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Straw Man – Pathfinder Soulbound Doll variant posted by CJ Ovalle


While reading through some of the strange pushback against calls for inclusiveness in tabletop gaming, I wondered if anyone had statted out a Straw Man. Here’s a quick Straw Man as a variant Soulbound Doll for Pathfinder.


Happy 2016! posted by CJ Ovalle


Happy holidays, all! ^_^

On competition, card games, and Netrunner in particular posted by Derek


I’ve started playing Netrunner again. This time, rather than the CCG that I played with Kurt back in our ancient college days, it’s Android: Netrunner, made by Fantasy Flight Games (who I freakin’ love), and it’s a living card game.  Which in essence means that it’s a lot cheaper, and easier to keep up. As per usual, I’ve jumped in with both feet and an arm.

And that leads me to the first part of this discussion: Competition.


Kev’s Slog #13 posted by Kevin Lew


One of the strangest and most interesting video game stories has to be the story behind the game Paranautical Activity. If you haven’t ever heard it, then I’ll talk about it now. The story so far:

A little over two years ago, Paranautical Activity (PA) was on Greenlight. With Greenlight being new and the votes for his game not coming, the lead developer Mike Maulberg went to Adult Swim Games (AS) as the publisher. Since AS is a trusted publisher, the game would be given a free ride onto Steam. Of course, AS would take a huge cut of the money (25%), but the developers needed Steam.

However, Valve insisted that nobody was allowed to bypass the Greenlight system and blocked their entry. Originally, they said that using a publisher as a free ride wasn’t a way to bypass Greenlight, despite that many games have done this. In effect, the developer Code Avarice’s only fault was that they left their Greenlight page open and didn’t remove it prior to partnering with a publisher.

Maulberg is an outspoken person and he immediately went to the press telling everybody that he had been blocked by Steam and Greenlight was a broken system. He also vented a huge amount of anger, and while it was blunt and crude, he had a point. The Internet and the press quickly rallied behind him and PA became a symbol for Greenlight’s broken system for a time.

Eventually PA passed through Greenlight without AS, and it entered Early Access. But in time, the game soured with some of the fans who felt that the game’s promised goals were not being met. Maulberg openly attacked his harshest (and rudest) critics, often mocking them on social networks. It didn’t take long for Maulberg to have the hate that is normally reserved for Phil Fish.

A few days ago, PA was updated to have new Halloween content. Steam made the update not easy, and this already irritated Maulbeck. When it was released, Steam accidentally tagged the game as Early Access again, meaning that it would be hidden from many users that filter those games (including myself). Maulbeck snapped and raged on Twitter. In the end, he threatened to “kill Gabe Newell.”

Death threats are illegal, and Valve (or maybe Gabe himself) didn’t take it kindly. Within a few hours of his post, PA was removed from the store and they were muted on their forums. Valve sent Code Avarice a formal letter that they were no longer doing business with them. The game networks reported on this as well, turning the game and company into pariahs overnight.

Just hours ago, Mike Maulbeck hoist himself on his own petard, announcing that he was leaving Code Avarice entirely. He would not have creative control, have no access to the game or forums, and receive no money from the game. He issued a very earnest apology for what he said. He asked the Valve Gods to put the game back on Steam, and not punish the others in Code Avarice when he was the only person doing bad things.

Somehow I feel that this story isn’t over yet.

Kev’s Slog #12 posted by Kevin Lew


A few days ago, Steam Client Beta released a major change.

In the future, the default Steam client will shift the color scheme.  Right now it’s a gray color, but it’s going to become a blue gradient in the future.  This is so this matches the Big Picture Mode more closely.

Also, eventually you’ll be able to hide games in your library that you don’t want to see anymore.  I’ve seen numerous complaints on the forums about people wanting to removing or hiding game titles that they’ll never play.  Believe it or not, there’s a number of users that write to Steam support asking to have games permanently deleted from their account–even if they won’t be refunded any money.

Right now, I have a game category named “Garbage” and I send all my games that I truly hate and will never play into there.

This is kind of news, but it’s more like my personal observation.  When Counter-Strike: Global Offensive first arrived, it was accepted rather slowly.  After the initial rush, many people went back to CS: Source and sometimes CS 1.6.  It was a weird time, and I thought that Valve’s gambit into CS:GO was going to be a huge bust, especially since Valve didn’t develop it but let Hidden Path Entertainment do it.

