passed.

Anyway. This morbid fit should pass soon and I’ll hopefully get back to normal.

14:51 New Steam Interface

If we rate Steam on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being where it’s been for the last few years and 10 being what I want it to be, then I give the new interface a solid 2. It’s an improvement, but still short of what I’m looking for.

21:30 Spreadsheet Games

Here is the Extra Credits video I mentioned on the show where they talk about “incomparables”.

Link (YouTube)

That’s a really good video. I think it’s more relevant now than it was when it was published in 2012.

37:55 Pretentious Games

55:55 Mailbag: aRPG games and magic users.

Dear Diecast,

This may not be your bag but, with the recent reveal of Diablo 4, one of my recurring gaming gripes has reared its ugly head again. Why can’t designers make magic users fun to play? There’s a long history of aRPGs having exciting animations and visual feedback for the players (don’t mention the word “visceral”) when playing more physically-focussed classes but then only really focussing on the particle effects of the spells.

I was watching a lot of the first hand youtube coverage (Game Informer, specifically) and I kept hearing how people found the barbarian and druid classes fun to play but the sorceress was just boring… and, quite frankly, I agree with them. However, it’s only because I can see that a lot of care and effort has gone into making the normal attacks, movement and special animations of those classes really fun and visually interesting – they feel weighty. The sorceress just raises her hands and/or staff and something happens on-screen. This isn’t the first game doing this – it’s basically all of them!

Magic has always required theatrics to make it look interesting – both in stage shows and in cinema/TV series. Gandalf didn’t just wave his hands and say, “You shall not pass!” Doctor strange didn’t just point a finger and stop the water in End Game… Why is this being missed?

Okay, that got a bit long, let me give a tl;dr summary to make it snappy for the podcast:

“With the recent reveal of Diablo 4, one of my recurring gaming gripes has reared its ugly head again. Why can’t designers make magic users fun to play? They spend a lot of time on physical classes and their animations and player feedbacks but then ignore those of the magic users. There’s no theatrics to any of the animations of spellcasters and, moreso than physical-based classes, the magic users need theatrics to sell the effort. Is this something you’ve noticed? Are there types of games where you can see designers are constantly missing something other media excel at and fail to apply those tropes?”

All the best,

I need to add a nitpick shield: In this section I complained that magic was massively underpowered in Morrrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. I should note that those first two had spell crafting, which would let you break the game by making overpowered spells. That was fun, but it doesn’t solve the central problem that the mechanics didn’t support proper magic-based combat. You could play as intended and tickle people to death with your ineffectual fireballs, or you could craft a broken spell and turn the combat into a joke. You couldn’t just have magic work on the same level as swords / bows.




[1] Except not really, because I’d be dead.

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124 thoughts on “Diecast #278: New Steam, Spreadsheet Games, Pretentious Games

  1. kdansky says:

    Embalming is utterly ridiculous. Very expensive and very bad for the environment. Just burn the corpses, ideally after scavenging them for parts: it might save other people’s lives and it’s not like the original owner has any use for them any more. That saves space and is much better for nature.

    That’s what the rest of the world does.

    1. PPX14 says:

      That’s what the rest of the world does.

      Really? I’m surprised – which parts of the world do you mean? Such a large proportion of the world is Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Religious/considers the dead body to be sacrosanct in some way, presumably precluding organ harvesting to some extent at least in common practice, and often favouring burial in the cases of Abrahamic religions? Being an organ donor is opt-in in England where I live, though I believe in Wales it might be donor by default unless you opt-out.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Cremation is popular among Buddhist sects, even religious ones, so saying that the body is sacrosanct in “religious” parts of the world is a bit too broad a brush to paint with.

        Burial rites are a large part of the human identity and they form a vital core of anthropology. It is very interesting to compare and contrast the way various cultures deal with their dead. There is a book I would recommend, but I don’t know its English title. The Dutch title translates to “Grave Rituals Around The World”.

        1. PPX14 says:

          Oh I didn’t mean to imply that all religious rites preclude cremation – just that I’m surprised if it’s the case that a large majority of the world harvests dead bodies for parts (or even cremates), as I think kdansky means is the case.

    2. Retsam says:

      I think that taking a strictly utilitarian perspective, like “burn the corpse after looting it for valuables” largely misses the point that the funeral rites largely exist for the sake of the grieving. Maybe putting people in graveyards is just done for tradition’s sake, but if it’s a tradition that brings peace and comfort to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, that’s valuable.

      If it’s your family member, and you don’t feel that a burial is important to you, then sure, go the cremation route. But if other people don’t feel that way, I think that’s their business.

      I also don’t see how it’s bad for the environment. Aren’t bodies decomposing in the earth about as natural as it gets?

      1. RJT says:

        In the US, unlike most of the world, a body is usually embalmed, injected with large amounts of preservative chemicals. The coffin and burial materials are make from preserved woods and designed to stave off decay for as long as possible. A body buried in the US in the typical way is very polluting after burial. You can request to forego embalming, legally, but it is generally socially discouraged.

    3. Grimwear says:

      For some reason I have yet to fathom Youtube decided to recommend a channel called Ask A Mortician to me and while it didn’t grab me I did watch a video in which she rails against embalming as a whole and what surprised me the most was that embalming isn’t actually necessary. Even more surprising was that some funeral services weren’t even aware that they didn’t need to do an embalming. I mean I never knew that either but I plan to get cremated so it didn’t matter to me.

  2. John says:

    Gentlemen, I do not understand your confusion–irritation?–regarding the “Store Page” button in the Steam library screen. It says “Store Page” and it takes you to the store page. That seems 100% correct to me. I would be displeased if it did anything else. Now, if it were up to me Steam would display summary information about a game–especially the system requirements–directly on the library screen and not make me go to the store page to find it, but that’s another matter.

    1. PowerGrout says:

      “Now, if it were up to me Steam would display summary information about a game–especially the system requirements–directly on the library screen and not make me go to the store page to find it”

      Are we STILL waiting for that to be rectified?
      No wait, don’t tell me – I won’t be able to handle it.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      The issue with the store-page button in this case, is that it’s colored to match all the other buttons until you hover over it, so it looks like a flat panel of words. Normally things that act like buttons are shaped like buttons, so I can understand someone thinking this non-button-looking button would do something different from other buttons.

  3. Ancillary says:

    A notable exception to the “Magic users are underwhelming” rule are Bioware’s Dragon Age games, particularly the first one.

    1. Dungeons and Dragons Online has pretty awesome spellcasting, as well. Personally, I didn’t find the combat in any of the Dragon Age games to be all that interesting no matter what you played.

      I think part of what makes it work in DDO is:

      1. It’s more active. Since the game is over the shoulder viewpoint, there’s more involved with lining up and targeting spells than just clicking once, and the exact setup for how you want your spell to go off can vary from spell to spell.
      2. Variety. In a game like Diablo 3 (and perhaps 4), you have a very small selection of spells that you cast over and over and over and over and over. In DDO you have a much larger selection of spells that you use more precisely, and they don’t all just blow enemies up. You have everything from instant-kill spells to crowd control to charms (although some things don’t work as well as others). But there are enough different things to do to keep you busy.
      3. Mana dumping and attrition. DDO doesn’t have an in-combat mana regeneration mechanic, instead you (mostly) only get spell points back when you use a shrine, which are permanent fixtures. This means you have to be smart about how you use your spells, but it also allows for times when there’s only one big fight left to do, so you can absolutely just cast as many spells as you can as fast as you can and dump all of your mana at once, which is fun.

