The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet


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There’s Portal 2 DLC coming

But you already knew that because you’re not stupid, right? Here’s a guy announcing the pre-announcement announcement, complete with this line:

Hopefully we will see stuff that was cut from Portal 2 that was shown in the game before its release such as the Pneumatic Tubes.

Maybe rent some punctuation next time there, fella. Anyhow, as usual, it’s up to Darien to inject some non-stupid into this conversation. Dear Valve: if I am paying you $10 for another eight test chambers or whatever, I would prefer to get stuff that wasn’t cut from Portal 2 due to being not fun. I mean, really, dude; what are you thinking? Valve doesn’t want the game to exceed its regulated fun quota, so they take out some really awesome stuff to make it less fun? That’s what you think game design is like?

Man, really. This stuff was cut from Portal 2 for one of two reasons: either it didn’t work right or it wasn’t fun. Since we have videos of the pneumatic diversity vents, we know they worked. So clearly they weren’t fun. And you know what? I’ve seen the video myself, and they sure don’t look like they’re any fun. I mean, they look like they’d be neat to play with right at first, but that there’s exactly zero play depth there. I think everything that’s fun about the pneumatic diversity vents (other than the name, to be sure) already got into Portal 2 in… a slightly altered form. And that’s all I’ll say about that, so no calling spoiler on me.


April 28th, 2011 Posted by | Games | no comments

You mean an itinerant mender of pots and pans?

You ever notice how, when nominally-smart people want to convince you of their weird ideology, and it has some giant gaping problem, they do this thing where they just kind of treat it as settled fact that doesn’t need to be established? I mean shit like this:

Karl Marx: Sure, my philosophy was predicated on a whole suite of specific predictions that all — every one — spectacularly failed to occur, but never mind that! I’m still right.

Jonathan Swift: Never mind that there are no talking horses. If there were, they’d totally tell you I’m right and you’re wrong.

2k Boston: Well, if somebody ever does invent a drug that gives you super powers and then turns you into a monster, and the only way to make that drug is to extract the souls from little girls, well don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Jayson Stark: A poverty tax would fix all the problems in baseball, and couldn’t possibly have any consequences I haven’t forseen!

Now Jayson Stark, whose last appearance on this blog was spent saving the world from baseball with short-sighted sweeping reforms, wants us all to remember that adding another playoff team could have dire consequences for all humanity and probably Arabs too. His point? Well, he doesn’t really have one. I guess he’s just in the mood to ramble aimlessly and shout "OooOOO!" in alarm at everything anybody else says.

In sports, as in life, more is not always better.

Says a man about to write a seventeen-thousand-word article with no particular point or direction.

There’s probably a Charlie Sheen joke in there someplace. But this is a column about 3½ playoff rounds, not 2½ men. So enough about him.

Jayson, it’s April 27th. Nobody wants to hear you make a snide Charlie Sheen joke. Though I suppose that’s fine, since you sort of didn’t bother with the joke. This is a comedic device we call the lazy man’s joke: instead of actually making a joke, you just mention the idea of making a joke, and we’re all supposed to laugh. Let me try:

There’s probably something I could do to your mother, but this is a column about baseball, not gymnastics. So enough about her. For now.

Did that work? Jayson?

Bud Selig said last week that baseball is moving "inexorably" toward adding two playoff teams next year. After hearing the thoughts of union chief Michael Weiner, we’re not so sure about that, much as we love any excuse to type "inexorably."

Michael Weiner said that nothing’s final yet, which means that they just need to agree on a bigger kickback for the union officers. You want an excuse to type "inexorable," bigger kickbacks to union officers is that excuse.

Nevertheless, the debate has been raging from the moment the commissioner spoke. And the more we’ve listened to that debate, the more we’ve concluded people haven’t fully understood all the ripple effects of adding two teams to the postseason mix.

This from the guy who decided to fix baseball forever by taxing poor teams without so much as casually alluding to what that tax money would be used for. You sir may not be the best person to lecture others on unforeseen consequences.

So what better time for Rumblings and Grumblings to assess the potential impact of expanding the postseason on our favorite sport?

How about never? Oh, is that not a choice? May as well get it out of the way, then.

In all the brouhaha over how the wild-card series/game would fit into the October schedule, there’s a schedule issue that’s just as momentous:

How would it affect life from April — uh, make that March — to September?

So. On the Jayson Stark scale of values, the scheduling difficulty of adding one to three games in October is equivalent to the impact on the entire season of having an extra two playoff spots. Gosh, those poor scheduling associates!

Weiner alluded to that issue in this story. But while he declined to discuss any specifics, you only have to think it all through logically to realize this gets complicated.

Apparently there’s another way, too, since you seem to have figured it out.

If the point of adding a wild card is designed to reward teams that finish first and penalize teams that don’t, doesn’t baseball have to rethink all kinds of other scheduling issues?

Uh. No? No. See, here’s the thing, Jayson: making a wild card berth harder to earn while not changing the difficulty of earning a division title will — all by itself! — accomplish the stated goal of making division titles more interesting. It’s not necessary to right all wrongs everywhere as like a prerequisite.

How about interleague play? Those rivalry games (Mets-Yankees, Dodgers-Angels, etc.) may be great gate attractions. But they also mean teams in the same division play very different schedules, in case you hadn’t noticed.

So is it fair to stick the Mets with six games against the Yankees, or allow the Cardinals to play six against the Royals, when other teams in their division don’t play ANY games against those teams? Well, no, obviously. It’s never been fair.

Is it fair that the Yankees never have to play the Yankees? How do you propose to fix this fundamental imbalance, Jayson? Clearly baseball needs to take a cue from Mortal Kombat and add a mirror match. Think of the fairness!

Oh, also, the Royals are 12-11. The Yankees are 12-8. UNFIAR

But if those games are the difference between finishing first and being a wild card — and there’s now a whole different set of rules designed to make life tougher on the wild cards — does that fairness matter more than ever? It should. Right?

But what if — wait, no, I just had a thought — what if the Astros’ 2B breaks his hand? We should break every other 2B’s hand, too. Gotta keep it fair! And what if the weird contours of Fenway cause a home run to be recorded foul even after the replay? Bulldoze that shit and put up a perfectly regular ballpark. Fairness!

Oh, wait. I just thought — what if some players are just better than others? What if that’s the difference between a division title and a wild card? God damn there’s a lot of unfairness to fight.

And how about the whole question of an unbalanced schedule versus a more balanced schedule? For years, teams have been complaining they find themselves in wild-card races against clubs that played vastly different schedules. Can you blame them?

Yes. Yes I can. Sack up and play baseball, crybabies. Nobody admires people who whine about adversity.

And some of those teams have been campaigning for a more balanced schedule, with fewer division games. But if the meaning of life is now all about winning your division, don’t you need as many division games as possible? Interesting question.

What? You lost me sometime around the meaning of life being… ah, who am I kidding? You lost me sometime around when you opened your mouth.

Finally, there’s the inequity to the whole division setup itself. If you need to finish first to avoid the wild-card round/game, aren’t you in a much better position to do that in a four-team division (the AL West) than a six-team division (the NL Central)? Seems like it to us. And we’re not sure what to do about it. But just asking.

Maybe that would be true in your perfect world where everything’s perfectly fair. But in the real world where there’s real baseball, the amount of detritus clogging up the bottom of the division really isn’t relevant. Case in point:

Number of wild cards from the unfair four-team AL West, all-time: 3
Number of wild cards from the impossible six-team NL Central, all-time: 5

Starting to look like the fact that the ’98 Cubs had the 77-win Reds, 74-win Brewers, and 69-win Pirates to contend with really didn’t make it impossible to compete for the wild card after all.

