As I’ve mentioned before, I’m kind of a graphics snob in video games. I just don’t like the look of Half-Life, Fallout 1/2, or Morrowind. So, I was surprised that Robert Yang managed to convince me that, in at least one case, lo-res is better.


This is a comparison of the original (2006) and a remastered (2017) version of a video game, Final Fantasy XII. And yes, Yang’s contention is that the fuzzy original is better.

(Why the girl is leaning to one side in the remastered version, I don’t know.  It’s distracting, but not the point here.)

His analysis of the “remastering” is helpful:

If I had to guess, the artists probably did this: (1) scale up texture by 200%, (2) increase contrast, (3) desaturated a little for that grayish next-gen feel, (4) apply a sharpen filter, (5) overlay a noisy detail texture on top to try to make the surface look more detailed.

He notes that you can automate this process, so you can handle a whole folder of images in a few minutes.

Now, my first reaction was that I liked the sharper image better. (I’ve never played the game, so I have no nostalgia here to invoke.)  In general, our eyes like sharpness! We can really see the intended patterns; the banner looks ten times better; the leaves are more recognizable.  It’s like putting glasses on!

And none of that is wrong. But look at the things Yang is pointing to: desaturation; the sharpen feature; a noise filter. The way I’d put it: the new image is

  • way too loud– it draws attention to itself, though it’s just a background
  • way too contrasty– if you looked at an actual wall, you wouldn’t be conscious of such a wide tonal range, it would mostly look one color
  • much less warm– look especially at the pavement, which has gone from a warm orange to almost black-and-white
  • too flat; because everything is in focus, it looks like a picture, not a world

You can certainly do realism well, but this realism done badly.

Yang points to another example, a fan remake of Half-Life 2.  I won’t name it, because I’m not going to say anything nice about it and there’s no need to embarrass a hard-working modder. Here’s a comparison.  (The top image is apparently another mod, but much closer to Valve.)


Oh dear. Let’s go over the problems.

  • What the hell is going on in the screenshot? It’s wicked dark.
  • You can barely see what is supposed to be the focus of the scene: Breen and Eli Vance.
  • Contrariwise, the modder has inserted extremely bright lights where they do no good at all. “Here, I really want you to pay attention to this: the floor.”
  • In general, the physical modeling and the lighting effects are far better– e.g. the round hole in the ceiling isn’t an obvious polygon; the lights, like real lights, don’t just light up the air. But all this realism just hides the narrative.  We don’t get an idea of the shape of the area; we can’t see what’s going on; we don’t know where to go next.
  • Why did he blur the red highlights from the windows?  Why did he lose the overhead light? Come to think of it, why don’t those very bright lights actually illuminate anything?
  • Yes, you’ve learned how to do a shiny floor; but what’s the point? All it does is reflect some lights and thus confuse the scene further.  Does the Combine care that much about waxing their floors?
  • What the hell kind an outfit did he put on Mossman?

Not all the images from the mod are this dark, but when they’re not, they’re generally too busy, too desaturated, and less coherent. They look like someone Googled for hi-res versions of every texture in the scene, without any care to making them work together.

Realism is nice, but isn’t an end in itself. You also have to think about consistency of style, and focusing the player’s attention on what is important, and giving them the information they need to follow the story and navigate the world.  The old Valve was very good at this.

As an example of a game that properly shows off the increased realism that’s now possible, I’d name The Witcher 3. I haven’t finished it, but good lord is it gorgeous. And without losing the readability, consistency, and focus that’s needed for a game to work as a game.


I just finished Dishonored 2: Death of the Outsider, which I’ve been looking forward since seeing its fucken badass trailer. It’s the song that makes it.


This is a really lovely steampunk dystopia

Now, I really liked Dishonored 2, so playing DOTO (terrible acronym) was relaxing with an old friend. We’re back in Karnaca, exploring the hell out of a small section of the city, either choking or croaking guards.

The main Dishonoreds suffer from the PC being too close to the top of the social hierarchy; the DLC for each is far more satisfying.  In D1’s DLC you played gruff assassin Daud, and in DOTO you play his assistant Billie Lurk– who also has a major role in D2. And you take on the biggest target of all: the dark god of this universe, the Outsider.