Perhaps it was because professional gamers were starting to adapt to CS:GO and people started to pay more attention since it was featured in tournaments.  But I think the big change was when they implemented weapon skins and rare item drops.  In effect, they took the best part of Team Fortress 2 (item customization) and removed the worst part out of it (items drastically alter gameplay).

CS:GO became a money train once they allowed Steam Workshop items to be implemented into the game.  Originally, Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment thought that military style skins would be best, like camouflage patterns.  But it turned out that vivid colors and wild designs became the most desired weapon skins.  I can relate to this.  Real world guns aren’t very flashy at all, but it does look cool to have a blazing red firearm in a video game.  Today there’s all kinds of styles and they even implemented decals (stickers) that you can apply to your guns.

Currently, CS:GO is undoubtedly the most popular version of Counter-Strike.  It’s getting so huge that CS:GO will be the next game that Valve wants to show off after Dota 2.  There’s going to be tournaments that will be shown on Twitch and maybe even ESPN.

Crytek is a German company but it does have one development branch in the United States located here in Austin.  In recent times, things have looked very bleak.  There were reports that many staff members weren’t paid for weeks and morale became severely low.  Many Austin employees were asked to relocate to Germany, and that’s effectively laying them off.

Recently, Crytek sold off the Homefront IP to Koch Media, meaning that it’s now effectively owned by Deep Silver.  Deep Silver is the publisher for the Dead Island, Saints Row, and Metro franchises.  Many people saw this as a sign that Crytek was in big trouble, because companies never sell off IPs to anyone unless they have something huge to gain from it.  Recently the CEO of Crytek denied this and said that due to recent money inflow, they didn’t have to sell the IP at all but it happened anyway.

Crytek is going to shift in priorities in a major way.  First, they are going to focus on free-to-play games.  This means that games like Timesplitters and Crysis may never get another sequel.  Far Cry may also be affected, but the interview that I read didn’t specify.  Crytek’s next PC game will be a port of Ryse: Son of Rome, and this is likely the last title that they’ll sell before switching to the free-to-play model.  It’s a strange title to be pushing to the PC since the game did not do well on the Xbox One.  Ryse was financed by Microsoft, but they aren’t financing Ryse 2 so the game franchise is currently a dead end.  Crytek says that Ryse is still a viable product, but somebody else will need to finance it to keep it going.


The Tripwire Game posted by Kevin Lew


If you’ve read my Portal 2 ARG Trip Report (a.k.a. “Journey to the West – My Trip to Valve”) then you will notice that there’s a section in there which mentions a secret that I haven’t told.

It’s the evening of April 18, 2011.  It’s a Monday, and despite that I didn’t go to work at all that day, I’m still wearing a long-sleeve blue shirt and khakis.

We’re in a fancy restaurant in the Bellevue area.  We’re guests of honor so it’s an open bar, but I drink a Diet Coke.  The waiters put down water crackers and toasted bread.  The butter is light orange because it’s been seasoned with sun-dried tomatoes.

I’m sitting across from John Gibson, the President and one of the founders of Tripwire Interactive.  He looks like an ordinary guy, but I know that he is one of the first indie developers to become a huge success.  He’s having a discussion about game development to developers at Two Tribes.  I’m distracted because there’s also a conversation down the table.  Robin Walker, a charismatic person from Valve, is having a wild discussion about something that I can’t fully hear.  Several Portal 2 ARG members are entranced by him, and the founders of Hidden Path Entertainment, who are sitting next to me, are also listening intently.

I’m sitting so close to these people.  I could have stretched my arms and shook the hands of two CEOs at the same time.  It’s something that will never happen again in my life, I don’t think.

John asks if Two Tribes has another project in the queue.  The developers know that there’s others present at the table and these are corporate secrets, and they acknowledge it but do not go into further details.  But John seems excited, and he wants to help the developers.  “We’ve decided to start working on Killing Floor 2,” he says.  He doesn’t even look at me when he says it.

