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Originally created to follow Looking Glass Studios and their games, these days we are many things to different people. Whether you wish to discuss the games themselves and fan content, enjoy games inspired by the legacy of the game studio or just enjoy chatting about games or life in general - Welcome!

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8th Mar 2011
Awesome new interview series - Dan - 02:28

Looks like we're not the only LGS loving group that's getting into the action. Check this out: Looking Glass Studios Interview Series - Audio Podcast 1 - Austin Grossman

GAMBIT is proud to present the Looking Glass Studios Interview Series, an audio podcast series in which we chat with various people who worked for the legendary developer (famous for groundbreaking franchises like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief) before it tragically closed its doors in 2000.

Up first: Austin Grossman. Grossman is a writer, game designer, and novelist who worked at Looking Glass in its early years. In this podcast he discusses his work on Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds and System Shock, the latter of which was highly influential in laying the foundations for modern environmental narrative design. Grossman also discusses his post-Looking Glass work, on such projects as Jurassic Park: Tresspasser and Deus Ex, and the tricky challenge of being a writer in today's commercial games industry.

Joining Austin on the podcast are two other Looking Glass alums: Andrew Grant, who also worked with Austin on Trespasser (for Dreamworks Interactive), and Sara Verrilli, who worked on System Shock. Andrew and Sara currently work for GAMBIT, and reminisce with Austin on how they grappled with the experimental nature of these games.

On a related topic, Austin Grossman has also been interviewed by Gawker Media scifi site, io9.

Tell us about your next two novels. One is about the videogame industry?

I'm still writing it, and right now it's called You, as a reference to those Infocom games that would say "You are likely to be eaten by a grue" or "You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door." I grew up liking the subgenre of books with games in them like Ender's Game, [Iain M. Banks'] Player of Games, and Larry Niven's Dreampark. I read Dreampark millions of times - it was written in the 1980s and it's about a futuristic amusement park. Also, I worked in videogame development for a while, so I decided to do a novel set in a videogame company.

In a way, the template is the first season of Mad Men - what if Don Draper were a game developer? The main character is a mysterious guy and something about his mysterious past makes him good at his job. Don Draper would be an awesome videogame designer, so what if we moved him into 1998 in a videogame company?

Come discuss it with us!

4th Mar 2011
Simulated Skill a.k.a. The "I Win" Button - Dan - 03:00

Today we kick off a series of features put together by fett. He will be putting together a series based on some of the thoughtful discussions taking place on our forums, editing them into articles for easy consumption of the main ideas. Naturally, the original thread can be read in full, here: What is "consolisation" and why does it exist? Or Simulated Skill v Player Skill

One of the more interesting discussions in the TTLG forums lately was sparked by Subjective Effect's assertion that most modern games "get the Simulated Skill/Player Skill divide wrong." Of course we're talking about the "consolisation" of certain beloved franchises, but this is an issue that affects games across the platform spectrum. A parallel discussion in the Thief Gen forum compares the Simulated parkour elements of Assassin's Creed with the Player Skilled movements of Thief 1 & 2. The General Gaming topic spawned eight pages of discussion. It's a subtle, yet important issue that bears fretting over, as gaming becomes more popular. New gamers may enter a world in which Simulated Skill has replaced Player Skill altogether, and never know what they've missed.

"An 'I win' button is one that you press to carry out a Simulated Skill rather than needing to do a number of things in order to carry out the same action," says Subjective Effect. "Using a rope arrow in Thief 1 vs using the grappling hook in Batman Arkham Asylum for example. One requires considerable Player Skill, the other requires almost none.

"I get no reward for pressing an 'I win' button because it requires no Player Skill and so I get no sense of achievement from it. To give another example; 3rd person corner peeking in Thief DS. It feels like cheating because for a Thief 1 and 2 player, who had developed the Player Skill to deploy lean in the right situation, it was. Unified ammunition is another example; I don't have to concern myself with ammo management as much and this was a (admittedly more abstract) Player Skill you learned in the first game."

Possibly many gamers don't notice or care about the balance between Simulated and Player Skill. But anything that diminishes the consumer's satisfaction - whether it be a cop-out movie ending, a tie ballgame, or a loss of power over your game avatar (the Agent, as Subjective Effect calls it), means diminishing sales in the long run. Maybe the majority of consumers are too lazy to care if the game does all the work for them, but from an artistic standpoint, something substantial is being amputated from gaming, inch by painful inch.

