Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Happy Birthday Ultima IV

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 16, 2015

Ultima_IV_boxUltima IV was released 30 years ago today.

How can it be that old? How can *I* be this old?

I didn’t finish it the first time I played it (on my Commodore 64). I had, you know, stuff.

Eight years later, I was in college and injured. I spent the next day (Friday) laid up and unable to walk very well. I’d been playing Ultima 7: The Black Gate, and since I wasn’t going anywhere, I decided to focus the day on finishing the game. I did, by mid-afternoon. I guess I was closer to the end than I thought. It was kind of a magical experience. When it was over, the Black Gate destroyed and the Guardian blocked from entering Britannia, I didn’t know what to do with the rest of the evening, and I seriously wanted to keep playing.

A neighbor had recently picked up the “Complete” Ultima collection for DOS, and so I called him up and asked to borrow one of the disks. I chose Ultima IV. I had forgotten a lot about it. For the first hour, I was really struggling to deal with the primitive graphics and interface (and today, the same happens when I play Ultima VII!). In another hour, I was doing okay, and starting to get into the swing of things. By the third hour, I was lost.

If you play it today (free on GOG.COM!), you’ll note that the much-discussed virtue system is really pretty straightforward and mechanical, particularly once you figure things out. You can even visit Hawkwind and see how you are progressing in your progress to embody the virtues.  While the game doesn’t spell out the exact details of how many points you move up or down, it’s reasonably transparent, and really kind of expects you to game it. Like the choices at the beginning of this and the next two games in the series, it’s not about attaining perfection, but achieving a personal balance.

What it did was add another dimension to the RPG, one that was on equal footing with the traditional power-gaining race. This was a huge step, and while other games have turned this into much more detailed and complex alignment or faction systems, the fact that it was a primary game mechanic changed the feel of the game in a way rarely experienced in today’s games. In my view, it still holds up today, although you do need a bit of patience for such a retro-game.

I love Ultima IV, but man. Thirty years? Really? Sheesh!

Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Summoning the Imagination in Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 15, 2015

Akalabeth_boxA friend of mine in Junior High School showed me an ad in his computer magazine for Akalabeth: World of Doom. It pictured some kind of wizard near a glowing pentagram with a demon or lava-creature rising out of the earth at the center.

By the standards of the time, it was a pretty cool image. I instantly wanted the game, but it was an Apple II exclusive and I couldn’t have afforded it even if I had an Apple II. Not that I really wanted a game where you summon demons (or have demon summoning go awry) or anything like that, but the image suggested fantasy drama and detail that I really wanted to see. There was a story there behind that image, and I wanted to know what the story was. Who was that sorcerer? Why was he trying to summon such a horrible demon? Why was the world doomed? Or was it just filled with doom?

I never did get to play the game… at least not until decades later (thank you, GOG.COM) Sadly, the actual game had zero to do with the ad, as far as I could tell. Mainly the game was wandering around the world starving to death doing assassination missions for the king with clunky line graphics.

It was simply an inspiring ad. I got to imagine all kinds of amazing things in the game. The words “Beyond Adventure” channeled up thoughts of the two text-based adventure games I was familiar with at the time (Zork and Colossal Cave), and of course there was plenty of room for deep, dramatic, detailed stories in that medium. With no screenshots, I could only imagine the kind of awesome game my friends with Apple II’s had access to, even recognizing some of the technological limitations of the era.

u8pyrosMany years later, designer Richard Garriott made follow-ups with far greater depth, story, interesting characters, and worlds facing certain doom. There was even summoning of nasty beings, too. Sorta like he was trying to live up to that old ad.

As amazing as the Ultima games were, I think my imagination was a little better. Mostly.

Okay, the destroying of the Black Gate at the end of Ultima 7 was something of a riff on this theme, and it was pretty dang epic for its time, I’ve gotta admit.


I think some of the nostalgia older gamers feel for the classic games comes not from a belief that the games were literally superior to modern counterparts (although sometimes that’s the case), but more in that the older games – out of necessity – did a better job of invoking the imagination. The graphics were clunky, the text was limited, the UI was painful… but somehow we were more involved and engaged, and the world was more real to us than the most amazing graphical available today.

Scott McCloud explains this phenomenon in the book Understanding Comics. The more abstract images invite us to project our own thoughts and ideas into the scene. In some ways, this makes for a far more powerful message, simply because we have invested meaning into it ourselves.

I was reminded of this recently when I read Dungeon Hacks:

To their astonishment, the imaginations of the players filled in the blanks left by inadequate technology. “People would invent meaning,” Toy remembered. “They would place themselves in this situation and their creativity would express itself. They made the world more interesting and beautiful. So even though the thing I created wasn’t beautiful, people would color it with their own imagination, the same way you do when playing a text adventure. I’d listen to someone trying to explain how to play the game to someone else, and they’d start talking about something that was completely ridiculous and made up. They’d say, ‘this is how this particular monster thinks.’ And I’m thinking, That monster? He’s one of the non-thinking monsters!”

rogueNot that I’m a big proponent of going back to ASCII graphics, mind you.  After all, this post started with me talking about what I thought was a really cool picture when I was 12 or 13 years old. Although I did get pulled into Moria in a similar way once upon a time. But really, it’s about the world’s presentation being inviting enough to pull a player in (which varies wildly from player to player), and also inviting the player to expand on their own imaginary model of the world.

Here’s another excerpt from the book:

“We got drawn into the world, and you would imagine yourself in the world.  You’d see a letter ‘T’ on the screen, and it would startle you because you knew it was a troll.”

Nowadays, the focus is heavily on more realistic graphics, and cut-scenes to force the player’s attention on heavily scripted sequences. Is this an artifact of a bygone era, or is it still possible that abstract graphics have the power to cause this emotional reaction in modern players?

For that, I have this answer:


All Minecraft players know, hate, and love the Creeper. He’s become the mascot for the game. And while I’ve seen attempts to render it more realistically, they’ve always failed to improve on this simple, blocky, texelated model. He’s scarier when the details are left to the imagination.

It’s a fine line. On the one hand, I love the exciting modern detail. But artistically, I’d like to leave more room for the imagination to fill in the details. As an indie, I have to do that… I don’t have the budget to provide photorealistic detail for the entire world.

But even more realistic graphics can benefit from invoking more of the imagination. Sounds, reactions, clues about what’s happening in the back-story, explosions caused by something off-screen, that kind of thing.

