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What I want from Fallout 4

Jun 13 // Nic Rowen
Better stealth I'm going to take for granted that better gunplay is a given for Fallout 4. The awkward, inaccurate shooting of Fallout 3 was probably the most common complaint about it, and New Vegas' attempt to address it with a janky iron-sights system was so rough and amateurish that it felt like a hacked together mod. Fallout 4 will obviously have to do better in the guns-and-ammo category, so I'm not going to waste my breath begging for it. What I will beg for though, is better stealth design. Some of the best moments in Bethesda's games have emerged from the shadows. The Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood had the best quests in Oblivion and Skyrim, encouraging many players to roll up at least one sneaky character. I know I personally spent a huge chunk of my time in Fallout 3 trying to skulk through super-mutant camps, silently seeding the area with mines and booby traps before pulling down on some mutant and watching the chaos pop off as his buddies came running. When done well, the tension and power dynamics of stealth can provide some of the best gameplay around. Bethesda seems to know this. It includes so many quests and options in its games that encourage you to be a sneaky little jerk. So why does sneaking around feel like some after-thought, Scooby Doo bullshit? The old "crouch down and watch an icon that tells you if a raider can see you or not" routine isn't going to cut it anymore. Stealth should be more than a factor of your sneak stat and a matter of breaking line of sight. I'm really not interested in another stealth experience that allows enemies to pick you off from 50 yards away in the dark like you were holding a road flare if your sneak skill is low, or let you squat down straight in front of their shins like you're the Invisible Man if the skill is pushing 90 and above. Make stealth active, give us something to do to make us feel sneaky. Instead of making the Sneak skill and active camouflage gear the end-all-be-all of stealth, how about throwing in some active abilities to let us dynamically manipulate the enemy? They don't have to be complicated. Take a page from the Far Cry games and give players with a moderate skill investment in stealth the ability to throw a distracting rock or bullet casing to draw enemies away. Make some cubbyholes or hiding spots that only intermediate ninjas can use. Let Sneak-Kings focus down like Joel from The Last Of Us and get some "I'm super good at hearing" ghetto-SONAR ability. I'm not asking for Metal Gear Fallout: Sons of the Atom Bomb or anything here. I understand that in a game as big and complex as the Fallout games have been, you can't layer on every little system and nuance you'd like (that's what paid mods are for, am I right folks?) but I'd like to see something to make crawling around in the shadows fresh for Fallout 4. More skill checks please, but keep them quiet One of the things I love, love, LOVED about New Vegas was its focus on non-combat skills. Reaching back to the original Fallout, New Vegas went out of its way to incorporate skills like barter, repair, and science outside of their obvious (and boringly pragmatic) purposes way more than Fallout 3 did. This is without a doubt the right direction to move in and I would love to see Fallout 4 double down on the idea. I love this idea because it makes each character feel unique. My tech obsessed teenaged hacker had a much different experience in the Mojave Wasteland than my cannibalistic night stalker. Not just because she preferred to melt her worries away with a stream of molten plasma while he would literally cut to the heart of a problem; they moved through the world differently, physically and socially. She would hack into systems, open doors, appropriate security drones, all that good, typically sneaky stuff. But she was also able to use her skills as a currency, occasionally repairing broken gear or fixing otherwise unsolvable problems for people in the Wasteland. She fell in with the equally tech obsessed Brotherhood of Steel and it felt natural. My cannibal used his detailed knowledge of anatomy to occasionally work as a makeshift surgeon, appearing as a wolf in sheep's clothing to the unaware, and was invited into a cabal of secret people eaters. Each of them had opportunities and moments that were totally unique and exclusive from each other and that's amazing. That's exactly what Fallout should be about. I just don't want to know about it up front. I would love a little more subtlety and mystery when it comes to skill checks in Fallout 4. As I loved how New Vegas worked, I couldn't help but find the giant, full caps skill messages jarring. Nothing quite reminds you "oh yeah, you're playing a videogame" like a big old block of mechanical text that says something like [MEDICINE 60 REQUIRED]. Fold skill checks into the game more organically. If a player doesn't have the skill required to pull something off, don't show the option. Or, maybe show the option, but don't promise success. Let Prof. Goofus with his measly 15 points invested in repair set off a bomb when he tries to defuse it. Let someone who thinks they're a smooth talker chat their way into a slaver's pen. I know some people may prefer to know their options up front and the stats they should shoot for, but I'm a big believer in surprises and trusting the player to figure things out. Besides, if you really want to know the stat requirements for every interaction, there are always wikis and FAQs.   I can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe make it a little darker? Okay, hold on. Don't go branding me with the mark of #Darksiders2 just yet. I'm not asking for Fallout 40K edition here and I'm not saying I want some grim and dirty "realistic" depiction of a blasted out radioactive wasteland, because realism wouldn't do the game many favors. All I want to see is Bethesda even out the tone. Make the normal world a little darker and saner so the black humor and absurd moments can pop in contrast. I love the line Fallout walks, that razors edge between unimaginable despair and corny '50s sci-fi pulp. It's a difficult balance to find and while I think both Fallout 3 and New Vegas did a decent job at it, I think they could have done better. I think the problem is that neither game is willing to let you get your feet under you before piling up the silly stuff. Fallout 3 starts in a Vault isolated from the realities of the world, so I'm willing to put up with the greaser shenanigans of the Tunnel Snakes. But then the first town you come across in the real world, Megaton, is full of equally goofy shit and ridiculous people. You go from one silly place to another without a big change in tone when the game could have set you up for a gut punch by showing you a very zany life in the Vault and then plunging you into the harshness of the wastes. New Vegas starts its story by introducing you to Victor, a robotic cowboy with a TV in his chest and machine guns in his arms like a very well armed Teletubby. Again, don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a robot cowboy, but couldn't we wait five dang minutes to establish the stakes and condition of this post-apocalyptic world before saddling up on the wacky horse? When you come across a crashed alien saucer, find a settlement of pacifist super-mutants, or liberate a slave mine with Lincoln's very own rifle, it should be a hell of a moment, not business as usual in the wastes. Fallout 3 and New Vegas come at you with the bizarre and ludicrous so hard and so often that it runs the risk of losing its impact and blurring together. I'd like to see Fallout 4 avoid that if possible. Don't get rid of the black humor and ridiculous moments, just space them out a little more, or make the average day in the wastes a little more grounded so they can stand out better. Going by the very sombre trailer we've seen, I may just get my wish on this one. How about you? What are you looking forward to in Fallout 4? What kind of perks do you want to see? What kind of companions? How much are you hoping all these rumors about a voiced protagonist and a very focused main-plot with a mandatory male character are black and filthy lies? I know I am! Hopefully we'll find out more at Bethesda's big event tomorrow. Then we can either sing the praises or count our dead.
Fallout 4 wishlist photo
We'll find out soon enough
I'm a huge Fallout nerd. I can wax poetic about the Fallout games and how much they mean to me all day (I've done it before), so to say I'm looking forward to what Bethesda does with Fallout 4 is a little bit of an understatement. I do have some requests though. A wish list of things I would personally like to see in the next installment.  

