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Diecast #53: FTL, Civilization Beyond Earth, Actual Sunlight

By Shamus
on Monday Apr 14, 2014
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Hosts: Josh, Chris, and Shamus.

Show notes:

1:20 Josh is playing FTL: Advanced Edition.

My write-up on FTL is here.

8:00 Chris is playing Disney Magical World

13:00 Chris is also playing Actual Sunlight.

Interesting that this is the second game about depression I’ve run into in the last few months.

Personal talk:

I’ve had days where I woke up and found I couldn’t feel joy or happiness or even contentment. Where nothing felt worth doing. The usual fire I had to consume and talk about games (or do anything else) was just… gone. There was never any reason for this. Everything was fine in my life, aside from the fact that my mood was unaccountably mis-calibrated. I don’t know that this is anything like the clinical depression that some people talk about, but I use it as a frame of reference. My episodes always blow over after a few days and don’t linger for weeks or months on end.

Regardless of whether this is depression or not, it’s certainly an interesting phenomena. We tend to assume that our moods are linked to our situations, and it can be completely baffling and frustrating when that connection is broken. I have no reason to be sad right now. So why am I sad?

Having never played either game myself, I do wonder what the intent behind them is. Are they a way for people suffering from depression to feel some sort of connection with each other? Is this a way of saying “You are not alone” to others? Or is this intended to share the experience with people who have never been through it and don’t understand what it’s like?

I wish I’d asked Chris during the show, but I’d love to hear from anyone who has played either game.

15:00 Shamus is working on programming. But not Good Robot.

Stuff I’m working on / thinking about:

1) GLSL shading language. 2) Systems which are incredibly robust with regards to consistency of framerate. 3) Different techniques for offloading CPU work onto the graphics card.

Maybe we’ll talk about this later in the week. Maybe not. I still need to finish my write-up on Thief.

16:00 Civilization: Beyond Earth has been announced. So we spend a bunch of time talking about Alpha Centauri.

This topic gets derailed by religion in games. If you want to skip that, jump ahead to somewhere around the 37 minute mark.

26:00 Surprise mid-podcast mailbag!

What do you think about religion in video games as a mechanic and why is Christianity not as explored as Greek and North mythology?


NOTE: We touch on religion in this segment. This doesn’t mean the comments are a free-fire zone where you can snipe at religions, try to convert people to your religion, or sneer at religious people. This includes stuff like passive-aggressive “I respect your right to believe in stupid drivel” that people throw out when they’re pretending to be tolerant. Stick to the subject as it applies to games and remember that I value harmony and patience over thoroughness when it comes to these kinds of exchanges. I will be moderating the comments with an eye to preventing fires and weeding out people who get worked up or cause problems.

34:00 We talk about Jade Empire.

37:00 And back to Civilization.

44:00 Mailbag!

Dear Diecast/Shamus

So we’re familiar with your stance on graphics resources. After reading your recent article on the Oculus Rift, do you think the “graphics arms race” is (truly) relevant again in the games industry because of VR?


Amazing question. I’d already been thinking about this it for a while when the question showed up, so I had a lot to say about it.

Dear Diecast,

Do you find international perspectives on games to be interesting? For example, is Diecast irregular Jarenth valuable for his Dutch-ness as well as his Jarenth-ness?


Neil from England

Let me plug Jarenth here while I have an excuse.

Comments (188)

  1. imtoolazy says:

    I respect people’s right to believe that Jade Empire isn’t stupid drivel.


    Not trying to get too off-topic, but what was/were your (whoever you are) favorite part/s of Jade Empire?

    Mine was maybe when I quickly wondered and confirmed that the annoying ‘rival’ guy was voiced by Nathan Fillion.

  2. Why is the decoration/aesthetic portion of games considered “traditionally female?” EVERYONE loves to decorate. That’s half the hours I’ve clocked in Fallout and Skyrim.

    Same for action mechanics. That either are supposed to be for one gender or the other strikes me as odd. Perhaps the case can be made that one “traditional” audience is being targeted if only one of the two mechanics are present, but all the games I love playing have action-y bits and decorating/collecting bits.

    • Supahewok says:

      “Why is the decoration/aesthetic portion of games considered “traditionally female?” EVERYONE loves to decorate. That's half the hours I've clocked in Fallout and Skyrim.”

      “These aren’t dolls! They’re ACTION FIGURES.”

      Yeah, it sounds silly to me. I’ve observed that worrying about colors is considered more “feminine” and putting up “things” (like shelving, swords, stuff) is more acceptably “masculine.” It’s never made much sense to me. Everybody should be able to feel good about their all aspects of their environment, particularly their home. ESPECIALLY their home. Why should we care about what people do to make themselves comfortable, provided that they’re not impairing anybody else’s ability to do so themselves?

      • RandomInternetMan says:

        Perhaps I’m reading you wrong, but it sounds as if you’re saying you can only feel good about activities characteristic of your gender, as if having feminine traits as a man or masculine traits as a woman is a bad thing.

        I am a man and I like worrying about colors in my house, and I definitely see that as more feminine than building shelves. Nothing wrong with that.

        • Supahewok says:

          Yeah, you’re reading me wrong. I specifically say “It's never made much sense to me. Everybody should be able to feel good about their all aspects of their environment, particularly their home.”

          I am fully willing to admit that I wrote my comment late at night and could probably have made myself clearer.

    • Alex says:

      Honestly it might not feel like is is gender specific to you, but when companies of that size make games they make them with demographics in mind. So the decorating was probably facet aimed at girls. It is kind of like My Little Pony. Sure, there are tons of dudes that like that show, but it is aimed only at girl. VERY deliberately at girls.
      Toy manufacturers are especially bad about this. Look at The Nerf “Rebelle” line of Nerf guns. Rather than just marketing their existing Nerf guns to girls, they felt like they had to split the brand for both genders.

      • ET says:

        Luckily for me, I don’t think they started doing things like that*, until after I was a teenager. So, on my block, me and my (older by three years) brother, and the neighbors (younger brother, older sister) would happily play with the basically the same nerf guns and water guns. I say basically, because us younger two pretty well always got the smaller, cheaper guns, because older siblings are jerks. Still, that means that a girl (gasp!) was fighting over the bigger, what would be called today “manlier”, guns! :)

        * OK, yeah, Mattel or whatever toy companies had dolls, and whatnot for girls, and GI Joes for boys, but the water/nerf guns were just guns, in various neon and non-neon colours. They didn’t start segregating the guns into stereotypically-coloured guns, until after I grew out of them.

        Small bug on the site here, Shamus. It’s possible to resize the comment/text box bigger than the right edge of the purple/blue/colours box, which contains it. So, for example, right now half of my text is hidden behind blue box, and I can no longer grab the right edge of the text box. Latest Firefox, and Chrome suffer, and apparently IE doesn’t let you resize the box at all, so it avoids the problem by restriction of actions. :P

      • Except in Chris’ case, this is a Disney product that encompasses their entire IP, so I’d argue that its not gender-oriented. Want to put up Minnie Mouse’s decorations? Fine. How about Mickey’s? Great. Combine them? Go nuts.

        Pointing to a game as “feminine” where decoration is all you can do, and everything’s colored pink* is really just pointing at the paint job someone gave it, not the mechanic itself.

        * Fun fact: Up until the 20th century, pink was originally associated with boys and blue with girls. How times change, eh?

        • Alex says:

          Um have you seen the trailer? Yes you absolutely correct about decorating in and of itself, but in that context it’s not just decorating. In the trailer there is ballroom dancing, a heavy focus on fashion, flower collection, meeting character, managing a cafe(for some reason this has been skewing feminine with toys lately), and throwing a tea part. All with a female character. Then some one at corporate said “Ho shoot! We need to market it towards boys because Disney is a gender-less brand!” and they threw in fishing and fighting with a male character. You are correct in saying that Disney appeals to both genders, but not all parts of Disney appeal to both genders. In the game it probably feels like there is distinct fighting between the tone of one side of the marketing and the other( I don’t know for sure since I haven’t played it, but I think this is probably what Chris was getting at).
          Also I should mention that I despise this style of marketing, before any one accuses me of furthering stereotypes.

  3. Re: “Bomb them back to the stone age and then you’re in Civilization.”

    Shamus, have you ever seen Babylon-5? It’s a really good show, and (Spoiler Warning) that sort of happens to a certain planet we live on in the far future. Afterwards, there are attempts to guide them back to civilization slowly with agents that “find” artifacts in the rubble that help advance technology when the time is deemed right.

  4. If you want to see one of the oddest religious games of all time, check out this opening for the game, “Zoo Race.”

    It starts off in a library where there’s a heavy-handed talk between the characters about Noah’s Ark, and it somehow winds up as a game where the people transform into animals and have speed races. I’d love to have seen the development meeting on this, if the Noah bit came first or if they thought an animal racing game was what they wanted to do and grafted the religious trappings on afterwards.

  5. Ithilanor says:

    I’m commenting without having listened to this episode, but you mentioned Depression Quest, which I played earlier today. You asked:
    “Are they a way for people suffering from depression to feel some sort of connection with each other? Is this a way of saying “You are not alone” to others?”
    Yes and yes. Both of these are incredibly valuable to people with depression. (Or any sort of mental health issue)
    “Or is this intended to share the experience with people who have never been through it and don't understand what it's like?” Also yes, although it’s more like a way to start that conversation, because nothing can fully capture what that’s like.
    If you feel up to it, I’d really suggest playing Depression Quest. It’s not too long, and you can play for free. If it’s too intense to play, though, that’s perfectly fine.

    “Regardless of whether this is depression or not, it's certainly an interesting phenomena. We tend to assume that our moods are linked to our situations, and it can be completely baffling and frustrating when that connection is broken. I have no reason to be sad right now. So why am I sad?”
    I find this to be one of the most frustrating parts about depression and other mental health issues; I’m thinking of anxiety in particular). It’s confusing and baffling, but that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is thinking “Oh, there’s no readily apparent reason for me to feel like this…why am I feeling like this? Why can’t I just snap out of this?” That leads to self-blaming, which leads to beating yourself up, which is the kind of negative feedback cycle that causes so much harm to people with depression.

    Speaking of Jarenth, I’m hoping he’ll weigh in here; he’s already talked eloquently on the subject in his article on Depression Quest.

    • aldowyn says:

      That wasn’t actually Jarenth’s article, it was Justin/JPH, previously of Ninjagameden, his co-writer for Ninja-blues (and responsible for the ‘ninja’ part of the name).

      It’s a good article, though – I was originally going to link to it myself.

    • LassLisa says:

      Interesting. I have the opposite reaction – “this feeling is caused by my brain and not by reality? I don’t necessarily have something terribly wrong in my life causing this bad feeling that I need to identify and solve? It’s… just a feeling? Oh thank goodness.”

      I kind of thought that was the natural reaction (“I’m predisposed to be sad today because of PMS? Then my boyfriend isn’t actually trying to be mean to me and it’s all just a misunderstanding! Hooray!”)

      But it uh… really doesn’t seem to be. Most people feel worse when they realize their feelings aren’t rational. And I think the bit about ‘self-blame’ you said there is the first time I’ve understood how that could be.

      • MichaelGC says:

        Yes: part of the problem is that even if someone has got as far as identifying that the problem is in their brain, the tool required to fix it is of course the brain itself – which by definition is not operating at its best.

        It’s like if your car’s engine has fallen out and is lying in pieces on the driveway, and the only way to get it fixed is to drive the car to the shop.

        This kind of circularity can quickly turn vicious! It can be very difficult to get to the point (which as you say, comes to you naturally) where you realise that if the problem is in your mind, you actually have more control over it than you would if the issue were truly external. But if you do realise that, through counselling or friends or whatever – a towtruck of some sort! – the vicious circle can start to become a virtuous one.

      • Darius says:

        For me, the really horrible thing about knowing that my brain frequently produces negative feelings with no basis in reality is that it causes me to doubt all of my negative feelings.

        I have felt most of my life like I can never know if what I’m feeling is caused by my situation and is something I should fix, or if it’s just my depression talking and something I should ignore.

        Still, there is some power in recognizing that the feelings aren’t real. I remember one night lying in bed feeling guilty about everything and anything. And I reflected that I had been doing that my whole life, since I was 7 or 8, and it occurred to me that a 7 or 8 year old has nothing to feel guilty about. Therefore the feelings were probably not real, and I instantly stopped feeling guilty. That was pretty awesome.

    • Rymdsmurfen says:

      “I have no reason to be sad right now. So why am I sad?”

      You could also argue that most people have always reasons to be sad. And maybe the carefree periods in between is just as an interesting phenomenon. Even when ignoring strictly personal reasons, just reading the front page of any news site should be enough to get you down. Mostly it doesn’t, but maybe that’s because the antidote is in our system, not because the poison isn’t. I’m just arguing from personal experience here, but during periods of depression I usually also feel “more awake” (for lack of a better term).

  6. Bryan says:

    On offloading work from the CPU to the GPU — I assume we’ll find out about this eventually, but is are you looking at directly moving computation, or at redesigning the way various bits of the scene work to allow the CPU to stop doing work?

