December 12, 2006

Princess Zelda and the Childish Adult

by peterb
Several years ago, one of my favorite authors, A.S. Byatt, wrote a scathing review of the Harry Potter books called "Harry Potter and the Childish Adult." In this review she roundly criticized not Rowling, but the adults who chose to read her books. She said, essentially, that there was something fundamentally misshapen about adults who would choose to invest so many hours in a work created for children.
Continue reading "Princess Zelda and the Childish Adult"
Posted by peterb at 09:40 PM | Comments (9)

December 06, 2006

Played to Death #12

by peterb
The Holiday issue of Played To Death magazine is out. Download the free PDF now and you can read my reviews of the Nintendo Wii, The Wii's online service, Wii Sports, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Xbox Live, as well as many other fine articles.
Posted by peterb at 11:58 PM | Comments (4)

December 05, 2006

Because I am Stupid I Make Myself Suffer

by psu
My rag-tag group of adventurers had just prevailed over the ghost-like sewer monster. The fight had not been too tough, although it did require some careful tactics. Having come all the way here, I figured I'd have a look around....
Continue reading "Because I am Stupid I Make Myself Suffer"
Posted by psu at 07:30 PM | Comments (5)

December 04, 2006

Musings on the Eternal Console Wars

by peterb
I showed up at Target a few Sundays ago and stood in the cold for about an hour to try to get a Nintendo Wii. I had number 42. Unfortunately, they only had 41 of them. Ouch. Through some machinations and good luck, however, I managed to pick up a Wii the other weekend. My "real" review of the box (and some of the games) will be in Played To Death's holiday issue, but I have a few philosophical ponderings to share here.
Continue reading "Musings on the Eternal Console Wars"
Posted by peterb at 08:20 PM | Comments (5)

November 22, 2006

Off the Online Wagon

by psu
Clearly the end of the world is upon us. Not only did the New York Times review the new PS3 this week, but in doing so they quoted that bastion of high quality online gaming journalism: Joystiq. The rest of...
Continue reading "Off the Online Wagon"
Posted by psu at 08:31 AM | Comments (1)

November 20, 2006

Gears and Guns and Guitars and Stuff

by psu
With the Wii and the PS3 sold out, I sat down for a peaceful weekend with games I had already bought. For the 360, I had been itching to play a decent shooter, and with some trepidation I picked up...
Continue reading "Gears and Guns and Guitars and Stuff"
Posted by psu at 05:16 PM | Comments (8)

November 17, 2006

Launch Day

by psu
Having observed three or four launch days in my short time dabbling with computer games, I will never quite understand the psychology of it. It seems like gamers have a sort of bi-polar passive agressive OCD when it comes to...
Continue reading "Launch Day"
Posted by psu at 09:34 PM | Comments (4)

November 13, 2006

Live in Your World, Pay in Ours

by psu
I saw a Playstation 3 kiosk at the local Target tonight. It looks like for $600 you can buy a box that renders a desert and a motorcycle with a remarkably high level of detail that is also remarkably free...
Continue reading "Live in Your World, Pay in Ours"
Posted by psu at 07:27 PM | Comments (2)

November 09, 2006

Guitar Hero II: First Impressions

by peterb
Like everyone else with a PS2 and even a little bit of soul in them, I bought Guitar Hero II this week. I'm still getting used to it, but here are some quick impressions.
Continue reading "Guitar Hero II: First Impressions"
Posted by peterb at 11:32 PM | Comments (4)

October 30, 2006

Splintered Cell

by psu
No more Ubisoft games. Earlier this year, I was treated to the tedious train wreck that was GRAW. Now we have the new Splinter Cell on the 360. The game does have the signature Splinter Cell stealth mechanics. Sneak sneak,...
Continue reading "Splintered Cell"
Posted by psu at 08:02 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2006

Dominions 3

by peterb
“You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.” -- Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower
I have been jonesing for a replacement for Warlords 2 for a long, long time. Ilwinter Design's game Dominions 3: The Awakening comes tantalizingly close to being that replacement. Today, I want to take a look at the game — available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux — and talk about its high and low points.
Continue reading "Dominions 3"
Posted by peterb at 10:10 PM | Comments (2)

October 18, 2006

CFP: Porting Dwarf Fortress to OS X

by peterb
I'm continuing to play Dwarf Fortress on a fairly regular basis, at least when I have time. I've reached the underground lava river, set up a magma forge, and my latest wave of immigrants included a number of nobles — a broker, a manager, a sheriff, and a representative of the farming guild. They showed up and immediately began demanding luxuries (for starters, each wants their own personal dining room, sheesh). But they clearly make a difference: when the human caravan showed up to trade, having the broker really made things much easier. It's not all wine and roses, though. There have been a few tragedies. The most recent was when my legendary miner was attacked by a lone fire imp. He burned to death, and died weeping. The big problem with playing Dwarf Fortress, though, is that I have to reboot into Windows to do it. So I am putting out a call for participation, on behalf of the developer: help port Dwarf Fortress to Mac OS X and Linux.
Continue reading "CFP: Porting Dwarf Fortress to OS X"
Posted by peterb at 05:54 PM | Comments (9)

October 17, 2006

Baseball ... Button ... Mashing

by psu
A while back, I picked up MLB 06: The Show for the PS2 in part because the guys over at the Sports Gamer Blog and Bill Harris loved it and in part because I was bored and curious. Baseball, it...
Continue reading "Baseball ... Button ... Mashing"
Posted by psu at 06:23 PM | Comments (1)

October 12, 2006

A Short Take on Self-Deception

by peterb
I can't even summon the energy to write about Neverwinter Nights 2. I suspect this means I won't be able to summon the energy to play it, either.
Continue reading "A Short Take on Self-Deception"
Posted by peterb at 11:10 PM | Comments (2)

October 10, 2006

Lost Talent

by peterb
"Hey," I said to Nat. "I got my Gamefly queue a little confused, and ended up with Lost Magic for the DS. You have that, right? Will I like it?" "It's interesting," he said, "but the difficulty curve is a little high. Play it until it gets hard, and then send it back."
Continue reading "Lost Talent"
Posted by peterb at 11:50 AM | Comments (3)

October 05, 2006

The Right Honorable Professor Fizzwizzle

by peterb
I'm strongly in favor of so-called "casual games," but I am violently opposed to the moniker. I understand the need for something that quickly and concisely expresses to a publisher what you think the market for your game is. So I understand why "casual" is the word of choice. The simple fact is that "Games that are designed for people that aren't total and complete dorks" is just too long to fit on a business card. But "casual" implies that the game isn't serious, or isn't seriously fun. Which, as the game I'll be reviewing tonight demonstrates, often isn't true. So here, we prefer the name "wage slave games."
Continue reading "The Right Honorable Professor Fizzwizzle"
Posted by peterb at 07:18 PM | Comments (1)

October 02, 2006

"Keep Playing, It Might Get Better"

by peterb
I'm currently having an "I wish I had written that" moment over Andrew Smale's article "Keep Playing, It Might Get Better."
Continue reading ""Keep Playing, It Might Get Better""
Posted by peterb at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2006

Personal to Andy P

by peterb
You adorable little minx. Now if I can just convince you to get me a sneak preview of Banjo Kazooie 3 beyond what's in the trailer, I'll fill you so full of Belgian beer your friends will want to put a tap in you.
Continue reading "Personal to Andy P"
Posted by peterb at 08:27 PM | Comments (4)

September 26, 2006

They are Both Stupid

by psu
Reading through my daily list of online "media", I've lately felt a low, almost background level of annoyance with the subject matter and tone of some of the content that has streamed my way. Here is the problem: pick any...
Continue reading "They are Both Stupid"
Posted by psu at 10:00 PM | Comments (3)

September 25, 2006

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

by peterb
Recently, Bill Harris of Dubious Quality has been raving about a game called Dwarf Fortress. And let me be clear, when I say "raving" I don't mean "saying nice things about it" but actual raving. Like, he saves the game to CDs, gets naked, and rubs them all over his body. Bill doesn't just like Dwarf Fortress, he has gone completely around the bend over it. So of course, I had to check it out.
Continue reading "Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho"
Posted by peterb at 07:26 PM | Comments (1)

September 20, 2006


by psu
Today at lunch, Pete was talking about how he had bought a house in Oblivion and how he had amused himself for a few minutes collecting things to put into the house. He had found the odd trophy, various books,...
Continue reading "Loot"
Posted by psu at 09:13 PM | Comments (5)

September 19, 2006

PTD #11

by peterb
Issue #11 of Played.toDeath magazine is out, and the PDF can be downloaded here. My contributions in this issue include:
  • Retrograde: Fool's Errand, a review written to celebrate the fact that it is perfectly clear that The Fool and His Money (Hi! I'm True Believer #14) will never, ever, ever be released. (page 12)
  • Indiescene: Deadly Rooms of Death, a nifty Sokoban-like puzzle game for Mac, Windows, and Linux, available from Caravel Games (page 10)
  • A review of Glory of the Roman Empire (page 48)
There's lots of other good stuff, too, including a review of one of my favorite SNES games, Earthbound. Check it out.
Posted by peterb at 08:40 PM | Comments (3)

September 18, 2006

Lego Ping Pong

by psu
Against all odds, there are now two good games on the Xbox 360 that are not called Oblivion. The games are just well executed and fun. They are small and simple pleasures in a sea of large scale next-gen complexity....
Continue reading "Lego Ping Pong"
Posted by psu at 08:00 PM | Comments (5)

September 11, 2006

System Shock 2 on a MacBook Pro

by peterb
In case there's anyone else out there who wants to play this game, here's how I got it working on my MacBook Pro running Boot Camp. Thanks to the various commenters who made suggestions and helped convince me to not give up.
Continue reading "System Shock 2 on a MacBook Pro"
Posted by peterb at 09:51 PM | Comments (6)

September 07, 2006

Epitaph for the First Person Shooter

by peterb
It's time to stop blaming myself for not liking first person shooters. "I'm too old," I used to say. "I'm too slow," I used to tell myself. "My gaming machine isn't über enough," I'd say. But the truth is that the genre is creatively dead. What motivated me to write this article is that I played two first person shooters for the Xbox 360, Perfect Dark Zero and Prey. Both of these games were well-crafted and carefully thought out. And both of them bored me to tears.
Continue reading "Epitaph for the First Person Shooter"
Posted by peterb at 08:14 PM | Comments (16)

August 30, 2006

Madden 2007

by psu
Having learned my lesson from the last time I bought a football game for the 360, I took advantage of the boundless generosity of the second Pete to get Madden 2007 for the 360 using his Gamefly account....
Continue reading "Madden 2007"
Posted by psu at 08:15 PM | Comments (4)

August 28, 2006

Civ IV, Revisited

by peterb
Late last year I wrote a review of the then-new game Civilization IV for Played.todeath magazine. It was a hard review to write: Civ IV was a brilliantly designed game that was crippled by performance and user interface issues that made it, in my opinon, virtually unplayable. At the time I opined:
[The developers are] rumored to be working on fixes for some of the issues in their release. If the patch is better engineered than the retail release, I might be willing to revise my opinion.
It is, and I am. I've recently been playing Aspyr's Mac port of Civilization IV, and it is a much more enjoyable experience than the original Windows release. Here's what you need to know.
Continue reading "Civ IV, Revisited"
Posted by peterb at 07:40 PM | Comments (4)

August 17, 2006

Age of New Super Mario Empires Master Chief

by psu
It is mid-August, which means one thing. I'm killing time waiting for the next Madden. I've been doing this with a mix of old and new and new-old games....
Continue reading "Age of New Super Mario Empires Master Chief"
Posted by psu at 09:33 PM | Comments (4)

August 14, 2006

Worms: Open Warfare DS picoreview

by peterb
It took me exactly 3 minutes to decide that I hated this game and never wanted to play it again.
Posted by peterb at 08:13 PM | Comments (3)

August 09, 2006

PTD #10

by peterb
Issue number 10 of played.todeath is out. I have a few articles in this month's issue:
  • Retrograde: Nethack, my favorite rogue-like game, on page 19.
  • Indiescene: Styrateg, a nice little Fire Emblem clone. Page 23.
  • What might be the worst game of the year so far, NFL Head Coach, page 83.
...and there are, of course, hundreds of other articles by people who are almost as good looking as me. Download the magazine here (PDF, 20 Mb).
Posted by peterb at 10:57 AM | Comments (8)

August 07, 2006

I Tried

by psu
I tried. I gave it my best shot. I believe I have given the game a fair shake, a reasonable evaluation window, a nice long looking over. Intelligent people who generally seem right about these things told me it was...
Continue reading "I Tried"
Posted by psu at 06:45 PM | Comments (3)

August 02, 2006

Exchange Addiction

by claire
I have a problem. I've gotten into the habit of killing time in Squirrel Hill by visiting The Exchange, a local store mentioned before. Harmless, right? On its own it would be, except that every time I enter the store...
Continue reading "Exchange Addiction"
Posted by claire at 10:25 PM | Comments (3)

August 01, 2006

Developer Interview: Auto Assault MMO

by peterb

In May, I reviewed the Auto Assault Trading Card Game for Played To Death. As part of the prep for that, I interviewed Scott Martins at Worlds Apart.

Continue reading "Developer Interview: Auto Assault MMO"
Posted by peterb at 08:51 PM | Comments (2)

July 26, 2006

Flop Shot

by peterb
A few years ago I flew from New York to San Diego. I was travelling a lot for work at the time, and had amassed a Croesian number of frequent flyer miles, so I turned them in for an upgrade to first class. This resulted in my sitting next to a doctor, a surgeon. True to the stereotype, this surgeon loved golf. How do I know that this surgeon loved golf? Did he tell me about how he loved to play golf? No, he did not tell me how he loved to play golf. Was he wearing golf shoes? No, he was not wearing golf shoes. I know he loved golf because he had a golf magazine, and he read it for the entire flight. For the entire seven hours that we were in the air, il dottore read and re-read his golf magazine. He read it while eating. He read it during takeoff. He read it during landing. And for all I know, when he visited the lavatory and flipped the sign to OCCUPIED, he took that golf magazine and stuffed it down his pants, enjoying the rich, smooth feel of its turfy goodness.
Continue reading "Flop Shot"
Posted by peterb at 10:23 PM | Comments (3)

July 19, 2006

Secrets of Da Vinci

by peterb
Most games are mediocre. This isn't, I think, a huge surprise to anyone, but it does at least offer one great hope: that you'll start playing a game and find that it's better than you expected it to be. This happened to me recently with Secrets of Da Vinci: The Forbidden Manuscript. Not to be confused with the book, movie, and game The Da Vinci Code. As I believe I've let slip before, I'm a sucker for the Myst series of games. Da Vinci is very Myst-like in interface and presentation, with elements of the old LucasArts adventures in the way you interact with objects.
Continue reading "Secrets of Da Vinci"
Posted by peterb at 08:39 PM | Comments (3)

July 18, 2006

A Few Old Games

by psu
For the last couple of weeks, my attention deficit disorder led me to play some games which I had collected but not yet finished. When this happens, I typically pick up Zelda: Wind Waker, spend half an hour scanning a...
Continue reading "A Few Old Games"
Posted by psu at 10:04 PM | Comments (8)

July 12, 2006

Another Day, Another Bad Game

by psu
I picked up Condemned: Criminal Origins a while back, and gave it another try tonight. This game was written up rather favorably when the 360 launched. Yet more evidence that the gaming press has their head up their collective ass....
Continue reading "Another Day, Another Bad Game"
Posted by psu at 10:37 PM | Comments (7)

July 10, 2006

Advanced Stage Hobbyist Consumption Syndrome

by psu
I've been buying games I probably won't play lately. I should be clear. It's not that I might play them. I won't. To you, this might seem irrational, even insane. But I recognize that it's the natural progression of my...
Continue reading "Advanced Stage Hobbyist Consumption Syndrome"
Posted by psu at 08:20 PM | Comments (10)

July 04, 2006

The Design of Everyday Games

by peterb
I've been playing a lot of Advance Wars lately. It is a perfect little gem of a game, and I'd like to use it to make some points about good game design. Good game design increase richness, but eliminates complexity. Good game design emphasizes content over form. And, all things being equal, good game design favors mainstream technology over the cutting edge.
Continue reading "The Design of Everyday Games"
Posted by peterb at 10:39 AM | Comments (8)

June 29, 2006

Little Games in Pretty Boxes

by peterb
As those of you who care may have surmised, I, along with psu, picked up a Nintendo DS Lite the other week.
Continue reading "Little Games in Pretty Boxes"
Posted by peterb at 08:43 PM | Comments (1)

