Chicks only want boyfriends who have great skills and attributes


Look at that sad sack of ‘ish. How would you like to spend 80 hours of your life playing the role of a roaming barbarian leader with a face like that? Need more convincing? Well what if I told you that along your epic journey you will get experience points, attribute points, skill points, and weapon points to distribute as you please. You can build yourself as a strong and charismatic brute, an agile and cunning warrior, or anything in between. Do you like looting? Tracking? Path-Finding? Spotting? The delicate art of inventory management? Wound treatment? Surgery? First aid? Engineering? Persuading? Trading? All these skills and more along with the proficiency you need to wield virtually any medieval weaponry you can think of are waiting for you in…


Pretty much every fantasy role-playing game ever made. So then why the hell was BioWare’s recent epic PC RPG, Dragon Age: Origins, such a special gaming experience for me? Dragon Age was a return to form for the 15 year old game developer. The second game BioWare developed was the genre-defining PC RPG classic, Baldur’s Gate, back in 1998. Their games have changed with the times though. To make the kind of big budget and highly successful games Bioware makes now, you simply cannot make games like Baldur’s Gate anymore. At least, that is what I told myself before the release of Dragon Age. Before I let this blog post turn into more of a Dragon Age and BioWare love letter, I should get to the reason why I brought Dragon Age up in the first place. This game should not exist. BioWare is a HUGE multi-million selling game developer and is now owned by the second largest game publisher in the world, Electronic Arts. These kinds of games are only made today by those crazy independent European developers on budgets that allow their characters to look as awesome as that dude at the top of this blog post. One such crazy Turkish developer would be TaleWorlds, makers of the two current games in the Mount & Blade series.

After distributing many attribute, skill, and weapon points, and desperately randomizing your avatar’s face in hopes of arriving at a slightly less revolting look than you start with, the player is simply dropped into a world map view similar to the map views in Playstation One Japanese RPG classics like Final Fantasy 7 and 8. From there it is up to you do decide what you want to do. There is no story other than the story you create for yourself. Neither is there any greater evil entity or princess to save. There are seven nations competing for territory and you choose which, if any, to ally, attack, or ignore.


I need to stop that right there. If I continue at that pace it will take hundreds more words to get around to any kind of point. What makes Mount & Blade a sweet video game is it’s open ended nature, silly looking yet awesome playing directional weapon swinging and blocking combat, and effing castle sieges. You siege castles in this game. With up to 60 people a castle, with all the expected medieval era siege weapons, and up to 60 people defending said castle this game can get ridiculous. The only reason these huge battles are awesome is the combat system. In massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft massive 100 on 100 person war zones are common. Warcraft’s problem is in the way it plays. Everything is a dice roll. Damage dealt, chance to hit, chance to critical hit, etc are all take care of for the player by the built in game systems. In Mount & Blade every swing of your blade, clash of your shield, and shot from your bow is in your control. You need to keep in mind how long it takes to swing a weapon, what direction you slice, jab, or stab your enemies in, and calculate firing arcs when shooting arrows or bolts.

Basically, I am saying Mount & Blade is LARPing the video game. LARPing is all sorts of bad, but Mount & Blade is all sorts of awesome. Thank you, Turkey.

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Monster closets and big guns does not a scary game make

In what I hope will be one of the last times I talk about the Penumbra games (for a while at least), I would like to take a look at a couple European takes on horror game design juxtaposed with a few conventional western examples of horror game design. Before I get into any real analysis, without putting much thought into it the major difference between scary games that come out of the different regions would be how much they focus on the act either shooting things in the face or bludgeoning/stabbing them with whatever the player character can get his hands on.

In the first Penumbra game combat can be avoided if the player manages to sneak around or run away from all enemies. In the two subsequent Penumbra games and the spiritual successor to the series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, although there are still enemies in the games, the player is not given any tools to fight back with. The video below features a perfect example of such a situation.


Fellow European indie game developer, Action Forms Ltd. from Ukraine, released a respectably creepy game of their own titled Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason in April 2009. Unlike Penumbra, Cryostasis featured not only hand-to-hand combat and melee weaponry but it also had a fair selection of guns. Cryostasis’ combat was not designed with complex mechanics or large firefights in mind, so as a result when the player chooses to resort of fire arms to take care of their current combat scenario he/she had better be accurate and prudent with their ammo usage. Using up your ammo at the wrong time could leave you in a situation where you may not find more ammo for an hour or more of game time. If during that hour you encounter one of the game’s rare combat heavy sequences and cannot beat it without more ammo, then the player may have to resort to starting the game from a previous save, starting over entirely, or simply “ragequitting”, exiting the game in a fit of rage without intending to return to it, and giving up entirely.

