A year and a half ago, a friend of mine asked me why I was so passionate about Gamer Gate. Back then, many believed Gamer Gate was only about Zoe Quinn and her escapades but I knew this was about far more than that. For years I had witnessed the slow change of the games industry towards the regressive left – writers I used to respect started to brandish their social justice banner with a large ban-hammer hidden right behind it for anyone who disagreed. The media tried to make it all about a hate attack on Quinn but those who were really part of it, know that this goes way beyond that.
Gamer Gate revealed many ugly truths about the games industry: far too many conflicts of interest, dodgy Indie awards, journalists being bed buddies with developers and so on. Not to mention how the “tolerant and open minded” press ended up censoring posts, banning people and avoiding open discussion of these tricky topics while only reporting in a very biased and one-sided way that completely supported those against Gamer Gate without any attempt at neutrality or proper journalism.
A year and a half later and the “war” still hasn’t died – far from it: many women in the industry have learned to use the biased media to their advantage the way Sarkeesian and Wu had done in the past with the press gladly lapping up the story while bashing Gamer Gate at the same time. Latest “victim” is Alison Rapp, a Nintendo rep who used her work Twitter account for posting her Social Justice ideas and defending child porn (yes, she actually did that). When people didn’t take too kindly to that, she hid behind the sexism card with many questionable Tweets as a result.
When she eventually got fired, Nintendo made it clear that it had nothing to do with her Twitter posts but about her having a second job on the side. Of course, the mighty media didn’t believe Nintendo – clearly they buckled under the pressure of angry Gamer Gaters and Alison was eager to attack them as well as Nintendo on Twitter, blaming them for getting fired. Except … it turned out Nintendo was being graceful by not revealing the entire truth. After some digging, people over at ‘kiwifar.ms’ discovered that her second job was, in fact … being an escort girl. Yes, a glorified prostitute. Who works for a family company.
Now you’d think this would at least make some Social Justice Warriors on Twitter realize they have been backing the wrong person, right? Wrong. Apparently none of them see any issue whatsoever with Alison having lied about her second job or about Nintendo clearly being unable to have a rep who also sleeps with men in return for money. No, clearly her being a prostitute (did I mention that’s illegal in the state she lives in?) is her private life and Nintendo nor anyone else has any business finding out about that. Yeah … that’s not how life works, folks. By that logic, you could be a White Supremacist and work for the Immigration Office and that would be A-OK according to them?
In the end, one thing has become increasingly clear: to the SJW crowd, a fellow SJW can never do any wrong and a Gamer Gater can never do anything right. It’s not about arguments, valid points or logic – it’s about which side you are on.
Is there anything trickier than having to update a classic? Whether it’s a movie, music or a game, there’s a ton of traps to step into. Do you cling onto old and perhaps outdated mechanics or do you try to introduce more modern elements? And how far can you take it before you make the update lose the charm the original had? And how much of this “charm” harms the end product? I bet Big Finish Games had many days of discussions involving these questions when they were developing Tesla Effect.
Tesla Effect is the 6th Tex Murphy game and the 4th FMV one (after the brilliant Under A Killing the Moon, the even better Pandora Directive, and the not-bad-but-not-quite-as-good Overseer). After a successful Kickstarter campaign of two years ago (which I backed myself), they finally revealed what the backing of 7.000 fans and almost $600.000 can do – not to mention the help of publisher Atlus who gave them the chance to make a game of a much larger scope than originally envisioned.
First of all, the production value is surprisingly high. The FMV (full motion video) quality is excellent, the music classy and atmospheric and the acting is better than in any Tex Murphy game so far. Sure, the graphics are a bit dated with low resolution textures and nothing fancy in terms of graphical effects but it gets the job done and, frankly, a game like this doesn’t need top-end graphics anyway. With the budget they had, I’m glad they realized graphics are pretty low in terms of priority compared to story, dialogue, puzzles and so on.
The game is not afraid to pull your nostalgic strings either – there’s loads of references to the older games littered all over the game (even Mean Streets, the first Tex Murphy game). Newcomers may feel like they’re being left out, though so for anyone interested in this game, I’d first recommend them to head over to GOG and try Under A Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive. Overseer is less important seeing as it’s mostly a bunch of flashbacks but still worth a look. They’re pretty cheap considering how much value they have!