June 28, 2006

DS Lite

by psu
I had pretty much decided to get a DS when the Lite hit earlier this summer. One of my co-workers had imported one a few months ago, and the new form of the device is pretty irresistible. Of course, I...
Continue reading "DS Lite"
Posted by psu at 10:15 PM | Comments (4)

June 22, 2006

Advance Wars DS Picoreview

by peterb
Can't write — too busy playing Advance Wars DS.
Posted by peterb at 05:39 PM | Comments (6)

June 16, 2006

Chris Crawford's Games Sucked

by peterb
Every so often I mean to write an article about how Chris Crawford doesn't know what he's talking about. It's pretty impressive, in some ways: his book on game design, for example, is practically a manual on how to write a sucky game. And Crawford keeps inspiring me to write this article because every time he opens his mouth (or uncaps his pen) he says stupid things. Lots of people have weighed in on the meat of Crawford's latest musings on how the game industry is moribund and uncreative, and I'm not particularly interested in tackling them. Instead, I just want to say something that needs to be said: Chris Crawford wrote games that weren't any fun.
Continue reading "Chris Crawford's Games Sucked"
Posted by peterb at 07:53 PM | Comments (25)

June 15, 2006

Torment and Friends

by psu
I've spent the last month dabbling with Planescape from time to time on the laptop. I'm not quite all the way through, but I think I've played enough to say a bit more. My overall opinion of the game has...
Continue reading "Torment and Friends"
Posted by psu at 08:51 PM | Comments (3)

A Real Conversation

by peterb
Both psu and I obtained Nintendo DS Lites this week, along with Animal Crossing. We actually had this conversation on iChat yesterday: me: MY NOOK LOAN IS PAID OFF. But i feel empty inside. psu: Me too. OK. We can sell the game now. me: I keep going back to Nook's shop, but I can't find any weapons to kill the townsfolk. If that Chow talks to me one more time I'm going to stuff him and donate him to the museum. psu: I guess it's because they dumbed the game down. I bet the classic Animal Crossing on the Gamecube is better
Posted by peterb at 08:45 PM | Comments (2)

June 14, 2006

Commandos Battle Pack

by peterb
I am an impatient soul. This expresses itself in inconvenient ways when I am playing games that reward patience and timing. In grand strategy games, for example, I'll carefully marshall my resources, start moving troops into position, and then perhaps six or seven turns too early I'll get bored and say to myself "Well, maybe if I just send all my tanks rushing in I'll win." And, of course, I never do. This is in part why I don't like the Metal Gear games at all — they are, by and large, games that reward you for sitting still and doing nothing until exactly the right moment, and that's just not my thing. As a reviewer, I make a conscious effort to not review those sorts of games. I've made an exception to this rule for Commandos Battle Pack. Mostly because, unlike the Metal Gear games, it is fun.
Continue reading "Commandos Battle Pack"
Posted by peterb at 04:00 PM | Comments (1)

June 09, 2006

Three For The Road

by peterb
Volume 2, Issue 9 of played.todeath has been released, and within its labyrinthine PDF you will find not one but three of my articles. Read them, love them, and then send hate mail. They include:
Continue reading "Three For The Road"
Posted by peterb at 08:07 PM | Comments (2)

June 06, 2006

Picoreview Haiku

by psu
It's been a busy time so our collective brain hasn't had a lot of room to generate content for the site. But, we have been playing a few new games recently, so, here are some short impressions, in the by...
Continue reading "Picoreview Haiku"
Posted by psu at 09:30 PM | Comments (2)

May 23, 2006

Confusion and Disappointment

by psu
I took Madden '06 for the 360 to Pete's house the other day so he could get a look at the Zombie Peyton Manning. On a whim, I tossed in my controller, figuring that some head to head football goodness...
Continue reading "Confusion and Disappointment"
Posted by psu at 09:31 AM | Comments (2)

May 17, 2006

Dumb and Dumber

by peterb
There is, as I alluded in my first article on the subject, plenty to dislike about Oblivion. If you read various reviews and comments on the game, you'll discover there are two rough sets of comments on the negatives. First, there are the opinions of people who actually identify and discuss specific problem in the game. Secondly, there are the opinions of people who make the broad claim that the big problem with Oblivion is that it is "dumbed down." This charge of "dumbing down" is — appropriately enough — pure fantasy.
Continue reading "Dumb and Dumber"
Posted by peterb at 06:06 PM | Comments (57)

May 15, 2006

Say "Goodbye" to all of this...and "Hello" to Oblivion

by peterb
I've spent a couple of weekends playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and that means it's time to share my ignorant impressions of it with all three or four of my readers. The question is, since all of the cool kids have already discussed the game in depth, what more can I bring to the table? Well, I have an angle. Let's see if I can run with it.
Continue reading "Say "Goodbye" to all of this...and "Hello" to Oblivion"
Posted by peterb at 06:40 PM | Comments (12)

May 10, 2006

Shooter Shorts

by psu
I took a couple of days off from Oblivion to play the two shooters for the 360. The two major franchise shooters currently available are Ghost Recon and Call of Duty 2. Last night, I played the co-op missions in...
Continue reading "Shooter Shorts"
Posted by psu at 07:02 AM | Comments (3)

May 09, 2006

360 Years of Solitude

by peterb
Well, that didn't last long. This weekend I gave in and bought an Xbox 360. Here's what you need to know if you've been considering one.
Continue reading "360 Years of Solitude"
Posted by peterb at 12:38 AM | Comments (5)

May 04, 2006

Big Universes and Tiny Games

by peterb
When it coms to computer game design, small is beautiful. Big is bad. I've mentioned my recent foray into casual game addiction before. Today, I'm going to talk about it again, with regards to a specific game: Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space.
Continue reading "Big Universes and Tiny Games"
Posted by peterb at 08:38 PM | Comments (6)

May 03, 2006

West of House

by psu
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here. I am generally skeptical about the quality of narrative in video games. For the most part, the...
Continue reading "West of House"
Posted by psu at 08:56 PM | Comments (16)

April 29, 2006

Bonnie's Bookstore, Mac Version

by peterb
Phil Steinmeyer has released the Mac port of his word-hunt game Bonnie's Bookstore.
Continue reading "Bonnie's Bookstore, Mac Version"
Posted by peterb at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2006

99 Side Quests On Rails

by psu
The inevitable backlash against Oblivion has started in earnest. With early reviews proclaiming that the game was something between the second coming and the invention of peanut butter on sliced bread, you can't be surprised that a few people are deciding to stand up and call the whole thing nonsense. But, just as inevitable are freaks who go overboard.
Continue reading "99 Side Quests On Rails"
Posted by psu at 07:50 PM | Comments (6)

April 18, 2006

Living in Oblivion

by psu
I have not been posting because I've been running my Breton/Dark Elf Mage/Fighter/Thief guy around in the woods looking for all the different things to do. I think I finally have a good feel for this game, even though I...
Continue reading "Living in Oblivion"
Posted by psu at 07:09 PM | Comments (5)

April 14, 2006

Diving into Oblivion

by psu
As it turned out, one weekend after opining about the viability of the "current generation" consoles, the Xbox 360 finally appeared in reasonable numbers. Suddenly they were everywhere. Coincidentally, I was getting tired of low resolution Madden 06. Yes, my...
Continue reading "Diving into Oblivion"
Posted by psu at 07:25 AM | Comments (6)

April 13, 2006

The Elderer Scrolls

by peterb

Lately, I've been playing a lot of Elder Scrolls.

Not Oblivion, mind you: I'm far, far too cheap to have purchased an Xbox 360 yet. Instead, I've been playing the previous game in the series, Morrowind. My initial thought was that this would be an effective way of curbing my urge to buy an Oblivion-capable PC, or an Xbox 360. You know. Kind of like how smoking lots of opium makes you not want heroin so much.

Well, OK. That part of the plan isn't working so very well. But it has been entertaining and instructive, nonetheless. It's given me some perspective on what in Morrowind — as a game — worked, and what did not.

Continue reading "The Elderer Scrolls"
Posted by peterb at 06:56 PM | Comments (9)

April 06, 2006

Give Me a D! Give Me an S!

by claire

Ok, I admit it, I'm woefully susceptible to hype. Rant and rave about how great a game is and I'll be intrigued; get others to do the same and I'm convinced. So you can guess the effect a 10+ page thread extolling the virtues of Ouendan must have had on me. I was convinced I'd love the game even before I had it. But even if you weren't so predisposed to fall in love, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendaaaaaaaaan! really is an amazingly charming game. I can't help it if I seem to be a cheerleader for the game. It's a game about cheerleading.

Continue reading "Give Me a D! Give Me an S!"
Posted by claire at 09:07 PM | Comments (3)

April 05, 2006

The ONLY Question I Want Answered Today

by peterb
Is: "How well does The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion run on an iMac (Intel) running Windows XP via BootCamp?" Mouseketeers, discover this information for me, and report in!
Posted by peterb at 05:42 PM | Comments (4)

April 04, 2006

Next-Gen to Prev-Gen

by psu
Originally, I bought the PS2 for a few specific games that were not available on my "main platform", the Xbox. At the time, I figured that me and my Xbox-live crew would naturally make the progression from Halo 2 on...
Continue reading "Next-Gen to Prev-Gen"
Posted by psu at 06:42 PM | Comments (11)

March 29, 2006

To Oblivion, And Beyond!

by peterb
There are a few funny things about my craving to play Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
Continue reading "To Oblivion, And Beyond!"
Posted by peterb at 10:27 PM | Comments (14)

March 27, 2006


by peterb
My new column, Retrograde, appears in the latest issue of Played To Death. Feel free to check it out (PDF, 42 Mb). This issue's topic: everyone's favorite Playable Classic, Ultima IV.
Posted by peterb at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2006

Metal Gear Solid 3: Ineptitude

by psu
I picked up the new Metal Gear Solid 3 special edition because the promise of playing the game with a real third person camera intrigued me. You have to give Kojima credit. If nothing else, he has a sense of...
Continue reading "Metal Gear Solid 3: Ineptitude"
Posted by psu at 08:06 PM | Comments (6)

March 22, 2006

Loving the Alien

by peterb
It was, quite arguably, the best game of it's era: X-Com: UFO Defense. It had everything. A gripping plot. An approachable, iconic art style. Furious, deadly combat. An easily-learned user interface. It spawned a number of official sequels, and a few imitators, but none of them had the impact of the original. And you can understand why: if you want to play X-Com, you can play X-Com. It's a game that comes so close to perfection that it's hard to argue that you even need a sequel. UFO: Aftershock both is and is not a sequel to X-Com. I could probably write a long article on why X-Com is such a wonderful game. I'm not going to write that today. Today, I'm writing a review of X-Com's spiritual sequel, UFO: Aftershock. The developers clearly want to tread the line of enjoying the aura of the earlier product, while not actually getting sued for it. Judged as a substitute for X-Com, UFO: Aftershock (inevitably) comes up short. But judged on its own terms, it brings some intriguing things to the table. Let's take a look at what they are.
Continue reading "Loving the Alien"
Posted by peterb at 10:16 PM | Comments (16)

March 20, 2006

From the New World

by psu
I'm 4 or 5 hours into the new Shadow Hearts. Currently, I am breaking Al Capone out of Alcatraz, only Alcatraz is in Chicago and I'm with Al Capone's bodyguard, who is a gigantic talking white cat. Who knows Drunken...
Posted by psu at 09:49 PM | Comments (2)

March 17, 2006

Arsenic and Old Saves

by peterb
Hi. Glad you could drop by so we could have this little chat. Have a seat. Yes, that one there, right next to the Playstation 2 console. Here, have a cup of coffee. It's my special blend.
Continue reading "Arsenic and Old Saves"
Posted by peterb at 09:32 PM | Comments (5)

March 15, 2006

My Next Gen: A Long Ramble

by psu
Here we are, six months into the "next generation" of game consoles, and what should be a headlong charge into a future of gaming nirvana now seems more like a head first dive into a concrete wall. Without a helmet....
Continue reading "My Next Gen: A Long Ramble"
Posted by psu at 09:04 PM | Comments (7)

March 14, 2006

Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Kernel

by peterb
It was a game I had been looking forward to playing for quite some time. When my review copy arrived, I was thrilled, simply thrilled. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. That evening, I perused the manual as I installed the game on my PC, ready to be transported into an exciting new world. And then, as the install process finished, a window popped up informing me that the "StarForce" copy protection software/malware had been installed, and that I should reboot to complete the installation process. How quickly a tranquil Christmas can turn into horrifying Halloween.
Continue reading "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Kernel"
Posted by peterb at 03:06 PM | Comments (10)

March 09, 2006

Game Shorts

by psu
We're going to Toronto for a long weekend, so this is the perfect time to flush out the state of my game playing and mix it up with small nuggets of confusion. In other words, a "clip" article....
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Posted by psu at 10:09 PM | Comments (6)

February 24, 2006

The War Against Cliché

by peterb
It started with one bitter observation, but ballooned, as it always does, into an entire night full of complaining and snarkiness. 50 items about the most common videogame clichés, attached below for your amusement. Some are funny, some are painful,...
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Posted by peterb at 10:00 AM | Comments (7)

February 22, 2006

Resident Zombie Lull Killer

by psu
The lesson for today is: shooting zombies is always fun....
Continue reading "Resident Zombie Lull Killer"
Posted by psu at 07:38 PM | Comments (2)

February 21, 2006

Star Chamber

by peterb
It was perhaps a year ago that I tried the demo for an early version of Star Chamber. It was a promising game, a mixture of space strategy (a la Spaceward Ho!) and card play (a la Magic: The Gathering). It was clearly more of a proof-of-concept demo than a full-fledged game at the point at which I tried it, and more features were promised "soon." I set the game aside and forgot about it for a while. The other week, I read an announcement that Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga had been released for the Mac. Always interested in games I can play on my laptop on long flights, I took a look. And I would like to say to the authors of Star Chamber: "You've come a long way, baby."
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Posted by peterb at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2006


by psu
I've been in a long gaming lull for the last few months. I think this is to be expected. After all, I finished a Half-Life title. The last time I finished a Half-Life title was in 1999 and I didn't...
Continue reading "Lull"
Posted by psu at 10:45 PM | Comments (4)

February 07, 2006


by peterb
I received a review copy of Geniu$: The Tech Tycoon Game some time ago. I should clarify: the publisher didn't give me the game. Rather, the publisher gave a review copy of the game to another reviewer, who decided it wasn't his thing, because it wasn't an adventure game. So he gave it to me. In the hierarchy of game reviewers, I occupy a very special ecological niche. Like a crustacean or some other bottom-dwelling scavenger, I only get review copies of the games that other, better reviewers aren't interested in.
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Posted by peterb at 07:56 PM | Comments (3)

February 01, 2006

The Down Side of Guitar Hero

by peterb
Now my hands hurt.
Posted by peterb at 09:21 PM | Comments (7)

January 31, 2006

Guitar Hero

by peterb
When we discuss the weblog with our friends, psu and I have a running joke. It's something along the lines of "Hey, man. We can gripe for 500 words about anything." I haven't been griping much lately, because I've been too busy playing Guitar Hero. Let me just get this out of the way: yes, Guitar Hero really is that good. If you own a Playstation 2, and you haven't yet picked up this game, you should put down the computer, drive to your local game store, and buy it. Today. Right now. You'll thank me. It might be the best $70 you'll spend this year.
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Posted by peterb at 06:35 PM | Comments (9)

January 23, 2006


by peterb
Recently, I've been on a bit of a "casual games" kick. The casual games market is on fire right now, and from the perspective of game design is kicking the tail of the "big box" hardcore PC games. It's like watching a bunch of nimble mammals dance around the legs of slow, lumbering dinosaurs. I'm not speaking in terms of financial success here. I'm not a game publisher, so I don't know exactly how much money either of these groups are making. I can infer from the multiplicity of casual game developers that they are doing pretty well. The more interesting point to me, as a player, is that the games are better.
Continue reading "Civsweeper"
Posted by peterb at 09:34 PM | Comments (3)

January 06, 2006

The Year in Games

by psu
Now that everyone else has already done their own roundup of the year in games, it's my turn to jump in, late as usual. At this point, there is not that much to be gained from just telling you that...
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Posted by psu at 08:13 PM | Comments (1)

January 05, 2006

No, Really

by peterb
It is just completely wrong that Shadow Hearts: Covenant has a "T for Teen" rating. Surely, Mr. Sommelier alone is worth at least 2 months of therapy, all by himself. Click to see the picture, if you dare, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Posted by peterb at 11:46 PM | Comments (3)