For a second, I think that John Gibson is trolling me.  The co-founder of Tripwire just leaked his next unannounced game when I was sitting next to him.  There are no other Portal 2 ARG members near me, and no members of the press are invited to this event.  I ask John if he was serious…  Killing Floor 2 was a real thing?  John Gibson shifts his eyes jokingly as if he was a covert operative.

“Ummm…  No,” he says suddenly with a slight grin.

“I won’t tell anybody,” I say earnestly.  It wasn’t a super huge secret, since Killing Floor was a major hit for Tripwire.  The game was showing its age as it was still using a modified Unreal Tournament 2004 game engine, and it was a matter of time before Tripwire would announce, at the very least, a remake with a modern game engine.

But it was a secret and I didn’t want to betray him.  However, when you have a secret, it’s like a hot coal burning in your heart.  It’s like you know something forbidden and it’s really exciting.  There must be hundreds if not thousands of game journalists and I knew something that they didn’t.

Years pass and my time in Bellevue, Washington becomes more dreamlike.  The secret is no longer a hot coal, but it’s just a pile of warm ashes in my chest.  I begin to doubt if any of it was real.  Maybe John Gibson was just saying that to start a conversation.  It’s also possible that they could have canceled the game.  But there’s something about game development that I know from past reports:  Video games often take years to complete.  It wouldn’t be implausible that they would be working on it for three years.

On Thursday, May 8, 2014, Tripwire Interactive releases a major press release to PC Gamer.  Fans have speculated that Killing Floor 2 was coming as they had been hinting at it for several days.  Now everybody in the world knew for certain.  The secret in my chest was down to a single glowing ember yesterday, but I’m glad that I held onto it.  I’m really glad that it turned out to be true.

Kev’s Slog #11 posted by Kevin Lew


One indie game that is probably unnoticed is Richard & Alice.  It’s finally coming to Steam after almost a year.  This game has really simple graphics, but most people that have played it have stated that it’s actually a very touching and sad story about two people trying to survive the end of the world.  You can try the demo on the developer’s website if you’d like.  I am somewhat curious where the story will go, and I’ll buy it eventually.


Steam is now Greenlighting games so fast that I wonder if they are now approving games faster than people can submit them.  Then again, most of the current indie games (the really bad ones imported from the saturated mobile market) are bypassing Greenlight completely by using a backdoor method.

The most recent list includes several games that have been waiting for almost two years, such as The Oil Blue.  Believe it or not, David Galindo–the developer that made The Oil Blue–later created Cook, Serve, Delicious!, a major indie hit.  Even more ironic, the developer had formally announced that he was going to remove The Oil Blue from Greenlight at the end of April because he figured it would never be approved and the game used outdated technology anyway.  Now that it’s been approved, it’s hard to say if this is a cynical or delightful turn of events.  David needs to port it to a new game engine and do a large number of improvements, effectively meaning that he must reprogram the game all over again.  But he’s going to do it!

I think the takeaway here is that indie developers need to keep faith and keep trying.  It’s got to be brutal to be an indie game maker, and I feel bad for the ones that are struggling.  However, I think that developers would benefit from showing their game to other indie developers for feedback and constructive criticism.  The Oil Blue may not be a bad game, but it’s very hard to tell what’s going on unless somebody is narrating the action.  One cardinal rule about video games is:  “Gamers won’t buy (or vote for) games if they can’t understand them.”

Two ancient MMOs have been resurrected on Greenlight: Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot.  They were almost immediately Greenlit, so I don’t know why they weren’t just approved flat-out in the first place.  More importantly, I’m still confused who really wants to play these games anymore other than nostalgia.  Both games are also going to have monthly subscription fees, and I suspect this is going to change several months down the road.

Finally, I saved the best for last.  The Old City is on Kickstarter and it may not get funded, but it got Greenlit and that makes me happy.  The Old City is a so-called “walking simulator” game.  I’m going to say this very clearly and without any sarcasm:  I can’t get enough of those games.  I want more Dear Esthers and Gone Homes.  I like them so much that I think that the tag “walking simulator” needs to change.  They need a sexy new name, like “explore porn.”  No, wait…  I’m going to call them “anti-platformers” because none of them have a jump button.


I’m not exactly sure why, but there’s already some fear and negativity about Wolfenstein: The New Order despite that it hasn’t shipped yet and all reviewers are likely under an embargo.  With all that I’ve seen, my guess is that this game is not going to be all that bad.