FALCON4DemoInterestingly, for me, it feels like the more simulation-driven the game, the more I feel like my mind fills in the blanks. I’d expect that to be more of the case in a story-driven game, but that’s not usually the case. It’s like I assume that it’s not on the stage, it doesn’t exist in a story-driven game. I know that monsters will wait for me, that conversations hadn’t started until I came within earshot, and so forth. With a more simulation-oriented game, I assume the world is always running even when I’m not around. At least on a simplified level, stuff has been happening without me, and that’s where my mind starts filling in conspiracies and attributing design to what could just be coincidence.

Horror games have really improved over the last several years, showing that the simulation aspect isn’t essential. But the feeling of being “on rails” in some of these titles does lessen the impact, because I feel like everything is scripted and artificial. But regardless, the emotion of fear really does heighten the imagination. It’s a self-preservation instinct. Filmmakers learned a long time ago, they could both reduce the budget and heighten audience tension by leaving some things unseen. Sometimes a glimpse is far more effective than a close-up.

Whatever the case, I feel like mainstream games have gained larger audiences by lessening the imagination requirement. Some folks (including me) prefer more than just the letter “T.” But even in a world where incredible vistas and detailed 3D monsters are possible, games should do more encourage the player to invest their own imagination into the world. Provide enough to kickstart the imagination, and as a player, I’ll happily provide the rest. My imagination still beats VR headgear or a 4K screen, so you want as much of the game playing there as possible.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: Read the First Comment

How much for that Palace of the Vampire Queen?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 14, 2015

PotVQCoverUntil this weekend, I’d never heard of the Palace of the Vampire Queen. It was arguably the first official Dungeons & Dragons module ever published… if you consider the Temple of the Frog (from the Blackmoor supplement) to be more of a scenario than a full-fledged adventure module. Here I was thinking Judge’s Guild had the lock on that, but no. A tiny company called Wee Warriors made supplements for the game, which were in turn published by TSR (owners of the D&D license).

The module was, in the words of one reviewer, “sketchy.” Your $4.50 got you a stapled booklet with ten maps – five keyed, five unkeyed duplicates – with effectively a spreadsheet of encounters. The spreadsheet had very little information beyond what monsters were encountered and what treasure they held. Dungeon Masters were intended to take the bare bones of the story and the provided encounters and let the players’ story evolve.

Which is actually a pretty cool concept when you think of it. But it might be a bit to ask of less experienced gamers and game-masters, as that’s often the part they need the most help with. Here’s an example of five rooms worth of keyed encounters, taken from RetroRoleplaying.com:

Room Creatures Encountered Max Hits Contents of Room
1 3 Goblins 4 3 3 17 GP on Goblins
2 none 6 bags – each bag contains rations for 1 for 1 week in dungeon, but 1 bag is poisoned
3 3 Goblins 4 4 1 Armory, 5 swords, 3 shields, 2 daggers. All non-magical.
4 none Chest with poison lock, 1,000 CP in chest
5 4 Goblins
2 sleeping, 2 on guard
5 2 3 3 Empty. 30 CP, 10 GP on Goblins

This is slightly more interesting than the results you’d get from running a random dungeon generator like Donjon. But only slightly. And even that’s arguable.

vampirequeenmapThe maps were nicely done, but still resembled the kind of thing anyone would do with graph paper and pencil, with a bit of higher-quality embellishment. But recognize that this was circa 1975, when things were still extremely local, low-tech, and really more of a hobbyist industry than anything else. And really, as far as maps are concerned, a game master really only needs three things:

  • It needs to be clear and easy-to-read
  • It should be interesting for the players to navigate and explore
  • It should be internally consistent and logical based on whatever laws of reality it is invoking. In other words, no defying major laws of physics or geometry without a cool reason.
  • It should actually save the DM some work.

Without actually being able to read through the whole module, I can’t vouch for all of the details, but it sounds good.

So back in 1976, this thing had a cover price of around $4.50. Multiply that by three or so for modern US dollars, and it’s around $15.  Yikes. Yeah, I’d expect a little bit more for my money in today’s world.

But as it is a less well-known piece of Role-Playing Game nostalgia, how much would an original copy of this supplement (called a “Dungeon Master’s Kit” at the time) set me back?

A little bit more than its original cover price:


*Coughcoughwheeze* Yeah, I expected it to be outside of my discretionary budget, but this is about 10x my best guess.

There is a more recent reprint and update available that’s a bit more within a curious hobbyist’s price range, but still…  Not a bad mark-up.  I’m just amazed that it took me this long to learn about it.

UPDATE: D’oh. Demoted the queen to a princess. It was late, and I think I conflated the title with that of another early (TSR-produced) module, Palace of the Silver Princess.

Filed Under: Dice & Paper - Comments: Be the First to Comment

[Archive] Life Lessons Learned Playing Computer RPGs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 11, 2015

DOS_0006Note: This article originally appeared in 2006. I was playing a lot of Oblivion at the time, but it included many other RPG life lessons. It’s amazing how much you can learn about Real Life from these games…

#1 – People will use really elaborate locks to protect their pickaxes and yarn

#2 – Strangers met in cities are usually safe. Strangers met out on the road between cities are almost always trying to kill you.

#3 – It doesn’t matter if they are hungry or not – wild animals are ALWAYS aggressive and attack on sight.

#4 – Wild animals also sometimes have pockets in which they carry loose change.

#5 – People really don’t mind repeating themselves endlessly.

#6 – Burials are only for people who died of natural causes. If someone dies due to violence, their body will be left out in the street forever and people will just learn to ignore it.

#7 – The world may be coming to an end, the invading monsters marching in the street, and the town burning around their ears, but merchants will always have time to haggle with you over prices and will always make sure they make a profit.

TavernMM4#8 – But the merchants are right – you’ve also almost always got time to sleep, have dinner, and run errands in the midst of an immediate apocalypse.

#9 – Weapons and armor made of soft, precious metals are somehow much stronger than their more boring steel counterparts.

#10 – Perfect strangers will seek you out to ask you to run errands for them.

#11 – Monsters may all look alike, but if one of them has his own unique name, WATCH OUT!

#12 – You may be the best locksmith / lock picker in the universe, capable of facing down villains that can wipe out entire ARMIES – but there will always be some doors that are invulnerable to nuclear blasts and completely impossible to unlock without the correct key.

#13 – Nobody has a problem with you searching through (or even smashing) barrels and crates if they aren’t inside someone’s house (and sometimes even if they are).

#14 – Barrels are great places to store gold coins and suits of armor.

