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Brakketology Waxes Nostalgic


I was innocently strolling through my Feedly feeds a couple days ago, window shopping for things that looked interesting –things that would justify my desire to not have to, you know, be productive– when I ran across a reference to Vale having taken the wraps off their internally-developed Steam box. And then another. And then another. These are, of course, signs that an embargo just lifted.

I can name the number of times I’ve been invited to go behind the scenes to get an early look at something and then write free PR about it. It was always a fun experience just because you got to actually see stuff that only a small group is privileged to see and you got to meet people in the business (almost universally great people) that you would never ever get to meet in any other situation. Getting to sit down and have a casual conversation with someone like Fred Wester (Paradox Sofware) or a Mike Laidlaw (Bioware)? That’s awesome. Getting home and realizing you now have to try and write something unique about an experience that was exactly the same for a dozen other people who saw the same thing and are also about to write about it? Blech. Waking up and seeing them all online at the same time and then coming across the one or two utterly brilliant iterations that aren’t yours and make you feel bad about yourself as a writer? Vomit.

This is all to say that while I miss getting to have some of those experiences, I absolutely do not miss the sheer pointlessness of the work involved. It’s much better to look from afar and call attention to the stuff worthy of your attention. Which I’ll do right now…

All hands on Steam’s box. (Yes, I’m ashamed of myself for typing that.) Of the 90 kajillion pieces on the SteamBox, Sean Hollister’s write-up at The Verge deserves your lov’n eyeballs. In particular, it’s got some fascinating details on the evolution of the controller:

Originally, Valve wanted to revolutionize PC input, but it soon realized it needed to focus on a much more fundamental goal: simply getting the library of existing Steam games to work with a new controller. To do that, the company needed a way to make many PC gaming functions possible on a controller without the 104 keys a keyboard affords. Early on, the team decided to go with a touchscreen that could virtualize those keys instead of adding more buttons. “For all of Valve’s existence, we’ve been a software company, and we wanted as much as possible to have control over the input experience through software,” Coomer explains.

Then, the team decided they wanted the same kind of control over the trackball… but that proved impossible. “You can’t ship a software update to change the diameter of the ball or the mass or anything.”

From there, design evolved organically. The trackball made way for a trackpad, which could be programmed not just to emulate a mouse, but also support gesture control. One trackpad became two (and two became a giant touch surface before Valve came to its senses). Valve added tiny solenoid actuators to provide haptic feedback. The entire shape of the controller went concave so the fleshy base of a user’s thumbs wouldn’t interfere with the touchpads.

That’s a huge chunk of text, more than I’m usually comfortable quoting, but there’s a ton more at the link.

Chris Kohler’s piece at Wired is also particularly good.

And while we’re on a Steam info-orgy, there’s evidence online to suggest that they may be working on allowing Steam to function indefinitely offline, instead of just for a couple weeks. That’d be nice… if it ever actually happens.

Those other consoles. Before Valve released everyone and their brother to write everything they wanted them to about SteamBox, the issue of the day had been all about the PS4 and Xbox One’s ability to work as media servers. Sony took the first lump when they put out their FAQ, which mostly listed things the console can’t do; things they’d somehow managed to not talk about yet. This was entirely predictable. Still, the lack of DNLA support (for streaming audio/video from a networked PC) was shocking, given that the PS3 has it and its one of the console’s more redeeming features. Ben Kuchera has been killing them over it at Penny Arcade Report, culminating in this post about why having easy access to your music should matter to gamers:

Both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 used compatibility with your existing media as a selling point, and offered a variety of ways to use that content or to bring it into your gaming experience.

This is a hell of a thing to lose, and if a multiplatform release comes out that supports custom playlists on one console but not the other, that’s a serious selling point for many gamers. You can also forget about games like Audiosurf 2 that can use your own music; you’ll need to either pay for Sony’s proprietary solution or not use that feature if such games ever come to the PlayStation 4. That’s a massive bummer.