Rain World photo
Rain World

New Rain World footage justifies the title


Those poor Slugcats
Jun 13
// Nic Rowen
I melt every time I see a new set of gifs for Rain World or even a picture of a Slugcat. But for all my cooing and fawning, I have to admit I don't really know much about the game. Other than the exploration and puzzle ...
Transformers: Devasation photo
Transformers: Devasation

Cel-shaded Transformers: Devastation is nailing the look


One must fall for these screens
Jun 13
// Nic Rowen
A new Transformers game from Activision, Transformers: Devastation, has been leaked in the lead up to E3, and damn if it doesn't look like an 80's cartoon come to life. Someone better call Cosimano, I think he'll be excited. ...
Dota 2 Reborn photo
Dota 2 Reborn

Valve announces Dota 2 Reborn, new engine, new UI, less frustration


Heroes never die, they just respawn
Jun 13
// Nic Rowen
Valve has announced a massive update for their mind bogglingly popular MOBA, Dota 2. Dota 2 Reborn will be a top-to-bottom overhaul, reworking and tweaking just about every aspect of the game. Chief among these changes is a b...
Platinum tease photo
Platinum tease

Platinum teasing continues with a Vanquish screenshot


Don't joke about these things
Jun 11
// Nic Rowen
Earlier this week Platinum Games said it'd have an unannounced game to show off at E3. Then it goes and drops this little tweet earlier today. Platinum? Ok, listen -- do not mess with me about this. Don't go and tee up a pos...
Reinhardt photo
Reinhardt

Overwatch adds a robotic knight to its roster


Go team silver foxes
Jun 11
// Nic Rowen
Well, Steven asked for more old men and Overwatch delivered. Reinhardt, the latest character to receive a personal sizzle reel, is a 61-year-old self-styled knight who fights evil by encasing himself in a robotic suit of arm...
Deathwing photo
Deathwing

What righteous fury looks like in Space Hulk: Deathwing


Exterminate the heretics
Jun 09
// Nic Rowen
I've been interested in Space Hulk: Deathwing ever since they put out that trailer with the groovy music from Kadebostany a few months back. Today, Streum On Studio (the same team who brought us the wonderfully strange E.Y.E....

In a better world, these games exist

Jun 06 // Nic Rowen
Street Fighter vs Mortal Kombat Released on the Dreamcast in 2002 to belatedly settle the fighting game rivalry that defined the 90's arcade scene, Street Fighter vs Mortal Kombat remains a legend in the fighting game community. Still considered the finest example of 2D sprite art and animation from its era, the silky smooth and obsessively detailed characters of SF vs MK set an impossible bar to follow. The almost decadent use of special purpose one-off animations and frames only adds to the visual splendor. Vega's sublimely gory “Shadowloo Slicer” fatality still elicits screams from the audience at EVO. As fierce as the fighting between the World Warriors and the forces of Outworld got, the battle behind the scenes is said to have been even bloodier; a runaway budget, arguments over almost every aspect of the design, and frequent shouting matches characterized the prolonged five year development cycle. Despite the astounding success and popularity of the title, a sequel has never been attempted. Ed Boon and Yoshinori Ono refuse to even speak to each other to this day for reasons neither of them will discuss. The licensing snake-pit of copyrights and legal redtape has prevented any other ports or remakes from ever being produced, spurring a cottage industry of Dreamcast re-sales and custom made fightsticks for the console, supported almost entirely by SF vs MK's diehard audience. Alan Wake: The Fear That Gives Men Wings One has to imagine the lengths Sam Lake and his team at Remedy had to go to to protect their secret, their lips held firmly tight, unable to tell anyone what they were really up to. Keeping things under wraps despite the kind of scrutiny placed on what would be the flagship launch title for the Xbox One. The kind of pressure they must have been under to tease even a bit of what they had up their sleeves. But, somehow they managed it, and the fourth wall shattering reveal of Max Payne as a playable character in the second act of the game will go down in history as one of the most surprising and surreal moments in gaming history. Max is every bit as cynical and bitter as ever. But this time he isn't raging against an indifferent and unfair universe with a vague sense of living a cliché. This time he can direct his anger against the very man who wrote the script of his sorry fate. The scene where he crushes Alan's writing hand with the butt of his pistol is almost unbearable to watch. Reportedly, Sam Lake spent the night of the launch locked in his office suffering an intense panic attack, a crisis of artistic confidence. He spent the last five years of his life calculating this surprise, this single plot twist. If the game failed it wouldn't just be the end of his career, it would end his self-image as an artist and writer. Hideo Kojima, no stranger to pulling a controversial character rope-a-dope called him that night and consoled him in his hour of need. From that experience, the two men formed a bond that eventually led to them collaborating on Snatcher 2, another smash success. City of Heroes: Issue 25 “Messages from a world ending” In the waning days of City of Heroes' lifespan, most of the development and design talent in Paragon Studios carefully made their exit to greener pastures. As everyone else was jumping off, one man climbed aboard the sinking ship to take over as lead designer. There would be no budget, a small (and rapidly shrinking) team to work with, and low expectations from fans and critics already aware of Paragon City's impending doom. He was supposed to be just folding up the socks and towels, putting the game to bed. Instead, Austin Grossman created one of the most memorable final chapters to an MMO ever seen. Relying on his background as a writer, Grossman set out to recast the tone of CoH to better fit the looming ennui of a world coming to an end. CoH's final storylines were not the Silver Age dust-ups that characterized most of the game's lifespan. Instead, Grossman wrote introspective questlines laced with sharp humor about heroes and villains looking inward. What compels someone to point a laser at the moon? What drives someone else to put on a cape and jump in front of that laser? And who gives a shit about the moon anyway? Couldn't these miracle men born of science and magic be doing something better with their lives and isn't this all a little bit silly and embarrassing when you step back from it? With no money to craft new areas or other big gameplay draws, Grossman had to get clever to generate new content. Flipping the familiar Giant Monster concept on its head, instead of creating new and impressive Godzilla-esque monster for players to rally against, he instead turned a single random player into an unstoppable force of destruction. An artifact known as Mournblade, a cursed black sword, would be “gifted” to a player once a month, immediately giving them an exponential boost to their stats, constantly depleting health that could only be regenerated by killing with the sword, and flagging them as a PvP target no matter what zone they were in. When the player fell, the next nearest player would inherit the blade, and the carnage would continue until a heroic sacrifice was made -- the deletion of the character currently holding the blade. In the final hours of the game's life one lone hero remained, wielding the Mournblade against a cataclysmic invasion of blatantly overpowered alien invaders. The beauty and value of struggling against inevitable darkness was CoH's final message. A fitting tribute for the beloved and fondly remembered MMO. Springfield Rockstar has always played it's cards close to it's chest but no one could have guessed that the schoolyard based Bully was a testbed for a much more ambitious project several years in the making. When Rockstar announced it's partnership with Fox to make an open-world Simpson's game where nearly every single NPC in the game was a known and beloved Simpsons cast member, the response was a mixture of unbridled excitement and raised eyebrows. Those eyebrows stayed raised as Rockstar made design choices so bold they bordered on absurd. Rather than make Bart or any of the other predictable Simpson family members the protagonists, Rockstar reached back to its tradition with mute characters and allowed players to make their own avatar, a recent transfer student to Springfield Elementary known only as “The Kid.” The game was structured similar to GTA and Bully, but with a Simpsons twist with “The Kid” taking on all kinds of missions from notable Springfield residents. Hijinks ranging from helping Comic Book Guy try to woo a regular customer (it ends poorly), to covering up an accident at the nuclear plant for Mr. Burns (it ends poorly), to trying to elevate Bumblebee Man's stature as an actor (you guessed it, it ends poorly). 400 hours of dialog, quips and jokes make Springfield a real, living place filled with the characters you know and love. Most precious of all, though, were the inclusion of previously unused and forgotten recorded performances from the late Phil Hartman, allowing a final farewell for beloved characters such as Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure. [embed]293426:58849:0[/embed] Those are games I see when I close my eyes at night. Games that I know could never have existed for a number of perfectly sound reasons, but still can't shake the feeling that we should have had them. Do you have any games like this? Titles that stick in your imagination and make you wish things had happened differently?
Dream games photo
All great ideas go to Heaven
Silent Hills was a dream game. Specifically, it was my dream game. If you asked me before P.T. crept onto the PSN servers what series I'd most like to see rejuvenated in a bold new way, I would have probably told you Silent H...