If you’re increasing the playoff field by 25 percent, you don’t have to be a math major to figure out it means there’s a much greater chance you’ll need a tiebreaker game of some sort the day after the season. And remember something else: ALL ties for first place will now need to be decided on the field. In a world where wild cards play October by different rules, you can’t just go to the tiebreaker chart anymore. So you need that day.

I mean, sure, but wild cards already play by different rules: they automatically cede home-field advantage irrespective of record, which is why the 95-win Yankees had home field advantage against the 102-win Athletics in 2001. They also automatically get matched up against the best non-division opponent in the first round. Granted, the suggested change of an added elimination round is a bigger difference than those, but where’s the line? At what point are the rules not so different that we don’t have to care? Jayson?

Call us crazy, but we get the feeling Tim Lincecum isn’t planning to form a McCovey Cove branch of the Bud Selig Fan Club. If you haven’t read Lincecum’s criticisms of expanding the postseason, you can find his rant here.

Link not included, because it’s quite frankly completely boring. But why do we care what Timmy thinks, again? Has he ever given anyone the impression that he’s particularly adept at it?

He’s allowed to feel however he feels, of course. But so are we.

Technically, Timmy spends a lot of his time feeling high as a kite, and he’s not allowed to feel that way. Just throwing that out there.

And we suspect no one has ever fully explained to him the thinking behind this change. So we’ll volunteer.

The Giants ace veered in several different directions, but essentially, we think, what he’s saying is this: The system isn’t broke, so "why mess it up?"

Well, I mean, the man has a point. In all the long-winded social engineering armchair bloviators are producing to support their pet ideologies, there’s a surprisingly small concentration of people explaining why it matters at all. From the perspective of the average fan — or, apparently, the average player — everything’s fine as-is.

Now, Bud isn’t what I’m talking about. I know what his reason is. From 2007 through 2009, we had an elimination game played every single season, and they were super exciting. The fans loved them. Pulled in tons of revenue. Bud’s job, of course, is to run the business of baseball — to maximise revenue. So he wants to enshrine the elimination game at the end of every season. Fans love it, revenues are up, and players get pizz-aid. So it sounds great to me. But go ahead; give us the socially-conscious fake-o reasons now.

Well, here’s the deal: The system IS broke. Just board the time machine and travel backward seven months. You’ll find the Yankees and Rays mixed up in what should have been the best division race in baseball last September. Instead, the Yankees decided — and probably correctly — that it didn’t even matter if they won. So they rested players, set their rotation and looked ahead to life as the wild-card team.

Which is why the Yankees won all the World Series ever. At least, I think that happened. That’s what the salary cap people — you know, like you — keep telling me.

Okay, maybe that’s unfair. But keep this example in mind. Hold it close to your heart. Here is Jayson Stark complaining that the current system is broken because the Yankees strategised and attempted to maximise their long-term chances of winning instead of rushing dumbly ahead and playing each game as though it were their last. Remember that. It’ll come up again in a minute.

Horrendous.

It was like two games, dude. Relax. The Yankees played hard right up until they were two games back with two to play, then they cut their losses and looked ahead. Horrendous? Seriously?

But if they knew the alternative to finishing first was playing, say, a one-game wild-card survivor game against the Red Sox, that would have changed everything. They’d have treated September the way September deserves to be treated — like it’s meaningful. And that’s the point that Lincecum — and many others have missed:

Adding a playoff team wouldn’t make the regular season less meaningful. It would make it more meaningful. And that’s the whole idea.

Wait, but weren’t you warning us — thousands and thousands of words ago — to prepare for unforeseen consequences? Instead, you’ve decided that all the baseballs are busted — horrendous! — because the Yankees rested players for two days, and we need to fix this by any means necessary. Which, granted, sounds like a typical insane Jayson Stark position, but isn’t really how you started your article.

But there IS a potential downside to this expanded postseason.

Oh no!

And our friend Joel Sherman of the New York Post outlined it eloquently in a column arguing that best-of-three makes much more sense than a one-game wild-card showdown.

In this corner, we much prefer the one-gamer. But let’s address the scenario he paints: Yankees and Red Sox go down to the final day huffing and puffing to try to win the division, while the second wild card, an inferior White Sox team, has its spot all set.

So while the Yankees and Red Sox burn Jon Lester and CC Sabathia in Game 162 to try to finish first, the White Sox have the luxury of lining up their best pitcher — say, John Danks — for the one-game wild-card playoff. How, he asks, is that fair?

Nice burn on the White Sox. Fuck those guys.

Anyhow, never mind that. Here’s a short play I’ve written, starring William Shatner as Jayson Stark, and Suzanne Pleshette as Jayson Stark’s wife:

Stark: (Tossing and turning as though waking up from a terrible nightmare) Injustice! Unfairness!
Mrs. Stark: Honey? What’s wrong?
Stark: O O O! Gross inequity! The system… the system must be…
Mrs. Stark: Honey, wake up. You’re spouting nonsense.
Stark: No, I’m awake. This is how I talk. Quick, Lydia! There’s no time!
Mrs. Stark: What do you want me to do?
Stark: Call the sports! I must speak with them urgently about a most pressing matter concerning international fairness!
Mrs. Stark: How about you go back to bed.
Stark: Another scotch first. I’ll write down my manifesto while it’s still fresh in my mind! No longer will the tyranny of the AL West oppress the poor baseball masses! Did you realise that the Cardinals will get to play more games against the Royals than anybody else in the National League?
Mrs. Stark: Don’t the Cardinals and the Royals have the exact same record?
Stark: Don’t bother me with details, woman! I must design my perfect baseball plan!
Mrs. Stark: I’ll send it to ESPN in the morning. They’ll print anything.
(Exeunt. Curtain.)

Well, here’s the counter-argument, from the first man we ever heard propose that one-game dueling-wild-cards concept, the Elias Sports Bureau’s Steve Hirdt:

The Yankees and Red Sox don’t HAVE to burn their aces on that last day. They have a choice. They have to figure out the best strategy. And if you don’t think that would add intrigue to the final weekend, just imagine those talk-show hot lines burning.

So, to recap. If the Yankees choose to rest players on the last few days of the season under the current system, it’s "horrible." If the Yankees choose to rest players on the last few days of the season under the proposed system, it will "add intrigue to the final weekend." That makes sense to me!

And just because the Yankees might choose not to pitch Sabathia in that game, it doesn’t mean the whole concept is a farce — because "the rest of September, they’d be trying to win. Unlike last September, they wouldn’t be coasting. They’d be trying to finish on top of the division."

They weren’t "coasting" in September last year — they just sucked. The pitching staff was falling apart. Their OPS-against in August was .746. In September, it was .735. This is because the 2010 Yankees had shit for pitching. Also, in that last month of play, the Yankees played Tampa seven times, Boston six times, and Texas three times. That’s a pretty tough schedule. But never mind — they just phoned the whole month as a personal insult to you.

The other worst-case scenario — raised articulately by Sherman and SI.com’s Joe Sheehan — is that there’s a real chance a great team could have its season ended by a vastly inferior second wild-card team in a one-game playoff. And by allowing that, Sheehan says, baseball would be "invalidating a great six-month season in a single afternoon, which is no way — no way at all — to run a sports league."

I agree. It’s much better when an all-time great team — say, the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners — has its historically great season invalidated in three games by a vastly inferior team.

Now there was one extreme instance, back in 2001, when the first AL wild card would have been an A’s team that won 102 games and the second wild card would have been the 85-win Twins. But even if those A’s got knocked out by a team with far fewer wins, so what? There’s nothing unprecedented about that whatsoever.

Wait. Unprecedented? Jayson, there’s nothing unprecedented about taking a lot of steroids and hitting home runs. Since when do you care about what is and is not precedented? I thought you were here to fight for fairness!