    For example — a while ago I started porting Frontier to webgl (and lost steam on it after January or so; I got most of it done while on vacation). The transparency on the trees, in particular, was something that caused some redesign, because having to sort the polygons in the scene every refresh is just useless work, and the only thing it’s required for is alpha-blending.

    I found an nvidia paper on order-independent transparency (http://developer.download.nvidia.com/SDK/10/opengl/src/dual_depth_peeling/doc/DualDepthPeeling.pdf), but the “dual depth peeling” that’s the main gist of the paper still requires a variable number of render passes. There are a few single-pass approximations in there, though (appropriately enough, in the “Single-Pass Approximations” section :-) ), of which I used a slightly modified version of the “weighted average” algorithm.

    Of course, I had to modify it to also correctly handle fragments whose alpha was 1.0 — the color mixing was broken for that case. So I changed the whole thing around to (IIRC) add one more pass that set the depth buffer, and made the blending per-fragment instead of per-polygon. Between that and the fact that no sorting is needed, it’s actually a working per-fragment alpha, for arbitrary geometry.

    Not actually sure if this is useful, but https://github.com/BryanKadzban/frontier-web if the webgl stuff is decipherable. And yeah, it only does three trees yet.

    …Where was I going with that? Oh right! Are you doing stuff like that, or are you more-directly doing massively parallel computation on the GPU?

    • Geebs says:

      Sounds from the text like this is more immediate mode vs. shaders and vertex array objects. Admittedly there are major additional benefits for procedural things – the GPU is much faster for doing erosion simulations etc.

      I confess that, for my part, I gave up on depth sorting for foliage and just alpha-to-coveraged everything with discards. Is there any real advantage to bothering with all of the transparency apart from slightly better visual quality?

  7. Blake says:

    Josh, what do you mean you can’t cheat at FTL without wikis?
    Just open up the data.dat file in a text editor, do a search for whatever text is on your screen, and see all the different potential outcomes right there.

    That’s how I cheat at it anyway ;)

    • Oh, you Kobayashi Maru rascal, you!

    • ET says:

      Josh, get to work updating the wikis! :P

      Incidentally, has anyone beaten the game on Hard?
      I’ve gotten to about sector 4 or 5 out of 8, and always after dying like three times before that.
      I know that some ships are easier/harder, but even with ones where I can get a decent early-game, it always feels like I’m just barely keeping up with the enemies, and then an unlucky hit in a battle, snowballs me to defeat. :C

  8. Ciennas says:

    Religion is heavily skewed towards older/dead/ not as popular ones for a very simple reason.

    Proclaim anything about Jesus, or Mohammed or whoever, good or ill, and you get a lot of people very very angry, even if you’re not trying to engender anger at all.

    It’s especially bad when you speak ill of anyone, because then people from lots of groups get angry. Speaking in positive terms generally nets you grumbling from vocal minorities.

    Either way, it’s an economic thing; The less you enrage your fanbase, the more people will buy. It also decreases the odds of your personal safety becoming an issue as well.

    TL;DR: It’s safer for the publisher in every way imaginable

    • Supahewok says:

      Basically what I was going to say. Religion, is very personal to each individual person. It’s a common component in an individual’s personal philosophy of life, and how to live said life. Same with politics. And if you even so much as imply that someone’s personal belief as to the correct way to live their life is at all even possibly misguided, that is personal to the effected person. Then the cries for blood begin.

      Dead religions are “safe.” There’s no one left to offend, even inadvertently.

      All that being said, quite a few games are influenced by modern religions. But its usually very, very subtle. Pokemon Emerald’s 3 main Legendary Pokemon (Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza) are believed to be based on Hebrew legends of monsters . (Behemoth, Leviathan, and Ziz, respectively) Final Fantasy 7 villains’ are strongly influenced by Gnosticism. (At least, according to the wiki article I read. I am no where near an authority on these matters.)

      The only overt contemporary religious commentary that I can recall in AAA development was Assassin’s Creed II’s Pope. Yeeeaaaaah.

      Plus, in the end, what’s easier to make fun? One All-Powerful God who can simply “will” whatever the hell he wants, or a pantheon of superbeings who each have a distinctive theme and tend to fight with each other? Similarly, I now remember that there’ve been several games that have ran with using a pseudo-Abrahamic vision of Hell, wherein there are again many superbeings but no omnipresence who can snap their fingers at anything and everything to fix them.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I’m still working out this idea in my head, so please forgive any roughness in how I’m expressing it.

        However, I think this idea of religion as a immaculate fundamental foundation to personal identity is an idea that, while not unique to Christianity, is not shared by all modern religions. I think it is a byproduct of the tenet that the Bible is the Final Authority on All Things Religious, yet there are so many ways to interpret the document itself.

        This creates an inherent conflict between alternative interpretations, because they can’t all be right yet they must be. Yet the conflict is not present for all belief structures.

        And to your last point, I think you could make a really fun game based on Christian theology. One of the fundamental principles of Christianity is that God doesn’t ever force anyone to be a proper Christian, Christians have to choose to be so by their own free will. A game where you are a benevolent God who wants humans to believe in you and emulate your ideals, yet you are penalized by using you all-powerfulness to force them into faith, could make for some interesting mechanics.

        • Ilseroth says:

          Simple fact is, people are picky with religious implications. I personally couldn’t give a damn, (i guess I fall in their “18-35, tech non too religious market) but at the same time, while there may be benefit to some people to putting a Christian theme on a game you are
          a) Reducing sales from people not interested in Religion
          b) Possibly pissing off a large number of actual Religious people.
          Which for a major game company is a no no,

          For instance of the game you are suggesting, making a game like that might work, but then saying it is specifically the Judeo-Christian god then any kind of thing anyone could possibly disagree with in how the character acts, can act, or can’t act will be argued about eternally.

          Say “Oh it’s a different god” and you can share a similar message, without the issue entirely, the only problem is if you are trying to specifically spread one religion.

        • Supahewok says:

          “And to your last point, I think you could make a really fun game based on Christian theology. One of the fundamental principles of Christianity is that God doesn't ever force anyone to be a proper Christian, Christians have to choose to be so by their own free will. A game where you are a benevolent God who wants humans to believe in you and emulate your ideals, yet you are penalized by using you all-powerfulness to force them into faith, could make for some interesting mechanics.”

          I would call that ideal Christianity. Unfortunately, there are many Fundamentalists around who really would take offense to the idea that God is benevolent towards those who aren’t already Christian. Which is insane and goes against most of Jesus’ teachings, but frankly those people aren’t rational. They’re always the ones who raise a stink over just about any media depiction of Christianity.

          I do agree with your idea though. I think that Godus could perhaps make use of it. I hear that it’s primary problem is that its far too bland at the moment.

          As to your point on alternative interpretations of religious tenets: that conflict is exactly why I converted from Christianity to Spiritual Deism a while back. Well, as much as you can convert to Deism anyway. It’s an unorganized religion that rejects the idea of authority itself in the form of Scripture, such as the Bible or Quran, because Deists believes that God does not intervene in the world, therefore Scripture is fully fabricated by humans, ergo they are inherently imperfect. Good sources of lessons on how to live a moral life, sure, but not something to hold yourself and others to unwaveringly.

          “However, I think this idea of religion as a immaculate fundamental foundation to personal identity is an idea that, while not unique to Christianity, is not shared by all modern religions.”

          I am by o means a religious scholar, and it is entirely possible that you speak with more experience than I. However, I must say that I disagree. We all have our personal “code” so to say, that governs how we make our decisions from day to day. That code is made up by our beliefs on how to live a good life. Religion is a huge part of that, no matter what you believe or how you believe it. Even atheism, the rejection of (or apathy towards) religion influences our thoughts on the matter. Every religion has its own values, some shared among other religions, some different. Those values inform your actions every moment.

          Edit: We’re both being polite, but I don’t think Shamus wants us to go too far down this particular rabbit hole, so I’m going to hold off on saying anything more.

          • Abnaxis says:

            I would call that ideal Christianity. Unfortunately, there are many Fundamentalists around who really would take offense to the idea that God is benevolent towards those who aren't already Christian. Which is insane and goes against most of Jesus' teachings, but frankly those people aren't rational. They're always the ones who raise a stink over just about any media depiction of Christianity.

            Even among fundamentalists, you’re not going to find many Christians who do not consider God to be a universal force for good (which is what I meant by “benevolent”), there’s just difference of opinion on what “good” means. Incidentally, that’s why it could make a fun game–let the player decide what “good” means–maybe they want to be an overt vengeful Old Testament God or a less overt miracle-performing New Testament God, or whatever. Have the world react to it.

            I am by o means a religious scholar, and it is entirely possible that you speak with more experience than I. However, I must say that I disagree. We all have our personal “code” so to say, that governs how we make our decisions from day to day.

            Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out how exactly to say what I’m trying to say. Obviously, religious affiliation has a profound impact on the morality, conduct, and identity of any individual. However, in my mind there is a difference between being influenced by a thing and being fundamentally defined by a thing.

            According to Christian dogma, faith is the cornerstone of the foundation of a person. It’s been a while since I cracked a Bible, but from what I remember there are many, many verses dedicated to showing that without Faith, a person is nothing. To question a Christian’s faith is not just to question how they live or some small aspect of their life, but fundamentally Who They Are as a person. That’s what I mean by “immaculate fundamental foundation to personal identity,” and I think it goes a little beyond what you are talking about.

            That’s why I think that when you say “religion is deeply personal, so it will always be touchy,” I see it as not so universal an issue as you make it out to be. How deep religion personally runs makes a difference, and with Christians it’s pretty deep, going by the teachings.

            • Ciennas says:

              It’s not ‘fundamentalists’ that are problematic. In all things, there is a desire to defend that which you like against criticism, real or imagined.

              That’s all the scary dogmatic are: Supreme fanboys, and it doesn’t matter if they’re religious fanboys or comics or car fanboys: The actions are all similar.

              The difference between cars and faiths is fanaticism. Since Faith is seen as such a cornerstone of identity and so important, a fanatic could go way further in defending against criticism.

              (That is, we recognize that it’s silly to beat each other up over car preferences, but religions are held to a much higher- if not the highest- standards of importance.)

              It’s not the faiths themselves that make them unappealing to developers- it’s their fanbases.

              • Abnaxis says:

                Thinking more about this, I think my problem is that I find it difficult to accept that religion is a taboo subject matter only because people are passionate about it, and it will always be so. There’s more to it than that–people aren’t just going to universally get uppity about religion no matter what, it depends on what and who you’re talking about.

                I’ve been doing my best to keep away from personalizing this discussion any, but I can’t think of any way to make this clear without an example. So, for my example, take me–I am an atheist. Contrary to popular portrayal, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I categorically deny that any supernatural phenomena could ever exist; however, I don’t believe in an afterlife.

                If someone came up to me, and told me that we have a spiritual essence that exists after death, flowing into a great pool of energy at the center of the universe where it resides in perpetuity, I would probably not agree with them. If they presented me with empirical evidence contrary to my belief, I would meticulously (or maybe not too meticulously, but I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt) scrutinize it, seizing on any inconsistency. If I nevertheless found the evidence compelling, it would have a profound impact on how I live my life and how I conduct myself, but ultimately I would come to terms with the new info and move on.

                My sister, OTOH, is a Pentecostal Christian (the long-hair, jean skirt ladies). This hypothetical data would have a different, possibly more profound, effect on her worldview compared to me. She would have to find a way to make the evidence jibe with what she knows from the Bible in order to accept it. It doesn’t say anything anywhere in the Bible about a nebula of energy at the center of the Universe, but the Bible is also pretty vague on the exact details of Heaven, so the evidence could be either really upsetting or spiritually ratifying depending on interpretation.

                On the third hand my brother, who is Muslim*, is going to have a much harder time than my sister or I in accepting the new information. The Quran is much more explicit in describing what happens after we die, making it much harder to contextualize the new data into an Islamic paradigm. My brother is going to be much more upset, much more fundamentally shaken, if he accepts the evidence.

                The difference between me an my siblings is that I do not have to validate everything through the lens of a religious text. One of the central conceits of Islam or Christianity, is that God is infallible, and that the religious texts are the word of God. Contradicting the texts–or even the way they are interpreted–challenges the infallibly assumption in a fundamental way, creating conflict.

                I’m not making judgement–there’s a lot of good stuff in those same texts, which can lead to a lot of good in the world if followed religiously. However, it does make artistic expression difficult, especially for video games (Hey, the point!) which have the added difficulty of presenting mechanics that are both fun and that don’t send the wrong message. You have to be able to express an idea without contradicting the texts, in addition to evading stereotypes and misrepresentations, in addition to actually doing a good job developing. However, if you can do all of these things, I think it would avoid controversy on a large scale, even though religion is such a deeply personal issue.

                *Yeah, family gatherings are fun. For the most part it’s OK, but sometimes I feel like I have a target on my back for some well-meaning soul savior.

        • Ithilanor says:

          As Tapkoh mentioned – this is the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It’s an interesting area of difference, not only between Christianity and other religions, but within Christianity itself – a lot of the theological differences between Catholicism and the various Protestant movements come from the different emphasis on faith vs. good works.

