Skyrim Interview

IGN has interviewed Todd Howard of Bethesda about the upcoming Skyrim RPG. There’s some good nuggets in here about how conversations happen in real time and not in a different mode, some bits on auto leveling, along with some odd questions like “How many dragons are there?”

It’s worth a read–and to clear up the multiplayer question:

Todd Howard: The two most requested features we get are dragons and multiplayer. We got one of them this time! We always look into multiplayer, put lots of ideas on the whiteboard, and it always loses. It’s not that we don’t like it. I can think of ways it would be a lot of fun, but at the end of the day, that dev time is going to take away from doing the best single player game we can, and that’s where our hearts are.

Platinum Games Calls Out Japan

No High Scores

Platinum Games, makers of such great games as MadWorld, Bayonetta and Vanquish just took the Japanese gaming industry out behind the woodshed. In an open letter posted on their site, Platinum President and CEO Tatsuya Minami decried what he sees as a lack of “fresh surprises” in the Japanese gaming industry and pledges to turn Platinum into “The Japanese Standard Bearer in Global Competition.”

Game developers calling out other devs is nothing new as we’ve seen these past weeks with Rovio and David Cage, however in this situation, if anyone could call out Japanese developers for their lack of original ideas, Platinum would be the one. Love them or hate them, their games are bursting with originality, sometimes to the point of being painful. They have no doubt lost some sales in the process, but I think it’s great that rather than turning away from what they consider to be their strongest suit, they’re digging in and vowing to continue doing what they set out to. Bravo Platinum.

Announcing “Platinum Next” at Platinumgames.com

Telltale Announces Back to the Future Episode 1 is Free

Telltale announced today that the first episode for its adventure game Back to the Future is now 100% free. Woo Free Stuff!

You can grab your free episode for PC or Mac right here: http://www.telltalegames.com/bttf

A brief press announcement follows:

Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s adventures continue in the game, with a completely new story created in collaboration with the film trilogy’s co-creator and co-writer Bob Gale. In Episode 1 “It’s About Time,” Marty is just getting re-acquainted with the 1980′s when he finds out that Doc Brown is trapped somewhere in the past; and that he must travel back in time to save the Doc’s future! The story continues over 5 episodes, with new games releasing monthly. The third episode, “Citizen Brown,” released for PC and Mac earlier this week. After getting a taste of the first game, players can then get the full 5-game series for $24.99. This isn’t an April Fool’s gimmick or prank! And we’re not setting an expiration or cut off date for this free game availability!

Saints Row 3 Trailer

If I am going to be completely honest, and I always try to be that, I think this is a great trailer.

Yes, I’m 12.

Three Moves Ahead and Me

I was a guest on the popular Three Moves Ahead strategy gaming podcast this week with host Rob Zacny and former host and now PR shill and good friend Troy Goodfellow. We spend an hour talking about Total War: Shogun 2.

So if you want even more Shogun 2 talk, give a listen. Head over to the Flash of Steel blog for various listening options.

New Demo Released for Hannibal: Rome and Carthage

I want to plug this game whenever I can so when the new demo notice landed in my inbox today I thought, “Hey this is a great time to plug this game.”

Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War is one of my favorite games of the year, being the history nut of that time period as well as a boardgamer this is right in the old wheelhouse. The game has an AI that will kick you square in the teeth. (I have yet to win.) It’s deceptively simple without a lot of the extra trappings you find in most wargames that turn some people off to playing them. It’s basically a mid level boardgame tossed onto the PC. The only downside here is that you can’t play as Rome and there’s no multiplayer support which is a shame because this would make for a great head to head game.

Still, new demo.

Give it a look here: http://www.matrixgames.com/products/388/downloads/

Don't Shoot the Food – Springtime in Atlanta Edition

No High Scores

Welcome to Don’t Shoot the Food, a semi-regular series where I combine my love of gaming with my love of cooking and eating.

Since moving to Atlanta six years ago, I have really come to appreciate this city and the people who live here. For my money, there’s no better place to be in the early spring than Atlanta. Things warm up quickly and when the flowers on the trees open, driving around is a riot of pinks and whites. Sometimes, as I’m walking into my office building a breeze will shake the petals of off the trees, surrounding me in a snowstorm of pink. It’s glorious. It doesn’t last long and it gives way to insane amounts of pollen followed by scorching heat, but while it’s here, I love it.