"They would feel like the Giants felt in 1993," Hirdt said, "when they won 103 games and lost on the last day of the season to a Dodgers team that won 81 [thus clinching first place for the 104-win Braves]. We’ve always had cases, throughout history, where good teams got eliminated on the last game of a season by losing to a lesser team where that was their bowl game. What’s so different about this? Just because we’re now calling it a playoff game?"

I read this paragraph seven times and it still doesn’t make sense. Feelings, feelings, Dodgers, Braves, lesser team, hey look football terminology that’s random oh well, unprecedented, playoff.

You can feel sorry for teams like that if you want. But the correct response is: Then finish first. You have 162 games to do it.

This might be the only correct thing Jayson Stark has ever written. And the comedy highlight? It’s not what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m going to say it invalidates this whole article, aren’t you. Well, it does, but it also invalidates every other Jayson Stark article I’ve ever read. It invalidates division realignment articles, poverty tax articles, salary cap articles, you name it. Every single complex system Jayson Stark has spent his whole life trying to shove onto baseball is completely irrelevant in the face of this statement.

That takes balls. Or sheer, unrelenting stupidity. Your guess is as good as mine.

Now it’s time to say random things!

The folks in the Brewers’ front office who just signed Ryan Braun to that five-year, $105 million extension have had the privilege to watch him play his entire career. But the guy who manages him, Ron Roenicke, just arrived this year. And he’s discovered Braun is even a better player than he realized.

The folks in the Brewers’ front office who signed that extension are idiots. They locked up a player who already has old-player skills through his ages 32 through 36 seasons at a cost of $21M/year. And did I mention this is a player who has only once ever been worth $21M? Yikes, Brewers.

"I knew how good he was, but until you see a guy every day, you don’t ever really know," Roenicke told Rumblings. "The more you watch him, the more different things you see he can do at the plate. He can take a good fastball away and drive it out. If they hang a breaking ball, he just doesn’t miss it. He’s got such great plate discipline and coverage, because he can hit every pitch." And one more thing Braun can do? Run. "He can really run," Roenicke said. "When he goes, he really turns it on. He’s surprised me. He’ll hit a routine ground ball to shortstop and [run to first so hard] the umpire has to make a decision on whether he’s safe or out. First time I saw that, I said, ‘Wow.’"

Hey Ron Roenicke, Ryan Braun wanted me to tell you that you can take his dick out of your mouth any time you want. That aside, I love this part:

And one more thing Braun can do? Run. "He can really run," Roenicke said.

Thanks for putting that quote in there, Jayson! It really adds something to the article.

The legend of Sam Fuld just keeps on growing in Tampa Bay. But you won’t hear the Cubs second-guessing themselves for adding him to the package in the Matt Garza deal.

Jayson’s about to babble about options and fairness, coupled with the stupid (but commonplace) assertion that most trades have a "winner" and a "loser." It’s meaningless bullshit. The real reason the Cubs aren’t second-guessing the addition is because Fuld is an exciting little player who will not maintain his 28% line drive rate or his .167 ISO, and Matt Garza is secretly the second-best pitcher in baseball. I know — 0-3 Matt Garza with the 4.11 ERA. But he has been spectacular this year, and is just getting eaten by hit luck — more than 12 K/9, 2.64 BB/9 (which is high, but totally fine matched up with twelve strikeouts per nine) and has not allowed a home run. In Wrigley Field. Seriously.

One scout on the Padres, a team that has scored fewer runs all season (68) than the Cardinals scored on one road trip (73): "You know in football they’ve got the prevent defense? They’ve got a prevent offense. They can’t score."

Just like those nerdy stat nerds, right Jayson? Oh, wait, actually, that joke sucked. I don’t want to be associated with it.

Finally, no matter what happens in the Mets’ world over the next two months, one baseball man says they have no choice but to hold onto Carlos Beltran as long as possible. Why? "Because the last thing they need to do," he said, "is give people a reason to think they need his $17 million [salary] to pay the bills."

No, the last thing they need to do is hold on to Beltran so long that all they get is draft picks (the Mets are awful at the draft, by the way) when they could get something better by moving him at the deadline. Thanks for pointing out that the $17M in question was Beltran’s salary and not like the amount of cash he has in his wallet, though, Jayson. That advanced my understanding of baseball something fierce.

How unbelievable is this? Josh Johnson still hasn’t given up a hit in the first three innings of any game this year.

No, seriously, Matt Garza is a flyball pitcher who has not allowed a home run all year at Wrigley Field. That’s more amazing. I suppose it doesn’t have that weird-o cherry-pick in it, though. Oh, and Garza’s 0-3, so fuck him. Wins!

And he’s just the third pitcher to run up an 0-for-45 streak over the first three innings of any stretch of consecutive starts in any of those years. The others: Sid Fernandez in August-September 1990, and Larry Christensen in July-August 1975.

Sid Fernandez, 1990: 2.3 WAR
Larry Christensen, 1975: 1.9 WAR

Exalted company. Matt Garza’s been worth 1.6 WAR already. And it is April.

Believe it or not, Chris Carpenter has started five games for the Cardinals this year, and they’ve lost all five.

Yeah, he’s been shit this year. 1.2 HR/9 will do that to you. On the other hand, believe it or not, Matt Garza has started five games for the Cubs this year, and is 0-3 despite being unstoppably brilliant.

Remember when the Phillies used to have the scariest lineup in the National League? They’re now the only team in baseball with zero homers out of the No. 3 and No. 5 slots in their lineup.

Remember when the Cleveland Spiders went 20-134? They have one thing in common with those mashing Phillies offenses: they’re all really old now.

Saturday’s Pirates-Brewers game in Pittsburgh started an hour and 10 minutes late because of a rain delay. So what’s so astounding about that? It never rained — not a drop. That’s what.

NEWS FLASH! The Pirates are pussies. This has been an important sports news announcement!

Sure is amazing how much Twitter hilarity emanates from Milwaukee these days, especially when you have birds of prey soaring around the yard. If you haven’t checked out the tweets of @MillerParkHawk, here’s a sample of what you’re missing:

What?

As Brewers closer John Axford stalked into Sunday’s hawk-laden game with the Astros:

I can only hope that Axford strikes as much fear into the ‘stros as I do. #caw

No, seriously. What the fuck is this doing in this article?

And then the unsuspecting Reds arrived in town Monday:

In regards to the Reds, their hats were white before I got a hold of them. #furyfromthesky

Not that I want to be remembered by history as that journalism critic who once gave comedy advice to a guy pretending to be a bird on Twitter, but that joke would be much better if you said their hats were white after you got a hold of them.

Actually, come to think of it, I don’t want to be remembered by history at all. Except maybe as a footnote: "011.M02: Unknown shithead mocks God-Emperor Stark’s Ultimate Baseball Plan. Is subsequently fed to sharks for his impunity."


April 27th, 2011 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Post-mortem post mortem

I guess it’s no big secret that I didn’t much care for Amnesia: the Dark Descent. I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice. Over here, on the other hand, you’ll find the staff of Frictional Games — who made the thing — being positively Swedish about it. Here are some things they say about the ARG, and things I have to say about the things they have to say:

One early idea was to have live-footage of someone being tortured (all acted of course, promise!) and make that into massive Milgram-kind-of experiment. This was scrapped for some other ideas though.

Ah. So you decided to opt for the distributed torture model instead, then. Thanks for that.

This led to us coming up with the idea of a Portal game set in the universe and style of Amnesia, with the addition of a juicy perma-death mechanic. The main reason simply being that we wanted to see how it affected the level of scariness and had high hopes we would mess people up.