"Consolisation" is really just moving the skill divide in favour of the Agent and away from us." says Subjective Effect. " It's designing a game more around "I win" buttons and less around Player Skill. It's not true of all console games, far from it (just look at Dead Space!), but it's the cancer that is destroying games because with cross platform development we'll get this skill leech on PCs."

These concerns among TTLGers were highlighted by some recent news on the Deus Ex:Human Revolution front:

"DE:HR's cover system is an interesting case in that it automates switching from one cover point to another with a key press (possibly with you being able to choose the cover surface you want to get to by highlighting it in your crosshairs), and it's something the latest Splinter Cell did," says Sulpher. "I can't really tell if I like or hate the system, because it works seamlessly and fluidly enough that you can concentrate on tactics instead of lumbering from pillar to post, but it's automated the 'crouch and run/roll/dodge/slide to next piece of cover' bit completely."

Manwe says this has largely to do with the constraints of console controllers: "Console games are simpler because you can't have the same control complexity and precision with a gamepad as with a keyboard and mouse. Gamepads were fine for platformers and action/adventure games but now they're trying to fit complex games like Deus EX, Thief or even fucking Oblivion on them. It's like trying to navigate the operating system of your PC with the remote control of your TV. It's just impossible. They don't purposefully dumb down their games just to annoy players, they are simply restricted by the controlers. Look at Deus Ex and the number of keys required to play it. Now look at the number of buttons on a gamepad. Without streamlining, you can't have the same depth on a console."

"It's a bit of a red herring anyway," says Wormrat, "because even an action that seems like Simulated Skill won't be an "I win" button as long as the game is sufficiently complex in other ways. Auto-aim, for example, is usually derided as simplification, but you could design some crazy fast and complex FPS that requires you to use your auto-aim powers skillfully, with the game practically impossible to play otherwise."

EvaUnit02 makes a good point: "One thing that's important is that you do not confuse consolisation with mainstreaming. Consolisation would be having to make compromises for hardware and control limitations of the lesser platforms. Eg you have a mainly first person game, but you implement a cover system that pops out into 3rd person... you're compromising for the lack of keys necessary for leaning above all else. Rainbow Six: Vegas is the epitome of this example. You need leaning in a tactical FPS like R6, but you don't have enough buttons.

Mainstreaming is essentially the "dumbing down" that Angry Internet Men get all huffy about, which they often confuse with the former. Examples of "mainstreaming" include hand-holding, Bioshock's navigation arrows, the "bread crumb trail" featured in Fable 2 and Dead Space, forced tutorials, non-existent difficulty, the platformers with unmissable jumps (which maybe automatic), etc. Prince of Persia 2008 immediately comes to mind."

"The real problem with consoles is the analog stick, the TV and a different gaming culture," says Koki. " Analog stick sucks balls for precise movement forcing developers to use shitty menus and the TV's pitiful resolution forces them to make everything huge."

Renzatic agrees. "People can make a billion and one compromises to try and make it work, but no matter what they do, it'll never be as smooth and natural aiming with the right thumb stick as it is the mouse.

"The good news is that this is probably going to be the last generation that uses dual analog. With the Wiimote, the PS Move, and the Kinect, we're already seeing the future of console controllers. With something like the Razor Sixense, which is basically a dual analog wiimote/nunchuck mix with 6 buttons within easy grasp of your thumb and index fingers, you wouldn't need an oldschool gamepad. Not even for platformers. It's the best of all worlds."

But will controller evolution alone help balanced Simulated and Player skill? Sulpher doesn't think so:

"The simple fact is that simpler games always found more of an audience than anything complex. Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake -- compare their sales to Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Descent. While we pride ourselves on the PC being the platform for more discerning and intelligent gamers, the fact is that those intelligent, complex games are more the exception than the rule even on the PC."

To open a whole 'nother can of worms, I'll leave you with Sulpher's comment:

"Player/Simulated skill is a nice thought, but consolitis isn't around just because of control/controller limitations relegating complex actions to a single button press. That doesn't allow for the stuff staring you in the face, like the fact that console/PC devs make things simpler for their demographics by lowering the overall intelligence curve of the game and make everything hugely obvious to players."