I’m impressed with how smooth the game is. The world is, by now, one of the most distinctive fantasy worlds in games. The level design is superb, and often beautiful.  I never needed a walkthrough– I missed a couple puzzles, but nothing that bothered me.  As ever, the game rewards exploring every nook of these little worlds, but they’re never so large that they feel like a chore. There are side quests (‘contracts’), but they’re designed so that you can take them on as part of the main mission.

This time, there’s no chaos system.  I read that the devs have explained this as meaning Billie is too insignificant a figure to change the way the empire works… which makes no sense, since how she treats the Outsider is a more cosmic choice than anything you do in D1 or D2.  A better explanation might be that the Outsider ran the reward system in the previous games– and you overrule his decisions here.  But on a gameplay level, it’s a good thing: it encourages you to play the game lethally or not, without worrying that you’re getting the “bad ending”.

I decided to play completely lethally.  It fits Billie, and it was a chance to play in a way I really hadn’t in any of the earlier games. It’s pretty fun!  For most of the game you rarely run into more than 4 or so enemies at once, which is doable.  It took me 14 hours, but I was still exploring everything, not trying to speed-run.  It would have taken quite a bit more in full stealth mode.

There are a few difficult enemies:

  • One level has those damn clockwork soldiers, which are really hard to take down. Fortunately there’s not too many of them.
  • One level has a load of cultists, and at first it seemed anything I tried would send all of them after me.  But finally I learned to provoke only a handful at a time.
  • The last level has a nasty rock creature, the “Envisioned”.  They seem way overpowered– I couldn’t kill any of them, and they can basically one-hit you. But it turns out you can avoid them.

Billie has a new set of powers, which frankly are nerfed compared to the earlier games.  But a full skill tree wouldn’t make much sense in a shorter game.  I missed the Blink ability, mostly because its replacement, Displace, is really bad at moving vertically. On the other hand, I liked Foresight, not least because it solves a problem with these detective-mode analogs: if you have detective mode, you pretty much want to stay in it all the time, which means you’re seeing the world with a dull filter on.  Foresight freezes time and lets you scout ahead briefly.  It gives you a very pleasing rhythm of clearing an area, using Foresight to scout ahead and mark enemies, and then moving in.

You can also steal someone’s face, which gives you some nice methods of getting past checkpoints and such.

At the end, you can either kill the Outsider– or not.  Storywise, I think they did a pretty good job making this an interesting choice. My own feeling is that the Abbey of the Everyman is far worse than he is, so I spared the dude.

The standout mission is a bank heist in the third chapter.  It’s not as spectacular as the Clockwork Mansion in D2, but as a game level, it’s far better planned.  Jindosh’s mansion is baffling on a first playthrough; the bank basically leads you through while making you feel like you’ve solved the puzzles yourself.

It felt like they had a far lower budget or something, and so re-used one map twice, and re-used another one from D2.  But this wasn’t really bad: in the first case, the second time you’re mostly in the bank, which is new; and in the case of the repeated Conservatory, it gives them a chance to show what happened after the events of D2, which very different people in charge.

My one complaint, perhaps, is that none of the enemies you meet are as vivid or memorable as Duke Abele or Jindosh or Delilah from D2.  The series works best with exaggerated, grotesque villains, and they didn’t really come up with one here.

(Well, one other minor complaint: on the Conservatory mission you can find a load of coins… and then you never get a chance to spend them.  I guess you could stop off at the Black Market on the way home. I kind of preferred D1’s system of letting you shop in the between-mission screens.)

I really hope, though, that this isn’t it for Dishonored.  I want to go blinking and assassinating in this strange nasty world again.



I picked this up and zipped through it tonight. It’s by the same people who did Gone Home. It’s similar in gameplay, only it’s set in spaaaaaaace.


So: It’s 2088.  You’re Ami Ferrier, who’s been sent to grab the AI data from the unoccupied Tacoma space station.  It’s soon clear that something bad happened here, and you can snoop around to see what it was.

You can look at physical clues, but you also look at virtual clues: the AI kept recordings of significant crew interactions, in the form of augmented reality recordings. These are color-coded ghosts (with full audio). The clever bit is that you can’t just stand there gawking at them– the characters move around, and you have to decide which ones to follow. You can then rewind and follow someone else.