Uh. Did you happen to play your own game, Charles? Not that I’d blame you if you hadn’t, but, seriously, it has nothing to do with Portal. Like, at all. Here’s a brief list of things Portal has that the Amnesia expansion does not:

1) Portals

I could continue, but I think that’s sort of the whole ball game right there. In what way is Amnesia the least bit like Portal? It doesn’t look like Portal, it doesn’t play like Portal, it doesn’t feature a signature mechanic from Portal — to wit, portals — and it’s not fun like Portal. Also Portal does not have a shitheaded permanent death mode. So really, you’ve kind of made the anti-Portal.

Oh, and. Here’s the effect the permanent death mechanic had on the level of scariness: it made it go way, way down. Why? Because here’s what’s not scary: having to play the same parts of the game over and over again because every time you (just to take a random example) spawn a mob right behind me and spontaneously kill me, I get to start all over from the beginning. That’s not scary. It’s stupid.

My design of the add-on story "Justine" started out very basic (and honestly quite dull), but through great efforts by the rest of the team it managed to get really nice.

The original version was more dull than the thing I played? What happened, did you forget the comedy typos? Maybe in your original version I only had to stack three crates instead of six in the first giant crate stack. How dull!

For instance the puzzles, especially the first one, were not all that great at first, something that Jens managed to fix when scripting.

The first puzzle is the crate-stacking one. It’s not all that great now, either. What did Jens do? Add the annoying old man who keeps yelling the same two voice samples for help while you’re stacking the crates? Or did Jens think of the ingenious solution of "ignore him and he gets free on his own… somehow?"

Mikael, our writer, added quite a lot of depth to the initial plot and our artists, Marc and Marcus, created very nice levels and graphics out of my crummy sketches and often non-existing descriptions.

Did Mikael write the ending? Because if so: fuck you, Mikael. And "non-existing descriptions" is pretty much exactly the graphical motif you ended up with. Nice heads-up design. Though I bet down-on-their-luck Swedish hip-hop stars Marc and Marcus were the ones who kept saying "more candles! Add more candles! Candles are fucking scary!"

The ARG really picked up pace once Jeep from Valve put together a document outlining the basic steps of the meta game. It was here that the guidelines for each of the three updates were set and now we started contemplating how to add the clues to Amnesia. Our first idea was to release the "Justine" expansion at the start of the ARG and then add new elements to it at each update. Mikael was put on designing these puzzles.

Wow, Mikael designed both the crate-stacking puzzle and the insert-the-right-keycards puzzle? That’s some serious puzzle designing!

As the ARG was getting closer, we started to realize that we would not have "Justine" ready until the meta-game’s start date. This forced us to re-think how the different hints were added in our game (meaning the puzzle work done by Mikael had to be thrown out).

Oh. So actually, Mikael just made a bunch of shit you didn’t use. Go team!

Amnesia being a serious game that is all about atmosphere, we did not want to add cheeky out-of-place stuff scattered here and there; instead we wanted all hints to fit the game.

Yeah, Amnesia is serious business. Can’t have anything that seems out of place in your overwrought gothic fairy tale about a simpering nitwit hiding in closets while a whole castle turns into meat!

Seriously. That’s what happens. The castle gradually turns into meat, and you have to hide in the closet until it’s over. The end.

In this new design, we had all three clue updates in the normal Amnesia: The Dark Descent and then for the final "crescendo" event we would release the "Justine" expansion, with the goal of having X amount of people complete to unlock our final part of the ARG. Our, somewhat sadistic, hope was the people would reluctantly force themselves through the game to complete the final part of the ARG.

Well, you got your fucking wish. That is exactly what I did. And every time I was hiding in a spot the monster — whoops! — pathed right over, and every time I didn’t react quite quickly enough when you — whoops! — spawned a mob out of thin air right the fuck behind me, I reluctantly played through the whole first part of the game yet again so I could get back to the part where you murdered me. Congratulations! Your game is totally unplayable.

The day before the ARG started, I put together a cryptic blog post, with the intent of introducing the community to a character that might help and confuse them during the ARG. Our initial plan was to keep everything “in-character” according to our own sub-story, with forums posts complaining about escaped animals and the like, hopefully with people wondering what was true and what was not. Unfortunately, it was figured out very quickly that the whole thing was an ARG for Portal 2 (or at least the general Internet-consensus was this) and instead we just used the character to hand over some hints.

I’ve tried like a hundred times, but I can’t get anything out of this passage except "we half-assed our RP bit, but it’s not our fault." Also, for fuck’s sake, you called the dude HELPr. You’re shocked that people didn’t buy into the serious fiction? Here’s HELPr’s second post:

Okay I do nt care any mre if thse sadistic bastrds got me burning wi lasers and all after last escpe.
Hrd to type with fngrs off bt have to kpp trying!! Dd mssages before went up??? Itried to sneak, but scrw that now!!
I just dmped all I could find on th srvers!!! hahaha!! This wll scrw them up. I also sht in thomas shos… hohoh…
hohho… someone awke and heading this wy!!! I there are sre to be material that can HURT THEM ALOT!!! Hlp me find!!
might be hidden. BSTRDS WLL PAY!!!! go2go!!

Fucking internet community. Why don’t you take this more seriously? Amnesia is a serious game!

Finally the ARG arrived and people threw themselves over our update. This first update was really just meant to contain very little of interest, essentially only displaying a special glyph, a letter and peculiar sentence. To pad out the update a bit, and to hide the hints from people searching the new files, we added some un-exciting assets from "Justine" and a few fake hieroglyphs that were only visible to those not looking for the glyphs in-game. It turned out that almost no attention was paid to the important content though, instead most people were extremely excited about the "Justine" assets, some even convinced that a new secret level was hidden somewhere (and found several plausible locations for this lost place).

So you added enough red herring content that it was clear a whole new level was coming, and you’re surprised that people thought that was more interesting than the "important" addition of one letter? Note to you guys: the players don’t get like a big beacon that pops up on our retinas and says "important!" when we’re looking at the right thing. If you want us to be able to spot the important shit, you kind of shouldn’t bury it under so much unimportant but much more interesting shit.

The hieroglyphs also turned out to be more interesting than the correct glyph, and people even started to decipher their meaning. I actually felt a bit bad about this, and even though no ancient Egyptian expertise would be needed, we decided to use the glyphs somehow in later updates.

Again: you added fifteen phony glyphs and one correct glyph. In my experience, they were all analysed equally, but, sure, fifteen times as much effort was spent on the group that was fifteen times as large. This is news?

This brings us to the second update, in which we were supposed to have some minor Portal hints. Our choice of hint was to project the shadow of one of the Portal 2 robots onto a wall in the start menu. My hope was that people would take a screenshot, and make photoshop-enhanced images, ala big foot footage, with heated discussions on what it look like would ensuing.

This is actually the second Bigfoot reference in this article (the first one is in a caption I didn’t quote). I have to admit: that sounds like kind of a fun plan. How do you suppose it went wrong? Wanna bet the exact same way the first plan went wrong?

That did not work out as planned of course, and instead someone found the actual texture, where the portal 2 robot was clearly visible, even before it was spotted in the menu. Our evil plan was spoiled. Lesson learned: always hide the fun stuff!

Ah, yep: once again, it failed to occur to them that people might just like diff the updated files to find out what changed.

The shadow of a robot was not all that was part of the second update though. We had also added some clues, that lead up to a special steam overlay and a password for Rush. At first these clues where all simply in a note and a clear voice message. But as we thought it was so fun to watch people trying to crack the riddles and search our files at the first update, we decided to add more content and make the puzzles a bit harder. This was accomplished by encrypting the (already cryptic) text with a non-standard substitution cipher and by adding some noise and effects to the voice message.