While there's more to the issue than the tired Console vs. PC debate, it does play a fundamental role in the balance between Simulated and Player Skill. But we'll cover that in the next article.
1st Mar 2011
Tim Stellmach Talk - Dan - 02:28

Dominus reports:

Conference opening by Game Developers’ Association of Australia President, Tom Crago, followed by international keynote speaker, Tim Stellmach. Tim Stellmach is now Design Director at Vicarious Visions, the New York-based developers of the new action-RPG Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. He is an 18-year veteran of the games industry, and a principal designer of such acclaimed titles as Thief and System Shock. Tim has also worked on games as diverse as Ultima Underworld, Deus Ex and Guitar Hero.

22nd Feb 2011
TTLG Opinion Roundup - Dan - 19:34

As promised, some members of the TTLG community stepped forward to offer some thoughts on the titles I mentioned last week, plus a few others. I'd like to thank fett for editing their comments together into this post!

"I expect this to be in the same vein as TDS, but at least avoiding some of its foibles like the awkward movement, lack of swim-able water and rope arrows, and ghastly HUD, but I definitely suspect they're thinking about it as a step "forward" in the series and not "back". Biggest implications for TTLG: I don't think it will be moddable, so no FMs, which will practically shift momentum to Dark Mod for the FM scene." - demagogue

"While I have very little optimism that this title won't be completely linear, be way over simplified for consoles, and have have almost nothing in common gameplay-wise with the original Thief games, I'm way too devoted to the series to not shell out my cash immediately and check it out for myself. Still, I have a bad feeling that T4 will make TDS look good." - Brethren

"We know almost nothing meaningful about this project, and as long as it remains that way, I will stay a pessimist. Game development today is not nearly as permissive an environment as it used to be, and Thief as we like it is too niche, too hard to be a genuine commercial success. If the creators can work with these limitations, I will take a more careful look, but until then, I have written it off." - Melan

"Embarrassing working title, a few disappointing rumors. The Deus Ex release will tell us exactly what EM are willing to sacrifice to the new target audience. It will also show what common gameplay elements from other games they are going to add without thinking it through. Third person cover, cool show-off moves and no qualm at taking the view from first person every now and then is a significant cue that Thief 4 may feature mostly third person gameplay, parkour and stealth kills. 4/20." - Briareos

"I don't get the sense that Eidos Montreal grasps the enormity of difference between Thief, Assassin's Creed, and Splinter Cell (the latter two which they have referenced a few times in early interviews). Ironically, Thief 4 will by necessity have to adopt many aspects of the very games it influenced to be commercially viable in the current console focused market. Yet, I suspect many fans will buy it despite their worst fears because they are simply devoted to Garrett and The City, and I count myself among those." - fett

"I have no idea what game this is going to be. I'm hugely pessimistic by default. Deus Ex HR will show, I guess, what I have to expect." - d'Spair

"If their past and canceled/on hold projects are anything to go by, they're clearly worth keeping an eye on. In absence of news, there is nothing hinting that they've lost their PC-centric attitude. Personally, I just hope that their next game won't feature a core multi-player component like The Crossing was supposed to have. 15/20." - Briareos

"Recently played thru Arx Fatalis for the first time, and was incredibly impressed. That game alone got me psyched for whatever their new project is. Just the fact that it's a first person RPG is enough for me anyway."- Brethren

"Looking forward to their new game. Somehow I feel this is going to be Arx 2, but anyway. An extremely strong team is working there, that definitely knows what emergent gameplay is, immersive sim is, and I'm more than confident the next Arkane game will be the bomb. All the best luck, guys." -d'Spair

"If Bioshock was the failed utopia of immersive sim design, Infinite is shaping up to be the tired commercial recipe that makes people forget the series ever tried to be something genuinely great - beneath the creative world design and carefully constructed set-pieces. Infinite looks like another 'cinematic' experience with oodles of hand-holding, carefully limited interactivity, and maybe a few extra branches off the main railroad counting as 'non-linear design' and 'emergence'. Can't argue with success, but this leaves me cold." - Melan

"Like most, I was lukewarm at best on Bioshock, but I had some fun with it. Bioshock in the sky sounds somewhat interesting, but I don't imagine it's going to surprise me too much and be much different than the original. Why would it? They made a pile of cash the first time around."- Brethren

