December 28, 2015

Reflecting on Star Wars VII *** SPOLIER ALERT ***


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As a child of the 80's, the Star Wars original trilogy (OT) has always had a special place in my heart. I still have the theatrical release versions on VHS, and never cared for the "special edition" versions that George Lucas released later on. Nearly all of the additions undermined the charm and character of the theatrical versions (especially Darth Vader yelling "Noo….." at the end of Return of the Jedi. Seriously?). I went out of my way to track down the "de-specialized" fan-version of the OT on the web, quietly waiting for the day when Disney decides to remaster and release the theatrical versions of the film (fingers crossed).

As pretentious as that sounds, I didn't however hate the prequel trilogy. Hell, even Jar Jar Binks kinda grew on me. Granted, there was plenty to dislike about the prequels: the lackluster acting and script, the slightly overwrought plot, the awkward moments. Things were clunky, but overall it felt like what Star Wars should look and feel like before the fall of the Republic. It worked well enough for me.

So how about the Force Awakens?



November 13, 2015

Prepare to be Assimilated: The Roguelike-ification of All Games


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Note: This article is cross-posted on eXplorminate. If you enjoy this article, please check out eXplorminate's coverage of 4X and strategy games. A gentle reminder that there is also a dedicated site, off-BGG, for Big Game Theory! ~ Cheers!

Karen broke her leg!? Oh snap!!

The world of roguelikes and roguelike-likes (i.e. games with a selection of roguelike elements) is on the rise. In some ways, I wonder whether this is driven by the Nintendo-generation’s (or earlier) nostalgia for games that were f-ing hard. The kind of hard that made you throw the controller across the room. The kind of hard that didn’t have a save feature, let alone autosaves. You know what I mean. These were the games you had to leave paused with the TV off, crossing your fingers that the power light didn’t catch mommy’s eye in the dark of the night, prompting her to shut the thing off and ruin that flawless run. Those were the days; games were brutal and our perseverance was put to the test.



October 21, 2015

Delusions of Grandeur (Part 1)


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Preamble: A Fool’s Quest

It may come as no surprise that I have aspirations to design a 4X game. I’m sure many of you reading the headline have entertained such thoughts as well. And while I have designed and published a 4X board game (and am no stranger to the design process) my spider-sense tells me that designing a 4X video game is like navigating a minefield. There is so much that can blow up. We also appear to be entering a heyday for 4X games, which begs the question “do we need yet another 4X game rampaging through the market?” Probably not. But that isn’t going to stop me from dreaming and putting forward a vision for what I feel would be something unique and different.



October 13, 2015

What's Going On!? The Game of Too Many Excuses


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The last two months have been crazy. But it seems like the last two months are always crazy, so I suppose that’s no excuse for having not updated the blog. And despite my effort to make the What’s Going On!? series a more regular thing - it seems I haven’t. But you’ll all forgive me I’m sure, because now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time for another What’s Going On!? Roll the excuses ...



August 10, 2015

A Genomic Framework for Game Analysis


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Theoretical frameworks are conceptual models or tools that help us organize our thinking and enhance our understanding of how different concepts interrelate. Much of Big Game Theory! has focused on developing frameworks to help make sense of games. This effort has been directed towards developing language, terminology and associated concepts to support both game design and game analysis. Whether you are a designer, a critic, or a player, these frameworks can help us articulate an idea, dissect a reaction or "feeling" we have, and be more aware of how games operate "under the hood."

One of my larger ambitions has been towards developing a "Science of Board Games." This post is the latest installment in this line of thinking, expanded to include all games (video games, tabletop games, etc.), and is an effort to unify different frameworks that have been presented by myself and others over the years. A shortcoming of many earlier frameworks is that, while they are useful, they are also not terribly specific. I’m interested in looking at a larger range of terms we use to discuss games and see how all of these terms might integrate into a more cohesive and unified model for understanding games.



August 4, 2015

These Halls I Walked: An Homage to Doom and Quake


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Over the past few weeks I’ve been going through various computer archives and backing up old decaying data onto a shiney new 2TB drive. Along the way I’ve unearthed various troves of lost treasure, scattered like leaves amidst small piles of portable drives and burned CDs. Among these were files for Doom and Quake, two legendary games from id Software, and which were among the first to crawl out of the primordial ooze of the person shooter (FPS) genre. Indeed, one might argue, they helped make the ooze in the first place.

I looked up the dates for when these games were first released: Doom (1993), Doom II (1994), Quake (1996), Quake 2 (1997), Quake 3: Arena (1999). I was shocked, and I’m going to spill my age here, but I was 12 when Doom was released. I didn’t start playing the Doom games until after Doom II was released, so in actually I was fourteen-ish when these games panned into my field of view. I was sixteen when the Quake launched, and I still remember an all-night LAN party my friends and I had after graduating high-school in 1999, the year Quake 3 was released.