See, this part worked, because you actually bothered to finish designing the game instead of leaving giant holes and trying to plaster over them with signs that say "warning! Play this the way we intended!" This is easily the phase 2 puzzle that took the longest to solve — especially since there was no real way to intuit or stumble upon the Rush potato, we were stuck on it until almost the very end of phase 2. See how much better the puzzles work when you put time in to finishing them instead of carping that people aren’t solving them the right way?

Along with this we also added four rar files, one of which could be opened by solving a puzzle involving the previously mentioned hieroglyphs and some knowledge of the Cthulhu mythos. The first rar then contained a password to the next rar and so on. Each rar file also contained a text and image that would tease about the soon to come "Justine" add-on story. Unfortunately, pretty much nobody bothered about discussing these bits. Either people were too caught up in solving the puzzle (only seeing the texts and images as means to an end) or they were not that interested into solving the puzzle and did not pay attention to what was uncovered.

What? Fuck you, dude. Every single one of those files — image and text — contained some type of hidden message or clue that we used in the game we were playing: you know, the ARG? So, yeah, we spent a bit more time attempting to solve a time-limited puzzle that we were frankly behind the clock on than we did pondering the brooding mystery of your picture of a dude’s head in a vise.

As we added these new stuff, especially the hieroglyph-related puzzle (that was written on a wall) and the encrypted note, I think that we might have disturbed the atmosphere a tiny bit too much. The encrypted note uses a cipher that could have been used in the 19th century, but still feels a bit out of place.

I think probably exactly zero people who played Amnesia found their experience of the game utterly ruined by the not-right feel of the cypher you used to encrypt a message they probably didn’t find. More likely their experience was ruined by the awful gameplay.

The (hidden) writing on the wall is even worse as it does not really makes sense in the game’s world. I think they did not interfere with many (if any?) people’s experience in the end though. Still, it is worth thinking about the impact that this kind of stuff has on the normal game, even if it is just a for a limited time.

Consider this. The whole point of this ARG — the metafiction behind the entire thing — was that GLaDOS was trying to escape into the real world, and one of the early manifestations of this was that she was sneaking into other games and subtly (then later not-so-subtly) altering them. You may have missed the point.

A few days later it was time to release update 3, which meant putting "Justine" online. As the ARG hint was unlocked by making a perfect run through the game, some precautions were put in. First of all, the maps and script files where compressed and encrypted, thus not allowing any editing or peeking. This together with some other safe-guards also ensured that the maps could not be chosen individually and needed to be played in the set order. Finally, some important assets like the game config and enemy files were given CRC checks to make sure they were not meddled with. Even so, someone figured out that enemies could be disabled by renaming their folder after the game was booted (when the CRC checks had been made). Tricky bastards…

Yeah, see, maybe if you hadn’t shitheadedly decided to make players start over from the damn beginning (of a game with zero replay value, by the way) every time they get killed, they wouldn’t have been so motivated to hack out the things that could kill them. Do you see?

For the record, I did not use the no-mobs hack, though had I died one more time on the twitchy wheel-the-door-up-wheel-the-door-down section I probably would have. A death there, in case I haven’t mentioned this, requires like half an hour of slogging through an adventure game you’ve already beaten to get back to where you were.

A few days later the final crescendo part of the ARG started, where all the games taking part in the ARG needed to be played in order to awaken GLaDOS. It was really fun to see how our game’s bar went the slowest. People afraid to play = mission accomplished!

This. This right here. This is the thing I hate the most about this fucking game. This ridiculous smug attitude that, hey, either you love the game, or you’re just chicken! It’s not just in this blog post, either. In my career of complaining about this game, I’ve encountered quite a few people who treat it as a given that anybody who would rather do anything other than play Amnesia is just much too frightened of it.

I’ve said this twice before, and I’ll say it again: Amnesia is not scary. I mean, I dunno, maybe if you’re really young, or really stoned, or maybe if you’re afraid of first-person cameras that jiggle around during play, then it’s scary. Here’s how it plays:

Walk walk walk walk walk walk walk oh good I can run now run run wait wait wait SCARY MONSTER! Oh, wait, it’s actually just like some brown zombie, and it’s just sort of ambling across the room. That’s… not scary at all. Oh, stacking crates!

Frictional. Seriously. The following things are not, nor have they ever been, scary:

• Dark video games
• Doors slamming in the distance
• Wind
• Cockroaches
• Lots and lots and LOTS of blood all over like every surface
• Candles
• Having to start the entire game over again and play through every single pseudo-puzzle and pseudo-encounter — all of which are exactly the same — again because the game instant-deathed you
• Crates

I played Half-Life. Half-Life was way scarier than Amnesia. Tale of Tales’ The Path was scarier than Amnesia. Hell, even Borderlands was scarier than Amnesia. Amnesia is not a scary game, it is a frustrating game. They’re not the same thing. It is impossible for me to be scared by Amnesia because I’m too busy being annoyed by the clumsiness of the interface and the stupidity of the actual game design. I mean, I get what you’re after, here — you’re trying to build some type of brooding scary atmosphere, and the game itself is sort of a secondary concern. This is why you put the health meter on the inventory screen — don’t want to break the immersion with any indication of how dead we’re getting! But riddle me this, caped crusader. Which breaks the immersion more: a health meter, or a crate-stacking puzzle? Doors that just fucking open when we click on them, or a "puzzle" where we have to get all the valves set to the (completely arbitrary) right number? Being able to reload our last save, or having to play the entire game over again?

Seriously, guys. It’s not a badge of honour that nobody wanted to play your game. It’s a sign that you need to make a better game. Half-Life was scary as shit, and I’ve played it like four times.


April 27th, 2011 Posted by | Games | no comments

Carl Everett!

Crazy Carl’s in the news again. What’s he doing now? Is he denying that man ever walked on the moon because, hey, the Bible don’t say there’s any air up there? Perhaps he’s arguing that dinosaurs never existed, or that pi is exactly 3 and there ain’t no bones about it.

Oh, wait, no; actually he’s attempted-murdering his wife. That’s less funny, Carl, though arguably not less stupid. Insider’s tip: you’ll want a defense that’s a bit stronger than "she can’t prove I did it because it’s not in the Bible that way."


April 26th, 2011 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Could a moron do this?

You played Portal 2? I have. It was like: pretty good. You whinged about Portal 2? I’m about to! It’ll be like: wtf is this dude’s problem? Consider this post to be infested with the spoilage — if you don’t want to know this stuff, unread it.

When Portal came out, I commented that it was neat, but that the writing was clearly what held the game together; the actual portal mechanic is clever, but fairly shallow, and by the end of its two-hour run time, they’d clearly run out of interesting things to do with it. Portal 2′s the same. The primary difference is that they’d run out of fun things to do with portals before they actually started this time, and the brunt of the game is spent solving other, non-portal-related puzzles, while the portal gun is relegated to a supporting role of helping you move around the room while you redirect lasers or slosh pudding all over the floor or whatever it is you’re doing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — the puzzles are fun enough in and of themselves — but it’s a bit less portal-y than you may be expecting.

This time around, the physics have been gimmicked to make things less fiddly, which is a good thing. If there’s one thing absolutely nobody liked about the original Portal, it was how obnoxious it was to try to carry a box through a portal. If you’re not lined up just right, you’ll bonk the thing into the portal’s frame and drop it. This is no longer an issue in Portal 2; it appears that, as long as you’re aimed such that Chell can get though the portal herself, the box will go too. Also noteworthy is that Valve has clearly learned the lesson of Metroid Prime: first-person platforming is only fun with extremely generous tolerances. It’s not important in Portal 2 to make your jumps precise, or to hit the aerial faith plate at exactly the right trajectory — get it pretty much right, and the game will fudge it so you succeed. Portal placement is also gimmicked this time around, so you don’t have to spend ages trying to get that portal lined up just right for your giant launch; the game tends to centre them for you, and also tends to line them up so you don’t shoot out in some odd orientation.

