Rock, Paper, Shotgun - All News
Friday - April 01, 2016
Total Dark - An Isometric RPG from Amnesia Developers
Rock Paper Shotgun announced that the developers behind Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs have turned their hands to making an isometric rpg called Total Dark. (Its not an april fools joke)
Despite having made his studio's name with three slow-paced and contemplative games, with no guns or stats to get in the way of the narrative and the view, Pinchbeck is an unlikely pioneer for the walking simulator. His early gaming memories are of RPGs and playing with pen and paper rule systems, and that's where Total Dark comes from.
"It's a much more traditional game, an isometric adventure with a free-floating camera and lots of mechanics. That will make some people happy while other people are going to wonder if we have the right experience to make that sort of game. But we absolutely do. Because most people know us because of Dear Esther and now Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, it's easy to assume that's the kind of game we will always make and have always made. What they may not realise is that we were developing other mods alongside Dear Esther. One of them was Antlion Soccer."
"Total Dark actually started off as an RPG boardgame. A lot of the inspiration came from pen and paper and gamebook systems. Traveller, Paranoia, Twilight 2000. I've been looking at loads of paper-based RPGs and wargame systems.
"I love how those books retained a scrappy bedroom aesthetic. Modern stuff is so glossy, but with early RPG and wargame systems you can see that it's just a couple of people in a bedroom scratching out line drawings. It's very energetic."
Pinchbeck reckons there's even a possibility of releasing the physical, tabletop version of the game in some form. For now, energies are directed toward the PC version though and Pinchbeck isn't entirely sure what the game will look like when it's ready for release. He's sure about one thing though. Development will be much more open.
Tuesday - March 01, 2016
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Heroes Don't Craft
Richard Cobbett in the latest RPG Scrollbars laments crafting in games.
Not only should blacksmiths be able to craft better gear than my guy, who's just taken a few experimental whacks at an anvil, they're probably able to order moon-rocks and whatever at trade prices instead of having to scour the entire countryside in the hope of stumbling across some that aren't too badly guarded by fire-ogres.
That hunt for resources would be a lot more relaxing too if you could do in games what you can in real life - find someone in the know and politely ask them where you might find some blofindo mushrooms or silverleaf instead of having to go to a wiki or just assume that they're out there, somewhere. Sometimes it's fun to explore the forest and simply see what you find, but again, when crafting is basically optional 99.9% of the time, having to pixelbitch through an entire map in search of what's been presented as common as a daisy doesn't help build my desire to keep it up when I'm done.
Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Friday - February 19, 2016
RPS - Fun Failure in Xcom 2 and Darkest Dungeon
@rockpapershotgun, they compare Xcom 2 and Darkest Dungeon and their quest to make failure fun.
But how do the games compare, in their treatment of failure and death, both mechanically and thematically?
My first ten hours in XCOM 2 were some of the hardest I've ever muscled through in a video game. No, it wasn't that my alien adversaries were willing to punish my every move with a barrage of laser fire that cut down every single member of my squad who I had, in a moment I now severely regret, named after the people in my family (sorry, Dad). It wasn't the harrowing struggle of winning back Earth from an overwhelming force, either. It was that paralyzing reality that I had no clue what I was doing, let alone if I was even doing it well.
Where most strategy games attempt to arm you with everything you might need, not only walking you through how to play the game but also showing you the proper way to play it, XCOM 2 is more than happy to drop you into the commander's seat with only a loose idea of what you're up against. Larger objectives, such as the need to build a specific facility in your ship, might provide you with a general sense of direction, but getting from point A to B is all up to you. Just about every decision doesn't just risk serious consequences, it also closes doors to viable alternatives. Nothing is binary. Instead, you always feel forced to choose from one of many possible paths or ignore the decision altogether.
Contrasted with how Darkest Dungeon approaches its problems, the two couldn't be more different. Darkest Dungeon pushes you forward whether you would like it or not, and in doing so, removes a large sense of responsibility over those decisions. Each week, you send four of your adventurers into the dungeons for some inexplicable reason. The prevalence of random chance in every action you make also works to divorce you of the responsibility of making a decision.
When I asked Jim to scavenge a corpse, thus triggering his life-long obsession with dead people, the outcome of that choice felt independent of the fact that I had made it. XCOM 2's soldiers are tools that I use, agents for my plans, while the recruits of Darkest Dungeon often seem to be doomed thanks to their own weaknesses rather than the orders I give.
Wednesday - February 03, 2016
RPS - Roles We Take, Roles We Choose
In "The RPG Scrollbars: Roles We Take, Roles We Choose", RPS's Richard Cobbett takes a detailed look at roles in RPG's and what they mean.
Not for the first time, I’ve spent quite a while recently pondering the nature of roles – more specifically, mechanical role versus narrative role. When we think of RPGs, what we’re usually thinking of is the latter. You play the role of the Hero, but in a universe that’s typically designed to let you define that however you like. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but there’s a key difference between that and stepping into the shoes of someone more specific. Geralt in The Witcher 3 for instance is – spoiler alert – a Witcher. Every encounter revolves around that, every system involves it, every decision has, whether it’s by your choice or Geralt bringing it up, a mercenary element that reinforces that asking for money in exchange for your services is expected and not, as is often the case, the first step towards douchery and getting the Evil ending.
Keeping this in mind throws a very different light on so many RPGs and the rare feeling of actually BEING somebody in a game. Ultima for instance puts you into the narrative role of the Avatar, paragon of the eight virtues, defeater of yadda yadda, but the running joke of the series is that what you actually do with that authority is treat Britannia like your own personal playground. Only in Ultima IV are you forced not to, with Ultima VII being largely an exercise in how many ways you can bend an open world over your knee and spank it until its bottom is red-raw. Conversely, the Quest for Glory games give you that all important wiggle-room for stealing the occasional thing or making a selfish decision, but at heart are routed in the fact that you are a Hero and it’s your responsibility to live up to that. They’re more linear in design, and notably, designers Lori and Corey Cole spank back hard if you try to do something unbefitting of your role, but everything from the nature of the quests to the skills at your disposal (good for helping people, bad for kicking arse) reinforce that heroic aspect.
It doesn’t help that most RPGs, rightly or wrongly, don’t have much in the way of balls when it comes to restricting the player character in any way. Compare, say, Baldur’s Gate 2 with Dragon Age 2 – partly because it’s a good comparison, partly because it wouldn’t be a good week if I didn’t annoy someone on the Codex. I’m thinking in terms of magic specifically. Baldur’s Gate 2 largely takes place in the city of Amn, and one of the cardinal rules there is ‘no magic without a license’. Dragon Age 2 takes place in a city controlled by Templars, whose job it is to keep mages under control, and not without some reason. Magic isn’t just whizzy-whizzy-bang-bang, but linked to demonic possession and all kinds of other health hazards.
Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Wednesday - January 20, 2016
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Time and Seasons in RPGs
@RockPaperShotgun Richard Cobbett has produced another segment for the RPG Scrollbars titled 'Time And Seasons In RPGs'.
The times change, and we change with the times. Or in the case of RPGs, not. I've always felt this a bit of a shame, especially in games like World of Warcraft, where your character is officially hanging around long enough to see the leaves fall off the trees and the snow to cover up the capital cities. That's why I was quite keen on both Fallout 4 taking the time to redecorate Diamond City a little for at least Halloween and Christmas, and last week, to see a mod take the next step and give the Commonwealth a makeover for all seasons in a way that nobody's really tried since Lords of Midnight 3 way back in the 90s. Whole minutes of fun with the system clock there!
But then as now, it's hard not to start wondering how time could be given its due as more than the fire in which bad movies turn out to be even worse than they initially seemed. Maybe it could be our friend too, and in so many interesting ways.
Still, the simple fact that so few games actually do cool things with time means that it doesn't necessarily take much to stand out. Rockstar's Bully for instance offered a special Halloween event full of pranks and costumes and a Christmas equivalent shortly afterwards, and the Halloween section is one of the most memorable slices of the whole game. Similarly, while I'd argue that Blizzard really should shake things up a bit more each year, I remember the first time I did their Christmas content - going to get presents from Greatfather Winter, etc - and it was hard not to feel the warm fuzzies about that, even playing on a laptop that could barely run the damn game and looking out a rainy Yorkshire evening instead of a snowy winter wonderland.
Even so, when I look back on some of my favourite moments, several do involve the passing of time and the ability to do stuff with that. Consortium for instance, the closest to a modern day successor to The Last Express that I've found (sequel Kickstarter coming soon, and I've got my fingers crossed for it) does some fantastic stuff with it, like a murder mystery that has to be complete by a certain point, but doesn't simply drop the boot if you fail. It's like playing through a slightly clunky SF version of 24, where disasters are always happening and piling on each other, and you're right in the middle just trying to keep up. On a smaller scale, I also like games that force you to choose at least some options under pressure, like the Telltale games, or Alpha Protocol, which did exactly the same thing... only had choices matter.