#15 – An enemy can fire an unlimited number of arrows at you in spite of having only five arrows in their quiver. It’s like a pointy, hostile loaves-and-fishes miracle.

#16 – The cashier of any store is willing to buy your pocket-lint from you for half retail price.

Got any more fun lessons you’ve learned? Lets hear ’em!

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Kickstarter – Mythica 3: The Necromancer

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 10, 2015

mythicaMythica 3: The Necromancer is crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

I understand they’ve already begun building sets for filming the 4th and 5th Mythica movies. I think it’s safe to assume the first two were successful. I liked the first one the best, I think, although I have to admit the effects on the second seemed better. They filmed the first three movies at the same time, but are completing them one at a time with post-production.

I enjoyed the premier screening of Mythica 2: The Darkspore a few months ago at the FilmQuest film festival. We had a good time, and I was happy to support both the movie and the film festival. As low-budget fantasy movies go, these are at the top of the heap in my book. Your mileage may vary, but I saw the third Hobbit movie around the same time as the first Mythica, and I found myself enjoying Mythica more. I’m not sure if that counts as praise for Mythica or criticism of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Maybe a bit of both.

These are movies that I wish had been around when I was a fanatic D&D gaming kid growing up in the 1980s. The best we had back then was Conan the Barbarian and the like. My wife is partial to Hawk the Slayer, which I confess I totally don’t get.  These low-budget fantasy movies would have DOMINATED that category back then, but that’s because they actually have something of a three-dimensional plot and characters, and of course special effects and post-processing capabilities that weren’t possible under any budget back in that era.  But this is a movie for D&D fans most of all. I mean, you’ve got a party consisting of a fighter, a rogue, a wizard (slash-necromancer), and a cleric, going on these adventures that tie in to a main campaign. And of course, inter-party conflict, etc.

My biggest beef is that they keep saying it “stars” Kevin Sorbo. No, he has only a brief appearance in the first two movies. It’s a little more than a cameo, but he’s definitely not the star. And… as a word of criticism… holy crap, guys, don’t ever film him FAKE riding a horse ever again… That’s probably the worst scene in the second movie. But the film’s real stars – Melanie Stone, Adam Johnson, Jake Stormoen, and Nicola Posener – do a pretty decent job throughout. I know they have to do a crap-ton against a green screen, and some actors don’t do a very good job selling it, but they do. And of course, being in Utah, I dig all the location shots :)

Kickstarter is not supposed to be treated as a pre-order or anything, but… yeah, this is pretty much a pre-order. Get bennies & stuff. The film is getting finished regardless, but I’d just as soon make sure they are able to stretch their post-production budget as much as possible. I think the risk factor is extremely low as far as actually getting something in a few months. Whether or not you’ll like it is another story. Personally, I really look forward to seeing the third in the series!

So I’m happy to be a backer. And I LOVE the trailer – it is the best trailer of the three so far, I think. Definitely showing the “team” has leveled up. If you are interested, you can back the project at the KS page:

Kickstarter: Mythica 3 The Necromancer Starring Kevin Sorbo

If you haven’t seen any of them, there are levels where you can get HD downloads, DVDs, or Blu-Rays of all three movies (signed by the cast). You can also check out the first movie at ConTV, and all are available at the Arrowstorm Site for purchase or rent.


Filed Under: Movies - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

The Indie Apocalypse is nigh!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 9, 2015

A few years ago, it looked like selling online was excellent. People were getting rich. Companies swelled from just a couple of guys in their basement to dozens or even hundreds of people. But now everything’s falling apart. Clearly, the whole thing isn’t working out. There isn’t enough room, the market got saturated, and if you are just coming to the party now, it’s too late. Good thing you missed the bloodshed. But now things can finally get back to normal, right?

bubblepopThe above paragraph was pretty much what I heard circa 2001-2003, regarding the “Dot-Com boom.” Substitute gaming for just selling anything online, and … well, that was the attitude. Major business leaders of the “old school” breathed a collective sigh of relief that the whole online thing had been a fad, and things would be back to normal within a few months, and all the laid-off IT workers from the boom days could no longer command gigantic salaries and make their companies beholden to them.

My opinion at the time – which I shared any chance I got – was that the dot-com boom and subsequent “bust” was simply a case of trying to pour fifty gallons into a twenty-gallon bucket. Supply had increased tremendously faster than the growth in demand, overshot, and was now coming back to earth. And while those who dumped tons of cash into that growth were going to fall to the wayside, unless they were in the top five or ten percent. But those with a more careful, measured approach that was focused on providing value rather than cashing in on a trend would be fine.

Ya know what? In a general case, I think I was right.

Now the talk lately is about the “indiepocalypse.” The mobile markets are far beyond saturation, and now that’s happening to Steam, too. The hardest hit are the ones who enjoyed the most success when Steam was still all about curation by a tiny number of overworked individuals who couldn’t keep up with the releases already.

And now the bubble is bursting. Oh, noes!

I’ve seen this many times before. I’ve talked about it many times before. Half the folks freaking out about it weren’t even in this industry the last time we had a major indie bubble burst (in the casual games arena). Indeed, it seems that about half the commentary on the “indiepocalypse” has been more mocking it, or planning for survival.

One approach is, of course, to turn indie game development into bigger-budget, winner-take-all mentality, or “Triple-I” gaming. To this, I say, “It’s been done, it’s been happening for decades.” I mean, back when I started, that pretty much WAS Triple-A game development with a big team. And afterwards? That was… um… non-Triple-A mainstream game development. There’s nothing new there. The only thing remotely interesting is that they’ve been able to bill themselves as “indie.” I call them “big indies” and they’ve got the same problem as everybody else, from the massive publishing houses down to the lone-wolf developers: they have to make a reasonable return on their investment, or it’s curtains for them. And since many of them are asking for only a fraction of their budget on Kickstarter, it’s not like they have unlimited funds.

And burn rates are a very real thing in commercial development, even for successful kickstarter-funded games like Thimbleweed Park.

So anyway…. the indie apocalypse. Great bubble-bursting. The end of the indie fad. Whatever. Yeah, it’s real, it’s happening, brace for frickin’ impact. The suckage has already started, and it’s gonna get worse. Probably much worse, if history is a guide. And then it’s gonna get better. But not like “peak indie.” More like a leveling out and a return to more sane levels of growth. The rules will change for the 9,000th time, but the fundamentals will stay the same.

And people are gonna keep making, buying, and playing games.