December 27, 2005

Next Gen Meh

by psu
I just found out that like the PSP, the Nintendo DS has a delicious instant sleep feature. Chances that either of the new next-gen home consoles have the same feature implemented in the OS and not in the stupid game:...
Posted by psu at 09:43 PM | Comments (2)

December 26, 2005

The Name of the Game

by peterb
I, like a number of people, have a few days of unexpected leisure at my disposal in the days leading up to New Years. So instead of me helping you, here's your chance to help me: pick a relatively new "casual" game that you think it fun, and talk about it in the comments. Give me something new to play. Bonus points if it runs on both PC and Mac. I'll start the bidding by telling you that you that if you like words, you should surely go download Bonnie's Bookstore. (I know a Mac version exists — I helped beta-test it — but it's not available from that page for some reason. I've asked the author to clarify).
Posted by peterb at 07:19 PM | Comments (5)

December 19, 2005

Status Report

by peterb
Current obsession: Travian, a browser-based MMOG. I am still in the honemoon period, which means the game proper hasn't actually started, since I have a couple of more days before the pillaging hordes can destroy my village. I'll write a proper review then. Travian looks like Settlers of Catan, but it isn't. Speaking of which, if you want to play Settlers of Catan, you should try AsoBrain's Xplorers. Online Catan. They also have a fairly nice clones of several other games, as well.
Posted by peterb at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2005

Dollars to Donuts

by peterb
It's hard for me to remember the first game I played on a personal computer. Arguably, "Dancing Demon" by Leo Christopherson, for the TRS-80 Model I might qualify; that would have been in 1979. I don't recall there being a lot of actual gameplay there, but I remember thinking it was very, very cool. On the heels of that would have been various text adventure games — Zork, certainly, among others — that I played while camped out at the local Radio Shack. Later in 1979, I remember seeing (and becoming addicted to) George Blank's Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio, a game that is still fun and playable on modern platforms, even today. This game is, ironically, the precursor to many of today's "God games." Such as Civilization IV.
Continue reading "Dollars to Donuts"
Posted by peterb at 11:57 PM | Comments (25)

December 12, 2005

December 09, 2005

Sell Out

by peterb
In addition to the writing I do for this weblog, and my day job, I occasionally get the opportunity to work on other projects. One of them has bourne fruit, and I am now a paid and published game reviewer. My review of Civliization IV appears in the latest issue of Please feel free to give it a read (PDF format). Hopefully, you'll read it in time to take Civilization IV off of your holiday gift lists.
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Posted by peterb at 04:34 PM | Comments (26)

December 08, 2005

Games I Don't Get

by peterb
Lego Star Wars.
Continue reading "Games I Don't Get"
Posted by peterb at 09:19 PM | Comments (12)

December 06, 2005

What Goes Around

by peterb
A number of Astute Readers pointed out that Atlantis, which I reviewed on Friday, is actually a reimplementation of an earlier game, Popcap's Zuma, and Mumbo Jumbo's modified Zuma clone Luxor. I tried Luxor tonight, and I liked it. In the abstract, I liked it more than Atlantis, with the exception that the Mac version suffers from some slowdown when things get hairy. The experience of playing the two identical games got me to thinking about some of the structural stupidities of the so-called "casual game" market.
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Posted by peterb at 12:01 AM | Comments (7)

December 02, 2005

Indie Game: Atlantis

by peterb
I've never had much patience for Tetris. It's not just Tetris, mind you, but pretty much any game that falls into the broad category of "usually brightly-colored, abstract pattern matching games." (And Sherlock doesn't count. That's a logic game.) I don't get an almost-sexual satisfaction in making blocks of similar colors merge and vanish. Lumines doesn't call to me. It's just something in my nature; I think I need a plot to really enjoy a game. The closest I've come to liking this class of game would be the little minigames in Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, probably because the piratey goodness gave it enough flavor for me to be willing to put in the drudge work ("I'm not mindlessly playing Bejeweld! I'm, uh, pumping bilge! Yeah, that makes it. Um. Better.")
Continue reading "Indie Game: Atlantis"
Posted by peterb at 07:09 PM | Comments (4)

November 29, 2005

It's Like They Didn't Even Play the Same Game

by psu
I wasn't going say anything more about Half-life 2 on the Xbox. Lower resolution graphics aside, I think the game brings all of what is good about Half-Life 2 to the console. You can enjoy the game without spending stupid...
Continue reading "It's Like They Didn't Even Play the Same Game"
Posted by psu at 08:25 PM | Comments (13)

November 16, 2005

Half-Life 2 and Other Matters

by psu
Half-Life 2 for the Xbox hits this week. So, two years after the fact, one of the original reasons I gave to myself for buying the Xbox has finally come to pass. This means that I managed to get the...
Continue reading "Half-Life 2 and Other Matters"
Posted by psu at 07:31 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2005

Dear Microsoft Games Employees

by peterb
I know there are one or two employees of MS's Xbox division who read (and hopefully enjoy) Tea Leaves, so allow me to take a moment to say: Please find one of your mar-com people and get them to loan me an Xbox 360 and some games (Kameo?) so I can review them. Thanks! PS: And as long as I'm asking, how about a pony, too?
Posted by peterb at 05:18 PM | Comments (7)

November 11, 2005

Tricks are for Kids

by psu
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the gaming industry. Here we have a medium that is in the beginning of its life, struggling to be taken seriously. It has slowly scratched its way to the big time as...
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Posted by psu at 09:41 PM | Comments (8)

November 10, 2005

Dancing About Architecture

by peterb
Today's subject is the game Shadow of the Colossus. In order to talk about it, I'm going to have to make some observations about how critics commonly review games. Imagine if art critics reviewed paintings the way game critics review games:
Paul Cezanne's Still Life with Plate of Cherries is a clear evolution from his previous outing in the Still Life series, Apples, Peaches, Pears, and Grapes. The area of the canvas has more than doubled since the previous generation, allowing much finer detail to be discerned. Furthermore, the improved technique used by Cezanne now allows him to depict many more objects on the canvas simultaneously. Unfortunately, Cezanne's rendering technique still leaves a lot to be desired: in particular, the draw distance in his works tends to leave the backgrounds overly blurry, compared to some of the recent releases by Matisse, who somehow manages to squeeze tack-sharp imaging out of the same pigments.

Continue reading "Dancing About Architecture"
Posted by peterb at 08:19 PM | Comments (3)

November 09, 2005

Shadow of the Colossus

by psu
There really isn't much to say about Shadow of the Colossus that is all that different from what I said about Ico. The two games share many of the same strengths and weaknesses, and are clearly cut from the same...
Continue reading "Shadow of the Colossus"
Posted by psu at 04:17 PM | Comments (6)

November 03, 2005

Colossus Knee

by psu
I have been working towards the end of Shadow of the Colossus the last few days. Strangely, at the beginning of last week, my knee became sore for no reason. I went to see the doctor, who gave me some...
Posted by psu at 05:19 PM | Comments (8)

November 01, 2005

Now I Remember Why I Don't Play PC Games Much Anymore

by peterb
These past couple of days I've been playing a certain fairly new Windows-based PC game, in preparation for an in-depth review. I won't mention the title right now. You'll probably be able to guess it, once the review is finished. Within the space of two days I've gotten to experience: stupid copy protection schemes that try to interfere with my computer's operation when not playing the game, random crashes, poor performance, a generally poor user interface, modal dialog boxes that prevent me from using the in-game help system, and a host of other annoyances. I guess this must be some of that "deep, complex gameplay that isn't possible on a game console" that I hear so much about.
Posted by peterb at 09:58 PM | Comments (6)

October 31, 2005

Shine and Shine and Shine and

by psu
I picked up Lumines for the PSP and have been playing it between levels of Shadow of the Colossus. I don't have that much to say about the game. Others have already provided much more verbiage about this title without,...
Continue reading "Shine and Shine and Shine and"
Posted by psu at 07:25 PM | Comments (5)

October 28, 2005

A Fistful of Static

by peterb


Somewhere in a distant time and place, a letter is delivered by runner:
From: Light of the World, Voice of Nur, High Priest Akh-na-Gog To: Honored Slave Tinker and Inventor Euripaelus Subject: Re: Industrial accidents. Hear now the words of Holiest of Holies Great Nur, Light of the World, Peace be Upon Him, through his High Priest Akh-na-Gog, who says unto you: can we build the next colossus without any hair? The aboriginal barbarian hordelings are having a field day climbing these things by their hair and painting graffiti on them. Worse, half the time they are drunk on that disgusting fermented yak milk, and the janitorial slaves have to spend hours scrubbing to clean up their "accidents." And if they've sicked on the hair, the smell lingers just about forever. So no hair next time, Honored Slave Tinker and Inventor. So speaks Holiest of Holies Great Nur, Light of the World, Peace be Upon Him, through his High Priest Akh-na-Gog.

Continue reading "A Fistful of Static"
Posted by peterb at 05:12 PM | Comments (5)

October 26, 2005

Shadow of the Shadow of the Colossus

by peterb
Some of you may be wondering why there haven't been many gaming articles lately. I believe the reason is that both psu and I are playing Shadow of the Colossus, and are desperately looking for some angle from which we can claim that it does not contradict our long-held position that "Boss" battles are stupid. We can't dodge the topic forever, though. Look for our comments on Shadow of the Colossus soon.
Posted by peterb at 09:28 AM | Comments (6)

October 13, 2005

Unfair Criticism

by psu
It is fashionable these days to gripe about the state of gaming journalism. The main complaint that is often lodged is that gaming "criticism" is limited to being a glorified buyer's guide to recent releases. I think this is...
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Posted by psu at 10:04 PM | Comments (6)

October 11, 2005

Somebody Save Me

by peterb
Chris over at Only a Game published an interesting perspective on save games. He wrote a hypothetical dialogue between a game producer and his engineering, art, and QA teams on what type of save game system they should include on their game. I think he raises some interesting points, but I think he misses the mark on some others. So I am responding with a dialogue of my own that I think more accurately captures what's at stake.
Continue reading "Somebody Save Me"
Posted by peterb at 05:50 PM | Comments (12)

October 10, 2005

A Far Cry from Great

by psu
I had been wanting to play a shooter recently, and since they are never going to release Half-Life 2 for the Xbox (OK, maybe they will eventually) I had been putting up with Tom Clancy squad shooters in the...
Continue reading "A Far Cry from Great"
Posted by psu at 09:49 AM | Comments (3)

October 07, 2005

The 2005 IFComp, Text Adventures, and You

by peterb
The 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition has begun. Let's talk about text adventure games. Interactive fiction ("IF") games, to me, encapsulate all the potential of gaming. It is, almost, a hybrid medium, combining the best (and sometimes worst) features of games, short stories, poetry, and puzzles. What I find incomprehensible is that so few people play modern IF games. You can go to just about any gaming magazine or weblog and read people complaining about the cookie-cutter, corporate nature of most releases. But when was the last time you played an IF game? It's time to fix that. Here is my challenge to you. Go to the official IFComp site. Download the games. And play just one. Play more if you want to, but play at least one. If you're a game blogger, my challenge is a little more specific: play one IFComp game, and write about it.
Continue reading "The 2005 IFComp, Text Adventures, and You"
Posted by peterb at 06:01 PM | Comments (4)

October 05, 2005

Putting the "A" in A.I.

by psu
I got to thinking about the A.I. in games while playing the first few levels of the new Xbox shooter, Far Cry: Instincts. By coincidence, I had also recently replayed a few levels of Halo 2 and my first...
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Posted by psu at 09:13 PM | Comments (3)

October 04, 2005

Playable Classics: A Selected Ultima

by peterb
I have written in detail before about my obsession with the Ultima games. After much deliberation, Tea Leaves is designating one of the Ultima games as a Playable Classic. It joins the other classic games Fool's Errand, Star Control II, and Escape Velocity as a shining exemplar of the best that videogaming has to offer.
Continue reading "Playable Classics: A Selected Ultima"
Posted by peterb at 06:58 PM | Comments (11)

September 30, 2005

I Apologize to the Consumer Society

by psu
Earlier in this forum, I dumped on the general state of the shiny useless portable gaming device market. Against my better judgement, I picked up a PSP and Madden 06 anyway, on the theory that I could return them...
Continue reading "I Apologize to the Consumer Society"
Posted by psu at 07:07 PM | Comments (1)

September 22, 2005

The Consumer Society Has Failed Me

by psu
I have a birthday coming up (no, I will not tell you when). And, I thought I had perfect timing. It's been a good nine months to a year since both the DS and the PSP launched, surely by...
Continue reading "The Consumer Society Has Failed Me"
Posted by psu at 11:45 PM | Comments (5)

September 20, 2005

People on the Interweb Who Disagree with Me are Stupid

by psu
One of the banes of the modern "information age" is that one can easily find oneself reading someone else's misguided and obviously illogical view of important matters. When this happens to me, I don't think too hard about it....
Continue reading "People on the Interweb Who Disagree with Me are Stupid"
Posted by psu at 08:26 PM | Comments (6)

September 19, 2005

Silent Hill 3

by peterb
Here's another entry in the "I play games that are 3 years old because I'm a cheapskate" series. I've tried to describe my experiences playing Silent Hill 3 a few times now. Each time, I sort of trail off and fail. This is, interestingly, not unlike my experiences trying to get into the game. Somehow, it fails to grab me in the way the first two games in the series did. Why is this?
Continue reading "Silent Hill 3"
Posted by peterb at 11:14 PM | Comments (4)

September 16, 2005

Contest: Caption This Picture

by peterb
Today's entry is brought to you courtesy of Nintendo, who has given us all a first look at the controller for their upcoming home game console, the Revolution. It's a pretty simple contest: caption this picture! If, in so captioning, you should happen to let slip what you think of the device, so much the better.
Continue reading "Contest: Caption This Picture"
Posted by peterb at 05:27 PM | Comments (13)

September 12, 2005

The Game Geek is Stumped

by peterb
Periodically I publish a little feature I call "Ask the Game Geek", where I'll take a vague description of a game that someone provided, and come up with the name. For example, I did this with the old Apple II games Sabotage and AWACS. And the Game Geek Quiz was one of our more popular articles here.
Continue reading "The Game Geek is Stumped"
Posted by peterb at 08:51 PM | Comments (5)

September 07, 2005

Madden NFL: Hour of the Phantom Dark Fantasy Kingdom Tactics

by psu

My addiction to Madden is well known to long time readers. It was one of the first games I bought for the new Xbox, and I always manage to find a reason to buy it again. Now, being an average dork, I am by no means a rabid football fan. I can't really name more than a few players on the rosters of my home team growing up (Patriots) or of my current locale (Steelers). I like to watch either of those teams kick ass in the playoffs, but otherwise I'm not really that interested. I have the same basic relationship with most of the major sports, and yet Madden is alone among sports games in holding my interest at all. I think this is because football only forms the shell of the real Madden game. The real Madden is actually a tactical RPG that happens to use a football-like simulation as a combat mechanic.