July 30, 2015

The Rise of Boardgame-Like Games and the Platform Paradox


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The last year has felt that the various scions of the gaming world are on a collision course. Digital games are increasingly being released cross-platform on desktop, console, and mobile platforms. The boardgame market continues to grow and is spilling over into the mobile market place through digital boardgames at a faster rate. Videogame developers are taking note and designing and marketing games with "boardgame-like qualities".

Yet all of these interaction points, between serious (hardcore) gamers and mobile gaming, between boardgames and mobile games, and between videogame design notions and boardgame-like-ness, are sources of tension. But in every issue there is an opportunity, right? I can't help but forecast a bit into the future and envision an ecosystem of games that evolve at this nexus of gaming pressures: original and cross-platform digital games that embrace "boardgame-like" design principles and appeal to both serious/hardcore gamers as well as a broader segment of the market.

This post will break down these trends and provide some reflection on what I think it could mean. This is all total speculation and reporting based on my observations and discussions with others. Discussion of all forms is encouraged! Let's get on with the show.



July 23, 2015

My Life Through Microbadges (Part 1)


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Image Credit: Runcible


Oh what cruel irony is this, that I should endeavor to define my being through the whims of microbadges. If only I could resist their dangerous temptations and define my life by actions, instead of by tiny 16x16 pixel icons. Resistance is futile! So let us just get on with Part 1 of a 3 part series. Badge it up!



June 3, 2015

What's Going On? Roguelikes and Like Other Stuff


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What’s Goin On!? will be a regular feature around these parts. Regular, as in me posting, on a whim, a veritable smorgasbord of thoughts and quick reactions to games I’ve been playing lately as well as other assorted ideas I’ve had. Beware!

What’s on my mind?

I’m an eXplorminator!

First, I should mention that I’ve signed on in (maybe in blood, I’m not sure yet), as a staff writer and contributor to eXplorminate. eXplorminate is a group of 4X and strategy game enthusiasts that endeavor to bring the 4X gaming community together as well as provide regular content in the form of reviews, previews, articles, podcasts, youtube videos, and … you get the picture. It’s a great group with an active Steam community. If you are interested in strategy games (aren’t we all here?) and 4X games in particular, it’s worth checking out the group.

So far I’ve written a review for the second Age of Wonders III expansion, Eternal Lords, as well as a comprehensive review of all of Age of Wonders III, with the patches and both expansions in effect. Spoiler - I think it’s one of the finest strategy games in recent memory. I love it, and it remains one of my most played games in years (over 400 hours!). In terms of this blog, expect to see a number of articles, reviewers or otherwise, cross-posted between here and eXplorminate.

Now, on to the games!



April 30, 2015

A Shattered Dream: Critiquing the 4X Genre


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I’ve been struggling to write a holistic critique of the 4X genre for a while. On one hand, I ask myself “why is such a critique even necessary?” On the other, I feel that the genre is at a crossroads. Different tensions, for good or for bad, pull the genre in different directions. Trying to understand these tensions, which shape the genre’s landscape, will (hopefully) illuminate more challenges and opportunities in 4X design. Of course, I have my own aspirations of making a 4X videogame, so understanding the current “state of affairs” is important for designing in an informed manner and navigating through this messy environment.

Thankfully, a recent Three Moves Ahead (3MA) podcast on 4X games gave me the needed kick-in-the-pants to get me writing. The 3MA episode, intentionally or not, provided a rather scathing critique of the entire 4X genre and its failings, as well as highlighting a few small bright points of promise. I felt myself doing the proverbial headbang dance as I listened to the podcast, as many of their reactions and sentiments echo my own. Engaging in the 4X genre is a bit of a shattered dream, where we sift through the shards in hope of finding that one perfect game. But so often we cut ourselves on the glass.



April 17, 2015

The Not-So-Quarterly Report


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Phew! Spring is getting underway here in Michigan, which means the grill has been dragged out of the dungeon garage and we are all finally able to walk outside without fear of falling ice, jackets, avalanches, and little slippery spots on the sidwalks. But you all have questions: What about the blog?! What about the games?! What are are you doing there behind the curtain? Watch in awe as I interview myself:




March 12, 2015

Off the Shoulder of Orion - Sid Meier's Starships at First Blush


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Sid Meier has been hanging out in different waters these past many years, designing somewhat more streamlined games often intended for mobile platforms (or to go cross-platform). After a relatively mixed reception for Sid Meier's: Beyond Earth (that wasn't the Alpha Centauri successor we were looking for), in which Sid Meier had very little involvement, Sid Meier's Starships was announced - and there was much rejoicing.

Starships released today on PC, Mac, and iPad. Herein follows my very initial impressions after a short while playing on EASY difficulty to figure out what was going on. Note, that I'm playing on my iPad Mini 1st gen, which is the same hardware as iPad2 - so I'm assuming it plays fine on iPad2. Yay!

Let's start at the beginning ...



February 25, 2015

A Hellivator to Heaven: Adventures in Terraria


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I just finished building my first Hellivator. It is a modest one, comprised of a 3-block wide shaft with periodic wooden platforms spaced roughly before my fall damage threshold. Some torches light the path downward. And I still need to go back through and tweak the spacing of a few platforms, as I take a bit of damage when riding my express wonka-vator all the way down to the fiery underworld. But it sure beats crawling through the dangerous labyrinth of tunnels and passages I hollowed out so much longer ago. 