Monolith Productions is based in the state of Washington and is currently a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Their games have never really been huge, but they receive consistently positive reviews and sell at least enough to keep the company afloat it seems. Monolith’s F.E.A.R., as a game intended to scare people, wins the award for being the most aptly named scary game, despite the silly acronym which stands for First Encounter Assault Recon. The mass market audience does not like to plod through their games and carefully manage their ammo supply. They want explosions, particle effects, the illusion of smart enemy artificial intelligence, crazy guns, dedicated grenade and melee buttons, and lots of dudes to shoot in the face. FEAR has all of these along with ever present slow motion or “bullet-time” powers to enhance the players enjoyment of all the aforementioned features and effects. I played FEAR around its time of release and I will not deny loving it, but the actual horror elements of the game ended up being nothing more than the kind of cheap scares you are subjected to in even the worst horror films. Doors open and close on their own. A creepy little girl in a blood red dress appears and disappears whenever there is no action going on. Gallons upon gallons of blood was spilled only to be scribbled on walls as messages for the player to read. Ultimately, these elements give FEAR a creepy atmosphere and manage to catch you off guard with a cheap scare here or there, but the actual gameplay of FEAR remains more or less equivalent to any other corridor-running, action packed, first person shooter.


Other modern examples of conventional games that attempt to be scary are games like Condemned, Dead Space, and the Japanese developed Resident Evil 5. Dead Space and Resident Evil 5 in particular advertise themselves as being some of the scariest gaming experiences you will ever take part of, but rely on many of the same old cheap scare tactics while empowering the player in every way they can with loads of guns and ammo to dispense of the horrors they will face.
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Why indie games cannot always "make it big"

With Frictional Games' recent release of Amnesia: The Dark Descent I have been caught up thinking about these grungy, crawl through mud, end of the world kind of games lately. These games require complete player investment if they are to be enjoyed, and when a player is able to immerse himself in these games it can result in some of the most memorable personal experiences in gaming. As great as that is, if players are unable to fully invest themselves in the game, which I would assume is the most common experience as the more investment required the smaller your potential audience will be, the result is a gameplay experience almost completely opposite to the experience I appreciate these games for.

Where in my last blog post about Penumbra I posited that the game was, in part, good because of the poor combat mechanics, which I attributed to the frailty of the main character rather than simply poor game design on Frictional Games' part, I understand that most people who play or even simply see Penumbra played will be immediately turned off from ever wanting to play the game again. In modern mainstream game design, the objective of designers is almost always to make the player feel empowered in fun and interesting ways. For any game to do the opposite by making the player feel weak is in and of itself an admission by the game designers that they cannot expect sales on the level of any mainstream game. If this design decision were to backfire by ultimately preventing the game from finding a large enough audience to pay for development costs, in many cases, these indie developers run the risk of endangering their jobs and ways of living.

For example, the aforementioned Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the successor to the three Penumbra games, was released earlier this month on September 8th. Frictional Games has sought to gradually improve upon their core horror/adventure game formula across these four games. One could assume they have seen moderate success if they have just released their fourth game, but, as recently implied in an admirably candid blog post about the release and sales of Amnesia, Frictional Games will continue to develop games within a very strict budget and possibly rethink their targeted release platforms.

"The most distressing thing is the sales though. Even though we are far from complaining, it feels like we do not have the financial security we would like to have, to truly be able to focus on making the best game possible. So what should we do? The things we have discussed include: Increase the cost of the game, doing a console port instead of Linux/Mac, do a less niche title and more. Now is too soon to make a decision though and we have to see how the coming weeks and months go."

While most of the blog post is not as depressing as that excerpt, it is clear that Amnesia has not yet propelled Frictional Games into indie game developer stardom.

Now that I have filled you with a burning desire to support independent game developers like Frictional Games, allow me to shamelessly ask you to give their game a try. Any fairly modern desktop computer should be able to run it since I can run it on a three year old Mac laptop. It is also compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. It will be an horrifying yet unforgettable experience.

Click for more information on Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Click to get the demo. 

Original blog post located at:

Any and all feedback is welcome.


What does a game “feel” like?

Through brainstorming I have stumbled upon the realization that what makes the lesser known games of Europe special is the attention many developers give to atmospheric details and design. This is something I feel I have always known, but never truly thought about in any significant way. Many games of this origin are downright unplayable on when they officially launch, and pretty much all of them are janky, a term I use in adoration of these games to describe their general tendency to control poorly, fail to impress visually, and have horribly unbalanced game systems.

To shift the focus of this blog to something of the specificity requested for the assignment, I would like to speak of one of my favorite recent horror/adventure games by the five person team over at Frictional Games, Penumbra: Overture. The game, first of a planned trilogy of relatively short “episodes”, has all of the required features of a true indie game like a broken combat system, obtuse story line, and awkward controls. Luckily, the game also had an extremely oppressive and creepy atmosphere required of any true horror experience.