MWO update photo
MWO update

Mechwarrior Online retools its MechLab again


Hold the phone, NEW MENUS!?
Jun 05
// Nic Rowen
Have you seen a commercial where a company basically throws its last product or several years of service under the bus to promote its new stuff? Like those bizarre ads for Domino's Pizza a few years ago which basically boiled...

Review: Shooter

Jun 02 // Nic Rowen
Shooter (Book)Released: June 2, 2015MSRP: $5.00 Shooter is a collection of essays from recognizable names in game criticism speaking on a wide range of topics related to games that involve some kind of gunplay. Some chapters take a deep dive into the mechanical and technical details that make shooters what they are. Steven Wright's “The Joys of Projectiles: What We've Forgotten About Doom” for example, laments the rise of “realistic” modern shooters and how their largely interchangeable hitscan assault rifles have abandoned many of the mechanics that made early FPS games so pleasurable and skill testing. Others are more personal, such as Gita Jackson's touching reflection on how Counter-Strike could be seen as a microcosm of the (seemingly one-sided from her self-deprecating perspective) sibling rivalry she shared with her brother. Shooter strikes a great balance, it never gets so bogged down in technical minutia that it feels like a lecture in game design, but has enough mechanical grounding that it doesn't just become a series of anecdotes either. The games Shooter examines are varied and numerous. Of course genre forebears and trendsetters like Doom, Half-Life and Call of Duty are discussed as you would expect, but there is plenty of attention paid to less bombastically popular titles as well. Genre-defying shooters like Red Orchestra 2 with its brutally unforgiving depiction of realistic combat, and the insidious darkness of Far Cry 2, which sets aside the typical rationales for heroic violence to make the player complicit in something unsettling, get entire chapters dedicated to them. It's a great technique. By examining the few games that step outside of the bounds of typical FPS conventions and power fantasy dynamics and figuring out why they feel so different, it is easier to pinpoint the standard tropes and expectations of the genre that have become so ubiquitous that they are nearly invisible. Perhaps the greatest praise I can give to Shooter is that it made me reexamine and reflect on my feelings about a few games. When a piece of criticism grabs you by the collar and demands you take a second look at something, you know its doing it's job right. Filipe Salgado's chapter on the intentional ugliness and barely contained chaos of Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days almost made me want to play through the game again with a fresh set of eyes -- eyes more willing to see past the clunky mechanics and thoroughly unlikable protagonists to scan for deeper meaning. Almost anyway (this is still Dog Days we're talking about). At its best, Shooter feels like a lively conversation with some very smart people who enjoy, but expect more from, their trigger happy games. Its snappy, intelligent, and occasionally funny. At it's worst, the book veers into the pretentious. At times, it feels less like a conversation and more like an awkward dinner party dominated by a lecturing windbag everyone is too polite to interrupt. Thankfully these rough patches are few and far between. The rest of the book is well worth putting up with the occasional eye-rolling turn of phrase. Mostly though, Shooter feels important. The industry needs more “capital C” Criticism to unravel the subtext and ideas behind the games we love. Games mean something. They impart messages, communicate ideas, either by conscious choice on the part of their developers or by the assumptions they make -- the casual omissions and things taken for granted. We have to start examining these ideas in a mature, intelligent, and yes, academic way. Shooter isn't the first example of this kind of criticism in games writing of course; there have certainly been other books written, and articles penned (on sites like Destructoid, I might add) that dive into these waters. But, it is still very much a nascent field. Video games are a young medium, and we haven't had time to establish a critical tradition like film and literature has. We need to cultivate these voices; the generation of writers that will talk about games in a serious manner in the coming decades. What better way to stake a claim in this new field than to gather a variety of exceptionally talented voices to talk about and critically examine what is generally considered gaming's dumbest, most developmentally arrested genre? The thrill of shooting a Cyber-Demon with a rocket launcher may be obvious and simple, but there is a lot to unpack when you take a closer look.
Shooter Review photo
Looking at life down the barrel of a gun
Shooters seem simple. You step into the shoes of your typical tough guy space-marine or mercenary and empty clip after clip into the faces of Nazis, or aliens, or alien-Nazis from the vaguely disembodied gun bobbing up and do...

My greatest gaming regret is never making it to one of those ridiculous BattleTech Centers