Right on cue, Microsoft comes out and says, “Hey, we love that DNLA stuff.” That sound you’re not hearing is absolutely everybody feeling irked at Sony, but not changing their PS4 pre-order.

SteamBox is looking better and better.


Drifting with the tides. The Torment team has posted their latest project update, in which they discuss the game’s alignment system: Tides. If you’re a backer or prospective buyer, this is worth digging into. It’s not so much a morality system, bur rather a representation of how your view of the world affects your actions:

Rather than focus on moral axes, the Tides look at a person’s legacy, at what they’re remembered for. They are not something people consciously strive for; very few individuals even know they exist. They are more like an invisible force (think magnetism or gravity) driven by people’s actions.

There are five Tides, and I want to walk you through each of them and then talk a little about how they’re used in the game. As you read, remember that the Tides do not care about motives or morality. Each Tide is embodied by heroes, villains, and folks just trying to do their best. The motivations of these people rarely matter; the Tides describe the legacies they leave behind. The Tides are pushed and pulled by action, not motivation.

There’s plenty more, where they detail each of the tides and how they’ll represent in the game. Very cool stuff.

It’s a dungeon, but on your desktop. A couple years ago at the E3 iteration of IndyCade, I got a look at a little dungeon-crawling RPG roguelike by the name of Desktop Dungeons. It had a playable “alpha” that I proceeded to skip in favor of holding out for the final game. I never heard about it again. Until this week. It’s freshly overhauled and it’s out tomorrow. The promo video (below) is all goofy fun and show very little, but if my memory is any indication, it’s worth taking a flyer on.

YouTube video

Adventures. In spaaaaaaaaaace! If you miss the old the Sierra Quest style adventures and want a little more isometric scifi horror in your life, check out the Kickstarter for Stasis. It looks groovy and it has a proof-of-concept demo you can check out. (I haven’t yet.)

Speaking of all things Kickstarter, Joystiq is doing a neat little feature, called Crowdfund Bookie, where they’re tracking the progress of various crowdfounded games. It’s way, way cooler than the shortlived piece I used to write here. It even has charts and graphs! (RimWorld absolutely killed their goal.)

Fear the mowhawk. Soren Johnson, he of Civilization IV fame, has built himself a new home (with a little help from Stardock). Good luck, Soren! I know you’re all about the RTS with your new project, and it sounds awesome, but maybe you’ll make me another turn-based game someday? Also, I could use a decent reliever in the OOTP league. I’ll trade you a starter for one if you also throw in the best prospect you have. Call me!

Brakketology Finds True Love


The Special Love of Human and Chordate. You may or may not have seen that Jaws: The Text Adventure has made some, er, waves this past week. It’s worth poking around a bit with your nose and then devouring whole. (You play Jaws. Hence the terrible puns.) I’ll tell you that the genius in this is not in following the path of the movie Jaws. I tried and finished at around 70% score (measured in how full you make your shark). The prize is in seeing what sorts of undocumented commands you can find. The documented commands pretty much consist of N, E, S, W (compass directions) and eat. Most everything else you have to discover for yourself. I think it’s safe to say there is no way for me to top this 0%. The command that produced this wholesome and in no way inappropriate result? While swimming innocently up to the beach I encountered a bather and issued the command: Kiss Woman.

It’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

After the break I troll JJ Abrams for his trolling of Star Trek: The Video Game, Steam decides to further complicate life, and GTA V makes bank…

He Knows Not What He Says. This? This is also gold. Possibly even platinum. During an interview with, Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness director J. J. Abrams dishes about the experience of being involved in the making of the unmitigated bomb that was Star Trek: The Video Game (43-rated at Metacritic; 2.3 for user reviews):

“The last game was obviously a big disappointment to me. We were actually involved at the very beginning of it, and then we realized that it was not going in a place where we were going to get what we wanted. So we dropped out and they continued to do it.”