Given that I don’t have anything up my culinary sleeves to celebrate the 3DS, or WWE and NASCAR games for that matter, I thought I’d go with celebrating Atlanta. What better way to do that then by cooking with a hallmark of Atlanta culture, Coca-Cola. Coke is big business down here and while I’m always surprised to go to a restaurant that serves only Pepsi products, when I go to one here, I always wonder why the locals haven’t burned the place to the ground yet. With that in mind, today’s recipe is for Atlanta Brisket, a brisket marinated and cooked in Coca-Cola. This is one of the best brisket recipes I’ve had, as it’s extremely flavorful and very easy to make. Just the thing for days you’d rather spend outside working in the garden. Or, why not skip the ham this year and serve this bad boy up at your Easter table?

A word of warning first. If you’re a big Coke drinker, you may want to have someone else prepare this recipe. Upon seeing what a hunk of meat looks like after a night spent in a Coke bath, I’m pretty sure you’ll never want to drink it again. It ain’t pretty.

For the vegetarians, after doing some research and then consulting with Barnes, we decided that you could use seitan for an adequate meat substitute here. If you’re making it from scratch, there are a number of recipes online for it, but this one skips the simmering in broth step, thereby making it a little easier. I found a lot of vegetarian brisket recipes that use that recipe as a base, so it’s worth a shot. The only change to make is instead of forming the seitan into a log, form it into a brisket shape, basically a rectangle about an inch to an inch and a half thick.

Atlanta Brisket courtesy of the AJC. Not sure where they got it from.

Ingredients
1. 1 3lb brisket – if the fat cap is really thick, like more than 1/4 of an inch, trim it off. As you’ll be braising the meat, it’s harder to dry it out so you can be more aggressive with your fat trimming than if you were smoking the brisket
2. 5 cups Coca-Cola, divided (4 + 1) – I have no idea how this would taste with Coke Zero and I have no intention of trying.
3. Kosher salt
4. Black pepper
5. 2 Tbl vegetable oil
6. 1 packet Lipton’s French onion soup mix
7. 1 cup ketchup
8. 2 onions, sliced
9. 2 bay leafs

Cooking Steps
1. Place brisket in baking dish and cover with 4 cups Coke. Refrigerate overnight. I would skip this step for the seitan. Not sure what Coke would do to it.
2. On the day of cooking, heat your oven to 375.
3. Remove the (seitan) brisket from the Coke, pat dry and rub with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or dutch oven. Brown the brisket on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.
4. In a small bowl, mix the soup mix, the remaining Coke and the ketchup. If you want to skip the ketchup and Coke, use three cups of water, but be prepared for a far less flavorful meal. Stir until mixed well.
5. Place the (seitan) brisket in a baking dish, pour the mix over it and surround the brisket with the onions. Throw the bay leafs in the liquid, cover and place in the oven.
6. Cook the meat for three hours, basting every hour and flipping half way through the cook time. If the gravy cooks down too much, add water 1/2 cup at a time. If you’re doing this recipe with seitan, start checking after 90 minutes, shooting for no longer than a two hour cook.
7. After three hours, check to see if the brisket is done. The best way to do this is so stick a fork into it and twist it to see if the meat gives a little. Also, if the fork doesn’t come out easily, it’s not done. If the meat isn’t done, check every 30 minutes until done.
8. Take the (seitan) meat out of the oven, chuck the bay leafs and let the meat cool. Slice against the grain and serve with the gravy.

That’s all there is to it. Minimal prep work, minimal time, awesome results. Coca-Cola, it’s not just for childhood obesity any more!

Still hungry? Check out the Don’t Shoot the Food Archive.

Links from the Mothership

Here’s what’s cookin’ this week:

Mike’s latest Cracked LCD discusses The King’s Musketeers boardgame.

Todd’s full on review of Dragon Age II (PC) is front and center. He also reviews the Fallout New Vegas Dead Money DLC and conducted an interview with TaleWorlds regarding the new Mount & Blade expansion called With Fire & Sword.

Our review of the MMO Rift went up this week, getting high marks.

For you squared circle fans, our spin on the new WWE All-Stars is live.

We also sat in on the SOCOM 4 Conference call this week and came away with some nuggets.

Finally, some very high marks for the Torchlight port to the Xbox 360 and not so high marks for the indie PC platformer CreaVures , and moderate marks for Ys I & II Chronicles on the PSP.

EA and the Ultima IV Crackdown

If you’ve been on any gaming news site this week you’ve probably seen a story about EA cracking down on people hosting free downloads of one of the all-time greats, Ultima IV. Combine this with long-running rumors about a mystery project at Mythic that may or may not be Ultima-related and speculation about an Ultima IV remake is running high. Although personally I’d like nothing more than a quality re-do of one of my favorite games, I remain firmly in the wait and see camp. What upsets a lot of people, though, is the notion of EA issuing mass take downs on ancient game code that interests relatively few people. The corporate monster, fresh off banning users from playing their games for being jerks on official forums, is at it again, right? But before you run off and send some hate EA’s way -it is, after all, a national past time- make sure to stop on by one of the better remaining Ultima pages, Ultima Aiera, for a few corrections and clarifications at the core of this story.

