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Jumping the Shark Podcast: 2015 Collection (#223-#246)

Herein you will find links to every Jumping the Shark video gaming podcast posted in 2015. I’ve been terrible about posting them the past few months, but then, if you’re listening you’re probably subscribed already, right? RIGHT?!?!

This year, JtS featured the vocal stylings of Todd Brakke (ToddsFoolery.com.

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Episode 223
Released: 1/11/2015
Synopsis: The first JTS of 2015 features a lot of looking back at 2014. Find out how Brandon, Todd, and Holly marked the passage of time with their most memorable gaming experiences of the year. Plus, much ballyhoo about Fry Scores, Holly’s much-awaited cookbook, which is a real live product now. The phrase “food porn” was invented for association with this stunning piece of work!

Episode 224
Released: 1/25/2015
Synopsis: This week Holly brings us through her 100+ hour Far Cry 4 journey, Todd and Brandon continue to dissect Dragon Age: Inquisition, including why Todd thinks it ultimately failed. Brandon talks cheating in Gems of War of all places. Plus, football, football, football! And somebody, we don’t want to say who, has a girl scout cookie mishap.

Episode 225
Released: 2/8/2015
Synopsis: The gang isn’t messing around this week. We’ve got Holly’s delightful adventures in The Room and her distaste for Betrayer. Bradon’s straight up Gat Out of Hell, the latest entry in Saints Row. Todd’s hiding in a ball in a dimly lit corner of the Darkest Dungeon. Plus, the glorious return of Birthday Uke and a big-time spoiler section at the very end for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Episode 226
Released: 2/22/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd takes on the economic realities of managing a Martian colony in Offworld Trading Company, Brandon relives the same three days over and over to glorious effect in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Holly jumps on zombie faces in Dying Light.

Episode 227
Released: 3/8/2015
Synopsis: While Holly recuperates from moving, Brandon and Todd keep the torch alive with much discussion of GDC happenings – new Valve hardware, VR headsets, Rock Band 4, and Tim Schafer’s sock. Brandon goes pup-hunting in The Order: 1886 and Todd breaks out his best end zone dances for Frozen Cortex.

Episode 228
Released: 2/22/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd gallivants across the galaxy in a Mass Effect 1 replay. That is, when he’s not unclogging his city’s streets in Cities: Skylines. Holly and Brandon discuss the unrelenting violence of Hotline Miami 2.

Episode 229
Released: 4/5/2015
Synopsis: This week brings a big, deep, crunchy look at the results of Obsidian Entertainment’s highly successful Kickstarter project, Pillars of Eternity. Does this kind of Infinity Engine-inspired RPG work in 2015? (Yeah, you already know the answer to that.) We also kick off with a look back at Wrath of Khan and a wrap-up that features Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, kicking zombies for levels in Dying Light, and much marveling at AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Episode 230
Released: 4/19/2015
Synopsis: For episode #230 it’s the Todd and Brandon show one more time as Todd continues to gush over Pillars of Eternity, Brandon explains why he stopped playing it to start playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and then they take a little detour into the town of Salem for Murdered: Soul Suspect. Wrapping up there’s a bit of an argument over going home with Chewie in the the new Star Wars trailer. Good times.

Episode 231
Released: 5/3/2015
Synopsis: This week Holly is back and the gang is all geared up to talk about Steam’s abbreviated attempt to implement a compensation system for mod creators. Also, Holly’s E3 prep, Brandon goes for a jaunt down Sunset Overdrive, and Todd’s sitting around waiting for The Witcher 3.

Episode 232
Released: 5/18/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd, Holly and Brandon talk about the Witcher 3 pre-release coverage, how useful (or not) preview coverage is, and how it tends to be an indicator of the review for the final product. Sadness. Then Brandon gets into Wolfenstein: The Old Blood a bit before Holly departs and the menfolk talk Avengers: Age of Ultron in full spoilery detail.

Episode 233
Released: 5/31/2015
Synopsis: This week the gang gets obsessive as Holly, Brandon, and Todd talk about addiction in game design and how vulnerable sufferers of OCD are to their compulsions. We’ve also got a wagon load of Witcher 3 impressions and you won’t want to miss Todd’s top 3 Napa Valley wineries. (You know, because visiting roughly a dozen wineries out of several hundred absolutely makes you an expert.) Also, also — Todd has fun with outtakes.

Episode 234
Released: 6/14/2015
Synopsis: It’s the week before E3 so Brandon, Holly and Todd are talking about what they want to see from the big show as well as their reaction to Oculus Rift and Fallout 4. Plus, more Witcher 3 lovin’!

Episode 235
Released: 6/28/2015
Synopsis: This week on Jumping the Shark it’s all E3 2015 all the time as the gang chews over a bunch of new Fallout 4 morsels, Brandon laments that backwards compatibility on the One will in no way improve his life, Holly finds great stories on the show floor, and Todd finds himself feeling joyful about games again (PC Gaming Show excluded).