    2. Biggus Rickus says:

      I was watching some Greedfall gameplay, and while it looks limited in scope, the magic looks fun to play in that game. I’m hesitant to get the game, though, because the talking to people part, arguably the most important aspect of an RPG, looks really tedious.

      1. Orophor says:

        Ironically the talking part of Greedfall is my favorite part. Combat is serviceable but with only a few options, but the companion dialogue, not to mention the dialogue driven main quest NPCs really brought the game to life for me. I felt like an actual diplomat trying to keep my city-state’s neutrality and explore the island without ruining it.

        1. Biggus Rickus says:

          Admittedly, I only saw a little of it, but the characters seemed stiff. There was no character or charm to those I saw.

      2. I bought that game and plan to play it soon here.

    3. Grimwear says:

      I recently played Tyranny and actually thought that magic system was fun and enjoyable. Not necessarily super overpowered but you could see yourself doing awesome stuff. There’s also Dragon’s Dogma. That one may be a bit more overpowered in terms of magic but the really amazing spells that you can use also take a really long charge time so if you get hit you’re pretty much interrupted and need to restart.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Sorcerers kind of are OP in Dragons Dogma. They can hit ghosts without having to wait for them to possess someone, they can hit living armours when their armour breaks, they can easily deal with undead dragons and condemned gorecyclopes,…

        Mages lack the really big spells, but they can heal with anodyne and hold enemies with grapnel, so they are still pretty decent.

        Dagger users can contend with them because of their mobility, though.

        In the end you still need some balance to deal with the biggest challenges. Neither Daimon nor the Ur-Dragon are inclined to hang back while you combo cast Grand Bolide with your pawn.

    4. Xeorm says:

      There’s also Final Fantasy 14 that I’ve found does well with their spellcasters. Different varieties too. The black mage’s spell casting looks significantly different from the summoner’s, which looks different from the red mage.

      But in general the art and animation for this game is fantastic.

  4. Joe says:

    The technical term for the varieties of Christianity, I think, is denomination. I can see why someone on the inside would see them as different as say, Starcraft 1 and Witcher 3, but from the outside they all look like different isometric ARPGs. Some differences, but not *that* many.

    All numbers being equal, I generally prefer ice damage. You often have a chance of slowing or freezing your enemy, slowing or stopping incoming damage. But if something has a higher number, I’ll usually go with that. :)

    There was a game designed to do what you talked about, play as the mage. I can’t remember the name, but Yahtzee was pretty hard on it. I’ll look it up.

    Australia can be dangerous, but many of the first white settlers and explorers were unprepared and in some cases actively stupid. That’ll kill anyone any place any time. My grandmother is 93 and still kicking. Here in suburbia, the biggest danger I usually face is slippery stairs in my apartment. The moral of the story is be prepared, and willing to learn!

    1. Joe says:

      The game was Lichdom:Battlemage. Where he debuted the dry-heave for colons in the title.

    2. Joe says:

      And you’re right, Shamus, about music. I can think of a few bands who’ve started off with an unremarkable first album or two, before finding and defining their sound later on. A musician shouldn’t go full prog right from the start, unless they’re actually as good as they think they are. I suppose it’s a matter of earning the listener’s trust. Once someone has proved they can do the three-minute single, *then* they can start experimenting.

      1. Nessus says:

        No, this entire line of thinking is completely inside out.

        I’m pretty sure I know the exact Deadmou5e song Shamus is referring to (I’m guessing “Strobe”), and it’s one of the first songs of his I ever heard. If people’s willingness to sit through long tracks or long buildups was dependent on pre-established trust, I wouldn’t have ever made it through that song. But I did.

        Because it had jack-all to do with any awareness of, much less trust in, the artist. It was because the song I was hearing, including the build up, was engaging.

        When someone turns away from a long build up, it’s not about lack of trust, it’s about the buildup itself not being engaging. The idea that a buildup is something that’s only tolerated because you trust the artist inherently frames the buildup as extraneous, regardless of the payoff. In video game terms, it’s the old “it gets good ten hours in” thing. Buildups have their own structure and depth, and making that engaging is what carries people through, not trust. Same is true in film: it’s got nothing to do with the director’s cred: people watch movies by filmmakers they’ve never heard of all the time. Nobody does that expecting it to be bad just because they’ve never heard of the artist before. If they drop out, they do so because the buildup is weak in and of itself. Or they don’t drop out: they retcon/rationalize later when the buildup leads to a fizzle, blaming the buildup instead of the fizzle. The latter is what both Shamus and you are doing.

        Trust is is not a factor when an artist is succeeding, it’s only a factor when an artist is failing. If Spielberg or Deadmou5e makes a weak buildup, trust is what makes you go “okay, but I know this guy: if I just stick it out, they can still deliver”. When the music or film you’re consuming is actually doing its actual job, it by definition doesn’t require trust in, or even awareness of, the artist.

        @Shamus: the “people have to trust you to sit through your setup” theory you’ve arrived at is incorrect, and worse: inherently self-hobbling. Make the kind of music you want to be good at. Failure is practice. The first step to being any good at making that kind of music is to be making that kind of music at all. It’s a hobby, with no real stakes, so you can be as luridly ambitious as you want. That’s a freedom professional artist pine for.

        Don’t cut yourself off at the knees before you even start by thinking you need other people’s trust to give you permission before you can even try. If that’s really the way it worked, Deadmou5e wouldn’t even exists. You know he’s got at least ten years of old stuff from before he was famou5e rotting away in an SD card somewhere. If you listened to it, a lot of it’d be rubbish, but you’d hear him experimenting and practicing in exactly the ways you’re talking yourself out of with this “trust” theory.

        I could write a VERY long list of famous artists in every media who’s amazingness is actually directly tied to them not giving much if any fucks if anyone trusts them in that way. I know you can as well, if you stop and think about it.

        Sidenote: Seriously: three minute singles? Three minutes? What ADD hell hath spotify wrought upon people’s brains?

    3. Echo Tango says:

      I think “sect” can also be used the same way as “denomination” in this case. I think it’s a bit older word, or might have a bit more implication of “religiosity”, but that might also be regional.

      1. Lino says:

        I’ve also heard “sect” used in this context. However, most uses of the word I’ve heard have been when referring to radical nut-job cults (stuff like the Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, etc.). Which is a shame, because originally it was used when talking about different branches of a given religion.

        1. Syal says:

          I associate “sect” with a major difference in proactive ideology, while “denomination” can be about anything. “Go forth and preach” versus “Isolate yourself from sin” is a difference in sect, but a difference in denomination can just be about whether the pastor should wear a tie.

          I don’t know which I’d use here.

  5. Olivier FAURE says:

    How does Hollywood skew our perception of your country / region?

    It makes people think that the only city worth knowing in France is Paris, and the only buildings worth knowing in Paris are the Eiffel Tower and maybe the Arc de Triomphe.

    On a personal note, I was pretty disappointed when the Paris map in Overwatch came out, and it took place next to the Eiffel Tower because COME ON. La Défense is right here!

    It’s the biggest business district in Europe, it has a unique-in-the-world architecture where towers stand on a patchwork of elevated pedestrian areas connected with walkways, which means you can go straight between any two spots in the district on foot and never have to cross a road. The walkways going over roads and between buildings make it feel like a science fiction “cloud city”, like Metropolis in Ratchet & Clank.

