Author Archive

A year in Stardew Valley: life, labour and love

Paul Dean spends a year in Stardew Valley [official site], ahead of the game’s one year anniversary later this month, and reflects on the work that goes into building a life, virtual or otherwise.

The farm I’ve inherited is a mess. It’s nothing more than a small house at one corner of an overgrown tract of land, set away from a tiny riverside village of complacent, mostly white people in large, embellished houses. It’s springtime and I’m a stranger. As a welcoming gift, a local passes a dog off to me that I think is a stray they have no desire to deal with. The farm comes with a big old television set, a handful of cheap tools and a stagnant pond.

I’ve abandoned a pointless desk job in some soulless town and now I have no income. I have no friends. I have decided that this is my life now. It’s how I’ll come of age.

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Wot I Think: Virginia

I’m delighted to say that Virginia [official site] was not at all about what I thought it would be, what it seemed to be. Pretty early on, its narrative took a surprising sideways step, a sudden and yet fluid motion that made it feel fresh, exciting and unpredictable. It was the first of a series of such steps the game would take, crabbing its way into increasingly unusual territory until, at the end of its two hour story, I wasn’t quite sure where either of us were left standing. Many of its surprises were pleasant, but others were perplexing.

Ostensibly, Virginia is about two women working for the FBI in the early 1990s, tasked to find a boy who has gone missing in the titular state. However, this missing person case isn’t quite what it seems. Nor is your own objective. Nor even is your character or, it seems, much of what’s going on around you. By its conclusion, I wasn’t entirely sure what Virginia was about and I’m not sure how much of this I could attribute to imperfect storytelling, to elements of very deliberate obfuscation or to my own ignorance. Virginia is strange and fascinating. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is remarkable.

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My Favourite Art Style: Baldur’s Gate

RPS has sealed itself inside a chocolate egg for the duration of the UK’s long holiday weekend, to emerge only when the reign of Mr Hops The Doom Rabbit has run its dread course. While we slumber, enjoy these fine words previously published as part of our Supporter program. More to come.

I will never shut up about Baldur’s Gate.

I’ll still be talking about the series when (if) I’m eighty. I don’t know why RPS offered me money to write about it, because I would do so for free at any time, constantly and forever, if given enough opportunity.

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Wot I Think: Cities Skylines – Snowfall

I have been inside a sauna and I believe the health benefits are dubious at best. Snowfall, the latest expansion for Cities: Skylines [official site], disagrees with me. It reckons that saunas are both recreational and restorative, a mix of a clinic and a park. Build one and your citizens will send a flood of smiles bursting out of your city like souls ascending to heaven. I don’t understand why this is. When I sat in a sauna EVERYTHING WAS HOT and the AIR ITSELF WAS HOT and don’t even get me started on the door or the floor or what it was like to even move an inch.

However, this concludes the design disagreements that I have with Snowfall, which I think is a rather lovely and charming addition to Skylines. Let me explain why.

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Wot I Think: Mordheim – City Of The Damned

Hi! How are you? Are you having a good December? It’s almost Christmas. That’s probably something to be excited about, I suppose. I tell you something that’s not worth being excited about, and that’s Mordheim [official site]. Probably don’t get anyone Mordheim for Christmas. I’m going to explain why and to try to remain cheerful, but every time I write about or think about Mordheim’s idiot enemies, I just get angry. Imagine this paragraph coming at you through a clenched smile. ARE YOU READY? JOLLY GOOD.

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Kohan Is The Game Most Worth Saving From 2001

Every game released before 2005 is being destroyed. We only have time to rescue one game from each year. Not those you’ve played to death, or the classics that the industry has already learned from. We’re going to select the games that still have more to give. These are the Saved Games.

It’s not just that I want to save Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns from whatever gaming apocalypse is about to wipe all our hard drives clean, it’s that I want to save it from outright obscurity. I don’t know what happened to Kohan. I don’t know why more of us aren’t still talking about it, any of us. I suppose it’s ridiculous to expect any of us to actually still be playing it. But I am.

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How To Teach An AI To Play Hex: Shards Of Fate

Hex is getting smarter. It’s learning. While it might not quite be approaching the colloquial indifference (or destructive potential) of Wargames’ WOPR, it is watching you play – it’s watching everyone play – and it’s adapting.

After their tremendously successful Kickstarter (warning: contains clown death) and while settling a protracted lawsuit with the creators of Magic: The Gathering, developer Cryptozoic have been diligently ploughing through the alpha and beta stages of Hex [official site], regularly bolting on new features and laboriously constructing the vision that CEO Corey Jones first prophesied nearly two and half years ago.

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Baldur’s Gate: Siege Of Dragonspear
On Mods, Publishers And The Future Of Baldur’s Gate

“We move from custodian to creator.”

That was how Trent Oster described it. Beamdog’s co-founder who, twenty years ago, was also there when Bioware began, is once again returning to one of roleplaying’s most beloved and most influential series. This time, he won’t just be adding a new lick of paint here or a subtle embellishment there, as he has with the company’s Enhanced Editions of the Baldur’s Gate games. No, Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear [official site] is something wholly new. While Beamdog are calling it an expansion pack, its scope and scale mean that it outsizes both Tales of the Sword Coast and Throne of Bhaal. For all intents and purposes, it’s Baldur’s Gate 3.