      • guy says:

        Christianity actually shows up a lot in Japanese media, usually as Catholicism. I’m pretty sure that’s because there aren’t actually very many Christians in Japan and it is a designated weird foreign thing with cool iconography. Much like using a dead religion, there’s little risk of offending anyone in the target audience. Or maybe Japanese culture is just more laid back about depictions of religion in general; Shintoism also gets used a lot.

        Even in the west, though, Christian mythology is frequently present. Demons show up as villains a lot, and if there’s an explicit afterlife it’s often Christian-themed. What usually doesn’t show up is God, and I think there’s a few fairly straightforward reasons for that:

        1. Christians equate God with good; if God wants something it must be good. So having God show up can offend any Christians who disagree with the developers about morality. This is technically also true with demons, but there’s a lot of things you can noncontroversially declare to be bad.

        2. Omnipotent characters kinda suck all the drama out of the story. Having God show up requires the writer to explain why he doesn’t just solve everything.

        3. Having angels show up and pitch in but refuse to answer questions about specific points of doctrine is pretty safe and provides most of what the writer actually wants if the game isn’t intended as evangelism.

        • Tapkoh says:

          This is going to be a gross oversimplification (not to mention generalization), but you are pretty much correct in that the Japanese are more “laid back” about it. Yeah, there aren’t many Christians either, but that’s not the main point.

          Religion as a concept is viewed differently between the Japanese and the west. To Japanese, religion is more something you DO while for the west, it’s more something you BELIEVE. In Japan, people go through the motions because it’s part of the culture. When asked, most do not believe in kami and do not self identify as Shintoist, but they light incense, pray at shrines/graves, and observe the holidays. They observe Buddhist rituals and events as well, because that’s just what you do. It’s about tradition and ritual.

          In short, it’s a practical thing, not a faith thing. You would often go to the shrine or temple to get services, so it makes sense to translate that into games like Dragon Quest.

          This view is also why they have little issue putting modern religions on the same level as dead ones (aka mythology). They view it all as a cultural thing. The idea that someone would take up arms over their religion being used as source material / inspiration for fiction (and being compared to the likes of Thor, Set, and Zeus) is foreign, because it’s not a faith thing to them.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        Final Fantasy VII didn’t have anything to do with Gnosticism; it took the word “Sephiroth” from Kaballah, but even that didn’t go much deeper than, “He wants to be a god, sooo… God-word!”

        • Zukhramm says:

          Well the Japanese do like their Kabbalah in their RPGs. There’s also often lots of angels and church-like buildings and organizations, but as you say, they rarely seem to go beyond using terms and imagery. The only exception I can think of is El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, being based on the Book of Enoch. How well it deals with the source I cannot say as I haven’t eyt read the text nor played though the game.

  9. Alex says:

    Yes please, shader blog post!

    Note: I didn’t listen to the whole episode before posting. Still I would love to hear more about technical hurdles and solutions.

    • Mathias says:

      I think it’s also that Christianity has been around so long that it’s long since been transformed into a 21st century mindset. Meanwhile, a lot of these older, pagan religions, especially those that don’t have a modern religious following, tend to be very…brutal, for lack of a better word. That’s why they’re often easier to translate into the kinds of gameplay that we have built games around – violence. So it’s not only about avoiding controversey, it’s also about the fact that you can show these figures without any of their historical or cultural nuance and get away with it.

      There are very few games that actually feature these religious services being performed. No game has ever shown a Mithras cult sacrificing a bull and bathing in its blood. No game (except Crusader Kings 2) has featured hangings as a ritual sacrifice to Odin. It’s safe to ignore the cultures that created these pantheons and instead just focus on their Hollywood incarnations.

      • Alex says:

        Yes! Christian shader blog posts! Just kidding.
        On the topic of Christianity I think you are right especially if you make the very strict distinction of Christianity as the New Testament and Judaism as the Old. If you look at it that way, from a game play stance, Christianity doesn’t really work. You can make and adventure game about it, kind of like Shivah(but personal stories can be made about anything so that wouldn’t really make it about Christianity per se). The Armageddon can be superficially an action-y type thing. That’s about it though. Judaism on the other hand has heaps of stuff to turn into games, and it commonly is in one way or another. Angels and demons fighting, ruthless conquering of countries, settlement of a new location, small tribal sims-like management, liberation of enslavement, guerrilla warfare(this one might be okay for Christians as well because of early occupation), and so on and so forth. I mean Moses alone has huge potential in many game types. Now of course the Old testament IS in the Christian bible I just wanted to focus on that which is unique to Christians.
        Living religions do get turned into games, in one way or another. Smite had that whole kerfuffle with Hinduism. Some people still worship Greek, Norse, and Egyptian Gods( it is a bit of a modern phenomenon, but it is still a thing). Buddhism is commonly mentioned, very stereotypicaly, with kung-fu and karate themed stuff.

        • Humanoid says:

          If you visit just about any tech forum, you’ll find such fanatical one-eyed backing for both nVidia and AMD (and therefore their shaders) that’d make even the most fundamentalist of fundamentalists cringe. :P

  10. aldowyn says:

    usually when a game is covering christian themes they usually do it indirectly – they use a made up religion with some distinct similarities to Christianity, particularly the idea of having secular power like the Catholic church. The example I’m thinking of in particular is Dragon Age’s Chantry.

    Curious what you guys think of the Chantry, actually… we’ve talked a lot about Mass Effect, and not nearly as much about Dragon Age.

    • IFS says:

      Well whenever Dragon Age gets brought up all they can seem to remember is the Deep Roads. Its a bit of a shame, Dragon Age has some really interesting stuff in the lore and world. I especially liked how they managed to be ambiguous with whether the chantry is right or not even when having a quest for the holy grail in the game (if you bring Oghren along for that quest he says that its properties might just be due to the lyrium in the place, there is also some really interesting character stuff with him and the guardian on that quest, so it makes it really interesting to bring him along).

      • aldowyn says:

        Which is kind of odd because oftentimes you won’t even have Oghren when you do the Sacred Ashes quest. (somewhat coincidentally, I’m literally doing that quest right now.)

        I should try that, sometime. I generally don’t like Oghren, so it might be interesting to see some more of him.

    • Thomas says:

      I um and err with the Chantry. With the grail quest there was the absolute shock of being allowed to be religious within a game, the same I received when playing Mass Effect 1. And I like the multifactional multi view approach of the Chantry (and that it’s women led), you have stuff like the Templars and Leliana and it’s an involved and ambiguous situation.

      But then sometimes it falls a bit flat to me and sometimes the christian allegory is close enough that making it different at all feels like a bit of a cop out.

      I think it all hung around the Grail Quest for me. Without that it would be an attempt at an interesting thing that ended up a bit being dull and irrelevant, a little clunky. But the actual quest elevated had some moments of power and even quiet mystery that made the whole thing more interesting.

    • CraigM says:

      I think you’re hitting the point actually. For many of us (especially Americans) Christianity is so everpresent in media it becomes essentially invisible. How many movies or games have the protagonist be a ‘Jesus’ figure? Think of the heroic sacrifice. Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and so on reference that symbolism in many subtle ways.

      Final Fantasy Tactics has some very strong things to say about religion, but some of it’s sharpest barbs are directed at specifically Catholicism.

      That’s my take at least, Christianity is strongly represented in games, just usually done in less overt manners. It’s subtle symbolism, story parallels, imagery, and so on. Of course given Christianities long history of appropriating symbols and holidays from other belief systems there could be some times where I see a Christian reference (due to my own background and beliefs) when it references something else.

      • The Specktre says:

        Yeah, I would say a lot of Christian or religious themes are more prevalent in stories than what most see on the surface. It’s more applicability than outright allegory and symbolic imagery.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        As someone very familiar with JRPG’s, and in particular late-90’s Square games, I wanna put my two cents in on this.

        The number of times I’ve seen a stand-in for a Catholic-style, organized religious structure in a JRPG that eventually turns out to be unspeakably evil is not insignificant. In fact, if there’s any identifiably Christian group in a JRPG, it’s not even a question of if they’re actually trying to bring about the apocalypse or to use terrible sorcery/superscience to control people, but rather a question of to what extent the organization is corrupt and when exactly the game is going to try and spring the inevitable betrayal on us. I am honestly amazed the few times this fails to occur, and am half-inclined to think they totally intended to include it but ran out of time or money.

        If you aren’t familiar with this stand-by of Japanese games, or think I’m exaggerating, I’m really not. It’s bewildering: Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy X, Grandia 2, Xenogears, Ar tonelico, the Lunar series, the Tales series, any of the Shin Megami Tensei games, even non-RPG’s like Resident Evil (in 4) and Silent Hill (though not really until 3). And those are just the ones that I’ve played and can remember off the top of my head. I know it’s a common theme in anime, too, but I don’t know very much about anime.

        But despite the prevalence of it, and how often I’ve seen it, I really don’t think any of those games were actually trying to say anything about religion. It definitely speaks to their mindset, but to the Japanese, the evil Catholic-analogue is like the American superior military authorities who betray you or just don’t ‘get it:’ a crutch. Or, to be more charitable, just a shorthand trope to facilitate telling a story, just not necessarily a story in itself.

        Even the stories that seem to focus pretty heavily on it usually don’t seem to have much of anything to say about religion, or Western religion in particular: Silent Hill and Shin Megami Tensei are horror titles/trying as hard as possible to be creepy and weird, respectively; Final Fantasy X and Tactics both portray absolutely brutal worlds to live in, in which there really isn’t any such thing as non-corrupt authority to be found anywhere; and Xenogears was just Evangelion: The Game, and therefore much more about heavy-handed symbolism to give the appearance of depth than about having anything meaningful to say.

        I honestly have no idea where the cliche originates; on one hand, the horror titles that feature it can easily be understood: perverting familiar “good” iconography is easy mode for horror, and America does it all the time as well. But for Japan in particular, whose first memories of Christianity (and Catholicism) came in the form of Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and zealots, Western religion has, for centuries, represented something alien and often invasive from people they haven’t always gotten along with.

        I’ve seen people say that Japan just finds the idea of a monolithic religious power structure itself an alien, scary concept, but I say bullshit to that; Japan was a feudal empire, who worshipped a divine emperor and bowed to the chosen samurai caste because they were closer to their descent from the spirits than everyone else, and this is a history that they aren’t necessarily eager to distance themselves from. That, and the fact that this attitude doesn’t seem to be as present in other nearby countries to whom Christianity would be equally alien, such as China and Korea, which is why I think it has more to do with Japan’s relationship with the west than with any actual ideological or spiritual misgivings.

        So, yes, there are a lot of Japanese games that reference Christianity/Catholicism, often negatively. But I think very, very few of them are actually trying to make any kind of statement about it, and would be skeptical of any claim to the contrary without more than the mere presence of these common elements to back it up. There are plenty of games and movies, both American and Japanese, that feature people fighting and killing each other, but not many of them are poignant reflections on the nature of conflict and violence. They exist, sure, but on the other hand, guns are badass and backflips are fun to watch.

        • Ciennas says:

          I can’t speak for much, but the first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist was about a corrupt cultist that was using a philosopher’s stone to perform ‘miracles’ in order to have a bunch of crazy devout followers who would throw away their lives to grant him a bid for supremacy.

          He just happened to dress like a Catholic priest. and so did his followers.

          I seem to remember that it’s a costuming thing. They look neat, and they seem to have a militaristic organization already. It lends itself to having a goal that’s actually military, instead of purely humanitarian.

          Also, the Catholic church does have historical moments of being a military powerhouse. That was a long time ago, sure, but it’s not like their isn’t historical precedent.

          • The Rocketeer says:

            Oh, sure! I’m sure the middle of the last millennium was no picnic for the Japanese, what with Portugal and Spain both at the height of their naval power, their Catholic fanaticism, and their mercantilist expansionism. In general that was no fun for anyone on any continent and I’m not sure anyone in the world remembers those times favorably, other than a few Iberians themselves.

            Which is why the Japanese might remember those times more strongly (if subconsciously) than, say, China. China was too big to bully, and I don’t think the Europeans paid Korea much mind. Even if not, it might have stuck around much more strongly since Japan has always had such a bizarre relationship with the West. Relatively recently, they went immediately from having been hit with atomic bombs and then immediately ended up on the side of the country that did it, by virtue of not being communist, even though they totally haven’t ever gotten over it. If people ever wonder why Japan is stereotyped as “weird,” well, they’ve had some weird stuff happen over the centuries.

            • Ciennas says:

              Oh man, yes. They have more than once had cities be those things that just go away every once in a while, and twice they had the Divine Wave wipe out an enemy fleet.

              That kinda stuff leaves a mark.

    • The Specktre says:

      usually when a game is covering christian themes they usually do it indirectly ““ they use a made up religion with some distinct similarities to Christianity, particularly the idea of having secular power like the Catholic church. The example I'm thinking of in particular is Dragon Age's Chantry.

      Curious what you guys think of the Chantry, actually… we've talked a lot about Mass Effect, and not nearly as much about Dragon Age.

      So for my part at least, I’m not really a fan of the Chantry or Dragon Age mythology.