May 29 // Nic Rowen
While BattleTech Centers were a video game experience, I'd say they had more in common with a laser-tag joint than an arcade. It was a production; one part video game, one part fantasy. They'd sit you down inside an overly-complex facade of a mech cockpit they called a “battle pod,” complete with WWII bomber-style tail art and mock technical information plastered on the side. Inside were a dizzying array of peddles, throttles, joysticks, and an assortment of quasi-functional warning lights and buttons. The pod was totally enclosed, fully immersing the pilot in the fantasy of actually being in command of a giant war-machine. They'd give you a call sign, have you watch poorly acted in-universe tutorials of how the game worked (staring Jim Belushi of all people!) and print out “after action” military reports (scorecards) of your performance. Mechwarriors would play a networked multiplayer death match, piloting their giant mech against with other real live humans piloting their own mechs from separate pods. All of this in the year of our Lord 1991. It was astounding for the day. In just a few short years, they'd have the technology to allow players in different BattleTech Centers around the country play against each other, likely the first introduction to online multiplayer for many mech nuts. Again, this is in the early '90s! [embed]292997:58730:0[/embed] Even voicing the idea out loud, I have no idea how it got off the ground. It sounds like a pipe-dream. A mad fantasy scribbled down in the margins of a high school notebook during the last few minutes of a particularly boring English class. Not something real people would spend real money on. It sounds exactly like the product of one of the “wouldn't it be cool if...” head-in-the-clouds conversations I'd have with my brother when we were kids. Even at the absolute height of the franchise's popularity, I can't imagine dedicating an entire building to mechanized combat. Nowadays, The Avengers are about the most popular thing on Earth, with their combined movie franchise making more money than some national GDPs. Still, I can't imagine getting any investors jumping on board to make Iron Man Centers where you strap on some fake Tony Stark gloves and a helmet and shoot repulsor blasts at other players. It's insane. Still, BattleTech Centers happened. There was a time when you and 15 or more friends could pile into a couple of vans, drive to a BattleTech Center, and spend the afternoon recreating the 4th Succession Wars of the early 3000s from the comfort of your personal cockpit -- and I fucking missed it. Nothing gold can stay. As the popularity of BattleTech as a whole began to wane, and the general market shifted away from arcades in favor of home consoles, BattleTech Centers around the world began shuttering their cockpits. There were reattempts at the idea. BattleTech: Firestorm came out in early 2000s with improved Tesla 2 cockpits (capable of “Advanced Mission Mode” which actually turned on all of the extra switches and controls in the cockpit, changing them from a cute cosmetic affectation to necessary instruments). But despite a small hardcore audience of enthusiasts, battle pods are on the brink of extinction. There are a few places still running BattleTech pods, but they are scattered throughout the country and operate on a much smaller scale. A few half-functioning pods tucked in the back of an arcade at a Go-Kart track in New Mexico. A small mech cache in Houston that is only open on occasional weekends or by appointment. Or the Fallout Shelter Arcade's wandering BattleTech exhibition that travels between conventions and events, dropping pods in the middle of a show floor for curious attendees. Even with these last few preservationists, the clock is ticking. The machines are getting older, spare parts and the knowledge to repair them increasingly scarce. Soon, the few remaining pods around may suffer the “lostech” fate that befell the advanced Star League technology of the BattleTech series (an end that is deeply depressing to the part of me that still wants to climb into a cockpit, and bizarrely exhilarating to the part of me that is a bone-deep MechWarrior nerd). Look, I know these centers are dead for a reason. I get that they were cheesy as hell even when they were new. I know the games probably haven't held up. The once quasi-mystical LAN multiplayer experience is completely unnecessary these days and there are any number of better mech games and pilot sims to spend your time on. [embed]292997:58731:0[/embed] But good lord, I just would have loved to have gone to one back in their heyday. Just the idea of dragging a few of my friends and family (who aren't obsessed with giant robots) to one of those centers puts a smile in my heart. Sitting through the terrible videos, climbing into one of those big fake cockpits, it's just the right blend of something I would enjoy both ironically and completely sincerely. Of course I would immediately switch it to the so-called Advanced Mission Mode and spend most of the time flailing about trying to figure out the controls and basically waste the opportunity. I know myself, I'm exactly that kind of jerk. I guess I should start planning a road-trip to catch up with one of the few remaining clutches of pods scattered around the country. The big, silly BattleTech Centers of yesterday are gone, and I'll never get the chance to go to one, but their legacy is still around -- at least for now. I don't want to add another regret to the pile. 
BattleTech Centers photo
They'll never bury me in my robot
I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of in my life. I've made a lot of mistakes, missed some opportunities that still feel like a cavity in my heart, know that I've done wrong. But if I'm being honest? My number one regret...

Darkest Dungeon update photo
Darkest Dungeon update

Darkest Dungeon update adds two new characters, fresh terror


So good I almost had a heart attack
May 29
// Nic Rowen
Darkest Dungeon is my jam. I've been playing the hell out of the early access build and while I've had an absolute blast, I was reaching the bottom of the barrel in terms of current content. So it should come as no surprise t...

Fighting games and roguelikes are my personal school of hard knocks

May 26 // Nic Rowen
Titles like The Binding of Isaac, FTL, Nuclear Throne and (my latest obsession) Darkest Dungeon make it their business to stymie and frustrate your futile attempts to get to the credits screen. They delight in throwing a wrench into the works, tearing apart promising looking runs or dungeon crawls with a few merciless rolls of the RNG. They move around the win conditions and goalposts from the traditional idea of “I gotta get to the end and dunk on the last boss!” to “oh God, please just let me survive a little longer this time.” Victory isn't just marked by, well, victory, but by discovery and learning. Seeing a new enemy, figuring out a new trick or strategy, and learning to avoid whatever awful thing killed you last time. Those small successes are what dubs a run a win. It's tough to turn that switch that demands progression off in your brain. It has been dutifully conditioned by years of games where victory is the expected outcome. But it's those wild unfair swings in a roguelike that completely mess you up that makes them so satisfying. The emotional roller-coaster of suddenly losing a beloved party member, or picking up an item that completely gimps your current build, or getting screwed by a few unlucky rolls that leave you facing almost certain doom. These factors that push you out of your comfort zone and force you to come up with new strategies broaden your horizons, you have to think about the game and really consider all of your options rather than relying on one or two recipes for success. Those runs that truly are hopeless? Well, they just let you appreciate the good ones a little more. It took me a long time to realize it, but fighting games are much the same when you get right down to it. While you always want to win a fight, just adding more notches to your W/L ratio isn't, and shouldn't be, the goal. What you really should be aiming for is learning. When Street Fighter IV came out, I was very hot-to-trot for some online play. I remembered dominating at SFII in grade school, all the hours I sunk into collecting every ending in Alpha 3 on the PS1, the times I used to rush through Marvel Super Heroes on one quarter in the arcade. I thought I was good at fighting games, and was looking forward to a chance to prove it. I swagged online like I was O'Hara from Enter the Dragon, obnoxiously breaking boards in front of Bruce Lee like it meant something. My fights ended up going about as well as his did -- Boards, and CPU opponents, don't hit back like the real deal. [embed]292757:58670:0[/embed] I'll be completely honest, I almost quit playing fighting games at that point. Nobody likes to lose, especially when you're losing at something that used to be a point of pride for yourself. Thankfully, despite its rough and tumble exterior, the fighting game community actually has a great attitude about these things. EVERYBODY loses. It's what you take away from those losses and how you come back from them that defines you as a player. Shortly after SFIV came out, I was introduced to David Sirlin's Playing to Win, a book that is all about the philosophy of fighting games and is as close to a bible for the fighting game community that exists. I remember when I first read it I distinctly thought “this guy is an asshole.” Playing to Win can be a very abrasive read if you come from a background of playing fighting games for fun. If you ever thought your next door neighbor was cheap for constantly sweeping in Mortal Kombat 2, or angrily called someone a “spammer” for repeatedly tossing out fireballs from across the screen, or think there is such as thing as too many throws in one round (a philosophy I can no longer recognize except in direct reverse), Sirlin's opinions will probably rub you the wrong way. These self-imposed rules and ideas about how the game should be played are the foundation for what he considers a “scrub mentality,” a mental framework that will always limit how far you can go in fighting games, and ultimately, how much joy you can derive from them. Embarrassingly, I saw a lot of that “scrub mentality” in myself. The way I'd get angry at “coward” Guile players for tossing endless sonic booms, or frustrated with people constantly choosing the blatantly over-powered emperor of Muay Thai, Sagat, for easy wins. But when you stop looking at what other players are doing as “cheap,” and start looking at your losses as learning experiences rather than straight out defeats, a lot of that frustration evaporates. It takes real effort and time, but when you internalize that outlook, fighting games become less stressful, more enjoyable, and infinitely more beautiful. Of course people are going to throw sonic booms as Guile, he's a machine made by the Air Force to do exactly that. It may be true that Sagat (or whatever character) is over-powered and easier to win with and disproportionally popular as a result, but how can you blame people for making a choice that will tip the odds in their favor? You have that choice and opportunity too, and if you decide to stick with a different character you'll just have to make peace with the fact that you'll run into tough matches and try and develop a strategy to deal with them. You can either get frustrated, stomp around, and quit/uninstall the game forever, or you can thicken your skin. Learn how to roll with the punches, and take something away from the mistake. Either figure out ways to avoid it in the future, or come to peace with the idea that sometimes things are out of your control. These are not new concepts, ideally we should always be trying to find the positive side to a set-back or learn from a mistake. But to me, at least, nothing else crystallizes the idea of learning from a loss into a rock hard truth than pitiless rougelikes and fighting games. And after spending so many years immersed in both genres, I like to think that I've been able to take those lessons and apply them to other areas of my life. It's not always easy, and I won't claim to be some kind of Zen master who never gets frustrated, but I know I'm definitely a more patient person now than I was five years ago.
Learning from failure photo
Learning from my (many) failures
The last few years of games for me have been all about defeat. Constant, unending, expected defeat. I think I'm better for it. It wasn't always like that. In fact, for most of my life, games have been all about completion, vi...