Continue reading "Madden NFL: Hour of the Phantom Dark Fantasy Kingdom Tactics"
Posted by psu at 09:12 PM | Comments (2)

September 02, 2005

Psychonauts Impressions

by psu
There was a lot of general drooling over this game, especially among the game designer worship crowd. Most original design in years, they said. A constantly creative tour de force, they said. So I picked up the game at...
Continue reading "Psychonauts Impressions"
Posted by psu at 11:14 PM | Comments (10)

August 31, 2005

Myst III: Exile

by peterb
I feel that since I mentioned that I recently picked up Myst III, among other games, for the Xbox, I should post a brief follow-up: I have finished the game. I enjoyed it a lot; it was definitely worth the $9 I paid for it, and a bit more besides. Let me see if I can quickly outline what I liked and didn't like about the game. I won't spoil any of the puzzles, and I'll try not to reveal too much of the plot, beyond what you'll find out in the first few minutes of the game.
Continue reading "Myst III: Exile"
Posted by peterb at 09:43 PM | Comments (1)

August 29, 2005

Welcome Joystiq Readers

by peterb
The "Gamer's Bill of Rights" article referred to in today's Joystiq entry is here
Posted by peterb at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2005

Inferiority Complex

by psu
I feel somewhat self-concious about writing about games. I feel OK writing about my impressions of specific games. After all, those are just my observations. I feel like I am on shakier ground when writing about more general issues...
Continue reading "Inferiority Complex"
Posted by psu at 07:42 PM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2005

Lights, Action, Camera

by peterb
The camera in Neverwinter Nights sucks. This article is about why. I'm telling you what the article is about up front, because I'm about to take a leisurely detour through many seemingly unrelated topics before circling back around to the actual point. As I think I've mentioned before, my mother didn't like Dungeons & Dragons very much. When I would hang out at Junot Diaz's house and play all day, she'd always call me after a few hours and harangue me into coming home. This made me bitter, because everyone else got to stay there all day and most of the night playing, and I only got a taste of it. At the time, I was convinced that my mother didn't understand how cool D&D was, and how creative and fun it was, and she just hated me and didn't want me to have any friends at all. Now, with the perspective of many years, I've finally come to understand that my mom didn't hate D&D. She didn't think it was satanic, or evil, or unbalancing, or immoral. In fact, she probably didn't know anything about it whatsoever. My mom applied a very simple and sensible test: anything a 14 year old boy is willing to spend 20 hours in a basement doing can't possibly be a good idea. I can't really argue with that. Mom was right.
Continue reading "Lights, Action, Camera"
Posted by peterb at 12:12 AM | Comments (22)

August 24, 2005

Bundles of Whining

by psu
The Xbox 360 pricing and various bundles have been in the news a lot over the last week. The general mood among the fanboys appears to be a mixture of anger and betrayal. As usual, my feeling is that...
Continue reading "Bundles of Whining"
Posted by psu at 09:35 PM | Comments (9)

August 16, 2005

David Mullich: The Interview

by peterb
When I had the opportunity to interview David Mullich, designer of some of the most unusual and quirky Apple II games I played in my youth, I was a bit anxious. Mullich, after all, has been working in the industry for 25 years. What are the chances he'd want to talk about his earliest works? Imagine you are, say, a writer. You've been writing for decades. Every year you put out a new book. How annoying would it be if people only ever wanted to ask you about your first novel?
Continue reading "David Mullich: The Interview"
Posted by peterb at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

August 11, 2005

Madden Time

by psu
Another August, another copy of Madden NFL. I can't help it. People will mock me. The general public's evaluation of my intelligence will plummet. What little cred I had as a "cool" or independent-minded personality will go down the...
Continue reading "Madden Time"
Posted by psu at 09:26 PM | Comments (5)

August 09, 2005

My Brain on Ico

by psu
When I got a PS2 last Christmas, the one nearly unanimous game recommendation that I received from the crack dealers friends I know who play games was Ico. Over and over I heard "You gotta get Ico". So I...
Continue reading "My Brain on Ico"
Posted by psu at 12:10 AM | Comments (1)

August 08, 2005

The Hero With a Thousand Extra Lives

by peterb
There's no real point behind this, and we weren't very strict about the theme, but sometimes you just have to make a list of videogame titles crossed with famous works from other media. This is one of those times.
Continue reading "The Hero With a Thousand Extra Lives"
Posted by peterb at 09:10 PM | Comments (4)

August 04, 2005

Zombies = Profit!

by peterb
Lately, some friends and I have been playing a web-based massively multiplayer online game called Urban Dead....
Continue reading "Zombies = Profit!"
Posted by peterb at 10:31 PM | Comments (3)

August 01, 2005

Life is Too Short

by psu
These days, the average large scale action game is clocking in at between ten and fifteen hours of gameplay. This brings howls of complaints from the hard core gaming set and the gaming press. Over and over again, you...
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Posted by psu at 06:15 PM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2005

Tell Me About Your Mother

by peterb
Regular readers may recall an article from last summer where I mentioned some PC games I picked up from the bargain bin. At the time I wrote that article, I had started playing through one of them (Myst III: Exile) and was enjoying it. Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing it. This week, I bought Myst III: Exile for Xbox at The Exchange. I had also bought Silent Hill 3 for the PS2, another game I already owned for the PC. The reason is simple. I can play the console versions of these games from my couch.
Continue reading "Tell Me About Your Mother"
Posted by peterb at 10:09 PM | Comments (9)

July 26, 2005

Notes on Designing the Perfect RPG

by peterb

Random notes, from about 4 years ago, on peterb's theory of computer role playing games and why designing fun CRPGs is so hard.

"I don't consider anything the Japanese do to be RPGs. Those are movies with extra special boring parts put in the middle for obsessive-compulsives."

Why do most RPGs suck?

There are basically 3(*) elements that go into making a computer RPG.

1) Plot.

2) Conversations with non-player characters.

3) Combat mechanics.

4) General interactivity with the world.

(*) I said 3 because it sounds better.

I've ordered those elements from most to least important. Designing games where each of these elements is fun requires entirely different skill sets.

Continue reading "Notes on Designing the Perfect RPG"
Posted by peterb at 06:10 PM | Comments (12)

July 19, 2005

The Problem With Nintendo

by psu
A recent feature at The Armchair Empire takes the gaming world to task for accusing Nintendo of being "only for kids." I think the piece makes a series of good points, not the least of which is that the...
Continue reading "The Problem With Nintendo"
Posted by psu at 08:00 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2005

God of Bore

by peterb

A few weeks ago, someone apparently posted a link to my review of Gran Turismo 4 on some Internet forum. This has led to a steady stream of people flooding the comments section of that article and informing me that I'm not any good at the game, I'm homosexual, it's impossible for a popular game to be bad, I probably didn't actually buy it, and I am a moron for saying, publicly, that I didn't enjoy a game.

This led to a conversation among friends about the nature of game reviewing. One person suggested that I'd get the same response if I gave a good review to a game people hated. I disagreed. My friend Nat, who somehow always manages to be the Most Quotable Person In The Room, then observed that for a reason none of us understand, some people take bad reviews as deep personal insults:

I mean, Pete might as well have said "I don't like GT4, plus I banged your mom and she was terrible". He'd get the same response.

That was then. This is now. And now, I have a problem. My problem is that just a few days ago, psu finished (and reviewed) the PS2 beat-em-up God of War. Then he lent it to me, and I played it a bit, and it really wasn't to my taste. Which means that if I speak openly about it, I run the risk of opening yet another can of worms. Since I am reasonably sure I'm going to get hammered for this anyway, I may as well go all out and do something to deserve it. So:

I don't like God of War, plus I banged your mom and she was terrible.

Continue reading "God of Bore"
Posted by peterb at 09:56 PM | Comments (12)

July 11, 2005

God of War

by psu
I worked my way to the end of this game last night. Action/Platform games usually are not my thing, but this one received nearly unanimous effusive praise both from the gaming press and sources you can actually trust (ha...
Continue reading "God of War"
Posted by psu at 02:07 PM | Comments (7)

July 07, 2005

The Legend of Zelda: Gamers are Morons

by psu
Today I have a simple question. I was playing the GBA port of Zelda: Link to the Past and was searching the interweb for clues into the flow of the game. What I found was a universe full of...
Continue reading "The Legend of Zelda: Gamers are Morons"
Posted by psu at 09:33 AM | Comments (10)

July 05, 2005

Solitaire's Not The Only Game In Town

by peterb
In my family, growing up, the men played Pinochle and the women played Mahjong. Later in life, this became a source of vexation to me, because the men so clearly got the short end of the stick. First of all, to play Pinochle you have to use a stupid Pinochle deck, which isn't any use whatsoever when playing War or Go Fish or other card games that normal people play. Secondly, there was some sort of unwritten law that says that in order to play Pinochle, you have to have at least one guy that is smoking a really stinky cigar, which is gross. Lastly, if you're playing Pinochle instead of Mah-jonng, then you don't get to play with the cool tiles that make all the noise and that you can build little structures from. Verbally, the games were about a wash, each with its own special brand of nonsense words ("meld" and "trump" versus "chow" and "pong"). Because of all this, and because, let's be frank, I was a momma's boy, I asked my Grandmother to teach me Mahjong. She did. Thanks to Grandma, and thanks to the miracle of modern computer technology, I'm still playing today.
Continue reading "Solitaire's Not The Only Game In Town"
Posted by peterb at 12:21 AM | Comments (4)

July 01, 2005

Immersed in Hype

by psu
The last few months have been filled with a steady stream of hype, drool, drool-induced hype and general nonsense about the coming of the next generation consoles. The "next gen", we are told, will bring us unprecendented processing power...
Continue reading "Immersed in Hype"
Posted by psu at 06:52 PM | Comments (2)

June 27, 2005

Playable Classics: Escape Velocity

by peterb

People have been making "space opera" trading games for 25 years. Among these is Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity, first developed in 1992. It is the best game of its kind. The most recent version, Escape Velocity Nova, is available for both Windows and Macintosh, and provides varying levels of challenge for the novice and for the experienced player. It is a classic, and you should play it.

Continue reading "Playable Classics: Escape Velocity"
Posted by peterb at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2005

The Carnival of Gamers

by peterb
If you like the game-related articles you read on Tea Leaves, you should definitely visit the third installment of The Carnival of Gamers, a collection of some interesting gaming-related articles. Tea Leaves is honored to have been able to participate....
Posted by peterb at 08:47 PM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2005

You are Not the Boss of Me

by psu and peterb
Video games, like all forms of entertaiment, have their own set of idiosyncratic formal conventions. All the Zelda games have a series of dungeons, broken up by exploration, where you collect items to defeat the final enemy. Horror games have a slow pace, shuffling zombies and stupid camera angles. Platform games have hateful jumping puzzles and take place in a strange world where wacking a box turns it into money. Conventions like this can be useful because they provide a formal framework in which the game designers can work. The form gives the player context and helps to set expectations, the same way the formal structure of a film or a piece of music informs the viewer or listener about what should be coming next. However, while some gaming conventions are useful enough to have evolved into a sort of form, most head over the line into the territory of annoying cliché. There are too many such game design sins to list here: useless backtracking for keys, juvenile puzzles involving 8 tiles in 9 spaces or the Towers of Hanoi, and of course, stupid savepoints. However, the single most damaging game design crutch is the Boss Battle. We are here to say that Boss Battles are stupid and should be annihilated.
Continue reading "You are Not the Boss of Me"
Posted by psu and peterb at 10:50 PM | Comments (29)

June 17, 2005

Wrath Unleashed

by peterb

It is well understood that there is nothing new under the sun in video games. I recently borrowed Wrath Unleashed from the local library, not knowing what it was.

What it was is a remake of Archon.

Archon, for those of you who have never heard of it, is on every old computer game player's list of The Greatest Games Ever Made. The basic idea is: it's chess. But when your pieces occupy the same square as your opponent's piece, you move to an "arena" and the two players fight it out in arcade-like combat. Each piece has different powers, so while one can in theory win any battle in combat, the strategic element is very significant: you really, really, really don't want to try to fight a Basilisk with a Knight.
Continue reading "Wrath Unleashed"
Posted by peterb at 11:50 PM | Comments (7)

June 08, 2005

The Dreamhold

by peterb
I'll start off with a disclaimer. I know Andrew Plotkin, the author of The Dreamhold. We've worked closely together. We run into each other at the library on occasion. I consider him a friend. So as I discuss the game, I'll wear my bias on my sleeve: I think Andy's games are great. Despite (or because of?) that, I think I have some interesting things to say about it. I like to think that I inspired The Dreamhold. This, of course, is a damnable lie, but I like to think it anyway. This thought springs from Andrew's reaction to my review of the independent game The Witch's Yarn. In that review, I characterized The Witch's Yarn as being in part a response to the inability of most players to enjoy the idioms and interface of the modern text adventure. In doing this, I fabricated a sample transcript from a nonexistent adventure game, trying to demonstrate the sorts of problems that, I think, turn people off of the genre.
Continue reading "The Dreamhold"
Posted by peterb at 08:06 PM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2005

Sagacious Jade Golem Stupid Boss

by psu
After a short detour through the land of zombies and the land of slam dunks, I'm back into Jade Empire. Overall, I have found the experience satisfying in that KOTOR but with Kung Fu way. But I must complain about...
Continue reading "Sagacious Jade Golem Stupid Boss "
Posted by psu at 08:22 PM | Comments (3)

June 02, 2005


by peterb
Apparently, controversy still rages about my article The Best Review Money Can Buy, which was included in the recent Carnival of Gamers. In particular, Matt at was quite upset. He feels that I'm painting mainstream game reviewers with too broad a brush, and that my description of them as lacking credibility was not fair.
Continue reading "Fallout"
Posted by peterb at 06:05 PM | Comments (10)

June 01, 2005

NBA Street V3

by psu
One of my more beloved games on the Xbox was NBA Street V2. But, pulling off the advanced tricks with the Xbox controller was always too hard because the Xbox controller only allowed you three "turbos". Still, when you got...
Continue reading "NBA Street V3"
Posted by psu at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2005

More Forza Thoughts

by peterb
I'm still not ready to give my full review, because I'm still evaluating the game. That being said, I have spent the past 2 hours saying "well, just one more race," and my heart is pumping in a way that it hasn't been since the San Francisco tracks of the original Project Gotham Racing
Continue reading "More Forza Thoughts"
Posted by peterb at 10:07 PM | Comments (3)

May 19, 2005

Forza First Impressions

by peterb
Well, it's better than Gran Turismo 4, but... Hmmmmmmmmmm. I'm not feeling terribly optimistic today. I'll play it for a few more days before going in to more detail.
Posted by peterb at 09:48 PM | Comments (2)

May 13, 2005

The Best Review Money Can Buy

by peterb
Jane at GameGirlAdvance writes an apologia for game review puffery, as a result of Gamespy getting busted perverting the central message of one of their writer's reviews. The executive summary of her article is "editing game reviews is so very hard!" Huh? No, it isn't. Why are some authors and editors so intent on pretending that it is?
Continue reading "The Best Review Money Can Buy"
Posted by peterb at 08:18 AM | Comments (3)

May 04, 2005

Playable Classics: Star Control II

by peterb
I first encountered Star Control on the Sega Genesis. At the time, there wasn't anything to indicate that it would eventually lead to one of the best computer games I'd ever play.
Continue reading "Playable Classics: Star Control II"
Posted by peterb at 09:38 PM | Comments (7)

May 03, 2005

Mechanical Narrative

by psu
Two things have stuck in my brain about games lately. The first is a long thread at The Grumpy Gamer that starts out being about cut scenes in modern games, and quickly meanders off through long and interesting discussions about...
Continue reading "Mechanical Narrative"
Posted by psu at 09:38 PM | Comments (1)

April 27, 2005

GT4: Final Notes

by peterb
GT4 Photo Mode

GT4 Photo Mode

Now that I have finally obtained a USB jump drive, I have been able to try out "photo mode," which means I have now tried everything Gran Turismo 4 has to offer. My review remains the same: "meh."
Posted by peterb at 10:46 PM | Comments (1)

April 26, 2005

Nonexistent Games, Reappearing

by peterb
Last October I wrote about a Star Trek game for the Apple II that I remembered playing in the early 1980s. It had the somewhat disconcerting habit of spewing out page-long quotes from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. It was so incongruous that I wasn't sure if the game actually existed, or if I was just remembering some sort of odd dream. The other week, to my surprise, someone wrote me saying: "Hey. I remember that game. In fact, I have it on a disk."
Continue reading "Nonexistent Games, Reappearing"
Posted by peterb at 09:16 PM | Comments (4)

April 24, 2005

What's Your Jade Empire Name?

by peterb
Like everyone else, we're currently absorbed in Jade Empire A little while ago, my friend Nat was heard to say: "I could say Sagacious Zu over and over all day," to which I replied, "I need to write a little javascript app for my blog that generates your Jade Empire Name. " So I did. Without any further ado, I present What's Your Jade Empire Name,, the result of a good, oh, 10 or 15 minutes "work" writing some simple Javascript (don't look at the source. You'll go blind.) Spread the meme!
Posted by peterb at 01:50 PM | Comments (4)

April 21, 2005

Evil in Residence

by psu
I never played any of the Resident Evil games before Resident Evil 4. From what I can gather, they were slow-paced with a weird camera system that made combat nearly impossible and a fairly bizarre story centered around an evil...
Continue reading "Evil in Residence"
Posted by psu at 08:52 PM | Comments (12)

April 19, 2005

Jaded Empire

by peterb
As I mentioned the other day, I recently picked up Jade Empire . I've played it throughout the weekend and have some comments.
Continue reading "Jaded Empire"
Posted by peterb at 06:06 PM | Comments (13)

April 15, 2005

You Won't See Me Coming

by peterb
They nearly got me this time, with the pre-ordering thing. Sometime around January, Bioware started sending me email (I registered with them, because I love them as a company and don't mind them marketing to me) about Jade Empire. They told me how that there would be a "Limited Edition," and somehow managed to imply, without actually saying, that if I wanted the Limited Edition, I would need to pre-order through them.
Continue reading "You Won't See Me Coming"
Posted by peterb at 06:56 PM | Comments (2)

