About the Author
Mass Effect
Final Fantasy X
Batman:Arkham City
Borderlands Series
Weekly Column
Champions Online
World of Warcraft
DM of the Rings
Good Robot
Project Frontier
Forums
"Music"



The Witcher 3: White Orchard, Part Two

By Bob Case
on Thursday Mar 15, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

When I left off last week my plan was to get some XP by doing quests that had little to no combat. I did the one where you find out who burned down the dwarf’s smithy, the one where you make a potion for a victim of a griffin attack, the one where you get the old lady’s pan, and advanced the griffin contract a few steps (which only requires you to fight a few wild dogs, with Mislav’s help). I won’t cover them in too much detail. For one, if I cover every quest in detail this series will be a thousand entries long, and for two, I think many of you reading this have already played the game anyway.

Instead I want to write a bit about what they all add up to. White Orchard is a setting with a very focused hook – the tension between the Temerian locals and the Nilgaardian occupiers – and pretty much everything that happens here explores that tension in some way, and how it intersects with people’s everyday lives. At no point during my time in White Orchard did I feel like I played through a quest that was just there as filler. (I’m talking about actual quests here, not bandit camps/monster nests/etc) Seeing it from a critical perspective, it’s startling how easy the developers make it all look.

I include this for nostalgia's sake. It was a promotional screenshot that I used as my desktop background for like six months.

I include this for nostalgia's sake. It was a promotional screenshot that I used as my desktop background for like six months.

It’s also unique in that it explores the aftermath of a military conflict rather than the conflict itself. Were the Witcher license to be acquired by, say, Activision, I can pretty much guarantee you that the dramatic opening battle cutscene would have been the part you played, and the state of the countryside afterwards likely wouldn’t have been mentioned at all. CD Projekt does it the other way round, which is a good illustration of how – for lack of a better phrase – Sapkowski-ish they are.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (48)



This Dumb Industry: The Disaster of GPU Prices

By Shamus
on Tuesday Mar 13, 2018
Filed under:
Column

Last week I gave a lightweight overview of what bitcoin is and how it works. ) Like I said, people can make money by certifying blocks for the blockchain. And to do this they need to try lots and lots of SHA256 hashes, looking for the magic nonce that will complete a block. The more computing power you have, the more hashes you can try per second. This improves your odds of winning the SHA256 lottery and netting yourself a few thousand dollars worth of bitcoins.

This works to keep bitcoin secure, but it has also created an intense and sudden demand for lots of computing power. At some point these bitcoin miners looked at consumer-grade graphics hardware and realized that they were an incredible deal in terms of cost vs. computing power. So they began buying them up and stuffing them into minimalist cases where the cards can sit and crunch numbers all day. They’re not even hooked up to monitors! They’re just crunching on SHA256 hashes!

(Note that when I say “bitcoin” I’m sort of doing this handwave-y inclusion of crypto currency in general. I’m talking about bitcoin because it’s the most recognizable and notorious of the currencies, but a lot of the things I talk about below apply more to the other currencies than to bitcoin specifically. But I don’t want to clutter this article up with all the asides and asterisks it would take to sort out the various strains of cryptobux. Just remember that this article is more concerned with graphics hardware and less concerned with crypto.)

The Graphics Hardware Market

OUT OF STOCK. Which is fine, since I can't afford any of them anyway.

OUT OF STOCK. Which is fine, since I can't afford any of them anyway.

All of this has pushed prices up. Normally a new graphics generation comes out, and then the price drifts slowly downward as the technology ages. Eventually a new card comes along to replace it, and the old one undergoes a price drop. Most of us budget-conscious gamers shop in this “recently dethroned” spot on the price curve, which is where you get the most bang for your buck. Any newer than that and you’re paying the hefty enthusiast markup. Any lower than that and the power falls off more quickly than the price.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (127)



Diecast #201: Another Funeral for Mass Effect

By Shamus
on Monday Mar 12, 2018
Filed under:
Diecast

This week I talked with SoldierHawk about her YouTube Channel, Mass Effect, and the sorry state of sci-fi in videogames.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus with guest Brittany. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (152)



The Shamecast #2: More Grand Theft Auto V

By Shamus
on Sunday Mar 11, 2018
Filed under:
Notices

Last Wednesday I did another stream of Grand Theft Auto V. We drove around the city, looked at environment maps, talked about the police AI, discussed the internal building layout of strip clubs, and killed hundreds and hundreds of people.