And I like the sense of a world outside the confines of my screen, even if most games that do that tend to limit themselves to one big moment to knock over-confident players off their stride, and then immediately lose interest. The start of Deus Ex: Human Revolution for instance, where taking too long pissing about the Sarif offices leads to the hostages being killed before you get there. Mass Effect 2, where wasting too much time before rescuing the captured crew leads to them being mulched in front of your face. Star Control 2, where the enemy Ur-Quan turns out to be in the middle of a civil war which resolves during your fight. Spoiler: This is not great news.
Friday - January 08, 2016
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - The Joy of NPC Schedules
@RockPaperShotgun Adam Smith talks about missing npc schedules in games and what they add to them. He uses the examples of Else Heart.Break() and Ultima VII to illustrate.
So why play a game that is quite clearly about IFs, ELSEs and ANDs? The Store page description contains phrases that should have warned me off the game rather than encouraging me to buy it, and yet something appealed. I wanted to play the game because of a single paragraph in Brendan's review:
Apart from this compass needle of plot, the city is yours to explore. And what a city. Dorisburg is built like an intricate piece of clockwork. Characters go from place to place according to their individual schedule. They'll go to work, head to the cafe, then off to a house party. I always knew, for example, that my supervisor at the soda job would be outside the nightclub smoking every night at about 10pm. In the early hours of the morning, he would chill out on a bench in the plaza.
I've been fascinated by NPC schedules and that clockwork intricacy of virtual worlds since I first played Ultima VII. All of the super HD post-processed anti-aliased super graphics in the world won't do as much to convince me that a world is real if the people that inhabit that world don't have jobs to do and leisure time to fill. Else Heart.Break() is a wonderful game for people-watching and I managed to while away hours without even unlocking the ability to delve into the object programming that appears to be the whole enterprise's raison d'etre.
Why would I rush to disrupt the mechanical structure of a world so intricate unless I'd first taken the time to enjoy it?
NPC schedules are fundamental to the credibility of a game's world. Patrols are one of the most familiar manifestations of schedules and Metal Gear Solid V recently made excellent use of guard movements and interactions to suggest AI that was reactive and alive beyond its actual function. A combination of cleverly timed barks - those declarations of intent that made Half Life's human enemies so convincing - and scheduling is the most effective form of artificial life I've ever seen.
Thursday - December 31, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Joy of Expansions and EE
RPS's Adam Smith discusses expansions and enhanced editions, reminding us of how much they flesh out games and add new content.
As the year draws toward its final frosty furlong, I’m slightly surprised that one of the games I’m most looking forward to playing is also one of my favourite games from 2014. It’s Divinity: Original Sin, a game that I adored when I played it last year and that I expect to lose myself in again when the Enhanced Edition comes out next week. It’s not the only RPG that I’ll have revisited this year – both Pillars of Eternity and The Witcher 3 sucked me in at release and then lost me for a while when I realised they were going to require weeks of attention, but I used their expansions as an excuse to pick up where I’d left off. Here are five reasons to love digital expansions.
1) Your favourite games are now sequels to themselves
Crusader Kings II is the best example of this. The game, with all of the currently released DLC, is what I’d have expected Crusader Kings III to look like when I first played the original release of II. Features have been added, the world is bigger, there are loads of new factions to play as, all with their own rulesets and roleplaying styles. I play a bunch of games that receive annual sequels, mainly sports titles, and I’d love to see them adopt similar models, adding and expanding to a strong base whenever the features are ready rather than releasing an entirely ‘new’ experience once a year.
5) Developers revisiting their own work makes perfect sense
An astonishing amount of time, effort and cold hard cash goes into the development tools and worlds that are the building blocks of the games we play. It’s easy to take these things for granted but, if you own the game, load The Witcher 3 right now and just look at it. It’s preposterously beautiful and detailed. If developers spend so much time and money making a game, it feels a shame to move on from it and onto the next thing without fully exploiting all of that work. That’s not to say I want to see hundreds of bland quests plugged into The Wild hunt but I’m delighted whenever I find an excuse to revisit such a spectacular world, and for the level of investment required to be sustainable, it makes sense for the developers to revisit and reap the benefits as well. Give me more.
Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Thursday - December 17, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Best and Worst of 2015
RPS delivers their awards ceremony for the year just passing, the Scrolls of Honour™. Let's see how they praise and shred this year's favorites.
Tonight, our special thanks goes to Couch, for providing almost the whole batch of today's news. Cheers.
As the dragons finally return to their nests to hibernate and the ghosts don their chains to help remind misers of the meaning of the season, we approach the end of another year. As is tradition, that is time for we at the guild-house to award both quests and questers the ceremonial Scrolls of Honour™. (Chorus of affordable angels)
Scribed upon only the finest vellum in ink taken from a particularly recalcitrant octopus from the Abyssal Depths, they are a testament to skill and imagination and occasional disappointments that mean exactly nothing whatsoever except that I have a column and so I can hand out whatever made-up crap takes my fancy. Lo! We begin!
Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Monday - October 26, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - The DM Delusion
At Rock Paper Shotgun, Richard Cobbett explains why Dungeon Mastering can't work in rpgs.
The most dangerous ideas are the ones so compelling, nobody wants to admit they're bad. Also the atom bomb was pretty nasty, but that's a bit out of a weekly RPG column. Instead, let's pick one of the chocolate teapots that people keep mistaking for the Holy Grail - the idea that RPGs can hope to offer anything close to a classic DM experience. It's a terrible idea. It's not going to work. Stop wasting everybody's time.
Now, I'm not talking about dedicated tools like Roll20 or more specific ones like JParanoia here - tools whose job is primarily to connect people and handle the fiddly stuff like character sheets. I mean RPGs that want to offer both a game and a DM experience, which always fall far, far short of the dream or basic sell. Many have tried, including Vampire: The Masquerade: Redemption (AKA Vampire: The Masquerade: The Crap One), Neverwinter Nights, and more recently, Sword Coast Legends.
Between them, the various approaches have brought along just about every raw feature needed to pull it off, and time and again players have hit the same issues - the biggest one being perception of scope. What I mean by that is that, well, look at just about any procedurally generated game. As much as developers like to claim that their scale is some crazily large thing, like Elite Dangerous having a hundred bazillion star systems or No Man's Sky rendering twelve universes without breaking a sweat, in practice their scale is limited to the point where you as the player feel like you've seen the edges of what it can do. At that point, the magic of the thing is immediately lost and all that remains is the hope that the core gameplay loop can hold players' attention. Cracking skulls in Diablo 3 for instance. The quest for credits in Elite Dangerous.
If the DM has one job here, it's to try and disguise it with hand-crafted content and a human eye for the rules and systems. The catch is that even using something as powerful as the Neverwinter Nights editor to create a complex module full of wonder and whimsy, once the game starts that player just becomes another puppet of the game engine - albeit one with the power to see and occasionally twang everyone else's strings. They're not in charge of the rules, because that's the game logic, and even the simplest of engines makes it a pain to create content on the fly. Sure, you can make a module or a map in advance, but then you're still stuck with the problem of not being able to react with the speed of thought to game limitations and player freedom. Which as ever, will usually manifest in variously murderous killing sprees.
Monday - September 14, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - The Lost Magic of Magic
Rock, Paper, Shotgun write about magic in games, which isn't as it used to be. They showcase how magic is used in various games, such as The Legend of Korra, Baldur's Gate 2, Ultima, Dragon Age 2, The Witcher 3, Skyrim and Divinity: Original Sin 2.
So, how can magic be made more interesting? It’s not simply a question of pushing up the power, and returning to the old Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards problem that soon sees magic users becoming living gods and leaving everything behind, but treating magic as something that needs to be feared and respected in and of itself. It should take some effort to acquire and to master, and ideally feature at least some degree of consequence. That can mean elements like corruption. It can mean things like wild magic, where every spell is a bit of a gamble. It can mean friendly fire, so the mage’s incredible power has to be used precisely to avoid taking out the team.
Friday - September 11, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - What Kickstarter Means in 2015
The editors of Rock Paper Shotgun talk about what Kickstarter means in 2015.
Alec: What about – inevitably – Star Citizen? That really seemed to be a case of people getting entirely starry-eyed about The Dream Game. Did they all think they were just investors?