"Looks the next big game to me since the original BioShock. Ken Levine is one rare guy in the industry nowadays who has the privilege of doing what he wants. And he does great things. No matter what TTLG moaners say, BioShock is for the people who liked System Shock and Thief, and Infinite is going to be the same, but more complex gameplay-wise. And in design and setting BSI looks totally mind-blowing." - d'Spair

"I've been pretty hard on Ken in the past, but I'm still up for anything he throws at us. Enjoyed the hell out of Bioshock, though at times I longed for the complexity of System Shock 2. Given the limitations of the demographic he's working with, I think Ken is one of the few vets of the PC Gaming industry that still strikes a reasonable balance between story driven gaming and console crowd-pleasing action sets. I enjoy his stuff if I can just put System Shock 2 out of mind while playing." - fett

"Fact: the first trailer was a horrible scriptfest. It doesn't mean that the game won't be an interesting linear FPS, but it will have to include more than gimmick telekinesis, different kinds of splicers and renaming the big daddy/little sister relationship. And I'm not trusting Levine to do anything interesting with the story. They could just get rid of all their literary pretenses for what it's worth. 6/20."- Briareos

"The thing I'm interested in from what I've heard about this game (and building on BS1 & 2) is the increasing focus on AI and "active" NPCs as part of the gaming mechanics. They still have a way to go, but as far as I know, this is the one game series really experimenting with this and pushing the envelope. The "puzzle" edge to its fighting mechanics can be fun, and the story-telling is at least a cut above nominal. Those are good things, but not what makes it that special." - demagogue

"Seems to be a significant departure from the original Deus Ex, but so far, it looks appealing in its own right, even interesting as a Deus Ex game - not necessarily one set in the same continuity (something that does not bother me), but one that examines similar themes and has similar ambitions. This may actually be good, as long as you are okay with lemon lime instead of your usual orange. - Melan

"Yeah, take out the 3P cut-aways and I like what I've seen in the trailers. My general feeling is the same I had for Thi4f, on a similar track as DX:IW minus the foibles, more polished, better pacing. But it's still being thought of as a step "forward" not "back."- demagogue

"DX:IW crowns my 'Most Disappointing Sequels' list, and it's difficult at this point to tell if DX3 is taking cues from the brilliant original or the yawn-inducing train-wreck of a sequel. I'm actually more anxious to play DX3 because of the implications for Thief 4 than for DX3 itself, and I'm not expecting much in either case. That said, I think the studio has the brains to pull them both off (at least artistically) if they'll listen to the fan base instead of the stock holders. But we all know how that goes..." - fett

"'Looks cool' pretty much defines it. Visual design is shamelessly pillaging Japanese cyberpunk and the rest from Blade Runner. Aesthetically and story-wise, it couldn't be any more remote from the original games. Gameplay-wise, some core concepts seem to be interesting if done right (multiple approach scenarios and stealth) but TTLG regulars will have to accept it as a mainstream, multi-platform game at its core. My biggest hope is that they keep hidden storyline elements for players who have a certain, uncommon approach (not killing bosses, finding certain readables, etc.) which change radically the way later encounters unfold. 9/20."- Briareos

"I want to like it, I want to believe the hype that it's similar to the original, I want to believe all the previews that say there are choices and multiple paths, etc. But I don't." - Brethren

"During the whole period of production I've been very pessimistic, and I still think there are a lot of very wrong steps taken by Eidos Montreal (Third person cover system? No shadow stealth? My ass). But somehow I ended up pre-ordering Augmented Edition with all the bonus content, and am anxiously waiting for it. Go figure." - d'Spair

"It's the latest Elder Scrolls game, and it'll be amazing (or at least way better than anything else out there). Bethesda has never disappointed me." - Brethren

"Bethesda keeps moving in the right direction with the ES games, and I doubt Skyrim will be the exception. As many problems as Oblivion had, their effort to implement stealth and beef up the Thief character was admirable. They need to take a few cues from the original Thief games, or at least Dark Messiah of Might & Magic's assassin path to really nail this in Skyrim. The auto-leveling has already been discussed to death, but suffice to say, this thing needs to hit the shelves without inspiring thousands of mods to balance gameplay the following week." - fett

"No surprises indeed. Looks dated due to it not being made for PC anymore. First interface shots/interview look horrible. The world itself looks tentatively interesting, but it can't be worse than Oblivion IMO. Quests and interaction with the world will tell. 8/20" - Briareos