All this makes two big improvements over Gone Home:

  • The futuristic setting, which allows the art and story people a good deal more creativity.
  • The AR recordings, which just feel more involving and interactive than a straight audio.

But the overall method and even the story structure are similar.  You can root around offices and personal quarters, look in drawers and trash bins, solve a few simple puzzles to gain access to additional areas.  You don’t have to do any of this, but you’d might as well, because that’s the game… you don’t get to shoot anyone at all. You’ll very soon get to know each of the six residents of the station.

The story has been described as cyberpunkish, or Late Capitalism in Spaaace.  Let’s just say that you won’t be surprised to find corporate shenanigans going on, and some inscrutable and possibly dangerous AIs.

Gone Home had the advantage of being a low-key domestic story; it was unusual because we almost never see something like that made into a game. But I think Tacoma is a step forward in storytelling; without losing the interest in everyday personal interactions, it’s more streamlined and dramatic.  Rather than slowly leafing through a couple decades of family life, it focuses on a very stressful period of days, with a few key flashbacks. (I think there are fewer items to look at, but that’s because they rely on the AR for so much of the storytelling.  The games each take about 2 hours to play.)

The ending is also a lot more satisfying.  (Mouse over to read if you aren’t worried about spoilers.)  One, Ami actually does something, unlike the entirely passive PC in Gone Home. And two, the story manages to not replay every AI story ever told, which is refreshing.

One minor complaint: the low-detail ghosts. When they’ve obviously gone to the trouble of motion-capturing the performances and building 3-D models, I don’t get why they didn’t just show the characters’ faces.  It’s not like they were trying to hide them– there are pictures of each one.

Anyway, it’s a really interesting exercise in storytelling.  It could have been told as a movie or a comic, but the interactivity adds something, though that something is hard to explain. Perhaps it’s that it requires active curiosity, rather than passive acceptance. A lot of far fancier games could learn the lesson that it’s kind of annoying to grab the camera away from the player and just show them cutscenes.

I was thinking about some games I’ve started and not finished, and I think I’ve figured out why: there’s too much to do.


Your to-do list

These games include Rise of the Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.  I loved the games they’re sequels to, I’ve started them, got some distance into them, and just never seem to start them up again. What I realized today is that the original games were mostly linear, and the new games are far more open-world.

And it makes me anxious. I feel like I have to find everything in an area before moving on.  I know I could skip most of the stuff, but then I worry that I won’t have mastered all the skills needed for the main quest.  I have other complaints– e.g. Faith and Merc in the original Mirror’s Edge were far more likeable characters than Faith and Noah in Catalyst— but I think it’s the size of the game that bothers me.

The irony is, I’ve put an ungodly number of hours into Mirror’s Edge. But part of that it is because it’s in nice digestible chunks. I will replay the game occasionally, or I’ll spend time on the time trials.  The game is so focused that there’s no paralysis of choice.

Dishonored and Dishonored 2 hit the sweet spot of “mostly linear, but with side stuff to make it fun to explore.” There are just enough runes and lore drops.  Arkham City is also well balanced.  (I did get all the Riddler trophies– once. If I just want to mess around as Batman or Catwoman, I’ll play the challenge maps.) Saints Row 4 has a nice approach: it’s sprawling, and yet the game will lead you through all the activities if you let it.

So if you’re a developer, I’d suggest that making an open world is not something you have to do, and can even make your game worse.  Embrace linearity.  I’d rather have a solid main quest to do than a huge number of fairly shallow activities, where it’s not clear what I should be doing.  (On the other hand, a good place for those shallow activities is in a separate challenge mode.)

If you’re Bethesda, however, you should just carry on. Fallout 3 and Oblivion, for me, did open-world in just the right way. Although I completed the main story in both, I appreciated the fact that I didn’t really have to. Plus these games, and Saints Row 3/4, are great at making so much of the world interactive. That is: an open world goes well with multiple playstyles and playthroughs: if you can be a hero one time and a rogue another, if you can wander down the road and find a new story, if you can make a home and find shops to customize your character.  Neither Faith nor Lara really have the opportunity to put the main quest aside for a few months, maybe buying a house or playing as a rogue.

