25 December, 2011

Keepalive: The Holiday Sale

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 25 December, 2011

Steam's having it's usual holiday sale. They've recently added coupons to the service, so they've folded those coupons into the promotion. Unfortunately, the way they've done it is awful. If you perform a holiday task (by completing special holiday Steam achievements), you get an item in your Steam inventory. You might get a game. You might get a lump of coal which acts as an entry in a contest to win games on your wish list. Or you might get a coupon, which is worst of all. The vast majority of coupons are useless during the sale, and worse than that, provide lesser discounts /than the sale/. I can certainly imagine circumstances where the coupons will be better than nothing, but for me, they're worse than nothing because they clutter my inventory with garbage. I couldn't even give them away to other people in the Steam group I hang out with. :(

The contest lets you take seven lumps of coal and turn them into a guaranteed "gift" of a coupon or game. If I could make just one lump of coal from a coupon, I would have a clean inventory and wouldn't see coupons as worthless. OCD whinging aside, I have picked up some games during the sale (though not all from Steam).

Dark Void

I would have put up a picture, but Dark Void tends to crash my computer so badly that the screen goes away and I have to restart via memorized hot keys. Saints Row 3, Bulletstorm, and Dark Void fail spectacularly while Rage, Singularity, Killing Floor, Orcs Must Die, Psychonauts, Magicka, and everything else I've been playing work fine. I have no idea what's going on.

Anyway, Dark Void is only $3 during the sale, and when it works has pretty lousy mouse and keyboard controls, but for $3, I had fun. The best part is definitely the flying. The way you can never quite control your direction on blast off and the way your limbs dangle around in the wind give me the sense that my character is being hurled through the sky by his crazy little rocket pack. But with the controls as bad as they are I'm grateful the designers didn't put any stunt flying challenges in the game. This is pretty much the only game where I actually used my gaming mouse's ability to adjust sensitivity on the fly, cranking sensitivity up so I could actually turn my jetpack without dragging the mouse across the pad four times, then cranking sensitivity back down so I could aim at something without doing a 180 in the on foot segments.

Payday: The Heist

Since the game was patched and my Steam compatriots have taken it up again, I tried some Payday multiplayer. It's better than playing with bots simply because you don't have to do all the objectives yourself, but it's still a pretty bad game, with cops magically shooting you through hostages you get penalized for shooting and solid objects. Supposedly the patch reduced the number of cops and made them hit harder, but when we saw over a dozen of them spawn in front of us on a section of Heat Street with very little cover, I knew that mission was effectively over. And we also lost a couple maps to one hit kill Cloaker enemies coming around a blind corner. It's not a good game.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Amazon was (and still is as of this writing) selling the downloadable version of Human Revolution for $10. You can then get the key from your download inventory and add the game to your Steam account. You also get a $5 credit for any future Amazon downloads, so it's a really nice deal.

So far, it feels like the Deus Ex I remember, which is kind of good and kind of disappointing because it's over a decade later and the gamier elements seem more ridiculous as the production values go up. I'll say more when I'm done with the game.


Prototype is an open world super power game. When it came out, it was frequently compared to Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which was made by the same developer (Radical). The feeling was that Prototype wasn't quite as good, but hopefully the sequel would be better. Activision fired half of Radical after Prototype came out, so I don't know about that, but I do know that so far a lesser Ultimate Destruction is still better than most of what I've been playing lately. Plus all the different combat modes I can switch to have put me in hot key heaven trying to master all this power, a tiny bit like Magicka.

Also, I'm finding myself having all these weird memories of virtual New York. I've been here so many times. Grand Theft Auto IV was the most recent trip, and at a similar level of graphical fidelity, so that's the game I most often remember. Those were the projects where Dwayne lived. Here's a section of walled street that stuck out in my mind so I start looking for the nearby bowling alley that Niko had to go to so many times.

Some of the buildings in Central Park immediately take me back to Alone In The Dark. Pretty much every structure in the park had to be investigated and cleansed in the eternal night of that game's midsection. I had to use a rope to climb around the burning part of that silly castle in the middle of the park. I think that castle was also the entrance to Alone In The Dark's underworld.

And even though it was much lower fidelity, I also get flashes of Spider-Man 2 once in a while. I'll remember swinging down a particular street, or think I know which building Doctor Octopus' penthouse lab was in.

I may never go to New York, but I feel like I've been there a lot.

And I know there are a lot of cabs in New York, but this is ridiculous!

17 December, 2011

Keepalive: Various And Sundry

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 16 December, 2011

Public Service Message

I probably should have mentioned these earlier, but the fourth Humble Indie Bundle is available for the next ten days. I've usually owned the games I cared about in the bundles already, but they're a good, cheap way to try a lot of indie stuff.

Pay what you want, and if you pay above the average (which was $5.33 when I wrote this) you get a couple extra games. This particular bundle also includes soundtracks to all the games. Also you can decide how much of your money goes to the game developers, bundle organizers, and / or charity.

There are other bundles trying to cash in on the success of the HIB, but they tend to include inferior games. Buyer beware. Public service message over.

Orcs Must Die

I want to like Orcs Must Die. It's got personality and looks. But it never gels. When I succeed, it's often boring. When I fail, it's usually because I made a bad decision picking abilities at the very start of the round, and that's the worst kind of trail and error gameplay. And the progression of the maps, abilities, and difficulty never seems purposeful. Nothing builds on anything else.


That's Limbo. It's got good art. The gameplay is pretty much designed to have you die in different ways as you learn what you're supposed to do to progress. The dying is often more fun than succeeding, and there's not enough variety, but it's okay.


NightSky is a physics based platformer. I do not like every other physics based platformer I have ever played. I would never have played NightSky either, but it came with the HIB.

NightSky is simple and varied and joyful and mostly easy. I recommend it for everybody and everybody's kids. :) Actually, that's not entirely true. People who enjoy soul crushingly difficult physics games like Trials 2 might not get much out of NightSky.

And for no reason, here's how silly it can look when you pull an enemy into barbed wire in Bulletstorm.

11 December, 2011


written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 11 December, 2011

Saints Row 2

After the disappointment that was Saints Row 3's story, I decided to go back through Saints Row 2.

Here's the character I made. He's a cheerful, portly fellow. But he takes no guff.

He does look a bit out of place leading the Saints.

But thanks to the Gentlemen of the Row mod, I was able to give him a gang of his peers as backup.