Episode 236
Released: 7/12/2015
Synopsis: Holly couldn’t make it this week but Brandon and Todd are here to talk about SDCC, Witcher 3, Batman: Arkham Knight and the joy of Apple’s new music streaming serrvice. Come for the game talk, stay for Sad Batman.

Episode 237
Released: 8/9/2015
Synopsis: After a brief summertime respit, the crafty trio are back at this week as we talk about the TIME magazine VR cover and what it says about the future for VR tech. Also Fallout 4 Gamescom developments and how games tackle leveling. Finally, Brandon and Todd light the spoiler bonfire to talk in-depth about Witcher 3, complete with clips from the game. It’s a double-length episode to prove our love to you!

Episode 238
Released: 8/23/2015
Synopsis: This week Holly, Todd and Brandon all take the Gamer Motivation Profile Test at https://apps.quanticfoundry.com/lab/10 to get a sense of what drives them:

Holly’s Gamer Profile
Brandon’s Gamer Profile
Todd’s Gamer Profile

Surprises abound!

Wrapping up, Brandon is excited for The Taken King as well as Mike Bithell’s new game Volume, Holly is not impressed with Sunless Sea and Todd takes Invisible, Inc out for another spin.

Episode 239
Released: 9/7/2015
Synopsis: For this week’s Jumping the Shark, we’re coming at you with Holly’s on the ground reports from this year’s PAX Prime. There was drama. There were new announcements! Except, no. No, there was none of that. But she was there and she’s here to rap with us about it. Also, chicken pot pie! Later in the episode Todd ducks for cover under heavy threat of Satellite Reign and Brandon gets his horror show on with the PS4 exclusive, Until Dawn.

Episode 240
Released: 9/20/2015
Synopsis: This week it’s just Todd and Brandon but they have much to talk about. Brandon gets down and dirty with Destiny 2.0 and the Taken King before describing the joy and pain of the apocalyptic wasteland in Mad Max. Then Todd talks about getting in the right head space for MGSV and AC 4: Black Flag. It’s an open world extravaganza!

Episode 241
Released: 10/4/2015
Synopsis: The gang is all in for episode 241 as Holly delights with talk of her terrifying and emotional journey in the underwater vastness of SOMA. Brandon has his Destiny taken by a King and furthers his love of Nolan North in the process. And Todd says angry things –many, many angry things– about Spike Lee’s influence in NBA 2k16, not to mention the continued insult that is the game’s Virtual Currency system.

Episode 242
Released: 10/25/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd and Brandon return to the world of the Witcher with the Hearts of Stone expansion, Todd heads back to Ferelden with the Trespasser DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition and finally gets around to finishing Pillars of Eternity. There’s also some Destiny talk because when isn’t there?

Episode 243
Released: 11/8/2015
Synopsis: It’s another Todd and Brandon hour of power. This week’s topics include prep for Fallout 4, Brandon’s foray into Halo 5, Todd’s Jedi vision quest in the all-new, all-different Star Wars: The Old Republic v4.0, and a very touching story of Destiny players coming together in peace and harmony.

Episode 244
Released: 11/22/2015
Synopsis: War, war never changes. Apparently neither does Fallout. HEYO! This week Holly, Todd and Brandon share their experiences exploring an irradiated Boston, killing ghouls and synths and scavenging for screws and other exciting pieces of garbage. It’s Fallout 4 week on Jumping the Shark and you’re invited!

Episode 245
Released: 12/6/2015
Synopsis: This week’s episode brings you –gasp– more Fallout 4! Holly drops cooking knowledge bombs gleaned from the wasteland, Todd dons a Silver Shroud (and buys a PS4), and Brandon gives it all up and instead goes raiding tombs in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Episode 246
Released: 12/20/2015
Synopsis: This week Brandon, Holly and Todd get down with the residents of Arcadia Bay and talk about Dontnod’s excellent five part adventure game, Life is Strange. Laughter! Tears! Hella wowzers! Also, Todd has his final thoughts on Fallout 4 and Brandon has more tales from raiding in Destiny. Happy Holidays everyone!

I Wrote the Wrong Post (on Misogyny and Gaming)

Civility

A few months ago I wrote a piece that was ostensibly about maturity in the game industry, but that was really about trying to define what is and isn’t sexism and misogyny in games. Yes, I uncategorically condemned online harassment. Yes, I absolutely supported the idea that the gaming industry desperately needs to grow up and become more inclusive. But I also wrote that the mere appearance of sexism doesn’t make something inherently sexist. I wrote that it’s impossible to avoid stereotypical pitfalls 100% of the time and that its surface appearance, which absolutely should be open to analysis and criticism, also shouldn’t come to define the entirety of the work. I wrote that we can better see the real problems the industry has with inclusion by looking more at the aggregate than the specific.