    Below the pedestrian areas are a network of roads and bus stops, which, due to being underground and lit with a very faint orange light, feel like they’re perpetually at night; they’re centenred around a metro hub with shops, restaurants, and major lines leading to both Paris and the surrounding suburbs.

    The juxtaposition of the clean, sunny pedestrian outside, the corporate towers, the well-maintained metro station, and the under-lit graffiti-covered road gives off the strongest “cyberpunk” feeling I’ve ever seen in a real city. (Seriously, I go to work next to the Total tower, and it’s the most evil-looking corporate building I’ve ever seen)

    And on a personal note, La Grande Arche is easily my favorite building ever made. It’s a giant building YOU CAN STAND UNDER. How amazing is that?

    All of this to say, there was a lot the Overwatch team could have drawn from to make a La Défense map. But nooooo, we had to get another “bakeries and Eiffel Tower” map in one of the most over-used cities in american media.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      To give anyone interested in my rant a better idea of what I’m describing:

      Here’s La Grande Arche.

      An example of a hidden underground passage (inaccessible to the public).

      An underground road (daytime, as you can see in the background).

      The Japan Bridge, from Street View and Google’s 3D map thing.

      The train station, with access to tramway, metro, RER, and “transilian” lines (basically different train networks). You’ll notice the entrance of a passage to Les Quatre Temps on the right, and under the big black board of the left is the entrance of a passage to the CNIT.

      Here’s the CNIT, with the Areva (where I work), Coeur la Défense and Total towers in the background. Also, since you asked, here’s a giant fucking thumb.

      Here’s Les Quatre Temps, the other shopping center of La Défense, right in front of the CNIT.

      Anyway, point is, I’m really salty that this district is never shown in any action movie, video game or other big budget Hollywood-type production. It’s right next to Paris, and it’s amazing! Oh well.

      1. Lino says:

        Wow, I’m not usually all that into modern architecture, but those look amazing, especially La Grande Arche! I plan to visit Paris at some point, so I’ll definitely give them a visit.
        But what’s really weird to me is how rarely media uses the Palace of Versailles, which as far as I know, is technically in Paris. While it’s not as iconic as the Eiffel Tower, it’s definitely one of the most impressive palaces in the world, and I keep getting surprised at how many people haven’t heard of it.

        1. Olivier FAURE says:

          Nope. As the name indicates, it’s in the city of Versailles, which is in the Ile-de-France region, but southwest of Paris (though still connected by the regional train system).

          Another nice place to visit in the Yvelines, on a smaller scale, is the Saint-Germain-en-Laye castle in, you guessed it, the city of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (at the end of the RER A line, about 20 minute a ride from La Défense). It’s the palace Louis XIV lived in before moving to Versailles. It’s a lot smaller, but it has nice gardens open to the public, and an amazing view on the surrounding region, including La Défense.

      2. baud says:

        Funny, I’m just coming back from la Défense for shopping (both in the CNIT and Les Quatre Temps). Also two weeks ago, I exited Les Quatre Temps on the side of Puteaux and discovered a series of terrasses high above street level, with a few gardens. Pretty cool.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Thing is, how do you know you’re in France if you don’t have famous French landmarks?
      I mean, without Le Tour Eiffel to make it clear, we’d have to put people in berets and striped tops everywhere, and play accordian music constantly in the background.

      That’s like saying you could be in England and NOT see the royal guards on patrol everywhere. I mean, how else would you know where you are?

      And we all know that Brazil is just one big never-ending Carnival…right?

      1. Olivier FAURE says:

        without Le Tour Eiffel to make it clear

        It’s La Tour Eiffel, imperialist scum.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Dammit. French Fail.

        2. Philadelphus says:

          I laughed way too hard at this.

    3. PPX14 says:

      it has a unique-in-the-world architecture where towers stand on a patchwork of elevated pedestrian areas connected with walkways, which means you can go straight between any two spots in the district on foot and never have to cross a road. The walkways going over roads and between buildings make it feel like a science fiction “cloud city”, like Metropolis in Ratchet & Clank.

      WHAT. Now I need to go to Paris. Hey wait it also has La promenade plantée!!

      Haha well there you go, I was amazed when I heard about La promenade plantée a year or two ago, and yet so soon I’d forgotten about it until prompted. But I don’t think it’s primarily Hollywood. France is basically our closest neighbour (UK) and while I can of course name places like Lille, Lyon, Marseille, (and…er.. Bordeaux? No that’s a region isn’t it? Oh dear this is embarrassing…) I couldn’t tell you any specific reason to visit them nor any Paris buildings or sights beyond the big names – the only other place I know is the place I went with school on a trip to Saint Malo: Mont Saint Michel. Same as with the world’s knowledge of UK=England=London=Westminster. Maybe people know of Oxford too.

    4. Joe Informatico says:

      I think the Louvre shows up a lot more in movies since THE DA VINCI CODE. As in, you might see it in a Paris establishing shot along with the other two landmarks.

  6. Zgred says:

    I’m playing Morrowind right now (as a pure mage) and I really have to disagree on magic being under-and overpowered. Yeah, the magic in Morrowind can be really overpowered – but only if you really know what you’re doing. And if you started the game recently – you probably don’t. Rutskarn once wrote a really good article on that (Here: https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=30972).

    Basically, warriors archetypes participate in a more “moment-to-moment” kind of combat, when magic users are more about pre-planning, analyzing the situation, weaknesses and strenghts of your opponents, how skills, attributes and magicka are working and so on. If done properly, it can kill all your enemies in a matter of seconds, but only because you spend a lot of time preparing for that. And that tied up nicely to the core idea of Daggerfall and Morrowind – you’re being throw into a world you’re unfamiliar with and you have to figure out its rules. Analyzing the situation takes a lot of time, but allows you to control it better – from narrative and mechanic perspective’s alike. I would go as far as to say that Daggerfall and Morrowind had one of the better magic systems in any RPGs. You could do so much things that seems impossible, it’s like cracking the reality a little bit.

    tl;dr – you’re underpowered if you don’t know what you’re doing and overpowered if you do.

    1. Jeff says:

      That applies to Morrowind’s entire progression system, though.

  7. Hal says:

    This website is my favorite thing that I’ve ever made

    Your poor kids have to compete with DMotR, the Mass Effect retrospective, Stolen Pixels . . . life’s rough.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Well, in theory, Shamus’s kids can run/maintain themselves, after his death. The website, on the other hand…

  8. Lino says:

    13:59 – Oh, I wanna hear about the food differences! In Orthodox funerals (at least in my part of the Balkans), we usually have sweet wheat (which tastes awful), bread, some sort of meat dish, and some sweets which could be pastries and/or dried fruit.
    In olden times it was also required to kill and cook one of your farm animals (anything except for a chicken), preferably from the same gender as the deceased.

    1. pseudonym says:

      In the Netherlands it is coffee (or black tea) and cake. Not cake as in decorated, icing etc. No, this cake: https://static.ah.nl/image-optimization/static/product/AHI_434d50303734353538_2_LowRes_JPG.JPG?options=399,q85 . It is usually prepared with margarin instead of butter (for cost reasons).

      That’s it. Some people might do something extra, but that is the exception. The Dutch have very sober funerals when it comes to food.

      In general, all funerals I have attended in the Netherlands have been modest and sober. There are people giving eulogies and music is played. Then the deceased is either buried or cremated. Before the casket is covered with earth or burnt everybody walks past it and says goodbye, either silently or spoken. After that hard part is over there is the coffee and cake and time to remember the happy times with the now dead person. The cake and coffee really helps with the grieving.