Killing Floor

Killing Floor held another holiday event. For a few weeks you can fight elves, reindeer, and gingerbread men instead of the usual zombies. I'm not sure which is creepier.

I also heard that the current nVidia drivers (the 280 series as of this writing) were lousy, so I went back to version 275.33. Bulletstorm works now. Oh PC gaming. :(

I also dumped some time into Terraria because they had a huge content patch. The new content was mostly cool, but the new ore types took too long to find, the new bosses were too difficult, and controlling the outbreaks of "corruption" and "hallow" never seemed practical or worthwhile.

02 December, 2011

Everybody Loves Pirates

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 2 December, 2011

CD Projekt Red recently talked with PC Gamer about piracy. I normally tune out piracy talk, but CDPR is the only triple A developer not using DRM, so I thought their CEO, Marcin Iwinski, might have an interesting perspective. He really didn't. He walked through a very rough calculation of how many people pirated the game and talked about how educating consumers and offering extras like soundtracks, making-of videos, and books are the only way you can compete with pirates.

You can imagine how disappointed I was when Joystiq and GamesIndustry.biz chose to run his off the cuff piracy figure as their main headline.

Then GamesIndustry.biz ran an editorial on the subject. It was very strange to see an editorial criticizing "the media [for] breathlessly reporting the results of his paper napkin calculations as cold, hard fact", when that site was one of the offenders. Plus the editorial ignored how CD Projekt had beaten the pirates, which seems like what its audience would want. But the editorial was trying to point towards getting better numbers so that we can finally have a proper discussion instead of mindless hand waving.

(You can skip this bit.)

Then the comments were a bunch of mindless hand waving. (Aren't they always?) GamesIndustry is a British business site. Consumers aren't, to my knowledge, even allowed to comment. And the amount of ignorance coming from industry people, especially Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Everiss, was amazing. First he claimed that piracy was the reason publishers stopped working with certain companies. He basically said Commodore and Atari died out due to piracy. There wasn't piracy on the IBM-PC!? This has to be a joke.

This is from a man who worked for Codemasters, a company that moved on from Commodore and Atari computers to the NES, then built a lock-out chip bypass so that they could cheat Nintendo out of licensing fees! So they love piracy when it lines their pockets. Not only that, but he goes on to state that "20% of the workforce were made redundant because of PlayStation 1 piracy".

While I'm sure piracy played a part and layoffs are never cool, isn't it more likely that it was simply easier for management to scapegoat nebulous pirates than to be truthful about their own mistakes? Codemasters created zero intellectual property on the PS1 that I can find. Everything was licensed: sports, toys, even a clothing license, so they were always splitting profits. Plus Codemasters had dumped the budget titles that earned them their success, so they were a budget brand selling full price products.

But that's the real key here. Piracy is a bogeyman. While it is a bad thing for sales, it's a fabulous godsend as a lie.

Publishers have to make PC versions of their games. Shareholders see how much money World of Warcraft and The Sims and Starcraft 2 and little indie games like Minecraft are making on the PC. Publishers have to tell shareholders they have a plan to get that big money, even if they don't. And when they don't, they blame the pirates.

The GI editorial is trying to call out for better information about how much of piracy is really lost sales. It's a nice idea, but why would a publisher pay money for a study that could evaporate their best excuse?

Everybody loves pirates.

27 November, 2011

Steam Autumn Sale

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 27 Rowvember, 2011

I picked up a couple games during the holiday sale and was gifted a third. Thanks Chris! :)

Payday: The Heist

Heat was a pretty awesome movie (if you don't find Pacino's yelling too ridiculous). The idea that "someone should make a game like that" has been floating around for years. And while Payday cribs so much from Heat it should probably be paying royalties, I didn't find it to be that game. It's basically Left 4 Dead but with law enforcement as the zombies and a lot more "stand still and defend this area" objectives, which aren't really so fun. They might be on to something, but this first effort isn't that great.


I was hoping Bulletstorm would be a high production value version of NecroVision. But since the game crashes reliably at the start of act two, I'll never know.


(not the best picture, but meh)

Between Saints Row 3 crashing, Minecraft hitching, and Bulletstorm plain not working, I was beginning to think something was wrong with my computer. But Rage runs and looks so good that that scenario is now hard to imagine. I know they were shooting for sixty frames a second on the consoles, but with my aging rig I didn't really expect to see that kind of performance out of a game this pretty.

Yeah, it's not sixty frames a second all the time. Yeah, there's a lot of texture pop-in. Yeah, the game is like Borderlands with less loot addiction and no skill tree futzing. But I think my expectations were set low enough that just shooting dudes and driving around in these pretty environments at sixty frames per second is very satisfying, comforting, even.

20 November, 2011

Review: Saints Row: The Third

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 20 Rowvember, 2011

I don't really do reviews anymore, but I felt this was worth coming out of retirement for.

Saints Row: The Third

Developer: Volition
Platform: PC
US Release: Rowvember 2011
Genre: Third Person Action
Price Paid: $50 (pre-ordered July 15th, 2011)
My Score: 4 of 5

Saints Row 2 was a great game. While GTA was going serious, Saints Row was going crazy. It had missions where you drive around a septic truck and spray poop everywhere and make huge insurance claims by getting flung hundreds of feet by freeway traffic. But it somehow matched that craziness to a brutal story of murder and revenge that played things surprisingly straight. That game had a lot of issues, especially the PC port. But what it accomplished was amazing.

Saints Row: The Third does not fill those shoes, but it's a very fun game. For me the reason it does not measure up boils down to one word: mythology. The Saints are larger than life. But SR3 takes some of them out of the picture in unsatisfying ways and changes the personalities of others to make them unrecognizable.

That might have been okay if there had been colorful, dastardly villains to focus on, but there aren't. The best major villain in SR3 doesn't stack up to the weakest major villain in SR2. There are wonderful new homies in the game, but considering how quickly the old ones were discarded, it's hard to get attached.

So with all this complaining, why is it still a 4 out of 5? Because there's still a bunch of crazy, fun stuff to do. The shooting's better than GTA's will ever be. There are some ridiculously overpowered and entertaining weapons to use. The driving is fast and fun. Some of the scenarios are hilariously absurd. And you can experience it all with a buddy in co-op. And while there are still tech issues on PC, the game runs very well (until it crashes so badly I have to reboot :P).

Heavily armed strippers are by no means the craziest opponents you will fight in SR3.