Alice: It’s a big, exciting idea – the kind of game people have dreamed off for decades. Big dreams are attractive, and Cloud Imperium Games (and their drone studios) seem to be doing their best to make it real. A few delays and technical setbacks show even they know it’s a difficult dream to realise. It won’t be everything everyone dreamed of, but I think it’ll be an interesting thing either way. It’s certainly a first or two – all that crowdfunded cash, and all that ambition.
Adam: I played one of the first versions of the combat module and it was so bad, just appallingly constructed, that I decided not to go back until I’d heard good things. And however many months later, I hear about new things rather than old things getting put right. Now, it might be the case that the combat is great now but that’s not what I hear from the press releases and the rest of the noise – I just hear about new and bigger.
The process seems weird to me but that’s one of the other aspects of the crowdfunding scene – the transparency of development means that people who’ve never worked on a game and might have no idea what’s happening at the foundational levels – people like me – suddenly think they’re seeing the big picture and can work out where all the pieces should be, and when they should be fixed in place. I’m not sure how helpful that transparency is a lot of the time, for either the backers and passers by or the developers. It’s a small window into a complicated process at best.
Monday - June 15, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - RPGs not announced at E3
Richard Cobbet of RPS makes a wishlist:
The RPG Scrollbars: Not Being Announced At E3
It’s a great time for RPGs at the moment, with huge AAA successes on one side and just about every classic name getting a shot at new life. Hopefully this E3 will see many cool announcements. There may have been some already. Don’t ask me, I’m writing this on Sunday, and my time-machine only lets me go back and kill Hitler. (58 times so far – he’s like badly moustached bubblewrap!) But what games would it be great to see get a new, dynamic reveal? Here’s a few that come to mind…
- Nethack Infinity
- Anachronox Universe
- System Shock 3
- All New Worlds of Ultima
- Vampire: The Masquerade: Alpha Protocol
- Dink Smallwood Lives
Honourable Mentions: The Magic Candle, because it’s feeling left out of all the remakes, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, redesigned to accept the world that a game with the subtitle ‘Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura’ may as well announce ‘Free smallpox inside!’, Darklands, because even semi-realistic RPGs are a rarity, Escape From Hell because it could have been great but wasn’t, and Planescape Torment because of course, even though there is a new game trying to fly its flag on the way. Any others you’d add to the list that aren’t already being revived?
Sunday - May 31, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - a dialogue on roguelikes
In his weekly roundup of games writing, Graham Smith includes a pair of articles about the roguelike genre. The first is by Mark Johnson – developer of 4X roguelike Ultima Ratio Regum – whose post on the problem with the roguelike metagame he summarizes: "that unlocks at the end of failed runs distracts players from learning why they failed"
The existence of an unlock system tricks the player into thinking their “progress” derived from a failed playthrough is in the unlock, not in the skills and knowledge they gained (or should gain) by understanding how they died. This, in turn, makes for weaker players ... by failing to “force” players to confront their decision-making processes ...
The important point here is this: whereas the player must figure out they are meant to learn ... the unlock is obvious, clear, and explicit.
When you’re given an obvious reward, few players are ever going to think about the non-obvious rewards, especially when the obvious rewards appear to enhance their chances of success in the game. I therefore fear that the player comes to learn that their deaths are meaningful insofar as they yield new unlocks, not insofar as they yield new information or understanding ...
And this response from the guy at Robot Parking:
Unlock systems have a host of positives, but also have the capacity to interrupt the educational aspects of permadeath. And, as Johnson notes, unlock systems can give the player the perception that the game is at fault for their failure, because they do not have access to all of the tools.
I think we should extend that to examination to the role of permadeath as an educational and punitive mechanic. If it is “too” punitive, it is because players do not feel equipped to meet the challenges.
At this point, it’s worth evaluating how something like combat is handled: are there a lot of commands, a lot of strategies and features? Is your game, like so many other classic roguelikes, a turn-based strategy game wearing the skin of a role-playing game?
These posts are hard to summarize because there's a lot of interesting stuff throughout them both -- these are links worth clicking through.
Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Monday - May 11, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Worst RPG Moments
In an editorial at RPS, Richard Cobbet looks through what he calls the 25 worst RPG moments. Here's a quote about bandits:
It's one thing to try and mug a passing would-be hero on their way to becoming someone. That's your job. But when you see a team of battle-hardened knights in full-plate, archmages humming with power, clerics bearing the very mantel of your world's deity and a druid still yet to wipe the blood off their lips from their last shapeshift... and your response is to genuinely think you can take them? No. Stay out of the way, and don't waste the time it takes to click on you and turn you into giblets.
Here's a quote about Vampire: The Masquerade:
However! If the world is one where resurrection is easily available, and every store sells magic health potions, this really needs to be factored in. Vampire: The Masquerade: Redemption (otherwise known as "The Crap One") still stands out as a triumphant failure here, with the intro showing hero Christof being slowly brought to health, only to find a potion seller a quick stroll from his sickbed. There are always ways to justify why a particular death counts for real, from soul-destroying weapons, to not being able to take the body to a convenient temple, to ‘death' in combat actually being a knockout. Handwaving is fine, but don't defuse the drama with the obvious question "Wait, why can't I cast my Resurrection spell here?"
And a quote about Skyrim:
I still think Skyrim's guards should arrest players for indecent exposure. I miss when RPGs would routinely factor in at least a couple of snarky comments for if you wandered around in your underwear. It was a good test of how responsive the rest of the game was going to be, if the designers had bothered.
Tuesday - April 21, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Drakkhen Retrospective
Richard Cobbett of RPS published a new Retrospective article this week where he talks about an old RPG game from the 1980's called Drakkhen.
Over the years, there have been many RPGs. Definitely more than five. Perhaps even ten. Every now and again we’re going to dig into the archives to take a look at one from when the ink was still dry on the Elder Scrolls. First up, Drakkhen [Wikipedia page], one of the more unusual games that I was never very successful at back in the 80s. But goodness, what a memorable half hour to fail at.
Sunday - April 19, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Game Length @ RPS
Richard Cobbett of Rock, Paper, Shotgun published a short article a few weeks back that I missed where he ponders on game length of RPGs, and when is to much enough.
It’s been a great year for epic, old-school RPGs. A good tax-year anyway, since that conveniently scopes in everything from Divinity: Original Sin to Wasteland 2 to the other week’s Pillars of Eternity, to say nothing of several smaller titles. As we all know, part of the joy of a good RPG is slipping into a world – when everything works out, the long playtime feels like an epic journey rather than a commitment. Or at least it should. In the wake of The Witcher 3 promising 200 hours or so to see everything it’s got though, I’ve been thinking – at what point do the scales start to tip?
Saturday - April 18, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - RPGs That Got Cancelled
Richard Cobbett of Rock, Paper, Shotgun published a new article that takes a look at some promising RPG games that failed to get released on the PC.
It’s a great time for RPGs at the moment, with just about every name, flavour and celebrity from the old days finding a new lease of life through Kickstarter and a freshly hungry audience. Most series and creators though have had at least one game fall prey to development hell – sometimes with their ideas resurfacing in later titles, sometimes with everything simply lost to time. Their levels of completion vary dramatically, but here are some of the games we never got to play…
Monday - March 16, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Deus Ex 4 & Hair Tech
Graham Smith published an article about Deus Ex 4, and talks about Adam Jensen from a panel at GDC 2015. The article though focuses more on hair technology.
I’ve seen Adam Jensen from Deus Ex 4, and his hair is lustrous.
I like to make the time at every GDC to attend one talk I almost certainly won’t understand, because it’s useful to remind ourselves every now and then of the absurd technology that underpins the games we play. This year I picked Augmented Hair In Deus Ex Universe Projects, because not only does it fit this mission, but I thought I might get lucky and hear a few hints about Deus Ex 4.
Instead I left the talk with a question: does anyone really care this much about hair?
Thursday - January 29, 2015
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Levineís New Sci-Fi RPG
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has news that Ken Levine has opened a new studio after closing Irrational Games, and has a new Open World Sci-Fi RPG in development.
Sometime BioShock boss Ken Levine has opened the first tears to his new development dimension. He effectively closed his long-time studio Irrational last year in favour of working on smaller-scale projects, but still within the protective fortress of 2K. At the time he talked about making narrative-led games with more replayability, and while last night’s sudden flurry of updates is nothing like a reveal, he has a least given out a few big hints, together with a pledge for more open development than was the case on the spoiler-vulnerable BioShocks. What he’s got planned is a open worldish (“but not necessarily outdoors”) RPG, sci-fi, PC, probably first-person, chapter-like structure, brand new setting, add “ins” rather than add-ons, and a Passion System. Missus.