J. J., I feel you, buddy. I really do. This is exactly how I felt during the last 30 minutes of Into Darkness.


Because, Why Not? Amiright? For the past week, Valve has been teasing a trio of new announcements. The second two of which don’t unveil (because, drama!) until after this post goes up, but the first is the reveal of SteamOS. Because between Microsoft, Sony, Google (Android), and Apple, we don’t have enough unique platforms for developers to focus their efforts on. From Valve:

As we’ve been working on bringing Steam to the living room, we’ve come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself.

Yes, because Steam is so awesome no other operating system can fully contain its true potential!

SteamOS combines the rock-solid architecture of Linux with a gaming experience built for the big screen. It will be available soon as a free stand-alone operating system for living room machines.

Free is good. It’s also the only chance they have of getting developers and hardware manufacturers to support it, but even then, developing for yet another platform requires money and skillsets that may not already be on hand. To make yet another port worth their time, developers will have to believe this new platform has a large audience for whom just buying the Windows version and streaming it (see later in this post) isn’t enough.

In SteamOS, we have achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing, and we’re now targeting audio performance and reductions in input latency at the operating system level. Game developers are already taking advantage of these gains as they target SteamOS for their new releases.

Yes, because the thing keeping my PC games from really maximizing their true potential has been… Windows? I know, I know. I really do. It’s more complicated than that. Yes, yes it is. But my three year old hardware plays everything I throw at it with settings very near the maximum in most cases. How much of a gain are we really going to see because of improvements in efficiency and how big a difference will it really make in games we can actually play? I am excited to be proven wrong about this. I’m also just a little tired of listening to the Gabe Newell freak out about Windows 8 and how it’s a catastrophe for gaming. I’m sorry, but if Windows 7 wasn’t a travesty for gaming, then neither is Windows 8. You can do everything just about exactly the same as you did before. Nothing I’ve tried to run in Windows 8 has failed to work just as well as it did before the walls supposedly came tumbling down. I’m not saying the OS doesn’t have its issues, but it hardly represents the ruination of gaming on the PC. Maybe with Windows 9?

Now, lest you think I’m suddenly a Valve hater (I think my record is pretty clear that I’m not). Here’s some promising stuff:

Steam is not a one-way content broadcast channel, it’s a collaborative many-to-many entertainment platform, in which each participant is a multiplier of the experience for everyone else. With SteamOS, “openness” means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they’ve been able to. Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love. SteamOS will continue to evolve, but will remain an environment designed to foster these kinds of innovation.

I’m not entirely sure I’m following all that, but the point that hardware built around this OS is fluid is a feather in the cap relative to traditional console gaming. Sony goes to their next Playstation. Microsoft goes to their next Xbox. You either upgrade and maintain multiple consoles or you vacate your existing library. A Steam-based platform (*cough*PC*cough*) doesn’t have this issue.

In-home Streaming:

You can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have – then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV!

This does address the library issue and not being able to access your current Windows/Mac library on your new SteamOSBox-thingy. I wonder what happens when I launch a game on my PC while Kyle attempts to stream it or another game onto the SteamOS console? Speaking of which…

Family Options:

The living-room is family territory. That’s great, but you don’t want to see your parents’ games in your library. Soon, families will have more control over what titles get seen by whom, and more features to allow everyone in the house to get the most out of their Steam libraries.

This is exactly the sort of flexibility I was talking about last week. Three cheers! Maybe even four. Seriously, this is win.

And then there’s the unknown:

We’re working with many of the media services you know and love. Soon we will begin bringing them online, allowing you to access your favorite music and video with Steam and SteamOS.

I just… I dunno. One of the great frustrations of media/gaming devices these days is that there’s so many platforms it becomes its own little shell game of figuring out which device or TV-connected box supports which app platforms that you actually use. HBO Go,, Netflix, Amazon Instant Watch, Pandora, Spotify, and on and on. Oh, Product X supports A, B, and C, which I care about, but not D and E which are supported on Product Y, but Product Y doesn’t have support for A and B.