April 14, 2005


by peterb
As long as I'm talking about rogue-like games, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Linley's Dungeon Crawl. More baroque than rogue, but not quite so overburdened as (or, on the other hand, as polished as) Nethack, it's worth a look.
Continue reading "Crawl"
Posted by peterb at 08:17 PM | Comments (4)

April 13, 2005


by peterb
In 1986, I nearly failed out of college because I spent so much time playing urogue. That's not the game's fault, of course. No doubt if it wasn't urogue it would have been some other addictive little distraction that I found more interesting than my classes. But nonetheless, urogue ("UltraRogue v 1.03"), Herb Chong's little creation, was my bête noir, and so it has always maintained a barren little corner in my heart.
Continue reading "Ultrarogue"
Posted by peterb at 06:22 PM | Comments (4)

April 07, 2005

New Game Shorts

by psu
It has been a big couple of weeks for new games, so here are some short impressions of the new stuff flowing through the house....
Continue reading "New Game Shorts"
Posted by psu at 09:05 PM | Comments (1)

April 06, 2005

Playable Classics: Fool's Errand

by peterb
One sunny day, a light-hearted fool strolled along a hilly path, whistling a merry tune. A long wooden pole was slung over his shoulder and attached to it was a cloth bundle which carried his life's possessions.
Fool's Errand

Fool's Errand

In 1987, Cliff Johnson, puzzle-creator extraordinaire, released The Fool's Errand for Macintosh, thus dooming an entire generation of computer game players to at least a few weeks without sleep.
Continue reading "Playable Classics: Fool's Errand"
Posted by peterb at 07:42 PM | Comments (1)

March 30, 2005

Splinter Cell 3: Super Kudos

by psu
I picked up the new Splinter Cell game tonight at the Target. I've only played through the level that was recently on the Xbox demo disk, but I feel that I have to give Ubisoft a big wet sloppy kiss...
Posted by psu at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

March 23, 2005

Spending The Marginal Dollar

by peterb
Recently, Thurston Searfoss, author of the superb tactical game The Lost Admiral Returns dropped me a line. He's considering adding some features to the game -- online play, a scenario editor, more special missions -- and wanted my opinion as to which of those features I personally thought, as a gamer, would help with sales. I like Thurston, and I love his game, and so I wrote a detailed response to his questions. After sending it, I decided it made interesting reading on it's own, and Thurston graciously said he wouldn't mind if I posted it here.
Continue reading "Spending The Marginal Dollar"
Posted by peterb at 05:15 PM | Comments (1)

March 22, 2005

Legendary Ease of Use

by psu
This month the Official Xbox Magazine included a demo of Jade Empire, the upcoming RPG that Bioware has been developing since they passed the KOTOR franchise to others. I mention this because for the last year or so I've had...
Continue reading "Legendary Ease of Use"
Posted by psu at 08:02 PM | Comments (6)

March 21, 2005

Playable Classics

by peterb
I've talked before about my distrust of nostalgia. But, I like playing, reading about, and writing about old videogames. This presents something of a conundrum. Many discussions of old videogames are colored by nostalgia. Gamers of a certain age have strong opinion on whether the Atari 800 or Commodore 64 version of a given game was better, and have been known to come to blows over the issue. Worse, though, is the tendency to only remember the good things about games we played when we were younger. So you'll hear people talking about how the games today aren't as good as something from 30 years ago, conveniently forgetting about how terrible the UI was on that older game, and how the older game didn't actually let you save your game, so if you wanted to finish it you needed to sit in front of your computer for 36 hours straight.
Continue reading "Playable Classics"
Posted by peterb at 12:14 AM | Comments (2)

March 10, 2005

Halo 2 Vignettes

by psu
I like Halo 2 on Xbox Live. Since I am not innately talented at this sort of thing, I have to get by on single glorious flashes of brilliance to make up for my generally inept level of gameplay. This...
Continue reading "Halo 2 Vignettes"
Posted by psu at 08:02 PM | Comments (4)

March 09, 2005

R is not for Role

by psu
Lately, my game playing time has been mostly budgeted to games that the industry puts into the general genre of "Role Playing Game" or "RPG". Before Knights of the Old Republic I had mostly ignored games like these, but since...
Continue reading "R is not for Role"
Posted by psu at 05:53 PM | Comments (7)

March 08, 2005

Learning From Xbox

by peterb
Editor's Note: An anonymous source dropped this in my mailbox. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but I wanted to share it with my readers because I thought it was an interesting read. "Xenon" is the codename for the Xbox 2. To: Cc: Ballmer, Steve From: Samuelson, Johnathan Subject: Things Xbox can teach Xenon Team, The Xenon product launch is rapidly approaching. Everyone on the team has been executing at 100%, and I have every confidence that the hard work we've put into this product is going to translate to meeting and exceeding market expectations. When you're pushing so hard to make sure we ship it's easy to lose track of the big picture. So I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on what we did right when we launched Xbox, where we missed the mark, and how that experience influenced our decisions on Xenon.
Continue reading "Learning From Xbox"
Posted by peterb at 08:49 PM | Comments (2)

March 03, 2005

Gran Turismo 4

by peterb
My friend Nat and I were talking about Gran Turismo 4. He was saying that the vibe he got was that they had cut most of the cool features out of it when they realized that even without those features they would still sell a kerjillion copies of it:
Really, they could put a vaguely car-shaped turd in a box and people would not only buy it but write impassioned fifteen-page essays about how it was the best game ever and shriekingly deny any rumors of turdness.
This was after I had been playing the game for a few days. Upon reading this, I decided that my entire review of GT4 was going to be "It's a vaguely car-shaped turd in a box." I've played a little more since then, and have a little more to say about it. But if you want the short version, it is this: Gran Turismo 4 is a stunning $50 argument for spending $12 on a used copy of Gran Turismo 3 and then using the $38 you have left over to buy pizza and beer.
Continue reading "Gran Turismo 4"
Posted by peterb at 06:31 PM | Comments (51)

February 24, 2005

I'm With Stupid

by peterb
Video games, like pornography, are addictive. On some level, everyone knows that. That's why we spend so much money on them. It's why dried-up Congressmen take time off from seducing their new pages to hold hearings on ratings systems. It's why tearful wives pour their hearts out to strangers, telling them how their husbands spend all their time online, waving "swords" at "worms" in Everquest. It's why videogame magazines are sealed in plastic, so that the mark doesn't get a peek at the goods without paying. Videogames are like porn, and porn is a dirty, smelly, wet business. If you have to touch anything to do with videogames, you'd better have some alcohol nearby to wash and disinfect afterwards. I've seen a lot of sordid things. I know how cheap and tawdry the retail gaming business is. It's a tease machine, all hype and silicone designed to activate a compulsion in the poor john not just to go buy the lousy game, but to go to the store, right now and buy it today, at full price. And like porn, when you get it home from the store and look at it in the cold light of day, the main thought in your head is often "What the hell was I thinking?" And also like porn, if you're not willing to mail order, you've got to go to a filthly little shack frequented by shady characters. Today, I was going to my local Electronics Boutique.
Continue reading "I'm With Stupid"
Posted by peterb at 06:28 PM | Comments (2)

February 21, 2005

Shatner Addendum

by peterb
I asked William Shatner what he thought about my last article and he said:
The Sony Playstation 2! They spend millions of dollars slagging the Dreamcast, and then all the games are jaggy and ugly! And all the gaming magazines talk about how great the lousy graphics are! I can't get behind that!
Just thought you should know.
Posted by peterb at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

Gran Annoioso

by peterb
Tomorrow, Gran Turismo 4 will be released for the Playstation 2. And, like a good corporate drone, I am probably going to buy it, even though I don't expect it to actually be good. Because the previous game in the series, Gran Turismo 3, really wasn't very good, either. The Emperor, you see, had no clothes.
Continue reading "Gran Annoioso"
Posted by peterb at 08:04 PM | Comments (7)

February 18, 2005

Indie Game Friday: Neverball

by peterb
Neverball is an open-source version of Super Monkey Ball, which itself owes quite a bit to the classic Atari arcade game Marble Madness. It's quite fun, and challenging. It runs on Mac OS, Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD, so you have essentially no excuse for not trying it out.
Continue reading "Indie Game Friday: Neverball"
Posted by peterb at 06:26 PM | Comments (1)

February 15, 2005

Shadow Hearts: Covenant

by psu
Lately I have been trying to figure out why I keep playing Shadow Hearts. It is a "role playing" game in the Final Fantasy mode, which means it offers up a mostly linear series of small dungeon-like areas (even...
Continue reading "Shadow Hearts: Covenant"
Posted by psu at 02:30 AM | Comments (4)

February 09, 2005

Xs and Os

by peterb
Every year, like clockwork, the big gaming megacorps turn out this years edition of their (American) football games. A little more glitz, a little more glamour, some new player statistics. Every year, like clockwork, the gaming press issues their boring roundups of the subtle difference between the nearly identical games. This one has better graphics, that one has a better running game. The commentary on this one sounds more realistic, that one has better stadiums. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to compare the latest megacorp NFL Football game, EA Sports' Madden 2005 to an older game: XOR's NFL Challenge, a mixed text-and-graphics DOS-based game first published in 1985.
Continue reading "Xs and Os"
Posted by peterb at 12:28 AM | Comments (2)

February 03, 2005

Dear NPR Ethicist

by psu
I have a tricky question that has been bothering me for a while. Maybe I should ask NPR about it....
Continue reading "Dear NPR Ethicist"
Posted by psu at 03:21 PM | Comments (2)

February 01, 2005

The Legend of Zelda: Groundhog Day

by psu
I have been playing Zelda: Wind Waker on my new Gamecube lately. Aside from some control issues, the game is a wonder of interesting and unique mechanics, enjoyable narrative, excellent game design, good music and great graphics. However, my experience...
Continue reading "The Legend of Zelda: Groundhog Day"
Posted by psu at 11:34 AM | Comments (4)

January 26, 2005

Quick Pick: Land of Legends

by peterb
Land of Legends

Land of Legends

Indie Game Week may be over, but that doesn't mean Tea Leaves won't continue its coverage of independent games. Since yesterday's article was about consoles that can only be used to play duly authorized corporate funded and developed megaprojects, let's veer off today and look at a small, independently-produced game for Windows PCs: Tiny Hero Game Studio's Land of Legends. As I've mentioned several times, I have a soft spot in my heart for turn-based tactical combat games. Land of Legends falls firmly into this category, derived straight from board games such as Squad Leader and computer games such as Warlords. Here's a few brief comments about Land of Legends, based on the beta.
Continue reading "Quick Pick: Land of Legends"
Posted by peterb at 08:40 PM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2005

Console Buying

by psu
Earlier I babbled at length about the three major consoles. Well, the result predicted in that piece has come to pass. I have come out of the other side of the Christmas season with a new GameCube and a new...
Continue reading "Console Buying"
Posted by psu at 08:48 PM | Comments (7)

January 24, 2005

Unfinished Business

by peterb
Yesterday, I finished The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It took me about 2 years or so to finish it. This isn't because the game was particularly hard, but because about 18 months ago I reached the final dungeon, made it most of the way through, and then, dreading the inevitable endless boss battle, set the game aside. My game shelf is a study in unfinished business. Just glancing along it I can see numerous games that I've abandoned midway through. As I look at them, I feel a vague sense of unease, of foreboding. A sense of obligations unmet. I feel guilty because I didn't play games. The odd thing is, this doesn't happen to me over, for example, books. With a book, I tend to either read it until I'm finished, or decide that it's not worth reading. Then I put the book away forever without any guilt whatsoever. It seems to be only videogames which throw me into such emotional turmoil.
Continue reading "Unfinished Business"
Posted by peterb at 08:11 PM | Comments (3)

January 20, 2005

Sticks and Stones

by peterb
B1 Bomber (click to enlarge)

B1 Bomber (click to enlarge)

The second most tiresome thing about the "there's too much violence in these newfangled videogames" discussion is that violence has always been a part of games. The argument is made, usually poorly, that today's violence is "worse" because graphics today are so much more vivid than they were in the past. This is twaddle. More accessible, perhaps, but not necessarily worse.
Continue reading "Sticks and Stones"
Posted by peterb at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2005


by peterb


In the 1980's pinball manufacturers got a bit innovative while searching for ways to stay relevant to a public that was increasingly choosing videogames over their mechanical cousins. Eventually, the industry would see bankruptcies, consolidation, and the choice of "license movie and TV show trademarks" as their path forward. But in the early '80s, they were still trying to be creative.
I'm back at my cliff
still throwing things off
In 1982, Williams introduced perhaps one of the most ill-advised pinball machines ever made: Hyperball. The game was basically Tempest without a monitor. Instead of moving a little vector shape around a playfield, you rotated a cannon left and right at the bottom of a pinball chassis. Instead of firing bolts of energy, you shot ball bearings at a rate of up to 250 balls per minute. (Note: pinball geeks get all snitty when you describe Hyperball as a pinball machine. They're wrong. It may use nonstandard rules, different sized balls, and not have any bumpers but it's a pinball machine, by the "how would your mother describe this device?" rule.)
I listen to the sounds they make
on their way down
The game was loud in its environment, in the way that a firing range is loud compared to a gas station. Ball bearings that missed targets would sink towards the gun, and collisions with newly fired shots were inevitable, balls sometimes leaping up to smack the glass plate covering the playfield. Perhaps overcompensating for this, the sound effects of the game were equally loud, a pastiche of samples borrowed from Defender and Robotron
Continue reading "Hyperball-ad"
Posted by peterb at 06:44 PM | Comments (2)

January 07, 2005

Game Geek Quiz Answers

by peterb
It's Friday, which means it's time for the answers to the Game Geek Quiz. If you haven't tried the quiz yet, click here if you want to see the questions without spoilers. Otherwise, read on!
Continue reading "Game Geek Quiz Answers"
Posted by peterb at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2005

The Game Geek Quiz

by peterb
Googling for the answers is cheating. Some questions are easy. Others are harder. I don't believe any are impossible. If you answer them all right, you win nothing but the pride (or the shame, depending on how you want to view it) of spending such a large percentage of your brain cells on videogame and computer trivia. Feel free to contribute guesses in the comments.
Continue reading "The Game Geek Quiz"
Posted by peterb at 06:25 PM | Comments (12)

January 04, 2005

Reveries on Reveilles

by peterb
Arcade games used to make noise. They don't, anymore. Not really. I'm not talking about videogames, of course, but arcade games. Being of a certain age means that I've actually played non-video arcade games, other than pinball, something that I suspect most people under 30 haven't done. My favorites were the shooting gallery games. The mechanism in the era in which I was playing was light-based; the games had a small light bulb in the gun that flashed when you pulled the trigger, and light sensors on the targets. Earlier versions of these games didn't use light, but were entirely mechanical. These games were marvelous orchestras of industrial noise. The points were tracked by clunky odometer-like wheels with numbers on them that made a satisfying ka-CHUNK ka-CHUNK noise when they spun, not a soulless LED. As targets (little metal or plastic figured of hares, or bears, or birds) moved into and out of the target area, they would click in to place, THUNK, or smoothly whiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrr across the field. Scores were often announced with the sound of bells. Many of these devices had electronic samples, as well, especially in later years, but the physical nature of the device was not completely abstracted. Nearly as much fun were the sports games. The baseball games, with their core mechanics of pitching and batting resembling pinball, were extremely well-suited to the medium. The machines encouraged abuse. The sheer physicality of slamming on the "hit" button and hearing the metallic crack of the bat on the ball was addicting.
Continue reading "Reveries on Reveilles"
Posted by peterb at 07:51 PM | Comments (2)

December 29, 2004

Grand Bereft Auto

by peterb
Here are some things I hate about the Grand Theft Auto games, in no particular order.
Continue reading "Grand Bereft Auto"
Posted by peterb at 05:08 PM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2004

Thurston Searfoss Interview

by peterb

Thurston Searfoss and Devoted Fan

Excerpts from an interview with Thurston Searfoss, author of The Lost Admiral Returns. peterb: "How long was the development cycle for the game?" Thurston: "It's been about 4 years, part time. I do a number of other different jobs. So a lot longer than I would have liked. I'm a part time developer, marketer -- the whole works, for good or bad -- so I have to switch to alternative tasks, and then I get very frustrated at how long it takes to do anything" What development environment and tools did you use to create the game? "For tools, the usual C++ environment. A lot of them are actually older, so I'm actually using fastpath for file formats, that kind of stuff. I'm having to use DirectX, of course. I evaluated a couple of 3D engines but rejected them in favor of building a 2D sprite system, where I'd have more control."
Continue reading "Thurston Searfoss Interview"
Posted by peterb at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2004

A Very Retro Christmas

by peterb
The wonderful gift of the Atari Anthology (more on that tomorrow) inspired my relatives and I to talk about (and play) some other retro games on various emulators. When I fired up Roger Bannister's Mugrat, I got the following splash screen...