It turns out this streaming stuff is pretty fun. I’m still working on the technology and such, but I’m getting there. Here is the archive of the stream:


Link (YouTube)

At around the 27 minute mark I died, and it was unclear how anyone could have shot me. It looked like I was alone in the room. (Aside from the unarmed civilians.) I’d put a proximity mine beside the main entrance, and I was facing towards the back entrance. And yet somehow someone shot me in the back. Nobody watching the stream knew who shot me either. It looked completely random.

But now I’ve watched the replay and I think I’ve solved it. If you watch the map in the lower left you can see I was ambushed by the world’s luckiest policeman. Apparently the proximity mine wasn’t armed yet. I thought the audible “BEEP” signaled that it was armed, but no. I guess it just makes that sound when it attaches to the wall.

If the cop had arrived a split second sooner then I would have seen him and killed him. And if he’d been a second later the mine would have been armed and killed him. Lucky for him, unlucky for me.

Stuff I’m changing for the next stream:

  1. I discovered a less kludge-y way to integrate chat into the stream. This means the chat won’t be cut off, and it should be a little more readable.
  2. I figured out how to view the chat on my end without going to the front page where Twitch will randomly begin playing my own stream back to me. This will avoid the cutoff problem you see just after the one-hour mark. This will also let me make the chat window bigger, so it’ll be easier for me to converse.
  3. I’ll be on time this week. On one day of the week I have a meeting at 7pm, and on Wednesday I stream at 6pm. I got the two times confused and didn’t realize I was late until you folks said so on Twitter. Whoops. Sorry.

I think we’re going to spend a couple more weeks will GTA V, just because the game is so perfect for streaming. However, feel free to nominate other games. We’re going to move on eventually. Witcher 3 is on my list of games to stream, but I think I should wait until Bob is done with his series. There’s already too much confusion about who is making what content and if we both cover the same game it’ll only get worse.

I’ll be streaming again this Wednesday at 6PM Eastern US time. I don’t know what time that will be where you’re at, because it’s time to pointlessly and stupidly fiddle with the clocks again.

If you can figure out how to convert 6pm my time to wherever you are, then you’ll be able to catch the stream on my Twitch page. I’ll announce the stream on Twitter just before I go live. See you there!


 
 
Comments (48)



Wolfenstein II Part 6: Imprisoned in a Cutscene

By Shamus
on Thursday Mar 8, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

BJ Blakzowicz has to infiltrate the Nazi complex of caves and generic industrial warehouses so he can plant a nuclear device to blow up Area 52. For a game with such far-out scenarios, it’s amazing how mundane the scenery can be.

At various points throughout the game, you get the opportunity to go for a stealthy approach. Sort of. It doesn’t really work, but it’s there. So let’s talk about…

Stealth

I'm in the dark and behind a box but I've just been spotted by a guy I can't see. He's going to start yelling, and then I'll have to fight everyone in the area, including all the guys I just snuck past. Which means I should've just saved myself the hassle and started shooting the moment I got here.
I'm in the dark and behind a box but I've just been spotted by a guy I can't see. He's going to start yelling, and then I'll have to fight everyone in the area, including all the guys I just snuck past. Which means I should've just saved myself the hassle and started shooting the moment I got here.

I guess they included the stealth sections as a nod to the stealth based gameplay of the original 2D Wolfenstein games? Or maybe they just included them for variety. Whatever. My problem is that while they included stealth sections, they have never bothered to include any stealth mechanics.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (76)



The Witcher 3: White Orchard, Part One

By Bob Case
on Thursday Mar 8, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

I’m going to start by listing the initial ground rules of the playthrough.