  9. John says:

    Some of your issues regarding Crusader Kings may be addressed in the just-announced Crusader Kings III. At the very least, they’ve added 3D procedurally generated character models that they claim reflect characters’ traits, ability scores, and even parents’ appearances much better than the 2D face-portraits in Crusader Kings II. As to Crusader Kings more generally, it’s a sandbox. It’s much like Kerbal Space Program in that way, though I could forgive anyone who found spaceships more compelling than medieval dynastic shenanigans. Crusader Kings II has no win state. You play until you lose, until time expires, or until you stop having fun, whichever comes first. You have fun–or I do, anyway–by setting goals for yourself and then trying to achieve them. One of my favorite things to is pick some historically implausible outcome and then make it happen. I particularly like conquering all of the British Isles as the Welsh.

    If you don’t know how to do those kinds of things, well, yeah, that’s a problem. The interface in Crusader Kings II is infamously opaque and complex and to make matters worse has changed over the years as the game has been patched and the tutorials have not been kept up to date. The developers have been implicitly relying on Youtuber tutorial videos to pick up the slack, which is not a strategy I can endorse. That said, as long as you know what kinds of things are possible in Crusader Kings you ought to be able to figure out how to make them happen in the interface, and Youtube tutorials are still valuable in that regard. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to have to watch a Youtube video to learn how to play a game–I wouldn’t have bothered myself if I didn’t find the concept of Crusader Kings so compelling–but in an age where you’re expected to play your survival-crafting-manufacturing-logistics sim with a Wiki open at all times watching a couple of videos doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me.

    1. John says:

      Oh, I almost forgot: Crusader Kings II is free now. None of the DLC is, but if medieval dynastic shenanigans are your thing you can easily get dozens if not hundreds of hours of entertainment out of just the base game. I know I did. (People who say you need the DLC are wrong and in most cases haven’t even played the game.)

    2. Retsam says:

      Crusader Kings II is both one of the most complicated games I’ve played, but I’ve also spent fairly little time “wiki-ing” the game, until very recently – when I’ve been trying to get a bit more in depth understanding of some of the fringe mechanics, like combat (not a joke).

      So much information is in the tooltips for the game, that I think there’s very little that you actually have to open up external resources to understand. Like if you find yourself wondering what the hell a centralization law does, you mouse over it, and it says “+1 demense size”, so you ask “what the hell is a demense size”, and you mouse over your demense size in the top right corner of the UI, and it explains what that means.

      Obviously a certain amount of orienting in the UI is necessary – either a video going through the major UI elements, or just methodically clicking through every menu yourself is a good use of time.

      And, I’m not saying this magically makes the game not complex or not hard to pick up, or completely forgives the tutorials’ shortcomings; but I do think it’s praiseworthy how much this game can actually be learned just by patiently playing the game, compared to some games where you’re basically forced to RTFM on google.

    3. Retsam says:

      For goals, the best goals are the ones you make yourself, but I also don’t find the game to be particularly directionless without a self-made goal; for most people the implicit goal is just “get bigger”. And forming an empire is a pretty natural goal state, even if it’s not an explicit win state.

      My point is that you’re not wrong to say that the game has no defined win state; but I think when people emphasize that point when describing the game, it makes it sound like people won’t enjoy the game if they don’t have some particular alternate-history fantasy in mind from the outset. But, at least for me, the lack of a defined win-state doesn’t actually make the game feel that different in practice. Maybe that’s because I’m a chronic non-finisher of long games; the win states in Civ don’t matter if you rarely play the game long enough to actually trigger it.

      1. John says:

        “Get bigger” is a perfectly valid goal and one that I’ve pursued more than once. It might actually be the ideal goal for a new player, now that you mention it. I have two goals in my current game. The first is to get bigger. The second is to do it in Yemen as a Muslim ruler, as I’ve never played a game starting in that region or with that religion before. Sometimes I play Crusader Kings II just to screw around and see what happens. In one of the best–by which I mean the most fun–campaigns I ever had, I was repeatedly screwed over by succession laws I didn’t understand. I had no idea what was going on, why I was the king of France one moment and an obscure Italian duke the next. The low point–although I think of it as a high point–came when my character was a little girl who survived a series of increasingly obvious assassination attempts by her own regent and heir until he cracked and was arrested. The writing in Crusader Kings isn’t normally anything special, but this stuff was pure gold. And, hey, I eventually figured out seniority succession and worked my way back up to king of France just before the game ended.

  10. Dreadjaws says:

    30:50: This sort of thing is why Harmony of Dissonance is my least favorite Castlevania game. Usually these games have a lot of different abilities and weapons that either escalate in power the longer you advance in the game or some that are precise or visually obvious.

    For example, in the previous game, Circle of the moon, you have a bunch of cards that you collect and can be combined to achieve a certain effect. A card combination can give you a flaming sword, a poison shield, extra experience with your attacks, faster movement, attacks that are long range but weaker, or more powerful but slower, etc. There’s a lot of choice that adjusts to your playstyle. I like, for instance, to have faster movement enabled most of the time and just switch to higher damage when I reach a boss with the ocassional usage of health regen or a particular attack depending on the boss, but other people might prefer to play slower and stronger all the time. The game also has obvious color-coded elemental enemies that are going to be easier to kill by using a certain element or floating enemies that can be obviously frozen or petrified to use as platforms.

    But Dissonance has only elemental attacks (tied to sub weapons) and elemental powerups for your whip (your main weapon), and there’s absolutely no visual clue what element your enemies are weak to (save for the one plant enemy that you can figure out is weak to fire attacks). So you have to constantly switch and try elements. Granted, if you find a weak enemy and combine whip and sub-weapon elemental attacks you’ll hit them much harder than normal, but you still have to be constantly switching elements for every enemy if you want to do well, and it’s annoying, particularly because without visual cues you’re unlikely to remember each enemy’s weakness. The consequence is that you’re likely to pick one element and sub-weapon that you’re comfortable with and use them the whole game. The obtuse way choice is laid out ends up making choice pointless.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      I think you messed up your tags here.

      1. Olivier FAURE says:


  11. Lino says:

    Now that I think about it, magic really does feel kind of anemic in most of the RPGs I’ve played. The only example I can think of where magic felt really strong was in Lichdom: Battle Mage which had a very visceral feel to its combat. I never finished it, because it became too repetitive after a while, and its loot system left a lot to be desired, but I think it really did well in making you feel like a badass wizard.
    Another example I thought of was DoTA 2 (although I don’t know if that counts) – quite a few of the heroes are casters, and all of their spells are fun to use/see used. The only department where some of them feel a little lackluster is their basic attacks. Indeed, there are some support heroes whose basic attacks feel kind of weak, but that pretty much comes with the package of being a support. But almost all of the wizard-type carries have impactful-feeling attacks and spells…

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Anemic is exactly the word.
      Once again Skyrim comes to mind, where I envisaged a ‘mighty wizard’ in the character creator, and ended up with a ‘master of running backwards while hosing the enemy down with fire until they fell over out of pity’ instead.
      It’s a similar problem to a very old article of Shamus’: Hit Points And Lightsabers Don’t Mix.