I was making the wrong arguments…

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe those things, but as I actually open my eyes and pay more attention, and in light of some of the truly abhorrent events of the past weeks, I can see just how much this argument truly does not matter. Not right now. There is no point in debating the topic at that nuts and bolts level when the peanut gallery can’t even agree that it should be out of bounds to threaten the bodies, lives, and families of women who dare to have publicly-expressed opinions about gaming.

I was naïve as to how bad it can truly get. There is no other word for it. Sure, we’ve all seen horrifically moronic, hate-filled comments posted beneath all manner of articles on all manner of subjects. It’s disgusting and depressing, but that is nothing new and we’ve largely managed to get by in growing a thicker skin and understanding that words only hold as much power as we give them. But that attitude can only take you so far. There are lines being crossed that go beyond sticks and stones. There aren’t words to describe this…

FemFreqHarassment

That’s from Anita Sarkeesian’s tumbler. That hate is coming her way for what reason? Because she had the unmitigated gall to create some thorough, professionally produced, and thought-provoking work on Women as Tropes in gaming. Work that was crowd-funded in a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that rose to six figures against goal of just $6k. (I’ve embedded the first two parts of the most recent set, Women as Background Decoration, at the end of this post. You don’t have to agree with every example used in these videos to understand the accuracy of the broader point and these videos are required viewing if you want to even begin to form an opinion on this topic.)

This harassment isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. At best it’s a few steps from the base. The tip is where people, decent people who are getting by doing the best work they can in and industry they want to love,  are having personal accounts hacked and publicized, the accounts of friends and family members hacked and publicized, having their home addresses published alongside threats to their lives. It’s surreal. Most of you already know the most recent events, and if you don’t there are plenty of quality places to go to learn more. Try here and here if you want to get started.

So why am I writing this? What do I have to add? Unfortunately, not nearly as much as I’d like. I suppose I’m posting this in part because although I don’t specifically disagree with what I wrote before, I can’t in good conscience let that be my last word on the matter; not when I’ve come to realize that half the core argument is irrelevant. It’s minutiae that, in this climate, is not worth the page space I gave it. I mistook the forest for the trees and I regret it.

Mostly, however, I’m posting this because I want to do and say something and I don’t know what else I can do. Even standing on the distant periphery of it all, this ongoing savage injustice frustrates and saddens me on so many levels I don’t really even know how to process it. I feel impotent and less than useless in the face of it. So, however small this particular pool, it’s the most public place I have to say that I stand with the people calling for tolerance and inclusion. I support them in word and I’m going to begin supporting them by whatever other means I can, including backing their work in venues like Patreon and Kickstarter. I hope that you do as well.

This has also all been a sharp reminder that I’m raising two young children who are growing up in this world and that guiding them to be better than all of this is perhaps my most important contribution. I want my daughter to know that her dad has her back in whatever she chooses to do in life and that she’s strong enough to face down whatever or whomever would stand in her way. For my son I want very much the same, but I also want him to understand that this cacophony of Internet hate-mongers do not represent what it is to be a man. I want him to understand that empathy, patience, and tolerance are not weakness, nor are faux-bravado, intimidation, and threats strength. If you have or will have children you have a responsibility to guide them, as best you can, not to be a part of this problem. Sadly, our most realistic path to a future better than the present is to grow our way out of it.

One final note, the latest straw man from those who don’t like what these women have to say is to call them corrupt; to call the entire games journalism profession corrupt. I’ve only ever skimmed the surface of game journo circles, but I can tell you with 100% conviction these arguments are asinine. There is shoddy work out there, yes, but the notion of widespread corruption is a fallacy. Isolated examples will always exist, but don’t confuse the poor work of some with corruption. There is a difference. And what’s truly bizarre is that it’s the best, most brilliant work people out there that are, perversely, under the most severe attack. It’s that their work that, if you agree with it, needs your support in whatever way you’re able to offer it. If you don’t agree with it, at least stop and think about how you respond to it. What cause are you furthering? What message are you conveying? If you have (or someday might have) a daughter  (or son) would you want her (him) to see what you’re putting out there? If your only goal is to tear something or someone down by any means necessary then I sincerely and wholeheartedly beg of you — just back away from the keyboard and let it go.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

——

Brakketology Goes Ball’n, Gets Soaked

NBA 2k14 - VC

If you’re a JtS listener (and you should be, because we’re still awesome), you know I finally unpacked my, uh, kids’ Xbox One over the holidays. For scientific purposes, I also picked up NBA 2k14. The things I do for science.

Can I just say, right out, that for all the flack we give to EA (wholly deserved) for how ostentatiously they over-monetize their middling products, and treat their customers like drones who should just shut up an pay already, there’s not nearly enough disgust thrown 2k’s way? They’re awful. And consistently so. It’s not just an NBA 2k thing, although 2k14 is by far the most blatant, irritating, and just plain icky swindle so far. But even quality games like Civilization 5 ($5 civilizations and map packs anyone?) and XCOM ($5 to choose armor color?) are not immune.

