Category: Games

In An Alternate Universe…

…there is a different version of me who didn’t get fired from Stardock and will now get to work on the new Star Control game.

I wish that could have been me.

Yet Another Hero

Dan Marshall, founder / CEO / only full-time employee of Size Five Games, has stunned everybody by releasing Gun Monkeys, which has guns and monkeys and is online and lets you shoot other players.

Anyone who is familiar with Dan’s previous game Gibbage will see lots of similarities.

It’s currently on Steam for a measly $9.

Yay for getting stuff done!

Satellite Reign

The Kickstarter for Mike Diskett’s spiritual successor to Syndicate Wars, Satellite Reign, is finally up.

By the way, I love that name. It’s got a clever double meaning; first, it’s a takeoff of “Satellite Rain”, one of the most visually impressive weapons from Syndicate Wars. And second, of course, the game is about megacorporations that rule everyone by monitoring them using satellites and drones. It’s a winner.

While I enjoyed the Syndicate first-person shooter (and I know I’m apparently the only one) it will be fantastic to play a “real” Syndicate game again.

Assuming the Kickstarter succeeds. Let’s make that happen, people!

And, just in case you were wondering what Syndicate Wars was all about, here’s the video I did explaining the game.

And I just realized that Mike Diskett himself commented on that video! Squee!

More Heroes!

Wow, I can’t believe I forgot these guys. Mike Hommel and Seth Robinson are two friends of mine who I got to know better during the Indie Conversation.

They have conspired to create a game called Growtopia, which is a collaborative creative MMO on iOS and Android (Seth claims desktop versions are Coming Soon). It is apparently the business and has generated tons of sales for them, which makes me very happy. Seth wrote an excellent postmortem for it, which you can read here.

Andy Moore, who is apparently the only remaining contributor to the Conversation, also had a recent big hit with Monster Loves You. MLY is published by Dejobaan Games, one of my favorite “indie” publishers. (I still want a sequel to A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, guys.) Again, you can read a postmortem of Monster Loves You here on Gamasutra. He also took MLY to Pax and wrote up a great article on how to take your game to Pax if you’re an indie.

So, while I was unemployed and feeling sorry for myself, my friends were out doing great things! I should follow their example.

Metal Gear Solid HD Collection

With a slight bit of trepidation, I bought the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection…for the Xbox 360.

(Oh, by the way, we bought a used Xbox 360 so I’ve got that back now. Still don’t have a PS3 and I have no idea when I’ll get one.)

Now, my trepidation came from the fact that I thought the Xbox 360 version might have been hamstrung in some way due to the fact that these games are native to the PS3. It wouldn’t be the first time a cross-platform port suffered (I’m looking straight at you, Grandia II for the PS2).

I could not be more wrong. This is by far the best series of HD ports I have ever seen. The frame rate is perfectly consistent, the higher-poly models work well and most of the textures have been upgraded. The goal of the port team (Bluepoint Games) was obviously to create as faithful a port as possible. They even got Paul Eiding (who plays Colonel Campbell) back into the studio to record lines like “To access the CODEC, press the Back button” since the Xbox doesn’t have a Select button. That’s how dedicated they were to making this as smooth a transition as possible.

The only quibble comes from the fact that the control scheme changed significantly for Metal Gear Solid 3 due to the close-quarters-combat system. The CQC system relied upon “soft” and “hard” button presses on the PS3 face buttons; for instance, after grabbing someone you could softly press the attack button to interrogate them or press it all the way down to kill them. (I killed a lot of people accidentally before I figured this out.) The Xbox 360 buttons are simple switches, so a change was required – now you use the left stick button to do the same thing. Hold it down, you interrogate, tap it a few times and you kill. This change did not bug me at all.

On the other hand, there’s the problem of accidental shots. In the PS3 version of Metal Gear Solid 3, you can go into first-person mode to aim, then press the fire button to bring up your weapon. When you release the fire button, you’ll fire. But what if you decide you don’t want to fire? On the PS3, you can slowly release the button and Snake will put the gun down without firing. But again, there is no “slowly” pressing a 360 button. This was solved by using the top buttons – hold RB to go into first-person, then hold LB to bring your gun up. Then press the weapon button. Don’t want to fire? Let go of LB and you’ll lower the weapon.