      (I also understand if Shamus finds this too inflammatory and deletes this comment. Maybe it isn’t, and I’m overthinking or worrying too much, but I thought I’d throw that out there at least.)

      It’s blatantly reflecting what most people think of as “the Church”, and it comes off as really critical to me. It almost felt like it was accusingly pointing at me in the same way Shamus felt he was being called out by that crazy lady character he was talking about. I get that it’s probably not doing that, but I’ve seen and met enough people jaded about religion that I can’t ever remove that feeling from my mind, or discount that possibility. On top of that, it’s just crappy mythology and doesn’t feel well thought out. Everything the Maker does comes off as short-sighted, poorly thought out, and almost entirely his fault. He doesn’t even seem all that powerful, if mages can wreck heaven, or the “Golden City” or whatever (which leads to the darkspawn, which leads back into “poorly thought out”). Then he wants to marry a mortal woman, and it’s just odd. We’ve got a few different ideas floating around in here from various religions and myths. And I’m not really opposed to this myth-making and world-building in principle, but it just feels not only poorly written, but also ugly at its core (this also loops back to the feeling of pointing a mocking finger at the Church or religious people). It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      I could articulate more, but maybe I should leave it here.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        I’m kind of fuzzy on this, but I thought Darkspawn came not from mages “wrecking up Heaven” or from the Maker being powerless to stop this, but from mages actually having the gall to use blood magic to try and tour his throne room, and the Darkspawn was the mortal world’s punishment from the Maker for doing that.

        I mean, the alternative is that humans- or at least blood mages- are so repugnant and corrupt that their very presence in Heaven screwed the world up bad enough to produce Darkspawn, and if that’s the case… maybe the world has it coming?

        Of course, Dragon Age took “dark fantasy” to mean “everything sucks and everyone is an asshole,” even when there isn’t a good reason for those things, so there may not be a point in reading too much into it.

        • guy says:

          Well, the precise details of what went down are a bit fuzzy for rather obvious reasons. What is known is that the mages, apparently with help or at least encouragement from their dragon-god Dumat, ripped a physical pathway into the Fade with half the lyrium in the empire and a massive blood sacrifice, emerging in the Golden City, which incidentally can’t actually be reached from anywhere else in the Fade. Then the city blackened and they turned into Darkspawn, and the Chantry says that’s because the Maker cursed them.

          That actually makes perfect sense once you realize that the Maker is angry at humanity in general. First, the mages were backed by another entity claiming godhood, and that does not endear them to a monotheistic god. Second, the Golden City was off limits, and they went there anyway in a classic display of hubris. Third, they killed hundreds of people in the process. Now, the contagious taint is a fairly malevolent thing to do to everyone else, but there’s actually a point to that. The Darkspawn archdemons are actually the Old Gods of the empire, and while other races can resist for a time they succumb to the taint instantly, and when there isn’t an active one the Darkspawn tunnel endlessly towards the others. So in a sense the Old Gods are the target of the taint.

          Alternately, since the Maker doesn’t actually put on any direct appearances and only one person even claims to recieve visions in the present and is generally regarded as nuts, maybe what actually happened is that it turns out physically entering the Fade is hazardous to your health and there wasn’t any actual divine intervention.

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        The Chantry was one of the draws to Dragon Age for me because I had read that Dragon Age actually took religion and its role in society seriously -with schisms and heretics and a majesterium. I was horribly underwhelmed.

        The actual medieval Church occupied itself with things like building universities to train monks, outlawing war, and fighting with the temporal authorities over their prerogatives and tax rates. With varying levels of success, obvs. One of the major gripes of the Protestant Reformation is that the Church was spending too much time talking about other stuff, rather than focusing on the important doctrines like grace, justification, et cetera. But regardless, the medieval church was deeply involved in society. The Chantry is just crusades and hellfire/brimstone preaching against magic. What’s the Chantry’s version of the Peace of God movement? What’s the Chantry version of Henry at Cannosa? What’s the Chantry version of Becket’s excommunication of the Bishops of York, London, and Salisbury? Leliana’s description of convent life is a sad parody of something like the Carmelites. I’ve known fun nuns -but monastic life is intentionally hard.

        What really put me off the Chantry, though, was the Reverend Mother from DAII who, by all rights, ought to be the Law in Kirkwall as far as the Templars and Mages are concerned, and her combined weakness and everyone else’s refusal to defer to her seemed very un-serious to me.

        • guy says:

          I’m not too ticked off about the Grand Cleric specifically. Theoretically she’s got a lot of power, but in reality the local Chantry military force didn’t actually listen to her even though she’s in charge of them on paper. That sort of thing does happen, and it’s pretty hard to make the largest concentration of military force in the city do something they don’t want to. She could have tried invoking her religious authority, but with the Qunari presence in the city that could get ugly quickly.

          Now, she probably should have contacted the Divine and gotten her to bring Meredith under control, by force if necessary, or even had the entire Templar garrison split up and reassigned. But that’s kind of a big step that could very well have gone badly, and the Grand Cleric didn’t have the personality for it.

  11. imtoolazy says:

    @Shamus @15:45

    ~”Are people interested in the stuff I try that doesn’t really go anywhere?”

    I think I speak for everyone when I say ‘Yes’. (A very emphatic, bolded and italicized ‘Yes’.)

    I don’t want to use too many words, so:

    -A fair number of regular readers have programming backgrounds and/or interests, but might be doing boring stuff, cause it’s their job, or whatever, but through your posts they get to kind of ‘experience’ a bit what it’s like to deal with OpenGL, or shaders, or stuff they might not normally get to see

    -Not everyone has the exact same interests; some people might not read the more technical things, some might just…devour it all, with their eyes and brains, making for very weird imagery. If you write about your experience with shaders, maybe not everyone will be interested, but definitely some will

    Ugh, don’t feel like writing more.

    “I don’t want to use too many words”. Right.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      “I think I speak for everyone when I say “˜Yes'.”
      (fixed that for you)

      Shamus… always write a blog post about it! Contrary to your statement, if you are learning something, most people probably don’t know about it already.

    • MichaelGC says:

      I’ll second that in red underlined 72pt Impact! And my programming expertise is such that I could just about cobble together ‘Hello World!’ in BASIC.

      I’ve often thought that Shamus’ ability to write about complex technical subjects such that both other experts and total noobs (me!) are informed and entertained – sometimes to the point of laughing out loud – is really quite astonishing.

    • Think of it as posting pages from a sketchbook.

      “Here’s a superhero I doodled where their cape is made out of Fruit by the Foot. I wanted to draw ribbon shapes, and I’ll probably never do anything with it, but didn’t they turn out cool?”

    • ET says:

      “A fair number of regular readers have programming backgrounds and/or interests, but might be doing boring stuff, cause it's their job, or whatever, but through your posts they get to kind of “˜experience' a bit what it's like to deal with OpenGL, or shaders, or stuff they might not normally get to see”

      This pretty much describes me; B.Sc. in Computer Science, but I work at a paving company, doing things only vaguely “computery”.
      About the only things I’ve had/made time for in the last six months, is an implementation of Lights Out (3 by 3 version), and a version of the snake-eats-things game, which I am currently finishing up.
      (Both written using PyGame.)
      I really enjoy your programming posts, Shamus, even when they don’t have a “point”. :)

      • mhoff12358 says:

        PyGame is awesome! It’s a great introduction tool for some game making because it can do 2D applications very easily. Also, since it uses SDL under the hood for a lot a stuff you’re able to use it as a window manager to create OpenGL applications. This can get you prototyping projects without a lot of the hoop-jumping that C++ requires.

        • ET says:

          The only thing stopping my stuff from being “production code” vs “prototype”, is that I haven’t figured out how to package my Python programs as standalone executables. There’s a tool I found to do the job, but apparently it doesn’t work properly, with the default command prompt in Windows*. So, I need to get those tools, which emulate properly, the Linux command line. They wouldn’t be to hard to get up and running**, but I haven’t made time. :)

          * It ignores the one flag, which makes it spit out a single executable, instead of a folder full of executables, batch scripts, and DLLs.

          ** I’m pretty sure I installed these years ago, on a different computer, but now I need to once again find the correct set of tools, which has active developers, and wasn’t mothballed.

    • Aitch says:

      Coming from the position of a non-programmer, but still someone raised on dos prompts and always interested in computer tech – absolutely those posts are interesting. And after I finish reading through them, I usually find myself going back to read through again, making sure to follow all the links, and doing a search on any terms or concepts that I’m not 100% on. It can be a real rabbit hole, and I mean that in the best way possible.

      Most things that are interesting are entertaining. Especially when the person has a talent for both what they’re talking about, and the way they talk about it, like Shamus does. Not very many programmers out there that I’ve read have the ability to write effectively, dealing with real world problems and knowing how to explain them without having it end up too dry.

      It’s like having someone show how a piece of the transmission works after spending years driving around ignorant of the inner workings. It may never come up, but it could mean the difference between trying to impersonate the sound to a mechanic, or being able to describe what it sounds like is broken. (Get it? Cause it’s a car metaphor?)

      Honestly though, everything I’ve read on this site over the years has been excellently interesting. I’m less inclined to think it’s the subject matter so much as it’s the person telling the story.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Yes, very much! Shamus has a lot of programmer or code-literate types in his readership, but I think most of us are like, well, me.

      It’s like watching a cooking show. Even if you can’t cook, you know what food is, and presumably enjoy it, so they get out their pans, and shaders, and stuff, and then some things happen I don’t understand, and then muffins!

      And for me in particular, not knowing as much about it makes it more interesting as long as its being explained in an interesting way that I can understand, and Shamus is really good at that. Going back to cooking shows, I always watched Good Eats because Alton Brown focused both on simple, common sense processes that laymen could use, but also on the science and theory side of the preparation so you knew why you were making something a certain way.

  12. guy says:

    “Alpha Centauri… technology is an objective good.”

    Uh, what? The Secret Project videos get progressively creepier as you go up the tech tree, Sister Miriam gains an increasing anti-technology bent that makes more and more sense as you get into later tech descriptions, it unlocks the Thought Control future civ as well as Cybernetic and Eudomania, several techs bring you into increasing conflict with the Planetmind, etc.

    • aldowyn says:

      Also a lot of the industrial techs in Civ actually cause pollution and health maluses in addition to their production bonuses. I think in general new technology is generally shown as good, but that doesn’t mean individual applications (like some of SMAC’s secret projects) are.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I miss stuff in Civ having downsides. The only costs I remember to doing things in Civ 5 were opportunity costs–I.E., you can pick the policy that gives +1 culture, and the only downside is you don’t get the policy that gives +1 science.

        In Civ 2, I remember when choosing between Democracy and Communism, I would get more numbers for Democracy (better production, wealth, etc), but the bastard parliament would go behind my back and make treaties with other nations I wanted to wipe out.

        I mean, the happiness mechanic in Civ 5 gives downsides somewhat–I can build this building that give me production, but I lose happiness, etc.–but it really just boils down to another resource to manage. It takes a lot of the nuance away, to me, to not have pollution, health, unhappiness, uppity legislators, obsolete wonders, etc., etc. to deal with.

        Also, I miss the throne room in Civ 2.

        • krellen says:

          The best part of Civ 2 was the Council. They were just great.

          “Trade, sir! Discover it! This is you; this is a clue. Get a clue: discover trade!”

          • Humanoid says:

            That guy always made me think of Jerry Seinfeld.

            But yeah, Civ2 did the multimedia stuff in a generally good, non-overbearing way (it was very easy to overdo it back in the dawn of the CD-ROM era) – the wonder videos were great and are sorely missed. I probably prefer Civ1’s palace construction over Civ2’s throne room though. And Civ1’s leader heads too with the variable number of advisors behind them relative to power.

        • aldowyn says:

          I liked the palace in Civ 3 :D Also how you could see the layout of the individual cities in the city viewer.. pretty sure that was also Civ 3.

          Civ V showing the wonders on the main screen is pretty cool, though, particularly the great wall surrounding your entire civ’s borders at the time of completion

  13. arron says:

    I’d love to hear about your experiments in shaders Shamus. As someone who started playing with them on mobile platforms I’m always interested in hearing about the experience of other people starting out with them for the first time. So yes please, a blog post would be great.

    I’ve been giving Haxe and OpenFL a go recently as cross-platform development really rocks my crank, and I found this account interesting from someone starting with it for the first time. As you might expect, it’s a steep learning curve.


  14. Thomas says:

    Actual Sunlight is a ‘I have all these thoughts and feelings in my head which I want to try to get out and share’ game. This is a really cool interview with the creator

    Depression Quest is very openly trying to both inform non-depressed people what depression is like and giving advice to depressed people and telling them they’re not alone.
    My personal preference was for Actual Sunlight because it made me feel bad. It’s utterly bleak and utterly personal. With Depression Quest I knew enough about depression and had similar enough feelings (without actually being depressed) that it somewhat trivialised depression for me. ‘I have days where I know I should have work but I’m too stressed to do it and then I waste my evening not doing the work and not relaxing too!’ Which isn’t how I should be feeling. And the answers to depression are somewhat obvious and you can just click those buttons within the game and within 15 minutes you’ve turned your life around and everythings going to be okay.