Friday - December 05, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Have You Played... Game Recommendations
Rock Paper Shotgun is having an ongoing Have You Played... game recommendation series. Today's recommendation is Desktop Dungeons:
It’s such a simple thing at first glance, but there’s extreme precision underneath the surface. Health and mana are not simply meters to be emptied and filled, but resources from which every expenditure is a very big deal. Levelling up is not just so you can get stronger, but because it also restores your health and that opens the door to fighting something that otherwise would have killed you.
Other noteworthy recommendations for Watchers:
It’s got, well, spunk. It’s funny, at least for its first half, its battles are highly strategic and pop in a way that, in retrospect, reminds me of Hearthstone, and it’s delightfully compulsive. It’s also got all sorts of balance issues that make progression extremely hard work at times, which is half the fun. When the later games ironed that out they couldn’t possibly offer the same sense of achievement.
Sure, it’s a chore in its latter half, but you’ll get a good twenty hours of creature-collecting and creature-battling in before that happens.
Anodyne plays by the rules of the games that have clearly inspired it but twists them, and adds its own unusual aesthetics and story structure, to create something unique and accomplished. If follow-up (in development rather than narrative terms) Even The Ocean is even half as engaging, it’ll be well worth keeping an eye on.
Ostensibly it’s a first-person action-RPG, but Arkane Studios really made a big murder physics playground. A health and safety inspector’s nightmare, its levels are draped in spiked trellis, filled with traps on hair triggers, constructed with wood so poor it’ll explode if anyone even touches it, and almost entirely lacking in railings around the many perilous edges.
Arkane barely stopped short of adding “KICK MAN INTO THIS” signs everywhere. You really should kick man into that, you know. Or break the bridge they’re standing on. Or lure them into that log trap. Or fling them over that railing. Or fling that railing at their face. Its swordplay was fun too.
Friday - November 21, 2014
Elite: Dangerous - Backlash Over Online-Only Emphasis
Frontier Developments has had a rough week after the studio announced that Elite: Dangerous's single-player offline mode would be cut. Refunds are being given to some.
When Frontier Developments announced a week ago that they’d scrapped Elite: Dangerous‘s promised offline singleplayer mode, they were a little hazy on what would happen for folks who wanted a refund. It was a feature Frontier had listed on the Kickstarter that raised over £1.5 million, after all, and one they still teased as Elite went through its expensive paid alpha and beta stretches. Well, Frontier now have some vague policy on refunds, and it’s questionable: if you’re played at all, you can’t have one.
Creator David Braben explained in this week’s Elite newsletter that they’ve started going through refund requests and chiefly follow two simple rules. If you simply pre-ordered the game from Frontier, you can have a refund. If you’ve played in the alpha or beta phases, regardless of whether you backed the Kickstarter or bought access later, can’t get a refund. If you don’t fit into either category – perhaps you’re just a plain old regular backer who wants a refund – Frontier are still working on that. Braben says:
We want to make sure we treat each person’s situation with the thoroughness it deserves, and have contacted each of them to ask that they bear with us over the next few working days if their circumstances do not fit either criteria above as we look into individual requests.
Honestly, I think they should be a lot more forthcoming with refunds and set out a very clear refund policy. Yes, folks may have played the alpha or beta for a while but those were perks – expensive perks. In the end, the finished game isn’t what they were sold. This might not be a dealbreaker for everyone, but it is for some. Even folks who intended to play primarily offline might still have gone online to check out progress on the game they’d paid a lot for, as that was the only option. And Kickstarter backers who haven’t played it should definitely have the option of a refund.
Tuesday - October 21, 2014
RPS - Have You Played UnReal World?
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a new article about an old RPG game called UnReal World. I have near heard of the game, but here is what the site says about the game.
This has nothing to do with the popular FPS series, Unreal. It’s much more interesting. UnReal World has been a mainstay on various hard drives that I’ve owned since I first discovered it at some point in the mid-nineties. The first release was in 1992 and to describe the game as being ‘a bit ahead of its time’ would be like describing Usain Bolt as ‘quite fast’. Unfamiliar at the time, the elements of play are now a genre in and of themselves. It’s an RPG about wilderness survival, with borrowings from the roguelike ocean, and an enormous amount of things to craft.
It’s also, quite possibly, the best example of its type.
While the original release is twenty two years old, the latest update was this month. Two decades of development have paid off and UnReal World has the most intricate procedural worlds to explore and perish in. The setting isn’t the usual dungeon with a dragon in it – fantasy aspects are stripped back and the game takes place in the far north during the late Iron Age. You’ll spend your time hunting, trapping, fishing, building, trading, fighting and freezing to death. Sometimes you might bleed to death instead, if the mood takes you.
Saturday - October 18, 2014
RPS - Remembering King Of Dragon Pass
Sin Vega Of Rock, Paper, Shotgun takes a look back at King Of Dragon Pass.
King of Dragon Pass was first released on PC in 1999, but its mixture of strategy, management and RPG, and its focus on offering the player meaningful choices at every turn, was sadly overlooked at the time. We asked Sin Vega to explain why you should still play the game today.
Thursday - October 16, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Heroineís Quest Editorial
Konstantinos Dimopoulos of Rock, Paper, Shotgun takes a look at Heroine’s Quest as part of the sites weekly Freeware Garden postings. Here is a short sample.
Having thoroughly played Heroine’s Quest for this write-up, just looking at my recent notes makes me giggle. Everything is amazing this, excellent that, lovely other, brilliant something else. They are useless as notes, of course, but an honest testament to my enthusiasm. I haven’t got a single “but” in there. Heroine’s Quest is a marvelous game indeed.
Amazingly, it’s a monumentally complex one too. As the titular Heroine can be a warrior, sorceress or rogue and each of the classes can be customized with varying skills, spells, stats and attributes, puzzles can be tackled in a surprising variety of ways. What’s more, your class also affects the side quests you’ll be bumping into, hence providing the game with the replayability trait that’s so rare and elusive for the genre. Heroine’s Quest is one of the few adventure game throughout the history of pointing and clicking at things worth enjoying three times in a row. Or, well, two at least.
And just to make things even tougher for themselves, the devs have made sure that everything is accompanied by the appropriate animation. Each spell for example has its very own pyrotechnics and even the lovely character portraits move. Actually, the attention to detail is staggering and includes the game’s difficulty settings, that adjust combat difficulty and the easiness with which you can die from hunger or frostbite.
Thursday - July 24, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Game Names Are Terrible
I know a lot of you talk about how new games have terrible names. Well it seems Rock, Paper, Shotgun editor Graham Smith agrees with us.
Bath, England–July 21, 2014–Don’t Name Your Game That, an internet-based consulting firm today announced that it would lend voice and cheap jokes to the internal screams of followers of game news everywhere. “It’s time to put an end to forgettable, unsearchable, derivative, non-sensical and downright awful names everywhere,” said company founder Dr. Stephen Farts.
Naming things has always been a difficult task, as demonstrated by celebrity-aping baby names, every post-’80s Bond movie, and the Republic of Chad. Yet videogames seem to be failing at it with unprecedented gusto.
“The important thing to note is that this isn’t a criticism of the creators or the games themselves,” said Dr. Farts. “Many of the most exciting or interesting games currently in-development have dumb names.”
Over the course of a press conference interrupted regularly by wailing and gnashing of teeth by the assembled press corp, Dr. Farts outlined a number of examples of these dumb names. We’ve since forgotten or become confused as to the names of those games, but Don’t Name Your Game That were able to forward us a transcript of Dr. Farts remarks for the purposes of writing this release.
Sunday - June 29, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Areal - Stalker Spiritual Successor
Areal's based upon a novel of the same name by Sergey Tarmashev, where civilization's fallen apart thanks to a corrupting meteorite material named Metamorphite turning everything wonky. Unlike S.T.A.L.K.E.R., this makes things a little colourful too, with things like weird overgrown forests and blue warped wolves. Put S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in that world and bish bosh wallop you've got Areal.
Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Saturday - February 15, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Warren Spector Interview
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has another interview with Warren Spector.
RPS: Games have changed and evolved by an incredible amount even since you released Epic Mickey 2. Crowdfunding, Early Access, virtual reality, etc, etc, etc. What are you most inspired by these days? Where do you go next?
Spector: I’m certainly inspired by a lot of indie games. That’s where most of my interest is right now. Just as a developer, if I were to make another game right now, it would not be a big triple-A console title with 800 people working on it. I hope I’m done with that. I hope I never do that again. You know, we’ll talk again in a year and see where I am, but that’s the hope.