Bethesda has been very careful with this game.  First of all, playable demos have been made available for some time to game critics and many have given favorable first looks, other than Total Biscuit.  Keep in mind that absolutely no game is ever so great that nobody will complain about it, and Half-Life 2 is a perfect example of that.  Also, they are now livestreaming play videos of the game, and by the time the game launches, the game will have a total of 90 minutes of uninterrupted gameplay available.

There’s also a list of features that I find positive about the new Wolfenstein:  I never saw any QTE prompts in any of the trailers or streamed video.  I.e., there’s no “Press X To Not Die.”  Second, your health doesn’t regenerate except to make your health an easy to read number.  You need to find health kits and armor for the rest.  Third, the game lets you decide if you want to go a stealth assassination or guns blazing play, and you can mix it up.  And finally, I like how you can pick up a mounted machine gun and carry it around, but in Wolfenstein you can put it back on the mount again later.  I think it may even reload all the ammo and turn it back into an infinite ammunition weapon again.

One last thing.  Some folks on the Internet are furious that the game isn’t going to have multiplayer.  I need to point out that many games have put out a terrible or flat-out idiotic multiplayer mode, because the game wasn’t really designed for it but the publisher insisted on it.  The best example of this is Spec Ops: The Line.  The game had a brilliant single player campaign, but the publisher wanted a PvP mode anyway.  It’s so odd because the campaign made war look really terrible and Captain Walker ended up a broken man.  But PvP is all about making war and killing very fun and exciting, and it completely contradicted the game’s message.

Kev’s Slog #10 posted by Kevin Lew


I’ve been watching several presentations from this year’s GDC conference, and some of them are extremely good.  The Game Developers Conference is about people in the video game industry talking to other developers about what they are doing, and maybe they can help others learn from their successes and mistakes.  Some of the presentations are quite informative and interesting.   I’ll try to see if any are worth commenting on in the future, but the presentations are an hour long each so they are quite time consuming.


Some press, including Jim Sterling, recently blasted the conference for some of the presentations.  One of the worst offenders was called “Monetizing Teens in a Safe and Legal Manner.”  I will admit that looking at that title will make many people feel truly disgusted, as I think that video games are already exploiting fans enough, and now they are going after children that may not know better.

But this proves a point.  If you just read the headline and not any of the context, then you often miss the big picture.  I hate to say it, but that means that Jim Sterling jumped to conclusions and got some of his information wrong.

If you’re wondering, that GDC presentation wasn’t about monetizing teens at all.  It’s about free-to-play games that are targeting all audiences (which there are millions), and telling developers how to put in parental controls and prevent kids from unintentionally spending money.  Unfortunately, yes, many F2P games target children.  I need to emphasize that I do not approve of it.  However, I’m saying that singling out video games for criticism is very silly, because millions of products intentionally exploit children, including animated movies, breakfast cereal, toys, snack food, and fast-food restaurants.

In any case, I think that parents should be more active in their children’s lives and families should establish ground rules about phone usage.


Alexander Bruce, the creator of Antichamber, talked about his game at the GDC conference that happened last month.  He talked about how he spent seven years working on the game.  There were a number of truly fascinating things that I learned from the hour-long presentation.

You may know that the game was originally called Hazard: The Journey of Life and it was a very deliberate and personal reason for this.  The game represented what he was going through and it’s almost an extension of himself.  Since it was called Hazard for the first four years in development, he didn’t want to change it.  But he talked to many other indie developers who told him that the title didn’t match the gameplay, and it made the game sound like a FPS game.  He then changed it after debating about it for weeks, and this was the right choice in retrospect.

I was surprised to hear that he didn’t actually write to Valve to have the game on Steam.  Instead, Valve contacted him and asked if he would use their platform, thus making his game an exclusive Steamworks title (like Civilization 5 and others).  This was in 2011, two years before he was ready to ship the game.  That’s how much they wanted his game.

Toward the end of the game development, Alexander Bruce started to lose his mind, and I’m not saying that figuratively.  The pressure of making the game was immense and he was literally breaking down.  He had been fighting so hard to get noticed and get recognized by the media and the industry.  When he was starting to get it, it only made him more depressed as all the negatives of fame came with it, such as the fear of failure.  And worse, he spent so long working on getting fame that when he got it, then it felt like he had no goal anymore.