14 November, 2011

I Want To Be In That Number

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 13 Rowvember, 2011

In under 24 hours, Saints Row: The Third will be unlocked on Steam. Here's hoping it's a better PC release than a lot of what we've seen this year. If the PC version actually works on release it will be ahead of Dead Island, Magicka (multiplayer especially), and Rage (on ATI hardware thanks to ATI releasing the wrong drivers). Of course, just being on time with the console release will put it ahead of the PC versions of L.A. Noire, Costume Quest, Arkham City, Assassin's Creed, Renegade Ops, Call of Juarez, and From Dust. It's not a high bar, really.

But hey, Skyrim wasn't buggy enough to precipitate much complaining or any news stories, to my knowledge, so anything's possible. :)

Here's what I've been playing in the meantime.

Nitronic Rush

Nitronic Rush is a student game. The tech is very good. Stuff looks great, and I never saw the frame rate drop (although my wallpaper went away after quitting, so there may be some cleanup issues). It's got some fun ideas. You can make your car sprout wings and fly or just fire your stunt jets to flip around like crazy, which somehow cools your engine so you can boost or fly more. The art design is good, if a bit derivative. Overall I expect the people behind it have a bright future.

That said, I think they need to learn how to cheat. The physics model and camera system are essentially offered up "as is" to the player.

Stunts are easy to land because the game doesn't care if you land right side up. But the flopping around to right the vehicle kills the pace of the game. A few assists in the physics system to make jumps easier to land could keep the pace up.

When flying, the camera stays right behind the car. Often I couldn't see where I wanted to go. A bit of code, angling the camera towards the player's route, could have helped.

Other than that, the game just needs building out. More types of interactive elements like speed arrows, power ups, and breakable walls could add variety. And the tracks don't really develop a vocabulary, building players' skills and expectations only to turn them on their head later. But that's all stuff you do when you have more time. For a free student project, Nitronic Rush is fabulous.

I've also been playing some Saints Row 2, finished Dead Space 2 a third time, and played some Morrowind since I'm too cheap to buy Skyrim yet. But who cares? Saints Row: The Third in 21 hours!

07 November, 2011

Waiting For The Row

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 7 Rowvember, 2011

Saints Row 3 will be releasing in a little over a week. That game has so much wacky stuff in it, I don't even know where to begin. Every other game I play is just killing time until SR3.

Costume Quest

Double Fine, the makers of Psychonauts, have taken to making smaller games to keep their studio independently viable. I'm glad it's working out for them. But while the idea of little kids turning into their costumes to fight candy stealing monsters is fun, I found the humor flat (which is surprising from Double Fine) and the gameplay painfully simple. I'm thinking it's more for 8 to 12 year olds.

Other Stuff

There was a Killing Floor event that some of the folks I hang out with on Steam were into, so I played a few rounds with them. As sort of a scary October holdover I played through Dead Space 2 again. It's still good. I also spent some time watching other people play games on OnLive. Until games are built to account for the lag in streaming systems, I don't think I'll want to play on OnLive, but it's fun to watch people.

30 October, 2011

Zombie Outbreak

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 30 October, 2011

As one might expect, Steam has been having a horror themed holiday sale. Here's what I picked up.

Zombie Shooter (one and two)

What's simpler than running around shooting zombies?

Nation Red

Not running around shooting zombies.

Zombie Shooter and Zombie Shooter 2 are from Sigma Team, who brought us Alien Shooter and Alien Shooter 2. They've mostly made the same game four times, but I don't mind. There are tons of enemies (thanks to the magic of sprites), driving and turret segments, and a nice selection of weapons. That's enough.

Nation Red doesn't have a long story mode like Zombie Shooter. It just gives you a small open space and sends zombies at you. If I'd never played Crimsonland, I'd probably like it. But mine eyes have seen the glory, so Nation Red didn't make much of an impression.

Pound of Ground

Pound of Ground, despite this pretty bland screen shot, does at least leave an impression. The dialog of this Czech made game is so surreal that there should be a warning label advising against playing the game while sober. And the admirable commitment of the voice actors only makes it feel more bizarre. The gameplay was always teetering on the brink of being terrible (way too repetitive, the occasional super cramped combat area), but never quite fell over that brink, in my opinion. So while I can't recommend Pound of Ground, I did somehow enjoy it.

24 October, 2011

No Hurry

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 23 October, 2011

I didn't write anything last week because I didn't have much to say. I still don't, but I call these things keepalives for a reason, right?

We're right in the middle of the holiday release season, but I'm just not feeling it. Deus Ex 3 was, by most accounts more of Deus Ex 1, but prettier. That's nice, but there's no hurry. Gears 3 and Uncharted 3 are probably very good, but they're console exclusives. Rage has nice tech, but it's mostly shooting in a post-apocalyptic setting, which I've done many times before. The new Batman isn't on PC yet, but it's also more of the same, so I'm not counting the days. Battlefield 3 won't run on WinXP, and from what I've seen and played isn't worth an upgrade. I haven't cared about Call of Duty since the second installment.

Nope. The only major release I'm waiting on is Saint's Row: The Third. Volition has been adding as much crazy stuff as they could think of to that game, and while I'm afraid they may have spoiled the biggest surprises with their marketing, I'm sure it'll still be a lot of fun.

09 October, 2011

Playing the Angles

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 9 October, 2011

3D is hard. I'm not even talking about 3D graphics. I'm talking about 3D environments, prevalent in games since the mid-90s, regardless of how they're rendered. Humans are built for 3D, but the games I played this week reminded me of how challenging it still is for game developers.

Transformers (2004)

After playing the more recent War for Cybertron, I heard that the 2004 PS2 Transformers game was considered the best ever made, so I hunted down a cheap used copy. The game defaulted to Recruit difficulty, but that sounded boring, so I bumped it up to Veteran. To survive on Veteran, I've had to resort to pretty lame tactics.

The first boss had to be fought in terraced ruins. Since the boss couldn't fire while jumping between levels, I simply changed levels, took cover, then jumped out and pegged him while he couldn't retaliate.

The second boss was a jet. So I hid in a barn and shot him in the back with homing rockets as he went over.

The third boss was a helicopter, but his guns couldn't penetrate water, so I found a shallow lake, turned into a vehicle, and only had to dodge his missiles. And even still he was a pain.

And boss fights aren't the only problem. There's a stealth segment in the game that is a huge pain to actually be stealthy in. The game's sound algorithm increases the volume of things in front of you, so trying to guess enemy positions by sound doesn't work. And the ability you get to see enemies through walls doesn't work at a long enough range to make it very useful.