"Hard to believe this wouldn't be good enough to grab. The atmosphere in these games is the best there is.- Brethren

"The best addition to TTLG in the recent years. For the time being, I'm trusting GSC to stick with the core formula. Nothing much to say until we have more info on STALKER 2. Discussions about mods however make the dedicated forums here pretty valuable. 19/20." - Briareos

Call of Pripyat Complete "Which will, hopefully, push the game up to 11. SoC Complete made the game more bearable but you still needed a few fixes to enjoy it (specifically the spawn fix and something that makes firearms behave more like firearms) and CS Complete was just like CS itself, but CoP was almost fucking perfect right off the box, and the biggest complaint was the dated graphics and/or sounds. Well guess what, that's what Complete is mostly about. Of course it will as usual also include the latest bugfixes. Best of all, it should be released in the matter of days."- Koki

Lost Alpha "The incredibly ambitious project to restore Shadow of Chernobyl to its former glory you could see in the trailers. Mostly based on Build 1935, it puts back the cut four locations as well as brings back the original versions of locations which made its way into SoC. Now my stance on unreleased megamods is pretty sour, but the guys who are doing it already did one total conversion(Priboi Story) and last word I heard about LA was they finished with all the levels and now are doing the a-life, scripting and story. Plus they released three trailers showing off their work and it really does look good, and the current release estimate is late 2011." - Koki

"I'm a big fan of Interactive Fiction developing in the first person genre, but I wasn't the biggest fan of DE being crowned the archetype just because there isn't near enough interactivity, gameplay, and experimentation as you see in really good IF. DE is important for being the model or prototype of how IF can be done in FPS, but I'll be happy when some real groundbreaking FP-IF starts getting developed, taking the kinds of leaps traditional IF has taken, to show the real potential." - demagogue

"The remake of this one shot experience looks fantastic. It was built with a honest desire to make it the "reference art game" and I dig honesty. I hope they took the time to conquer the shortcomings of the writing and even if they didn't, it should be a beautiful and atmospheric semi-interactive experience. 17,5/20." - Briareos

"Not that I'm a fan of horror games, let alone third-person Resident Evil - like third-person horror games, but the fact that Dead Space started as System Shock 3 back in the days makes me follow the games and even buy them. I'm currently waiting for my DS2 Collectors Edition to arrive." -d'Spair

"Both Dead Space games were fun and polished examples of modern console gaming working well on all platforms, although many elements of the game were terrible (notably writing and video gaming tropes). Visual design shows surprising consistency and good eye for aesthetics. 14/20."- Briareos

"Loved the first one, and since it was a success, I'm hoping they don't change anything too drastically. I actually didn't mind the combat in the first version. The only thing that worries me is that they seemed to have changed the appearance and voice of Geralt (maybe that's changed, I haven't read a preview in a while)" - Brethren

"I love The Witcher. It may be adolescent in its quality of writing and some kind of a half-mainstream beast when it comes to gameplay but it really clicked with me. I like such a universe giving us a somewhat raw take on fantasy kingdom, simplified and lovable characters (allowing to fake psychological depth quite easily), dark humor and unusual quests. CD Projekt nailed the 'humanity' needed for a RPG to work, and I'm looking forward to the sequel - QTEs and consolisation (yes!) aside. 16/20." - Briareos

"The best horror game in these recent years requires more than often the ability to roleplay the main character and suspend disbelief but gives back in spades when you do. I haven't been that tense playing a game since System Shock 2, and that is a great feeling. It's too bad the demo gave away those invisible monsters, they would have had an even greater impact if I hadn't known about them. I'm blindly buying Frictional's next game. 18/20."- Briareos

"My kind of game, scary, first person, atmospheric, hard to go wrong here. I'll be excited by whatever Frictional does in the future based on this and the Penumbras." - Brethren

"After the initial shock of their "take" on the X-Com of my youth, I'm prudently optimistic about this. After being hugely disappointed by Bioshock, I had great fun with Bioshock 2 which showed a lot more mastery in nailing the basic FPS principles. I'm trusting 2K Marin to make a fun FPS, I just hope it won't be a CoD clone set during the fifties. 12/20." - Briareos