      The only combat style that I really found satisfying in Skyrim was a stealth archer: hitting the enemy really felt like it had weight with that.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Following what Shamus said in the podcast, with mages being glass-cannons, aren’t most mages depicted as being more of a intellectual person? Best-case scenario, wizards should be energy-beings; Worst-case scenario, they look like hackers. Neither one of those would have much “weight” to the actions they’re taking. ^^;

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        ‘master of running backwards while hosing the enemy down with fire until they fell over out of pity’

        But if you level up Destruction enough to get the “enemies are staggered by two-handed casts” perk, you can instead be a master of tickling stationary enemies until they die of laughter.

      3. I liked the fire spells in Skyrim, but you have to get your mana up to the point where you can throw multiple fireballs and not be tapped, and it takes a while. That spell is thunderous. The earlier spells are wimpy. It doesn’t help that you pretty much have to go to the College of Winterhold before you can get access to some decent spells.

        1. Syal says:

          And by “some” you mean Fireball and Chain Lightning, because everything above mid-tier is as useless as the stuff below it.

          And while I’m here, what the hell did they do to Soul Trap? In Morrowind it’s got a physical path and a really obvious particle effect when it connects. In Skyrim it’s cast invisibly and the visual effect is so hard to see they might as well not have had it. Many many times I’ve cast Soul Trap on something only to discover the hard way that no, actually it missed and now they’re dead and their soul is, like, in heaven or something, instead of in my shoes where it belongs.

  12. Joshua says:

    For religion, I’m reminded of the following for popular culture representation:
    Almost all Christian representations are Catholic

    As far as Magic-Users, I’m guessing the question refers more to aesthetics? Do non-magic ranged characters like archers give you a more satisfied feeling than spell-casters? If not, I’d suggest that the issue is more that melee combat feels more visceral and thus exciting than ranged combat.

    As far as game-play, I think that too many fantasy games that include spell-casters as a class tend to fall into the thinking that magic is “cheap”, and thus gimp the class’s effectiveness. And that’s how you end up with:
    Useless Useful Spell, with Final Fantasy being a prime offender in my eyes.

    1. Duoae says:

      Actually, whilst I was primarily thinking of game-feel, a lot of magic users also don’t have very powerful attacks until late in a game’s leveling system but are relatively underpowered throughout the low to mid- levels.

      I know the trope is that casters are glass cannons but I can’t remember a game where that was the case- especially in aRPGs where single play needs to be viable. Usually, mages don’t hit any harder than any other class…. which is why I think it’s important to make the process of casting more visually interesting and visceral.

      My go-to example would be diablo 3 where the wizard can summon a cloak hole. In the game, it’s a button click and it just appears with no effort and the wizard is free to run around. Imagine if there was a whole process of the wizard, clenched fist shaking mightily as they raised their hand as the black hole is pulled into reality…

      In that particular case, it would also affect game play… but I wouldn’t be averse to playing a magic user that is slower but more powerful in terms of combat.

      1. Mark says:

        Dragon’s Dogma. Check out the Bolide spell:


        (Though in practice I always left the heavy sorcery up to the pawns because the cast times were so lengthy and there was always some more immediate crisis to address.)

        1. Duoae says:

          Haha, over 200 hours into Dragon’s Dogma – bought the game five times (two were presents). Fully with you on the magic system in that game!

          Really wish they’d done a proper sequel instead of the online game they did… it was also refreshing to have a new world and gameplay system to mess around in – though I understand the hammy faux western setting through the eyes of the Japanese put many people off.

          You know, I actually had a lot of fun playing caster classes in that game… not to mention magic archer and magic knight! In all honesty, every class was interesting to play.

          [edit] OMG, I just realised I’ve bought DD:DA another time on PS4… I have a problem! ¬_¬*

          1. tmtvl says:

            If it makes you feel any better, I only bought it four times.

            Can’t wait for DD2.

            1. Duoae says:

              You think it’s coming? I don’t have faith that it will. I’m not sure that “lightning in a bottle” can be replicated by a future team.

              At any rate, maybe there’s hope considering Netflix commissioned an anime series using the franchise… if that can generate more interest in the Western markets then a sequel would have better chances of being developed.

  13. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

    I’m one of those people who hate the new Steam interface. If they’d just added the store page description, screenshots, and videos to the library page, that would’ve dealt with all of my gripes with the old one. Instead they went and fucked the family sharing categories.

    I share libraries with my twin brother and one of my friends and we’ve got about 650 games between us. Before, I could just go “oh, brother is playing a game, ignore everything in the Brother’s Games category”, but now I can’t even tell who owns what unless I click a game and check if it’s got that “From the library of ___” message under it. And I’m sure as hell not going to go through 650 games and assign them to new categories manually, especially since Steam likes to occasionally switch whose library shares what (for example: a few years ago I got Stranded Deep from my brother’s library, now it’s from the friend’s library instead), so then I’d have to manually sift through all of the shared games again.

    Other than that, it’s okay I guess. I don’t really like the increased memory usage, but oh well.

    1. PowerGrout says:

      Yeah it feels like they replaced ‘My Games’, ‘X’s Games’ and ‘Installed Games’ which did everything I really needed with 15 buttons and checkboxes that don’t and worse yet mysteriously counter-act each other. Wild failure.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Oh, gross. I forgot that the checkbox-filters cleared out the “ready-to-play / installed” filter. Like, you can combine “multiplayer” and “trading cards” simultaneously, but you can’t search for installed multiplayer games…

    2. Echo Tango says:

      They also broke the filters for games you’ve tagged yourself[1]. I can collapse tags/groups I don’t care about today, but I can only filter my games library by store-categories, genres, etc. So now the entire feature of tagging your own games is nearly useless. :S

      [1] Tagged with your personal tags, not ones where you’ve tagged games publically in the store.

    3. John says:

      I think I prefer the new Steam interface. It’s nicer to look at, which is all I really care about. But I suppose I’m not a typical Steam user, especially since I don’t actually use the client very much or very intensively. I seldom touch any of the social features and I’m not sharing my library with anyone else. I’ve got about three dozen games–which seems like a lot to me, personally–but isn’t so many that I feel the need to sort them. Most of the time, I don’t even use the client to start games. (I own more non-Steam games than Steam games, so I didn’t set Steam to start up automatically after I log in.) If I want to play a Steam game, I typically just click a shortcut in my start menu. The point, I guess, is that I don’t actually see the client very much. When it is running, it’s running unobtrusively in the background.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I’m not a typical Steam user, especially since I don’t actually use the client […] very intensively

        I think this specific phrasing actually describes the target audience[1] more closely than those of us complaining about the UI. These features all look sexy, and the basic features make it easier to get around a small games library, or get to a game if you don’t care what you pick up, but finding a specific game, or organizing your library yourself are features that are missing, or being degraded.

        [1] I mean, you’re also not the target audience, since you don’t use the client much, but you’re also organizing your library on your own. I suspect the target audience wouldn’t ever want to take such efforts.

        1. John says:

          Yeah, I view Steam as a sort of a necessary evil for certain Steam-exclusive games or else as an inconvenience that I am willing to tolerate somewhat for the sake of low prices. I don’t bother with the Steam client if I don’t need to. I’m the kind of guy who, rather than add non-Steam games to his Steam library, will write his own game launcher in Java and add his Steam games to that. I don’t want to oversell it. It’s just a launcher; it doesn’t have any other functionality. But it handles all my games: my GOG games, those few Humble Bundle purchases that aren’t just Steam keys, games that I own on–horror!–physical media, games that run in emulators, and so on. Whenever I install a new game, I just add a few lines to a text file and my launcher gets a shiny new game-launching button. The best part and the reason that I bothered in the first place (apart from the sheer fun of writing it) is that, unlike Steam, it automatically terminates itself once it launches the game.