But just the idea that you can get together with some friends, make a small game, and find an audience for it, that’s like being back where I started. Where everything is a frontier. Nobody knows what games are again. So mobile and PC, I’m there. I’m your guy.
RPS: When you go back into making games, do you think you’ll take a more open approach to development? Would you try and get the community involved by way of, say, crowdfunding or Early Access? Or do you think your games are too story-focused and that you’d risk spoiling everything?
Spector: I’m a story guy. I’m a story game guy. I want to keep exploring that. And so right now I’m thinking a lot about how we tell a story but really empower players more than we have in the past. Every game I’ve worked on – whether anybody else sees it or not – has been a progression toward empowering players more and more and more. That’s an unsolved problem. How do we let players really be the heroes of their own story?
So I’d like to play around with that. A lot more procedural stuff, a lot more simulation. I’d still be pursuing that, just on a different scale. Maybe not crazy 3D amazing over-the-top graphics. There’s a lot of opportunity to do cool stuff without having to pay the price for graphics and sound and everything else in the triple-A space.
Saturday - January 25, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - The Ignorance Of Crowds
Rock, Paper, Shotgun takes another look at open game development. Now I hope this is satire, or I foresee many angry replies.
People like to think they’re pretty special. And people do tend to have a habit of thinking what they think is right, and those who disagree are wrong. In my case it’s actually true, but unfortunately that’s not always the case for others. And really, honestly, the very last thing I want is other wrong people to be influencing the games I’m going to play. Developers have to stop asking other people how to make their games.
Kickstarter is making this so much worse. This ghastly expectation backers now have that they should have some influence over the game itself: NO. NO NO NO. You’re a wallet, and that’s it. Hand over your money, accept the sheer unbridled stupidity of developers then showing all their promotional materials only to the people who already bought the game, and keep your mouths shut. If you’ve got some incredibly brilliant ideas for making a video game, then here’s an idea: go make a video game. But you don’t – you’re just going to loudly crap on about how important it is that there’s crafting. So shut it.
Developers! Stop listening! And damned well stop asking! I have no idea what started this colossal crisis of confidence amongst the development world, but good gracious, could everyone get a hold of themselves? You’re the CREATORS, so get on with CREATING. Have some bloody convictions! You want to make a great game, so go ahead and make it, and stop thinking you have to pander to loud-mouths back-seat-developing your game for you. LISTEN ONLY TO ME.
Thursday - November 21, 2013
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Warren Spector Interview
Rock, Paper, Shotgun interviews Warren Spector about his fears, legacies, and his desire to develop for the PC once again. They also have a second interview were he talks about cartoons, cyberpunk and failure.
During our all-too-brief meeting, Spector is never as animated as when he’s talking about the people he’s worked with. I ask if he thinks about his legacy, aware that it’s a slightly preposterous question to ask somebody who has been so careful to avoid taking too much personal credit for its work.
He sighs, smiling. “Oh God. Yeah, I do, I do. It’s a little embarrassing to admit though. I think a lot about the word ‘legacy’. I think it’s a function, at heart, of being the oldest guy in game development. (laughs) It’s funny because I used to always be the youngest guy in every circle I was part of and now I’m always the oldest.
“When you start getting older you stop caring about a lot of the things that you cared about when you were a kid, and you start thinking about leaving something behind. I don’t have kids, so I’m not leaving my DNA behind, but I hope the DNA of the games I’ve worked on lives on. When I see things like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I realise I was part of a team that created something that’s bigger than us and that’s really cool.
“The fact that our kinds of games are making a resurgence is great. They never went away completely but there was a period where it was the hot thing and then it kind of cooled off. There was a period where it was just me, and maybe Bethesda and Peter Molyneux a little bit, and then it kind of died off. And then out of the blue, it’s back – I think you’d have to look to Bioware picking up on these things with KOTR and Mass Effect, and I think Skyrim taught people some stuff.
“And then there’s the GTA guys. Rockstar just kept going and going with open world games. That all made a difference. The biggest change – and I don’t know why this happened – but people are interested in story again. I came from a tradition of storytelling but I’ll never forget – and this is a quote by the way – I was at a product meeting at Eidos and I was told, “Warren, you’re not allowed to say the word ‘story’ ever again.
“It blew my mind. Now, nobody’s saying that. Everyone wants narrative games and it’s a question of asking how we tell interactive stories. And we have the gamut now, everything from Telltale with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, and Beyond and Heavy Rain from David Cage at one extreme of storytelling, and somewhere in the middle Bioshock Infinite and the stuff that Valve does, and then at the other end the kind of games that Bethesda’s making and that I like to make. It’s the other extreme in terms of player empowerment. We have every extreme of narrative experience out there, which is great for gamers.”
Wednesday - June 12, 2013
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Maybe Games Just Arenít For Telling Great Stories?
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a new article examining if games are capable of telling great stories.
The temptation at this point is to get all sneery and superior, looking down on those inferior lot who enjoy manshooters. Two problems. Manshooters are often great, and haughtily refusing to enjoy the good ones is stupid. And what exactly is it we’re holding aloft as an example of storytelling done right?
For years I’ve lamented this, decried the failure of this medium to mature to a point where it can match literature and cinema in terms of intelligence in design. (And to be clearly, yes, most books and movies are terrible – we’re talking about comparing the very best.) When is gaming, I would ask, going to find its great stories? I believe I was wrong to ask.
Gaming isn’t going to. It’s had plenty of time to prove that. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a failure of developers at all. Maybe games just aren’t the right place for it? That’s practical: authors can take years to write their novels – something that wouldn’t be possible in game development cycles. And it’s perhaps pragmatic: the nature of interaction simply prevents great storytelling, and we should all accept this.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t demand better. It is still right and proper to lament the dreadful writing that appears in so many games, the cavalcades of clichés that plague us, the generic grunting tedium that most creators seem to think will do. But perhaps we should be setting our sights lower, reducing our expectations, and letting games get on with being a medium that simply isn’t going to provide us with wonderful story.
Wednesday - January 04, 2012
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - An Exciting List of Games for 2012
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has An Exciting List of PC Games For 2012, scientifically derived as they explain:
PLEASE NOTE: THIS LIST IS ORDERED BY APPROXIMATE EXCITINGNESS DIVIDED BY LIKELIHOOD OF ACTUALLY BEING RELEASED IN 2012. EXCITINGNESS IS MEASURED INDEPENDENTLY BY SWISS SCIENTISTS.
Essesntially, this is a list of every PC game they could think of that shows some form of promise. There are a good smattering of RPGs - all of which you should know - but perhaps some you might have forgotten.
Thanks to jhwisner for also sending this in.
Thursday - December 15, 2011
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Potions and Pitfalls: Roguelikes
Rock, Paper, Shotgun looks back at the year in roguelikes, discussing the likes of Dredmor, Brogue, ADOM, JADE, Incursion, IVAN, Stone Soup and more:
I’ll talk about some of those wizened old gents later but first, a shout out to Brogue, which is my favourite discovery of the year in the field of traditional Roguelikes. In many ways, it’s a simpler take, and therefore another good way to introduce people to the genre. However, the simplicity is, in many ways, a paring back of clutter. Instead of having hundreds of monsters, Brogue has just a few but each one feels unique, with tricks and habits that mark it out. The dungeons also feel more varied and alive, with different types of terrain, randomly generated quest rooms and traps, and clever use of water. If you’ve never played a Roguelike at all, or only Dredmor, this could be the place to start.
Thursday - October 13, 2011
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Memories and Maps
Not specifically RPG-related but I have no doubt Fantastic Cartography: Memories and Maps at Rock, Paper, Shotgun will evoke emotions in many of our readers. Adam Smith reminisces about the collectibles you (used to) get with games and his particular passion - maps:
There’s one physical object that came to define the area around my computer desk though. Not tiny figurines, as with many of my friends. They’ve never interested me particularly because they have an opposite effect to the Lurking Horror’s student ID card. Figurines highlight the imaginary nature of the world. If I am holding a statuette of the player character, no matter how finely crafted, it serves to emphasise that the people of that world are collectible objects in the real world. It places me, as the player and collector, in a different relationship with the game world and it’s an entirely different sort of buzz to owning things that appear to be from that game world.
So, no figurines for me. The items that dominated my childhood gamespace were maps.
Wednesday - March 02, 2011
Scrolls - New Game Revealed by Minecraft Developers
Screeg sends in news of the next game from Minecraft developers Mojang, titled Scrolls. It's a mix of card-collecting-game, boardgame and has "RPG elements". I went past it yesterday because it appeared to be multiplayer-only but after re-reading, I see they are looking at the "possibility" of single-player. From the Rock, Paper, Shotgun article:
“At the core it’s a collectable card game, but it’s also a board game,” says Jacob. “It’s combining the two. As you place your units or your buildings, or your siege weapons, you place it on the game board to play against your opponent. It’s not only about designing a proper collection of scrolls [cards], and the tactical aspect of that deck, but it’s also about the tactical sense of how to place your units on the game board.”