"A lot of things in E.Y.E look interesting: multiple branching paths, tight shooting, RPG stats, dystopian universe. I'm pretty worried about the writing and story however. I'm afraid it will be a fun game but not taking its own cohesiveness seriously enough for me to like it from start to finish. It's French. 10/20.- Briareos

"Duke was great because it had amazing, interactive map design and amazing, creative weapons, not because Duke was such a great guy or because there were tits. DNF, so far, shows too much of the latter and not enough of the former. I will be happy to be proven wrong."-Melan

"I doubt that Duke Nukem Forever'll be the same game as Duke 3D only in glorious Unreal 2 Engine on steroids, but in the end does that really matter? It's Duke Nukem freaking Forever! I think at this point I don't care what the game is like, I just want to own it, and play it, and be part of history in the making, the end of an era. Maybe, just maybe, we can then put the old days to rest for good." - dethtoll

Grimoire "Speaking of ages-old vaporware, this self-described Wizardry-killer (from back when this meant anything to anyone) is apparently very close to release this time, a bit like in 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2006. Will noted fallout shelter owner Cleve Blakemore really finish it before the bombs begin to fall? Will it really be the ultimate mid-90s CRPG that unseats Crusaders of the Dark Savant from its throne? And will we still care now that most of us who still know about it are bitter, jaded old men? Stay tuned." -Melan

Very promising and already in a state where good missions can be made. Not enough people getting into it. Would love to know why. 15/20. - Briareos

15th Feb 2011
Bioshock movie canceled? Good. - Dan - 21:46

The ironically titled Coming Soon movie news website (you'll see why it's ironic at the end of this sentence) has reported that the Bioshock movie is dead. All ten people who were looking forward to it are now unhappy. The article goes on to explain why, but it's mostly irrelevant blah blah budget blah blah ratings stuff that we usually see attached to why someone's brilliant idea isn't going to be made: it's clearly too brilliant for the penny pincher and the MPAA!

There's two takeaways here. One is that some directors out there still think that they're somehow immune to the video game movie curse, that they're going to be the one who makes the first video game movie that isn't horrible. The second is that hollywood in general still seems to think that it's the ultimate in media expression. Some other creative work, be it a book, a TV show, or a game, hasn't "made it" to "the big time" until it's become a movie. Certain things "deserve" to be movies and certain things do not. I suspect that some feel that the problem with video game movies are the games themselves. They're not yet good enough to deserve to be a good movie, thus it's just a matter of finding that game that is good enough, and then they'll have a hit on their hands. I am pretty sure everyone reading this realizes how silly a thought that is.

I'm rather thankful that the Deus Ex and Thief movies died with ION Storm, and pray that Square Enix (or some strapping young director) doesn't get any bright ideas with the reboots of these properties.

15th Feb 2011
Look at you, Alice - Dan - 21:30

A new teaser trailer has gone up for Spicy Horse's Alice: Madness Returns. While the original American McGee's Alice was sometimes touched on here at TTLG, it was mostly the Lewis Carroll connection providing an excuse to feature a game that doesn't really have anything to do with the Looking Glass legacy of immersive sims, because it just looked cool. I think that still holds pretty true.

The article itself is actually much more interesting than what I considered to be a fairly unimpressive teaser. We've already been sold on the look/feel of the McGee's Alice world. In fact, I think we've become oversaturated with it, thanks in part fo the recent Tim Burton movie that strikes the same notes as the early part of this teaser. At this point, the Alice world is a little shrug inducing. What we really need to see is some of the gameplay (which I expect to be generic but solid) and the story, which the article itself touches on briefly. It's the story that's actually keeping me interested here. It doesn't sound like the usual rehash. Go read it and see what I mean.

14th Feb 2011
No Mirror's Edge 2? - Dan - 18:51

This gives me a huge sadface. News at RPS indicated that work on Mirror's Edge 2 has stalled. While they don't directly come out and say that it's been canceled, the last time we've heard rhetoric like this it was in relation to the very much no longer in production The Crossing by Arkane. I hold Mirror's Edge as one of my favorite games, and one of the very, very few I've played more than once. (Put it in perspective: I only played Thief 2 once.)

13th Feb 2011
Dear Esther creators speak up - Dan - 18:06

Rock Paper Shotgun posted the news the Dear Esther was going retail. What followed included some comments from creators Dan Pinchbeck and Robert Briscoe.