All this is entirely subjective (it’s quite all right if you play games very differently), and it’s not intended as the last word on these particular games.

Edit: So why do publishers insist on making games open-world?  According to this scary article, it’s because they can monetize them better. Ugh.



Marc Laidlaw, a former writer for Valve, has published a plot summary for Half-Life 2 Episode 3. It’s obfuscated and gender-swapped (which is actually kind of amusing), but here’s a deobfuscated version. Fresh off reading Shamus Young’s dissections of bad plots, I’m going to go ahead and say: it’s a terrible plot.


(Go read it, this won’t make any sense till you do.)

Now, I fully realize this is an informal treatment, probably from very early in the (now dead) development process. There’s no game here… but it would have been added, and adding game elements is something Valve is… was… good at. But it can be judged as an attempt at the story.

As a short sf story, it has a few good ideas with some horror potential: Breen as a miserable Combine slug; the between-worlds Borealis; the final reveal of the galaxy-class power of the Combine.

As a plot, it’s worse than Mass Effect 2.  (See Shamus for why the plot of ME2 is actually worse than ME3.) It not only throws out any forward progress made in HL2 and in Episodes 1/2, it actually sets things back. Is every Half-Life plot supposed to be “Gordon Freeman does something perilous to shut down a portal that’s supposed to fix things, and in the next game we find out it failed”?

The Breen encounter might be kind of fun, but it’s also a kick in the teeth to HL2 itself. Breen was a fantastic character, but just bringing him back is the epitome of genre laziness. I don’t want to read LOTR 2 where the Ring turns out not to have been destroyed, and Frodo has to return from Eressëa to destroy it again.

Having Alyx kill Judith Mossman suggests that Laidlaw forgot he was writing a game rather than a movie. As Shamus might point out, this is like your DM having the NPCS in the party kill the Big Bad. If Alyx is the protagonist of the game, make her the frigging player character.

The dimension-hopping of the Borealis would probably be fun to look at, but it’s not used in any interesting sense here. If what we have is a dimension-hopping ship, we should have more than one destination.  (I fear that Aperture Science and Cave Johnson, however, are a little too comic to fit into the Half-Life games.)

The Dyson sphere is a great reveal.  If it’s done right, you get an oh shit moment: the enemy is even more powerful than it appeared. Only… the Combine was already all-powerful. It conquered Earth in seven hours, remember? HL2 owes most of its power to its depiction of enormous, intractable catastrophe. Only, “the right man in the wrong place can make a world of difference”, right? Even if he spends a lot of the game whacking headcrabs with a crowbar.

So what difference does Gordon— or Alyx— make in this story? Absolutely none. the Dyson sphere makes a great Act II reversal; it’s a terrible end to the story.

Plus, to make G-Man mysterious is one thing; to have him make no sense at all is just wankery. Is he like the Outsider, changing his favorites on a whim? There was the idea that he was some sort of galactic mercenary… but then it’s way past time we learn something about what entities are paying his fees.

Here’s just a few ideas that would make this plot summary at least kind of game-like:

  • Make Alyx the PC.
  • Lose Breen. Invent an actual new named Combine antagonist who is racing you to the Borealis.
  • Alyx has the ability to kill Mossman at any time. If it’s too early, you lose. If it’s too late, she grounds the ship in the Antarctic and the Combine swarm in.
  • Use the dimension-hopping to prop up the Resistance at a few key points. This is optional, but each point will give you soldiers to take along, and they’ll make the fights at the Dyson Sphere easier.
  • At the Dyson Sphere, you find your nemesis snuck onto the ship. It was wounded, but this is its home turf. You have to follow and kill it.  You are using the ship to blink about; because of its time instability, you may arrive at a location several minutes before or after the nemesis does, which affects the difficulty of the fight.
  • In the fights, Gordon is your ally and uses his gravity gun. You, however, have a portal gun that was lying around the ship.
  • When you defeat it, the G-Man talks to you.  “Good job getting here,” he smirks, and offers you three choices:
    • Use the Dyson Sphere base to destroy all Combine points connected to it– freeing a vast number of planets, but also destroying unimaginable numbers of innocent beings who happen to be near the Combine facilities.
    • Destroy the base itself– leaving the Combine and their slaves on each planet isolated from each other.
    • Open a portal that allows one of the G-Man’s other clients to reach Earth. He assures you, with a slappable smile, that they hate the Combine “and will not destroy your people.”