    The hard part isn’t necessarily realising that medicine and counselling and friends help you. It’s actually doing those things with your mind fighting you every step of the way. But Depression Quest doesn’t really fight you at all. I’m not sure that a person with a completely misguided attitude to depression wouldn’t click those options and think ‘this is easy why are they making such a big deal of being trapped by this?’

    It does remind you at the end that this is a battle that depressed people will probably have to fight for the rest of their lives, which always makes me want to give up on everything :(, but it doesn’t make you feel that it still an ongoing battle

    Actual Sunlight just makes you go through the pain with no way to change things or get out and then it leaves you at a horrible uncomfortable point.

    Both of them have really clever game design tricks based on deliberately denying choice. At one point Actual Sunlight asks you to do something horrible and gives you no way to get out or avoid it and that made me feel frustrated and trapped and even a little angry. Depression Quest gives you ‘the best’ options but doesn’t let you take them because your brain isn’t well enough and it increases the greyed out options the more depressed you are.

    • Matt Downie says:

      I found Depression Quest incredibly depressing.
      I tried to role-play it as myself, but it took about two decisions for me to find myself thinking “I wouldn’t do any of these things. I wouldn’t even think of working on my home project after a hard day at work. Also, this guy has people in his life who would actually notice if he was depressed, people who invite him to things and care whether he turns up or not. I am worse off than him both in situation and mental state.”

      • krellen says:

        I had a very similar response. The protagonist of Depression Quest has so many more resources – a physically present sibling, a significant other, a job (and a job with decent health insurance, to boot) – that I don’t have, the ease with which one can work out of their depression in the game seems so far out of reach in reality to me.

        • Ciennas says:

          It’s harder, but you can totally work out of it. The biggest step regardless sounds like knowing when to get help. There are depression hotlines and all sorts of cool things now. Things are better.

          You guys alright?

  15. lucky7 says:

    I have to say I’m INCREDIBLY excited about the new Civ.

  16. Redingold says:

    Did they make the easy mode in FTL easier with the Advanced Edition? I never managed to beat the game, and I only rarely got to the final boss, but with the Advanced Edition, I’m regularly making it to the final boss and I’ve even beaten it twice. I can’t see how I’d have magically gotten better after months of not playing, so did they make it easier or am I just reaping the benefits of the new weapons and systems?

    • Jexter says:

      It shouldn’t be significantly easier… you’ve probably just gotten better, somehow. The game even says flat out in the hangar that the advanced edition is for experienced players, although honestly I don’t think it’s much harder.

      You could always test it by toggling the advanced edition back off again.

    • syal says:

      I agree, it does feel easier, and they’ve definitely changed things even with Advanced Mode disabled (the Flagship and Base work differently, the Rebel Fleet’s more dangerous and there are limits to number of ship systems now). I think they’ve probably lowered the encounter rate of the nastier stuff; ships with Combat Drones, invader events and such.

  17. mojo says:

    I would go further than ‘please write a blog post about shaders’. I would say: ‘please release an ebook aimed at programmers who want to learn graphics programming / OpenGL’, and I will pay you real money$$$ for it.

  18. Horfan says:

    Do a shader post!

  19. Mersadeon says:

    I guess I’m the only guy who liked Civ: Call to Power :(

    But that might just be because it was my first Civ.
    I do remember the game having some… weird… ideas.

    Like how you could develop a machine that gives people a new body so nobody has to age, which incidentally would also make theological nations really happy because people think they can see god whenever they go through the machine. That was just… odd.

    Something I have always missed in the new Civ games though, is that I never have the feeling I am controlling an empire. I can only see the mechanics, I just cannot see anything else. Part of that, I think, comes from the fact that you have essentially no influence over ideology and society in your empire – sure, you can spend your policy points on vague concepts, but that’s so purely mechanical, since there is no impact on the game other than the number it changes. I sort of miss the way Call to Power did it – where you can change your regime and it would at least influence some stuff, so you can be a fascist pig if you wanted.

    But then again, I do understand why it isn’t considered a good game. There were a lot of unbalanced stuff. Like the Wonder that makes everyone in your empire 100% happy, but has a slight chance of becoming sentient, taking the city you built it in and founding a new empire.
    In a game that lasts hundreds of turns, that slight chance essentially becomes inevitable.

    • Ivellius says:

      I liked the game, too, though it was also my first real exposure to Civilization. I can see why people didn’t like it, but I wouldn’t say stay away from it more so than the others. The future tech eras give it a unique feel compared with more traditional Civ games. The special units can get kind of annoying.

      The reason it’s just “Call to Power 2” involves trademark issues. Originally it was “Civilization: Call to Power,” but the games were made without Sid Meier and Activision apparently only had the license for a single “Civ” game.

      • Humanoid says:

        More specifically, the Civilization trademark belonged to Avalon Hill, who published the Civilization boardgame back in the 80s. It gets fuzzy here, because evidently the name was licenced to Microprose prior to the release of the original PC game (which is not based on the boardgame), but several years later, Avalon Hill decided to turn around and sell the licence to Activision. I can’t see the logic in this, but can’t really find great information to back up my memory, as even Wikipedia is vague on this.

        Anyway, point is that one big court battle and settlement later, Microprose emerged generally victorious with perpetual rights to the Civilization trademark, while Activision received dispensation to use the name over the product they were currently developing as a once-off. Note that this all happened *after* Sid Meier and Jeff Briggs had left to form Firaxis, who were developing Alpha Centauri at the time, with another Civilization game being nowhere on the horizon. The licence itself bounced around a number of different companies, with Firaxis producing the sequels as an independent contractor (think Obsidian doing FONV), until Firaxis itself was acquired by present rights-holder Take-Two/2K prior to the development of Civ5.

        P.S. I hated CivCTP, which was notable only for the absurdity of having Australia as a civilization (though admittedly it’s only marginally more absurd than the American civilization).

        • Mersadeon says:

          I think “absurd” is the right word for that game. Again, I kinda like some stuff about it, but there was so much weird shit.
          Like the representation of the Televangelist unit, who was literally a guy in a suit with a TV for his head. As a kid in a culture and language that doesn’t have televangelism, I was so weirded out – I thought it spread a religion that was based on television!

  20. MichaelGC says:

    One game that at least had a go at representing nuances of belief was Final Fantasy X. For example, Wakka had a much bigger problem with forbidden machines than most. Was that solely down to the strength of his religious beliefs, or was what happened to his brother a bigger factor? Then you have Yuna, who is almost a kind of high priestess, but (not to spoil anything) doesn’t always follow the prescribed path.

    I’m not sure how effective this all was, really – but as I say, they gave it a go, at least. (I guess that given other events, for some this game might have a similar problem to the one Shamus had with Sister Miriam.)

    • Thomas says:

      I always read FFX as a pretty hard slam to be honest. I figured what the game was saying was that there were lots of good people involved with religion, doing good things for all sorts of reasons and religion itself gives benefit to people through hope and inspiration…

      …but it’s a sham and hope and inspiration based on that is ultimately not worth it. The structure is corrupt and exploited and the nice people have been misled.

      But FFX-2 readdressed the balance more and displayed a much more positive side to take from the ashes of the first’s deconstruction

      • syal says:

        Yeah, most Square games that feature religion tend to have you kill God because he’s out to get you. Sometimes he isn’t even the final boss.

      • newdarkcloud says:

        It seems like Final Fantasy in general doesn’t really show much love for religion. Almost every church in a Final Fantasy game is corrupt.

        The Church of Yevon is FF 10
        The Church of Glabados in Tactics
        The Church of Bhrunivelze in Lightning Returns

        All three of them are explicitly corrupt, lying to the people, and/or praying to evil gods or demons.

        At the same time, the Youth League and New Yevon in FF X-2 are really interesting factions with balanced takes on religion and change. Which faction you would prefer really comes down to beliefs, and a strong case could be made for either faction. Hell, in the end, both factions just resolve their differences and unite everyone together, realizing that fighting with each other is pointless.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          To be more precise, the villains of Final Fantasy all come from mankind overstepping his bounds, and taking power it was never meant to have, usually from abusing nature (and through nature, magic), technology, or political/military authority, with abusing faith being less common than any of those. But aside from nature being a sort of ultimate good, I don’t think Final Fantasy ever proposes that these things are bad in and of themselves, and ultimately, generalizes a balance of things as being best rather than any absolute creed; any of these things overpowering the others is portrayed as dangerous, with one corrupting another of them being worst of all. This contributed greatly to the early series’ reliance on magitech as a shorthand for corruption.

          Of course, the general themes of the series were much more cohesive until Final Fantasy IX, so anything after VIII can’t be counted on to conform as closely to those ideals.

          Though, I still don’t think Final Fantasy X is as much the deconstruction of organized religion some people take it as as much as it is just the standard practice of Evil JRPG Churches combined with Final Fantasy’s predilection for subverting the character of a power structure to facilitate the creation of supermonsters.

  21. Abnaxis says:


    What do people think of Darksiders (and sequel)? It pretty much explicitly did what Shamus said you can’t–took Christian dogma and morphed it into a video game.

    As an atheist I enjoyed it, but I would be interested in knowing what other people thought of it.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:


      Darksiders has almost nothing to do with Christianity. It was, at very best, very loosely inspired by the book of revelations, but mostly it’s just a mash-up of generic concepts like “The balance” and “The corruption”. An actual Judeo-Christian God or Jesus don’t even fit into the setting.

      • Abnaxis says:

        So one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse accidentally sets off the Endwar, complete with demons from the Kingdom of Hell and angels from the Kingdom of Heaven fighting over the Kingdom of Man, and you don’t see Christianity anywhere in there? It basically took Revelations, with a little bit Divine Comedy and Genesis mixed in, and bastardized them into a video game plot so the player can run around chopping demons and angels with a big-ass sword with reckless abandon.

        Or to put it another way, it’s as much based on Christianity as virtually any other respective game is based on Norse or Roman mythology, with the difference being that there are Christians alive today to comment on it, and I’m curious what they thought.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          “The war between Heaven and Hell” isn’t a Christian thing. The closest you get is Lucifer rebelling against Heaven, but it’s a very different thematic beast- Lucifer’s rebellion is quickly squashed and the idea that he could have ever challenged God comes only from his tragic pride.

          It’s fundamentally not a Christian thing, because it excludes a one true God who could end the war in an instant. All it really takes from Christianity is that angels and Heaven are good (or maybe kind of good, or sometimes actually just bad), and demons and hell are bad.

          Heaven and Hell having armies that are locked in eternal conflict is a pulp thing that’s been around for a while, and is pretty much completely divorced from the Christian sources it was once derived from (which themselves were not biblical and aren’t actually part of Christian dogma). Sure, other stuff gets a lot wrong about Greek or Norse Mythology, but at least they aren’t taking Zeus and Odin out of it. Doing “Christian” mythology without God or Christ is like doing Greek mythology without the entire Greek Pantheon.

          Supernatural or Preacher would be better examples of things that are identifiably about Christianity while still taking a lot of liberties.

          (And I don’t know where you’re getting the book of Genesis or the Divine Comedy from- Horsemen of The Apocalypse is contained to the book of Revelations and the war between Heaven and Hell is Paradise Lost)

          • syal says:

            More to the point, anything whose description can include “accidentally sets off the Endwar” is on the same religious field as ‘The Life of Brian’ or ‘Dogma’. Any weird anachronisms or flat-out misinterpretations of Christianity can pretty much slide because it’s comedic and deliberately unconventional. The only thing that I think could be upsetting is people not getting that it’s a joke.

            (Haven’t played the game myself. Saw a small part of a Let’s Play, it looked pretty cartoony and not-super-serious.)

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              Actually, those two have a lot more to do with Christianity, as both were dealing with core concepts of faith rather than using a few trappings to tell a fundamentally different mythology. Both were about Christianity, and sought to make relevant points about it, even when doing it obliquely.

          • Abnaxis says:

            (And I don't know where you're getting the book of Genesis or the Divine Comedy from- Horsemen of The Apocalypse is contained to the book of Revelations and the war between Heaven and Hell is Paradise Lost)

            I got the book of Genesis from the part where you go to the Garden of Eden to ask the Tree of Knowledge how to kill the BBEG. I got Divine Comedy because…well for some reason the game made me think of it in an off-hand way while playing, but I don’t remember why. It’s been a while since I’ve played it, and even longer since I read the Divine Comedy.

            I’m trying to make the point that the whole thing is a completely bastardized, not-even-remotely-close-to-the-source-material portrayal of the Armageddon from the Book of Revelations. They took a religious text that is very important to a great many people, and grossly deformed it into a video game narrative.

            I was curious what others who view Revelations from a different perspective than me thought of it.

    • Ithilanor says:

      Dante’s Inferno was kind of the same thing, where it took Christian/pseudo-Christian/whatever you want to call the Divine Comedy as its main inspiration.

    • Otters34 says:

      EDIT: I’m sorry, Abanxis. When you asked for responses, I doubt you were hoping for ponderous blobs of text. I’ll be leaner next time.

      As a monotheist of that stripe I’ll be happy to toss in my view.