  14. Scampi says:

    As someone who was in general utterly underwhelmed by Oblivion, I just have to ask: I never got into the spellcrafting too deep, I think? I sometimes found people claiming self made spells were game breaking, powerful stuff, but everyone I encountered yet seemed to have misunderstood the system and never made the effort to check their own experience, leading to them describing to me how they broke the game while I knew the same mechanics they described would work in an entirely different way than they believed in my version of the game.
    I can’t remember them very well, but most would for example describe DOT spells as being very powerful because they believed they would deal the displayed damage each second while in my game, it would do the very same damage over the entire duration of the spell’s effect and similar stuff. This was very easily verified by a friend and me experimenting with stuff like that a lot back then. To the day I have to wonder what we apparently missed that would make magic the least bit overpowered.
    For anyone remembering the mechanics (better than I): How DID Oblivion get this reputation in the first place?

  15. BlueHorus says:

    I told my wife I didn’t care what happened to my body, but I was worried about my website. I told her, “Just have the cheapest funeral you can and take what you would normally spend on the burial and instead renew my domain and web hosting for as long as you can.”

    Excellent. My Seaside Catapult Low-Cost Funeral Service business idea has its first potential customer!

    1. Shamus says:

      I’m interested, but do you have a trebuchet option?

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Yes, but it’s an add-on…those counterweights don’t pay for themselves.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Oi, What’s this here? Stop impersonating the real BlueHorus; He’s offering an honest corpse-catapulsion service, and you’re defaming him with false claims!

          1. BlueHorus says:

            We’re all BlueHorus on this blessed day.

            Maybe the actual BlueHorus made the first comment at home, then the second at work or on their phone? Or vice versa.

            1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

              I think there might be something funky going on. BlueHorus gets a new avatar every time they post, so right now there are six different BlueHoruses, excluding the two of us that are clearly joking.

              1. Echo Tango says:

                Occam’s Razor would suggest that they just made a typo when putting in their email, which is what Gravatar uses for the icon.

                1. Syal says:

                  BlueHorus changes emails on every comment. There was a comment back off in the distance of history when he accidentally hit a real email address and ended up with a custom picture for that one post.

                  …or maybe he’s a cult now.

                  1. BlueHorus says:

                    Is life getting you down? Does the world make no sense? Do you see nothing but suffering and misery everywhere you go?

                    We know life can be exhausting and confusing. It can seem pointless. Don’t worry; we’ve all been there.

                    The good news is that there’s a solution.

                    1. BlueHorus says:

                      Become a BlueHorus gravatar!

                      Stability. Community. Friendship. Puns. A real sense of belonging. A BlueHorus gravatar is never alone, even in this cold, harsh world of ours.

                      Believe in better, be a gravatar.

                    2. BlueHorus says:

                      But don’t just take our word for it. Look at the statistics!

                      100% of new gravatars report a 100-150% increase in their daily happiness and love of bad jokes in the first three weeks. Amongst long term gravatars, the numbers are even higher: 120% of those interviewed reported a 300% increase in their happiness!

                      Be better. Be happier. Be BlueHorus.

                    3. BlueHorus says:

                      BlueHorus of the world, unite!I support this statement.

                  2. BlueHorus says:

                    Wow, that’s a gravatar we haven’t seen in a while.

                    This either means that someone knows Damien Lucifer’s email, DL’s back…or that the the reason he stopped posting here is becuase Iwe absorbed him and didn’t even notice!?

                    1. Not Really DL says:

                      Turns out you can just download someone’s gravatar, and re-upload it to a sock puppet e-mail account.
                      But yeah, I miss him too.

          2. BlueHorus says:

            You’ve got it wrong. That low-cost funeral service was mine in the first place! BlueHorus stole it from me!

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Weird. I don’t remember starting to watch Spartacus.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                I AM ALPHARIUS! … Wait, I mean, SPARTACUS!

        2. Scampi says:

          Actually, they do, if you find enough customers and they are not in a hurry to have their funerals carried out.

  16. Ninety-Three says:

    On magic users and “””game feel”””, I felt a surprisingly visceral satisfaction using the Apocalypt class in Rainslick 3, and that was a JRPG with barely any animation. Its main mechanic was that you created prophecies which did nothing on the turn you cast them, but would have an effect several turns from now. Once a prophecy was in place you could stack additional prophecies onto it (locusts plus lightning plus earthquake!) or modifiers like “party heals every turn the prophecy ticks down”. Piling more prophecies on to create a super-powerful effect gave the player a sense of investment, waiting for it to go off created a sense of anticipation, and the way it crammed several turns worth of attacks into one moment made it feel great as you hit the enemy for a zillion damage, even though your total DPS was lower than playing an Elementalist just casting Blizzard every turn.

    1. Duoae says:

      Oooh that’s interesting. I never played OTRPOD 3, just the first one… I’ll take a look.

    1. Lino says:

      Wicked! Reminds me a bit of the feeling I got when looking at the Sagrada Familia, and in just how futuristic and outlandish it looks.

  17. Joe Informatico says:

    (N.B. I’m speaking from a Southern Ontario/Central Canada POV, so this might be different in other parts of the country) Over 90% of the time, Canada is playing the United States and occasionally other nations on film and television, or occasionally some weird hybrid of the US and Canada where most of the assumptions of US culture, institutions, and politics are in place, but they don’t put too much effort into removing the French language signage, the multi-coloured money, or Canadian accents. This happens mostly on TV. After playing America in a lot of 90s genre shows (X-Files, Highlander), Toronto and Vancouver started to play Americanized versions of themselves in 2000s cop shows (Flashpoint) before more genre shows taking place in “sort-of” Toronto/Vancouver came along (Continuum, Lost Girl, Orphan Black), whereas the major international breakout shows tended to be smaller slice-of-life comedies about quirky communities (Trailer Park Boys, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Kim’s Convenience, Schitt’s Creek, Letterkenny).

    Probably the most striking difference is when Canadian colleges and universities stand in for American ones, and the student body is portrayed as primarily white with a significant black minority, whereas in Canada the enrollment in most major post-secondary institutions is at least half South and East Asian.

    There are a lot of churches and places of worship in Canada, and many, especially Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, were founded along ethnic lines, as immigrant communities tended to congregate and raise funds for places of worship themselves instead of joining existing faith communities. Newer churches of the main denominations are more open to everyone, whereas newer evangelical churches might be founded along ethnic, especially East Asian, lines. The most impressive older churches or cathedrals tend to be Catholic or United (a denomination formed of a union of 3 and later 4 Protestant denominations in the 1920s), while the really impressive newer places of worship are being built by newer immigrants: Coptic (Egyptian) Christians, Hindu Temples, mosques, Sikh gurdwara, etc.

    1. Lino says:

      A recent example of “Canada is playing the US” is The Boys which takes place in New York. Having never been to NY, the city itself looked OK to me, but it wasn’t until coming upon a Reddit post that I found out it was actually shot in Toronto. And the Reddit post in question was a New Yorker saying how frustrated he was at this trend of shooting US settings in Canada, and how obvious it was that the show wasn’t shot in New York (one particular bugbear of his was a scene with a tram car which looks nothing like the ones they have in NY).
      I personally don’t see it as a problem, but I can see why some people might have issues with it (I have similar problems with a lot of the portrayals of Eastern Europeans I see in films and TV).