... [W]ithout talking figures at this point, I can tell you it will be extremely affordable, and Im going to do everything I can to make sure what you get in return is worth every penny! This is the culmination of two years of the most dedicated and creative work i've ever done, and im so happy to see it so warmly welcomed as an indie title. There will be lots more info to come, and im looking forward hearing more of your thoughts!


So three things, really. Firstly, going commercial lets us do things we couldn't have otherwise done, like reach out to gamers beyond the mod community, which means we can get our game out to anyone who hasn't got Half Life (yeah, I know! Apparently, there are a few of them out there, in their Fallout-style bunkers). It also means we can leverage some additional investment into the project so we can do things like re-orchestrate the soundtrack, which means you're going to get a massive level-up for Jessica Curry's work, which is completely brilliant.

Secondly, Rob's put a year of his life into this and produced something which is as good as any commercial game environment out there - and that's just the art, let alone the detail and design overhaul of the player experience - and I think he deserves to get paid for that, basically, and so does everyone else involved. So that's a factor too.

Finally, what's basically going to happen is that profits get broken down to make sure everyone gets paid, and then a stream of cash goes directly into a running budget which does just what Persus-9 says - it works to build thechineseroom towards a greater financial independence. And this is my current beef with games research - there's not enough experimentation going on, not enough builds to try things out and innovate and support games as a medium by not just writing theory by actually doing development... so if we can start to prove you can make games that work commercially (and creatively, natch) as games but also are these high-risk experimental research tools, then we can start coming back at the criticisms of the redundancy of games research and rebuild a bit of worth in the eyes of the games industry and gamers. Or something like that.

We'll release a lot more information in the very near future, but we are really aware that pricing and value is critical and getting the balance between a high quality product and value for money is pretty central to how we're approaching things...


- The removal of the old Dear Esther from the ModDB was a mistake. It will be returned.
- Translations will likely be in the form of a separate downloadable community created language pack.
- There will be subtitles.
13th Feb 2011
Welcome to TTLG - Dan - 11:29

Welcome to TTLG. I know, it's been a while. Where do we begin? So much has changed since 2006, but in a way, it feels like not much has changed. Two Bioshock games came and went. A Thief 4 was announced but we still know nothing about it. Arkane's The Crossing was canceled, and their next project is still a secret. Dues Ex 3 is almost finished... All in all, there's really a great deal to talk about. There's probably more to talk about now than there was back in 2006.

Thief 4. At the moment all we have is a title graphic and a photo of the team making it. It's important because it's a new game (probably a reboot) in the most popular series among the TTLGers. Whatever happens with Thief 4, the mass of our community will draw us along with it. At the moment I personally have pessimistic feelings about this title. I don't think anyone at eidos or square enix particularly liked the old Thief games, or even understood them. I am not sure which is worse. (They will vehemently deny this, of course.) What do I expect? A linear 3rd person assassin's creed clone set in a medieval non-fantasy world with cover-based stealth and very little emphasis on actual stealing. I stress that this prediction is based on hearsay, not any insider info, nor just a bad dream I had once.

Arkane Studios. The only reason why this isn't on top, is because the game hasn't been announced yet. All that's known is that it's been worked on by people who made Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah, and Deus Ex (not to mention a few TTLGers), and is being published by Arkane's new parent-studio, Bethesda. They seem very excited about it.

Bioshock Infinite. This twice removed spiritual successor to System Shock is probably not being called that by anyone at Irrational this time around. The TTLGers don't seem particularly interested in this title. Most felt betrayed by Bioshock, and see Infinite as a step farther in the direction they didn't like. I, personally, am looking forward to it. I found depth in the gameplay of the first two Bioshocks, and found the worldbuilding and storytelling second to none. I expect all of the same from Infinite. But, it's still no System Shock. (But then again, what is?)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It's visually stunning, but how close is it to the original Deus Ex? Previews promise that it's very close, but videos of the game are muddled and bogged with the player's view cutting to 3rd person constantly to show off some cool animation that the designers really want us to see. Maybe it won't matter. Maybe it won't kill the immersion, or maybe the gameplay will be strong enough so that we won't care. It seems to me that the subject matter of this game is focused much more on the trans-humanism which was a shadow in the background of the previous games, and much less on global political conspiracies, which was the cornerstone of the first game's premise. Again, maybe it doesn't matter, and maybe the semi-fresh subject matter is just what the series needs.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. There's not going to be any surprises here. Bethesda isn't going to reinvent the wheel with Skyrim, which is very much an Elder Scrolls game. Instead, they're taking what worked well, and adding a great deal of polish on top of it. It's Oblivion with great big dragons you can fight, and a slick new dual wielding system, an un-mangled RPG system, and much nicer looking character faces.