      Darksiders is just about the most pop-culture revisionist take on the battle of Armageddon, Heaven, Hell and their attendants I have ever seen. I’m hardly offended when people make massive divergences when adapting from the Bible to make a story, but sometimes it seems like too much effort for too little gain.

      Obviously, they couldn’t just adapt the Revelation of St. John as-is. It would be a pretty hard, weird game to make if you piloted a vague force of conflict as it threw the Earth into chaos or something. But having you be War or Death, who are basically superheroes, in a world that has the names of Biblical entities without any kind of spirituality other than vague mysticism from the Makers, mentions of a ‘Creator’ who doesn’t seem to care too much about anything going on(like the slaughter of his chief followers), and random third-parties like the Old Ones makes it less like “This is a bold new take on Abrahamic myth!” and more “We want this to feel/sound epic!”.

      That’s fine, and hardly as ignoble as I’m making it sound, but it DOES count more towards what Mr. Young mentioned about both “open-source mythologies” like the crazy-town Olympians of God of War and the “thematic trappings” thing like with Comstock’s generic babble in Bioshock: Infinite. In this case, if it was openly trying to be a new spin on Christian theology or make a profound statement on my religion(it’s not, it’s just trying to have an eye-catching and uniqueish setting), then it would be the worst of both worlds. Both the lowest common denominator of demons and angels where they’re like what children imagine them to be, Biblical names sprinkled in to give it unearned weight, and an Apocalypse that instead of a war between humans for the fate of human souls is more like a territorial squabble between aliens from another dimension who couldn’t give a damn about the animals scurrying on the battleground.

      That last bit is an important part of why it’s not quite as successful as it might have been at the feel it was aiming for. The Third Kingdom, humanity, is all but irrelevant. They aren’t the Creator’s children in any way that the Demons and Angels aren’t too. But the battleground for the final conflict between these inhuman powers is STILL Earth, even though it has barely anything to do with anything and nobody gains anything besides the superhuman conspirators angling to get one over their bosses. Removed from the context of a struggle to save or damn, the Apocalypse, again, loses something vital. It’s a cool but hollow event in a fantasy story. They took too much away from the source to make it just an adaption of that, and changed too little of what they retained to make it more than an imitation.

      Quibbles like worldbuilding and setting cosmology aside though, it was a pretty enjoyable Zelda-esque title. The weirdness of stooping to battle foot soldiers as War gives way as the combo system opens up and strategy gets more involved. It was nice playing a character treated with respect even by his enemies(seriously game designers, you can make me play as the least powerful thing in the world, just not having everyone talk snide pre-fight smack makes it so much more tolerable), and while the environments and character designs got a little too EXTREME now and then, it was nice to have such a clear and vivid style.

  22. Abnaxis says:

    Double post, but this is a different subject.

    Regarding religion in video games (and other art, really): I have seen a lot of eastern religions portrayed in video games (first time I heard the actual tenets of Buddhism my reaction was “holy crap Buddhists are Dustmen!” [Planescape reference]). However, it seems like Abrahamic religions are off limits.

    I’m going to try to make generalizations without insulting anyone. I’m sorry if I fail.

    I think part of the issue is that Islam/Christianity/Judaism have a very strong focus on the literal religious texts, as-much-if-not-more-than the actual philosophies the texts espouse. That makes it much more difficult to get any latitude for going beyond already established dogmatic canon. However, this doesn’t strike me as a strictly religious issue, so much as a an issue for Christianity in particular, which just happens to be the religion followed by the majority of the demographic games are made for.

    I think you can makes games that explore religious themes that don’t cause terrible controversy even with living religions, but the difficulty of doing so goes up proportionally with how strongly the followers of that religion focus on their texts. That makes (for example) Christianity difficult to explicitly explore, but Buddhism or Daoism are all over the place.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      I think a greater emphasis on the texts and doctrine as off-limits is just a byproduct of many, many people still being around to argue about them, moreso than as a particular trait of western/Abrahamic religions. I mean, those guys that made Smite found out pretty quickly that Hindus aren’t necessarily more easygoing about how their deities are portrayed.

      I bet if you Bill & Ted-ed a bunch of ancient Greeks, Norse, and Egyptians into the modern pop-culture landscape, they’d be pretty pissed. Then they’d form a rock band, because, come one, what else would you do with a group like that?

  23. Darren says:

    I think why Christianity is overlooked is down to three things:

    A) Concern over offending people
    B) Being a believer who doesn’t want to accidentally demean one’s religion
    C) A lack of material that is both well-known and actually lends itself to gameplay of some sort

    Familiarity is actually a bigger obstacle than I think people realize. At least in the US, I’ve found that Christians often cherry-pick parts of the Bible they are interested in and ignore the rest, and the less said about wide-ranging and intellectually rigorous theological discussion (at least among the general population) the better. Years ago I was a high school teacher in a rural and deeply conservative Southern county and, for a reason I can’t recall, I referenced Noah’s Ark. The students all looked at me blankly, having somehow never heard the story or at least remembered it. I was stunned; I’m an atheist and thought it was common knowledge! My experience teaching gradually revealed that, at least among the young, many devout Christians don’t really know much about the details of their faith. They follow broad tenets, but don’t know their Sampsons from their Esthers, and certainly don’t know about the Apocrypha and its theological significance (or utility in providing resources for a game).

    Japanese games seem much more willing to tackle matters of religion, though they seem consistently skeptical, if not outright disdainful, of Western traditions. Shamus has covered Final Fantasy X and its take on traditional Japanese culture before, but I would like to point out the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as worthy of discussion. That series is a grab bag of religion and folklore and doesn’t shy away from more obscure details of Christianity; the angels are notably disturbing rather than beautiful, and are generally just the literal descriptions pulled from religious texts rather than the watered-down modern versions. I’d also point out Final Fantasy Tactics, which is one of many JRPGs that posit a top-down religious organization as a source of evil.

    So what does everyone else think? Am I far outside the norm in my experiences and perspective?

    • newdarkcloud says:

      Don’t some Shin Megami Tensei games explicitly make God into a Lawful Evil kind of character? I honestly don’t know that much, so I’m curious.

      • Darren says:

        Yes they do, but I’m not aware of any instance in which he acts in a manner that doesn’t at least mesh with the Old Testament. It’s more like how you might view God if you were one of the people who wasn’t on the Ark rather than some radically different take on the character. This analogy is especially apt in Shin Megami Tensei 4.

  24. Abnaxis says:

    I really wish Ruts had been around for the international gaming discussion, since he’s actually working for an Indian developer.

    Seems like he would have had something to say.

  25. Halceon says:

    Shader Blog Post!

    The fact that it isn’t leading to anything just means that it’s value isn’t determined by the quality of the product it works towards. It can stand or fall on its own merits.

  26. Neil W says:

    Having asked the question about international perspectives, I’m going to expand a little here (having kept it short in the email in deference to requests):

    I thought about this because my brother has been living in Amsterdam with his Dutch girlfriend for some years now. Like many Netherlanders she speaks fluent English. Every now and then when we talk I run into concepts and ideas that I don’t expect. There’s a cultural divide, and also a linguistic divide because despite speaking fluent English* it’s not her native language. It’s especially interesting because she works regularly with Americans, Koreans and Italians in their countries, and often has a handle on things that happen there that look weird to Englishmen like me.

    Thanks for answering. Just a pity that (as previously noted) Rutskarn wasn’t here to answer as he’s working with (I believe) an Indian developer. Also a pity Mumbles wasn’t here to answer because Mumbles.

    Also also I suggest that if Jarenth hosted it should be the Dijkcast.

    * The advice they were given for talking to their son (recently turned one) was that to bring him up speaking both English and Dutch naturally, the parent who spoke the language better should speak to him in that language. We joked that his Mum should teach him Dutch, and also teach him English.

  27. Abnaxis says:

    Since Jarenth’s foreign-ness came up in this episode, I just want to come out and complement his fluency with American English–not just with basics like syntax and vocabulary, but also with mastery of colloquialisms, tone, and timing.

    You’re a better writer than me, sir, and I’m a native speaker.

    • Jarenth says:

      Why thank you!

      I was raised more or less bilingually by my mother, who is a licensed English teacher, and I grew up during a time when being surrounded by spoken and written English — cartoons, books, video games — was the norm rather than the exception. So that might have had something to do with it.

  28. Disc says:

    I’d list Planescape: Torment as the most in-depth exploration of belief when it comes to video games to date. I wouldn’t say it’s the core theme of the game, but it’s a very important part of the setting, the story and most, if not all of the companion NPCs.

    • krellen says:

      Mask of the Betrayer does a good look at belief too; it’s one of the few Forgotten Realms titles (Planescape is Greyhawk) that tackles the same “belief is reality” theme that Torment does (FR has a slightly different take on belief/faith than Greyhawk does.)

      • MadHiro says:

        I do not think that the phrase ‘Planescape is Greyhawk’ is particularly accurate. In the cosmological sense, Greyhawk’s principal planet (Oerth) is one of an infinite number of planets in an infinite number of crystal spheres, just as the Forgotten Realm’s Toril is, which constitutes the Prime Material Plane, one of only many possible planes in the expanse of Planescape. From a thematic stance, Greyhawk is the oldest of old schools; role-playing game as combat simulator and loot generator whereas Planescape is about ideas, thoughts, beliefs and lots of weird stuff.

        • krellen says:

          The Forgotten Realms have a different planar cosmology from Greyhawk. The planar cosmology presented in Planescape is Oerth’s cosmology, not Abeir-Toril’s. Sigil doesn’t exist in Toril’s reality.

          • MadHiro says:

            The cosmology taught in the theologies of the Forgotten Realms is pretty explicitly incorrect by any objective measure, and that’s included in the way that Planescape views denizens of the Prime Material. There’s a reason they get called capital C Clueless. There are numerous instances of characters from the Planescape setting traveling to Toril; the most obvious I can think of would be Haer’Dalis from Baldur’s Gate 2.

            The sharply circumscribed cosmos of Toril is a result of its gods controlling information; no reason to know about the layer of Arborea, since nobody is worshipping Hercules.

      • Ithilanor says:

        Mask of the Betrayer definitely does some interesting stuff with belief and the relationship of gods and believers. Lt. Danger’s LP of the game over at the LP Archive is a really good, in-depth, analytical look at the game.

  29. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Does anyone else find it funny(and also sad)how john mcclane became “the uber dude killer savior of the american dream”,when the original die hard specifically focused on him being the exact opposite of that?

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      Kind of corresponds with how Bruce Willis went from a charming, expressive actor to being Mr. Stoic McOneNote.

    • Ithilanor says:

      Or the difference between the traumatized, shell-shocked Rambo of First Blood and the action hero Rambo of the subsequent films…

    • Neil W says:

      The first film is at least partially about his transformation. To begin with he’s a guy awkwardly visiting his estranged wife (and children) for Christmas. (The first 20 minutes could easily be the set up for a romcom in fact). Then terrorists arrive, starting the second act. He concentrates on survival, getting out, informaing the authorities. Finally, with the third act, the situation falls apart, and in desperation he becomes a killing machine. This is shown physically and also in the reaction of a character to how he has changed from the start.

      The sequels tend to jump straight from guy doing his job to bad-ass wise-cracking criminal-killer as soon as things go South. It’s not wrong exactly, but it’s less nuanced and also less interesting.

  30. mwchase says:

    So far as games dealing with religion go, how about Babel Rising? You know, being a game-adapted version of Abrahamic God, charging up divine interventions to reenact the story of the tower of Babel.

    (Thought on the game itself: if massive boulders starting appearing and mowing down groups of people, I don’t think I’d volunteer to stand in a perfectly straight line in the boulderzone. I mean, what are they going to do, squish me under several tons of rock?)

  31. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I am one of the very few that like civ call to power.Yes,it was broken in so many ways,but the sheer number of innovative ideas implemented there was amazing.The orbital layer(which they will be introducing to a “main” civ game after so many years),the special units(like the slaver that actually gives you slaves to work in your cities),the limitied armies in a stack(which led to the one unit per hex),the eco bombings(basically anti nuke nukes),and of course,the mind controlling pyramid,the best wonder of the world ever.

  32. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ah,the new ftl.It makes the end boss even more evil(that god damn mind control!),but it also gives you the best boarding crew ever:The lanius.They suck out air from the room they are in,so you just toss them to the enemy ship in the oxygen room,and enjoy them suffocating.Couple them with the cloning bay,and you get invincible boarders.Even better if you get the upgrade that gives you full health when teleporting.

    • Jexter says:

      There’s a good chance you’ve already tried it, but the Type B Lanius Ship, while a pain to unlock, is absurdly powerful. Two Lanius boarders plus mind control makes for quite possibly the best starting setup in the game. Perhaps even better than the Type B Crystal Ship.

      Add to the fact that it starts with the one of the best guns in the game, the adv. flak gun, (3 shot flak gun that has a faster charge time and only uses 1 power) and the ship has no weaknesses. It feels less like another stock ship, and more like an end-game reward.