Players will buy the game, and with that will come a randomised starter deck of scrolls. Should they want more, they can buy additional card packs, as with any other CCG, and of course not know what new cards they’ll receive. And they have many other plans for adding to your deck. “Obviously it’s going to be a multiplayer game,” continues Jacob. “We have a lot of fun ideas for the community. We’re going to let you place your Scrolls in an auction house, trading with other players, and a lot of different multiplayer templates. Ranging from a friendly game, testing out your latest deck, or you may enter a more long-term league, where you get ranked. That can go on for a couple of months. We also plan on having a lot of tournaments. Small ones, and large, like a world championship. We’re talking to some great partners about that.”
Monday - February 21, 2011
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - The 122 Best PC Games of the Last 22 Years
After their individual Best lists, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has put the writers together to produce a Top 122 spread over 22 years ('89-'11). There are a bunch of RPGs in the fairly lengthy list, so head on over to argue it out.
Thursday - February 17, 2011
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Very Important List of PC Games #4
Alec Meer has posted his Very Important list and there's a veritable plethora of RPGs compared to his comrades. Deus Ex, Diablo II, Fallout, Fallout 2, Freelancer, King's Bounty, Mass Effect 2, Planescape Torment, Morrowind and Ultima VII make the list.
Wednesday - February 16, 2011
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Very Important List of PC Games #3
Quinton Smith manages to squeeze in Baldur's Gate I and II as well as, interestingly, Anachronox in his Very Important List of PC Games.
Tuesday - February 15, 2011
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Very Important List of PC Games #2
John Walker kicks up his list of Very Important PC Games at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and this one is much more to my taste, with less shooters and more adventure games and so on. It's still weak on RPGs, though, with only Dragon Age and KotOR getting the call up.
Monday - February 14, 2011
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - The Very Important List of PC Games #1
The various writers at RPS are presenting their individual Very Important PC Games lists, starting with Jim Rossignol. His is very shooter-oriented but a couple (literally only a couple) of RPGs made it, hence this post. Jim thinks Vampire: Bloodlines is of "moderate" importance in the PC gaming landscape and NWN is "fairly low".
Thursday - April 08, 2010
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Against "Real" Role-playing Games
Keiron Gillen has penned an editorial at RPS titled Just Die: Against "Real" Role-playing Games. In short, Keiron argues that arguments about the validity of the term "RPG" for computer/video games are a waste of time and Pen'n'Paper terms of reference are irrelevant and invalid. Here's the intro:
Point: If only computer RPGs could match up to Pen and Papers RPGs. You know – real RPGs.
Counterpoint: Piss-right off.
You still hear this attitude a lot. Hell, back in the day, I suspect I expressed it a bit. But I was 13 years old, and an idiot. That it’s persisting over two decades is getting increasingly embarrassing. The implicit elitism and defensiveness does a lot to explain why Pen & Paper (P&P) still gets eye-raises even in otherwise all-accepting geeky circles. Nothing makes someone more willing to dismiss your opinion than you sneering at something they love.
If you ignore anything else I say in this column, here’s one reason to stop using the phrase: That it’s self defeating conservative ghettoism. You either see that as a problem or you are the problem.
Thursday - January 07, 2010
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - 10 Commandments of DLC
Inspired by forum debate over Dragon Age: The Awakening, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Alec Meer has posted their 10 Commandments of DLC. A sample:
1. Thou shalt not undermine the host game – that which we’ve achieved should still mean something, not seem lesser in the face of or be undone by what follows.
2. Thou shalt not leave the host game with a cliffhanger that you intend to resolve via later DLC. We’ve paid for a story, not a chapter.
3. Thou shalt not attach a pricetag to small things that a free mini-mod does or could very easily provide. Earn that pricetag rather than fobbing us off with fancily-packed tweaks, or make ‘em free.
Wednesday - September 02, 2009
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - The Big Quest(ion)
John Walker has been thinking about RPG quests over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, writing a piece called The Big Quest(ion). At the heart of his thoughts is the static nature of most content - once the quest is finished, those NPCs essentially stop. Here's a snip:
I think the problem is, too often, that your choice is reduced to a binary switch, and whichever way you flick it, nothing changes. Return to the island/planet/space station, and the consequences of your actions are sat there, lifeless, whether they’re a corpse or a reunited mother and son. Talk to them and they might say, “Thank you so much for your help! Without my child would have died!” Return weeks later and they might say, “Thank you so much for your help! Without my child would have died!” The moment I was finished with them, they ceased to live. Their moment of reuniting happiness becomes something of a grotesque parody. Trapped in that instance, unable to move on with their lives, I might just as well have killed them both and robbed from their cupboards.
...and Jay Barnson follows up with his thoughts at The Rampant Coyote.
Wednesday - July 15, 2009
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Gaming Made Me: Brian Mitsoda, Annie Carlson
Brian Mitsoda (ex Troika, Obsidian) and Annie Carlson (ex Obsidian) join a sizeable panel for Rock, Paper, Shotgun's final Gaming Made Me. From Brian Mitsoda:
So, Fallout wasn’t a revolution or the most popular game ever when it was released, but it had a profound impact on me, as it directly contributed to my career in the game industry. It’s not the first RPG I played by any stretch, but it was the first one that made the main character feel like a normal person rather than the activation switch in a predestined, very linear path. Not only was it wide open as far as play-styles went, but it was stunningly written with people over the age of twelve in mind. The combination of lax narrative and open world design made me reconsider a career in movies or TV and made me think gaming was going to be where it was at as far as developing new ways of creating and experiencing story.
At the time of its release, I was working on the fringe of the movie industry in Los Angeles. Looking up Interplay, I found out it was close enough (Orange County) to give it a shot, and they were hiring for testers at the time. I applied, got the job, and was on my way to becoming a designer of many cancelled titles and one that actually got out – well enough received for you to be reading this today, how ‘bout that? Perhaps if not for Fallout, I would have never thought my love of games, design, and writing could be combined and instead I’d be getting into the head of the Monopoly thimble, trying to figure out its motivation in the script while attempting to drink myself to death.
Monday - July 13, 2009
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Gaming Made Me: Ken Levine
Rock, Paper, Shotgun's "Gaming Made Me" column where writers discuss the games that made them identify as "gamers" gets a mention here, because Kevin Levine lists Ultima Underworld as one of his inspirations:
I always remember one of the first true immersive experiences I had as a gamer; I was being chased by some goblins, and of course the world was really crude, but I was seeing these bit mapped goblins chasing me down a corridor and I was low on health so I was fleeing them and I turned this corner thinking “I got away from them!”. I turned the corner to find this giant spider and all of a sudden I was in a scenario that the designers probably never contemplated.
The designers trusted their system enough to know all they needed to do was put a goblin down in one place and they put a spider further down the hall. The game (and the gamer!) would handle the rest.
Tuesday - January 06, 2009
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Gaming in the Russian Cosmos
This is stretching our mandate a long way but Russian games have some profile in this genre and King's Bounty gets a brief mention or two. Gaming in the Russian Cosmos Part 1 is an updated piece at Rock, Paper, Shotgun (the original version goes all the way back to May 2008) with Jim Rossignol relating his experiences from a trip to the KRI gaming event. On the effect of logistics in Russia:
Just 142 million people have 17 million square kilometres to live in. (Compare that to 60 million of us in the UK sharing just 245,000 square kilometres). It’s an eight-day train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok, where the the King’s Bounty team reside. They couldn’t make it to KRI for that very reason. What’s more it’s a place where publishers need to battle with the problems of distribution and rampant retail piracy. We might get upset about torrent sites and online theft, but up until a few years ago most games sold in Russia were pirate copies sold as packaged products on the street. The cost of broadband meant, for the larger part, it was cheaper to buy pirate product from a vendor. The problem was so bad that pirate companies were reportedly approaching publishers to offer to distribute their games. This has been quite fiercely stamped out by the Russian authorities.
Saturday - December 27, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Top Ten Things that Made People Mad in @ 2008
Yes, folks, it's a slow news day out there, and almost every site you go to has some list of the Top Whatever of 2008. This one at RPS is a bit off the beaten track, and covers the gaming fiascos of 2008 that stirred up various degrees of internet outrage. Here's a bit of the lead-in, and #10:
Has it really been a year with more flashpoints than usual, or is this just an unfortunate side-effect of the rise...of internet discussion, and the Angry Internet Men that inevitably come with it? At any rate- here’s the PC gaming scandals, scandalletes and total non-events that most angered the Angries this year, compiled at random by an idiot (i.e. me). Some uprisings were justified, others less so - but the debate around them always fell prey to MAXIMUM RAGE.