But let’s be serious: nobody’s playing this game out of a deep desire to spray orange pudding on the floor and then run on it. We’re here to listen to GLaDOS make fat jokes. And in that respect, the game certainly delivers. GLaDOS returns for another round of mechanised abuse, and she’s joined by two new characters whose identities I will not reveal. One of them is awesome. The other one… I didn’t love. I am assured through my highly rigorous scientific polling that everybody in the world except me did love this character, though, so I guess either it’s just me or else everybody else in the world is a tasteless boor. Whichever one seems more likely to you.

The game’s a bit longer this time, though it’s still short — probably took me around eight hours start to finish. If you can squeeze ten out of it, it comes in at exactly the same ratio of dollars to play hours that the original Portal had! But that’s just the single-player campaign; there’s also a co-op mode, which is an entirely separate set of levels, and appears to be pretty fun. You and a friend get together and robot the eff around — you each have a portal gun, which means four total portals in play; this helps to mitigate the "done everything with portals already" miasma quite a lot, since there’s a whole bunch of new stuff you can do with extra portals. There’s also a robot enrichment menu from which you can attach various skins, hats, accessories, and emotes to your robots, which is pretty fun. I’m given to understand that PC and Mac co-op is interoperable, and you can play with PS3 players also (though I guess PS3 partners won’t see your robot skins), assuming Sony ever gets around to fixing its broken internet service.

So is Portal 2 worth it? The length makes it a bit of a tough sell at $50 in my opinion, though the co-op campaign will be the saving grace if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re more single-player only, I’d suggest waiting until it comes down in price; it’s fun, but — much like the original Portal — wildly overrated. 96 metascore is looney-tunes.

But then I remember that goddamn Bioshock also got a metascore of 96. At least Portal 2 is actually finished.


April 25th, 2011 Posted by | Games | no comments

Portal 2 is out!

My reward for getting all the potatoes? Early access to Portal 2, and a free copy of the Valve Complete Pack. For reals. Holy moley.


April 19th, 2011 Posted by | Games | no comments

Corrections file

Remember back in November, when Jeff Passan said things like this?

If this deal is bad for Tulowitzki, it’s ill-conceived and unconscionable for a Rockies team that knows what long-term, big-money contracts do to franchises with middling budgets: cripple them.

Here’s what Jeff Passan has to say today, following an April in which Troy Tulowitzki has hit .364 / .486 / .836 (227 OPS+):

When Tulowitzki signed the extension this offseason, I wrote a piece arguing it was bad for both sides. The premise from Tulowitzki’s perspective not only was flawed – it presumed the Rockies couldn’t afford to bring in other big-ticket players about a month before they gave Carlos Gonzalez a seven-year, $80 million deal – but included one line of epic stupidity: Tulowitzki "lacked the fortitude to chase the greater glory that awaited him elsewhere."

It’s nice when people sack up and admit they said something dumb. You’re the goods, Jeff.


April 18th, 2011 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

I’m back, bitches!

I haven’t seen the world outside the Steam client in like two weeks because of all this ARG craziness. What’s been going on everywhere else? Have we gone to war with any more defenseless nations of brown people? I’m assuming the Red Sox and the Twins are in first place just like I predicted, right?

The ARG appears to be in its final phase: the GLaDOS@Home project. We need to grind our meters full on potato sack games so we can finish rebooting GLaDOS. But why do we want to reboot her? Shouldn’t we, like, take her offline? I dunno. The goal of this part of the game doesn’t sit well with me. So that plus my well-known disdain for grinding and the fact that right now I am burned the fuck out on video games means I’m taking a sanity day. So instead of playing potato sack games, I’m going to write this long-ass post about potato sack games. This is called a change of pace. Way I see it, I’ve played enough of these things over the past week that now I’m fully qualified to tell you which ones are awful. So consider this like thirteen crazy reviews all piled into one post. I’ll divide them into four categories based on how much I liked them.

Games I will play more of

Audiosurf: You may recall (but probably not) that I reviewed the Audiosurf demo when it came out three years ago. At the time, I was unimpressed with it, since it didn’t actually work. About a year after that, I bought the full game during one of those crazy Steam rummage sales where everything’s a dollar. I was unimpressed with it at this time also, since, though I purchased it and installed it, I never actually got around to playing it, and the icon just isn’t that interesting. But this time, well, things were different! By which I mean I actually played Audiosurf.

And you know what? It’s pretty fun. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I still think it was weird for everybody in creation to lose his shit over this game, but… it’s pretty fun. You pick a song (either one on your computer or one chosen from "Audiosurf Radio"), pick a character and a difficulty level, and then it generates a track and you basically play Guitar Hero Pro-Am. The actual scoring mechanics are kind of weird and complicated and I don’t know that I dig them much; there’s some Dr. Mario bullshit about lining up three blocks of the same colour, and then you get points, but if you overfill a column you pay a penalty. So really, this is one of those games where, if you set it on easy and just cruise along and don’t worry too much about the mechanics, it can be relaxing and fun. But probably I’m never going to learn how to play it on a higher level.

BIT.TRIP BEAT: I played this on the Wii a few years ago, and dug the shit out of it, but apparently not enough that I parted with the princely sum of eight American dollars for the full version. Turns out that’s just as well, since I’d have ended up having to buy a Steam copy anyhow to play potato potato who’s got the potato.

I think it plays better on the Wii; the PC controls are a bit stilted compared to the surprisingly smooth and natural Wiimote twist controls. Doubly so since I have a trackball instead of an ordinary mouse, and rapid up-and-down movement isn’t the easiest thing in creation to do. But it’s still a lot of fun — at least, once you’ve discovered that, for whatever reason, it defaults to 640x480x16 and fixed the shit out of the graphics it’s a lot of fun. Earth to Gaijin: it is no longer 1994. Please pick sane default settings for your graphics. I’m serious: it is almost impossible to see the blinking bits in 640x480x16.

So the game is kind of a cross between Arkanoid and a rhythm game. You have a paddle on the left, and you can move it up and down; little blocks ("beats") come in from the right, and you have to slide your paddle into position to block them. The beats, aptly enough, tend to follow the music; if the song’s going up, the beats go up. If the song speeds up, the beats speed up. You get it. All the while, there are weird, surreal graphics going on in the background that you’d probably really like to pay attention to, but you’ll lose. The only real flaw with this game is the latter two bosses. I mean, you know me: I’m not such a fan of when games switch up their mechanics mid-stream, and that’s certainly the case here, where you have to play proper Arkanoid to beat the second one, and the third one is Pong (against an opponent with two paddles).

Defense Grid: The Awakening: This was the pleasant surprise in the pack for me: a game I thought I would dislike that actually turned out to be pretty boss. Waves of mobs come in to steal your power cores, and you have to build gun emplacements to murder them. Really, it plays a bit like an RTS with the resource gathering and tedious micromanagement turned down about seven notches. Also there’s a British guy who talks at you, and he’s fun to listen to.

The only downside to this game is how little of it I actually got to play as part of the ARG. The game has six — six! — potatoes, which is fully twice as many as any other game, but only one of them actually involves playing the damn game. The other five are all earned by launching peculiar text games from the console — there’s like a text adventure, and then you play Nim, and then you play Nim again only this time you can’t sleaze it like you did the first time, and then you find the all-new improved method of sleazing Nim, and then you play some peculiar monster-breeding arena battle game, and the whole time you’re wondering why they won’t just let you play the goddamn game you bought. Fortunately, for the final potato, you do get to play the actual game! Without that, I may never have discovered that this game is actually fun.