The puzzles are typical Tex as well: shift paintings, move cushions, look under rocks and, most of all, progress by cross-interrogating everyone you know. Once more, you traverse up and down Chandler Avenue, going from the Brew & Stew to Rook’s Pawn Shop among several other venues, probing for clues and leads, trying to gather scraps of info needed to glue all the pieces together. This game is Tex Murphy all over, that’s for sure. It’s the first time you get to roam around freely as well – in previous games, every location had a loading screen. No more: everything is loaded at once, including all the interiors. This makes the running back and forward far more forgiving (especially when you’re stuck).
The strongest element of all, though, is the story. Unlike previous Tex games, you don’t start with a regular case but rather with a huge enigma after waking up only to find out you can’t remember the past 7 years. There’s a gazillion questions and the more you play, the more questions are added onto the pile. What’s going on? What happened to you? Why does everyone think you’re a cold killer? It drags you in from the start and doesn’t let you go. I’m sure some reviews will complain about how the game progresses in a rather linear way (including many clues) but that’s how detective cases go. You dig for clues, find a lead and follow up on it, which in turn leads to another clue.
However … there are some flaws as well. Small ones but flaws nonetheless. The new interface won’t be to everyone’s liking for example. I kinda like it but still miss the old interface, clunky as it was. It’s user-friendlier but also more boring. You can no longer crouch either – so no looking under desks and such. It’s not a big deal, but quite a few times, I wanted to look over or under something only to remember I no longer could. Another problem, is the rather vague dialogue descriptions. These are often too cryptic for their own good, leading Tex to say mean things when you wanted to be friendly and visa versa. This is a flaw that goes all the way back to the first game and I think that’s why they kept it. The sarcastic comments do make up for this though and every line is kept a surprise until it’s been uttered.
A more niggling flaw, is continuity errors in the cut scenes. I think the scripts may have gotten mixed up or something, but at times, you catch out small mistakes when cross-interrogating people. For example, person A will say it’s been YEARS ago since they saw someone while person B, who only joined the neighbor less than a year ago, will claim to have seen that someone as well while, obviously, this wouldn’t be possible. It’s a bit of sloppy writing but it’s not really crucial to the story. It mostly just harms immersion a little and if you’re more forgiving than me, you use the excuse that people don’t always remember things correctly.
The combined result of all the above, is the best Tex game so far and if you enjoyed the previous games, you absolutely HAVE to play this one.
I loved Morrowind to bits the first time I played it. It was a gorgeous game with so much to do, so many places to explore and it had some amazing settings. So alien, so unlike any other game. What I enjoyed as well, was using the game’s loopholes to increase my skills and make money. Fun fun fun. And then several years later Oblivion appeared, tweaking the game, ironing out the flaws (and adding quite a lot of new ones) and a few years later, we got the brilliant Skyrim which took the best of both worlds.
But what about Morrowind today? Is it still worth playing? I asked myself that very same question so I installed the game and sunk a few hours into it. Playing the fully patched complete version of Morrowind (with the two expansion packs installed) was a bit of a mixed bag. Bethesda patched out nearly every exploit and this made leveling certain skills (like sneaking) much slower and harder. In fact, some skills became so ridiculously hard to level, that even hours of playing would only see a few points of increase.
I thought I was doing something wrong so I headed to forums around the Internet only to find that I had to BUY the skill points from trainers and read several money making schemes to get the money to do this. I refused to play along – these schemes were a huge grind of making potions over and over which is hardly fun. And so began my quest to turn Morrowind, with mods and tweaks, into an enjoyable game post-Skyrim.
The first important step to take, is to get the Morrowind Overhaul. This drastically alters Morrowind (in a positive way):
- seriously improved textures
- new pixel shading, simulated HDR and many other modern graphical effects
- all sorts of fixes that solve crashes and bugs on modern systems
- support for modern resolutions
- much better looking faces and bodies
This will already make the game a lot more interesting to play. Of course this is mostly cosmetics and won’t yet affect many of the gameplay problems. If you want better choices of hair, I can also recommend MEL Hair Pack which gives you quite a lot of good looking new choices.