I respect that this game gives players a lot more options and freedom than the more guided experience of War for Cybertron. But it's got its own problems.

Portal 2 (2011)

Portal 2, was on sale for $15 last week, so I finally picked it up. It had it's moments, but I got the same feeling that I did with Dead Space 2. Here are some fine bits of entertainment with a mediocre game in between.

It's probably sacrilege to call Portal 2 a mediocre game, but I felt the same way about Portal 1. The novelty was great, but the puzzles were so focus tested and carefully built to guide the player to a single solution that much of the spontaneity and creativity had been removed from play. And the new gels added to Portal 2 weren't really enough to make it feel novel.

Additionally, solving some puzzles depended on noticing usable panels or objects in out of the way locations. Those puzzles felt like a 3D version of the pixel hunts in old adventure games, and I was more annoyed than pleased to find their solutions.

02 October, 2011

Plastic and Metal

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 2 October, 2011

Computer graphics are good at certain textures. They do fairly convincing plastic and metal without too much effort, while textiles and skin are far more involved. I mention this because the games I played this week reminded me.

The Last Templar

The Last Templar is a lackluster game. The fighting is tolerable. The upgrade system hides so much that I had no idea what I was working towards. And there's a lot of dull travel. But I was mesmerized by this random background character.

I don't know where I've seen the texture of his clothes before, but I could almost feel the thick, pliant rubber in my hands as I looked at it.

I have no idea what kind of plastic his hair is made from. It looks like a Lego hairstyle that he slips over his head when he wants to differentiate himself from the other random people he portrays in the game.

Transformers: War for Cybertron

The game has a very stylized look. All the metal is supposed to look old and worn. As a result, much of the game looks drab.

Still, I enjoy being a giant robot and shooting giant robots, and the set pieces are impressive.


This being October, I try to look out for horror games, but I've played almost all the one's I've got. So I decided to revisit NecroVision. The game does rubber and metal textures in a way almost no other game does.

It's like I'm a toy soldier with a little gleaming sword, fighting rubber Nazi zombies with tin hats. It's supposed to be grim, but it's almost adorable. Even when their heads blow apart they seem to be made of Gummi candy.

23 September, 2011

Setting the Bar

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 23 September, 2011

We judge things based on expectations. If we're set up to expect great things and only get good things, we're let down. If we expect utter garbage and get something only sub standard, we're pleasantly surprised.

I was pleasantly surprised by Duke Nukem Forever.

Here is Duke in his own casino. There are statues of naked women in high heels all over. Aliens are attacking. Yeah. That's about right.

And that was enough. I'd heard such awful things about the game that the fact that it was mostly just a mediocre shooter made it seem like a wonderful experience. Sure, Duke's an idiot. Sure the game wastes way more effort on objectifying women than the original. But I shot an alien and he ragdolled nicely, which was more than I was expecting.

Shellshock 2: Blood Ties

There's a lot of trash on GameTap. Shellshock 2 is part of it. But knowing that going in, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a fairly playable Vietnam zombie shooter. Sure you couldn't hear any of the voice over. Sure the tiny maps and lack of variety made it feel like a PS2 era shooter. But I shot some guys with guns and blew some pieces off of some zombies, so it was okay.

Also this one guy had a killer moustache.

Dead Island

Speaking of taking parts off of zombies, I also spent some time in Dead Island multiplayer. It's always nicer having someone to watch your back and to chat with. In some ways, this defeats the mood the game is going for, but that's why I played through by myself first. Also, it turns out that the character I used for my first playthrough is

pretty popular.

18 September, 2011


written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 17 September, 2011

Dead Island

I've played some more Dead Island this week. But, much like Dead Rising 2 last year, it's devolved into a filler activity. When there's not much else I want to play, I murder more zombies. Also, I finally got stung by one of the game's many bugs. You expect a certain amount of odd behavior in open world games. It's just par for the course. But throwing weapons from outside a house at a monster inside a house made my weapons disappear. In a game where finding good weapons is a major, time consuming activity, that's unacceptable. And I crafted an explosive throwing weapon that never showed up in my inventory.

Given that I already beat the game on the up and up, I decided to just start duplicating weapons. If you throw a weapon and drop it at the same time, you get two copies. So whatever my best weapon is, I just make copies and never have to stress about losing weapons again. So I'm using a bug to rescue my experience from other bugs. Weird.

The Conduit 2

I really liked using the Wiimote in Metroid Prime 3. Unfortunately, The Conduit 2 only used it for shooting, and not as well, if my memory of MP3 is accurate. MP3 had a more aggressive lock on mechanic, used motion controls for more than shooting, and kept the environments simple. Those may be workarounds, crutches that adulterate the FPS experience, but they worked.

Also The Conduit 2 locked my favorite weapon from the demo I played at PAX 2010 (the shield gun which catches and accumulates bullets so you can throw them back all at once) behind a bunch of searching for secrets. I was hoping the game would have more interesting weapons like that, but it didn't, at least not that I found.

10 September, 2011

Dead Island

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 10 September, 2011

Dead Island has pretty much taken over my gaming this week. It's first person melee against zombies. First person melee is never perfect, but Dead Island has taken the crown (from Zeno Clash or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. I can't remember who had it last).

A major reason it works so much better here is because Dead Island is a horror game with zombies. This means the effects of your attacks are much more varied and surprising than in other melee games. There is blood spray. There are decapitations. You can break or sever limbs, which beyond crippling your opponent, nets you bonus experience so you level faster. I often found myself breaking a zombie's arm and knocking him over. They change how they get up based on which arm is broken, and waiting to see which arm a zombie puts its weight on so you can break both its arms for maximum XP is morbidly fascinating and makes these zombies feel so much more weighty and real than the paper mache hordes of Left 4 Dead.

But you often don't have the luxury of taking an enemy apart as it's easy to aggro additional zombies and suddenly need to switch from fight to flight, keeping the tension high. Tom Chick describes this dynamic better than I.

There is also a loot progression that will have you move from broom handles and kitchen knives to sledge hammers and katanas. There are guns in the game, but their primary virtue (aside from being helpful against the odd group of armed humans you have to fight) is that they can be sold for a good chuck of change to let you upgrade your melee weapons.

Dead Island definitely has flaws. The story and characters are as throwaway as most games and action movies. The PC version released on Steam was a funky developer build. It's taken multiple patches to get the networking functional. And there are occasional other glitches. One time stomping on a zombie's head bounced me so far into the air that I died when I hit the ground. Still, when this goes on sale, I will push everyone I want to play co-op with to pick up a copy so I can join them in co-op and murder all the zombies all over again.