  33. Hitch says:

    I think there are two reasons Civilization: Beyond Earth is not “Alpha Centauri.” The first is EA owns the IP for Alpha Centauri, so they can’t title the game that and if they invoke the name of Alpha Centauri in promoting the game, EA could rise up and unleash the lawyers. But more importantly, if they don’t compare it themselves to Alpha Centauri but the fans feel it scratches their itch for a new Alpha Centauri game they will say it’s close enough. But if they mention it themselves, that gives fans a license to backlash, “Oh they changed something, so it’s not the perfect Alpha Centauri game they promised, therefore we should hate it.”

    • Humanoid says:

      Also because the thematic feel of Alpha Centauri was almost entirely down to the personal interests of lead developer Brian Reynolds, who left soon thereafter to do Rise of Nations. Nowadays he’s sadly a mobile/Facebook developer.

      One thing I hope can be returned, however, is the voice acting, which I rate the best of any game ever. Notably it was all spoken in the voice actors’ native accents, and it worked wonderfully well that way. The crew praised the use of Leonard Nimoy in Civ4 in this episode, but without intending to disrespect Mr Nimoy, that decision was a significant step backwards from the previous game.

    • Halceon says:

      I don’t think the Alpha Centauri name is compatible with customizable leaders. SMAC relied heavily on the personalities of the leaders, going both into mechanics and aesthetics.
      I gathered that After Earth is going to allow you to choose your leader’s alignments yourself.
      So either they designed a game without an element central to SMAC’s nostalgia and thus chose not to connect to the name, or they realized they couldn’t refer to Alpha Centauri for legal reasons and designed around it.

      Whatever the case, I’m excited about it.

  34. newdarkcloud says:

    Since I’ve been playing the HD remake of FF10 lately, the Church of Yevon makes for a pretty interesting religion. Most people in Spira believe in the teachings of Yevon, although to different extents and with their own variations.

    And then there are those like the Al Bhed who don’t believe it, and groups like the Guado and the Ronso who were converted sometime after the founding of the church.

    I mean, it has the problem of literally all the higher ups are secretly evil and their “god” is the REASON everyone is suffering, causing the world to grow stagnant for a whole millennium, but it’s interesting to observe how it grew, the people who follow it, and how it became the dominant belief system of Spira.

    Actually, the Final Fantasy seems to have a very interesting relationship with religion. The Church of Glabados in Tactics and the Church of Bhrunivelze in Lightning Returns make for interesting looks how SE thinks of religion.

    I wrote something about this a long time ago: http://pressstarttodiscuss.blogspot.com/2012/08/32-relationship-between-games-and.html

    • The Rocketeer says:

      In hindsight I find it odd that the people of Spira didn’t just take one look at the titanic death whale that kept wrecking up their world, conclude that it was itself a god, and worship it propitiatorily.

      Makes me wonder if there weren’t underground ‘Sin cults.’

      • syal says:

        Well, I think Seymour (and words to make the spoiler longer) counts.

        But usually people don’t worship gods of destruction, they just try to appease them, and it’s easy enough to tell if Sin is appeased that a cult dedicated to that probably wouldn’t get much traction.

  35. Tychoxi says:

    I’m not sure Christianity is not tackled as much as other religions. Games that deal with Christian mythology or had it as a mechanic include: Dante’s Inferno, Darksiders, Bioshock Infinite, Messiah, Darklands, Crusader Kings, Civilization IV/V, even the DOOM games were about literal Hell!

    Then many games that have religious characters have them usually Christian (I mean explicitly and specifically as a character trait)!

    Also the South Park videogame!

  36. MadHiro says:

    So, I was torn about whether I was going to actually write a comment on the religion thing or not. Obviously, I decided to go for it. Here’s hoping I’m not too much of a jerk! (Sorry, Shamus!)

    ” If I want to make a game about Greek mythology, I change whatever I like, I change anything just to make a better story. You don’t go into someone’s religion.. If you’re in the religion, you’re not going to take these sacred texts and update them for this hip new generation. ” – best attempt at quoting Shamus at 26:20

    There are entire media chains who’s principal product are reprocessed Christian mythology. You’ve got children, Shamus. I suppose its possible that you’ve never seen anything from the VeggieTales franchise, but its hard for me to figure out how long the odds are on that. There’s Superbook, The Greatest Adventure… that’s entirely ignoring the plethora of media inspired by the stories in the Bible, like the Brave Little Toaster, which aren’t a straight retelling. I grew up with an illustrated Bible, comic book style. Rather obviously updated and rather obviously hip.

    As others have mentioned, there is a lot of explicitly Christian mythology in many Japanese games. I think that you’re right about a ‘fear of loss of sales because raaaaage’ as a partial driving force behind explicitly Christian mythos being more places. Which gets into all sorts of questions about why it is that people are so touchy about religion, specifically American people, which is definitely beyond the scope of this post.

    But with regards to implicit religion, there’s loads of Christianity in western video games. One of the reasons that the Greek Gods ‘N Stuff of God of War is so noteworthy, is so in your face, is that they need to explain it. Who the heck Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos are isn’t entirely widespread knowledge. If you want to include them in your story at all, you have to dedicate some screen time to them in a way that you don’t need to do with Christian mythology, in the same way that you don’t need to explain what corn is to someone from Iowa. There doesn’t need to be a cutscene that goes into the meaning of the crucifix that you can buy for CJ in GTA; the viewer is assumed to know it. Going to a church to save your game because “Jesus Saves” is a mechanic and a joke that just works without any explicit setup or followup, because of the culture it is delivered in. When you look at the vast majority of characters, PC or NPC, in video games, one doesn’t tend to say to oneself,” I bet this guy is a Sikh.” One of the things we do, as people, is to more or less presume our beliefs are held by others until proved to the contrary.

    PS: I love the implication that dudes in their 50’s and 60’s are on their deathbeds. And Jade Empire should definitely be played. Even if you know the plot, even if you know what’s going to happen, its execution is still excellent.

    • Shamus says:

      So yeah, I was being overly broad. I wasn’t saying it NEVER happens, but that it’s rarely done right, even when done by the faithful. The odds of an outsider pulling it off are very long. (And a lot of believers will buy or not buy based on the beliefs of who made it, not the quality of the product itself, so it’s a big risk that might not pay off, even if you make something good.)

      We watched quite a bit of Veggie Tales back in the day. I think they did a pretty good job of avoiding trouble, but I also think they’re the extremely rare exception. For every Veggie Tales there are a dozen shows like Superbook, Flying House, Bibleman, Angel Wars, and other products that fail at this. They either don’t adapt enough (and wind up with boring and toothless entertainment) or they adapt too much and end up with ridiculous “Christian-themed” versions of standard shows. A lot of them are the video equivalent of a Jack Chick tract: Heavy-handed, simplistic, and pushing a particular message. Instead of making a fun show, they end up with an an infomercial for Jesus™ brand religion.

      An example:

      Let’s say we’re making breakfast cereal. One way is to make “Christian” cereal: Maybe base it off some recipe in the Bible and donate some of the proceeds to charity. The other way is to just take regular Corn Flakes, make them cross-shaped, and call them “Jesus Flakes”. A lot of Christian entertainment falls into this latter category.

      • MadHiro says:

        I absolutely agree that a large amount of Christian entertainment is ‘Jesus Flakes’ (man, I dig that phrase). Which makes it twice as confusing; because clearly there is a consumer base for that stuff, because its produced in large quantities and manages to not offend enough to avoid the backlash that you discussed in the episode. And, naturally, people don’t buy products based on the beliefs of those who made it, but based on the expressed beliefs of those who made it. A small distinction, but an important one. We can’t be certain of what people have in their heads, and its useful to remember that branding and advertising is everywhere.

        And just to be clear; I wasn’t going for a ‘gotcha’! I wasn’t quoting you and listing sources to be all burr hurr hurr. What can we learn by looking at VeggieTales, and Superbook, and comic book Bibles, and comparing them with video games? What about VeggieTales is done well such that it drops below the offensive radar, and why aren’t there comparable games that do similar things? I don’t know, because I haven’t examined it in depth before. I haven’t thought about it until I listened to today’s episode. Lets take a look and think about that.

        On a related note, now I feel like I need to make a tasteful Christian video game. I’m not sure if I technically count as an outsider, though.

        PS: Here is a Christian FPS Let’s Play. I only watched a few episodes, but I thought you might be interested in seeing an outlier.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          I really wonder what portion of the ideologically polarized game materials are consumed by the purchasers. I somehow suspect that this schlock is foisted on children and grandchildren, along with Reader Rabbit style “educational” games.

          Watched a few of the Catechumen let’s play videos… so painful. I’d suspect the game systems of “Actual Sunlight” would lend themselves much more readily to religious themes than the FPS mechanics. Fundamentally, any game could be Christian in the sense that it portrays reality truthfully.

          Veggie Tales is a really interesting example. It was produced largely by a nominally Christian team, but the contents are really more generically moral than they are explicitly Christian. That’s not to say that positive moral lessons are bad, and I enjoyed VT a great deal, and still do; It’s quality entertainment. But I hesitate to call it Christian Animation. It was made by people who confess adherence to that ideology, but the contents themselves could quite easily have stemmed from many other compatible moral frameworks. It is Christian in the sense that the lessons it teaches are compatible with most forms of Christianity. But then again, so is the Emperor’s New Groove.

          The desire to make a tasteful game stemming from Christian ideology is one of the driving forces behind Project Fledgeling. Then again, on a completion scale of 1 to 10, it scores at about 1.003. So… it’s looking to turn out about the same as most other ideologically driven games, which is to say quite poorly.

          • syal says:

            It would be interesting to make a game in which you have a bunch of tasks to do (job work, housework, socializing, food), and there are windows where God tells you your next major objective (“Start a rock band”) and if you succeed everything gets easier, but they’re unobtrusive and if you miss it the next window gets smaller. So you have to balance productivity in basic tasks with allowing for quiet times so you don’t miss the main objectives, and when the pressure builds up you get to wonder if you’re supposed to keep waiting for God’s instruction or if you missed it already and need to focus on the little things before they crush you.

            …I’m sure there’s a way to shoehorn shooting mechanics into it.

      • StashAugustine says:

        I would actually add that my favorite video game dealing with Christian themes is Fallout: Honest Hearts, which was written by a committed atheist.

        • MadHiro says:

          Committed? They’re locking us up now? Crap!

        • Ithilanor says:

          I really like Honest Hearts for being a simple story of redemption that’s not overbearing. (I also like it for Joshua Graham’s awesome voice, but that’s a different subject)

        • Microwaviblerabbit says:

          The skill that Honest Hearts used with Christian themes contrasts heavily with the terrible religions in Fallout 3. There were two churches in the Capital wasteland, one a cult worshiping an atomic bomb – endangering Megaton. The other was St. Monica, which was Catholic. The latter always bothered me, because it was obvious the developers hadn’t done their research. The player restored their karma by donating money to the church, which were essentially indulgences. A practice that is heavily tied to the historic corruption of the Catholic church, and the main issue of the reformation.

          I would also say that the followers of the apocalypse deal with religion in a positive way. While not tied to any deity, their symbol is a cross, and they enact works of selfless charity. Plus, they have internal conflicts over how to follow their beliefs, as some feel using violence to improve lives can be justified, while others are more pacifistic, with the extreme being ex-follower Caesar.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          I’ve never been much of a fan of Honest Hearts.

          I never got the ‘Redemption’ angle of Joshua Graham’s story. If anything, Joshua seems to be a recidivist, not redeemed; he became more and more enamored of violence and the Legion in the first place when he taught the Blackfoot tribe how to fight the other tribes, and came to relish it a bit too much. In Zion Valley we find him… dead certain that teaching the Sorrows and Dead Horses how to fight other tribes is the right and Christian thing to do.

          The ending options for Joshua are determined only by who kills Salt-Upon-Wounds, if anyone, after killing all the other White Legs. He either makes the Dead Horses very militant, very militant but feels a little better about it, or very militant and a good deal better about it. If you side with Daniel and evacuate, he doesn’t get any ending. He is simply forgotten. “What’s that?” the game seems to say. “You aren’t killing off the White Legs? But how can Joshua’s character arc about redeeming a violent man progress if he isn’t committing acts of grievous violence?”

          It would seem that, for Joshua Graham, redemption and being a good Christian is just a matter of killing exactly the right amount of people. It all comes down to an extremely specific degree of mercy. It isn’t that the exploration of living life as both a man of violence and a man of God isn’t valid; it’s appropriate, and relevant, and fascinating. But Joshua’s existence as a Christian is evaluated and appreciated only through his existence as a man of violence, with the only semblance of nuance or depth granted by the lens he views these acts through, though they will occur practically the same either way. We have no assurance, however illusory, that Joshua isn’t just the same brutal Legate of old working his same old schtick under a new vocabulary. If that’s how the writers want to portray Christianity- as a thin veil, more or less- then that’s fine. There’s good mileage to be had there. But I couldn’t call that ‘redemption.’