Frankly I don’t like this system. It involves both hands and isn’t as intuitive as “press to aim, release to fire”. So I’ve been compensating by being very careful with my shots, which has actually made me a better player. But the workaround is there if necessary.

As for the games themselves, they are what they have always been. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a weak game, in my opinion, but I’m currently in the process of giving it another chance, like I did with Final Fantasy VIII. It’ll be interesting to see, after having played the rest of the series, if I can understand the game any better. I’ve already found myself connecting some dots I didn’t (or couldn’t) before. The game is based off the Substance version of Metal Gear Solid 2, so it includes the Snake Tales extra missions and VR training. Unfortunately, the Snake skateboarding minigame was removed, but since that was actually a completely different game using a completely different engine, I’m not surprised, and it’s not a great loss.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is still a gem of a game; less frustrating to play than its predecessor due to the ability to move the camera around while in overhead view. The storyline is great and starts the whole Metal Gear saga off with a bang. It includes one of the strongest female characters ever seen in video gaming: The Boss. I would have paid full price just for this game. And because this port is based off Subsistence, it includes the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 games as well. Unfortunately, the Snake vs Monkey minigame is gone, as is the Secret Theater. Also, the playable nightmare Snake has if you save just after he is tortured is gone, which is a shame. But, again, that was actually an alpha of a completely different game so I can see why Bluepoint might not have been able to get the rights or integrate it properly into the rest of the port.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is new to me; I’d played the demo on my PSP but found the controls clunky. When you begin the game here, you’re actually presented with three control schemes: one based on MGS4 (which I picked), one based on Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, and one based Monster Hunter, of all things. So no matter how you want to play the game, you’re covered.

The controls are tight and add even more to the CQC system than was there before. You can now chain CQC moves against multiple enemies and throw enemies into each other, stunning both. If you’ve ever seen that cutscene in Metal Gear Solid 3 where Snake uses CQC to defeat six soldiers at once, rest assured that you can now pull stuff like that in gameplay. Edit: I didn’t know this when I first wrote this article, but there is actually an achievement/trophy for chaining six CQC takedowns in a row, which is freakin’ awesome.

The plot has been fascinating so far, because at this point Snake (now Big Boss) has abandoned all ideals of fighting for a country and now fights only for what he himself believes in. He commands a mercenary group called Militaires Sans Frontières (Soldiers Without Borders). He gets sucked into a conflict in Costa Rica that turns out to be a proxy war between the CIA and the KGB, and since I’m not done with the game yet I don’t know which side he’ll pick.

It’s clear, though, that this game is more about the formation of Outer Heaven, the independent military base created by Big Boss. And this isn’t just in the story. You build Outer Heaven yourself, directing the people under your command to focus on one aspect of the base or another – do you reduce research in order to make sure wounded soldiers get better faster? Which is more important, food or intel gathering? (That’s actually a valid question, since plentiful food means soldiers operate more efficiently.) This aspect of the game is interesting enough that my daughter Megan asked me, “Can I get a game with just this in it and without the sneaking around part?”

To save space on the original PSP disc, cutscenes were done using static images with some animation laid over them. They are artfully produced and professionally voiced – and I didn’t know Tara Strong and Grey Delisle could do Central American accents. The fact that they are not done in-engine does not detract from the game at all.

Quibbles? Well, the environments are small due to the limitations of the original PSP game. But they do get more interesting as the game progresses. The game tries to fit a whole bunch of information on the screen at once by writing text sideways; this combined with the blocky font used made me occasionally have to peer at the screen to figure out what it was saying.

Other than that, I’m having an absolute blast with this game – the addition of the new base building mechanic is well done. You can improve your base while on a mission (by, er, kidnapping talented enemy soldiers and getting them to work for you). And what you do on base affects your missions – upgrading your weapons and equipment will make missions easier. Thus, you can trade time for skill and I seem to recall saying in the past that this is a great mechanic to include in games. And as far as I know, nothing from the original PSP game was left out of this version.

Overall, for $40 you get five of the eight games that currently make up the Metal Gear canon (with Metal Gear Solid, Portable Ops and MGS4 being the missing games). And the ports are excellently done. If you played Metal Gear on the PS2 and miss it or if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend this game.