Colecovision Easter Egg

...complete with animated snowflakes and "Winter Wonderland" playing in the background. Since I don't think the Colecovision actually had a clock and battery, I can only assume this was Roger's easter egg, specifically for mugrat. In which case: Thanks, Roger! Joyeux Noël to you, too. And, since this is an entry about an obsolete 8-bit game console, it feels somehow appropriate to note that this is the 256th article on Tea Leaves. Thanks to everyone who both reads the site and writes for it, for keeping it interesting and fun for this entire year.
Posted by peterb at 10:30 PM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2004

The Long Dark Hallway

by psu
As I mentioned earlier I bought Half-Life 2 last week. Here is a short meditation on why the game is perhaps the perfect shooter....
Continue reading "The Long Dark Hallway"
Posted by psu at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2004

Part of the Problem

by peterb
This week Salon published an especially depressing The Year in Games article, full of various commentators saying obvious and, for the most part, untrue things. My favorite had to be the "he's usually smarter than that" Greg Costikyan talking about how there's "no indie games industry." I'd be willing to bet that any random game by Ambrosia software has sold more copies, than, say, any Nokia N-Gage game. Would it be accurate, therefore, for me to say "there's no mobile gaming industry?" Or is the metric for whether an industry exists not whether you book any revenue, but just whether a company is spending money? The other aspect of the article was how it's pretty clear that pretty much none of the commentators -- except for Costikyan -- have ever played any game that wasn't given to them by some PR flack as a freebie. Halo this, Half-Life that, and their version of being "edgy" was recommending Namco's Katamari Damacy . And the guy who said the best game of the year was the unplayable -- but oh so corporate -- Ninja Gaiden made me weep bitter tears of blood. Stop asking why games aren't innovative. They are. It's just that the games you're choosing to play aren't innovative. And if you want to know why that is, just look in the mirror.
Posted by peterb at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2004

Ask the Game Geek, Part 2

by peterb
Here's another game that I vividly remember playing, but could not recall the name of. A little research has helped me figure it out, however. (Yes, I've updated this article since last night, when I still didn't know the name and was bemoaning my fate).

AWACS (Click to enlarge)

It was an Apple ][ game. The game was played on a map of Europe, with the Soviet Union on the east and West Germany and environs on the west. Soviet fighters and bombers would appear on the map, identified by little call signs ("Tu-26" "Mi-25" "Su-11"). The planes would begin flying towards their western targets. In response to this, the player's job was to select an appropriate airbase and dispatch a fighter plane from that base to intercept a given Soviet plane.
Continue reading "Ask the Game Geek, Part 2"
Posted by peterb at 10:01 PM | Comments (2)

December 20, 2004

The Lost Admiral Returns

by peterb
The Lost Admiral Returns

The Lost Admiral Returns

The best game I've played in my recent spate of reviewing is, without question, The Lost Admiral Returns. You've heard the clichés applied to other games: easy to learn, hard to master. This time it's true. Some purists divide games into two camps: those that involve random chance (typically through rolling dice), and those that don't. The latter type are sometimes called "pure" games. In my experience, people who are better at games prefer purer games, because their gigantic brains help guarantee them the win. They aren't cheated of their victory by a random roll of the dice. Because I'm actually pretty unskilled at anything that involves more planning than figuring out what I should have for lunch, I tend to lose at pure games, which means I usually don't like them as much. The Lost Admiral Returns is the exception that proves the rule. Let's review the basics of the game.
Continue reading "The Lost Admiral Returns"
Posted by peterb at 06:59 PM | Comments (3)

December 17, 2004

2 Risky Games

by peterb
One of the mainstays of computer gaming over the years has been translating board games to videogame form. Boardgames are a popular pasttime in their own right, and their constrained playspace and (hopefully) unambiguous rules are a nice change for the developer: there's a whole class of game design and balance issues that you just don't have to worry about. It's all about implementation. One of the more popular games for translation is the simple and addictive wargame Risk. There are innumerable versions of this game for every possible platform. Today, I'd like to talk about two new games that fall in to this class. Lux is Sillysoft's faithful implementation of Risk, and it runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. War! Age of Imperialism is not a Risk translation, but a translation of Eagle Games' board game of the same name. Its conquer-the-world nature makes it close enough to Risk that I'm comfortable discussing it in the same review. War also runs on the Mac, Windows, and Linux platforms.
Continue reading "2 Risky Games"
Posted by peterb at 07:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2004

Game Stores

by psu
I went to buy Half-life 2 this afternoon. Up the hill from where I work, there is a huge EB Games. What I forgot is that every time I go in that store I have a crappy experience. So I...
Continue reading "Game Stores"
Posted by psu at 08:20 PM | Comments (7)

December 15, 2004

The Witch's Yarn

by peterb

I'm a huge fan of text adventures -- the name "interactive fiction", it seems to me, is way too general, since it could cover any number of similar-but-different media -- but they are possibly the most unapproachable genre in the world of computer games. There's a lot of really interesting work being done with the medium, but it's pretty much impossible to get anyone who does not already accept the strictures of the form to try them more than once. You can always get someone to try them once. Inevitably, within less than a minute, the new player will try to examine some item that is just part of the "scenery," or guess the wrong word, and they decide that this is stupid and they don't need to further subject themselves to the medium.

In one sense, that's their loss. In metaphorical sense, though, the author of the work just lost a reader because it wasn't obvious how to turn the pages of the book. Anyone who has ever watched a new player play a text adventure knows exactly what I'm talking about.

>> Grab plate 
I don't know how to grab. 
>> Lift plate 
I don't know how to lift.
>> get plate 
I see no plate here. 
>> get platter 
I see no platter here 
>> get dish 
Which dish do you mean, the green plate, the blue 
plate, or the red plate? 
>> red 
I don't know how to red. 

Continue reading "The Witch's Yarn"
Posted by peterb at 06:38 PM | Comments (4)

December 14, 2004

Star Sonata

by peterb
There is nothing new under the sun. Nearly every videogame (or, for that matter, board game) one plays borrows mechanisms from one or more previous games. Innovation is rare. When we describe a game as being "novel" what we're often referring to is a novel way of combining elements of previous games. I often complain about corporate games that blow their budget entirely on graphics and sound, but part of me understands why: it's easier to innovate visually (or, to a lesser extent, in telling a story) than it is to develop a brand new type of gameplay that is still fun. So the big game companies are simply spending money where it will be most effective at distinguishing their product from the pack. The one sentence description of Star Sonata is: "It's nearly identical to Escape Velocity, except it's online." But of course, most people have probably never heard of Escape Velocity, so then I have to explain about the early 1980's game Elite and how the space opera genre developed. So instead of talking about Star Sonata directly, let's start at the distant end of this ball of yarn, and reel it in.
Continue reading "Star Sonata"
Posted by peterb at 05:17 PM | Comments (4)

December 13, 2004


by peterb
Welcome to this week's first article focusing on independently developed games. The funny thing about being a ninja is how really, it's all about the basics. Sure, sure, you can learn advanced jutsu to channel your chakra into a deadly weapon, or distill a lethal poison for slipping into the drink of the man you've been hired to assassinate. There's the parties with other ninja, the endless fashion parade of simple black clothes and ever more expensive accessories ("Oh, didn't I show you my new shuriken? It's titanium.") Despite all the glitz and glamour of the ninja world, though, when you're on a mission it inevitably comes down to the simple things your first teachers tried to teach you: speed, agility, and intense concentration.
Continue reading "Ninjaneer"
Posted by peterb at 09:12 PM | Comments (1)

December 08, 2004

Magician's Choice

by peterb
I've been playing a bit more Icewind Dale II recently, and I have gotten a bit further in to the game. The game is so soulless and uninteresting that it takes my breath away. Only a committee could have taken such a simple concept and turned out something so completely lacking in fun. As I plow through the same Forgotten Realms setting as the Baldur's Gate games, using the familiar D20 rules that I enjoyed in other games, I am overcome with ennui and want to lay down and take a nap (or, more accurately, play BGII or bg1tutu instead.) Why?
Continue reading "Magician's Choice"
Posted by peterb at 08:22 PM | Comments (3)

December 06, 2004

Magic Missile

by peterb
I recently started re-playing the Baldur's Gate games -- the originals, for the PC -- as well as the somewhat newer Icewind Dale II. What motivated this was a little bit of hackery over at the Pocket Plane Group called bg1tutu. Put simply, this is a project which takes the Baldur's Gate data files and converts them so they can be played with the Baldur's Gate II engine. It's a neat hack.
Continue reading "Magic Missile"
Posted by peterb at 07:26 PM | Comments (4)

December 03, 2004

Picoreview: ESPN Basketball 2k4

by peterb
This is last year's ESPN Basketball game, and you can pick it up for about $7, or less, from any number of game stores. It's essentially the exact same superb game Sega was making for the Dreamcast 5 years ago, except now I can play it on Xbox Live and have my 76'ers humiliate psu's mispronounced Celtics, 60-36.
Posted by peterb at 10:19 PM | Comments (1)

November 30, 2004

Console Shopping

by psu
As I outlined before, a large part of my life is spent shopping. This is not to say that I buy a lot of stuff. Mostly I just make mental lists of what I would like to buy, in an...
Continue reading "Console Shopping"
Posted by psu at 08:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2004

Holiday Gamer's Gift Guide

by peterb
It's hard to know how to shop for a videogamer. How do you find something that's appropriate for their age, fun, and not too expensive if you don't play games yourself? The answer is: you bend to my will and let me choose your gifts for you. My goal here is to recommend games beyond the "big names" -- the fact is, most gamers are more than happy to go out and buy the big marquee titles themselves; if there's a gamer in your family with an Xbox, for example, she or he probably already has Halo 2. Instead, I'm trying to find the more oblique, offbeat, and inexpensive selections.
Continue reading "Holiday Gamer's Gift Guide"
Posted by peterb at 05:44 PM | Comments (6)

November 22, 2004

Metal Gear Stupid

by psu
I found out today that the title of this piece is sadly not original. In fact, much of what I have to say is even told more concisely here. But I figured, why let lack of originality stop a good...
Continue reading "Metal Gear Stupid"
Posted by psu at 07:13 PM | Comments (7)

November 21, 2004

Halo 2: My View

by psu
Just finished the single player in Halo 2, so I feel like I can talk about the game in more detail....
Continue reading "Halo 2: My View"
Posted by psu at 08:25 PM | Comments (2)

November 19, 2004


by peterb
I have a friend who won't play The Sims. She won't even try it. This is someone who likes whimsical videogames, who enjoys nonviolent, nontraditional games. So it seemed to me that even if this wasn't her cup of tea, it would at least be worth trying. I asked her why she was so sure it wasn't for her. "It's like this," she said. "In Kindergarten, we used to play 'house.' Playing 'house' is fun, and you and your friends take on different roles and do different things. But inevitably, there would be that one person who took things to a level of detail that turned a fun game into drudgery. So you'd be playing 'house,' and you'd pretend to have 'dinner.' And then after dinner, if that person was playing, you'd have to wash every dish. And put everything back in the cabinets. And scrub the floor. And take out the trash. And so on. When I look at The Sims, it looks to me like it was made by that same person." This isn't meant to trash The Sims (After all, I have already done that.) It illustrates the point that "realism" in games, like honesty in the face of the question "does this make me look fat?" can be an overrated virtue.
Continue reading "Realism"
Posted by peterb at 08:22 PM | Comments (4)

November 16, 2004

Non Sequitur

by peterb
I have no point here, I just like saying "343 Guilty Spark".
Posted by peterb at 09:31 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2004

At Arm's Length

by peterb

Dear Robert:

Here's a question for you. It's inspired by the knowledge that the demo for Microsoft's upcoming Xbox release Forza Motorsport is circulating amongst the gaming press, but is not yet in wide enough circulation for any of the game bloggers I know to have played it yet. The question is "Why aren't demos like this going to the blogosphere first?

One of my primary interests is game blogging. I write intelligent, straightforward, in-depth, and (I think) fair commentary on video games, their design, and implementation. I must be doing something right, because quite a few game designers seem to read and enjoy my weblog, in addition to game players.

With one notable exception -- Pete Hines of Bethesda Softworks, who very courteously returned my phone call -- I cannot get the game developers' press or marketing liasons to give me the time of day.

Continue reading "At Arm's Length"
Posted by peterb at 12:37 AM | Comments (3)

November 12, 2004

Halo 2: Variants

by peterb
Tonight I discovered that Halo 2 lets you define custom variants and name them. So, as a test, tonight I'll be rolling out Glock 19, a very simple variant: Players start with a pistol. There are no weapons to be found anywhere on the map, and no vehicles. And you have no shields. It's about as close to Counterstrike as I could make Halo be. You also have the option of making players sit out for up to 2 minutes when they die, but I figure I'll see how the rest of the group takes it before adding that little rule. We played it tonight; it was fun! Plus I did pretty well. Rare is the game when I can defeat TheEnglishman.
Posted by peterb at 08:24 PM | Comments (1)

November 11, 2004

Halo 2: The Good

by peterb
My praise of Halo 2 on this site has been pretty lukewarm so far. This is unfair, because it really is a great game. I think the issue is that some of the improvements from the first game are so subtle that they're hard to notice, and then once you notice them they're hard to describe to someone that hasn't played both games. Because of this, Halo 2 is perhaps missing some of the "wow factor" that some of us expected. The greatness of the game only becomes apparent after you play for a little while, especially in multiplayer. I'll try to enumerate some of those aspects here.
Continue reading "Halo 2: The Good"
Posted by peterb at 08:24 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2004

November 09, 2004

Halo 2 Tragedy

by peterb
Today, I bought the Collector's Edition of Halo 2. In a cruel twist of fate, the box I got had only one disk in it -- the "making of" DVD -- and no game disk. So I had to trudge back to Huge Corporate Chain tonight to exchange it for a box which actually, y'know, had the game I paid for.
Continue reading "Halo 2 Tragedy"
Posted by peterb at 08:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2004

Prince Of Persia

by psu
Last week I found I was in my local GameStop and happened to browse past Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time. Since Pete was pretty hard on this game and I tend to believe Pete, I had avoided it...
Continue reading "Prince Of Persia"
Posted by psu at 09:38 PM | Comments (4)

October 19, 2004

Calamari Misterdarcy

by peterb
What are all the cool kids playing on their consoles today? Katamari Damacy!
Continue reading "Calamari Misterdarcy"
Posted by peterb at 08:49 PM | Comments (11)

October 18, 2004

Hedging My Bets

by peterb
My mom is convinced that John Kerry is going to win the election. I think she couldn't be more wrong. I'd like for John Kerry to win. I'd like for George Bush to lose. But I don't see it happening....
Posted by peterb at 08:36 PM | Comments (5)

October 08, 2004

Arrested Development

by peterb
I was at the Carnegie Library last night, trying to track down volume 2 of Alan Moore's Promethea. A very nice librarian was helping me, and we got to talking, and she said "So, are you really into..." There was a long pause. "...graphic novels?" Now, I'm sure she was just making conversation, but there was a very large part of me that was sure that the real question being asked was "Why are you reading comic books? Aren't you past that yet?" I'm sensitive about this, in part, because of something someone said to me not too long ago. They were saying that they read my writing and thought it surprising that a guy in his thirties "still played videogames." I laughed it off, but inside I was stunned. It had never occurred to me, even for a moment, to entertain the idea that playing videogames was something that one would set aside with adulthood, like playing with dolls or making mudcakes.
Continue reading "Arrested Development"
Posted by peterb at 12:14 AM | Comments (3)

October 05, 2004


by peterb
Reminder: the 10th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition" has begun. Anyone and everyone is welcome to play and judge the games. We used to call them "text adventures" instead of "interactive fiction," but you know these crazy kids with their loud rock and roll music and their hamburger sandwiches and their french fried potatoes.
Posted by peterb at 06:43 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2004