As a gamer, I’ve lived with it because who really caress about an extra civ here and there? And $30 may suck for an expansion, but the expansions for both Civ and XCOM were extremely good. NBA 2k14, though? Yeah, Brave New World, not so much.

One of the things that used to make sports games great is that, for the longest time, you could play them the way you wanted to. Play a single season? Go ahead. Play an exhibition game? Just set up the playoffs and crown a champ? Knock yourself out. Then we got franchise modes that let us be a virtual GM and that was awesome. And we got a “be a player” type mode and those were cool too, if not particularly deep or interesting to stick with over the long haul. And let’s not forget sliders that let you tweak a game 16,000 ways from Sunday to play how you want. This isn’t all gravy, and sports games of the last 10+ years have had plenty of other things to gripe about, but ultimately, if you paid, you could at least play how you wanted to play. NBA 2k14 wants you to play how it wants you to play and if you don’t, well you can just go get f***ed, I guess.

NBA 2k14 Menu

NBA 2k14 is not a basketball game so much as it is a Virtual Coins (VC) delivery system. Basketball is merely a sideline to get you buying coins. I couldn’t begin to tell you if there’s a single season or a playoff mode in the game because the main menu doesn’t want you to spend time looking for them. It wants you in your MyPlayer or your MyGM or your MyTeam. Not coincidentally, these are the three modes in which advancement and success is almost entirely dependent on the acquisition of 2k’s not-the-least-bit-equally-distributed virtual capital.

Sure, you can earn it for free by achieving success in the game, but in fairly limited quantity that is not in any way tied to the mode you’re in. You can take VC earned in the MyGM mode and put it into your MyPlayer, for example. And it all conveniently ignores the fact that achieving success in any of these modes ultimately depends on upgrading yourself by using… you guessed it, VC! They create the drug, they manufacture and distribute the drug, and they put in place the system that makes you need the drug in the first place. 2k is a cartel at this point.

You can, if you like, download a horribly designed iOS app and get daily access to a VC lottery system that’ll net you a decent amount. That’s annoying as hell, but at least it’s free. But, and what 2k really thinks you should do, is pay $60 for their game and then go into the game and spend even more to load up your GM or your player or your MyTeam with VC so you can advanced them further, faster. It’s a classic-style F2P system without actually being F2P.

It’s ugly, it’s cynical, and it diminishes 2k14 as a basketball game; something it just so happens, the game does as well as ever. (Which is to say, it’s the best option out there, but controlling your player and his momentum is still a giant pain in the ass. Also, you guys forgot to let me skip the cut scenes.)

Under no circumstances whatsoever should you by NBA 2k14. It doesn’t matter that the new MyPlayer system, which puts you in a poorly scripted, but ultimately very entertaining rookie year journey, is easily hooked on. (It’s also very flawed. You cannot sim any games in your rookie year, for example. Again, you must play the game their way or not at all.) It doesn’t matter that the on-court visuals are insane. It doesn’t matter how good the basketball actually feels when everything is clicking (which is at least as often as not).

This is a superb basketball game, sabotaged from the inside by greed, mismanagement, and outright incompetence. Don’t buy it. If you’ve already dropped your 60-bones, you may as well play it. You’ve already taken the hit and the basketball is, as noted, very, very good. Go take your MyPlayer up against Jackson Ellis, keep your agent around because he’s a good guy, and if you get drafted by the Kings, do whatever Derrick Cousins tells you because he’s like a genuine role model and stuff.

Unless he tells you to buy some VC. He hasn’t told me to do that yet, but I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time.

Right, so how was everyone’s holiday? Good? Great! Let’s dispense with some links and forget all about this travesty.

I’m like Charlie Brown with the football. Sega took the wraps off of their next Alien game, which is coming from Total War developer Creative Assembly. And, yeah, it actually looks rather decent:

This looks how you’d want an Alien game to look. But there are so many questions. Can this mechanic hold out and remain fresh for the anticipated 10 hours of gameplay? I believe it’s doable, but in that 15-minute video we see the same three or four sections of game a couple of times each. Or maybe this tense hide-and-run mechanic gets abandoned half-way through in favor of just another shooting gallery?

I absolutely don’t believe this will be the disaster that Colonial Marines was, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an object lesson there. CM was a fiasco, no doubt, but the original teaser hit every note you’d want it to hit. It was awesome. No there was no gameplay (and we now know why), but the teaser made you feel like, “Okay, they get it and that’s step one.” Turns out they didn’t get it. At all. Fortunately this Alien game footage is much more than a teaser and it still gives off a strong “okay, they get it vibe.” Fingers cautiously crossed.