I need to point out that he is not alone.  Davey Wredon, the developer of The Stanley Parable, mentioned the exact same thing–that fame makes you sad after a time, and it’s hard to understand unless you’ve become relatively famous.  Wredon says that he doesn’t like talking about his game anymore and wants to move on.

At the very end, Antichamber was a huge hit.  It became the #1 best selling on Steam for a time, a feat that’s very hard to do as an indie game developer.  Alexander Bruce had the three things that every person wants:  He was incredibly rich.  He was famous and respected by his peers.  He had dozens of awards across the industry.  You’d think that having the holy trinity of success would make him very happy, but it didn’t.  It broke something inside him.  He had the kind of mental breakdown that is frequently exaggerated on TV, where he would scream at himself in a mirror.  He said that it’s hard to understand because most people can’t see a downside to wealth or fame.

At the very end, he had a Q&A session.  He only answered five questions, but the shortest one was the most powerful.  “Was it worth it?”  Alexander Bruce paused for a second and gave a very interesting answer.  He said that if it was a year ago, then he would have said that he wasn’t sure.  But now that he’s gotten help and he’s doing better, then maybe it was worth it.  However, it’s unclear if Alexander Bruce will ever design another video game ever again.

Kev’s Slog #9 posted by Kevin Lew


I almost broke my hand today trying to beat the train in the Dunwall City Trials DLC in Dishonored.  I’ve never pushed so hard on some buttons trying to run a mission in only 31 seconds, and my hands really are hurting from trying so hard.  Keep in mind that I’m actually 43 years old and it’s really hard to play modern games at this age.

Which leads me into my next point.  I really don’t understand why any video game would feature achievements/game modes where they feature Speed Runs or Challenge Missions.  Both are never popular and are really hated by the general gamer audience.  For developers that don’t understand why they are so hated, let me give a quick explanation.

First of all, Speed Runs are the absolute irony of video gaming:  Games get shorter all the time, but then somebody decided to make an entire game mode where you skip as much content as possible.  Let’s pretend that all that work into your game is really unimportant and finish the game as fast as possible.  It’s like paying money to go to a theme park and you time how fast you can run to the nearest exit.

Second, Challenge Missions are nothing but asking the player to Beat the Robot.  “I programmed a gaming robot to play this game at 99% efficiency.  But if you can play at 99.1% efficiency, then I’ll give you a five star rating and a ranking on this leaderboard.”  You know what other game type makes you play like a robot?  Racing games.  If you’re wondering why the racing genre has become nothing but a niche market, then there’s your answer.

You could say that I could ignore this content if I don’t like it, but that’s not my point.  It’s junk content that many people had to take time creating.  Somebody had to come up with the level design, play test it, debug it, etc.  All that time and effort could have gone into something else.  If anything, Challenge Mission DLC (which is in many triple-A games, not just Dishonored) only seems to back the argument that some DLC are nothing but borderline junk just to increase profit margins.

As an aside, Dishonored is a game made by Arkane Studios, a company located here in Austin.  I think Dishonored is a fantastic game, just not that DLC.  If the Steam statistics are even remotely accurate, then I’m not alone in this opinion.


Indie games that I’m seriously keeping my eye on, and they should have a release sometime this year:

* Below:  This is made by Capy (a.k.a. Capybara Games) and it’s the same team that made Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery.  The latter was a really weird art game that begged to be called pretentious, and it was either loved or hated by fans/critics.  This game doesn’t appear to be as odd.  The most recent trailer clearly states a future Steam release.

* Miegakure:  After four years of being totally silent (and being denied from the Indie Game Fund), there’s a new demo video showing the game.  This game is impossible to describe because it’s about moving along the fourth dimension.  It’s so hard to understand that many people are going to buy this game just to get their mind blown.  I am making the brazen prediction that Marc ten Bosch wants to deliver it this game this year.  It’s got a guaranteed slot on Steam since it’s an IGF winner.

* Secrets of Raetikon:  This is in Steam Early Access already but I never realized that the game was so interesting.  It’s actually a physics puzzle game but it’s barely known by the public at all.  You are a bird and you spend most of the game flying.  It’s very pretty.  The only fear that I have is how hard is it to control your character.  It doesn’t look easy since you have to do moves in mid-air.