Oh, you want HL3 and HL4 too?  OK, some ideas:

  • Get rid of the remaining Combine on Earth before they can reconstruct a portal.
  • Or, if you chose Door Number Three, get rid of the G-Man’s pals, who turn out to be just as nasty but in different ways.
  • Take the fight to the Combine homeworld.
  • Find out why the Combine are fighting: they are building resources against an intergalactic threat. Guess what, you’re the one facing it now.


I just spent about an entire workday reading two video game reviews by Shamus Young.  They’re pretty good. Here he is on Arkham City; here he is on the Mass Effect series.

arkham city catwoman

What holds her goggles on?

Did I mention these are really long?  The Mass Effect one is in fifty installments.

Now, Shamus is pretty solid on gameplay. He agrees with me, as well he should, on the excellence of Arkham City and why its combat system is fantastic. He observes that the actual gameplay improves over the Mass Effect games. But his heart is elsewhere. What he really wants to talk about (and boy howdy, does he) is plot. And plot holes. And character problems. And worldbuilding problems.

I’m making fun of his verbosity, but I read these entire things, and he’s actually really good at this sort of criticism. He points out what works in the story, and what doesn’t.  He can be pedantic, but he’s actually quite forgiving about things-required-for-gameplay.  (Like, Batman is in the city for like 12 hours, and never once stops to eat or even take a drink of water. That’s OK, everyone understands how games differ from real life.) If you were the game designer, you’d probably bristle at what he has to say, but the thing is, he’s almost always right, and he’ll even explain, for free, how you could have done it right and make the game better that way.

On Arkham City, about the thing he likes best is the Joker/Clayface plot, and how the Big Twist is carefully foreshadowed.  And what he likes least is how passive Batman is about, well, everything.  He’s never prepared for anything, he is constantly getting sidetracked, and he almost never does any actual detecting.

I agree, but of course I think the game works despite this, perhaps because the “World’s Greatest Detective” side of Batman has always been a bit of a cheat. In the original stories he’s all about the punching. If he does come up with a clue, it’s not the Poirot style of using reason to knit a story together; it’s the comic-book or Star Trek trope of “Being a super-genius, I will come up with the next plot strand by staring at this computer.” Still, it’s nice when Batman actually comes up with something to do on his own that works, rather than being supplied it by a voice in his ear. Using Poison Ivy in the first game works. About the only idea Batman comes up with himself in Arkham City is going to see Catwoman, and that actually tells him nothing.

On Mass Effect he goes through the entire plot of all three games.  In short: he thinks 1 is masterfully done, while 2/3 throw out everything that worked and try to tell a new story.  If it worked, that would be OK, though weird; but in fact it’s completely incoherent.

In short: lots of people thought that the problem was 3’s ending.  But he makes the case that the series went off the rails at the beginning of 2 and made terrible decisions throughout. The ending didn’t suck any worse than the rest of the plot; but since it was the ending, nothing came afterward to distract the player back into acceptance.

But the characters and side quests!  Yes, these were almost entirely good, and the stories here were often fantastic. On the other hand, almost all of what was good storywise came from 1. He particularly admires the Rachni/Turian/Salarian/Krogan storyline. The Rachni invade and kick everyone’s ass; the Salarians uplift the Krogans to fight them; they succeed but then become a threat on their own; the Turians unleash the genophage to beat them down.

As Shamus points out, this isn’t just a story (A happened, then B happened, then C happened), but a plot: A happened, this caused B, and that caused C in turn. It sets up a complicated history and conflicts between the species and creates multiple intervention points for Commander Shepard. The Geth/Quarian subplot is also high quality. In both cases, the story was set up in 1 and not mishandled in 2/3.