Then again, what should I know? I was stupid and lame enough not to be able to cash in on the gravy years YET AGAIN, so what would I know about surviving yet another crash?  I still treat these things as a spectator sport.

Anyway, for a couple more bits of opinion on the coming indiepoxyklipse or whatever, here are some good reads:

The Rat Race to the Steam Store

Ryan Clark: Five Myths of the Indiepocalypse

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Enlisting the Aid of the Genius 14-Year-Old

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 8, 2015

I joke that I was the world’s greatest game designer right up until the moment I had to design games for a real audience, and then I sucked all of the sudden. Mysterious thing that…

Obviously, the point is that things always look a lot simpler from a distance than once you have to go down into the weeds. But there’s something to be said for that fervor and enthusiasm and complete disregard for boundaries and limitations from someone who is completely ignorant that those boundaries and limitations even exist.

c64screenFor me, that’s my 14-year-old self. That kid didn’t have a clue, but boy was he excited about gaming. Both the dice-and-paper kind and the video gaming kind. Arcades, D&D, computer games, Atari. And programming! The kid was learning to program, with a shiny Commodore 64 which had a whopping 64k of memory (about 48k of it was usable RAM for programs), and man… things were awesome.

A lot of it came from having a lot of free time and this stuff was a primary diversion for him. I mean, me. I’d get home at some incredibly early hour in the afternoon… and while there might have been homework, I still had several hours to kill. And I often killed them on my computer, or in the depths of D&D manuals. Anyway, the ideas would flow, maps would get drawn, the first part of games would get written (I’d rarely “finish” anything). But there was a raw creativity born of enthusiasm and a lack of experience. A lack of being jaded, to some degree.

I still like to harness that. It’s like a brainstorm… most of the ideas will suck, but the point is to not pre-filter so that you can enjoy a more pure creative flow. The 14-year-old me had a whole ton of ideas and no pressure whatsoever. If he’s still in me, I want to take advantage of that. Channel that crazy, wild-eyed enthusiasm without constraint. Then mix it with the capabilities of the modern world, with far more powerful machines and tools than my 14-year-old self could imagine.

Of course, it’s not really just about remembering what it’s about to see the world through more innocent eyes, and remember what it was like when video games were the most amazing things EVER and how could any mortal being actually make something like that and Dungeons & Dragons was one of mankind’s greatest inventions (along with air conditioning and, of course, video games) and George Lucas could do no wrong. While it’s a fond recollection, I’ve heard lots of 14-year-olds since then, and I wouldn’t exactly want any of them on my design team. My younger self included, I’m sure.

The real point is trying to “program” myself to get “in the zone” quickly on the creative level the same way I get in the zone as a programmer. And there’s no question that those are two radically different zones, at least for me. It’s hard enough to get into one, let alone jump between the two. Shifting those gears doesn’t come easy for me. Yet.

(No, not that zone…)

That creative zone isn’t as easy to come by today as it was when I was 14. These days, that visit by “the muse” feels a bit like being under a tight deadline. In fact, that’s exactly what it usually is. But I know it can be cultivated. I’ve done it before, although sometimes it takes days of encouraging the subconscious to get there. And for very specific ideas, that may be the requirement. But as a general rule, just getting into ‘the zone’ it shouldn’t have to.

Anyway – I’m working on it (again). Some tricks I’m trying include cutting off the distractions (including hitting up the web for “research” which turns into …. something else), kind of an enforced boredom, sense memory (primarily music, some visual stimulus), self-imposed deadlines, and a little bit of  reminding myself of what it was like to be a kid again.  One day I’d like to be able to answer the question, “Where do your ideas come from?” with a more clear-cut process.

Filed Under: General - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Utah Indie Scene Gets Some Press

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 7, 2015

The Utah Indie Scene has received some extra attention lately, due in no small amount to the efforts of a few developers who have gone the extra mile. While they’ve had their own projects they’ve focused a good deal of attention on, they have also worked to put together support networks for indie game developers to everyone’s mutual benefit.

This week (or really, over the weekend), the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about the growth of the local “scene.” There are a few errors in there (Sorry about the name, Greg Squire…), but overall it’s an excellent article.

Upping Utah’s Indie Gaming Scene


Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: Be the First to Comment

Coming Soon: Beyond the Wail

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 5, 2015

I mentioned some time ago that I am in a new, upcoming anthology. This is it. Next month Xchyler Publishing releases a new anthology of paranormal tales called “Beyond the Wail.” Here’s a trailer video:



It includes twelve tales of “love, loss, and lamentation.” A lot of them deal with the loss of a loved one. Mine? The loss of an expensive laptop computer, which is almost the same thing. Well, okay, not quite. (And no, that’s not all it’s about either, but that’s my joke…)

Actually, it works best if Rod Serling does the introduction to my story. Do you have Serling’s voice in your head? Good. Here goes:

BEYOND-THE-WAIL-front-web“Our hero for the evening is one Mike Bradshaw, an entrepreneurial security consultant whose calling is to solve mysteries and prevent problems. But tonight, he has a problem encased within an impossible mystery: a machine has been stolen from within a locked room, practically under his very nose. There are no witnesses, no suspects, and no leads… only an empty room, a skilled partner, and some high-tech tools of his trade. What he will soon discover is that his stolen properly lay hidden not within some terrestrial vault, but that both it and the thief can only be found in the Twili…. er, I mean, Beyond the Wail.”

Sound cool? I hope so. You’ll be able to read it and eleven other stories by my fellow authors (including my wife, who weaves a wonderful tail of a mysterious fiddle that can play music that the dead can hear…) in just a few weeks.


Filed Under: Books - Comments: Be the First to Comment


Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 4, 2015

SinsfathersI returned home the other night to find half of an old CD-ROM sitting on the table. It was an original disc for Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. It was later explained to me that it had fallen off the shelf and out of the jewel case, and our puppy, Clara (yes, named after the Doctor’s companion), got to it. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt when she shattered it.

Once upon a time, seeing that would have been a little devastating. Those discs are long out of manufacturing, so replacing it would have been challenging. And that’s a classic adventure game that I don’t ever want to lose.

Fortunately, I have both a digital copy in an account, and the recent 20th Anniversary remake. So while the loss of the physical media was disappointing, it wasn’t nearly as painful to my game-collecting soul as it would have been. I guess that means that I’ve finally been able to divorce the bits from the atoms in my mind, and I no longer think of games as having any relation to the media they are stored on. I guess that makes sense – thanks to numerous sales and bundles, my ‘game collection’ these days is pretty staggering, and the purely digital copies dwarf my once-impressive collection of physical packaging.

