Get to Know Your Authors: Arch-Nemesese Edition

Effluvia, Geekery

The Power Puff Girl Blossom, or possibly Sun Tzu, said "know thine enemy".  It turns out that you can also get to know someone by knowing their enemy.  Or enemies, as the case may be.  Here is a rare peek inside the secret world of Popehat.

Patrick's arch-nemesis is Emperor Grog.  Emperor Grog is a hyper-intelligent male silver back gorilla.  Possesses exceptional strength for a male of the species.  The list of horrors he has perpetrated over the years is too long to detail here, but can be read further at [REDACTED].  Emperor Grog was most recently active in New England.  Intel suggests he was actually there to bring forth [REDACTED]; it is not known how this was prevented.  Grog was not captured and his  current whereabouts are unknown.

Ken is currently lacking a "heavy weight" arch-nemesis.  David suspects the endless string of Gomers who try to take up the mantle are in fact the results of an elaborate prank being played by one of the other authors, likely [REDACTED].

David's arch-nemesis is the idea that Art can only be understood by the few, or is cheapened when accessible by more.   There is some evidence, however, that in fact Time is really pulling the strings.

Grandy – my arch-nemesis is, as ever, physics.  Gravity in particular.


Wednesday Night is Popehat's Semi-Annual Weekly Diablo 3 Night

Fun, Gaming

And it will be, from last Wednesday night until forever.  Or until Patrick and I tire of the lot of you.  Or of Diablo 3.

We'll be in the Popehat Steam group chat lobby at 9pm EST sharp and we'll just arrange games based on how many people show up.  Last week we had enough for two games until the servers wet the bed.  Things should go more smoothly this week.  Everyone rolled a level 1 and some progress was made and we'll just keep trucking that way.

You can become a member of the Popehat steam group by sending me a PM on our forums or an email (our names at popehat dot com)  with your SteamID.

You are free to bring a friend as long as the following conditions are met:

1. Patrick and I do not actively dislike this person.  Sorry, you'll just have to roll the dice here if you are unsure.  But there will be consequences if you bring the wrong person.  Oh yes.

2. This person does not annoy the shit out of Patrick or me.  See above concerning consequences.

3. Conditions 1 and 2 are null if and only if our sometime co-blogger Derrick shows up, in which case Derrick will create funny cartoons about the annoying person using Microsoft Paint. Additionally, you will be awarded bonus points, redeemable for fabulous merchandise, in Hell.

This has the potential to be at least as much fun as a weekend in Ottawa, which I learned today is the capital of Canada. But only if you help us to make it so. Won't you join us?

Addendum: If you are a member of the popehat group, in steam you can go community -> groups and then in the list "Popehat" should appear.  Further, there should be a tiny little link saying something like "0 in group chat".  Click that and voila, you are in the popehat chat lobby!  You actually don't need to give me your SteamID (I forgot about this, and that's understandable) though it should appear in the upper right under "JoBubba's Account".  You can click on your profile and select edit profile (right side) and see your profile name.  Just remember if you choose something rather generic there, say "Chris" (pulling an example out of my ass), when I search for you to add you to the group I'm going to come up with 100 people and I'll have to determine which one is you.  This will annoy me, and it will annoy Patrick by proxy.  So don't be affraid to let your inner script kiddie/goth-overlord/juggalo loose and give your profile an awesome name like "Lord Doomspike Souldrinker".


Friday Will Tug at your Imagination, One Square at a Time

Gaming, Geekery

At least, it will if you are playing around with Dave's Mapper.  I'm not sure how he did this.  It appears Dave (and friends!) sat down and drew himself some dungeon levels, old school style.  But he drew lots.  Lots and lots.  And then he drew some more.  And he divided everything into sections, which he scanned and uploaded.  The tool randomly takes sections and splices them together, ensuring that there is a proper path through the dungeon (some areas can be blocked off, but that's good; it leaves room for  good DM to add detail).  Fans of tabletop gaming that tended towards pen-and-paper RPGs will immediately love it.  Anyone else who is curious about why we love some of the things we love is encouraged to take a look.  The maps spring off the page and tug at the imagination.


Helherron Guide Now Online Too

Effluvia, Gaming

Josh's Helheron Guide is now properly viewable online; no need to download.  Thanks to David for getting it uploaded.  Hey, this makes my post quota for the year!

Comments Off

Today in CRPGs

Gaming, Geekery

Some guy once said "may you live in interesting times".  We're not sure how we feel about this; not because it's a double edged sword kind of thing to say but because we imagine it was ironically uttered by a smug hipster type to some old guy who was just struggling to make sense of an ever changing world (who among us doesn't do that, really?).  We'd like to buy the old dude a beer and explain that technology is not going to ruin everything and the Hipster just secretly wants a hug and not to worry about him.  We would then follow this gesture up with a crotch punch sandwich for the Hipster.  Violence doesn't solve anything, but sometimes these things have to happen.  All of that said, these are interesting times for fans of indie CRPGs, for values of "interesting" that actually mean it non ironically.