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Baldur’s Gate: EE Expanding With Siege Of Dragonspear

We live in interesting times. The Baldur’s Gate RPGs are amongst the most well-loved, well-regarded and influential the PC has ever seen, but surely they’re now a relic of an ever more distant past? Along with most things that we consider legendary, they have begun to fade into the past and, like weathered statuary, are slowly losing their definition. We remember them fondly, but indistinctly, imperfectly. We forget the rough edges. Beamdog’s Enhanced Editions were well-curated, well-preserved museum pieces. Classics polished for one last, albeit glorious, hurrah.

Or that’s how it was until last night, when Beamdog announced they have been both working on a new expansion for Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, as well as planning to bring the rest of the series back into sharp relief. The expansion’s called Siege of Dragonspear [official site], a name that may sound familiar to those well travelled in the Forgotten Realms. It features a new shaman character class, scores of new maps, new companions, and what Beamdog’s grand magus Trent Oster says is “at least twenty-five hours of adventuring.”

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How Do Boardgame Creators Feel About Tabletop Simulator And Infringing Mods?

We asked Paul Dean of splendid boardgaming website Shut Up & Sit Down to investigate the future of the enormously successful boardgame software, Tabletop Simulator [official site]. He spoke to the creators, as well as boardgame designers, to discover their feelings towards copyright-infringing mods that replicate their games, plus the possible benefits of paid mods and licensed DLC.

The first time I saw anyone playing Tabletop Simulator, I was pointed toward a jury-rigged version of the hidden identity game Mascarade, cobbled together using Dota 2 art for the cards. My immediate response was, “Well, this definitely isn’t going to last.” What I saw in this new software wasn’t just an explosion of interest in board games, but also the potential for so many copyrights to be infringed.

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Magicka 2 Hands On: How To Refine Slapstick Co-Op

I have accidentally killed Peter Cornelius. I have accidentally killed him several times and this has included (but is not limited to) the time that I launched a rock at his head, the time that I electrocuted him and the time that I pushed him off a cliff. On each and every occasion it was an accident and I don’t think I was entirely in control of either my actions or my powers. I am sorry, Peter Cornelius, associate producer on Magicka 2.

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Cities: Skylines – Hope For Heartbroken SimCity Fans?

Last year’s SimCity disappointed me. Beautifully presented, it was nevertheless cramped, buggy, and content to throw thousands of simoleons at me no matter how good or bad I was at my job. It broke my heart a tiny bit. When I heard that Colossal Order were working on Cities: Skylines, I wondered if they might just pick up the pieces. Already experts on making games about transport and infrastructure, their pedigree suggested that Cities: Skylines might just be the civil engineer-cum-defibrillator that I needed to fix everything.

Sitting down to watch Colossal Order CEO Mariina Hallikainen play with a very early build of the game, I found everything remarkably recognisable, perhaps even too familiar. Cities: Skylines looks an awful lot like the the last SimCity and that’s not simply because it demands a floating, eye-of-God perspective and buttons for laying down roads or stretching out industrial estates. Its interface is laid out in a very similar way. Many of the overlays work in a very similar way. I’m immediately reminded of how the Warlock games, also published by Paradox, looked very much like a fantasy mod for Civilization V.

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Interview: Gearbox On Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

With every new release, the Borderlands universe becomes increasingly ridiculous. It’s been happening for a while now, with the puns, the slapstick and the hidden pop culture references that pepper Borderlands 2 and further season its DLC. I’m hardly complaining, because I’ve gradually disengaged from the first-person shooter over the last few years, confronted again and again by far too many po-faced, monochrome military affairs. Borderlands 2 has been a welcome exception.

Like a sudden burst of ketchup from a thoroughly-spanked Heinz bottle, even more of that often unsubtle flavouring is set to season our PCs very soon. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel comes out in two weeks. Developed in conjunction with 2K Australia, the Pre-Sequel is exactly what you’d expect from the series: more jokes, more cartoonish violence, more character diversity and a further expansion of a gun collection that would already make any Tom Clancy fan spurt like… well, like a sudden burst of ketchup from a thoroughly-spanked Heinz bottle.

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Interview: Adding Shieldmaidens To War Of The Vikings

War of the Vikings, Paradox Interactive’s sequel to the gritty and gruesome War of the Roses, is about to receive its first expansion, a relatively modest addition that adds one new class: the Shieldmaiden. Executive producer Gordon Van Dyke, a veteran of multiplayer development who can trace his history back to some of the early Battlefield games, says it’s an opportunity to not only shake up the way the game is played and the patterns that players are falling into, but that it might also be a chance to challenge a few assumptions about gender.

At Paradox’s annual convention in January, Van Dyke spoke to me about his plans to introduce women warriors to the game and how it was important to him that they be dressed in realistic, practical gear rather than sporting the tired trope of stylised “boob armour,” the sort of curvy breastplates and chainmail bikinis that have plagued video games for decades. He explained how this expansion is his chance to make good on his ambition, why there should be women warriors in his game and how he relishes a chance to challenge some of gaming’s sexist conventions.

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