200 Games, 200 Words: 11 – Dead Island

I got Dead Island in a bundle. I’ve bought so many game bundles, I can’t remember which one it was in. But in most game bundles there are three kinds of games: the ones you’re buying the bundle for, the ones you might play since you’re getting them in the bundle, and the ones you know you’ll never touch. When I got Dead Island, I thought I’d at least give it a shot some time, but now I kind of wish I hadn’t.

Hit zombies. Repeat until bored.

Hit zombies. Repeat until bored.

Dead Island would’ve disappeared into the bargain bins without a glance if it hadn’t been for its infamously misleading trailer, which turned out to have nothing to do with the actual game. This shouldn’t have surprised anybody, but somehow it meant that Dead Island got a lot more attention on release than it deserved, so it was an effective marketing strategy. If you think games journalists would know better by now, you don’t know anything about games journalism. Continue reading

200 Games, 200 Words: 10 – Teleglitch

Teleglitch is a retro pixelated roguelike survival top-down shooter with zombies*. In other words, it’s a perfect storm of indie game clichés. But it proves that it’s lack of imagination, or flawed execution, that makes a bad game out of those clichés.

teleglitch_2013-05-03_11-24-59-79

I can’t explain exactly why, but Teleglitch perfectly captures the feeling I remember of playing DooM for the first time as a kid in the mid-90s. That is to say, it’s absolutely nothing like the DooM I actually played, and everything like the DooM I remember. To me, that’s the absolute best kind of retro. Continue reading

200 Games, 200 Words: 9 – Skyrim

I played the usual 150+ hour playthrough of Skyrim on release, but I’ve never really gone back to it. It just never grabbed me the way Morrowind and Fallout 3 did. Both of those games have atypical settings, what with Morrowind’s weird giant mushroom and crab-shell cities, and Fallout 3’s retrofuture post-apocalypse. This probably explains why I’ve spent hundreds of hours on both those games, over multiple playthroughs.

Have you seen Skyrim? It's generic fantasy, but the helmets have curved horns. Curved. Horns.

Have you seen Skyrim? It’s generic fantasy, but the helmets have curved horns. Curved. Horns.

But recently I went back to Skyrim, this time on PC. Bethesda’s games on PC have an entirely different life than their console equivalents, thanks to the huge array of mods available. Graphics overhauls and other mods for 2002’s Morrowind are still being updated today, long after the console version is forgotten and lost to the succession of console generations. There are mods for just about every aspect of Skyrim, of varying degrees of imagination and functionality, generally in inverse proportion to each other. Continue reading

The Steam Platform: Promises And Challenges — An Alternative PC Gaming OS

I wrote this piece for Gameranx, on some of the challenges facing Valve’s new SteamOS, and what it might mean for PC gaming, I’m really keen to see where Valve are going with the Steam Platform, and there’s a lot to be excited about in last week’s announcements, but also a lot of potential pitfalls.

People Can Do The Work, So That Machines Have Time To Think: Procedural Criticism And System-First Design

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been working on a Twitter bot called @Greenlight_Game (source code here),a bot that randomly generates and tweets descriptions of games based on a list of clichés I’ve seen far too often on Steam Greenlight. The purpose of the bot is to call attention to the limited range of the kinds of games that crop up on Steam Greenlight.

Many of these games include elements that have been used by recent successful indie games, like Minecraft’s procedurally-generated sandbox worlds, or DayZ’s open-world zombie survival gameplay. Some of them are nothing more than shameless clones of existing successful indie games. But many more are games that simply reuse elements of popular games in incredibly boring ways, rather than coming up with their own ideas. Blocky designs, the perennial cliche of zombie enemies*, or the promise of endless procedurally-generated content… it’s all more of the same.

Continue reading