I Giochi Inesistenti

by peterb
Last night I dragged one of my Apple IIs up from the basement and set it up, and searched through every disk I own, searching for a game that only I remember. It was a version of the old text-based Star Trek games that randomly printed out page-long quotes from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I didn't find it. Unfortunately, I only have about half of the disks I had from that era -- I don't know what happened to my "main" box of disks. Probably, I brought it to college with me and lost it during some move. I love playing "Ask the Game Geek" for other people, so it's somewhat driving me crazy that I can't find this one. I found lots of other interesting things that I had forgotten about -- frankly, I'm surprised that so many of those 5 1/4" floppies still worked. You'd think that we'd have everything about the Apple II written down on the web somewhere, but we don't. The Asimov software archive (among others) is very good, and very comprehensive, but also disorganized and incomplete. And short of downloading every disk image you find and trying it out, you just can't data mine for information about the games. In frustration, I've offered to pay Google Answers $10 if they can find me the game itself or adequate identifying information. The same offer is open to any of my readers: if you can ID this game, I'll Paypal you 10 bucks. Here's the information I gave to Google:
Continue reading "I Giochi Inesistenti"
Posted by peterb at 10:29 AM | Comments (4)

September 21, 2004


by peterb
Everett Kaser had one great idea for a game. He's taken that one idea, and leveraged it into many, many games. Which of them you play is a matter of taste. But if you don't own at least one Kaser game, you're missing out on the most addictive puzzlers since Sokoban. Rewind to 1990: my friend Nerak hands me a floppy with a DOS shareware version of Kaser's great idea: the game Sherlock. Have you ever heard those logic puzzles that begin: "Doctor so-and-so needed to seat 12 people at the dinner table. The lawyer wants the vegetarian dish, and won't sit next to the doctor. The man with the yellow hat wants roast beef. Red wine is being served to the person who has the chicken (and so on, and so on, and so on). Sherlock is a more abstract version of that puzzle.
Continue reading "Elementary"
Posted by peterb at 09:29 PM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2004

Sims 2 Early Reactions

by peterb
For those of you who might want to play Sims 2, you could do worse than to read Tilt's mini-review of his first exposure to it.
Posted by peterb at 11:50 PM | Comments (4)

September 14, 2004

The Sims: Perspectives

by peterb
I've never liked The Sims, despite trying to play it at least three times a year for the past few years. I think a big part of this is the mise en scene. I can read books, cook, take out the garbage, go to work and shower all by myself; the idea of playing a game where I shepherd a little avatar through these activities feels just a little too meta. I also find playing The Sims to be a fundamentally emotionally stressful experience in a way that, say, playing a fighting game isn't. Getting beaten up by some guy with a sword? I can handle that. Setting the kitchen on fire, however, is a blow from which I'm not sure my delicate psyche can recover. I don't know how to use a sword in real life, so it's no big deal if my videogame self makes a mistake. But I spent several long, long years learning how to urinate in the toilet rather then the floor, and having to relearn this skill just to play a game doesn't please me. I think part of my problem is that I like games more than toys. The Sims feels like more of a toy to me -- and I am not using the word "toy" in a disparaging sense. Rather than having objectives, scoring, and winning conditions, the Sims just kind of is. That's not to my taste.
Continue reading "The Sims: Perspectives"
Posted by peterb at 11:24 PM | Comments (2)

September 13, 2004

Last Call: The Sims

by peterb
The article on The Sims, and why we love (or, in my case, hate) it goes live tomorrow. If you want to get your $0.02 in, it's now or never. Send your submissions to So far, most of the submissions are from Sims addicts aficionados. Surely, I can't be the only person out there who just Doesn't Get It? Send me your take on it.
Posted by peterb at 06:07 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2004

Mario and the Jedi

by psu
In addition to an orgy of Madden Football, I've been playing a lot of RPG titles lately. I'm still in the early stages of both Knights of the Old Republic and Mario and Luigi, the latter of which I've already...
Continue reading "Mario and the Jedi"
Posted by psu at 08:50 PM | Comments (1)

September 07, 2004

Call for Participation: The Sims

by peterb
I want to like The Sims. A large number of people whose opinions I respect adore the game. The graphic sensibility in it is bouncy and fun. The sound design and music are top-notch. The game has a sense of whimsy and humor. The ideas are clever, and the amount of customization you can do to your characters and their surroundings is practically unlimited. And it bores me. It bores me to tears. I'm preparing an article on why I feel this way about The Sims, but want to enlist some help from others who have played it. I'm particularly interested in those of you who do like the game: why do you like it? What absorbs you? When you play the game, what do you spend your time actually doing? I'm looking for just a couple of paragraphs that summarize these aspects of your experience in The Sims. Submissions from those of you who dislike the game are welcome, as well. Please email your submissions to
Posted by peterb at 07:27 PM | Comments (1)

August 31, 2004

Bargain Bin

by peterb
One of the advantages to owning a nearly-obsolete PC is that you know off the bat that the latest and greatest games won't run on it. So rather than spend $49.99 on the latest releases, which, let's be frank, are usually not that good, you can hit the bargain shelf and find games for $10 or less. You've heard me talk about this before, as the "kielbasa sandwich in Chiodo's" effect: it may not be a great sandwich, but it was only $2, so who cares? My favorite bargain rack, currently, is the one at Electronics Boutique. EB is already predisposed to dump their PC game stock -- the real money is in consoles, after all -- so you can find some great deals on preowned PC games there. This weekend I picked up four titles, three of which I've been actually able to play. Myst III: Exile ($4.99) I'm enjoying this. It's been a while -- years -- since I've played any of the Myst games. Some of the mystery of the larger game is dissipated off the bat by the presentation of the plot on a silver platter, but perhaps that is to be expected of a sequel. Once you're past the cheesy dialogue, though, the game has the right feel.
Continue reading "Bargain Bin"
Posted by peterb at 04:58 PM | Comments (3)

August 30, 2004

Gamers' Bill of Rights

by peterb
Every so often, I forget that many PC games are bug-riddled sacks of garbage. When this happens, I go out and buy a couple, until I remember why I was driven to transfer most of my gaming to dedicated consoles. This is sad, since PC games do have a rich and storied history, and address a market that is not adequately served by consoles (that market being "people willing to spend way too much money on games.") Many of you style yourselves "game developers" and write computer programs that you call "games." From this point forward, all games that you develop must conform to the following requirements. Those who produce games that do not meet these criteria will be punished.
Continue reading "Gamers' Bill of Rights"
Posted by peterb at 04:35 PM | Comments (13)

August 25, 2004

Pharaoh Speaks

by peterb

Andrew Tepper

Continuing our focus on A Tale in the Desert, here is an interview with the Pharaoh of this particular Egypt, Andrew ("Teppy") Tepper, the game's designer and President of eGenesis, its publisher. Typically, interviews like this focus on the gameplay design or community development. I'm less interested in that (in part because I think you can often explore those aspects by simply playing the game). Instead, my aim for this interview was to focus specifically on the actual technical development challenges in creating a complex online game with a small team, something that few of us have done. If you're want details about the game itself, you might want to look at my recent review. I reached Andrew at home, just after he had finished up work for the evening.
Continue reading "Pharaoh Speaks"
Posted by peterb at 07:33 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2004

Reviews of Games You've Already Played

by psu
I don't buy too many games the day they come out, so by the time I'm done with one it's been around a while. Here are some thoughts on a couple of games that have been around for a...
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Posted by psu at 08:09 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2004

A Tale in the Desert

by peterb
The gamer's complaint of "we want innovative games!" is one that the industry has learned, through experience, to ignore. Some gamers want innovative games. Most gamers say they want innovative games, but really the marketplace proves that -- as a group -- they want derivative games that carry the illusion of being innovative. This is doubly true in the tired and pretty much creatively dead genre of multiplayer online role-playing games, which combine the kludgy game mechanics of any mediocre game that is five years out of date with the social culture of IRC and the lousy user interface of a MUD. (As I speak, some commissar in the politburo of pretentiousness is marking me down for the next purge for referring to this technology as "multiplayer online game" rather than "virtual world." History, however, will be on my side). When innovative games do come along, it often takes us a long time to recognize them. I've been playing the A Tale in the Desert II beta lately -- I played the original game last year, but never wrote about it -- and I think it's innovative enough that anyone who is interested in online games should at least try it. Whether or not one wants to actually pay to keep playing it is, of course, a matter of taste. There's a few things I find intriguing about A Tale in the Desert. I like the mise-en-scène. I like that there's no combat at all -- not against other players, not against bad guys or monsters. I like the sheer size of the land (which, while not actually as large as the real Egypt, manages to feel like it is). I like the tech tree that punishes antisocial people (like me!) who try to build everything by themselves. I like that technologies are locked until enough people in an area cooperate to open them up.
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Posted by peterb at 05:03 PM | Comments (1)

August 19, 2004


by peterb
I have cancelled my City of Heroes account. It was fun while it lasted, but eventually I realized that my main motivation was to see cool super powers and beat up computer controlled bad guys. City of Heroes did that very effectively, but so does Diablo II, and that doesn't charge me $15 a month for the privilege. However, I have once again gotten entangled in the intriguing game A Tale in the Desert, this time as part of the beta test for the next version. Watch this space for an overall discussion of the game in game terms, and then, later, an interview with the developers, focusing specifically on the challenges of software development.
Posted by peterb at 07:32 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2004

Bonaguil 0.2

by peterb
Bonaguil 0.2 is out, with support for pluggable AI modules. Give it a try. The UI still sucks, because, well -- I'm not very good at user interfaces. "Know thyself," said the Oracle, and I know that I've never been one of the graphics people. Fortunately, in addition to making the AI easily customizable, I tried to)keep all the GUI callouts separated in their own little ghetto. So hopefully, someday when Bonaguil Mania is sweeping the world, someone more talented at graphic design and usability than I am will rewrite the GUI. There are currently only two robots, both intended simply as demos. The Jester makes completely random moves, and is intended to showcase the bare minimum interface you need to implement to make things work. The Knave looks at the board and does a 1-ply calculation to find the move that will give him the best score. He doesn't think about degrading the enemy's position, and in the event of a tie he just goes with the first thing he found, which is stupid. The point of the Knave from a tutorial standpoint is to show how to use the Board class's copy constructor to make a virtual representation of the board that isn't connected to the display that can then be used for analysis.
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Posted by peterb at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2004

Madness and the Minotaur

by peterb
Slot machines, so the theory goes, are addictive precisely because of the randomness of the payoff. It's not simply the possibility of winning that draws players, but the hypnotic, chaotic patternlessness of winning and losing that sucks them in. Videogames work this way too, sometimes. D.B. Weiss's otherwise undistinguished book Lucky Wander Boy does have the germ of an idea in exploring the (fictional), eponymous arcade game, which was both exceedingly difficult and surrealist. My own personal Lucky Wander Boy is a text adventure for the TRS-80 Color Computer called Madness and the Minotaur. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever beaten the game. It's not clear to me that it is actually possible. I've held on to a TRS-80 Color Computer solely to play this game. For years I've dragged a cassette around with a backup of the game on it, on the b-side of a tape which held Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage album. I could sing you the scratchy John Zorn song the accumulated bits make from the tape as they load, slowly, into memory.
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Posted by peterb at 05:59 PM | Comments (7)

August 03, 2004

What I've Played.

by psu
It's been about a year since I bought that xbox. Here's what I've learned....
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Posted by psu at 01:00 AM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2004

Bonaguil 0.1

by peterb
Because I'm kinda thickheaded, I spent my weekend vacation programming a game. That's my idea of relaxation. I'm funny that way. This is a bare-bones reimplementation of the SSI-published Apple ][ strategy game Fortress, ("A game of strategic development and fortification") which combines elements of Go and Chess, although it is much less sophisticated than either of those games. I don't know if this was based on some actual board game; I suspect not, since the scoring is irritating enough that I can't imagine doing it without a machine's help. It's a fun game, though, and I got tired of firing up the emulator in order to play it. Thus, this version, which I call Bonaguil (I was considering calling it "Harlech," since the original Fortress used the ancient tune "Men of Harlech" as its theme song, but if you've ever actually seen Château-Fort de Bonaguil up close and personal, you'll agree it's a good choice).
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Posted by peterb at 12:45 PM | Comments (2)

July 30, 2004

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, Part 1

by peterb
APB ("All Points Bulletin") was an Atari arcade game designed by Dave Theurer, who also made the classic games Missile Command, Tempest -- the best arcade game ever made, for my money -- and I, Robot. It was the forebear of the original, overhead view Grand Theft Auto games. It was primarily a driving game; you were a police officer, and had a certain amount of time to arrest a certain number of miscreants (hitchhikers, litterers, speeders, etc.) while avoiding getting demerits. It was fairly challenging. On each round, there was a special "super villain" you could arrest to end the round immediately and get bonus points. The game was published in 1987, also known as "a few years before the Rodney King incident." If you caught the super villain -- the first one was a hippie -- the view switched to an exterior view of the interrogation room, with you and the suspect visible in silhouette. Your fat, stupid, donut-eating sergeant was slowly walking down the stairs. You then slapped the buttons fast and hard to "interrogate" (read: beat up) the suspect. If you beat him up enough before the sergeant came in to the room and witnessed the rights violation, he would confess. It was popular at the time for Congressmen, Senators, and other idiots to complain about the values that videogames taught "our children," but I never once heard a Congressman or law enforcement official complain about the values taught by a game that gave you points for beating up a suspect.
Posted by peterb at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2004

Time Travel

by peterb
HOUR 1: Hey! Guys! I got DOOM 3! Whooooooo! HOUR 2: Stupid installer erased my datebook. HOUR 3: OK, it's running. Why is everything so slow? What the hell? DAY 2: Got new videocard at CompUSA. Runs OK now, when not crashing. DAY 3: Couldn't take crashing. Bought new computer. DAY 3: Still crashing. Hate everyone. DAY 4: No friends playing; computers all too slow. Maybe play with strangers? DAY 5: 13 year old kids humiliating me. Hate everyone and everything. DAY 6: I will master this. Stayed home from work to practice. DAY 7: Boss called. Told him I had plague. DAY 8: Lost to Estonian third-grade girl, 16-0. Hate everyone and everything in the entire universe. DAY 10: Stopped playing stupid game. Will wait for Halo 2.
Posted by peterb at 06:39 PM | Comments (4)

July 28, 2004


by peterb
Nostalgia, in general, is an emotion that I am suspicious of. We grow by moving forward, and though sometimes that involves looking back introspectively, nostalgia is the opposite of introspection: it is the fetishism of the past. Some part of the past is thought of as good because it wells up nostalgic feelings, rather than because of anything one can qualify objectively. I try to consciously choose introspection instead of nostalgia whenever I can. However -- as the regular reader may be able to guess -- when it comes to obsolete videogames, I am completely in thrall to the teenager in my head. I don't think this is uncommon. If you ask people (or at least American men) who grew up in certain eras what the best video game consoles were, you will get different answers -- I'm in the Atari 2600 camp, those about 5 years younger than me will talk about the original Nintendo Entertainment System, those a few years younger than that will talk about the Sega Genesis or the SNES, and so on. Basically, whatever your first console was (or, whatever the first console that you best friend had but your parents wouldn't get for you was, so later in life you feel compelled to buy them on eBay. Er, not that I'd know), that's the one that you feel nostalgic for. This works for old home computers, too, and of course computer games. The most recent wave of nostalgia to overcome me is the "Ultima Classics" package put together by one very obsessive-compulsive fan. It's floating around the ether, and if you have a Windows PC and are at all interested in classic games I recommend you track it down. I actually already own all of the Ultima games -- some in their Apple ][ incarnations -- but the sheer comprehensiveness of the collection inspires nothing short of awe. Included are every version of every Ultima game (except Ultima 9) for the PC, Apple ][, Commodore 64, Vic-20 (!), and Amiga platforms, along with emulators to run the non-PC native ports. Also included are various fan-authored remakes and ports (such as Exult and XU4), full documentation for every game, and just to add insult to injury a series of videoclips of Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British) talking about his work. This, therefore, seems like a good time to talk about the Ultima games and their progress through the years.
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Posted by peterb at 05:55 PM | Comments (19)

June 28, 2004

Groundhog Day

by peterb
Having to deal with yet another bad designer's stupid implementation of "save points" is the worst part of being a console gamer. Almost everyone gets it at least a little bit wrong. Many designers get it very wrong. A few game designers get it so wrong that you want them to be put into suspended animation and then revived only when the Earth has been conquered by a race of technologically advanced yet horribly malicious alien beings who will transport them into a whirling nightmarish dimension of transinfinite pain.
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Posted by peterb at 05:20 PM | Comments (12)

June 14, 2004

Are You Experienced?

by peterb

I play games; a lot of games. Many of the games I play are computer games. Some of those are of the broad category called "Role-Playing Games," or RPGs. There are many definitions of this, but a simplified one is: if it sounds sort of like Dungeons and Dragons, it's a role playing game. I've been thinking about the mechanics of these games, and I am judging them and finding them wanting. In particular, the concept of "levelling up" in nearly all of these games is tied, in a nearly inextricable way, to combat.