But now that I'm down here, amidst the lava pools and demons, I'm wondering what to do next. And so it goes with Terraria.



February 5, 2015

The Snowball and the Steamroller: Fundamental Challenges in 4X Game Design


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4X games are predicated on exploring some unknown geography, expanding your control into newly discovered regions, exploiting resources from those regions, and using those resources to build up forces and exterminate your opponents (who are trying to do the same to you!). Typically, 4X games aim to convey the machinations of entire empires, and hence have a large geographic scale in mind.  

This basic premise of large-scale empires fighting for resource control to fuel a military domination struggle creates some fundamental challenges for 4X game design, which has been central to whole quest to make the net big 4X game to live up to Master of Orion 2’s legacy.  I covered some of the failings of 4X games in an earlier post, A Failure to End, but want to expand on some of those points in this post. As I see it, the challenges are inter-related, but stem from a set of relatively simple issues:

- Issue #1 - City Spam & Snowballing
- Issue #2 - “One Big Battle” and the Steamroller
- Issue #3 - Micromanagement, Tedium, and Drag-out


These three issues are, I feel, the central challenge of 4X game design. And how the design of different games in the genre handles (or fails to handle) this interlinked challenge does as much to differentiate titles as to account for a game’s overall success, failure, or lasting legacy.

Edit: The awesome crew over at eXplorminate covered this topic from the perspective of the "endgame" experience: The 4X Endgame and its Follies and their article is also worth looking at in light of this fundamental challenge perspective.



January 19, 2015

On Game Obsessions, Disillusionments, and Finding Meaning


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Alec Meer, over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, wrote an interesting personal piece looking back on 2014 and thinking ahead about 2015. In the article, he touched on both his expanding life role as a father – a demanding reality I can sympathize with – as well as how games fit within the broader context of life pursuits and bring (or fail to bring) memorable value. He also raises a concern over the mindless nature of some games, which seem to lure us in with a promise of freedom and a world of wonder but deliver something far less thrilling.

Alec Meer Wrote:
“I have a strong suspicion I spent too much time with too many games which use the Assassin’s Creed structure – the map full of icons, each pinpointing exactly where the next known quantity was, each one closing the door on having an experience which felt in any way personal. It’s a simulacrum of freedom – really, you’re in a theme park, repeating a sanitized and mechanical experience. You know exactly what’s where, exactly what’s going to happen, exactly how it’s going to feel.

The time passes pleasantly, maybe even thrillingly at times, but it means nothing, there’s no sense of achievement other than Achievements. Maybe it’s more compulsive masturbation than Disneyland (or maybe Disneyland is masturbation? Discuss) – make the itch go away, risk a faint sense of guilt and self-disgust afterwards, then do it again anyway.“




January 16, 2015

Starbase Orion: The Brightest Star of All


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Note that this review was originally published for iOS Board Games on July 24th, 2013.

The Pre-Ramble
The 4X space game genre – eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate for those scratching their heads – has in many ways been a problematic genre. Fans of the genre hold Master of Orion II, a game from 1996, in exceedingly high regard; and rightfully so. MoO2 struck a fantastic balance between complexity, level of detail (or micromanagement), meaningful player choice, and strategic diversity. For decades, designers and developers have been chasing the dream of making the “next” Master of Orion game – and there has been no shortage of valiant attempts.

While a great many games have been developed and released to varying levels of success, an undercurrent among fans is that there hasn’t been a title that quite got the right mix of elements. Each game draws its criticisms: too much or not enough emphasis on combat; lack of diplomacy or other non-military mechanisms; too much (or too little) micromanagement. The list of critiques goes on…

Starbase Orion, by its own admission, is an iOS 4X game intended to be a spiritual offspring of Master of Orion II - AND designed to be imminently playable in multiplayer formats. A lofty goal! So how well does it reach it? This review will take an in-depth look at the game, where it is successful – and most importantly why gamers, including boardgamers, should take a good look at Starbase Orion.



January 5, 2015

2014 Synopsis and Highlight Reel


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So doing these end of year wrap-ups appears  to be a thing – so I better get on board lest I be accused of not doing the right things!

2014 has been a bit of a transitional year. Family changes (these things called babies and kids) has made breaking away from the home front an evening of boardgame debauchery a wee bit more challenging – driving me back into the hovel of PC and iOS gaming a bit more. Sadly though, within this hovel, I found myself bombarded with far too many seasonal sales of tempting digital goods for my own well-being. Steam seasonal sales, the Touch Arcade iOS app tracker (with sales notifications!), Humble Bundle sales (lord help me), and the ever-present GOG.com (nostalgia runs deep with this one!) has made sure that my wallet feels the cruel bite at regular intervals.

So given all of this, what have I picked up? What’s worth special attention? What have I actually been playing? What do I wish I was playing? What should I have played but didn’t? Well good friends, read on if you dare!