  1. No equipment, meaning no weapons or armor. Geralt will be wearing his classy white boxer shorts the whole way.
  2. The only thing Geralt can keep on his person is booze. Since Witcher potions are made with alcohol as a base, I consider potions to be a type of booze, so they’re acceptable. This will obviously require us to occasionally have alchemy ingredients in our inventory as well (I think of them as being something like cocktail mixers), so those are acceptable. Gwent cards are not actually stored in your inventory itself, so they’re all right too.
  3. No HUD. I actually recommend making very limited use of the HUD even for a non-crazy person playthrough, as I and others have found that it causes you play the game in a very different – and arguably more immersive – way.
  4. Geralt must never turn down an offer of either alcohol or gwent.
  5. Combat should be as punching-oriented as possible, meaning minimize the use of signs. Rule 5 is, of necessity, going to be one of the more flexible ones, since there are some enemies that you simply can’t defeat with punches alone (that, or it would be painfully boring to do so).

I may add more rules as we go on, but those are the basics. This is obviously going to make the game more difficult, but based on my experimentation so far I believe it’ll still be doable. I have a relationship with game difficulty that’s kind of the opposite of the usual. Usually it’s the young whippersnappers, with their mongoose-on-adderal reaction times, who like the hard stuff. But for me, I always used to play games on normal (or the equivalent) and it wasn’t until later that I started routinely cranking up the difficulty.

No. No, I admit you do not.

No. No, I admit you do not.

To me a higher difficulty is a way of savoring a game. Of necessity you play it a bit slower, and it also makes you really learn the mechanics. I play fewer games than I used to, so I want to savor the ones that I do play. In the Witcher 3, the highest difficulty (death march) is not really that hard, at least not compared to, say, a Fromsoft game, or even earlier entries in the series. Plus, I always enjoy playing what I call “punchmages.” Hence, the five rules.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (53)



Cryptocurrency and the Blockchain: What is This Stuff?

By Shamus
on Tuesday Mar 6, 2018
Filed under:
Column

Lots of people are curious about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency these days. This is particularly true among PC gamers. Not only is cryptocurrency making headlines, it’s also screwing up the graphics card market. Which naturally leads people to asking questions like, “What is this stuff?”

I am not remotely an expert and I’ve never had a reason to use Bitcoin, but I understand a little bit of the underlying technology and I think I can help explain it to people.

Essentially, a bunch of math nerds have invented a new form of money and the world is curious what’s going to happen next. We’ve never had “money” that worked like this before. It’s not tied to a specific paper currency. It’s not guaranteed by a bank. It’s not issued by a government. It’s not backed by precious metals. Instead the currency is governed by a few simple rules and guaranteed by math. This creates a lot of interesting questions regarding economics, trust, law, and existing financial regulations.

But we’re not here to have those debates. We’re here to try and understand what this system is and how it’s possible to have a secure currency with no centralized power. Do note that every level of simplification is bound to bruise the truth a little. What I’m going to give is a very rudimentary overview and many, many details have been left out. This will not make you an expert, but I hope I can at least help you understand a couple of basic questions like:

  1. How does cryptocurrency work?
  2. What is this “block chain” thing people keep talking about?

Cryptocurrency is built using two key technologies: asymmetrical cryptography, and hash functions. Those terms might sound complex and scary, but anyone can grasp them. So before we explain cryptocurrency and the blockchain, let’s explain these two technologies.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (147)



Diecast #200: Mailbag!

By Shamus
on Monday Mar 5, 2018
Filed under:
Diecast

We did it. We made 200 of these stupid things. If you listened to the show for 40 hours a week, it would take you 5 weeks to hear the whole thing. And that’s ignoring the fact that most episodes are a little over an hour. (And some episodes aren’t included in the numbered list.)


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus, and guest host Bob Case.

Episode edited by Issac.
Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (59)



The Shamecast: Grand Theft Auto V

By Shamus
on Sunday Mar 4, 2018
Filed under:
Notices

Last Wednesday I did an hour long stream of Grand Theft Auto V. We drove around the city, fussed over environment detail, talked about the walk cycles of pedestrians, discussed the tricks used to make storefront facades look believable, looked at environment maps, analyzed different sidewalk textures, got excited about the dynamic day / night transitions, and killed hundreds and hundreds of people.