I don't like this.

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Posted by peterb at 02:12 PM | Comments (7)

May 28, 2004

City of Heroes

by peterb
In the mid-80's, Saturday's were for going over to Junot Diaz's apartment (yes, "that" Junot Diaz) where we'd go into the basement and play role-playing games. I'd say we played "all day and all night," but really they played all day and all night, and I'd play for just a couple of hours until my mother called and yelled at me to come home, because she thought it was unhealthy for a teenage boy to spend 14 hours in the basement playing D&D (personal to mom: OK, 20 years have passed and I can admit it. You were right.) Saturdays were, in other words, geek days. We didn't actually play D&D; typically we played in various intricate universes that Junot had created, using Rolemaster or Spacemaster from a company called Iron Crown Enterprises to resolve the combats. These systems focused on lovingly gory descriptions of exactly what happened when you hit your opponent, so you'd roll a die and look up column "D" on the "slash critical" table to find out that your opponent had severed your achilles tendon, causing you to fall to the ground in agony, or you'd look in column "E" on the "pierce critical" to see that your arrow went straight through the enemy horseman's eye and into his brain, killing him instantly. There were critical tables for bludgeoning, burns, explosions -- it was fun. Characters didn't tend to live very long. Roleplaying games, pizza, coca-cola, and comics books -- lots of comic books.
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Posted by peterb at 06:30 PM | Comments (1)

May 21, 2004

Paris in the Springtime

by peterb
Microsoft has released their first downloadable content for Project Gotham Racing 2, including a bunch of cars I'll never be able to afford and a whole new city: Paris.
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Posted by peterb at 04:13 PM | Comments (3)

May 12, 2004

Ask The Game Geek

by peterb
To the person who arrived at my site googling for "apple II games remake download old parachute": The name of the game you're looking for is "Sabotage," and you can get it here. It should play in any halfway decent Apple II emulator.

It was a diverting little game, with a surprising amount of tactical trade off. You could shoot the paratroopers full on, blowing them into bits, or you could take them out by shooting the helicopters, whose shrapnel would cut them to pieces, or you could aim carefully, shoot out their parachutes and watch them plummet. If you were accurate enough, you could even make a paratrooper plummet and squash a trooper who had already landed safely. If three or four paratroopers managed to land safely on one side of your gun emplacement or the other, they would team up and blow you up, ending the game. You're welcome.
Posted by peterb at 09:47 PM | Comments (0)

Dear Game Industry:

by peterb
Enough with the porn stars and cheesecake girls at your conferences. I know you think that everyone who buys games is 17 years old and in a state of arrested development, but we're not. So cut it out, already. It's embarassing. OK? PS: Also, reuse more code, you dorks.
Posted by peterb at 08:29 PM | Comments (3)

May 10, 2004

The Grail of Yendor

by peterb
Random thoughts on the meta-design of roguelike games, preserved here so I don't lose them. In the late '80s, I nearly failed out of college playing urogue, a rogue derivative by Herb Chong that, as near as I can tell, was heavily based on AT&T's Advanced Rogue. I was quite addicted. I liked it even compared to the then-more-advanced Hack, because it seemed simpler, more elegant somehow. In the late '90s, I tried compiling urogue on the then current x86 systems, Linux and NetBSD, and it failed utterly. I spent little time and ported it to modern unix and ANSI C (and, before you ask, no, I won't give you the source code). It was a fun weekend project and I got to play around a bit.
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Posted by peterb at 08:36 PM | Comments (2)

April 23, 2004

Beyond Good and Evil

by peterb
Currently on the bargain racks for the Xbox, GameCube, PS2, and PC platforms is a little gem of a platformer: Beyond Good and Evil. It was released with some fanfare late last year, and proceeded to impress critics and fail to sell at all. The fact that this game (essentially) flopped makes me a little sad. I am not certain if it is a sign that the publisher, Ubisoft, is an incompetent marketer (as a friend of mine said, "Beyond Good and Evil? They might as well have named it Marcus Aurelius's Meditations") or a sign that the game playing public is, by and large, composed of morons. Given that the somewhat inferior (but "branded") Prince of Persia handily outsold Beyond Good and Evil, and that the latest abysmal Need for Speed driving game outsold Project Gotham Racing 2, I lean towards the latter hypothesis.
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Posted by peterb at 07:41 PM | Comments (2)

April 20, 2004

Children's Books vs. Video Games

by peterb
33. If You Give a Mouse a Glock 19 [peterb] 32. Duck on a Warthog [peterb] 31. Horton Hears a Sniper [agroce]
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Posted by peterb at 08:00 PM | Comments (1)

April 18, 2004

President Forever

by peterb
As a followup to my preview of The Political Machine, I decided to try President Forever, which was suggested by one of my alert readers (who, I believe, is involved with the publisher?) There is a free demo available, and the full game can be purchased and downloaded for a mere $12. I paid more than that for lunch this week. (They also will sell you, as a bonus, their previous game President 2000 for just $2. I bought it, because I'm a sucker for a bargain, but I haven't tried that one yet.) President Forever is a Windows-only game. (Question for game publishers out there: why aren't you developing all your games in SDL? Then you'd get great graphics and sound and everything could be trivially ported to Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and probably other platforms. This isn't a rhetorical question -- I really want to know.)
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Posted by peterb at 09:13 PM | Comments (5)

April 16, 2004

New Addiction

by peterb
The only MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) that is any fun: The Kingdom of Loathing. And it's free!
Posted by peterb at 07:36 PM | Comments (2)

April 14, 2004

The Political Machine

by peterb
I renewed my subscription today, specifically so I could get access to the beta test of Brad Wardell's still-in-development election gameThe Political Machine.
The Political Machine

The Political Machine

I'm a big fan of Brad's games, and have long felt that he brought an exciting independent voice to PC gaming. I don't play too many PC games anymore, what with the Xbox filling so many of my needs and my main leisure computing platform being a Mac. But that's my problem, not Brad's, and I figured if anyone would make an interesting game for that platform it would be him. So I bit the bullet to take a look. Please keep in mind that I'm being a little unfair to Brad here in reviewing what's basically an alpha. I promise I'll review it again once the final version is released and all the bugs are worked out. I'm deliberately not going to talk about any bugs I might encounter now because, hey, fixing the bugs is what beta-testing is for.
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Posted by peterb at 09:25 PM | Comments (8)

April 08, 2004

Dramatis Personae

by peterb
'"Help him. Help him" Dobbs sobbed. "Help him"
"Help who? Help who?" called Yossarian once he could wrestle his headset back into the intercom. "Help who?"
"The bombadier. The bombadier. Help the bombadier"
"I'm the bombadier" Yossarian yelled right back to him. "I'm the bombadier, I'm all right, I'm all right."
"Then help him, help him" Dobbs begged. "Help him. Help the bombadier."
And Snowden lay dying in the back.
--Joseph Heller, Catch-22
It's a silly little thing, really. Just a tradition. When I crew my first bomber in the classic SSI Apple ][ game Fifty Mission Crush, I name the crew members after characters from Catch-22. The pilot will be Orr or McWatt, Snowden is the tailgunner, Aarfy is the radiman, and of course the bombadier has to be Yossarian. Various other minor characters from the book fill out the other positions. This leads to a problem, of course, when you take heavy flak over Lille and Aarfy (for example) dies. Who takes his place? You could of course hypothesize that Aarfy Junior joined the service also, or that Aarfy has a clone, suitably named "Aarfy 2," but that somehow isn't quite as satisfying. Consequently, I tend to get attached to the first generation of each crewman, perhaps mostly because it's such a pain to come up with a new name if they die.
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Posted by peterb at 05:48 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2004

Bodies in Motion

by peterb
Lately I've been playing a bit of the squad-level strategy game Jagged Alliance 2 (both the original and the new "harder than killing a puppy in cold blood with no guilt" "Wildfire" version.) I generally prefer turn-based strategy to real time strategy games, but thinking about some of the design decisions the JA2 guys made sparked some thoughts about the fundamental choices designers make when building these games.
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Posted by peterb at 05:50 PM | Comments (4)

March 20, 2004


by peterb
Game mechanics: the underlying rules and goals of a game. How do you decide what a player is allowed to do? When has a player won? How do player actions affect the game? The mechanics of a game are part of a game that is not narrative. Some basic game mechanics:
  • Run around in a circle; first one to finish wins. (all racing games)
  • Kill everyone else and/or capture the flag (most FPSs)
  • Move the ball to the scoring zone the most times (sports games)
  • Capture and hold victory points (war games)
  • Wager and win tokens (gambling games)
Compound games exist: Get the ball in the goal while killing everyone (Deathrow). Run around in a circle while killing everyone (Wipeout XL, Quantum Redshift). There are plenty more. What I've been thinking about today is not so much mechanics in the sense of the specific ways games play, as in these examples, but in what I think of as "meta-mechanics," the classes that the rules themselves fall into. For example...
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Posted by peterb at 10:42 AM | Comments (6)

March 17, 2004

Europa Universalis

by peterb
Since my last article was spent talking about console games and how great they are, let me shift gears and talk about a PC game I've been playing lately: Europa Universalis II. This is a game with beautiful, beautiful maps. Gorgeous maps. Maps that literally take your breath away and make you marvel at them. You'll sit back, contemplating the intriguing position of the Low Countries in relation to the principality of Brandenburg, and say -- perhaps out loud, even -- "Damn that's one beautiful map." See, I like maps. I love them. And the tragedy of Europa Universalis, for me, is that the game isn't as good as its maps. I keep playing the game, even though I don't like it that much, because I'm convinced that it has to be better than it is. Because of the maps.
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Posted by peterb at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2004

Platforms in Play

by peterb
I play video games, on average, maybe an hour a day. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but on average probably 1/24th of my adult life is spent playing videogames. That's quite a lot. I have a love of the game medium that is both wide and deep. For the past many years, I've played games both on the PC (Windows and Mac) and more or less every console in current vogue. I spend both time and money on gaming as a hobby. And lately I notice that a greater percentage of my playing time is devoted to games on a console, as compared to games on the PC. Why is that?
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Posted by peterb at 04:11 PM | Comments (6)

March 12, 2004

Review: The Battle for Wesnoth

by peterb
Over the years, one of my favorite types of computer games has fallen under the rubric of "turn-based strategy"; basically, traditional units-in-hexes wargames where the computer takes care of all the bookkeeping for me. The first of these was probably, I'm guessing, Empire for the VAX/VMS system (and yes, I played it). Empire had supply points (cities) which could be captured, that could produce a variety of units with different capabilities (land, sea, air) and different attack and defense values. That's the core of this sort of game. There have been hundreds of implementations of these throughout the years. In my college years, I enjoyed XConq, which was a very thorough (though baroque) implementation. One feature of this sort of game is that the theme is more or less completely disconnected from the mechanics. Draw pictures of artillery pieces and tanks on the chits, and it's a World War II game. Change the artillery pieces into men in funny hats and the tanks into trolls, and it's a "fantasy" game. Change the trolls into cavalry and now you're in the Napoleonic era. So one core game mechanic can be used for many different vibes.
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Posted by peterb at 06:23 AM | Comments (4)

March 07, 2004


by peterb
Note: This article may contain spoilers for a number of popular and not-so-popular video games. I'll try to keep my discussion oblique, but you have been warned. The study of puzzles is one that consumes some people. There are brilliant folks who spend most of their waking hours thinking about historically significant puzzles, trying to develop novel puzzles, and who have a deep, analytical sense of what makes a puzzle challenging and enjoyable. I am, I confess, not one of those people. Neither, apparently, are many of the people designing video games for the consumer market. I play a lot of games (video games and otherwise), and I enjoy a good puzzle when I come across one in that context, but personally I'm much more interested in the narrative of a game than in the mechanics of any specific puzzle therein, as this series of articles demonstrates. So I don't speak with authority as an expert on brilliant puzzle construction, but merely as a player who encounters too many tired puzzles in the games he plays.
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Posted by peterb at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2004

There and Back Again

by peterb
This is the second in a series of articles investigating the question "What makes videogames fun?" The first article in the series can be found here In my last article I talked about the importance of location and how the use of a model which points back to the real world can be compelling in and of itself. This is only half the story, though. Not every game can take place in Times Square, nor should every game. It's (arguably) unfair to make a space opera or fantasy story take place in Dayton, Ohio. The question then is: if you are describing a space that doesn't signify a real-world space, how do you make the player care? How do you increase the power of the virtual space you've created so that, when she is done playing your game, the player thinks of it, on some level, as a "real" place? In this article, I'm going to discuss three techniques: familiarity and reuse, signifiers such as maps and text, and geometric and logical consistency.
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Posted by peterb at 05:14 PM | Comments (3)

February 29, 2004

Location, Location, Location!

by peterb
This is the first in a series of articles examining videogames and what makes them enjoyable I enjoy driving games, all kinds of driving games. Driving games feed into my love of auto racing, and of cars, and put an entire class of vehicles that I can't afford in real life into my hands. So I tend to play them a lot. One class of games is the "tune up" game: you don't just acquire cars, but actually have to go buy aftermarket parts and adjust the shocks and choose the right tires, etc., to get your car in shape to win races. Two examples of these are Gran Turismo 3 for the Playstation 2 and Sega GT 2002 for the Xbox. From a pure driving perspective, Sega GT is the better game. The way the cars handle is more realistic; the change in the way the cars move feels more correct. And the graphics are better, too. So are the controls. Yet every time I want to play a "tune up" game, I reach for Gran Turismo 3. Every single time. Sega GT, which delivers a "better" driving experience, sits on my shelf, unplayed. Why? Because with Gran Turismo, I can drive at Laguna Seca. I can drive -- virtually -- around a real space, a space that existed in my head before I bought the game.
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Posted by peterb at 06:15 PM | Comments (1)

February 25, 2004

"The Bomb Has Been Planted"

by peterb
My friend Jon plays board games. Of the hundreds of games he plays, there is one -- Advanced Squad Leader -- that has the distinction of simply being referred to as the game. For many years the first person shooter Counterstrike was my the game It has recently been re-released for the Xbox and I've been playing it lately. It's rapidly becoming the game once again. Counterstrike is a team-based first person shooter: "terrorists" versus "counterterrorists." Cops and robbers, with objectives. In any given mission, either the terrorists want to blow up some site and the CTs want to prevent them, or the terrorists are trying to hold hostages and the CTs are trying to rescue them. The game was made before 9/11, so "take a bunch of hostages and then kill them, along with yourself," didn't make it into the mission objectives list. And in perhaps the only nod to how the world has changed, the "terrorists have taken over a 747" map is not included in the game. I can't say I blame them for that particular change. Here are my notes on the Counterstrike on Xbox experience.
Continue reading ""The Bomb Has Been Planted""
Posted by peterb at 10:11 AM | Comments (2)

February 15, 2004


by psu
I bought myself an xbox for my birthday 4 or 5 months ago. I've never been a big gamer. Over the last decade or so, I've played the odd shooter game for a while and then stopped again for years...
Continue reading "Games"
Posted by psu at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2004

What I'm Playing

by peterb
A brief list:
  • PC: Wizardry 8 (still), Day of Defeat.
  • Xbox: Project Gotham Racing 2, GTA3. Counterstrike will be arriving soon (wakka-wakka-wakka-fruit).
  • PS2: Fatal Frame 2, Mark of Kri.
  • Gamecube: Naruto 2. Zelda is on hold.

Posted by peterb at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2004

When Emulation Goes Bad

by peterb
...because you can never have too many parodies of Mortal Kombat....
Posted by peterb at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2004

Wizardry 8

by peterb
Wizardry 8 is a game that succeeds in spite of itself. I've been nibbling at this little clunker of a game for over a year now (which seems like a common occurrence -- people keep coming back to it) and recently have become engrossed in it once again. It has many, many flaws, yet behind those flaws is an entertaining CRPG that is fun to toy with. Interestingly, it has one of the most dedicated fan communities of recent CRPGs, with pages upon pages of material devoted to how to get the most out of playing and replaying the game.
Continue reading "Wizardry 8"
Posted by peterb at 12:27 PM | Comments (1)

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