Sparing the story details, the player is faced with navigating through an underground mining facility in Greenland where you slowly discover some unpleasant things have taken place. Upon arrival, the facility is has been left in complete darkness for, as far as the player knows, anywhere up to fifty years apart from a few naturally and unnaturally lit areas. You are equipped with a flashlight which runs on unreliable batteries and a faint glow stick. As a result, most of the game takes place in darkness. The feeling of scavenging through the unknown in a place which could be the home of virtually any kind of creature is unbearable at times as the game is not afraid to take advantage of the tension it builds to scare the player when they are most susceptible. Penumbra has very few areas where enemies actually appear, but as a result, thanks mostly to superb sound design, I found myself instictually prepared to pause the game at a moments notice when I felt muscles all over my body locking up from the palpable tension the game’s atmosphere imposed upon me.



One particular aspect of Penumbra: Overture’s jankiness (the state of being janky), the combat, which in many player’s experience could incite rage only further amplified the atmospheric tension in my experience. During your journey through darkness you will happen upon some mostly household tools which also happen to function as reasonable melee weapon, like a hammer or crowbar. Your character in the game is a thirty-some year-old physicist. As far as I know, other than Gordon Freeman physicists are not known for their brute strength or alacrity. Penumbra’s combat mechanics consist sliding your mouse in different directions and holding then releasing the left mouse button to pathetically flail your makeshift weapons in front of you in hopes of striking your foes down which may or may not be range of your swing. If you miss your first attack, you can pretty much consider yourself dead. While frustrating, I felt the terrible combat only further enforced the need to remain hidden from any and all threats to this meager physicist.



Games with good atmosphere are certainly made all over the world, but the particular experience small European developers often create for the player happen to be just the right kind of experience I am always looking for in games. Looking back on this post I still feel like it may not be as specific as I need it to be, but it is a step in a more specific direction.  

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A different flavor of game

Developing video games was not always as much about risk aversion as it is these days. Who could blame the few billion dollar corporations in the game industry for always playing it safe when it comes to investing up to fifty million dollars on a modern full retail game? No matter how much time and money a developer may spend on focus testing and streamlining game features for a broader audience, they will always lose some of the small yet dedicated group of so-called “hardcore” gamers. Though not entirely wrong, I feel labeling a collective group as hardcore simply because of differing tastes gives those not familiar with more obscure and/or foreign games a misleading and sometimes negative idea about what this group of people is really interested in.

All it takes to be a hardcore gamer is dedication, but you can be dedicated to any game or kind of games you like. Millions of people buy the latest iterations of games like Halo or Call of Duty each year and a good chunk of that audience spends what many would feel is an unhealthy amount of time shooting fellow fools online. These people are certainly dedicated, but I would doubt the games they spend so much of their lives on are of any value to them other than to kill time in the many moments of their lives in which they have nothing better to do. Essentially, what I feel these gamers lack in order to ascend to any higher level of gamer than just “hobbyist” is passion. When you become passionate for something, it defines you. I don’t know of any easy terms that properly describe what I consider to be a passionate gamer, but what sets this group apart from the rest in the gaming community is the unwavering passion to discover and explore the many diverse ranges of emotions and experiences that the interactive story telling tools exclusive to the medium provide.

That was my long winded way of saying the kind of gamer I consider myself to be cannot subsist only on games with high production values provided by development studios of up to three hundred employees funded by crazy rich companies because by nature these games rarely offer the new or unique experiences I desire. The independent game development scene is what I find myself turning to whenever I feel the need for something new. Websites like or real life events like the Independent Games Festival and Penny Arcade Expo celebrate the exploration of new ideas in gaming by shining the spotlight on independent game developers.

I’m doing a pretty terrible job here of trying to get around to what this blog is actually supposed to be about. This is also admittedly kind of a last minute thing, so I should just get on with it already. The place that consistently produces the most interesting independently developed games is the ill-defined region I will refer to as Eastern Europe. It is a misleading label since what are often thought of as eastern European games can come from anywhere from Norway to Bulgaria to Latvia or to some of the western areas of Russia (not a very European place at all!). One of the largest contributing factors to the development of games in these regions is the fact that computer (PC) gaming dominates the market in all these areas since game console manufacturers take too long or often never even release their consoles in those regions. To have a good gaming PC in the nebulous Eastern European region pretty much guarantees you are serious about your hobby and game developers in the area make games for their serious PC gaming audience. While here in North America game development has shifted its focus to mass market console gaming, PC games still thrive over there. An extra ten or so years of focus on PC gaming development in those regions has resulted in many good examples of unique games with unique atmospheres.

I suppose examples of such games and analyses of their many diverse elements will be for a future blog post.  
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What I'm doing with this here blog

 I have to update a blog on word press weekly and I chose to do it on Eastern European game design... or something. I'll post the text of that blog here for the hell of it since I want to one day be able to take my writing seriously.

This won't be "serious" stuff though. Just last minute ramblings on obscure games.