LoL bans photo
LoL bans

League of Legends debuts near-instant punishment system for toxic players


Quick draw on the ban hammer
May 25
// Nic Rowen
Just this weekend I was chatting with a friend of mine who told me he recently quit LoL after several years of playing because he just couldn't put up with the scumlords and jerkbags that seem to make up a large portion of th...
Witcher 3 bears photo
Witcher 3 bears

Bears Vs Cyclopes in the Witcher 3


Whoever wins, we lose
May 24
// Nic Rowen
Despite the positive reviews (such as the one by our very own Chris Carter) I've been hesitant to jump into The Witcher 3. It sounds great, but with a potential run time clocking in at 100 hours and up, I don't want to buy a...
Rock Band 4 trailer photo
Rock Band 4 trailer

Live-action Rock Band 4 trailer looking for bodies


Take it on the road
May 20
// Nic Rowen
Are you a Rock Band fan living in the Seattle area with nothing to do for the next few days? Do you mind standing around bored stiff for hours on end while gaffers, grips, and roadies endlessly disassemble and reassemble sets...
H1Z1 cheaters photo
H1Z1 cheaters

Daybreak bans thousands of H1Z1 cheaters


Boo hoo, you're breaking my heart
May 19
// Nic Rowen
Nearly 25000 cheaters just got the permanent boot from H1Z1. According to Daybreak president John Smedley's Twitter, the purge targeted cheaters using ESP hacks, a cheat designed to reveal other player's location and status a...
Nuclear Throne teaser photo
Nuclear Throne teaser

Amazing Nuclear Throne teaser inspired by Doom 4


Fish can lol
May 18
// Nic Rowen
Rami Ismail of Vlambeer was inspired by today's super hot, extra informative Doom 4 teaser to whip up a little something for Nuclear Throne. This tantalizing glimpse of the frenetic early access title (that you can play right now) is a conundrum wrapped in a riddle. I know I'll be spending the rest of the day breaking apart this teaser frame by frame and comparing my findings on reddit.
Silent Hills fan trailer photo
Silent Hills fan trailer

Torture yourself with this fan-made trailer for Silent Hills


Wear your headphones
May 14
// Nic Rowen
I still can't get over the cancellation of Silent Hills, and this fan-made trailer from GLS Machinima isn't helping. It's a short clip and was made a few months ago, but its more than Konami seems interested in giving us and...