I do not enjoy this. I think that, more than anything, is what irks me about Valve trying to build another new platform upon which to build content. It’s just one more potential item for an already crowded ecosystem. Granted, the In-homing Streaming at least ensures access to your full Steam catalog, but frankly, and not to sound like an Xbox One apologist, I want the box connected to my TV to do more than serve up games. If Valve can really support the best and brightest app ecosystem for getting video and music content across SteamOS then bravo. But if history is any guide, that’s a process for any wholly new platform, which this represents. I’m not sure I’m all that interested in buying in early and waiting for Most Anticipated App when there are plenty of mature platforms to choose from that already do support it and I can just keep on keeping on with Windows-based PC games.

The next year, like many before it, promises to be interesting.

Serious Bank. If you trust the numbers coming out of Take Two, Grand Theft Auto 5 has generated $1 billion in sales in it’s first couple days on the market. Billion. With a B. I get that many feel the game is brilliant and I’m not arguing for or against that. But plenty of great games do not approach that kind of number in lifetime sales. GTAV needed 48 hours or so. That’s crazy town.

Still Simming. SimCity continues to pump out expansions. The latest, Cities of Tomorrow, arrives November 12th. Not among the new features? Offline mode.

Going Out With a Yawn. Blizzard is closing its auction house. That sound you can’t hear is millions and millions of people not caring.


Brakketology is Keeping it in the Family


This week Brakketology is celebrating the mere possibility that Steam is making its Libraries sharable with family members (and a bit beyond). As Kyle and Ana begin to clamor for more and more PC time, my need to have my Steam library accessible to more than just myself will become crucial. I’m just not quite sold on the fine print yet. Also making the rounds this week, Bioware is getting interesting again, EA is very proud of all the new IP they’re working on, even if they’re not too sure what the words “new IP” are supposed to mean, there’s a Kickstarter project that you should be looking at, and Blizzard just keeps on being Blizzard. But first…

We’re Hunting Cards.  Last week Matt wrote about Card Hunter. I’ve been studiously ignoring this game because, well, that’s that I do with free-to-play games. But he got me interested, so I’ve been checking it out and it’ll be a big part of the discussion on next week’s podcast. Suffice it to say that, for a free-to-play game, it’s interesting and addictive. The tutorial sets the stage well. The sort of shameless spoofing they do of the old days of pen-and-paper role playing is well executed. It’s not insulting, nor is it particularly funny. It’s just goofy fun and I’m fine with that. Because of its F2P nature, however, I doubt it’s the kind of thing I stick with for very long. The formula, with the pizza and the resetting dungeon timers, etc. doesn’t feel punitive (yet) in terms of gouging you to pay, but it’s also very obviously designed to keep you playing just for the sake of continuing to play and pumping proverbial quarters into the slot. Had this been designed as a regular game, where I fork over $10-$15 and just get to play the best possible version of this design, beginning to end, I think it would’ve been much better than it actually is. This is what the free-to-play model does to interesting ideas — it doesn’t quite murder them in the crib, but it stunts their growth and potential beyond repair.

Defining Family in the World of Steam. With the announcement of the upcoming Family Sharing plan, Valve has apparently taken to heart the warning shot Microsoft fired across their bow with the initial plan for digital sharing on XBox One. On the surface it all sounds wonderful and simple. You can share your Steam account with up to 10 other “devices” who are family or “close friends.” And, you know, I’d love to be able to do this with my family. Kyle on my desktop playing a Steam game from my account. Me on Michelle’s laptop playing something else. Sounds awesome. But will it work this way? My Magic 8-ball, having devoured the very short FAQ says, “Outlook fuzzy, screw off and come back later.” It was grumpy, I think.

Here’s an example of what concerns me: Kyle is a wee lad who doesn’t have his own Steam account and he’s not getting one anytime soon (probably). So unless I can be logged in, as me, on more than one device (which, like, right now I can’t), then this doesn’t actually let me share access with my family now does it? Now, it’s Valve. They’ll figure this out because they’re very good at what they do. Maybe we’ll be able to create sub-accounts for our kids. Maybe it will just become about devices and what libraries they’re given access to such that they won’t care anymore if I’m logged in as the same user on each. This could all be perfect. I’m just not holding my breath quite yet.