Now with 78% less nausea. The Occulus Rift is making progress:

Low persistence is a trickier beast to tackle, but it basically means the Oculus Rift has erased motion blur, allowing the player to move his head and keep his eyes fixed on one point, as humans do in reality. The Crystal Cove prototype reduces latency to 30 milliseconds from 60 milliseconds in the HD dev kit, though Oculus VR’s goal for a consumer product is 16 to 20 milliseconds.

Being able to move your head but keep your eyes fixed on a point is huge. I have done zero research to back this statement up, but I’d wager this alleviates the motion sickness problems for a wide swath of players who’ve experienced them.

Getting punked by Steam. Steam Machines have come rolling in from CES. I’ve been excited about this for some time. I’m not anymore. This is not to say I’ve checked out, but it’s all too damn nebulous. There are already more than 13 of these things. The controller is receiving, at best, faint praise based solely on future potential. The price points vary from $500 to $6,000 with most in that $1k -$2k window.

We’ve known for awhile there would be a disparity like this and I didn’t think it a problem, but now that product is imminent I’m not so sure. A) I’m not spending top of the line PC money on a console for my basement home theater, which is basically what I’d want a Steam Machine for. Okay, fine. That’s why there’s a $500 product iteration, right? Except then my mind does a funny thing — when confronted with with so many price points it looks at the expensive ones and the mean and the cheapest and says, if the mean and the cheapest are this much more than the cheap-o models, how good can the cheap-o model possibly be? That’s where my brain says, surely it must suck because this is a world in which you get what you pay for.

Five-hundred smack-a-roos is too much to spend on a convenience item that sucks. $1000+ is too much to spend on a convenience item for games that I can already play on my PC. And suddenly I’m out. I suspect this is not the reaction Valve or its partners is hoping for. Law of Unintended Consequences.

Grimrock adventuring. You probably know that Almost Human games has a Grimrock sequel in the works. Did you know they also tapped Wayside Creations to Kickstart an expansion to the world of Grimrock with an adventure game series, Legends of Grimrock? There’s still 17 days to get in on this and they’re only about half-way to their goal, so success is not a given. Obligatory promo video is obligatory:

Truth. He speaks it. The truest thing ever said about Skyrim doesn’t come from a gaming site, but from my very favoritist sports blogger.

*[I finally broke down and played Skyrim. Do not do this. Skyrim is the kind of awful that only reveals itself after you’ve set 60 hours of your life on fire listening to boring conversations and dully hacking things in the face. Their open world is beautiful and soulless, shiny on the outside but hollow in the center. Bethesda’s mechanics are hopelessly broken in every single game they make, and while being able to jump across a continent in Morrowind was charmingly broken, Skyrim’s mechanics invite you to a dull, iron-dagger-laden trudge through one moronically designed UI after another.

Better said than I’ve ever managed. I am both irked and tipping my cap at the same time.

Who needs air, anyway? FTL is getting a new playable race, the Lanius, as part of its forthcoming Advanced Edition. They really suck the air out of the room. Like, literally.

Checking on the Inquisition. Mark Darrah posted a pre-holiday blog update on the status of Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s not, you know, super informative, but there’s some cool asset images and whatnot.

Soft landings. If you miss PAR Report (as I do), you’ll be glad to know that Ben Kuchera landed safely at Polygon, where he is already writing many very Ben Kuchera-y things. Which is to say, both things I agree with and things I think are ridiculous. (Note: What I think is ridiculous is the notion that EA not explaining why they lied about the need for SimCity to be online only is somehow worse than the fact that they lied about it in the first place. We all know why they lied about it.)

World-class trolling. It looks a lot like this:

It’s also why I won’t play multiplayer games with complete strangers. Also, who are the parents of the year that let their obviously too-young kids play CoD? I haven’t seen parenting that bad since watching Frozen. (Seriously, very good movie, but the parents of the sisters were idiots.)

Brakketology Faces the Inquisition

DragonAgeInquisition

Here there be dragons. We’re jumping right in this week. There’s a 30-minute gameplay video of Dragon Age: Inquisition that has, so far, managed to survive YouTube scrutiny. It’s from Bioware presentation given to attendees at Digiexpo (whatever that is) and, for fans of the series, it’s worth taking the time to watch. Some highlights:

  • Right from the get go, they’re quick to point out that the area they’re traveling in is bigger than all of Dragon Age 2. Me thinks Bioware still feels a wee bit stung by criticism of DA2 being too small. The thing is, size and scale were never Dragon Age 2’s problem.
  • Combat does look like a meld of both of the DA games. At about 18 minutes in they show off the tactical camera, which is available in the console versions this time around. That said, it still looks a bit arcadey, though it’s impossible to say when you’re watching someone else control the action. There is also a section that shows off group tactics that feels very DA2. I’m hopeful, but this is the kind of thing you have to be hands-on to get a feel for.
  • Combat difficulty does not scale based on your character level. This is a good thing, so long as the world is designed properly.
  • Lots of emphasis on decision-making in this video. In this case, do you defend a town from vile beasties or do you stock up the nearby keep to prevent it from being lost. This element overarches the entire 30 minute demo and is very promising as your choice does appear to affect both the world at large and the members of your party. Yes, yes, appearances can be deceiving and they often are. If you skip ahead, however, to the 24-minute mark, you get a good (narrated) summary of how this particular decision can effect the world at large.
  • Speaking of the world, the 14-minute mark has a world map view that is cool for series fans as it actually shows elements of the DA-verse that we’ve only heard of so far, but not seen. I don’t think I’ve seen a map that showed more than Ferelden (and Kirkwall) and getting to see where some of the nations are in relation to each other was worth geeking out over.

I’ve embedded the video after the break, along with your usual dish of Brakketology-style musings…

Quitter! Soren Johnson, he of recently created Mohawk Games fame, wrote a terrific bit summarizing what he’s learned from 13 years of “giving up” in game development. Context:

Looking back at my post-Civ career, I compromised the games I wanted to make with what my employers were willing to fund. With Spore, that compromise meant finishing someone else’s game. With Strategy Station, that compromise meant working without a team. With Dragon Age Legends, that compromise meant turning an RPG into a social game. With Zynga, that compromise meant making my game under the shadow of indifferent management. I was giving up before I had even begun.

Go read the whole thing, but the short version is he’s done with it (the giving up) and that’s reason enough to be excited for whatever comes out of Mohawk.

The game behind the game. Speaking of having a look behind the curtain, Tyler Sigman of Darkest Dungeon, wrote up another piece for PA Report. This one is all about the gruntwork that must be done to prepare for announcing a game. This is more nuts and bolts than your usual peek back stage; doubly so because it’s for a game that’s still in development as opposed to a post-mortem. Here’s a snip discussing how they decided what to show of the game for the initial announcement:

At the time of announcement, we actually had a lot more that we could’ve shown. A working build, screen mockups and screenshots, design specs, concept art, etc. But we want a connected, involved fan base that we need to grow over the next year. We want people to bring some of their own hopes and ideas into the exchange.

We want to reserve the chance the change things. We want fans checking every week to see what’s up on FB, Twitter, darkestdungeon.com, and so on. If you blast everything out on Day 1, then the next meaningful news is only when you’ve hit some other major milestone. On the flip side, if we show too little, then people think you have An Idea and there isn’t A Game yet.

Our strategy so far has been to err on the “show little” side of the spectrum. But this is largely because the “Terror and Madness” trailer was the centerpiece of our announcement. Each week since we have been posting things, and come Kickstarter campaign time (expected Jan/Feb), we will do another huge push with lots of new reveals.

This is not an interesting concept with no real development chops behind it. These guys are pros, man. I have zero reservations about Kickstarting this game when the crowdfunding component goes live. (FYI, there’s also a quick blog update at their home site.)

You’ve got some red on you. I don’t really know anything about Redshirt (now available on Steam, GOG, and the Mac Store), but I think I should play it. The $20 price point gives me pause, but it looks hella fun. Anyone had a chance to check it out yet?

Gridiron grittyness. You know, but with cards. I’ve been a fan of Bill Harris since the days of Gone Gold and it’s been fun to read weekly updates about the odyssey that has been his endeavor to build a cool football-themed solitaire card game. The light is fast approaching from the end of the tunnel and, to that end, he’s hoping to get the game into Steam via Greenlight. So, go over there and help him out, will you? This is absolutely a game fans of Fairway Solitaire should be keeping tabs on.

Make this a movie, or at least a 30-minute short.

I want to see a full X-Men kitty squad. Wolverine should be no trouble, because, like, claws and stuff. Iceman might be tricky because if he licks himself he might start to melt. What about a Nightcrawler cat that BAMF’s up on top of someone’s head? It’s gold, Jerry. GOLD!

Brakketology Confronts the Dragon… Despairs

Excalibur Merlin

Look upon the eyes of the dragon and despair. Merlin was, of course, talking to Morgana when he said that, but he could easily have been speaking of game designer and “monetization design consultant” Ethan Levy, who wrote a piece on F2P success at Games Industry Biz. It is insightful, based on sound data, and wholly abhorrent to anyone who actually cares about games. A snippet, cherry-picked to set you against him:

When I compare Arkham Origins to Gods Among Us [ed: the F2P releases, not the “real” games], my sense as a player and a game designer is that NetherRealms has made an undoubtedly better game, but a worse free-to-play product. They have made fundamental changes that will earn them brownie points with gamers wary of free-to-play, but have a negative impact on P&L. Even more damaging is the effect of diverting resources from a top grossing, live game to build a new product. I know from firsthand experience how difficult hiring talented team members can be in a competitive space like mobile game development. But by shifting resources instead of growing the overall mobile team to support multiple games (which I assume is the case solely based on the credits) Warner Bros. has not only delivered a lower performing product, they have missed months’ worth of opportunity to add new features to Injustice that would grow player base and profitability.