Early Access Review: Black Mesa

May 10 // Nic Rowen
Black Mesa (PC)Developer: Crowbar CollectivePublisher: Crowbar CollectiveReleased: May 5, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Now that I've had a chance to replay the original (selectively edited) Half-Life through the incredible reproduction effort of Black Mesa (which had its first part released roughly three years ago), I'm not sure that choice was so wrong. In the end I think I broke even. Half-Life was a monumental game that will always be rightfully remembered as a masterpiece for its time, but its probably not as fun as you remember it (headshots on the other hand are, and forever will be, a timeless source of joy). First thing's first, the Crowbar Collective has done an astounding job of dragging Half-Life into the modern age. This is not a mere port like Half-Life Source which used all the same assets as the original with a bit of spit and polish added in the form of a higher resolution and some dynamic lighting. Black Mesa is a remake, built from the ground up to fully realize the vision of what Half-Life could be on modern machines. More than a straight remake, the Crowbar Collective has played with the nuts and bolts of the game. Black Mesa rebuilds, trims, and expands different parts of the original for a smoother experience, while still staying true to what fundamentally made Half-Life what it was. There are new puzzles to work through, new and expanded areas to explore, and the availability of ammo and supplies has been bumped and nudged by a team that has spent ages agonizing over the pacing of the game. Action scenes are frantic and aggressive, with plenty of ammo doled out to deal with the additional enemies and larger set-pieces provided by Black Mesa. But when the action slows down and Gordon is guided towards evasion and caution, supplies dip to an almost survival horror level of scarcity. The push and pull of tension and action, going from a rat in the walls to a one-man army was one of the most intriguing things about Half-Life, and Black Mesa nails it better than the original. Some areas like the On A Rail sequence that infamously overstayed its welcome in the original, benefit from editing. Sometimes more isn't always better and Black Mesa makes some smart cuts getting rid of the fluffier and more frustrating aspects of the original. All of the edits are an improvement to the game. In fact, I'd say they could have probably brandished the razor around a bit more. Maybe we were just more tolerant of rampant amounts of bullshit back in 1998. Or, I suspect our memories of Half-Life benefit from a healthy helping of nostalgia and a lofty appreciation for everything that game did for modern game design. Half-Life basically wrote the book on immersive storytelling, first person exploration and strategically minded A.I for enemies, it had to be fun, right? Kind of? There are great times to be had in Black Mesa. When the game works, you can easily tell why Half-Life is so highly regarded as a classic. But then there is a looming dark side; a great number of hours when the game stubbornly refuses to be fun. The overly long underwater sequences that have you searching about in the darkness for some nook or cranny you missed as the last of your oxygen bubbles out of your lungs. The obnoxious clunkiness of trying to just MOVE around on physics enabled debris, let alone when the game demands you try to make a specific jump or escape from a screen rattling auto-turret under those conditions. The arbitrary insta-kill traps and monsters that force you back into loading screens and more than a couple “gotcha” moments that you couldn't hope to avoid without active precognitive abilities. Even with careful editing and a mind towards evening out the pace of the original, Black Mesa still traffics in an almost unconscionable amount of backtracking and finagling. There were several sequences where the solution to the predicament I was in was so awkward and stilted that I was sure I was doing it wrong. Of particular disdain was a protracted sequence set in a waste disposal facility that merged all the “joys” of water exploration, insta-death traps, pinpoint jumping between moving conveyor belts and confusing map design into a single ultra dense black-hole of anti-fun so terribly dark and spirit crushing that I'm still not sure I fully escaped from it. Maybe I'm being tough on it, but I remember Half-Life being smarter. I remember liking its world and characters better. Maybe it's age or maybe games have just moved on, but this time around I was more exasperated than amused by the shenanigans of the Lambda research team. The game has one joke -- you wander up to some poindexter in a lab coat, he says something silly/smug/abrasive, then immediately runs headlong into bullets/fire/devouring jaws (whatever option would make what he said seem more ironic). I like to imagine Freeman giving the leftover blood smear a knowing smirk each time. Granted, it's a funny goof the first two or three times it comes up, but when you're nine hours deep into the game and Professor Egghead is still predictably blundering into the crossfire, the dismemberment gets a little rote. I think its interesting that almost all of my criticism for Black Mesa is directly related to content from the original Half-Life. Every other effort is fantastic. This game looks great, especially considering its roots as a community driven mod. The soundtrack of original compositions is fucking banging. Every edit and change they made to the game was for the better. It almost makes me wish Black Mesa wasn't a remake-with-cuts of Half-Life. I wonder if the team would have been better served making their own thing, or maybe a “inspired by the events of Half-Life” complete re-imagining of the original game. The way I see it, there are two potential audiences for Black Mesa. There are the players who missed the original in its heyday because they were too young, or didn't have a PC, or thought Freeman's goatee on the box art made him look like a barista stooge, but love Valve's other games and want to check out the legendary classic that started it all. Then, you also have the true-blue fans of the original, the generation that cut their teeth on Half-Life and remember it as a wonderful and mind expanding experience who would love to recapture the joy of those heady days. I'm in the slightly uncomfortable position of telling both of those camps that they can probably take a pass on Black Mesa, even though I truly respect the work that the Crowbar Collective team has done with it. If you want to play a great Half-Life game that has aged fairly well, Half-Life 2 and its accompanying chapters are fantastic and Valve practically gives them out every Steam sale. Those games have all the best parts of the original Half-Life, while cutting out most of the chaff that bogs it down. If you didn't play Half-Life back in the day, I can't really imagine someone enjoying it as a game. Maybe as an academic curiosity, but not as a play experience. If you absolutely loved the original, you may very well find something worthwhile in Black Mesa. It really is the singular best way to play Half-Life. That said, you could also find something you don't like. A terrible truth, an awful secret, the knowledge that one of your favorite games is actually kind of a pain in the ass to play. It might be best to leave those pleasant memories as they are. There is still more Black Mesa to come; the game is in early access and right now the story concludes on a cliffhanger right before the Xen levels, where Freeman is thrust into an alien world of annoying platform jumping and floating alien bastards. The Crowbar Collective is actively working on that final chapter and plans to include it in the full release. Considering that even the most stalwart fans of the original generally concede that “the game was perfect (except for the Xen levels)” I don't think those last levels will really swing my personal opinion on the game. I will say this though, I can't wait for whatever the Crowbar Collective does next.
Black Mesa photo
Half as good as you remember
Half-Life was like a magic trick. It was a game you could show to people who weren't gamers and they'd get into it, a gateway drug. A real game (not some glorified puzzle book like Myst) that had the cinematic flair and prese...

FNAF fan film photo
FNAF fan film

Five Night at Freddy's fan film is short and creepy


Small run time, big spooks
May 08
// Nic Rowen
Horror movie trailers always give away the best bits of the film, and this fan made short for Five Nights at Freddy's by Typhoon Cinema is no exception. You've got all the greatest hits, spooky music, fuzzy security cameras,...
P.T. taken off PSN photo
P.T. taken off PSN

P.T. is no longer available for download, even if it's already in your library


Konami has gone full Flappy Bird
May 06
// Nic Rowen
If you thought the story surrounding Konami's falling out with Kojima, P.T.'s delisting off the PSN store, and the cancellation of Silent Hills couldn't get worse, I have some gross news for you. As of now, P.T. has been comp...
MK X PC improvements photo
MK X PC improvements

NetherRealm promises 'huge improvements' for the PC port of Mortal Kombat X


About bloody time
May 05
// Nic Rowen
Mortal Kombat X on PC has been like an extremely tasty looking bowl of soup that is way too hot to eat. Every time I try and take a sip, I get a mouthful of scalding molten pain (laggy, unplayable matches being the metaphoric...

What would your Silent Hill look like?