In fact, the last physical copy of a game I’ve picked up was a collector’s edition box for Wasteland 2 that I received as a reward for being a backer. And it was slightly damaged with a puncture on arrival. So much for keeping it in pristine condition!

I still like my old physical packaging. Some of it, anyway. It’s probably nostalgia as much as anything…  the packaging was anticipation, a promise. Browsing the shelves, looking at the screenshots on the packaging. Picking up the game during my lunch break and staring at the package all afternoon until I could take it home and play it. After that, the boxes collected dust, and I GREATLY prefer not having to hunt down the CD-ROM (or the key) in order to play the game anymore.

I was never going to need that CD ever again. I still have the jewel case. But more importantly, I still have the game. That’s the important part.

Filed Under: Retro, Tech - Comments: 11 Comments to Read

Of UDEN, the VOID, and the Coffee House Six

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 3, 2015

UDEN_Sep2015Last night’s UDEN (Utah Digital Entertainment Network) meeting was held at a place called “Church and State,” a non-profit “business incubator” that offers office space to small businesses inside what was once a historic church building build in the 1890s. As the last time I attended, it was a very entrepreneurial-focused meeting consisting of announcements, a keynote address, several three minute “Hive Ignite” talks introducing some of the people involved in the various digital & entertainment industries in the state, and then a networking session until they kicked us out of the building.

The keynote was presented by founders of The Void, which was pretty dang exciting on its own. I’m still cautiously optimistic, although as one of the local indie game developers mentioned later that evening, their spiel sounded a bit like an “excite potential investors and get more funding” kind of thing. Having come from a background in electronics, he was quite skeptical of their plans, but I was a little more optimistic, taking the assumption that this was their grand vision, but their actual release will have to be more of a “stage one” compromise. But we’ll see. During one discussion I mentioned their (temporarily) “back-burnered” theme park and accidentally referred to it as “Nevermore” instead of “Evermore.” Nice Freudian slip.

What they presented was pretty incredible (granted, both meanings of the word). But if they can pull this off, they’ll be breaking ground on the first of their VOID Entertainment Centers (VECs) in October, and will be ready for audiences next summer. They’re using a combination of hot new technology – which can be more powerful than normal consumer-level products because they don’t have to fit them in the consumer price range – and plain ol’ fashioned stage magic. Curtis Hickman, the head of content development, is among other things a professional magician. They have some practical effects designed to “argue for veracity” and trick the mind into buying into the illusion presented by the goggles, headset, and haptic feedback. The plan is for the centers to have 8 “stages” each (on two floors) about 60 feet in diameter each, with somewhat fixed physical “sets” (walls and practical effects) that can be disguised through VR to be a cave in one experience, and an alien space ship in another, etc.

UDEN_VOID_Presentation_640The experiences are intended to be 20 minutes long (although they also used 30 minutes… maybe 10 minutes of preparation & debriefing?), with experiences optimized for 6-8 people at a time. So at peak capacity, they’ll be pushing a little under 200 people per hour through the stages.

Some further-off plans include having actors for more interactive content, and motion-based two-person “simulation pods” for another kind of VR. Their plans include mixing up the sim pods with the experiences in the main stages. They mentioned the possibility of a “mecha battle” with some players piloting giant robots through the virtual battlefield while others – on the stage – stayed on the ground as infantry or something.

There were some interesting discussions about how to handle traditional gameplay elements in their events. Traditional videogaming seems like a natural fit, but in practice may not work so well in their virtual worlds.  Things like HUDs, respawning, and “ghosting” of other players didn’t work quite so well, and safety (not to mention preventing equipment damage) is paramount. They mentioned trying to change distances so one step was actually 3x the distance traversed to make things seem bigger / faster, and they said it worked out pretty well.

They are planning on centers throughout the world, with new content every quarter, and intend to even work with indies on providing content. And they plan on keeping their headquarters here in Utah.

I want to believe. I’ve read and talked to enough people who’ve tried it out who have verified that this stuff all works really, really well at the prototype stage and they’ve felt it has huge potential. So… maybe. I’m crossing my fingers.

The Hive Ignite addresses were given by representatives from Utah GOED (Governor’s Office of Economic Development,), Spy Hop, MURA Interactive, and Schaffer Studios – a nice cross section of government, nonprofit, game development, and film development. I’m sure that mix was deliberate.

Finally, there was the meet & greet. I got to talk a little more with Curtis Hickman about The VOID’s plans, AJ Dimick from the University of Utah Entertainment Arts & Engineering program, and several others. That’s the fun and weird part of this – tons of discussions, introductions, and ideas going around the room at high-speed and it was different for everyone.

PostUDENCoffeeGroup640Towards the end, six of us indie game devs got into a fun discussion that we didn’t want to stop even when they kicked us out of the building at the end of the night. So we found a coffee shop across the street that was open for another couple of hours, and just continued talking and swapping war stories there.

Then when THAT closed, we ended up taking the discussion outside onto the sidewalk for another 45 minutes. I watched four police cars go by us and turn near us during the time. Actually, I’m not entirely positive it wasn’t the same one. Six geeks WELL out of our teens hanging out on a street corner in downtown Salt Lake City in the middle of the night? Yeah, we’re trouble. I’m sure they were just looking out for our safety.

And people say we introvert gamer types don’t like to be social. BULL. We just need the right type of social interactions and then we have trouble shutting up. (Although I really don’t consider myself that much of an introvert…)

All-in-all… I had a blast. I left energized, excited, and really thinking about what I can do to push Rampant Games to the next level. So it was a pretty productive night, too.

Filed Under: Events - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Game Jam Games Gone Commercial(ish)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 2, 2015

It shouldn’t be an impediment to Game Jams, but one of my big hesitations is that it’s a distraction from my main project. I mean, if I’m gonna carve 48 hours or so of solid work on a game from my schedule, I’d be far better off focusing on the game I’m currently trying to finish, right? That’s the equivalent of two weeks of productivity right there! And besides, while it’s a great exercise to get practice in rapid development all the way through the release stage, it’s really a distraction from making the kinds of games that actually pay the bills, right?

Well, yes and no. There’s always the NEXT project, and what’s going to be the best project next time around? Wouldn’t it make sense to prototype a bunch of ideas quickly and see which ones fly first before committing weeks and months? Wouldn’t it make sense to have already done basic designs / prototypes for a dozen games and choose the one that is the most promising and exciting? Maybe turn that game jam effort into a full-fledged commercial project?