I’ve uploaded the video to YouTube for those of you who missed the stream.


Link (YouTube)

This was actually really fun. I was always worried that streaming would be stressful, but this was pretty chill. I guess it helped that only 40 people showed up, so I didn’t have the anxiety of learning to stream in front of a huge crowd. It felt more like hanging out with a small group of friends and talking about games. (There were 40+ people, but only a handful participated in chat, so still felt like a small group.)

I’m not going to commit to making this a regular thing, but I do plan to try it again this week. Wednesday night at 6pm eastern time / 11pm GMT.

Stuff I’m working on:

  1. The framerate was too choppy. I ran some tests, and according to Twitch my internet connection is just fine, so the choppy performance was certainly due to my computer’s lack of power. I’m going to work on making it smoother. That means making the game window a little smaller.
  2. Since the game window is smaller, we’re going to have some empty space in the frame above my face. So I’m going to put the chat window there. This way you can see what I’m reading. (Which isn’t always clear, because viewers are on a 5-10 second delay and the thing I’m answering may have scrolled off by then.) This will also make it so that people watching the VOD on YouTube will be able to follow both sides of the conversation.
  3. I’m going to fiddle with the lights a bit. I’m not going to blast myself in the face with studio lights or anything (yuck, I have no idea how people can play like that) but I’ll see if I can add some illumination so my face is lit by more than the monitor and my keyboard.

I’ll probably keep doing this until I get bored of it. See you there.


 
 
Comments (48)



Wolfenstein II Part 5: Tower Defense

By Shamus
on Thursday Mar 1, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

BJ Blakzowicz gets to the top of the Empire State building and meets the New York branch of the American resistance, which is every bit as important and successful as the Antarctic branch of Ben & Jerrys. Don’t get me wrong. I like these characters in terms of their overall design. Leader Grace Walker is an interesting re-imagining of the idea of a Black Liberation Army leaderYes, it’s about a decade early for the BLA, but the Nazis invaded America so…. Super Spesh is a fun bit of comic relief as an alien conspiracy nut in a world that’s already overflowing with crazy. But as vibrant as they are from a character design standpoint, it doesn’t change the fact that these two are stuck at the top of a crumbling irradiated ruin, surrounded by Nazi troops, and they don’t seem to have a plan to change any of that, much less “liberate the United States”.

They do turn out to be useful laterWell, as useful as any of the other quest dispensers in the story. Obviously BJ does all the shooting., but wouldn’t this sequence be more interesting if these characters had something concrete that we needed? As it stands, our motivation is, “Caroline wanted to make contact with these people and none of us is capable of forming plans so let’s just do that and hope something good happens”. It’s not strictly wrong, but it could be better. If the game wants to give us vague orders like, “Go here to make the plot happen” that’s fine. But if that’s all the more the writer cares about framing and motivation then they shouldn’t waste our time with so many non-interactive cutscenes.

Grace, BJ, and Super Spesh.

Grace, BJ, and Super Spesh.

After BJ meets Grace and Super Spesh the Nazis attack. BJ must hold off waves of Nazis while the resistance escapes. The cutscene makes it look like Grace and Spesh live alone at the top of the tower, but then Grace starts shouting to “her people” and we realize there were actually a bunch of other people in the room that the cameraman has been ignoring. These people are resistance fighters living in a sea of Nazis but I guess none of them can fight for themselves. BJ has to hold off the Nazis while the entire group escapes.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (84)



The Witcher 3

By Bob Case
on Thursday Mar 1, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

This is a first of a many-part series on The Witcher 3, which I’m writing out of fear.

My fear – and I think this fear is well-justified – is that CD Projekt will eventually disappoint us. So far, they’ve been on a startling upward trajectory: the first Witcher was rough but promising, the second was excellent, and the third is one of the most critically acclaimed games ever made. Now they’re working on Cyberpunk 2077, which is in a genre that’s a personal favorite of mine, and all indications are that it’s CDP’s most ambitious game yet.