May 03 // Nic Rowen
I'm preoccupied with dementia. It runs in my family, both my grandparents have it, their parents had it, and so on. It's a terrible disease, a spiritual vampire that sucks the light and life right out of its victims while dooming them to shamble on as shadows. I've written about it before, but I tend to read into games and movies that deal with instability and uncertainty as allegorical to Alzheimer's. The darkest thoughts that creep into my mind when I can't sleep are about my own parents someday showing symptoms of the disease, or the looming threat that it may (likely) happen to me as I age. Which is why my Silent Hill would have to be a shitty, confusing, dump of a place. A maze that was always fading and rebuilding behind you, filled with asshats you don't recognize, or recognize as someone else. It couldn't not be. Silent Hill as a series has always leaned heavily on the psychological aspects of horror. Sure, there are jump scares, dark corners, and sharp rusty blades like any other horror game, but the real terror of Silent Hill has always come from within. The town, or realm, of Silent Hill is a crucible of sorts that directly confronts its visitors with whatever nasty shit they have floating around their head. It tips the subconscious over and lets all the sticky neurological puss ooze out. Out of all that guilt, anger, fear, and trauma, the city rebuilds itself into a brand new personal hell for whatever unfortunate soul happens to be trapped within it. Silent Hill 2's James Sutherland had to deal with his sexual frustration and the guilt of resenting his ailing wife. These issues physically manifested as Pyramid Head and the grotesque/sexy nurse monsters. Heather in Silent Hill 3 had to deal with her split identity as the poor, tortured Alessa and her messed-up, unstable life on the run. Shattered Memories, a reimagining of the events of the first game, finds Cheryl struggling to reconcile her idealized memories of her father with the bitter reality of their lives. Murphy Pendelton had to fight weird ghostly blow-up dolls in Downpour (still not sure what the deal with that was). Those games offered a look into the minds of their protagonists, but I bet they also crystalized some of the deepest fears and uncertainties of the creative minds on Team Silent (and the lack of that honesty is probably why the series has fallen off so hard in recent years). It's one of the reasons I'm upset that Konami took the promise of a Silent Hill headed by Kojima and del Toro and dunked it in a bucket of horse piss. With auteurs like those two at the helm, I bet Silent Hills would have let us peek behind the curtains of their psyches. I bet they would have brought their own personal fears with them to Silent Hill; they would have brought back the honesty of terror. Yes, P.T. wasn't even a demo. It was a teaser, a shadow of a reflection of what Silent Hills might have been. But when I look at the themes and ideas in P.T. and I look at del Toro and Kojima's past work, I can see connections, overlapping ideas to work they've done before. P.T. was set in a home turned into hell. It hinted at dark family trauma -- domestic abuse, fathers committing murder-suicides on their entire family (and worse). Del Toro is no stranger to those horrors, and he's blurred the lines between the unfortunately all too real and common trauma of domestic abuse and the supernatural before. I look at his movies he's directed like The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth, or as an executive producer on Mama, all of which swim in similarly murky waters. There are also glimmers of Kojima's trademark post-Cold War paranoia to be found in P.T.. The unsettling voice from the radio, constantly repeating a sequence of digits over and over like a haunted numbers station, hypnotically spurring the listener to violence. There are possible allusions to mind control and manipulation, themes found again and again in his games. YouTuber RagnarRox recently posted a video exploring links between some of P.T.'s most disturbing elements with the real-life (and extremely chilling) MKUltra experiments conducted by the C.I.A in the 1960s. It may seem out there, but the material would certainly jive with other ideas Kojima has dove into with the Metal Gear series. [embed]291456:58421:0[/embed] We have no idea of knowing exactly what Kojima and del Toro's Silent Hills would have been like, in the end. However, I look at what those two men have done before and what we saw a peek of in P.T. and I feel like I can make out its shape behind the fog. Something disturbing and vulnerable, a Silent Hill that is at once deeply, uncomfortably personal, but also shrouded in conspiracy. How could either of them resist the chance to clean out their mental cellar spaces with the psychological dust broom of Silent Hill? It makes me sad to think of what we missed out on thanks to Konami's bungling, but it also makes me curious. I wonder about what other people's version of Silent Hill would look like. If you wandered into Silent Hill and the Otherworld was being built on top of the fault lines of your psyche (or if Konami lost its shit and suddenly tossed you the reins as the next creative director of the Silent Hill series), what would it look like? What would your fears made manifest be? Maybe I'm the only one who thinks of this kind of stuff, but I'd be super interested to know what kind of Silent Hill some of our community members would create. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments, or better yet, write a blog about it. We might never see Kojima and del Toro's Silent Hills but we can still speculate on our own dreams, or in this case, nightmares. They might be all we have if Konami keeps up like it has.
Your Silent Hill photo
Konami could probably use some ideas
My Silent Hill would be a place you couldn't trust. Doors would disappear behind you the moment you turned your back, hallways and staircases would loop back in impossible ways, main streets would abruptly end or lead to a pa...

Isaac Eternal Edition photo
Isaac Eternal Edition

Binding of Isaac: Eternal Edition update is a free helping of torment


The Devil's in the patch notes
May 03
// Nic Rowen
A free update for the original Binding of Isaac has been released today for anyone who has the Wrath of the Lamb expansion. The new Eternal Edition will let you relive all of the glory of the original game's choppy flash base...
Afterbirth update photo
Afterbirth update

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth expansion to feature new transformations, ruin my life


Norman Bates chic
Apr 28
// Nic Rowen
Well I'm doomed. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth expansion, Afterbirth, is going to include a whopping eight new transformations to discover, experiment with, and obsess over. I'm already addicted to transforming into Guppy the...

The beauty and tragedy of a perfectly planned character

Apr 27 // Nic Rowen
I spent way too much time looking at screens like this. City of Heroes probably holds the dubious distinction of having the most skewed relationship in terms of “time spent planning characters VS time spent playing characters” in my life. I spent entire nights pouring over different power sets, ability combinations, and team synergies for a game that doesn't exist anymore. I devoted hours upon hours to figuring out the perfect stat progression for super villains that I knew in my heart of hearts I'd never take out of the starter area. The only crime they'd ever commit would be loitering. However, City of Heroes wasn't the only game to trigger this kind of obsessive cataloging, not by a long shot. I have a stack of character builds and ideas as thick as the Yellow Pages for Dark Souls PvP set-ups, gimmicky X-Com squads, and Darkest Dungeon dream teams. I have concept characters (complete with embarrassing back stories) sketched out for both of the modern Fallout games. All of their would-be perks, S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats, and fashionable item accessories already plotted out -- all that’s left would be to actually wander out in the wastes and find them, but who could be bothered after so much work? This goes way back, long before I had easy access to the internet where character planners and clever apps make it simple to plot these things out. Go back to the Precambrian era of high school days, dig through the fossil records of my notebooks and I'm sure you could find Diablo 2 skill trees scribbled in the margins of my English homework. The cave wall painting blueprints of a Hammerdin specced holy warrior looming above my predictable observations about MacBeth (probably, hopefully, accompanied by a cool doodle of a flying hammer crushing a zombie's skull).   When I step back and look at the sheer amount of go-nowhere ideas and try to tally up the time I've sunk into them compared to the relatively meager hours I've clocked into some of the games they're for, it dawns on me -- maybe this is kind of messed up. Maybe I've been living all wrong. Looking at it from a distance, it all seems quietly sad. I've spent more time in my head with some of these games (some of my favorite games, I might add) than I have playing them. There's a small critical voice in the back of my mind that is furious with me for squandering those hours, for not doing something more productive with the time -- both in the sense of actually playing the fucking games, and in the broader and more judgmental “what are you doing with your life?!” sense.  I have perfectly good reasons (or maybe I should call them “justifications”) for all the obsessive plotting and scheming. For one thing, there are just too many cool ideas out there and not enough time to see them through. For as much as I beat myself up for the papery death of my stillborn characters, I never really would have had the time to convert those dreams into reality even if I had the work ethic of John Henry. How long does a full play through of Diablo 2 take anyway? How many trips through Hell do you need to make to grind through the necessary experience points? If you're after a certain item set (and you know you are because you're the kind of crazy person who didn't stop reading three paragraphs ago) you'd probably need to go online to trade and wheedle your way into a full set to see it done. It's a hell of a lot more of a time investment than goofing off in English class, that's for sure. Sketching out those ideas for gimmicky Paladins and upstart Mages let me stave off the temptation to roll another character while I took my (unfortunately less imaginative) Barbarian to kick the shit out of the Prince of Lies. In a weird (insincere) way, I could even argue it helped me save time. Besides, an immaculately planned character can be satisfying in its own right. It's always good to get your intellectual hands dirty, to put your fingers into the putty of an idea, to roll it around and shape it. As far as pastimes go, you could do worse. Let's not forget all the situations where actually playing a game would be impractical. You can goof off a little at the office and play around with the Borderlands skill editor without causing much of a scene. But try and boot up your lv 30 Gunzerker at your desk just once and you'll never hear the end of it. Human Resources takes a dim view on bringing akimbo guns blazing justice to the wasteland during company hours, apparently.  Still, I look at the swollen and poorly organized folder where I dump all of my character ideas, filthy with PDF character sheets, webpage saves from online builders, .txt documents imported from PC to PC for games I'm not even sure I own anymore, and I wonder if I have a problem. I can justify all the characters I cooked up sitting in class or during lunch breaks? I know I spent just as many perfectly fine nights sitting in front of the same machine that actually displays and runs the games I was thinking about, tapping away at some poorly conceived concept character while utterly ignoring the game itself. At the same time though, I love those characters, I love those ideas. Yeah, most of them never made it out of the gate, but those characters had character. If videogames are mostly an exercise in mental stimulation, of burning off stressed out braincells and decompressing after a long shitty day, does it really matter if the satisfaction you get from them is through play or by tinkering with the ideas they present? If I could swap those hours around, gut about a quarter of that folder and take the time spent on the fantasizing about those ideas to actually playing out a few of them, would I be more satisfied? Or would it shake out to be about the same? I honestly have no idea. What I do know is that while writing this article, I did have an idea for another Dark Souls 2 character, and it's been all I could do to keep myself from drifting over to a wiki to start putting him together. There may be no hope for me.
Character building photo
I'm the man with the plan (and little else)
I've probably spent more time creating characters, builds, and dreaming up party compositions in my head than I have actually playing games. It seems odd to think of it in that way, but if I could somehow tally it all up I be...