  18. Darker says:

    Re designing an entire game around magic. I have good news for you – such a game already exists! :)

    Its name is Magicka. It’s not really an RPG and it’s not exactly what you described in your podcast, but it is absolutely awesome and magic in every RPG feels bland in comparison (also playing it with buddies is recommended for exponentially more fun).

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      My pitch for Magicka is “Remember the mechanic in Kirby and the Crystal Shards where you could combine two powerups, like rock plus fire turns you into a volcano, or bomb plus boomerang lets you throw exploding ninja stars? Magicka is that, except you can combine more than two things at once.”

    2. Duoae says:

      To be honest, I never enjoyed magicka because I never felt in control of what I was doing. It felt like playing a game that combined the hectic nature of a dancing game, the memorisation of a strategy game and the moment to moment control of a bullet hell shooter.

      It was too much for me to enjoy.

      1. Darker says:

        I would argue that sometimes not being in control of what one was doing was a big part of fun I was mentioning :)
        More seriously though having to sequence spells correctly amidst all the mayhem (given that the most powerful spells were also the most complex) was actually a great balancing mechanism without needing to introduce such artificial constraints as mana pool or cooldowns.

  19. Alberek says:

    I live in a large city, so there are many many churches. Heck, neighborhoods have more than one church. Actually, there are basilicas, parishes, chapels… etc. The ones that are less associated with the Christian Church sometimes just look like whatever, specially on the more humble neighborhoods.
    In torchlight 2, the items you use are more related to your build, and comparing weapons of the same type is usually easier. The downside obviously is that most items are useless… but that feature of having a chest to store your items and a chest to store items from multiple characters is pretty nice. It makes playing alts way more fun.

  20. shoeboxjeddy says:

    I like that your basic attack in Dragon Age as a mage is a very zippy magic missile type thing. It feels good to use while you’re waiting for the timers on your BIG spells to clear so you can cast them again. (Note: this is how it worked in 2, I played the others as non-mages and don’t know if they changed it).

  21. baud says:

    My biggest gripes with the new Steam interfaces is how much slower things are, how I can’t easily check if a game is supposed to have cloud saves and how I couldn’t seem to find the game I had hidden in my library (I’m using this as a sorting mechanism, to hide games that I don’t intent to play again).

    1. evilmrhenry says:

      Well, I can help with one of those: Look in the View menu for Hidden Games.

  22. Moridin says:

    “The Protestant churches are kind of like Baptist churches”

    Um… that would be because Baptists ARE Protestants. You might want to try to be more specific because basically all churches(in Europe and Americas) that aren’t either Orthodox or Catholic are Protestants.

    1. Shamus says:

      I intended to say “The [other] Protestant churches are kind of like Baptist churches”

      I am aware that Baptists are Protestants, although the idea of a “Baptist Catholic” is a funny thing to try and imagine.

      1. Gautsu says:

        I am a Catholic who was re-baptised Baptist to get out of a day of basic training in the army…

        It was actually much less cynical than it sounds, since I was scared shitless about going to Iraq as a kid

    2. John says:

      I thought that was an odd way to phrase it too. There are as many kinds of Protestant churches–by which I mean church buildings–as there are Protestant denominations and there are oh so many Protestant denominations. Some Protestant churches are all but indistinguishable from Catholic churches. Others are deliberately stripped to the bare essentials, with just walls and ceilings to keep out the weather and benches for the church-goers to sit on. Even within a denomination, decor can vary tremendously from church to church depending on when the church was built and how affluent the congregation is. The same is true for Catholic churches, incidentally.

  23. Echo Tango says:

    Re: spreadsheets vs fun
    The way I view it, is that if you leave out these tools, you end up with less fun gameplay, since players have to do things manually. Sorting loot by strict numeric comparison isn’t a fun activity, so either give the player the tools needed to get through this boring task, or make the task itself more interesting. As for things like sorting cities on a map, or sorting dungeon loot – this is the type of thing your character would totally be able to do. Just make the UI, and skin it with theme-appropriate doodads, like vines on a ancient-city game, or demons on a dungeon-crawler! :)

    1. galacticplumber says:

      Agreed. In fact playtest your RPGs and ask the players what features they want to add for sorting.

  24. Moridin says:

    Re: Spreadsheets

    I would argue that in many spreadsheet games your character wouldn’t actually have the numbers you can see. In an RPG, your character would know that an axe made of steel is better than one made of iron, but he wouldn’t be able to say “Oh, it’s 10% more accurate and deals 12.5% more damage”. Even things like weight are a bit iffy – sure, you have approximate weight, but it’s not like you automatically know that this sword weights exactly 3 pounds unless you happen to have a set of scales handy. Similarly, in a game like Civilization, a medieval or ancient ruler wouldn’t know that a city has 25 000 people, he’d know that it had approximately 20 000 people five years ago when the last census was carried out.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      That depends on who you’re playing – a real warrior or ruler from history, or one with a bit better memory and censuses. Fun is not proportional to the fidelity of your simulation. ;)

  25. toadicus says:

    Regarding Spreadsheet Games:

    Not only is Crusader Kings 2 is fundamentally a game about managing various spreadsheets and exploiting their contents to your strategic advantage, the games acknowledges it in almost exactly the way Paul requests. A Google image search for the game doesn’t yield any representative spreadsheet views, but you can literally view the field of, say, available spouses for your heir as a spreadsheet in game, complete with sorting (want to find a spouse with optimal Diplomacy? just sort by the stat you want) and filtering (let’s exclude children too young for a reasonable betrothal… and matches that are two far away… and people who hate us). This is true of several of the systems in game, and is probably part of why it comes off to Shamus as so obtuse.

    I think — beyond the idea that spreadsheets are boring — the reason most games don’t include spreadsheet views is that the designers feel that if they can’t communicate the core mechanics of the game concisely within the “natural feel” of the game, they’ve failed somehow. It’s not that they think spreadsheets are boring, it’s that they feel that if the game requires spreadsheets for compelling play, they’ve failed at their task somehow. I think they’re probably actually right.

    The difference here is between “compelling play” and “optimal play”. You can play World of Warcraft without sophisticated theorycrafting simulation software and still have a good time, but if you want to be competitive and succeed at the optional challenge modes, the mechanics of the game are too sophisticated to work out on your own as an intuitive set of rules. You can have a good time in Kerbal Space Program flying missions to nearby moons and planets without design assist mods and spreadsheets, but if you want to do so with the smallest mission possible, or if you want to do a grand tour of the whole solar system, you’re definitely going to need to do some up-front design and navigation using external tools. The same basic concept applies to Civilization games — you can play through the game on a lower difficulty without any spreadsheets just fine — it’s not until higher difficulty where every decision is a make-or-break decision that they become “mandatory”.

    To each of those games’ credits: the designers have left enough hooks in the API that mod authors can build in all of the extra UI necessary for “challenge mode” players to get the information they need, while avoiding the expense (in terms of money, schedule, or quality elsewhere) of designing those elements themselves. That seems like a reasonable middle ground to me.

    Regarding Pretentious Games:

    The proximity between “pretend” and “pretentious” brings to mind an anecdote regarding a friend’s child. When she was 3 years old, she learned to play pretend. She would come to the assembled grown ups and announce “I’m a pony!” But when addressed (e.g. “Hello, Pony Girl!”) she would protest: “No, I’m only PRETENDING to be a pony.” She assumed that only she knew what pretending to be a pony would mean.