Fallout Series. Bethesda and Obsidian's take on the classic Fallout series has turned out to be a huge success. A stream of New Vegas DLC seems imminent, but the main thing on my mind is if or if not Obsidian will become the new owners of the Fallout universe (which would be appropriate, considering that they count some of the creators among them) or if Bethesda itself will be making Fallout 4 (or whatever they call it, I doubt they'll use a number) after Skyrim is done. We shall see!

STALKER Series. I gave the original STALKER quite a few tries back when it was new, taking advantage of various piles of game-bettering mods that came highly recommended by people who knew that I just wasn't enjoying the game. My own personal opinion aside, this other post-apocalyptic series is pretty popular with the TTLGers, and so we'll be paying attention to the future of the series. I am told that STALKER 2 is just over the horizon.

Dear Esther. The new version of the extremely unorthodox source engine mod is still underway. Recently it was announced that it would be given a full retail release, a move that disappointed and irritated many TTLGers. I am not surprised by this move. The comments section of Robert Briscoe's Devblog is filled with encouragement by fans of the project to turn this into a price-tagged indie game. Ignoring what could be a brewing controversy, Dear Esther still remains a huge element on my radar, with any info or media on it devoured at first sight.

Dead Space. I was a fan of the first Dead Space. I felt like it was a great homage to System Shock and that the series had great promise. It's a shame that I feel so underwhelmed by the sequel. There's just something about the first game that's missing. Maybe it's because I no longer feel helpless in a hopeless situation. Maybe it's because it feels more like an action movie than a horror game. Maybe there's just no sense of discovery anymore, other than finding out what awesome thing the environmental artists came up with around that next corner. While technically everything about Dead Space 2 makes it a better game than the first, it's just leaving me unsatisfied. I wish I could put my finger on why.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The Witcher had fantastic art and graphics, a very cool story involving a real branching plot, and excellent RPG gameplay that was only bogged down by a head-scratching combat system. Witcher 2 is going to be freed from the clunky Bioware-made engine, which hopefully means that CDProjekt is going to be getting closer to the game they wanted to make in the first place. They also seem to have realized that the combat (pretty central to an RPG about a sword-swinger) was the weakest part of the game, and have promised a complete revamp. I just hope that the revamp doesn't turn it into a Diabloesque button-masher.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Most survival horror games make the player vulnerable. In Amnesia, Frictional dared make the player totally helpless. It's a supremely sardonic game that has a bit of a following among TTLGers due to its unusual gameplay involving hiding in cupboards to escape invisible monsters. In truth I haven't gotten more than an hour and a half into this game, though I keep planning to give it another look. Whatever developer Frictional dreams up next, chances are we'll be paying attention.

XCOM. I think the only people who were happy with the announcement of XCOM were those who thought that the retro art direction was cool. Count me among them. I have no allegiance to the old X-Com series, but I understand fandom, so the sense of betrayal among those dreaming of a modern take on those games from the creators of System Shock 2 was tangible. Still, the 2K Marion/Australia studios working on this game have a great deal of talent (correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Jordan "Shalebridge Cradle" Thomas is a creative lead on this game) and so I am being patiently optimistic that they'll produce a fun game, even if it's XCOM (er, X-Com?) in name only.

E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy. EYE looks like a game from another era, and not just because of the graphics. It's a complex scifi RPG shooter in the vein of Deus Ex being made in the source engine at an indie studio in France. It's supposed to have an open world, cooperative multiplayer, and I believe a branching plot, though I am not sure where I read that. It could be a colossal mess, but it could also turn out to be a really compelling game that puts this studio on the map, at least with the TTLGers.

So, how do you feel about what's going on? Post your thoughts here, and in a week I'll do another post like this one, but this time with the community's take on all of this. Feel free to bring up games I did not, and completely disagree with me.

2nd Aug 2010
Kicking the dust off this stump - Dan - 17:11

I have a good feeling that something of note is about to happen. Beyond that, we do have other things we can talk about, don't you think?