If you don’t want to make the jump (over to Aiera), here’s the most important take home: EA has not issued takedown notices to every site featuring an Ultima IV download. Sites (two of them) that long ago obtained official permission to host that version of the game (which came from a PC Games/Computer Gaming World pack-in CD from way back) still have those downloads available. It’s anyone who came in after and just decided to throw it up there that received the take down notices; at least, according to Aiera. (I’m not interested in fact-checking the assertions, but there’s no reason to doubt them.) Whether EA’s action is necessary or not (I’d lean towards not), there’s not really a villain here, so good news! We can all move on to the next outrage. How about this: The family house cat: Friend or foe?

EDIT: One group not mentioned in my post are the Ultima IV remakes, of which two Flash-based efforts (that I presume re-use copyrighted code) received takedown notices. Situation sucks considerably more for them and I do think EA’s action here is unnecessary and counterproductive. But whatever. It’s not like EA has been a friend to Joe Gamer lately. It’s just par for the course.

Realism in Role-Playing

I’m very early into Dragon Age II and I’m already losing interest. The kicker is—I’m not sure if it’s really Dragon Age’s fault.

Dragon Age I/II are both “high fantasy” games. We all have different ways of defining high fantasy and low fantasy and “grim” fantasy. Wikipedia has definitions if you are so inclined to read them. I find that as useful as the introduction to understanding poetry in Dead Poet’s Society. Just rip it right out.

I prefer my fantasy games and fantasy role-playing grounded in reality.

That doesn’t mean I am anti-elf or anything like that. You can make your world as fantastical as you want and I’m in, but it needs to have a proper context for human behavior – assuming your game world has humans in it.

Let’s start with an early scene in Dragon Age II and yes, this has spoilers of a sort so if you haven’t played it and can’t stand the thought of a minor scene being spoiled, well, stop right now….

You are trying to figure out a way to get into Kirkwall. It’s a large city with guards everywhere trying to keep the riff raff out because it’s overcrowded with refugees after the Blight. You start smooth talking the guard/captain fellow and he’s considering letting you in or at least contemplating it after you start name dropping. These other folks (all walking around in heavy armor which is something else I always find silly in these games) start to get pissed off. They’ve been waiting for four days to get into Kirkwall and here you come up with your merry band and this guy is considering doing it!

Well, obviously there is nothing else to do but THROW DOWN!

Wait, what?

You mean to tell me these six or seven guys are going to ATTACK the group, in broad daylight, in front of the city gates, with umpteen guards sitting around watching it happen? The thought of death never crossed their minds I take it?

Continuing on, as the dead people, who simply wanted to walk into the city, lay in the streets, I try to get into the city. I team up with a mercenary who asks me to go kill some guys who owe them money. Wow, that’s quite the request but since I didn’t like the look of the smuggler chick (who was the other option to get into the city) I tell the merc that we’re in.

So, when do we leave? Cover of night? Do we have a disguise? Are we framing someone for this? I’m totally ok with cold blooded murder just give me the plan, man!

Oh…those dudes right around the corner? What…I just go up and start blasting them with fireballs? That is, I assume, highly illegal – and the guard is like…RIGHT THERE. This is out and out murder we’re talking about. I know these dudes are nasty and owe you money but come on…where am I, Deadwood?

Again, I’m poking fun at Dragon Age II when most RPGs do this.

But compare that scene with Assassin’s Creed II. If you kill a guard or get caught stealing money or even just walk around the rooftops and you’ll get chased down by the local authority. Makes sense, right? This level of “realism” goes a very long way in establishing your world as a believable one and right now Dragon Age II is as believable as a remake of Ishtar and it has nothing to do with it being a “fantasy” game.

I want the NPCs, especially the non-monster ones, to care about life and limb unless they have no other choice but to draw a sword or raise a firearm. Fighting in RPGs needs to be dangerous – life and death dangerous and I don’t mean just by raising the level of difficulty which usually doesn’t change the design but rather just adds a level of masochism to the equation. If it means less but more dangerous fights then so be it.

Perhaps the fights in Dragon Age II change as the game continues; I’m still very early on. But when I see people so eager to draw a sword and kill each other over seemingly trivial reasons it removes me from what I feel is such an important part of a game like this — when combat becomes less a thrill and more of a grind I start to think that I’d rather be playing Shogun 2.