(I thought about taking some screen shots, but it's zombies. If you play games, you've seen zombies.)

06 September, 2011

Post PAX Blahs

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 06 September, 2011

After PAX normal human gaming loses a bit of its luster for a week or two.

Saints Row 2

Ah PC gaming. I spent the better part of an hour troubleshooting why I couldn't join Morkath for some co-op. I opened a bunch of ports and nothing. I tried starting a new character. Nothing. He tried some fiddling on his end. Nothing. Eventually it turned out that I could never connect if his game required a password. To clarify, GameSpy is so terrible that it makes it so you can't connect to a game with a password, ever.

One of my favorite bits of the Borderlands 2 panel was during the Q&A. Gearbox CEO and co-founder Randy Pitchford was asked whether it would use GameSpy. He responded "What's GameSpy?" After the applause he was asked to elaborate. "We're past that." Gearbox is even retroactively patching GameSpy out of Borderlands. That's what a pain it is.

But enough whining. Morkath was playing without the crazy appearance slider part of the Gentlement of the Row mod. This made Hellboy go from this...

to this


Path of Exile

I finally tried the Path of Exile beta.

For the most part, it's Titan Quest. They've got a nice health mechanic where your health flasks store four or five charges which automatically replenish as you kill enemies. Unless you're wearing gear that heals you, flasks are the only way to recover health, so you have to manage it a bit (unless you're a pack rat like me and keep all your flasks topped off all the time). But I'd rather have to remember to heal once in a while than manage stacks of potions.

This is PoE's skill system. Keep in mind this is still beta. What you're seeing is a tiny part of the overall tree. I'd say it's probably sixteen screens (four by four) of this kind of graph. And since it mostly reuses icons, the player has to read each and every one to find out which abilities are which. Since some of the icons just say "temp" at this point, this will be improved.

What won't likely be improved (to my way of thinking) is accuracy as a stat. You can miss in PoE. To paraphrase Randy Pitchford, I'm past that. There's more than enough math to do in comparing loot and deciding which skills to get. You get one skill point a level, so having to spend even one point on accuracy is galling.

Maybe that's just me. The Diablo 3 beta that was at PAX 2009 worked the same way. But in my world only comic relief heroes should whiff this much.

31 August, 2011

PAX 2011: The Games

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 31 August, 2011

I took a notebook to PAX. I wrote quick impressions of sixteen games from the show floor. Because I don't hate you, I'll just discuss the interesting bits.

First off, the best experiences I had were not on the show floor.

Bushido Blade

I had spent all day in lines. And playing Red Faction: Armageddon in console freeplay had only confirmed what I'd heard about it being less interesting than Guerilla. Then I wandered over to classic freeplay and saw three guys playing Bushido Blade on PS1.

The only other time I've played Bushido Blade was at the first PAX back in 2004. It's a technical and challenging dueling game where one hit can kill. But if everybody playing sucks at it, it is a hilarious collection of lucky and unlucky accidents. At one point my legs had been crippled and I was flopping towards my opponent like a fish, trying to stab him in the shin. It turned my entire day around.

Left 4 Dead 2

During one of the gauntlet sections (where zombies spawn infinitely until you run a maze and flip a switch), I crouched in front of the group with a fire axe and began singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as I cut down the constant flow of zombies in front of us. One of my companions started singing as well and it was magical. It could only have been better if I'd been using an oar and we'd sung a proper round.

And now, for the less awesome show floor. Feel free to skim or stop reading if it gets dull.

Alice: Madness Returns in 3D

The game isn't new, and the tech isn't new, but this was the first time that I spent more than a minute actually sitting down and playing anything in 3D. Honestly, I didn't think the 3D added too much. I didn't find myself being more certain of my jumps or combat positioning. What I did find myself doing was moving the camera to angles that were worse for gameplay just to put more stuff in the foreground so that I (and the people watching) could see the 3D.

Since I started recording game video, it jumped out at me how much a player can enhance an experience by paying more attention to camera movement and positioning. Heck, in some games, you fight the camera more than the enemies. 3D made playing camera man a little more rewarding, but not so much that I'd pay extra for it.


Firefall will be a free to play futuristic action MMO. The teams on the demo I played were so mismatched that I don't really want to play it now. Such are the dangers of running largely unattended demos at a convention. At least in the Brink demo last year the devs tried to give advice to the losing side. When one of the Firefall stations went down, the employee I told didn't even seem to care.

Battlefield 3

A lot of people are really hopeful about BF3. My feelings are less positive. They demoed no vehicle combat at PAX. They are not selling on Steam. They will only have servers available until EA wants players to buy something else. Mod support is highly unlikely. And the co-op is only two player. I can't imagine what it would take for me to care about BF3. That game is going to be dead and buried, and I'll still be playing BF2 (with the Nations at War mod).

Twisted Metal

I was never big on the Twisted Metal combat driving games, but (once I figured out where the accelerator was) the new version seemed both a little easier to get in to, and presented more variety. There was a semi with turrets on it's trailer. Friendly cars could drive into the truck and man a turret. I drove an ambulance that shot homing gurneys with crazy people covered in dynamite on them. If I had a PS3, I'd definitely keep an eye on it.

Everything Else

Dead Island

Beating up zombies is fun, but the five minute demo leads me to suspect that the devs are just as worried as I am about its longevity.

Black Knight Sword

It's a side scroller with a nice paper art style and lots going on in the background, but the jumping bits kill the momentum.

Bloodrayne Betrayal

It looks like a decent side scroller. I just wish Dust: An Elysian Tale had come out. With stuff like Black Knight Sword and Bloodrayne Betrayal out, it may get buried.

Dragon's Dogma

It's Lord of the Rings meets Monster Hunter. It felt a bit sluggish, but it has potential.

Asura's Wrath

Oh, Japan. The realistic art style and attempts at gravitas belie a very cartoony action sensibility. It felt like Dragonball for people who think they're too cool for Dragonball.

Charlie Murder

Another Final Fight game for Xbox Live Arcade. Meh.

Retro City Rampage

I don't know if it's just because I'm old enough to have played the 2D GTA games, but it does nothing for me.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

I enjoyed the action game version of Return of the King. It had a lot of issues, but the connection with the films and passable combat were enough for me to have fun. The demo of War in the North might be as good, but this many years later, that's pretty disappointing. Maybe it's just the segment they chose to show, but the combat looked very bland. The only reaction to attacks I saw were damage numbers or death. That's fine for tower defense, but action games need more feedback and give and take, in my opinion.