I bang my anti-F2P drum on, very nearly, a weekly basis. This kind of stuff is why. These games aren’t games. Games are creative expressions and therefor are art forms. They may often be very low art, but they are creative endeavors and while there is money to be made (nor can they be made without it), you are not making great games if your primary design axiom is built on how you get players to stop in the middle of what they’re doing and fork over more money, and then do so again a session or two later (and again, and again). And that, of course, is F2P’s problem. When games are designed and built to get you coming back to the feeder bar as much as possible without getting too pissed off to abandon the title outright then they are no longer games of any substance or worth. If you eat, sleep, and breathe that business, then you’re not Satan exactly, but you are the guy who goes into the corner store to buy Satan a pack of cigarettes. (Points for you if you know where I’ve stolen that line from.)

Make us a good game, rather than a nickel and dime delivery system, and we’ll pay you for it. Speaking of real games…

Captain’s log, long-range scanners reveal Teh Awesumz! For months after FTL’s release I dropped by the FTL site/forums to see if there’s news about what it’s creators are up to. I eventually stopped. So it figures that now they pop up with not only a new, free mega-update for the PC version, but also news that an iOS version is coming (both in January). The new additions include:

Mind Control System: Temporarily turn enemies into allies. Force a boarder to repair the damage they just did, or have the enemy pilot sabotage their own helm.

Hacking System: Lockdown and disrupt enemy systems. Unique effects for each system, ranging from forcing a teleporter remove boarders to making the medbay damage instead of heal.

New Sector and Events: Our writer Tom Jubert (http://tom-jubert.blogspot.co.uk/) has returned along with special guest writer Chris Avellone (of Planescape fame), who managed to find some time for us between his work onProject Eternity and Wasteland 2. They’ve been helping us add a new sector and scatter new events throughout the rest of the game.

New Weapons and Effects: Many new weapons that take advantage of new mechanics: overcharging to increase the number of volleys, stun effects to freeze crew, and area effect targeting, to name a few.

And more systems, drones, augments, enemy ships, enemy layouts, and hostile environments. All of which we’ll be sure to talk about more in the coming weeks!

Picture the free-to-play version of this game and think about how awful it would be. I can see it now; in the middle of a pitched battle, FTL sticks out its hand to ask you for real world money if you want to upgrade your ship’s armor or put out that fire in the med-bay. Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?

Well crap. I have Enemy Within loaded up on my PC, but haven’t gotten into it yet. I’ve been concern-trolling for months, however, that the whole national panic level versus satellites versus adequate funds balance was at risk of tipping straight over because of all the extra stuff in the expansion; if, that is, Firaxis didn’t go through and thoroughly re-balance the thing. Based on Alec Meer’s review of the expansion it doesn’t sound like they did:

I’ve said this before, but I think the need for rapid, expensive and slow satellite coverage is the weakest part of XCOM. It requires too much, and obtaining those things is too convoluted

It’s deeply illogical, it involves dependency upon dependency upon dependency, and it means that not prioritising satellites over everything else early in the game can lead to an inescapable early game-over later on. This is due to the still-aggravating fact you’re not allowed to carry out all Terror missions when they come up, but instead must choose one of three, and thus have no choice but to increase panic in not just the nations whose missions you couldn’t do, but every nation in the same continent. Too much panic means a nation drops out of funding you, and as well as this limiting your teching up, if enough nations drop out it’s game over. A mess, and not a hot one at that.

So yes, the new upgrades do complicate that fudged system further, but not dramatically – just be mindful that your resources will be stretched more thinly, and try to concentrate on getting more satellites up before you succumb to the temptation of super-soldiers.

Now, to provide full context, Meer clearly doesn’t think it’s a deal-breaker for the expansion, which he’s largely positive on. (This is understatement, it’s a very positive review.) To me, this isn’t a killer, but it remains very worrisome. The satellite/terror level stuff is the weakest part of the game from a conception/implementation standpoint and if there’s nothing there to make it work better and smarter, that’s not a game-killer, necessarily, but it is disappointing.

New recipe, same ingredients. Also, as long as I’m pimping Mr. Meer’s work so slovenly, be sure to check out his review of Burial at Sea Part 1 (of 2), the Bioshock Ininite DLC. Well worth the read. I’ll get to that at some point, but I already wish it didn’t feature more of this:

But as with Columbia, the problem is the attempt to have the monsters co-exist with the men and women of a supposedly functioning city. Infinite’s approach was to simply clear the stage of non-violent life whenever weapons were wielded – a clean switch for sure, and some have defended it as an open admission that the place was consciously a theme park rather than a community, but for me it meant great dissonance. Where is everyone going to? How can the people in this part of the city be so content and unworried when two minutes away there are crazy bastards and open conflict everywhere?