The next steps are basically cheating in some way or other. Morrowind does not allow for regeneration of mana making magic quite a tough choice. If you run out during a fight, you have to resort to potions and potions weigh quite a lot … and Morrowind is very strict about how much you can carry … and you can’t fast-travel in this game. Are you starting to see the problem? That’s why you can really use a mod called “Fair Magicka Regen v2B“ which will make your magicka regenerate by itself meaning you’re not forced to rest between fights. The idea of this guide, is to reduce the repetitive nature of some elements in Morrowind and constant resting sure is one of those!
A second problem with Morrowind, is speed. At the start of the game, you walk really really slowly and it takes ages to get anywhere. You can run (which gets you about the same speed as regular walking in Skyrim while quickly draining your endurance bar) but when you an encounter your enemy while low on endurance, a single hit can send you to the floor, helpless to fight back. Again, far from ideal. Sadly enough, no mods are reliable. They seem to introduce new problems and bugs.
The solution is easy, however: you cheat. Opening the console (~ key for US keyboards) you can type “player->setspeed 100″ which will set your Speed attribute to 100. This is the speed that, to me, feels right. Since speed only affects your speed while swimming and walking and nothing else, this cheat is pretty harmless so no need to feel (too) guilty about this.
The next cheat mod I’d recommend, is the “Strength Encumberance Multiplier” mod. Morrowind calculates the amount you can carry based on your strength and, frankly, this is way too low considering you have to walk everywhere and finding a store to sell takes a considerable time. Sure, you can walk back and forward until your feet fall off, but isn’t it less of a nuisance to just be able to carry more? And that’s what this mod delivers – no more having to leave loot behind. Once the game gets going, gold is not a real issue anyway – finding shop keepers with enough gold to buy expensive items is more of a challenge. This just removes the frustration of leaving hard earned stuff behind.
By now, we have gotten rid of most nuisances except for one : the inability to level certain skills. Sure, you can buy them but where is the fun in that? Also, at the start of the game, you’re ridiculously weak. Bethesda were far too harsh when they gave you starting skill points. Many skills are completely useless when you start out and because you have to succeed at using the skill to level them, it makes it even harder. For example, magic skills will only increase as you use a spell of the same class (for example healing) but because you’ll fail so often (and run out of magicka in no time), it becomes a tedious grind to get to a level which makes the skills actually worth using!
To combat this, there’s a simple solution: set every skill you intend to use, to at least 25 using the console cheat above (but replace “speed” with the name of the skill instead). While it IS cheating, it makes the game far less frustration when you make a new game. From my experience, the following skills are a huge pain to level without training to 25 or higher:
- all magic classes
- enchant (it’s pretty much worthless until you get 50 – you’ll burn through so many soul gems it’s not funny)
Many skills like athletics, block, all weapon and armor skills and acrobatics you’ll level purely by playing the game so no need to tweak those.
Now, after all these alterations, you’ll be left with a game which is worth playing. There’s still plenty of challenge left but without the tedium of having to walk for hours or having to make a gazillion potions to get certain skills up to scratch. Morrowind is still a brilliant game once you follow all these steps and exploring the continent on foot is just so satisfying. Go on, give it a go … and have fun!
For the past week, there’s been a grand scale of attacks on WordPress sites worldwide. They do this by brute forcing the login screen. I added reCaptcha to the comments section but this did nothing to stop the barrage since accounts already created by bots cause all sorts of problems. Because of this, I had to do a massive whipe of all accounts. Combined with the reCaptcha system for registering a new account, it should this from happening again – if your own account got removed, my apologies. You can re-register without a problem.
If you asked seasoned PC gamers what their favorite RPG would be, you’d get answers like Morrowind, Diablo and Guild Wars. However, ask an even more seasoned gamer, and he may very well answer “Baldur’s Gate II” or “Planescape Torment” – true hardcore cRPGs. Challenging, deep, complex and HUGE – that’s what the Infinite Engine games tended to be. Even the “lesser” known Icewind Dale games are still highly entertaining if you’re not scared of entire volumes of stats to handle and tweak and the replay value of these games is immense as well, offering almost unlimited combinations of classes, skills, spells, weapons and proficiencies to combine and mix.