Resistance 3

I played a little deathmatch. It was alright. But I've heard that the best part of Resistance is the crazy weapons (which makes sense coming from the developers of Ratchet and Clank), and I didn't have time to experiment with them much in the hurly-burly.

Counter-Strike: Global Operations

It's still Counter-Strike. I would have thought Valve would want to show off more of the new stuff to bring in new players, but they seem focused on people who still want to play de_dust for the billionth time. I suppose there are a lot of them, but they already have the game they want, don't they?

Path of Exile

PoE played like a slightly less refined Titan Quest. Still, I liked Titan Quest a lot. They also gave me some beta or demo disk, so I'll likely try it out.


It pretty much looks like expected. It's pretty, but the need to show off enemy behavior has turned them into bullet sponges that make the guns feel wimpy. We'll see.


It's an indie platformer where you use fluid dynamics and creatures made of fluid to solve puzzles. I was pretty impressed with the puzzle design and the way the game valued the player's time by not forcing the player to run all the way to the edge of the screen before loading the next puzzle. It was fine until the lava area. I sprayed water on it until the surface looked safe, but then it would crack and I'd die instantly. After almost completely solidifying it and still dieing, I moved on.

21 August, 2011

Variety Pack

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 21 August, 2011

It's been a busy week, gaming wise.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath

Stranger's Wrath is a western on an alien world. I played it on the original Xbox. I wasn't a fan. There are definitely some bugs with the PC port, but I was lucky and only had a few graphical glitches. I don't know how much was the improved controls and how much was the fact that I'd been through the game and knew what I had to do, but I had a lot more fun this time than previously.

Here I am hiding in the bushes, preparing to ambush three guys. I stunned one with a lightning bug and tied the other two up in spider webs. By the time I'd finished capturing the first two, the third stood up, just in time to get punched in the jaw and go right back down.

I also think Stranger's Wrath has my favorite regenerating health system since regenerating health was invented. You have a stamina bar you use to jump, melee, and heal. If you're injured, you take cover and press your heal button to shake it off. Managing my stamina and choosing when to heal felt like I was managing resources and making choices, as opposed to Halo's hide and wait method which felt like forced time outs.


Bastion also feels like an alien western, albeit with a more steampunk, anime vibe.

Bastion's claim to fame is a narrator that talks about what you do as you do it. It's novel and well done, but doesn't make the game. I can see the clever bits in the story and storytelling, but with such a desolate setting and empty archetype characters, there's little reason to care.

The combat is also a little bland. There are a bunch of weapons that can be upgraded multiple ways, but the combat situations don't vary much, and any weapons are good enough, so I never felt like I'd made a clever choice and done the job right.

It's a good first effort, and the art and music are nice. But there's room for Supergiant Games to improve. (I initially wrote grow, but that was too punny.)

Star Wars: Battlefront 2

Dune Sea is a great map, maybe even the greatest map.

The sarlacc grabs characters and small vehicles and eats them.

I dubbed this vehicle the Party Skiff, and the name stuck so well that one of the players changed his Steam name to Party Skiff. As an assault vehicle, it's junk. It's flimsy. The passengers are fully exposed to small arms fire, and the sarlacc can eat it. But when you've got three gunners zooming across the landscape firing wildly like stereotypical drunken hillbillies, it's a quality assclown experience.

Plus Tie Tanks. I don't know if a modder made these up, or if these exist in some novel or comic book I never saw, but they're so ridiculous that I can't help but love them. They're actually pretty good at running over people, too.

And last, but not least, there are proper flying vehicles in the map. The map makes is pretty cramped for flyers, but outside of Hoth it's the only place I've seen armor, air, and infantry all going at once, making it the battliest battle in Battlefront. Hooray for Dune Sea!

13 August, 2011

Blasts From The Past

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 12 August, 2011

I have no idea why, but IdolNinja and Digital decided the Penny Arcade forum members hadn't been playing enough Star Wars: Battlefront 2. And you know what? They were right! I remembered we tried Battlefront 2 at a LAN party a long time ago and me not thinking much of it. The weapons feel puny. The movement is artificially smooth. The bots can swing between useless and uncannily accurate depending on what weapon or vehicle they're using. And the game has some features that take a while to figure out.

All that stuff is still true, but as long as you don't take it at all seriously, there's a lot of fun to be had. For one thing, the game is old enough that you can put in a ton of bots, making the battles feel like battles.

For another, there's a mod called the Conversion Pack which adds maps and additional vehicles, including content from Knights of the Old Republic. A lot of it's pretty janky because it's pasting textures of KotOR characters onto existing models, but sometimes that just makes it hilarious. The run animation on Mission is just her walk animation at double speed, which always makes me laugh. Plus the KotOR Wookies have huge heads for some reason.

Plus the combination of all the elements of the game frequently causes scenarios you can't find elsewhere. An enemy Jedi was bearing down on my lowly imperial officer. I'd been force pushed from my feet and I thought I was doomed. As I started to stand, I jammed on the mine button, hoping I could drop a mine that would take my attacker out with me. I drop the mine, but get knocked down again. Death seems imminent. Out of nowhere, a friendly Jedi force pushes my attacker. He flies into my mine which flings him across the room and into a bottomless pit! Force powers are to high explosives what peanut butter is to chocolate.

It makes me sad that companies are trying to eliminate mods and user run servers. I know they want us to buy new games and pay for new content. That's the business they're in. But no one will be having this kind of fun with today's games six years from now. The servers will be gone. Outside of a few map packs, no additional content will ever be developed for them.

As we put more and more effort into creating games, the results of that effort are being abandoned quicker and quicker.

07 August, 2011

PAX Is Coming

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 7 August, 2011

In three weeks, PAX will be almost over. Who knows what wonders I'll have experienced by that time. If you don't care about PAX, you can safely skip this post.


I've put up the announcement for the NorCal pre-PAX lunch, and some of my favorite people have already responded, so I'm pleased. I've also signed up for the pre-PAX dinner and post-PAX party, so even though I'll be missing the Magical Mystery Tour this year, I'll still be hitting up many community events.

Oh, and here's a dark secret for you. My memory for names isn't so great, so I cheat and review previous PAX posts.