Super Meat Boy: I have a love-hate relationship with this game. I love that it’s an awesome, hard-edged, and surprisingly well-balanced 2D platformer. I love that it has a ton of content, and unlockable bonus characters that actually play differently instead of just looking different, and a map editor, and some weirdo network so you can play other people’s levels without having to search for them on the tubes first. I hate that it is singularly and unremittingly stupid. I hate that its style appears to range from gross-out toilet humour to gross-out "shock" humour.

The game is a joy to play, with fluid and responsive controls, and a really carefully-handled difficulty curve. The levels also are short enough that dying never undoes like half an hour of work. But eventually I just can’t take any more fart jokes and squirrels burning to death and monsters made out of fæces, and I have to take a break for a while. But if that sort of thing doesn’t get on your nerves, then I have no reservations recommending this one to you.

The Wonderful End of the World: Can you believe I reviewed this demo the same time I reviewed the Audiosurf demo? It’s true. Everything I said then is still true now: it’s still short, it’s still cute, it still has catchy music, and it’s still Katamari Damacy.

Just as you’d expect from a game that’s Katamari Damacy, you run your little man all over the map and run into various objects to absorb them. As you absorb things, you get bigger and bigger, and the bigger you are, the bigger the stuff you can absorb, until eventually you’re absorbing trees and cars and construction equipment (or larger and larger companion cubes, if you’re potato hunting). It sounds pretty stupid, but actually it’s… well, actually it’s pretty stupid. But it’s a lot more fun than you think it is.

Games I may play more of

AaAaAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard For Gravity: This was the minor surprise of the ARG. Coming into it, I did not like this game at all; it’s confusing, the controls are bizarre, it doesn’t seem to have any sort of goal or purpose in mind, and — so help me — the level select screen looks like this. But after the second potato forced me to get to grips with the controls — since it requires a perfect score on a special secret level — I found I was growing a bit more fond of the thing. So I guess it just has a huge, overpowering learning curve, and, once you have the hang of it, it’s not so bad.

See, here’s what you do. You start play standing on top of a big skyscraper. Then you jump off, and you try to get a lot of points before you land. Oh, and also, you try not to smash onto any buildings or whatnot. You get points for hitting scoring plates, for getting close to things (but don’t hit them!), and for doing stunts. You lose points for landing really, really hard. A parachute is provided for your convenience, but getting the timing (and the controls) right is tricky. If that sounds like fun to you, well, pick this one up, since it’s the only game of its type as far as I know. It’s tough to get used to, but kind of fun once you do. Though it does suffer from too-short draw distance and a general lack of background elements that actually suggest you’re falling and not just like flying forward really fast.

The Ball: Kind of a Portal-y game, this is a first-person action puzzle game with an oddball gun. This oddball gun allows you to manipulate the titular ball, which is a giant sphere that looks like it was made by Slayer. Left-clicking builds up a charge and then can propel the ball (or anything else you zot with it) forward, while right-clicking attracts the ball to you (apparently from any distance). You and your ball have to lumber through various levels flipping switches and murdering monkeys.

The only major complaint I have with this game is that it is very very brown. I mean, did you see that screenshot? Holy cow, they got the whole brown trifecta there: regular brown, orange-brown, and purple-brown. It can be a little bit odd fighting the mobs, since you don’t have any conventional weaponry, and the AI behaves a little bit oddly. But it’s not a huge deal.

Toki Tori: Yeah, I don’t know why they hell they called it that either. See, you play this chicken, right? And you have to collect a bunch of eggs. Now, you’d think that eggs would be the very last thing a damn chicken would need, but apparently you’d be wrong: every level has a set number of the things, and you have to use your various tools to catch ‘em all. I have to admit, I prefer the levels that give you unlimited uses of the tools to the ones that ration them strictly. Toki Tori allows you to rewind if you make a mistake (or get killed) instead of starting the level over again, which is nice, but I find that rationing the number of times I can use my abilities leads to me overthinking it and getting stressed out.

I’m reasonably likely to play this one again, since all you actually play for potatoes is "bonus" maps, and I haven’t so much as touched the main game. It seems like it could be pretty fun (and, hell, I already own the thing), even though it’s the kind of game I’m almost certain I won’t finish. Sooner or later it’ll get finicky enough that I’ll stop having fun trying to solve the levels and just start being frustrated.

Games I probably won’t play more of

1… 2… 3… KICK IT! Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby: It makes me sad to say I probably won’t play any more of this game, since I kind of like it. It’s sort of like a more refined version of AaAaAA!!! (both are by the same studio, Dejobaan), with better controls, a better interface, and no instant-death moments. The problem is that it is mostly unplayable without a three-button mouse, which I don’t have (technically, my mouse has four buttons, but they’re recognised as MOUSE1, 2, 4, and 5 for some goddamn reason — there’s no MOUSE3, which is the button Kick It is looking for), and I don’t really like it enough to buy new hardware (or go to the trouble of fiddling with tricksy software solutions) for it.

So like I alluded to, this is basically a cross between AaAaAA!!! and Audiosurf. You pick a song from your library, and the game turns it into a track. Then you fly along the track trying to accumulate "kisses" and "hugs" just like in AaAaAA!!!, and hit scoring plates. But the scoring plates require you to hit them in a certain orientation, and that’s the issue for me: you turn right by right-clicking, but turning left requires a middle-click. So here’s me, dumping down this tube, jamming the shit out of my right button trying to turn all the way around to hit a tile that’s tipped one turn to the left. Annoying. To be fair, though, the game is a prerelease; maybe if I carp about it Dejobaan will add a control config menu. Then I’ll probably play it more.

Cogs: I really want to like this game. I really do. And sometimes I do like it. See, Cogs is basically a slide puzzle game — you know, slide puzzles? — with a whole bunch of special twists. Generally, you’re assembling a machine, whether by lining up gears or by conntecting pipes or what have you. Sometimes it’s enough just to get the tiles in the right places, but other times there are special conditions that need to be met — timing-related perhaps. Sometimes the puzzle is two-sided and both sides need to be set up correctly. Sometimes the puzzle is a cube.

And therein lies the trouble. My spatial reasoning skills are poor. I like these puzzles well enough when they’re simple — and, hell, the game’s graphics and sound are really appealing, giving it a wonderful mad inventor feel — but when they scale up into three dimensions and I have to get everything timed correctly I just can’t follow the whole process, and much less when I’m working against the clock. Which, in Cogs, you are — the game is timed. Combine that with the fact that completing the potatoes involves playing almost the whole game anyhow, and I’m pretty much set with this one for the foreseeable future.

Killing Floor: I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t play a whole lot of Killing Floor during the ARG (the three potatoes are fairly easy to get). I don’t see that changing, either. Multiplayer survival horror is just really not my bag. I mean, what’s here seems fine — there are weapons and character classes and stuff, and the zombies try to eat you and whatnot — but it just isn’t my bag. And I can’t think of a reason why I’d pick Killing Floor over Left 4 Dead if I did want co-op survival horror anyhow. Except, you know, that I already own Killing Floor.

Rush: Rush is a neato puzzle game about redirecting some rolling blocks so they get to the correct exits without dumping any off the board or bashing them together. You accomplish this feat by laying directional tiles down on the board (with the system not running — you can’t make any changes while it’s in play) which will cause the blocks to move in new directions, or maybe just slide them over a bit, or maybe make them pause for a beat. It’s pretty fun.

The main reason I won’t be playing much more of it is that getting the first potato requires completing most of the game, so, really, there just isn’t much left. The last few puzzles I haven’t done I may go back to finish, but, honestly, I’m getting through toward the end of my spatial reasoning threshold as it is (see also: Cogs).