          Note that Daniel, the pacifist, the man who attended to the tribes of Zion Valley in every way other than teaching them how to shoot .45’s, who is responsible, conscientious, practical, and who was entirely correct in thinking that Joshua’s leadership would make the White Legs a culture of militancy, isn’t paid nearly as much attention and is haunted by self-doubt for the rest of his life regardless of what you choose to do. He doesn’t get to have the peace Joshua achieves by shooting dead every White Leg except the worst, most powerful one. In particular, he is said to be haunted by the memory of Zion Valley, which they had to give up. Even though- since the White Legs abandon the place and then disintegrate shortly after failing to kill them off- the best possible ending would be to evacuate without committing genocide, let the White Legs be destroyed by their own incompetent savagery, and then just move back to the valley. Which is, of course, not an option.

          Beyond that, they present Joshua and Daniel not only as poles, but as irreconcilable poles. Neither can be turned to, or even tempered by, the mindset of the other. Despite being New Canaanites, they never interact meaningfully. Daniel thinks Joshua is a thug and a creep, and Joshua thinks Daniel is a naive coward. The game makes you acknowledge one or the other as right, capitulating totally to one extreme or the other, either validating Joshua’s leadership of the Dead Horses into a bellicose echo of his early years with the Blackfoot and the Legion, or leading the tribes away from their literal and metaphoric promised land (permanently for some reason) to live a hardscrabble life elsewhere aching for what they had.

          Daniel, the most earnestly Christian character, plies a good-hearted but toothless faith ultimately impotent to satisfy anyone, while Joshua practices an effective, in-name-only zealotry indistinguishable from atavism. Follows-Chalk is amiable, helpful, and doesn’t buy into any sort of superstition. Waking Cloud is combative, snide, and a true adherent of an objectively nonsense dilution of the Mormon beliefs of the New Canaanites and the Sorrows’ lore: a telephone-game distortion of an old man setting bombs in caves. I’m not entirely certain Honest Hearts’ themes were crafted in, well, good faith.

          But what burned me most of all was when the game put its own assumptions into your character to facilitate their narrative, irrespective of appealing and topical chances to, you know, play your character. This is far from the only time the game does this (so I, with my 10 INT, can speak with Silus in Latin, but forget it all when talking to Arcade to demonstrate how much smarter he is than me?), but this one in particular bothered me: when you speak with Daniel, and ask him about his mission to the Sorrows, you can only speak from total ignorance of what this “religion” business is, and when he tells you about being a believer and a missionary, you have three responses: polite condescension, impolite condescension, and open scorn (though he responds graciously and non-judgmentally regardless of what you pick). Not only can you not say anything meaningful about the subject of the entire expansion, but you are told what to say, and you say, no thanks. “It’s rare to see another believer.” That’s all they needed to offer. One line. I wouldn’t even have picked it; I’d just like to know I could have.

          Honest Hearts isn’t about faith, it’s openly about the delusion of faith. That’s totally okay. It’s a pretty good question how faith could survive in a dead world, when all of man’s darkest suspicions about his own nature have been proven correct and so little of the culture or knowledge of the old world remains. In a post-nuclear world, maybe it should be completely crazy to believe in God while hiding from cazadores in an irradiated mineshaft. I’d play a game about that. I would have much, much rather had that game than Honest Hearts, in which the writers condescend to me, so I can condescend to the characters, about their weak, unfulfilling beliefs.

          • StashAugustine says:

            I agree with the issues concerning your inability to respond as a believer- I too felt that was a serious problem- and the problems with Graham’s character arc involving a violent showdown (which goes back to the Bioshock problem of “well, it’s an action game, gotta shoot dudes.”) But I disagree on the first point- I really liked how Graham was portrayed as still openly struggling with his sins. It’s what made the story really stand out to me. In a lot of Christian redemption stories, after the Damascus Road moment the character is no longer affected by his past problems (or if he is, only as an aftereffect of acts already committed.) Graham is trying his best to be a good man- he saw what was wrong and crawled back home repentant. But the Malpais Legate dies hard. His violent tendencies are coming back under a different temptation. His character arc revolves around realizing that he is still a sinner and reining back those tendencies. “He no longer reveled in the brutality and cruelty for which he had been known in his former life. His inner demons, if not extinguished, were at the least… appeased.” (I don’t mean to start a sectarian argument and I don’t know what the authorial intent was, but I do think this may have to do with my personal adherence to Catholic theology, which tends to portray redemption and salvation as a long, rocky road rather than a single moment.)

  37. mhoff12358 says:

    I am really enjoying Josh’s descent into Dark Souls-dom. Praise the sun!

    Also as someone listening to this in the background while I work on GLSL shaders I’d love to see a shader blog post.

  38. Collin Pearce says:

    Example of plausible religion without explicitly involved gods:

    Final Fantasy 10!

  39. Chamomile says:

    Having only listened to the faction quotes from Alpha Centauri, I found the Christian faction to be pretty reasonable. I didn’t personally agree with a lot of what was said, but if someone did agree with all of it 100% I would not immediately consider that person to be stupid or evil. A perfectly reasonable person could believe all of it (to my recollection, at least). I don’t think it would’ve been improved by making it more vague, either. All of Alpha Centauri’s factions were based off of real-world ideologies allowed to flourish and grow to extremes by virtue of colonial isolation from both the mainstream Earth culture that produced them and one another. By divvying up all people based on ideology, it guaranteed that the only opposing viewpoints would be more extreme and more moderate proponents of the same basic philosophy. A genuine opposing viewpoint would almost never be heard (you get the same thing on most internet forums, although in that case it is even more extreme, because you can ban someone for having the wrong viewpoint at zero expenditure of resources, and likewise someone who feels like their views aren’t accepted can leave for greener pastures much more easily). And what sort of faction would the religious types form? A “spiritual” faction based on all religions spontaneously getting along in perfect harmony? Of course not. It’d be based around a single religion, and whichever religion that happens to be would depend solely upon which religion had enough crew members of the original ship to sustain an independent faction.

    Since it’s a UN vessel, Christianity is the leading option (based on global population), but other religions could easily be justified as a quirk of statistics. But the viewpoint that we, as North or South Americans and Europeans, are overwhelmingly most likely to come into contact with is Christianity. Having a specific religion be the centerpiece of the faction helps to preserve the game’s strong theme of real world ideologies turned into nations unto themselves, and making that religion Christianity is going to be by far more compelling and relatable for the bulk of the audience (some Europeans might have a lot of contact with Muslim immigrants these days, but I’m not really sure; I’ve heard a lot about it, but never from a reliable source).

    This is not to say that I don’t understand why Shamus felt like he as a Christian was being attacked by the game, but I don’t think the game went off the rails by making the religious faction Christian. I think it went off the rails when it made every Christian a member of the Christian faction. Imagine if right now the world redrew borders based on ideology and every person was magically teleported into the faction that they most agreed with. You would totally have a Christian faction in southern America and the Alpha Centauri depiction of them would most likely appear extremely generous compared to the nepotism, racism, and petty corruption that runs rampant in the the rural South. But you would also have guys like Shamus who would wind up in the tech geek faction while still being totally Christian. Most factions would probably have a majority of Christians (though the tech geek faction might be an exception, there would still be a very strong minority) despite the fact that almost all of them consider it inappropriate to bring up the Bible in discussions of policy. Every faction’s Christian population would probably arrive at a mostly universal (amongst themselves) consensus as to why their faction was the actual true interpretation of their scripture. Some factions, like the environmentalist faction or the military faction, might have fairly prominent Christian sub-cultures despite welcoming non-Christians. Others, like the tech geek faction or the business faction, might find it deeply inappropriate to bring up religion at all in any professional context, but would still almost certainly have lots of Christians in them and most everyone would be totally okay with that. Of course, this would require portraying each ideology as less unified. Rather than having a single leader whose writings are the source of all quotes, you would want to have a few voices of dissent, who generally agree but have a few significant differences (particularly in the tech geek faction you could totally have a Dawkins-type who finds all religion to be anti-scientific, opposed to a Christian leader who finds that notion to be bigoted and hateful, and that would be way cool), but not so big that they’d be more at home in another faction rather than their own.

    • StashAugustine says:

      I normally hate the depiction of religion as anti-science but given how fucking creepy late-game Alpha Centurai gets, I can see where they’re coming from.

      • krellen says:

        Christianity shouldn’t be anti-science, but yeah, late game Alpha Centauri is transhumanism and I could definitely see many denominations opposing that.

        • guy says:

          Actually, one of the early techs has Miriam say, “Evil lurks in the datalinks, just like it lurked in the streets of latter-day Earth. But it was not the streets that were evil”. She’s not anti-science on principle, but she does provide quotes ranting about a lot of the later game techs, some of which I think are all right and some of which are extremely questionable like the Self Aware Colony, which accompanies a video of the system capturing and incinerating someone for seditious graffiti.

    • aldowyn says:

      I’d point out the religious faction in Alpha Centauri is the most militaristic in the game, after the Spartans. (I might be missing one, but I’m pretty sure)

  40. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Funny. I always loved the Hive in the first place, and never, ever tolerated the University as my own faction.

  41. atomf says:

    Speaking of religious games, I’ve often thought there might be a good game based around Exodus-specifically the Wandering in the Desert bit. Something vaguely like a CeasarIII city builder, except with a completely mobile nomadic infrastructure. Set up tents, graze the flocks, then when the grass runs out pack it all up and move on. Procedurally generate a really massive world to move through. Gameplay involves keeping your tribe in line and fighting off attacks by other bands.

  42. River Birch says:

    To name like three games that I know that explore religion, wait actually 5 games, would be.
    1. Okami – Japanese Deities
    2. Tales of Symphonia – Corruption in the Church dedicated to the Chosen
    3. Final Fantasy X – ”
    4. Grandia – ”
    5. Chrono Trigger – This is brought up cause I watched that one vid that Game Theory did on it.

  43. hborrgg says:

    bad luck Josh:

    Starts the joke just as Chris says “it’s about depression”.

  44. Retsam says:

    Probably missed most of the opportunity for discussion here, but my thought on religion in games is that they focus too much on “religion” and not enough on “the religious”. Video games tend to focus on the institutions rather than the beliefs and individuals.

    I mean, it seems like if video game representations of religion are to be believed, religions consist of nothing but wandering clergy, religious characters in games are almost always “priests” rather than simply believers in a religion, and decentralized religions are rare to non-existent. Sure, I’m exaggerating, there’s definitely exceptions to that rule, but it does seem to be the general rule.

    Instead, I wish games more often featured religious individuals and explored ideas like what it means to have faith in something; interactions between people with different religious views; crises of faith; or wrestling with a difficult choice due to religious beliefs, for example. These are all interesting concepts that can be explored without offending anyone, because you can depict religion without having to label it “bad” or “good” or “true” or “false”.

    (As an aside, the above paragraph is a big thing that I love about Sanderson books; he does a really good job of depicting religious characters wrestling with their beliefs without either overly glorifying religion or depicting them all as frauds, misguided, or delusional)

  45. Aerik says:

    Oh man, Civilization IV’s music!

    When I started playing Civ V, I actually went back and re-installed Civ IV, pulled the mp3 file for the title screen music, renamed it, and replaced the mp3 for the Civ V title screen music. Nothing to it, other than digging through install directories, and from then on my Civ V title screen played the music from Civ IV.

    And yes, Civ V’s theme was dour and boring, while Civ IV’s theme always made me so excited to play. It was like the opening music of The Lion King — you want to jump up and go “Yeah! Lions! Let’s do this!”

    Maybe I liked it so much because of the AMAZING LYRICS.

    “Win with culture, science, or napalm. / Watch out, Gandhi might drop the A-bomb.”


    • aldowyn says:

      Civ IV’s menu theme, Baba Yetu, is actually a Swahili translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Just so you know. Also the first piece of video game music to be nominated or win a Grammy

      Fantastic song, though, I’ll definitely agree with that :D

  46. Phantos says:

    I know it was just a throwaway comment at the beginning, but I am so glad you guys didn’t go to PAX.

    I mean that. That means a lot to me, and I’ll bet it means a lot to the people who have been so thoroughly abused and threatened by Penny Arcade in recent years.

  47. Deadpool says:

    I am super late but I went to the Pax East Firaxis pannel and some of the info I heard there does not match what I hear here…

    Affinity and Faction are two different things. The Factions are more like sponsors. You pick which company/nation is sponsoring your particular expedition and that decides the face of your leader (and some minor details, like different civilizations did).

    Affinity is more related to the tech “tree” which is shaped more like a flower this time, spiraling outwards from the center. Neither is particularly pro or counter tech, it’s just a matter of what KIND of tech:

    Harmony is the belief that humans should change to fit the environment. So this particular kind of tech focuses on genetic engineering. Changing the people genetically to better deal with the environment and using the fauna and flora (often genetically modified) to their advantage. Some units can even be genetically engineered indigenous life forms.

    Supremacy is the belief that humanity should fit ANY environment. This particular tech focuses in cybernetics and AI, using enhanced humans and just pure AI-controlled robots as units, terraforming abilities, etc.

    Purity is the belief that humanity has done fine so far the way it is and we should stay this way. Increased munitions, flying fortresses, etc…

    I also did not hear about this return to Earth winning condition. I DO remember a “find new alien life first” winning condition…

  48. sofawall says:

    Hey Shamus, write about programming. I like reading things about programming. I do not read many things about programming because many of them are overly technical and assume too much preknowledge of the subject matter. Your writing typically does not. So write more. Thanks.

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