Sadly, Burial At Sea’s long-awaited demonstration of Rapture at its opulent peak pulls the same trick; whether it’s one of technological necessity or deliberate design I of course do not know.

 

Banners raised. Banner Saga is coming out January 14th. Funded at 7x it’s target goal, it’s not like the game suffered for my having failed to back it, but I always meant to. It looks phenomenal. From the release date announcement:

What’s left to do? We’ll be spending an appropriate amount of time on playtesting, polish and balance. We’ve been getting help from a QA house to help us find and write bugs because the game has become both long and complex at this point. What we originally envisioned as a 6 hour game is probably closer to 15+ hours on the first playthrough, and all the branching variables and additional systems are time-consuming to test. We’ll also be playing through the game a lot to get combat balance in as good a state as we can. Lastly, you may have heard this before, but polish is the difference between a good game and a great game in our minds. Personal touches, transitions and making sure that everything is finely polished is really important to us. For example, we’ve added procedural snow, random events in travel, items in combat, an interactive world map, every godstone in the game and tons of new characters and classes.

Is this cool? It seems like it should be cool. There’s a fresh Kickstarter project, Eon Altar, that I bring up here precisely because I can’t decide if it’s the next neato idea for lovers of pen and paper RPGing or if it’s just kinda lame. Flying Helmet games is looking to sell you on the idea that in-person RPGing can be fun if we all gather ’round a tablet for a little vintagy RPG action and then use our phones to manage our characters.

Among the problems I see from watching this video: That’s not a tablet they’re on, well not in the traditional sense. That looks like a small TV/laptop screen. I could see this being cool with that and everyone else on their personal tablet sized screen. But my 10″ iPad surrounded by a bunch of dudes on their smartphones? That’s a tougher sell in my mind. Also, isn’t part of the boon of getting your buddies together around a table is that it doesn’t involve a screen? Call me a Luddite, but I don’t see my Pathfinder group going to this. Also, the DM is really, really central to this experience and that appears to be wholly missing here. Also, also, pre-generated characters, even if you can customize to your heart’s content, strikes me as counter to whole pen & paper experience.

Trust in Guido? I’ll forgive you for not knowing the name of Guido Henkel, but if you were ever a fan of the Realms of Arkania games, or if you thought Planescape: Torment was a jolly good piece of design, make a point of checking out his new project Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore.

Looks like a bit like Legends of Grimrock, only more involved, which I’m not writing off, but doesn’t make me want to jump in line with my wallet open. (I liked Grimrock as a fun notalgia trip, but it wasn’t long-lived on my PC.) Like Shroud of the Avatar, it’s not something I’ll fund, but it’s a project worth watching.

RPS 1,372, Microsoft 0. This evisceration of Microsoft’s latest, “No, we love PC gamers, we really do,” is a thing of beauty.

XB1 launch apps. There are lists everywhere. Here’s the one from Joystiq, broken down by region. Wasn’t there supposed to be an Xfinity app? What gives?

Holy shit, you guys! Marvel is creating, and delivering via Netflix, four new live-action superhero series. Those series will feature Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. Then they’ll all come together for a Defenders series. Among the many things out there in the universe that are awesome, this so totally ranks.

Speaking of Marvel, Thor 2 is a super-happy-fun-good-time. It’s not without its darker moments, and you can poke holes in it if you must, but it’s like Avengers in that it brings the joy of superheroes to the screen without resorting to god-awful, screen-winking camp. Also, Loki.

Sports journalism lives! Or at least when it comes from the pen of Grantland’s Andrew Sharp, who’s story, The Miami Dolphins and Everything That Will Never Make Sense, is well worth your reading time.

On a note only tangentially related to bullying, but wholly related to football, I’m finding it harder and harder to enjoy watching the sport. I’ve been a fan of football for over 35 years. My dad starting taking me to Michigan games at four years old (dear god is that Michigan offense awful), but the volume of data coming out about CTE and its potential to destroy the very identity of the players who participate is beyond alarming. I know these guys, at the pro level, are not forced to play and they are generally well paid, but just knowing what these guys are doing to each other out there makes enjoying the sport difficult and, in the end, that’s what will kill it.

My son doesn’t have the size or temperament for organized football, but even if he did, not in a million years would I allow him to play. With the NFL the undisputed king of American sports, it’s hard to envision a day when it’s as irrelevant to the sports landscape as boxing, but it will be. Eventually fewer and fewer parents will let their kids participate and the game’s feeder pipe will run dry, as the most gifted and talented athletes of their generations instead lend their abilities to other sports. The NFL knows this, which is why they are in tobacco-company levels of denial and cover-up.