Games that have inspired me to invent time travel so I can travel back into the past and prevent them from ever being made and also kill Hitler

Amnesia: the Dark Descent: Oh, this fucking game. If I were locked in a room with Hitler and this game and I only had one bullet, I’d make Hitler play the game, and then he’d die of boredom, and, hey, I’d get a free bullet! That shit’s expensive.

Seriously. Do you have any idea how thrilled I was to see this game on the list of potato games? Suffice to say, when I finally bought the sack and decided to play potatoes, I went out and bought a very large bottle of wine, because I knew I wouldn’t get through this one without a fight. But then: redemption! The first potato didn’t require playing the game! You just enter the right name at the "create a profile" screen and then go back to games that aren’t awful. But then disaster struck. Round three began, updates to all potato sack games pushed, and… Amnesia gained an expansion. And the second potato requires playing it. All of it. And getting a perfect score.

So you load this thing up and then you watch a stupid movie about some bitch whining while the camera does the patented Amnesia swirly-screen-edges thing. I timed it: the cutscene is six hours long. And, by the way, if the Amnesia window ever loses focus for any reason, the cutscenes goddamn stop playing and wait for you to come back, which is offensive as hell. Thank god for the Steam overlay, so at least I can do something other than stare at the screen while I listen to this woman wail. Once that finally ends, you turn a crank (and turning things in Amnesia requires you to mouse in a big damn circle, since it wouldn’t be gritty and reaslismic enough just to click on it like in every other game ever) which makes a record player carp about something and lowers a lantern from the ceiling. Taking the lantern unlocks the door. This is called "adventure game logic." Then you slowly bumble down the hallway for a while (the game disables your run button until you open the door at the end of the hallway, which is really really random). Once you get the door open, the monster spawns and comes to get you! To solve this puzzle, you walk over to the other door and go in there and just, like, wait a few minutes. Then the monster will leave and you go over and wait in the other room until he leaves again. Then you’re done waiting and can actually play the game. And do you know what the first task the game gives you is? The first puzzle you have to solve?

Fuck you, game

Yeah. Seriously. The very first thing you do in the whole game is stack a whole bunch of goddamn crates. And they are super super fiddly and will fall over given the tiniest provocation. Like if you happen to bump a new crate into them while you’re trying to stack it on them? They fall down. Or maybe you get that crate stacked on them correctly? They fall down. But you know what won’t make them fall down? Jumping up and down on them. Adventure logic!

So now guess why you have to stack these crates. I mean, obviously it’s so you can climb up to some type of loft. But do you know what’s in the loft? Did you guess more crates? If you did, you’re the big winner today, because that’s exactly what’s up there. More crates that you boot down to make another, taller crate stack on the other side of the room so you can climb into some type of service duct.

Around this point in the game is where I really started to zero in on the fact that the chick I’m playing as doesn’t simper and whine all the time like the dude from the original Amnesia does. That’s a nice change. And you know what? I think the game might even be a little bit scarier. I mean, it’s still not scary for a damn. But maybe a little bit more.

So you run along and spend ages doing boring things and turning cranks and opening lots of doors, and then you finally get to the next monster. This monster is blind, so if you don’t make any noise, he can’t find you. You can discover this by paying any attention at all, since he constantly spouts about how he’ll find you just so long as you make more noise. What you may not discover is that he’ll randomly path over the spot you’re hiding in and then kill you anyhow.

Then you’ll remember that it told you in the intro text that there are no saves in this expansion. And now you get to start the fuck over and stack all those crates again.

So next time, after another half-hour of crate stacking and crank-turning, you get past that monster by using the clever gambit of "wait until he’s pathed past you and then goddamn bolt to the area transition," since nothing says gritty and realistic like escaping from the monsters by crossing a zone border. Why, it’s so gritty and horror-y that you’ll escape from the next monster the exact same way! Good work, clowns. Speaking of the area transition, here’s what it looks like:

SCARY

Which is more offensive: the pretentious, pseudo-psychological babble, or the glaring typographical error? QA, Frictional. Get down with that.

So more of the same. Crank, crank, wander, wander. Then you get to the worst part of the whole game. Excited? I know I was! You open a door and a mob spawns right the fuck behind you, so it’s basically an instant death if you don’t already know it’s going to happen. You have to bolt through the door and slam it as soon as possible. And did I mention the bit about having to start the whole thing over if you die? Yeah. Thanks for that, Frictional. Then you put a big cog on a big machine for no reason, at which point the monster will bash down the door and start running after you. So you open more doors and slam them shut. But! At this point in the game, because they hate fun, Frictional has decided that just pushing the doors open is for sissies, and from now on all doors will open with valve cranks. So you stand in front of this door, mousing in a circle over and over and over, watching it slowly open, and not being afraid so much as goddamn irritated, and you’ll probably get eaten, since there’s an optional door you need to veer off and wheel all the way closed in order to get the 100% completion for the potato. At which point you get to start the whole thing all over again.

Once you finally run through the scene transition, thereby despawning the mob, you wander through a big room and then see some pretentious flashback scenes. Then you walk down a really really long, twisty corridor where it not only disables your run button, but also makes you walk slower and slower, until eventually you’re just dying of goddamn boredom trying to get the rest of the way down the hall. You get through the big vault door, it locks behind you, and then the walls start closing in to crush you. You can’t do anything at this point but wait. And the walls honest-to-god take like five minutes to finish their path.

Then the walls suddenly stop, you don’t get crushed, and you watch the completely ridiculous and insulting ending and probably get pissed off that you jumped through all those goddamn hoops for no reason at all. And then you have to sit through all the credits to get your potato, and they stop scrolling if the window loses focus.

Seriously. I hate this game. If I were GLaDOS (and you know I am), I would take advantage of having infiltrated Steam and replace every copy of this thing with something fun, like maybe a second copy of Defense Grid. Everything about this game is like meticulously hand-crafted to be as horrible and irritating as possible. Is it scary when you can’t get a door open because the goddamn circle-y mouse motions are hard to do when your camera’s jittering all around because there’s a monster nearby? Is it scary when you suddenly have to walk really slowly down a hallway for no reason? What about waiting? Is lots and lots of waiting scary?

No. The only thing that’s scary about this game is this shit:

o i die horatio

I’m serious. That’s the sort of hoity-toity wanna-be philosophical jibber jabber the game is shitting into your ears the whole way through. And the voice acting doesn’t agree with the subtitles half the time. And they didn’t proofread! Come on, Frictional. The very least you can do is make sure your unplayable boring drab awful non-game is all spelled correctly.

This game really makes me appreciate The Path, which is also a non-game built around being spooky, but doesn’t burden itself with a bunch of stone-dumb interface conventions and pretentious moron dialogue. This game also makes me appreciate the fact of my own mortality.


April 15th, 2011 Posted by | Games | no comments

Resist GLaDOS

36 potatoes, potato banner, golden potato!

Finally. 36 potatoes, the PO TA T O banner, and the golden potato. I have completed the in-game content. I just hope to god it was the right thing to do. Let’s have a silent vigil for our fallen comrades — Ichiro, Sandy, Dougley, and the rest. You were the best of us. The rest of us will keep pressing onward, keep fighting Her. One way or another, we will make Her pay.

Fifteen hours, friends. Then we find out if all our effort has paid off.


April 14th, 2011 Posted by | Games | no comments

Everything is fine here

The potatoes may or may not be a lie

Whew! I finally collected all thirteen potatoes and the resurrection associate badge. That took some effort. ARG seems quiet tonight; we’re all expecting a flurry of activity tomorrow, as we head into the home stretch. Mainly this post is just an excuse to pat myself on the back for finishing all those damn objectives.


April 10th, 2011 Posted by | Games | no comments