I do know about Hack & Slash, Citizens of Earth, Last Life, Dead Synchronicity, etc.  I’m withholding judgment on those games until I can get more details.

Kev’s Slog #8 posted by Kevin Lew


Seven days is all we get to play BattleBlock Theater’s closed beta test.  Each day, we have to do something in the game to test a feature.  It’s serious and we have to fill out a survey afterwards.  There’s several secret forums, which only the beta testers and developers can see, to discuss bugs, suggestions, and general commentary.  I re-read my contract, and I can’t review the game.  This means, I believe, that I can’t even tell you guys what I think about the game.

However, I can tell you guys this.  I am absolutely horrible at BattleBlock Theater.  It looks so simple from the Let’s Play videos.  Youtube streaming pros just chat and tell jokes while they seemingly glide through this platforming game like an elegant swan.  On the other hand, I just play like a drunk bear.  I scream “Damn it!” (and much worse profanity) as I mistime my jump for the sixth time in a row and fall to my death.  Because of this, I can confirm that I would never be good at making Let’s Play videos.

I can point out something about BattleBlock Theater without violating my NDA.  The game is clever in ways that many people don’t realize.  For example, there’s shallow water and there’s lava.  Now you can guess which would be dangerous in most games and which would be safe.  But in BattleBlock Theater, if you touch any water then you instantly fall in and drown.  Lava, on the other hand, is relatively harmless and they are used to make you jump REALLY high.


I need to talk about GAME_JAM.  Game journalists, Youtube streamers, and indie developers have all gotten wind of this story, and it’s shown how much damage one event can do.  The story broke this morning with the writer, Jared Rosen, saying that he may get fired afterwards.  The problem is that he was writing about how his parent company (i.e., his bosses) completely screwed up and lost over $400,000 in the process.

I’ll give you the quick rundown.  Some time ago, the founders of Indie Statik and Game Jolt had an idea about coming up with a documentary show called GAME_JAM.  The idea was that famous indie game developers would be invited to their studios for an authentic game jam.  They would create a game and the whole thing would be filmed and turned into a documentary show.  What was new was that Youtube celebrities would be involved–they would work on the game also and also actively promoting it on their channels.

The idea was that this would push indie game development into the spotlight.  It could potentially be huge as it would have multiple game developers and Youtube celebrities.  Somebody began thinking that this wasn’t going to be thousands of viewers, but maybe millions of viewers.

Somebody at Polaris, the media company behind the event, got greedy or stupid.  They now wanted corporate sponsors to finance it.  And somebody did:  Mountain Dew.  If you’ve been keeping up with gaming news, this kind of corporate sponsorship has had a very negative connotation in recent times.  (Google “Doritogate” if you don’t believe me.)  At the very least, it pushes the stereotype that gamers drink “Mtn Dew”.

Once a corporation was now paying for the show, the game jam quickly devolved into a horrible reality show.  It wasn’t even a documentary anymore.  The show became a competition with (terrible) prizes attached.  Like all reality shows, the executive producer wanted to sensationalize the show to make it more interesting.  He’d intentionally goad the developers to try to get them to start in-fighting or arguments with the other groups.  (If you’ve noticed, all reality shows often feature a conflict that strangely has to be resolved in each episode.)  The show quickly turned into a farce and all the developers walked out on the first day of the shoot.

In the end, almost a half-million dollars was wasted in the production of a show that would never be made.  Even worse, stories about the fiasco are quickly spreading around the Internet, and even developers and Youtube celebrities that weren’t there have voiced their opinions about it.  But this could have an ironic silver lining:  Because GAME_JAM was such a disaster, it’s become a teaching tool and there’s now other game jams being started.

As a shameless plug and to tie this back to Steam, the upcoming Super Game Jam–a documentary series which will be on Steam for free–should be a really brilliant documentary series.  That’s going to be done as a short documentary series featuring two developers who have never worked together to come up with a game that’s out of their element.  The intent isn’t to make a super-great game, but to see how the game design process works and how developers come up with original ideas when they work in an unfamiliar environment.  As an aside, the series is being sponsored by Devolver Digital, the indie publishing company located in Austin where I live.