I still plan to hit up the expo floor, but I have no specific games I'm looking for. While it was good, chartered accountant style fun to compile a list, it never ended up being useful. It's easier to simply get the map that comes in the program and work my way from front to back.


I haven't been too big on panels for the last few years. But going through the schedule I found myself wanting to hit up more of them than usual this year.

In a recent interview, Ken Levine talked about designing the companion AI in BioShock: Infinite. It sounded like he was moving forward with the work done by Valve in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and LucasArts on Republic Commando. I'm very curious to know if John A. Hancock's work on Republic Commando informed their design process and whether they recorded dialog as a group. Since the two principle voice actors will be there, I probably won't even have to ask.

Randy Pitchford will be hosting the now traditional Sunday Gearbox Pizza Panel. But instead of just Duke Nukem Forever, he'll be talking about Duke Postmortem, Borderlands 2, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and the bizarrely lighthearted Brothers in Arms: Furious Four. That's a lot of games I'm interested in. Well, I'm not so interested in Duke, but he might have some interesting postmortem observations.

And while I'm usually not up for spending an hour of PAX in a single demo, I might make an exception for Skyrim. I'm honestly not that interested in the game, but Todd Howard is demoing it, and I've enjoyed listening to him on various podcasts. He's earnest, intelligent, and soft spoken which could serve as a welcome break from the bombast of the expo hall.


Here are my button designs for this year.

This is a bit of a pun as the grenades can be the best tool for taking down the game's bosses.

The second one goes with a design from last year and is the center of a three year story arc. Here's the one from last year.

Next year will be "My Frog Got Better" and feature the final image from the game. Of course, that means I'll actually have to beat the game again. Just getting to the frog boss took longer than I expected, so I should probably beat the game now while my chops aren't entirely rusty.

31 July, 2011

Summer Doldrums

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 31 July, 2011

Ah summer. Between the media blitz of E3 and the lead up to the holiday season (which usually starts in late August), there aren't too many large releases. This can be good for the indie games, since they get more attention.

The main game I'm seeing get attention is Bastion, a downloadable game for Xbox. Even if I had an Xbox, I'd rather not buy any downloadable games on it. If a game's good enough, the PC community will donate time and effort to keep it alive for many years. Console makers can't justify that kind of time and effort to shareholders.

So where does that leave an old PC Gamer?

Saints Row 2

Saints Row The Third has been putting out a lot of great promotional videos. I've tried to avoid most of them as I like to be surprised, but from the reactions I'm seeing on the PA forums, it's going to be a symphony of ridiculous chaos. And unlike Just Cause 2, it will have robust co-op support.

To make the wait more bearable, I decided to load up the latest Gentlemen of the Row mod and complete the game, again. But since I was using the bizarre appearance portion of the mod, I went with a slightly unusual protagonist.

It's not a very good Hellboy, but between the limited options of the character creator and the fact that I was doing it from memory, I am satisfied. And truth be told, the main character in Saints Row 2 is significantly more vicious than Hellboy and doesn't sound like Ron Perlman, so a perfect likeness might have been too weird.

As it was, I enjoyed running around as big red, pretending the revolver I favored shot "really big bullets".

Plus he just looks cool.

EYE: Divine Cybermancy

Hungering for something new, I spent too much money and bought EYE.

As you can see from this picture of a knight in a subway, it's kind of a mishmash. There's stuff about aliens and artifacts and conspiracies. You use guns and psychic powers and high tech abilities that let you take over enemies. It's interesting for how much weirdness is in it, but it's also uneven in quality. The interface and menus and upgrades are pretty confusing sometimes. But with not much else coming out, I can spare a little time to figure things out.

24 July, 2011

Free To Stay Away

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 24 July, 2011

I've been trying the free to play games again, and it's not working for me. I even got tired of League of Legends early in the week. It's not a bad game, but there's just something about making these cute little avatars do violence to each other that feels too removed to be satisfying and too aggressive to fit with the art style. I think a direct control scheme (as opposed to click to move) might help the former.

Alliance of Valiant Arms

I actually tried War Inc. first, because Steam said it had co-op. But Steam lied, so I deleted it immediately. It's nice to have internet fast enough that you don't feel obligated to play something just because you invested a lot of time in the download. But back to the subject...

This is the co-op mode of AVA. If you look in the top left corner you can see that this is not part of a map, you are looking at virtually the entire map. Three sets of doors spawn waves of bad guys who run at you with knives. You die in two or three hits and subsequent waves are better armed. Co-op DooM is more refined.

I tried some of the versus multiplayer. The map wasn't much bigger. It was like the worst maps in Counter Strike being played over and over in order to earn enough game points to buy marginally better weapons and weapon enhancements that degrade over time. If Dante's Inferno is to be believed, there is at least one layer of hell itself which is more pleasant than this game.

Global Agenda

Global Agenda is basically a free to play MMO about fighting robots. As action MMOs go, it's not terrible. It's less crazy than Champions Online, which is probably good for some people. For me, the most entertaining thing about the game was the fact that it let me create a character resembling Futurama's geriatric robot magnate Mom, then watch her be an action hero who shoots robots.

But at about level fifteen the game seemed to run out of solo content. And while I did appreciate the variety of the randomly generated instances, the fighting didn't have enough oomph to keep me satisfied.

Zeboyd Games
A couple guys from the Penny Arcade forums made some games which finally got released on Steam. They aren't free to play, but at $3, they're close enough.

Yep. They're SNES era JRPGs. They've added many delightful improvements (a run button to cover terrain faster, silly enemies and stories, and a finite number of random fights before you're free to explore at your leisure), but when I'm winding my way through yet another maze, knowing that I have to explore the entire thing or miss out on loot I'll want to have for the boss fight, I can't help but feel it's still not streamlined enough. Plus you make permanent choices between abilities when you level up. I often found myself wishing I could change those choices retroactively to correct mistakes or just experiment more with the combat system. At $3, they were a treat. But after playing through both, I'd probably pass on spending even the time it would take to play another.

Iron Grip: Warlord

The following picture probably makes Iron Grip look about three times as fun as it actually is, and at $10, it's probably a bit overpriced. But I enjoyed the demo enough to play it for four hours, so they earned their money through an older form of free to play.

Iron Grip is a co-op FPS tower defense game. You can see why I was particularly intrigued. The main problem with the game is lousy difficulty balance. Easy starts way too easy. But Medium is nigh impossible without human backup or exploiting the map and enemy AI pretty thoroughly. Also, the turrets are so weak that the tower defense aspect isn't worth much. That said, I did enjoy parts of my Easy playthrough of the game.