And so I decided to replay Baldur’s Gate II (the complete game including its expansion pack) since it’s been almost ten years since my last completion. I remembered a very challenging game that got me incredibly frustrated at times too but I was hoping that, having grown older, I’d also have learned a few new tricks not to mention remembering some tricks from my last play-through. And I must admit I did – I remembered to check for traps a lot, to make sure I had a good mage, which spells were very handy and so on.
What I also remembered, was how blatantly unfair the game was and that’s where this post comes in. While Baldur’s Gate II is an undeniable master piece, it has quite a few flaws which stop me from recommending it to a modern gamer because, let’s face it, Baldur’s Gate is anything but forgiving. And that’s why I made the Seven Sins of Baldur’s Gate (II):
Sin 1: Inventory Management
Many fellow cRPG fans have something called “pack rat syndrome” also called being a compulsive hoarder. This means that you pick up everything “just in case”. Potions, arrows, darts, gems, cloaks, weapons, helmets, scrolls, etc. Baldur’s Gate II has an overwhelming amount of items you can pick up which is cool and fun BUT! BUT! You’re very limited to what you can carry. Sure, you have scroll bags and a ton of slots, but you’re still limited in weight and considering all the different types of arrows alone (and how few you can stack on top of eachother) fill an entire inventory (and then some), it quickly becomes frustrating when you can’t find any vendor selling an ammo belt!
Also, AD&D pretty much demand you change your tactics according to the situation which means you might have to use a different weapon which is more potent against your current opponent – you have weapons to fight dragons, to fight trolls, to fight giants, etc. But what is the point of having these, when it’s virtually impossible to carry them until you actually need them? Storing them in a central place is out of the question as well, since the game has a huge linear segment where you won’t be returning to the previous locations.
In short, inventory management is a huge pain in the ass. Baldur’s Gate (the first game) had far less different items to collect (but also didn’t have gem bags either, mind you) and also let you travel back to where you stash your stuff but Baldur’s Gate II definitely made it a lot more frustrating.
NOTE: this flaw can be fixed by cheating and installing the “bottomless bag of holding” fix which I actually recommend. I don’t believe in weight limits in RPGs so always increase the carry limit. After all, where is the fun in having to run back and forward between the dungeon and store to sell all your hard earned loot?
Sin 2: Time Sensitive Quests
Let me make one thing clear: spending 5 hours in a dungeon only for you to return to the surface and having your ONLY mage run out on you is anything but fun. I’m talking, of course, about personal quests. At the start of the game you’re quickly scrambling for decent party members and many of these come with a personal story line which you have to complete in a timely fashion. Of course, the time it takes to even complete a single one of these is enough to make other party members complain and even leave. Sure, you can go fetch them but (a) the game doesn’t tell you where you can find them (b) that party member tends to be rather crucial to your party leaving you severely handicapped. A much better solution, would have been to give you two warnings so you had time before they run off without being able to do anything about it.
Heck, time sensitive quests are annoying full stop because resting quickly soaks up most of the day in one go and to prepare before battle, you often have to swap out spells and rest. It’s needlessly frustrating.
Sin 3: Tiny Stacks of Ammo, Gems and Potions
Combined with Sin 1, this quickly gets annoying for several reasons. You have three ammo slots, you see, and the developers in their infinite wisdom limited the amount of ammo (i.e. arrows, darts, bolts) to just 40. Great. Not only makes this eat up inventory space like mad, it’s very cluttery, makes OCD people go insane and worst of all, makes your character either run out of ammo very quickly, or swap to other ammo in one of the slots. Bad bad bad! Having you attack small enemies with cheap arrows only to have your ranger switch to expensive +2 arrows is anything but cool.
NOTE: this can be fixed by installing a fix to let you stack 999 items on top of each other which I HIGHLY recommend. Now you can create proper stacks of ammo without it eating up all your inventory space.
Sin 4: AAAAARGH DAMN PATH FINDING!
The title says it all – you’re constantly babysitting your group and stopping them from going in the completely wrong direction, setting off trap after trap and attracting entire legions of enemies and basically causing instant death for your team. While your team can kill a mighty dragon without breaking a sweat, the daunting might of a single doorway causes them to run in the opposite direction. It’s a real chore to keep your team together and you often lose a battle just because your archer got stuck in the front, blocking all the fighters, because they refused to walk ahead first. There’s no fix for this – even settling AI cycles as high as possible only slightly improves things. Considering how many areas consist of narrow corridors, it is one of Baldur’s Gate’s biggest flaws – one which has plagued the Infinite Engine since its inception.