I know there hasn’t been a lot of content on this blog in…well, months. And I apologize. And I’m thinking that now that things are settling down a bit the blog is going to pick up.

I think I mentioned this earlier, but I read a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and it mentioned things that can sap your willpower.

(Which is really, really bad news for dieters because one of the things that really saps your willpower is low blood sugar.)

It put me in mind of the magic system for Dragon Age: Origins, which had its problems but did have one cool feature – instead of a mage having to pay every few turns for a “sustained” effect like fire resistance, you simply activate the ability and the mage’s mana cap is permanently reduced to pay for the effect. The effect then stays on indefinitely, or until you need that mana back to do something else with it.

And without getting into too many details, I’ve had a lot of mana drainers. Some of them just happen involuntarily and some are things I’ve chosen. But as you can imagine, a lot of those mana drainers have released due to my financial and employment situation improving.

And thus, I’m feeling like I can start blogging again.

But what about? I feel like I’m starting over. What shall I blog about?

When Alton Brown (still one of my favorite people) was asked what he does when he gets tired of cooking, he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I cook eggs. Eggs are magic. They’re delicious in and of themselves, but they make so many other aspects of cooking possible. The proteins can be used to make custard and meringue. The yolks can be used to add richness to sauces. Brushing beaten egg onto baked goods helps them brown better. The lecithin in eggs is what makes mayonnaise possible. Eggs are magic, and I never get tired of cooking with them.”

So what are my eggs?

Classic games, or games in a classic style. Stripped down, fun elements. Piecing together a storyline myself. Coherent experiences.

Oddly enough, I’m not seeing anything on the horizon that really is going to scratch those itches, which is one of the reasons I talk more about older games.

But even so, you can expect more frequent posting in the future.

JRPGS (Jewel’s RPG System)

I ran a game for my youngest child, Jewel, this weekend. She’s eight, and in the second grade.

Now, just like her older sister, she has been immersed in Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying concepts in general for her whole life. Hitpoints, mana, elves, orcs, swords, sorcery – she’s seen it all in video games and movies. Ever since she saw me buy the D&D Basic Set for her older sister Megan, she’s been asking if she could play Dungeons & Dragons.

And I’d been putting her off, for two reasons. First, she couldn’t do the math. Second, she really didn’t have the attention span.

Now that she’s eight I felt she was ready to experience roleplaying in some fashion, but I still didn’t want to let her play Dungeons & Dragons. Why? It’s just too heavy and confusing for a young roleplayer. In order to play that particular game she’d need to be able to read and do math at a much higher level than she can now.

But I felt that she was more than ready for the roleplaying experience itself, especially since she would have her older sister helping her along. What I needed was a simple, easy-to-understand roleplaying system. My goals were:

* Based on 2D6; I didn’t want to introduce polyhedral dice yet
* Low modifiers to make the math easier
* Fast-playing. I mean, really fast-playing. No charts or tables for the players.

Now, I had written up what I thought was a pretty good system based on the old Traveller rules. It had rules for buying stats and skills and general task resolution. I asked Megan to read it and she said something brilliant. She noted that high stats gave bonuses and low stats penalties when buying skills, and asked the question, “Why are there skills at all? Why don’t we just add or subtract those stat bonuses when we’re trying to do something related to that stat?”

“Well,” I huffed, “it would mean that someone with a high Intelligence, for example, would be able to do everything Intelligence-related well. They’d be able to program a computer, solve a Rubik’s cube, do theoretical physics…”

“Oh, please,” she retorted. “You effectively pick what you’re good at when you pick your class. If you’re trying to do something very different from your class description then you’d get a penalty. There isn’t any real reason to have skills; they just make things more complicated.”

I’d already had a nagging suspicion that the system I was coming up with was more complicated than it needed to be, and buying skills was one of the worst parts. Megan’s one question allowed me to greatly reduce the complexity of the system without it being any less fun. She is definitely my daughter.

I hereby present the system for your perusal and critique.

JRPGS (Jewel’s RPG System)


Characters consist of five stats – Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Intelligence(INT), Endurance (END) and Personality (PER). Stats range from 2 to 12. Characters start with 7 (an average score) in each stat and players take away and add points to stats until they’re happy with what they have. Every point of a stat above 7 gives a bonus and every point below 7 gives you a penalty. Characters have (END * 3) hitpoints and (INT * 3) mana points to begin with.