At it's best, Iron Grip let me play a super soldier. In the picture above, I have been set on fire by a flame thrower and am still strong enough to hold back an enemy platoon by myself. Did I mention I was on fire? But with great power, comes great responsibility. Should I be thinning the herd, focusing on enemy armor, or seeking out the enemy leader to damage morale (the primary way to win)? Feeling like you are the one soldier capable of turning the tide of a war is very empowering. It's the Dynasty Warriors of FPS.

Killing Floor

While it's payment model isn't in keeping with the week's theme, at less than thirty dollars for a hundred and fifty hours of fun, Killing Floor is probably still the best value on this list. I still enjoy feeling out the strengths and weaknesses of a new group, tying to decide what role to fill, and telling the occasional bad joke. Why I enjoy this in Killing Floor and not in any other FPS or MMO may forever be a mystery.

17 July, 2011

Horror, Hollywood, and Faery Tales

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 16 July, 2011

Dead Space 2

While there were a couple slow sections in the middle, overall I'd say Dead Space 2 is a high four, if I were still putting scores on things, that is.

The combat is still not my favorite. It's good to back yourself into a corner so you don't get surrounded, but the third person camera goes squirrely when you do. And there are occasionally sections where you're probably boned until you've been through it once or twice to know when and where bad guys spawn. But once you know, the fights often becomes trivial.

My favorite thing about the combat was that EA's unlocking system doesn't work right and I got a bunch of nice guns from the very start of the game and for free, letting me experiment more than I otherwise would. I do plan to play through the game again at some point, but that's because it's a good ride with some variety, a decent story, and good production values, not because of some manufactured compulsion to own / max out all the guns.

Top Tier Blues

I feel bad for the top tier developers, in a way. Mark Twain supposedly said golf is a good walk spoiled by a little white ball. I suspect as the writing and production values of games approach Hollywood quality, we'll hear more people saying games are good movies spoiled by difficult, confusing, and tedious interaction. It's taken incredible leaps in technology, billions of dollars, and lifetimes of work to get games to a point where people can say "That looks cool except for the game part." That's probably frustrating.

Faery: Legends

It's a simple turn based RPG with some nice window dressing.

You can design your own male or female faery and as you upgrade them, you change their appearance even more. For me this made for some strange decisions. I chose my main attack element based on which wings looked best. But I stuck my faery with some pretty ugly antennae because I wanted a specific ability.

Anyone who's played Mass Effect will find this conversation interface strangely familiar. I don't think choosing "renegade" has a big effect on the game, but some allies will let you choose a special ability for them if they like you enough. There's even a potential to make a certain amount of romantic choice in the game, although it also doesn't amount to anything gameplay-wise.

The game itself is pretty much fetch and fight, but you can choose which you want to do sometimes. I felt it more realistic for an eight inch tall creature to lean toward diplomacy rather than violence. :)

While it's probably too simple for RPG fans and too complicated for most kids young enough to want to play with faeries, it's got nice music and visuals, decent writing, and a nice flight model / camera that makes the getting around feel pretty good (tight areas excepted).

Tower Defense Failures

While I did write down a list of the annoyances I found in many tower defense games, it all boiled down to giving the player enough info to make good choices and making the feedback clear enough that mistakes are obvious. If either is lacking, success and failure feel random and meaningless.

11 July, 2011

Back And Busy

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 11 July, 2011

I'm back and the Steam Summer Sale is done.

During my no-internet time, I found out you can only earn perk advancement in Killing Floor while online. :P And I dug some more holes in Terreria, but nothing interesting came of it.

I also spent some time with Devil May Cry so I won't be totally rusty when I start the next video talkthrough. That game was so difficult in 2001 that many people quit at the first boss. I don't blame them. The boss is tough, and the terrain and camera angle don't always help, which can make the fight unfair.

Since I've been online I've been fairly busy, even to the extent of being a day late writing this post.


It's a tower defense game, but you run around between and on top of the towers shooting bad guys. It also has co-op so you and a buddy can shoot bad guys simultaneously. When you're facing down a wave of baddies, flipping between weapons to pour on the damage and keep them slowed, it's great. But the second you falter, which is pretty easy on one or two maps with tricky terrain, all the damage you were doing stops and it's game over.

This isn't so bad in single player where you just restore to a previous wave, but that option isn't available in co-op, where you're likely to have people of different skill levels and need more room for misunderstandings and mistakes. Ah well.

Random Tower Defense Games

Part of the reason I picked Sanctum up (besides it only costing $4 during the sale) was that I've taken more of an interest in tower defense games in general. This is largely because my father enjoys them. There's practically a cottage industry just churning these things out at this point. In fact, I'm starting to see where people have reused the same engine and just changed the appearance of the enemies. That isn't necessarily a bad thing if enough is changed to make the experience different, but some sites crank out a new game every day, which puts them past the point of bothering about design. I'm thinking I'll write up a list of the most common design issues I'm seeing next week.

Dead Space 2

I wasn't a huge fan of the first game. I felt like I'd seen most of what it had to offer by the end of the intro, and I felt the same way when it was over. But the sequel puts a lot more effort into keeping the story alive and ditches the tedious puzzles. It's still got puzzles, but they're usually much easier and quicker. I may have more thoughts when I'm done with it, but my current feeling is that Dead Space 2 is an okay game elevated by many millions of dollars of window dressing into a good, scary experience.

The Games of Christine Love

Christine Love got some attention from the more academic folk a while back, and I had downloaded her games, but never installed them.

The first one I played was "don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story". It's a game about being a high school teacher dealing with student drama in the year 2027. The hook is that the school lets you tap into the kids' social networking, giving you "behind the scenes" info for the choices you have to make. It's an interesting game which definitely expresses some outside the norm views on social issues, so I can see why the academics were into it. Personally, I just enjoyed the jokes and the general vibe of helping people being the most important thing.

The second game I played was Digital: A Love Story. It's set back in the BBS era and is about falling in love and solving puzzles. As someone old enough to have spent time on BBSes and FidoNet, I was surprised to find myself pretty bored with the game.

The posters weren't fun to read like the kids in "babe", so eventually I was just mining for the next clue to solve the next puzzle. There was eventually a bigger story, but I'd already learned not to bother with the fiction, so I noted the puzzle elements and just moved on. The writing of the romance parts wasn't bad, but as in Half-Life 2, I have no acting choices as the main character, no way to express myself. So the love story is just a story, not an experience.