    I suspect this is rather near the line between “thoughtful” games and “pretentious” games. Obviously, none of the grownups in my anecdote believed this toddler was a pony, but she felt pretty sure that she knew better than we did how to play pretend. Your example games of The Witness and Portal both assume that the player is just as capable of grasping the concepts presented as the author, and are there to guide the player through an exploration of the idea, rather than present it as novel. I’ve never played Everything or Cube 2, but as described, it sounds like their authors assume we need to be reminded of the “big idea” behind their game and have everything spelled out to us.

    This is hardly a problem specific to games: every procedural crime show — drama, dramedy, or comedy — routinely insults the viewer by reminding them of facts that can be gleaned by common sense and the details presented. I imagine real cops don’t have to remind each other that pistol and rifle bullets can be distinguished because of these spiral grooves in rifle barrels called “rifling”.

    1. John says:

      I guess I don’t think of the character finder in Crusader Kings II as a spreadsheet. It’s just a sort-able and filterable list in a box. It’s true that sorting and filtering data are things that you can do in a spreadsheet, but in my mind spreadsheets are for doing stuff–performing calculations of some kind, even if it’s just simple stuff like totals–while the character finder is for looking at stuff. That may say more about my personal history with spreadsheets than about their fundamental nature.

      1. toadicus says:

        It’s more limited than a fully-fledged spreadsheet program, but it’s much closer to a working spreadsheet than anything in any of the other example games. “Sortable, filterable list” is probably 70% of what my industry does with spreadsheets.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      Maaaan. Now I really wish I had time to play CK2.

  26. Grimwear says:

    A couple of years ago when my grandfather passed we headed out to the town…hamlet? where he was born. I’ll be honest I’m not sure what you call it. So I googled and “it is a municipality legally structured as a single-tier city; however it’s the size of a typical county and is mostly rural.” Anyway, unfortunately the weekend of his funeral the entire place was flooding so we held the funeral at the funeral home while it was being emptied and literally being flooded with water. After that we drove into the middle of nowhere and reached a small cemetery on a hill surrounded on all sides by trees with only 2 iron gates for an entrance. There’s no administration set up or anything. I assume the funeral home has control of it but I honestly don’t know but that’s where he’s interred as well as the rest of his descendants.

  27. Grimwear says:

    In regards to Steam I’m not happy at all. I HATE the new library page it infuriates me no end. Everything about it pisses me off so I followed a link to a youtube video, downloaded the old version, then disabled updates. I don’t care if Steam wants to mess with community features or the store page but don’t mess with my library. In the words of the Rick and Morty segment:

    Steam: What is my purpose?

    Me: You sell and launch games.

    Steam: Oh my god!

    When I got the update not only did it increase my Steam cpu usage 4x but because it started loading all that extraneous store page info every time I clicked on a game it made clicking on multiple games in a row go from instantaneous to a half second delay. Unacceptable. Of course it doesn’t help that Youtube has implemented their new mobile interface as well so each thumbnail is now larger and only fits 8 thumbnails on my screen now as opposed to the old 24. Good job guys.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      Amen brother

  28. newplan says:

    About CK2 and “how much stuff do I have?” – the interface shows you both how many soldiers you can raise and what your income is on your character sheet. How much gold you’re holding is on the top of the page.

    These change dynamically throughout the game – when you have a young king, his available army will be lower because the vassals are less loyal and will raise fewer troops for him. You can change tax policy to take more gold and fewer men or vice versa and that will change the income / soldier numbers, etc.

  29. Exasperation says:

    Torchlight had some good spell-feel. I haven’t played it in a while, but I still remember using one lightning spell where there would be a crack, and a thump, and some screen-shake, and minor enemies would be thrown around, and some of them would land in environmental hazards and just instantly die. I don’t remember the name of the ability, but the sensation of using it has stuck in my mind.

    PS – Gandalf could totally tank a sword-blow. In the books, he probably went toe-to-toe with enemies in sword-fights more often than he used magic to get out of trouble.

  30. Lanthanide says:

    Haven’t read any of the comments so many someone has already said some of these things.

    It’s interesting Paul never played Diablo, since it is probably most people’s first and most memorable introduction to procedurally generated content, especially D1 (less so in D2), where all level layouts, monsters and items were randomly generated each time you entered the level for the first time. What’s more the Diablo 1 source code is available for inspection if you wanted to see how it was done. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/320229/Reverseengineered_Diablo_source_code_released_on_GitHub.php

    Lore-wise in Diablo 1, your character is NOT a ‘dungeon man’ and so doesn’t truly know which equipment is better than any other. At least at the start of the game you could claim this. That is realistically the case for all ARPG games where you level up from “level 1”, aka a complete novice.

    Civilization 3 and 4 (can’t speak for the later ones, although I’d be surprised if they removed it) DO have this spreadsheet display for what your cities are building, and their output etc: http://www.dos486.com/civ4/adv28/domestic-advisor.jpg

    Shamus accidentally brought up increased light radius in Diablo 1 as an example of an incomparable. He’s correct that it is, but actually the way increased light radius works does let you see farther, but it also actually weakens your character. The way the engine works for how to activate enemies (who are otherwise just standing around in the dark waiting for you to encounter them) is that when you light radius touches them, they become active. So a larger light radius means enemies further away from you will become activated sooner, and since you can get swamped pretty fast, increased light radius generally will make the game harder for you, not easier. The game engine considers increased light radius as a bonus though, and decreased light radius as a curse, but people would go out of their way to find these ‘cursed’ decrease light radius items because it made the game easier. You could get like -100% light radius, at which point only enemies directly adjacent to you would become active, which is super cheesy. There are a couple of items that give you permanent infravision so you can still see where all enemies are on the map, and don’t actually need the light radius at all to see stuff.

  31. tsholden says:

    Was anyone else very confused when Paul was talking about Cube 2? Cause I thought he was referencing http://sauerbraten.org/ which is about as far from his description of Q.U.B.E.2 as it gets. (Disclaimer: I have not played either Qube, but have played Cube and Cube 2 aka Sauerbraten extensively.)

  32. Decius says:

    Should magic systems be comparable to physical combat? I suggest that there should be a cyclical nature of dominance, rather than the universe forcing some form of arbitrary equality between those who can reshape matter with their thoughts and those who cannot.

    People with maces and wards against magic should obliterate people who rely on magic, but a group of people with mundane pikes should be able to hold their ground against barbarians with maces… and a couple wizards can turn that pike formation into a mass grave. Fancier writers and designers could easily expand that to a five-pointed system if they wanted, probably by adding stealth and diplomacy, or possibly incorporating archery and cavalry.

  33. GoStu says:

    I would play the hell out of this hypothetical wizard game you & Paul workshopped out there.

    I think it would be important that this hypothetical game NOT have the melee classes, like you were discussing. Magic in the Bethesda RPGs usually ends up taking a back seat to the simplicity of “why don’t I just stab it” and all the defensive spells in the entire game are basically irrelevant in the face of the game’s Light Armor skills. (Other casters are irrelevant, making “resist fire” pretty pointless to ever cast)

    Plus, if you go the ‘tighter’ route of making the game around a single class, your team’s writing can focus more on you being a specific kind of character, rather than the generic comments on any kind of hero your typical Bethesda character gets.

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