What went wrong in the main questline in 2/3?  In a word, everything. Cerberus makes no sense. The Illusive Man has contradictory powers, goals, and methods– one moment he’s a terrorist, another he’s a misguided nationalist who’s the only person willing to fight the Reapers, yet another he’s a dupe of the Reapers (yet never accomplishes anything for them). Game 1 set up a clear goal for Shepard (learn how to fight the Reapers, using her ability to understand the Protheans and her Asari friend’s special competence in that area).  2 threw all that away in order to fight a completely different threat, for completely different masters.  Then the ending of 2 was itself thrown away so that Shepard could go back to the Reapers… only she doesn’t, she spends almost the entire questline fighting Cerberus. The whole Reaper thing– the supposed inevitability of synthetics destroying organics– is completely contradicted by the story of the Geth. In the whole of 2/3 there’s no entity, from Shepard on down, who has a clear rational goal in the main story and pursues it intelligently.

Plus, outside the “good subquests”, Shepard is never given interesting choices, or even good dialog options. In all of 2 she never gets any zingers in with the Illusive Man, and in 3 she never defends her time with Cerebus, even to the extent of saying she had no choice. And yet Cerebus never has any word for itself either; no pro-Cerebus character ever explains any good thing it’s doing.

Now, as it happens, I enjoyed 2 more than 1. (I never played 3.) But that’s because I value plot far less than Shamus does. I thought 1’s gameplay was mediocre; 2’s was far better, and the squad recruitment and loyalty quests were almost all satisfying.  And this difference in evaluation is just fine.  He doesn’t expect everyone to share his preferences, and he’s very good at explaining why, for those who really care about plot and worldbuilding, failures in these areas are really obnoxious.

It’s not that I don’t care about story at all– a good one adds immeasurably to a game. But I’m willing to forgive a lot if the core gameplay is well done.  Left 4 Dead, for instance, is the stupidest of horror stories: a constant run from mindless zombies. But it’s a blast while you’re in it.

(If you know me, you might be surprised that I’m not all about the worldbuilding in games. Well, I do love a good world! But it’s only one of the things that make a great game shine, and it really can’t rescue poor gameplay.)

If all this whets your appetite, he also has good analyses on why the Thieves’ Guild storyline in Skyrim is far worse than the one in Oblivion, and why Fallout 3‘s main story is idiotic.

Shamus doesn’t get much into the production of video games, and this is the one defect in his analysis. He obviously understands that games are written by teams, but I think he kind of assumes that some Head Writer is in charge of everything. Now, my own knowledge doesn’t go beyond reading some interviews and diving down fairly deeply into Fallout New Vegas‘s game editor. But I get the impression that Shamus thinks games work like this:

  • writer outlines the main plot, much like a screenplay
  • writer works out the levels, main quests, and side quests
  • maybe other people come in and do some work, but writer acts like a movie director in charge of it all

And I suspect development mostly works like this:

  • developers work on the game engine
  • level designers create a bunch of levels
  • art directors create pictures; these are turned into a shit-ton of assets
  • meanwhile, a bunch of ideas are tossed around for an overall story
  • writers cobble together dialogs that justify moving from Level A to Level B
  • quests are created, each one by some designer who doesn’t talk to any of the others
  • pretty much each of these steps are reworked several times as ideas change, problems arise, and various suits step in
  • oh shit we’re supposed to ship in 12 months, we’d better get our shit together
  • the levels that demo the best are selected; the rest are thrown out
  • writers frantically stitch together those levels, patching over the missing quests that would have made sense of the overall story
  • voice talent comes in; now rewriting anything becomes nearly impossible
  • the writers grumble because things don’t make sense, but the team is shell-shocked by now, finishing final art and level design and quashing the infinity of bugs QA keeps finding
  • oh jesus we promised it’d be out by now and we can’t delay any more, HERE IT IS

Again, this isn’t to say that Shamus’s criticisms are wrong. It’s just, there was never something like a script where everything was laid out.  There was probably a treatment of the main story, but it’s spectacularly out of date. The process is designed so that a dozen people can be simultaneously writing quests without checking constantly with their boss or each other. And when you’re actually doing a quest in the game editor, there are a million things to think about– all the McGuffins have to be placed in the game-world, all the triggering boxes set up, all the dialog logic coded. You have to juggle an amazing number of possibilities that most players will never see. Players focus on a few big decisions, but a lot of the logic in a quest relates to far smaller decisions: are there ways to accomplish a goal by stealth or by combat?  Did the player mindlessly wipe out NPC #2394 who you’d chosen to produce a plot point?  What if they stumble on things in the ‘wrong’ order? Do we have a quip for each of the possible 12 companions to utter? How many NPC dialog lines have to be doubled because they refer to the PC’s gender? What special options exist because you took some perk, or you have a high (im)morality score?