P.T. delisting photo
P.T. delisting

You only have a few days left to be spooked by P.T.


There was a Playable Teaser here, it's gone now
Apr 25
// Nic Rowen
It's time to “shit your pants,” get off the pot, and download P.T. if you haven't already. Because come April 29, its going to disappear from the PlayStation Store.  P.T. may only be considered a demo or teas...
Roguelike Sale photo
Roguelike Sale

Surrender your will to the pitiless RNG with Steam's roguelike game sale


I wasn't doing anything with my life anyway
Apr 23
// Nic Rowen
From now until April 27, Steam is slapping a discount on a wide selection of roguelike games. You can get 20% to 80% off titles like Abyss Odyssey, Risk of Rain, Spelunky, FTL: Advanced Edition, and more. If you were ever cur...

PC Port Report: Mortal Kombat X

Apr 20 // Nic Rowen
Mortal Kombat X (PC)Developer: NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software (PC)Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentMSRP: $59.99Release Date: April 14, 2015Rig: Intel i7-920 2.70 GHz, 12GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 770 GPU When I first installed Mortal Kombat X it was unplayable. I don't mean in some sort of prissy, PC elitist "anything less than 60 FPS burns my eyes" kind of way (although you could make a strong argument that if any genre of game has the right to demand a consistent and high frame rate, it's competitive fighting games). I mean in the "this game doesn't work" way. Things went south as soon as I hit the character select screen and the fighters started drawing themselves in one painful frame at a time. Actual fighting was impossible, with the action portrayed like a garish, bloody View-Master reel. I have a fairly decent gaming PC. My processor is admittedly old, but I have plenty of RAM and a muscular GTX 770 to help it power through. I run plenty of modern multi-platform games with nary a hitch. There is no reason for Mortal Kombat X to perform this badly. My situation is far from uncommon, with mobs of flustered would-be-warriors with top-end gaming rigs complaining they were in the same bind in the Steam discussion pages. After some rooting about in support forums, I altered my settings, manually installed some drivers, and fussed about until I got the game in working -- but far from ideal -- order.  I managed to get the game running smooth enough to fart around in the practice mode and work on some combos. Even still, certain stages caused noticeable stuttering and after a few minutes the game would start to hitch and falter no matter where I fought. Oddly, when the performance dipped like this I found that performing an X-Ray move (which automatically locks the action to 30 FPS) seemed to jar the game out of it, restoring a smooth 60 FPS after the move finished (for a short while anyway). I'm about as far from a programmer as you can get, but to me this suggests the problem is less to do with system specs and more with how the game is coded. Something just isn't working right. While being able to unclog the frame rate with an X-Ray was handy during my protracted training sessions, it's also vaguely frustrating to know that a functional game is trapped somewhere inside of this rickety port job, but only accessible by jumping through hoops. Of course, the reason I spent so much time in the training mode this weekend is related to the second major problem with the PC port. The entire online component of the game was up on cinder blocks for most of the time I've played.  Online Kombat was down for the majority of weekend. Either the game would entirely refuse to access the online component, saying it couldn't retrieve my stat card (and therefore refused me entry), or it would simply leave me perpetually waiting to "find a match." Even during the periods where I was able to find regular ranked and player matches (still with large five minute plus waiting times between opponents) other features wouldn't work. The room lobby system, useful for finding similarly skilled or geographically local opponents, was up and down all weekend. Mostly down. The Faction War nonsense has been offline since I installed. Not that I thought that aspect of the game was particularly meaningful, but it's still annoying to have to wait through one more loading screen as the game fails to find the faction server and informs you of such. More annoying still, trying to view the progress of the on-going war effort locked me in an inescapable loading screen. Fun times. Of the online matches I got to play, lag seemed to be a total crapshoot. Some fights were buttery smooth like me and my opponent were shoulder to shoulder in the arcade. Others started fine but eventually de-synced and broke down. Still others were like wading through molasses from start to finish, becoming a game of chicken to see who would blink first and have the dreaded black mark of a Quitality branded upon their house. When the room feature was active, I managed to find a neighboring Toronto player and stuck through a series of humiliating, but silky, matches against a terrifying Liu Kang who outclassed me in every possible way. I worried I wouldn't find another decent online match that night and would rather face his burning fists than chance it, a fear that came to pass when he left the room (no doubt in disgust of my pathetic Kotal Kahn). A succession of smaller quibbles nip at the heels of those catastrophes. Trying to re-configure a control pad or joystick crashes the game (to turn off negative edge I had to pull every USB device out of my computer and go into the menu with the keyboard). Timed features in the Krypt are reportedly not working right. I was mildly irked to notice that the post-character-select animations (Jax slamming his fists together, Cassie snapping her gum and flipping the bird, and so on) are absent in the PC version. I suppose you could say they thought the faster loading times on the PC version would make them obsolete, but the game still drops you to a loading screen before the fight. Why not chew up those few seconds with something to look at? (I realize this is the smallest complaint of all time but this port ripped my heart out of my chest so bear with me.) Maybe this shouldn't come as a surprise. Both Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice had troubled ports with similar problems. Distressingly, many of those issues never got sorted out. With a simultaneous day and date PC release for Mortal Kombat X though, you would have hopped they would be ready to go this time. Motal Kombat X deserves better than this slipshod port. I want to believe that NetherRealm and High Voltage Software will do right by its fans and iron these problems out, that this rough first week is an unfortunate debacle. Given its track record though, part of me fears the worst. I'll be keeping an eye on this port and will post an update in a few weeks or so to see if the situation improves. As it stands now, I can't put it any plainer: do not buy this broken port of a great game. [This review is based on a retail code purchased by the reviewer, a PC review copy was not made available by the developer.]
PC Port Report: MK X photo
Never-ending Brutality
I have never played a game that I've wanted to love so badly that seems so set and determined to antagonize me than the PC port of Mortal Kombat X. In the abstract, Mortal Kombat X is a great game. The single player content i...


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