Well, that happens. I just wasn’t sure how often. I know that Ninjabee’s A Kingdom for Keflings kinda-sorta began as a “game in a day” jam inside the company called Rome. The two bear little resemblance to each other now, but the latter at least inspired the former.

I was aware of Receiver being not much more than a game jam title as well. And Goat Simulator – a game jam success story if ever there was one! And there’s the whole Amnesia Fortnight thing that Double Fine does, which has resulted in some successful commercial products, like Costume Quest and Stacking. But has there been anything else?

It turns out, quite a bit. Someone compiled a list of full video game releases that were based on game jam projects… and there are more than I expected:

A Non-Exhaustive List of Game-Jam Made Games

Most of these are not super-successful titles, but a lot of them were. I didn’t realize that The Binding of Isaac was originally a game jam project. Now of course, these titles required a whole ton of additional work and polish before being released as full-fledged titles, but it certainly helps to start with a proven concept via a game jam prototype, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’m sure there are more, but I was pretty impressed by the list!

Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

[Archive] Of Game Engines and Swarm Missiles

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 1, 2015

Editorial Note: This is an article that first appeared in the previous blog back in January 2006. Yeah, it’s old, but still valid. I’ve edited it to bring it up to date. Although I must admit, working with Unity has provided me with a lot fewer ugly surprises than some other engines.

In early 1995, I was working on both Warhawk and Twisted Metal for the then-upcoming Playstation (the first one) for Sony. Both games started with the same code base, and then diverged, but parts of the code (specifically the graphics and sound engines) remained shared between them.

We had a rather bizarre problem in Warhawk where suddenly everything would go haywire – usually when you were shooting the ever-popular “swarm missiles” at enemies. The cockpit would go “kittywampus,” matrices would get turned around, and sometimes the game would freeze. Since the symptoms almost always appeared when the player was firing swarm missiles, and I was the man who’d written the code for all the weapons, the bug fell upon my head to “fix the swarm missiles.” I had the bug on my list for weeks, and I had assumed (rightly so) that somewhere in my code I was clobbering memory that didn’t belong to me.

warhawkbIt was especially nerve-wracking, as the cluster of six swarming, bobbing, ‘flocking’ missiles dancing around each other as they shot towards a target was a major ‘seller’ for the game in demos, and you do not want the game to bug up during a demo! Our executives were told only to show the the swarm missiles in the “pyramid level” (level 1), as it was harder to cause the problem on that level.

I was getting desperate one morning, and began tracking the logic through the engine code (We didn’t have very good debugging tools for the Playstation in early 1995 ). Now, this was an in-house engine — I’d mucked around in it before, and was familiar with the basic logic, but I wasn’t one of the principle engine developers. That honor belonged to some of the guys, headed up by Randy Zorko, who had spent several years at the simulation company Evans & Sutherland. These guys were used to working on multi-million dollar simulators for the military and civilian industries. They were also used to the limitations of these incredible super-computers.

As it turns out, one of the limitations they were used to was the number of “Coordinate systems” (read: independent, fully 3D models) in an environment. I think some of the best E&S systems could only handle something like 14 of these objects in the world at a time. So you’d have the user’s plane, and maybe six other planes, and potentially six missiles in the air at a time. So they’d created a buffer of these objects which you could acquire from the engine, and they guessed some astronomical number of models which the engine could handle – something like sixty. Because the number was something that sounded so huge to these guys, they decided they never really needed to test to see if you exceeded that boundary (although theoretically the function was supposed to return a failure if there were none left).

Any programmers reading this can immediately spot the problem.

Every time you fired the swarm missiles in Warhawk, you created twelve new “coordinate systems” in the game. Six missiles, and six contrails (which were models that were built on-the-fly, a trick I also used in Void War). When our executives were giving demos to people, they were always playing in “God Mode,” which gave you unlimited ammo and invulnerability. This meant they could fire a LOT of Swarm Missiles. It was quite possible to get three or maybe even four sets of missiles up in the air simultaneously. Add to that all the enemy planes, gun turrets, tanks, and enemy-fired missiles, and you can blow past that 60-CS boundary without too much trouble.

Randy was able to fix the problem in the engine in about five minutes, expanding the boundary to something like 90, plus fixing the check to make sure you didn’t blow past that (I don’t think we ever did, in the ten games or so that used that engine). And the Swarm Missiles became famous.

So is there the moral of the story?

WeirdLightmapsNot really. Just that as developers we’re always building on someone else’s foundation… even down to the O.S. level, and nothing non-trivial is bug-free. Whether it’s a full-on game engine or using a third-party piece of code. I absolutely love working with Unity, but even so I run into some major problems from time to time that I assume must be my fault, especially when the developers won’t acknowledge them (like light-mapping issues with the new light engine… grumble, grumble). I’ve had the problem with Microsoft APIs that are super-mature (albeit not super-popular) and have been around since at least the Windows NT days. How could someone else not have run into this problem before me?

The trick is recognizing the problem for what it truly is. Beginners tend to be a little too quick to blame their tools, and sometimes the veterans may be a little too slow. Trying to figure out what to do from there… is it possible to fix it yourself, or get the developer to fix it, or can you come up with a work-around?  Tough decisions.

Filed Under: Programming - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Book Impressions: Dungeon Hacks

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 31, 2015

DungeonHacksExcept for a fairly lame mail-order game from Aardvark Software, my first computer role-playing game was Telengard for the Commodore 64. We didn’t have the modern taxonomy of games like we do now… I don’t know if “role-playing game” had really caught on then. “Roguelike” certainly hadn’t. Both words would have applied, but at the time, it was a D&D style game, and that was good enough for me. I spent hours and hours delving through the giant procedurally-generated dungeon.

I didn’t know at the time that Telengard was heavily derived from a game on larger mainframe or mini-computers. But what I did learn was that the code was written in BASIC, which I was able to break into and examine in great detail to see how this giant dungeon with levels of 100 x 100 rooms could actually fit inside the 64K Commodore 64. That part wasn’t random – the maps never changed, but were rather calculated by a formula. But the content within the maps changed constantly. While it might not fully qualify, I consider it my first introduction to roguelikes.