The last time a developer had this much credibility with me personally was probably Valve right after the release of the Orange Box. Oof, there’s a kick right in the ol’ anxiety. Now, more than ten years later, Half-Life is dead, I would not at all be surprised if we never saw another Portal again, and Team Fortress 2 is more hat than game at this point. Of course, there’s no reason to think that will happen to CD Projekt. Valve created a digital distribution service that made so much money they kind of don’t even need to make games anymore… oh no.

JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS WITH ALYX AND THE BOREALIS

JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS WITH ALYX AND THE BOREALIS

So, like I said, I’m writing this out of fear. Really, it’s a precautionary measure: let some of the air out of my own personal hype balloon as a hedge against future disappointment. It won’t be easy – The Witcher 3 was, in fact, a very good game. But that’s not particularly reassuring. Mass Effect 2 was (in my opinion) a very good game too, but you could still see the seeds of Bioware’s decline in it if you knew how to look. I’m going to flatter myself that I know how to spot the worrying parts of The Witcher 3. And, for the sake of not appearing to be a crank, I’ll also point out the good parts.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (140)



Shamus Stream

By Shamus
on Wednesday Feb 28, 2018
Filed under:
Notices

Due to quasi-popular demand (and personal curiosity) I’m planning on doing some streaming. I’ve never done this before, so there are bound to be some problems. With that in mind, I’ll be doing a little test stream tonight to figure out how to use the software and get the bugs worked out.

Here, this should give you an idea of what you’re in for:

Yup. A stream of GTA V.

Yup. A stream of GTA V.

I’ll be playing Grand Theft Auto V. Well, not so much playing as wandering around, commenting on the technology, and poking at bits of the simulation to see how it responds.

I realize it’s just the nature of the medium, but it bugs me that I’m slack-faced in the image. I realize everyone does this and it’s nothing abnormal, but it feels abnormal to me.

Yes, that is the face we make when we play a videogame. But that’s not the face we use when talking to people. When we’re talking to people we make eye contact and adopt some facial expression. Even if you’re talking to a large group of people, you keep your face expressive.

But when it’s only a camera watching you, the entire social thing collapses and most of us revert to our unflattering “staring at the television” face, which isn’t very welcoming. That’s the face of someone who is tuning you out because they’re not interested in what you have to say.

This is probably only a big deal to old-timers like me. Or maybe just me. I dunno.

Anyway. I’ll be streaming at 6pm tonight, eastern time. That works out to 11pm GMT. Again, this is just a test stream.

When I go live, it’ll be on my Twitch page. I’ll announce here and on Twitter when I go live.

EDIT: That was fun. Thanks for watching. I’ll upload the VOD to YouTube for those that missed it.

I don’t know if I’ll make this a regular thing, but we will be doing it again.


 
 
Comments (63)



Spoiler Warning:
Alan Wake

This game was a critical darling before release, so what happened that prevented it from resonating with audiences?

 

Spoiler Warning:
Metro 2033

A videogame adaptation of a Russian novel about living in the metro system after the world ends. Successful or not, it's completely unique among shooters.

 

Shamus Plays LOTRO

As someone who loves Tolkein lore and despises silly MMO quests, this game left me deeply conflicted.

 

Starcraft 2: Rush Analysis

I write a program to simulate different strategies in Starcraft 2, to see how they compare.

 

The No Politics Rule

Here are 6 reasons why I forbid political discussions on this site. #4 will amaze you. Or not.

 

Spoiler Warning:
Tomb Raider

We're usually pretty hard on reboots. So what did this game do that made us so happy?

 

Twelve Years

Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.

 

Was it a Hack?

A big chunk of the internet went down in October of 2016. What happened? Was it a hack?

 

Could Have Been Great

Here are four games that could have been much better with just a little more work.

 

The Terrible New Thing

Fidget spinners are ruining education! We need to... oh, never mind the fad is over. This is not the first time we've had a dumb moral panic.

 

Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year

Everyone hates Black Friday sales. Even retailers! So why does it exist?

 

Overused Words in Game Titles

I scoured the Steam database to figure out what words were the most commonly used in game titles.