Sin 5: Quests where you have to recruit new people
This sucks big time. You craft this perfect party and then you run across quest after quest of people who want you to help them solve a quest but ONLY if you let them join the party. And did I mention this means you have to kick someone out? And that this person may sometimes refuse to rejoin the party after? And that you sometimes have to search high and low to find them?
Sin 6: The Quest Log
Oh yes, let’s throw a gazillion quests at you wherever you go (people walk up to you all the time offering you quests as if they were candy) and then give you the most god awful log to keep track of them. The quests are saved according to chapter, for example, but quests from chapter II tend to still work for chapter III – so why sort them into chapters in the first place? Heck, the quests don’t even follow a logical order, with some quests changing name after certain events, making it even harder to keep track of what is going on. You can sort it by date but then you still have to scrolls a ton to find all the entries of the quest. Every quest event creates a new entry you see. Why not just add a list of quests and then let you expand each quest?
Sin 7: The Biggest Sin of All: The Great Unknown
THIS. Yes, THIS. THIS is what makes Baldur’s Gate II so darn frustrating to newcomers. It’s so damn unfair it’s not funny – and I still insist that people who love the game, mainly love it after a second play through. Because, let’s be frank here, Baldur’s Gate II is a real bitch to complete the first time you play it. Here’s why:
- The whole core of the game is having a proper balanced party – a mage, a thief, a cleric, a fighter are the absolute minimum – but unlike Baldur’s Gate, BGII makes it much harder to find suitable party members. Heck, the more obvious people you meet, are quite shit and it’s very easy to waste a lot of XP on them leaving you with a very average party. First time players won’t know to go to location X to recruit the best mage for an evil party or to go to location Y to recruit the best cleric. This is a huge flaw for a new player since it’s so crucial to having a good game.
- Spells are very unpredictable in how efficient they are. Heck, if you install the expansion pack, many spells suddenly act differently, making it next to impossible for newcomers to be able to rely on spell descriptions. It takes a LOT of trial and error to find out which spells work best and against which foes – trial and error of the bad dull getting-your-ass-kicked kind.
- Who thought it was fun plastering traps all over the place? You’re forced to constantly have a thief walking in front with Trap Finding turned on. Is this fun? Trapping chests and doors I can understand, but adding traps at random on floors is just weak.
- Snagging away party members at random during quests leaving your party seriously weakened without any warning is just no fair. Especially if the game doesn’t drop the items this person is carrying (which happens a lot). If you replay the game, you may well take precautions before this happens but for new players it’s just lame. SPOILER: Imoen gets torn from your party early on and if you wasted all spells scrolls on her, it’s pretty sucky since she’s gone for a huge chunk of the game. Yeah, new players won’t know this either and may hold off getting a new mage because of this as well (I did on my first play through).
- You pretty much have to know from the start which great weapons you’ll pick up later so you know which proficiencies to choose for your weapons because otherwise, you’ll find that all the best loot is useless for you. Every guide I read goes “yeah, pick character X because later on you’ll find weapon Y which just rocks! Don’t pick character Z because there’s no great weapons for his proficiencies”. Well great tips! Except this is impossible to know for a new player.
- Many enemies have specific weaknesses which you can’t find out in-game except through trial and error. Instead of allowing for a game mechanism where you can discover their weakness, you simply have to try everything you can. Against very tough opponents, this quickly because frustrating. Google is your friend here but this is still not right. A great deal of battles consist of getting your ass kicked, reloading, changing the spell load out, and retrying until you get it right and “trial and error” combat doesn’t sit well with me.
There’s many many more examples but the bottom line is that the game has many unknowns and many of those screw you over unless you’ve played the game before.
While being a brilliant game, you have to have patience and perseverance to complete Baldur’s Gate II on your first play through. Unless you read half a dozen guides (which sadly enough spoil quite a bit of the game), you’re bound to get frustrated and are likely to end up with a party which is too weak to complete certain quests. Not through any fault of your own but because the game is pretty unfair from the start to finish. In many ways, Dragon Age was a vast improvement over Baldur’s Gate – it got rid of many of the flaws above and while it wasn’t a traditional AD&D, I still think that it was streamlined in the right way. If they remade Baldur’s Gate II with the Dragon Age approach … wow, now THAT would be a game that would stun everyone.