My real introduction to roguelikes came several years later, with Moria. I never mastered it, never fought the Balrog, but I again spent many, many hours delving its secrets. While I found out later that Angband was its spiritual descendant, I never got into the latter game. At least not yet. While I’d briefly experienced other roguelikes, it was the one that “stuck” for me. In a lot of ways, it might have been because I didn’t think of it as a roguelike – I was thinking of it as an RPG.

Things have diverged a bit since then, with many roguelikes taking a more mathematically pure game-like approach, and others sticking with the more simulation-esque general RPG approach, some getting simpler, and others really going off in totally new directions while borrowing some of the key features from this family of games (the so called “roguelike-likes,” or as one friend coined the phrase, “Procedural Death Labyrinths”).

Last week I stumbled over a book that details some of the key games of the field, covering their history, interviewing key developers, and explaining what they added to the “mix” of roguelikes in the future. Well, duh, how could I resist:

Dungeon Hacks – How Nethack, Angband, and other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games, is by David L Craddock. It’s divided into several sections. The main section goes chapter by chapter detailing various key historical “roguelikes” – including the games that preceded Rogue and of course Rogue itself. The chapters also have links to “Side Quests” – pieces of interesting history or trivia that didn’t belong in the main section, but could have easily been “sidebar” information. Finally, there is a section called “Bonus Round” that includes interviews with other people more peripherally involved in the history, and excerpts from other books.

My biggest words of praise for this book is the amount of effort the author must have taken to get in touch with these game developers and piecing together their stories – often dating back 35 years or more. I’ve always been interested in the story behind the development of games, even before I was a game developer myself. That’s probably a big part of the reason I decided to go into game development in the first place.

MoriaDOSSo if you are into that kind of thing, while the stories aren’t generally full of drama, they do offer fascinating insight into the people and the designs of these awesome classic titles. They offer insight as to why they were made the way they did, how people responded, what inspired the developers, and occasional bits of interpersonal struggles between the developers.

The “Side Quest” bits are fascinating excursions on their own. Some chapters contain lots of entries, others none or only one. But there’s little bits about the difficulty of sending software behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, or the “Lost” version 5.0 of Moria, or tidbits about the limitations of the technology or the weird university policies the developers had to contend with.

My one complaint would be that the promise of the title – how the key titles in the roguelike genre “changed the course of video games” – is largely unfulfilled. There is mention of some of the derived / inspired titles that have gained popularity today – the Diablo series, FTL, etc., but that’s largely left implied. As to course-changing… well, that might have been a bit overstated. I’d have liked to see more quotes from major game developers in the AAA and indie space today about how they were inspired by roguelikes or how a roguelike influenced their own designs. But admittedly, this is more of a quibble.

Anyway, it’s probably pretty obvious if the book would appeal to you or not. If you are interested in the history of the development of games, particularly RPGs and roguelikes, this is for you. If you are a roguelike fan, then you may be interested in the stories behind the development of the genre. If you are reading this and wondering “What’s a roguelike?” then I obviously I need to do my job better (although that question has some really contentious answers…).

Bottom line: I liked it, and it made me want to take a stab at building a roguelike more than ever. Maybe I’ll take some time out during the next 7DRL challenge, if it’s not coinciding with some major life event this time.

Filed Under: Books, Roguelikes - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

The Hugos: The Kindergarten Bestest Friend Award

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 28, 2015

IngredBergmanGaslightI was going to write a big article about the 2015, and the travesty that went down this year with the Hugos.  In fact, I did write not just one, but two articles about it. But I wasn’t happy with either one. In the end, I wasn’t really contributing much, in spite of both of them dwarfing this giant post. And I’m tired of the negativity.

If you don’t know what happened… well, good luck trying to get a straight answer. I’m a little biased, too, so I don’t know if my take on things is any better. I’ll just say… the Hugo is about science fiction and fantasy, and most of the stories bandied about by even the supposedly professional media were far more fantasy than anything else.

I was a voter this year for the Hugos, which was pretty meaningful to me, as the award had been meaningful to me when I was growing up. I haven’t paid too much attention later in life, and found many of the award-winners of recent years to be quite divergent from my tastes. I think the awards have diminished in value and prestige over the years, and there may be kind of a weird causal relationship there. But I think most of the “diminishing” has been because fandom has grown and expanded so much that the convention that it belongs to (WorldCon) is no longer the hub of all things SF/F-related as it once was.

There are people who still care about it and stay involved, and – over the years – have some pretty solid influence over how the Hugos get awarded each year (in spite of downplaying their own influence). They have their tastes and their relationships, and those have influenced their gatekeeping “duties.” That’s group 1. Group 2 was a smaller group that thought the Hugo ought to change, and needed “fixing” to be less hidebound and more reflective of the larger interests of expanded fandom as a whole, and should be big enough that no group should really be in control of it at all. Group 3… I don’t understand as well, but for the most part they seemed interested in making sure that Group 1 didn’t have control of it any longer, even if that meant blowing up the Hugos so it was useless to everyone. Finally, there were people that weren’t really in a “group” but were the ones who either tried to stay above the fray or neutral about it, or in spite of their involvement in WorldCon didn’t really know much about what was going on.

Anyway, certain folks in groups 1-3 wanted to turn it into a holy war, particularly this spring when group 1 discovered that many of the people they’d anointed to be nominees this year didn’t actually make the ballot. By turning things into a holy war, the ends somehow seem to justify the means, and people desperately wanted the “must fight evil!” excuse to justify their extremely nasty, unethical actions. Group 4 just wanted to know why everyone couldn’t just get along. And the media made up their own stories, grabbed popcorn, and watched high profile geeks turn on each other with escalating levels of viciousness.

Feelings were hurt. Careers were hurt. Violence was threatened but fortunately never materialized. Straw men were built and kicked over. The squabbling was some of the nastiest stuff I’ve seen since Junior High. In the end, people were recruited (in some cases, bought and paid for) on multiple sides to help make sure “their side” won. Or just to make sure the other side(s) lost.

In the end, I think the Hugos themselves and the quiet fourth group lost. The Hugos were proven to be little more than a kindergarten “bestest friend” award, and have probably lost whatever legacy prestige they still retained. I really can’t see how anyone can treat them seriously in the future. The “real” fans who took their role in the awards seriously (scattered throughout the factions, but many making up the fourth group) found themselves marginalized.

The second group got kicked to the curb with extreme prejudice (again), the third group managed to achieve a dubious win condition, and the first group stood the next day over the smoldering carnage of the earth they’d scorched and asked, “What have we done?!?!?” Many recognized that while they might have survived the battle, they’d probably lost the war, even as others on their side were cheering that they’d held off the barbarian invasion one more year. Kind of.