I asked Jewel what kind of character she wanted to play and she said a wizard (of course). To make things even easier, I asked Jewel what two stats she felt would be most useful to her character and she picked Intelligence and Personality, surprising me. Then I asked her what two stats she wanted to give up; she chose Strength and Endurance. So I simply gave her a +2 for the ones she picked and a -2 for the ones she gave up. I gave her three times her Intelligence in mana and three times her Endurance in hitpoints so, she ended up with this:

Name: Nyan
Race: High Elf
Class: Wizard

STR: 5 (-2)
DEX: 7
INT: 9 (+2)
END: 5 (-2)
PER: 9 (+2)

Hitpoints: 15
Mana: 27

Her sister Megan wanted to play a rogue, and she juggled her numbers herself to get this:

Name: Dahlia
Race: Half-Elf
Class: Rogue

STR: 7
DEX: 10 (+3)
INT: 4 (-3)
END: 5 (-2)
PER: 9 (+2)

Hitpoints: 15

Task Resolution

The basic throw to succeed at a task is 8+ on two six-sided dice. Based on the type of task you are resolving, you will add or subtract whatever stat bonus or penalty the DM thinks is relevant to that task.

For instance, Jewel’s spellcasting would pretty obviously be an INT-based task, so in order to successfully cast a spell she would roll two dice, add her +2 INT bonus and try to roll 8 or higher.

The GM can make tasks more difficult two ways – they can assign penalties or they can have tasks be opposed. Penalties are fairly obvious, so let’s talk about opposed tasks.

An opposed task is one where another character is trying to stop you. A good example would be attempting to lie to someone convincingly. You would roll a Personality task to do so – if you roll 8+ then you have spoken well and there’s a chance the other character will believe you. But then they roll against their Intelligence. If they also roll 8+ then your attempt fails – they’re too smart for you.


I initially thought about having all combat rolls be opposed – a player would roll a Dexterity task to see if they hit, then the enemy would roll a Dexterity task to see if they could dodge the attack. I realized this would be slow and frustrating (I could hear Jewel saying “But I hit!” in my mind).

So melee attacks are Dexterity tasks; succeed and you hit. A basic attack does 1d6 worth of damage. If you have a Strength bonus, you add that bonus to your damage. Damage can be reduced by wearing armor; one point of armor negates one point of damage from each attack.


This required the most work and imagination on my part. I absolutely did not want a huge list of spells with their effects cluttering up everything so I gave Jewel a basic attack spell and a sleep spell and went from there.

What I did was allow her to tell me what she wanted to do, and then based on how effective that task was I would assign it a mana cost of 1, 2 or 3. (If I felt it was too game-breaking, I didn’t allow it at all.)

She would then roll an Intelligence task to cast the spell. Her attack spell would do the same damage as a weapon attack – 1d6 – plus however much mana she used to cast it.

Armed with this system, I was ready to run Jewel’s first roleplaying session. Since this is already a bit long, I’ll save that for the next post…

Remember Me

Why hadn’t I heard about this game before?!

Wow, this just feels like an amalgam of my favorite games. Third-person action like Prince of Persia/Assassin’s Creed/Splinter Cell. Combat reminds me of Batman: Arkham City. Hacking your enemies? Syndicate.

And puzzles! Puzzles where you screw around with people’s brains!

Hopefully that’s just a starter puzzle and the ones in the game get tougher and less directed.

In short, this game is out real soon (June 4) and I hope to have another Xbox 360 by then. It seems like a good game that might fly under a lot of peoples’ radar. And hey, new IP is always good.

Conquest on GOG

Okay! There is a game that came out on earlier this week called Conquest: Frontier Wars! It’s an excellent game (no, seriously, it is). It has interesting features no other real-time strategy game has ever had.

Aaaand…since I helped with putting together the GOG version, each copy you buy nets me a little money. Everyone wins!


The official Viridian Games site now has proper pages for Sandworm! and Castle Adventure, as well as updated source code and executables for both those games. So if you tried to play them earlier and had trouble, head over there and give it another shot!