A year and a bit ago, I wrote a topic about the dangers of Kickstarter and how the failure of a few big projects could completely kill it off. Up till now, my own Kickstarter experiences have been anything but great. None has been released on time so far and several are in development hell. The iControlpad 2 has been a monumental failure, its original release being November and now 8 months later, there’s still no optimism about it being released soon.
The Bones Miniatures was a smaller but still frustrating mess: their initial promise to ship paints and part of the order ahead were scripted for non-US orders, making them flat-out liars. On top of this, they have shoved back all overseas orders to the very very end, favoring US citizens all the way. This is not a way to make happy customers – again, a 5 month delay for the entire package and a massive 9 month delay for the paints and tin figurines is hardly a small delay. Still, I’m not all that impatient – but seeing them make promise after promise and seeing them screw up time and time again causing even more delays does get tedious very quickly.
But when it comes to software, the disappointments have been coming even faster. When you back a game before the dev has anything to show you, you have to have faith in them and it seems there’s a very good reason publishers are in control these days: many developers can no longer produce a game on time or within budget without guidance and a good occasional spanking when need be by the big awful publishers. Kickstarter game after kickstarter game turn out to lack the funds to create the game they promised – and it boggles the mind when you look at how much money these games really did raise.
Shadowrun Returns already revealed that, despite getting many times what they were asking for, they would basically make a short and severely cut down game which made many people shake their heads in surprise, but to see Double Fine, the developers who actually kicked off the Kickstarter hype, blow through three million dollars and then need at least twice that amount on top of that … wow!
What makes this so unbelievable, is that the game people wanted wasn’t anything that would cost three million dollars to create anyway. No-one I talked to wanted top edge animation – Monkey Island has the most crudest of animations and people loved it – nor did we want anything that would soak up funds like a sponge. I mean, seriously … adventure games are based on three pillars:
- puzzles = just thinking power needed
- story = again, thinking power
- setting = more thinking power
- characters = wahey, more thinking power
To be honest, they should have created the concept BEFORE they went to Kickstarter. The 4 elements above don’t take a million dollars – it doesn’t even take a tenth of that. Sit a few creative and talented people around a table and you can get a great concept in a week or so. That’s maybe $5.000 worth of salaries and blam, you get started. Making the rooms, creating the puzzles, fleshing out the characters – this can all be done on pieces of paper with people sitting around a table, bouncing ideas off each other. That’s how indie devs do it and why they can do it for tiny budgets.
But oh no, the big & mighty Double Fine has to make a big deal out of it, plan things, plan things more, discuss things, meetings, etc. etc. without ever getting anywhere and while doing it in one of the most expensive places on earth: San Francisco. It’s the American way of approaching a situation and goes right against the Flemish way of doing things (did I mention I’m Flemish i.e. Dutch speaking part of Belgium?): digging in deep and getting things done instead of yapping about it till pigs start to fly. That doesn’t mean quality is going to be sacrificed – it just means the pressure is on, making people think on their feet which often makes for the best game experiences.
So why does the title say Double Failure? Because they failed at what they set out to do – to show that publishers are not needed to make a great game. Instead, what they showed us that developers sometimes do need someone with a big whip keeping them in line. You can bet this will put a big dent into the already-scratched paintwork that is Kickstarter and it will only take a few more projects like these before people will lose confidence all together. Sure, they say they can finish the game using their own funds but we’re still two years away from a release and lord knows how much money they’ll still need and how much they’ll need to cut into their game because of poor management.
In the end, Kickstarter is a true reflection of the business world: slick salesmen who can talk big but without delivering will cause trouble and even people who mean well, simply lack the skills to pull off what they set out to do. Take the iPad stand – besides the issues with being unable to produce a working prototype, the guy actually used his friends as coworkers, paying some a fee and others not – anyone could see from MILES away that was a recipe for disaster – and disaster did strike and the Kickstarter project got abandoned. So, it all goes to show: how much risk are you willing to take? I guess we’ll find out in the next year to see how well Kickstarter will survive all these stories.