On the unambiguously bright side, they’re adding the latter-gen Wizardry games (6-8) to the lineup, which would be a big deal if they weren’t already on GOG.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Getting More Interesting. If you care a lick about Bioware or Dragon Age you know Bioware has been engaging in an age-old game industry tradition — going on a massive promotion blitz as the game reaches one year out from being complete. It’s a dull, drab tradition, but every now and then it manages to take a title that I was only loosely interested in and turn it into something I’m genuinely looking forward to. Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw’s twopart interview with RPS does exactly that. In the first part he talks about the decision to not have health automatically restored after combat.

Laidlaw: I wouldn’t say survival is the key, but it’s certainly a factor as part of that. More than anything, what I want out of it is the sense that, as a player, I need to take the game seriously and consider my actions. If enemies are largely inconsequential in the course of a fight – I recover almost instantly! – then you could consider them to be bags of experience points that you want to tackle. But as soon as you introduce the idea that health is sustaining damage, you move closer to a pen and paper experience. You move closer to the more old-school, hardcore approach to role-playing.

I’ve seen much complaining about this, and I get where it’s coming from, but I hope Bioware doesn’t cave on this one. These days every game of this type has auto-heal after combat. On some level having that feature makes sense because it can be frustrating trying to horde health potions or  illogically rest for two straight days just to survive an adventure, but the auto-heal is much too far in the wrong direction. Laidlaw labels it perfectly when he says it turns monsters and encounters into experience bags. That’s all the combat in DA 2 was. Just walking five steps and collecting your experience for yet another boring level up. Just removing auto-heal doesn’t mean this’ll change, but Laidlaw’s answer is a nod in the direction they’ve recognized the problem and that’s crucial.

Then there’s your suddenly-obligatory tithe to the greatness of Torment:

From Torment specifically? Huh. Well, I think the big thing Torment brought to the table was offering a lot of different solutions and really cool solutions to the problems you faced. Not everything was fighting. Often just being persuasive or certain stats and stuff would come across like, “Whoa! I have a wisdom of 25, so let’s just shortcut the entire ending.” I really like that kind of stuff.

We’re going to look at some more non-combat solutions, but at this point… My general rule for Inquisition is that if I don’t have it locked down, I don’t really want to talk about it. I’d rather underpromise and overdeliver. It’s a direction we’re heading in, but I don’t want to go into details on it.

I’ve been whining about the lack of non-combat skills and abilities for a long time. I complained about it in Origins (which I loved), where it was barely there, and I complained about it a whole lot more in Dragon Age 2 (not so much) in which the notion of a non-combat skill was entirely absent. Again, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one. Who knows what the end result will be, but Laidlaw actually sounds bored with the track DA and ME have collectively been taking. For the first time in a long while I’m hopeful that Bioware is once again interested in crafting the sorts of gaming experiences I want to play rather than getting stuck trying to be everything to everybody.

Kickstart The Fall. It’s been awhile since I looked at backing any Kickstarter projects, but The Fall is worth mentioning. It’s about a Dude in a suit. Except you’re not the Dude. The Dude is unconscious. You’re the suit’s AI and it’s your job to get the Dude to safety, at which point you go kaplooey. It looks simple, yet atmospheric and with a fair range of gameplay mechanics for a side-scroller. Not a bad first impression, though I’m lukewarm to the notion of it being episodic (of which three episodes are planned). On the other hand you can back the first episode for a mere $10 or all three for $20, so we’re not talking a huge investment and the goal ($17k) is wholly reasonable.

Blizzard Being Blizzard. Which is to say, totally dickish. Players of the console version don’t have to be online to play Diablo III. PC players do. Is that going to change? Of course not. Why? Because on the PC Blizzard really, really wants you to have that awesome social experience! Courtesy of Eurogamer game director Josh Mosqueira:

“Something Kevin says all the time is: Diablo plays best when you’re playing with other people. Because not a lot of people connect their consoles to the internet, that’s where the whole idea of having to get four people on the same couch playing together. That’s how we get that social aspect.