10. Diablo 3 has colours shocker
About the most ridiculous protest of the year, and one that makes me fear for developers’ perceptions of PC gamers. Oh no - long-awaited RPG is slightly more colourful than its predecessors. STOP WHINING. Fair play to Blizzard for actually responding to the irate fans with their reasoning for the change, though were I in their shoes I would, I suspect, refuse to stoop to that level.
And a Bioshock flashback:
4. Bioshock Ate My Children
By rights, this should have been 2007’s problem. Unfortunately, it remained (remains?) an open wound for a certain breed of gamer. Many had treated it as the last, best hope of intelligent shooters, and when it turned out to be a stylised corridor-pounder that stopped making sense two thirds of the way through and climaxed with one of the more embarrassing boss fights of recent times, a lot of folk felt betrayed. It’s hard to deny...that Levine & chums’ shooter pulled far too many punches, but the irrational (pun entirely intended) rage of so many people at the mere mention of its name, even months later, totally overshadowed what it did do very well, in terms of atmosphere, setting, horror and early narrative cleverness. ...Oh - and that it was one of the first games to employ limited-installation DRM horror was a slap in the face that hasn’t yet stopped stinging. The game dodged 0-day piracy because of it, and it’s more than likely it’s thus one of the main precedents for all the Securom punishments of this year’s games.
Thursday - December 04, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - 12 Days of Christmas, Day 2: Mass Effect
Rock Paper Shotgun has a 12 Days of Christmas blog going featuring a game a day. Day number 2 discusses Bioware's Mass Effect [Spoiler Warning--lots of very plot-specific comments in the article which I've tried to avoid here]:
If there was one aspect I’d like to have seen explored more – and in fairness, it was explored quite a lot – it would be Humanity’s fledgling role in the universe. Obviously we join the story after the most momentous events, when Humans discovered Mass Effect capabilities and learned they were not alone in the universe. This is such an interesting time as Humans shift from top predator to bottom of the pile, and the game prods at it, most notably with the pursuit of a seat on the Council, but I’d love to have seen it take it further. Human arrogance is talked about, and as a species they’re already not liked by other “minor” races for even being considered for a Council position so soon. But I’d have liked to feel the effects of this a bit more. See what consequences it had had on Earth’s politics, what extremist fractions had occurred (beyond experiencing racism), whether it had dramatically affected the Human psyche.
Thursday - July 17, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Atari E3 Visit
This should probably get filed separately under The Witcher and NWN2: The Storm of Zehir but the impressions are so short, it isn't worth it. Rock, Paper, Shotgun went along to see Atari and looked at the two mentioned titles. Nothing here for us, I'm afraid:
Otherwise, Atari also had Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir on show. Now, I have absolutely no experience with NWN2, so my impression of the expansion pack – that it seems kind of good – might not really mean anything, but the title does feature some interesting features, from a party system that gives you four main characters (in any situation, such as conversations, you can pick the one which will do the best job) and an intentional effort to make the skills from Dungeons and Dragons that no one ever uses useful (so you can “craft” items from debris found at your shipwreck, or use “spot” to find hidden items).
Tuesday - July 08, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Annoyed About Action-RPG Inventories
Alec Meer's periodic rant piece on Rock, Paper, Shotgun today focuses on action/RPG inventories. It doesn't really draw any conclusions but he does get across his annoyance:
I’d slaughtered my way through a good seven or eight hours’ worth of beastmen and harpies before I had one of those catch-yourself-in-the-mirror moments. What was I doing? Theoretically, I was killing an awful lot of monsters, big ol’ hero that I was. Actually, I was obsessively picking up shiny things from the ground until a number of small squares on my inventory screen were full up, teleporting back to town to sell said shinies, then repeating the process. This was not, I realised, making me a better person. I’ll stress that I’m fine with a few hours of mindless hacking, slashing and looting (though I’ll tire of it before too long), so my objection is not to the basic nature of these games. It’s an objection to the fact my hacking, slashing and looting is so regularly interrupted by thankless commuting. And lo, I became annoyed enough with both myself and the game(s) to make some sweeping generalisations. Not novel ones I’ll admit, but as we’re in digs-at-gaming-clichés mode today anyway… Whee!
Wednesday - June 04, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Ramble on Rambling
Jim Rossignol is musing on exploration in games with a piece called Ramble on Rambling at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It's ostensibly about re-discovering his love of Oblivion but goes on to discuss his love of open-exploration games, something I think many RPG fans embrace. Here's a snip:
Anyway, my return to Oblivion, mixed both nostalgia for the excellent couple of weeks in which I’d originally played it (including an 3am, rather intoxicated, first plunge into the Oblivion realm which was remarkably intense), with a sense that I might not like the game all that much this time. I wasn’t expecting much – my recollections of Oblivion were faded and dulled. I expected it to have aged and recalled my eventual boredom with it the first time around. In some ways, it seems, my memory had been playing tricks on me. Discussion since Oblivion seemed to have dwelt on its failings: dodgy character development mechanisms, the lack of Morrowind’s weird-ass world design, and so on. It was as if this had overwritten what I actually felt about the game.
The truth, of course, was that I love Oblivion far more than I remembered. Even while just running across its wondrous open vistas, stopping to marvel at the sheer scale of its visual accomplishment (vegetation-drenched wooded valleys, walled cities visible from the horizon), it only took moments to spot something that I’ve lauded some other games for: something irrelevant going on in the world. A priestess of some kind was hunting and using magic to kill deer. I could ignore it, or go up to her and talk. The choice was mine. It didn’t matter, but it was still there. It was then that I got the same kind flash of freedom that Tom had done on coming out of the sewers. It’s a game that charms you with its breadth from those earliest minutes in its open world.
Thursday - May 22, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Idle Thoughts on Demos
Demos are a subject we've discussed recently, so this isn't an original topic but Rock, Paper, Shotgun is always worth a read:
It needs to convince you that this is what you want to spend 10, 20, 100, infinite hours playing. It’s got to be fun, it’s got to be challenging, it’s got to be aesthetically impressive. It’s got to make you want to spend $50 there and then.
And yet, so often, it’s just a slice from the front of the game - the slow bit from the start, the tutorial that tells you how to look up. Unless the developer’s created a custom level - a very rare practice - they don’t have much choice on the matter. Watching a film or listening to music is primarily a passive experience (for the sake of supporting that argument, I’ll not mention how often I have to draw my curtains so the people at the bus stop outside my window can’t see me dancing in my chair whenever itunes shuffles up something wondrous), but most every game involves escalation of difficulty and complexity. It’s a deadly gamble to dump some middle or late-game content into a demo as a) without a few hours of prior context, it may prove entirely inaccessible and b) you don’t want the player to feel he’s seen everything and thus not bother playing the game.
Saturday - April 05, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Deus Ex 3 Art & Thief 4 Speculations?
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a nice piece of concept art that came to them via a French site and a circuitous route. It's authenticity as art from Deus Ex 3 isn't proven but they discuss their reasons for believing it genuine.
In related news, a couple of days ago they speculated Eidos Montreal is also working on Thief 4, after spotting job positions with some strong hints:
To quote the statement from their site: “Eidos-Montréal is proud to announce the recruitment for our 2nd “AAA” project. … A hint! The title begins with the letter “ T”.” Which doesn’t mean much until you notice - as a forumite of theirs did - the previously existing line on their site here: “The first two games we develop will revive successful franchises.” With the Montreal Studio already at work on Deus Ex 3, it’s an easy leap to the further adventures of Mr Stealy rather than the further adventures of the-also-Eidos-Owned-Terracide. Or, less facetiously, they could be Tomb Raider… but that franchise doesn’t need reviving. Let’s be honest: It’s almost certainly Thief. They wouldn’t have said the teasing “T” otherwise.
Wednesday - March 12, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Piracy is Not the Issue
Rock, Paper Shotgun's Keiron Gillen examines an essay by Brad Wardell, Ceo of Stardock, which presents the idea that when the dust settles on a particular game's success, piracy is less of an issue than sales. Wardell's entire piece, Piracy & PC Gaming, can be found here.
I actually found the original essay as interesting as the commentary, so here's a brief excerpt:
Recently there has been a lot of talk about how piracy affects PC gaming. And if you listen to game developers, it apparently is a foregone conclusion - if a high quality PC game doesn't sell as many copies as it should, it must be because of piracy.