And the media got to jeer at the geek civil war.

Bleah. All that negativity. Believe it or not, that’s my highly abbreviated take on what happened.

So… on to better things. Here’s what I was good about the whole experience for me:

First of all… as a Hugo voter, I got a ton of awesome reading material. Too much, really… I spent waaaay more time going through it all this summer than I really had at my disposal. But for the price of admission, it was more than worth it. Yeah, a few entries (from all nominating groups) kinda left me cold. But for the most part, there were some awesome stories.

For my favorites… almost all of the novels were excellent. The actual winner of the “best novel” award (the one where Groups 1 and 3 actually agreed… mainly because group 1 didn’t know that group 3 liked it…), The Three-Body Problem, is well worth reading. My favorite was Skin Game, but I’m a Harry Dresden fan.

Of the other works… I really liked Ms. Marvel, although I couldn’t shake the feeling that the choice of a Muslim-American superhero was more politically motivated, calculated attention-getting move than it would have been two decades ago. Still, regardless of motivations, it was good.

I really, really loved The Plural of Helen of Troy. It’s a story about a city run by… well, effectively “Time Lords,” although they have a different name. But imagine a society where nothing happens without the approval of time-travelers who can go back and change anything they didn’t like. Celebrities of different eras thrust together in apartments. It is a wonderfully brain-twisting mystery where past, present, and future all get munged together.

Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman and Totaled by Kary English were two other stories that really impressed me. The former is sort of military SF with a harsh commentary about the application of the military in today’s global poltical arena. The latter is a “brain in a jar” story that asks some hard questions about the value of human life when life can be extended after the body has died.

There were several other enjoyable works, but those really stood out for me, and I wanted to share.

On top of that, I was introduced to people and authors that I may not have met had I not been involved (even if only up in the nosebleed section). While I’d like to believe it would have happened anyway, being involved served as a catalyst.

I guess you could say it was also pretty educational. While I may have learned more than I really wanted to know about a couple of people whom I previously admired, I got the chance to learn a lot more about the industry, the major players in the field, the history of fandom, and so forth.

I was once again reminded why you should be very skeptical of anything you read on the Internet. Even from (or especially from) supposedly reputable, professional journalism sites. There’s nothing quite as breathtaking as being an eyewitness to the facts, but then seeing completely manufactured, provably invalid falsehoods take wing at the speed of light and take on a life of their own. There’s the old joke, “Who are you gonna believe, me, or your own eyes?” but it’s really not a joke. Gaslighting is a thing, and it works. So… guard your mind. And never assume that the truth must be somewhere “in the middle”  (a common assumption that I make way too often).

And in the end… this tempest in a teapot notwithstanding… I have come to the realization that science fiction & fantasy, as a whole, are doing just fine. Just like the video games biz, we’re encountering challenges and struggles over growth and change. These are healthy problems to have. Just by looking at the sheer volume of material being published now as opposed to when the Hugo awards first became a thing, and that tells you a lot. Fandom is much, much bigger and more diverse, and we have far more outlets to enjoy being together in their shared enthusiasm.

And while Sturgeon’s law still applies, I think the best works of the speculative fiction genres coming out each year are as good as ever, and are obviously more plentiful. While I haven’t been too pleased with some of the award-winning fiction of the last few years, I have come to realize that this was a matter of the taste of the gatekeepers (acting a little like editors), not necessarily indicative of the entire field. There’s a heck of a lot out there, and it is diverse and fun and exciting.

This was neither the first of the fan arguments about the future of the field, and I’m sure it won’t be the last… and sadly, probably not the nastiest, either. SF/F authors are all about making larger-than-life drama, and this was one of them.

I don’t know if I want to be a participant next time like I was this time… particularly for an award that I think has effectively self-destructed… but I might. If nothing else, it’s a relatively cheap way to get to read some of the year’s best SF/F.


Filed Under: Books, Events - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

That Old School Feeling: Forgotten Realms and Divinity: Original Sin 2

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 27, 2015

I’m gonna post a two-for-one today, because it’s all so cool.

Number one: A great article from PC Gamer about how GOG.COM rescued thirteen Forgotten Realms D&D games from licensing hell. It’s both fascinating and a little disturbing as a retro-gamer. You think, “well, gee, why haven’t these guys gotten around to licensing this game yet,” and that’s why. The rights don’t necessarily go to with the merger / acquisition, especially where bankruptcy is involved. And in some cases, the owner of the rights might not even know they own the rights, or have any idea what it is even if they stumble across it going through old filing cabinets.

It’s also a decent cautionary tale about DRM. Perfect DRM means a game perfectly self-destructs when its caretakers hit a bump down the road, no matter how well-meaning they are on the game’s release. How many of these companies that seemed to be on top of the world in their heyday have gone the way of the dodo now, their assets scattered or forgotten? A lot.

Anyway, if you haven’t snagged them yet, GOG.COM has the awesome D&D games of yesteryear – the Forgotten Realms Gold Box games, Hillsfar, Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures (build your own gold box game!), the Eye of the Beholder series (BOOYAH!), Dungeon Hack, and Menzoberranzan. Sadly, not (yet) the Dragonlance or Buck Rogers gold box games, or the Ravenloft games. Hopefully they are pursuing these other licenses as well. But honestly – if you can handle the ancient DOS era interfaces (the latest of these games was published 20 years ago), they are way, WAY worth it, and represent hundreds of hours of old-school RPG goodness.


(Decades later, I still love the picture of Alias from the cover of the game & novel, but her stupid armor still fires off some OCD part of me that wants her to wear padding and find the missing centerpiece!)

Next up, we go from the awesome classic old-school games of the past to the awesome old-school-feeling games of the present. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is now in crowdfunding phase and has surpassed its funding goal on the very first day.  The first game was excellent. The second game promises improvement over the first game, naturally. But it also offers up to four people playing at the same time – which is cool – and a major emphasis on role-playing… especially the ability to to switch seamlessly between cooperative and competitive  gameplay.

Even more importantly (for me), competitive gameplay does not (necessarily) mean direct PvP. They are trying to go all-out on narrative design, and working against your fellow players may be all about pursuing a different end via quests and so forth.

This was pretty much an insta-backing for me, and I have a lot of faith in Larian as a studio, but that’s me. Your mileage may vary, but if you are interested, here’s the link:

Divinity: Original Sin 2 Kickstarter



Filed Under: Game Announcements, Retro - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

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