“But on PC, we really want players to feel they’re part of the bigger Blizzard and Diablo community.

I can only say that if I still cared about Diablo III (I don’t), I would be tempted to throw something heavy at Josh. Josh, can I tell you something? Just between you and me? ‘Cause I feel like we’re close. Are you listening? SOME OF US DON’T GIVE TWO F***s ABOUT YOUR COMMUNITY OR HOW YOU THINK WE SHOULD PLAY YOUR GAME!  Also, you’re full of crap. We all know why the company cutting your checks wants the PC game online only. Hint: It rhymes with… okay, it turns out nothing actually rhymes with DRM.

Ahhhh. I feel better. I’m also tempted to go buy Torchlight 2 just for spite.

I’m Not Sure New IP Means What You Think it Means. In a September 6th interview, EA’s Games Chief, Patrick Soderlund, told The Market for Computer & Video Games (MCV) something that anyone tired of boring sequel after boring sequel something that should sound like music to their ears:

“We have six to eight completely new IPs in the works. The day we stop making new IP is when we go onto life support. We need to incubate new ideas and push creative boundaries.”

That’s fantastic news, right? A company that size should be trying some new things and I’m all aflutter just hearing the examples he gave of these new efforts, like having new Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars: Battlefront games… wait. Wut?

The thing is, I believe him when he says there are genuinely new IPs at some stage of development within EA. I mean, of course there are. But if you’re not prepared to name names that genuinely qualify as new IP, then don’t just start throwing out names like you’ve got franchise Tourette’s. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained from stuffing the ballot box. Just say, “Getting the most from our existing franchises is obviously very important to us, but so is generating new IP that can sustain us and entertain gamers long into the future. I can’t announce anything today, but at any given time we typically have upwards three to six new IP projects in the works.” Boring? You betcha. But at least you don’t come out sounding utterly ridiculous.

Inspired to Create Kerbals. If you haven’t read the story of how Kerbal Space Program came to be. Get thee hence to Joystiq and read this. I very much want this game to be done so I can play the intended experience and not just mess around in a context-free sandbox.

YouTube video

Things That Are Awesome. See above.

Steam Greenlight

Valve is taking community to a whole new level with this Greenlight business. Developers will post gameplay info (trailers, screens, descriptions) and the people will decide to, well, basically Project Greenlight it. Or not.

To quality for submission a developer must provide:

  • A square branding image (similar to a box cover) to represent the game in lists and search
  • At least one video showing off the game or presenting the concept
  • At least four screenshots or images
  • A written description of the game along with tentative system requirements

This isn’t based on a point system so it’s not like you need a certain percentage or target Kickstarter-like number to “make it” but rather this data will allow Valve to determine what is hot and what is being ignored/rejected by the community.

Valve’s comment to developers:

“We ask that you only define your game as ‘playable game’ if you have a playable build that demonstrates the gameplay mechanics and at least one level of your game. Otherwise, please classify your submission as ‘concept’ until its far enough along that the community can reasonably evaluate the mechanics, scope, and style of your game. Either way, you will probably get great feedback and a good start in building a community of fans around your game.”

For more info check out the Greenlight website.

Left 4 Dead 2 Cold Stream DLC Dated

Looks like it’s time to dust off that pipe bomb and grab your sniper rifle and hope to high Heaven that Todd is not in your survivor group. He will shoot you in the face.

Valve is preparing for an end of July release for Cold Stream, a new piece of Left 4 Dead 2 DLC. This piece of DLC contains the original Left 4 Dead campaigns as well as the Cold Stream campaign and some other features. This DLC has been in the works for a long time (over a year) which seems odd, but Valve works at Valve speed I suppose.

With the update going out at the same time (also for the PC), all of the mutations will be available at all times. This will allow players to choose to match into games playing Taannkk!, Gib Fest, or even a user created mutation like Confogl.