Now, I don't like piracy at all. It really bugs me when I see my game up on some torrent site just on the principle of the matter. And piracy certainly does cost sales. But arguing that piracy is the primary factor in lower sales of well made games? I don't think so.
Is it about business or glory?
Most people who know of Stardock in the gaming world think of it as a tiny indie shop. And we certainly are tiny in terms of game development. But in the desktop enhancement market, Stardock owns that market and it's a market with many millions of users...If you want to talk about piracy, talk about desktop enhancements. The piracy on that is huge. But the question isn't about piracy. It's about sales.
So here is the deal: When you develop for a market, you don't go by the user base. You go by the potential customer base. That's what most software companies do. They base what they want to create on the size of the market they're developing for. But not PC game developers.
This leads to the quote Gillen references:
“PC game developers seem to focus more on the “cool” factor. What game can they make that will get them glory with the game magazines and gaming websites and hard core gamers? These days, it seems like game developers want to be like rock stars more than businessmen...
Gillen then goes on to say
...With magazines and websites, I don’t think it’s actually anything to do with “cool” - it’s about what’s perceived as cool by the people who read them. As in, what will make them read. Regarding websites, there’s a nasty truth which no-one really has spoke aloud: Pirate’s clicks are as good as anyone else’s. Websites earn money from people who have no interest in paying for the game. If there’s several million pirate-only FPS fans, they’ll swell the page-impression count too. If there’s four million people who want to read about Call of Duty 4, even if only 400,000 want to pay for it, a website will earn more money by writing about it, rather than trying to do something for the 400,000 people who actually want to read about Sins of the Solar Empire, even if every single one of them buy the game...
Thursday - February 14, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Warren Spector Interview
God, another Spector interview? Don't worry, I can't see us posting many more but this quote caught my eye...even though it won't get made:
RPS: Okay - as a general starting point of where you are today, can we talk about how you and Disney got together?
Spector: The shortest version is… well, I was out pitching an epic fantasy RPG. It was like Deus Ex and System Shock and the Ultima Games, in that it combined a bunch of genres… and there was one really, really interesting new innovative thing which I don’t think anyone was doing at the time, and I still don’t think anyone’s doing. I’m out there pitching this thing. I get hooked up with Seamus Blackley, who’s an agent at Creative Artists Agency [And prominent figure in the genesis of the XBox - Ed]. He represented me and my studio. He suggested we talk to Disney. “Talk to Disney? There’s no way they’re going to be interested in this!” “Oh, you don’t know that - they’re changing. Let’s go out and talk to them.” So I go out there and pitch this thing and… as we’re talking, they start looking at their Blackberries.
Sunday - October 21, 2007
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Text in Games
Kieron Gillen at Rock,Paper,Shotgun has written an article on the use of text--words and dialogue--in game design. It includes some explorations of the pivotal role of words in various games and genres, including adventure games, roleplaying games such as Planescape:Torment, text adventures and others, and why text can be as effective as visuals or even more so. Here he quotes Sheldon Pacotti, writer on Deus Ex:
Words remain one of the more enigmatic yet efficient tools available to a professional game designer, and certainly one of the most overlooked. And its efficiency cannot really be overestimated – both in terms of player and development time. “Language (and prose in particular) remains an important tool for game designers because it’s malleable,” notes Sheldon Pacotti, writer on Deus Ex and now at Spector’s Junction Point, “One sentence can go from the Bronze Age to 21st-century Shanghai to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Imagine the development budget to represent that last sentence visually. Especially in adventure games, language is critical for conveying history, prophecy, and the multiplicity of a gameworld/society. Consider the dwarves’ song about Smaug at the start of the Hobbit. It moves from legends about the dragon to a prophecy of its doom in a matter of seconds, and for me this is where the book suddenly becomes not just a story but a complete world.”
Here's Chris Avellone on how text was used to supplement or even replace visual storytelling in Planescape:Torment:
“We just thought that there was so much you could do with written description – facial expressions, motions of the hand, etc, that we didn’t have the art resources to represent,” remembers Chris Avellone, lead designer on Planescape: Torment, and now at Obsidian, “To do all the cinematics, animations, and movies to capture the memory sequences, companion expressions, and other moments just would have been impossible.” It also went against the occasional stated wisdom that text is just too much work. “I don’t think text is any harder to produce than building tilesets, models or doing anmations,” Chris, whose fellow designer Colin McComb credits as having written literally half of Planescape, adds “if you love doing it, it’s no work at all.”
Monday - October 15, 2007
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Guilty Secrets: Why Players Don't Finish Games
Rock,Paper Shotgun's Alec Meer delves into his personal experience after being inspired by this article by Colette Bennett on the Destructoid site (called The Endgame Syndrome: Why Do We Abandon Games? ):
As most of my Destructoid compatriots know, I await RPGs with intriguing storylines more than any other type of game. I enjoy nothing more than to sink myself into a rich plot, get to know the characters, and most of all, experience some form of emotional fulfillment at the end of the story for the work I've put into playing it. To my surprise, the last few I have looked forward to I've gotten fifty to sixty hours into and then simply never picked up again. Why this sudden transformation from game committment to total disinterest?
Alec Meer's observations are here:
Most people don’t finish games, even games they’re dead excited about. The reasons are manifold... I know at least half a dozen people who didn’t make it far past That Moment in Bioshock, praising its power but in the same breath claiming boredom with the game’s admittedly repetitious structure and combat.
I’m guilty of plenty of gaming orphans myself. I’ve never quite completed a GTA game, usually because the level of driving ability required gradually becomes too harsh for me to enjoy myself. It took me 18 months of fits-and-start playing to finish Deus Ex. I made it to Chernobyl itself in STALKER, right on the cusp of answers and endgame, then found my savegame rendered useless by a patch and haven’t found the time/energy to start over. I’m still dodging KOTOR 2 spoilers, because churning through the game’s fight/collect/upgrade mechanics so soon after KOTOR 1 just felt too dreary, despite my burning need to know the plot’s secrets.
Worse, I’ve started Baldur’s Gate II around a dozen times, but always hit a point where its end still seems impossibly far away and just give up. Then there’s the half-dozen Final Fantasies I couldn’t finish because they kept interrupting me with the hideous, arrogant cutscenes that their hideous, arrogant fans believe constitute good storytelling. It’s the kind of thing I’d love to see some graphs on, and no doubt they’d show the faintly horrifying proof that the human animal behaves largely the same way even in experiences which feel so personal. On the other hand, it’d be reasurring to see that many people have given up in the places I did. At least it would mean it was the developer’s fault, and not my own.
Monday - September 17, 2007
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Quest for Glory
No, not the game Quest for Glory. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a humorous article on the silly RPG convention of complete strangers entrusting their most personal and important tasks to even stranger adventurers. In this piece, writer John Walker (apparently) dons some appropriate gear and hits some real-world streets to see how people really react:
The plan: To take to the streets, dressed as a wizard, with a quest for the good peoples of Bath, England. Would they really help out a stranger with a strange beard? Would they even stop and listen? Is there any truth to this convention we’ve otherwise entirely accepted?
First of all, I should immediately get this out of the way: No one, at any point, approached me to ask for a quest. Short of suspending a yellow exclamation mark above my head, I’m not sure what more I could have done to attract the attention of any passing adventurers braving the cold thoroughfare through the centre of the town. If anything, people did their very best to avoid me, refusing eye contact, moving far away from my pleading face. It was already concerning.
Monday - September 03, 2007
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Valve's Newell on The Future of PC Gaming
The folks at Rock,Paper, Shotgun give us a look at some comments on PC gaming made by Valve's Gabe Newell in the course of an extensive Eurogamer interview:
He [Dennis Dyack]also actually said that he thought the PC was the ultimate example of a ‘no standard’ system and that it was “going nowhere”.
Newell: [Laughs] There were 140 million PCs sold in the last year. In a single year they’re going to sell more PCs than the best-selling consoles of all time, so when people make statements like that I really have no idea what they’re talking about. The volumes of scales of PC CPUs, in and of itself, is sufficient to keep the PC incredibly competitive against anything. Intel’s volumes are so huge in comparison to Sony’s volumes on the Cell that the Cell could never be anything other than a second or third tier competitor in the CPU market, because it’s all about how many you make, and if you’re only making millions and your competitor is making hundreds of millions, you can’t compete - it has nothing to do with architecture, it’s just what happens when you make little pieces of silicon; it’s whoever makes the most of them wins. Even an order of magnitude difference is pretty insurmountable, much less two orders of magnitude, so I’m not sure I understand his argument, but I haven’t read his papers or seen his presentation.
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