It wouldn’t surprise me if Bioware was aware of half of the problems Shamus found… only once a quest is written, voice-acted, with level design and art created… who the fuck wants to redo it?

I also suspect it’s a lot easier to get all this right if you can railroad the player more. Arkham City has lots of sidequests, but the main quest is entirely linear, and the player has no story choices. (Well, technically you have one, as Catwoman, but one of them just ends the game.)

Edit: One more thought… to understand why nerds write 50-post screeds like this, and why other nerds read them, you have to understand something about nerds: we are way more frustrated by something that’s 90% what we like, than by something that’s only 50%. People really got into Mass Effect (and forgave its dull combat) because of the setting, the characters, and the pure fun of being Shepard. People wouldn’t get this exercised over a terrible set of games.


Last night I had an amazing game of Heroes of the Storm.  Like most good Moba stories, it’s the story of a comeback. (When you roll the other team, it may be a well-played game, but it’s not a story.) Here’s the situation 11 minutes in; we are the red team.


It was grim. They were two levels ahead, and were fighting at our core. (You lose the game when your core is destroyed.)

This is the Dragonshire map. The clever bit of HOTS, the thing that makes games last 15-20 minutes rather than League’s 40-60 minutes, is that each map has an accelerant, something that you can fight over that gives you enormous power. Here it’s a statue of a Dragon Knight which will come to life and fight for you if you can control two temples at opposite sides of the map. In the picture, the enemy Knight is Shodredux.

I’m playing Chromie, currently my favorite character.  She’s tiny but very powerful. Her Q is a sand blast that only hits heroes– thus, useless against forts and minions; however, that also means the minions don’t block the shot.  Her W hits a small area; her E sets up a trap, and her R is a fairly big sandstorm that drastically slows everyone in it.  Once she’s leveled up, her Q is devastating, and if you can catch people in her sandstorm, you can spam them with her other powers. She’s fragile and has no escape methods, though.

We killed the Knight, and the enemies behind him (some were captured in one of my sandstorms, just visible at lower left in the picture).  We fought off another attack on bottom lane, which allowed us to catch up in levels. The playback is a little embarrassing at this point, as it looks like I’m just wandering around. I ended up returning to base to restore mana.

Most of the action was up top, as everybody fought for the top temple. Well, somebody’s got to try for the bottom temple, so I went there and captured it. I was alone there… only, no, Medivh flew in!


We traded blows, and I put a sandstorm on the temple region.  That kept him there just enough to finish him off with a Q. I was low on hit points myself, so there was nothing to do but teleport home, hoping that no one else would head to that temple.

I ran out mid to the Knight statue. There had been a grand battle for this, and by the time I got there it was reduced to our Butcher holding it, close to death, against Dva and Artanis.  I snuck in and took control of the Knight.


(There was no time to negotiate this; better to use him as a meat shield. It takes about 10 seconds to take control of the Knight, and you can’t be attacked during this time. And really, mad props to SassySadist playing Butcher here: he had dispatched Artanis and got Dva running away, despite being close to death himself.)

So now we had a Knight!  I headed out mid, and the rest of my team converged beautifully on Butcher and me.  The rest of the game was a constant team fight, taking down forts and towers and the enemy team. The Dragon Knight was felled, but that just meant I was at the Core as Chromie; I set up a sandstorm and kept throwing Q’s into it.

If you know any Mobas, you can see from the mini-map how strange our victory was:


Blue still has two of its three towers.  Normally you’d take them all down. You can also see that Red has no towers on the bottom lane, due to the fight at the core described above.

Only on watching the playback for a second time, writing this post, did I understand how we did it: our little knot of heroes stayed alive, and kept picking off enemies, so we usually had a 5-4 or 4-3 advantage, and right at the 20-minute mark, a team kill which allowed us to beat up their core at our leisure.

« Previous PageNext Page »