Avadon: The Black Fortress from Spiderweb Software was just released on the Macintosh.  We expect the Windows beta to start soon.  This is a new series for Vogel, so we are pretty excited to see what he unveils.

Work progresses on a sequel to Knights of the Chalice, now titled Fantasy World Engine.  The title reflects the author's desire to make it a scenario driven game, and I believe plans include the release of editing tools for players to create such scenarios.  Also this time around there will be a more "full flavored" version of the D20 rules.  9 races (up from 3), 14 classes (up from 3), and more feats than you can shake a vorpal shovel at.  KotC was a fun title, and the sequel is one to watch.

Steady progress continues on Frayed Knights.  We're extra excited about this one because (1) the last hecatomb actually included 112 sactifices, giving us a little extra power and (2) this one is a first person party based game in the style of Wizardry or Might & Magic.  Something of a lost art these days.  Frayed Knights is looking to score high on the character quotient if the Preview chapter is any indication.  It's not often you get to field a party prone to bickering with each other.  Humor and Gaming seem like natural fits but the truth is you don't see genuine humor, or sarcasm, in games very much.  Here's hoping Frayed Knights is worthy blending of the two.

They're not Indy in one sense, but Runic games'  Torchlight II is something we are looking fortward too.  Travis got his start as a one man show when he released the much beloved Fate.  It's been a bumpy ride for him; a MMORPG/Diablo hybrid follow up called Mythos was swallowed up when Hellgate's failure caused Flagship Studios to fold (they were funding the project, you see).  Not to be deterred, Travis shifted fears and released Torchlight, a proper followup to Fate.  Torchlight II will be a more robust game, however, allowing Co-op play online.



Josh's Helherron Guide

Effluvia, Gaming

Our favorite guide to one of our favorite games has recently resurfaced.  Unfortunately the maps section doesn't appear to be working (despite the files being there), and I haven't had time to determine why.  For now, you can download the guide below.


At a later date we will probably do proper hosting (the guide is in HTML).  I'll post an update once the maps are working.


Update: maps should be working now.


Happy Birthday Ultima IV

Effluvia, Gaming, Geekery

Sort of. . . I'm informed that today is the 25th anniversary of the Apple II release of Ultima IV. I can't recall if it came out on the Apple IIc/e before any other system and don't particularly care.  There is never a reason needed to celebrate this milestone, but a release anniversary for one of the major computer systems is a fine reason to rub some funk on the celebration.  We don't like to pass up a chance to discuss Ultima IV here at Popehat, because it remains one of the most amazing examples of a hobby we hold dear, even as we get older and have less time to devote to it.

The story – in Shay Addams'  book is that Richard Garriot was going through a period of depression post Ultima III, something Popehatians can relate to.  Ultima III was an exceptional game, one of the first if not the first computer role playing game to feature tactical combat.  Combat took place in a separate screen from the world/dungeon maps, in an overhead perspective on a grid.  Players moved their little guys (and gals!  And, uh, larks.  Ultima III had some really weird races and classes) around on a grid trying to smash monsters before being smashed in kind.  It was a radical and wonderful departure at the time, one that would spawn an entire new line of CRPGs, from Wizard's Crown and Pool of Radiance through Fallout.  The combat would serve as a major inspiration for  indie developers like Tom Proudfoot (Nahlakh and Natuk) and Jeff Vogel (Exiles, Avernums, Generforges. . . oh my).

Ultima III was an excellent game.  It was shining example of the genre at the time, and that was part of the problem.  Something was eating at Garriot.  CRPGS up to and including Ultima III were nominally about players assembling a band of heroes (or sometimes, a lone hero, as was the case with Ultima I & II) and then saving the town/kingdom/world from some evil thing or another.  This was generally done by killing monsters by the thousands.  It's an entirely consistent position with the genre, going back to its table top roots.  What Garriot was recognizing (I'm going from memory as I haven't read Shay Addams' book in ages.  But I ordered a fresh copy) was that something had been lost in the transition from table top gaming.  Computer games couldn't – at the time – really replicate the interaction between players.  And only this decade has software arisen that allowed interaction with a human Game Master.  But it was more than that.  While table top RPGing often involved slaughtering monsters by the horde, it often involved other things.  You know, actual role playing.  Whether it was teasing some important clue out of a local magistrate, or trying to prevent the assassination of a regent in a complicated political setting, or trying to fool some dark god and prevent his rise, tabletop role-playing games provided a very rich canvas on which  players could imprint their adventures.  The monsters and the loot were always there and always fun, but the greatest adventures always revolved around more.  They were the deeds of Frodo, Conan, and Elric brought forth from the pages of books and acted out by people who had grown up loving those books, adding new twists and ideas.

CRPGs had none of that.  The stories – the saving of the worlds from the great evils – were always the thinnest of things, but it wasn't just about story either.  Killing monsters and getting loot was really all they offered.  Even Ultima III – whose plot was excellent for the genre at the time – still revolved around these things.  Worse, games often rewarded players for decidedly un-heroic behavior like stealing.  Ironically, perhaps, the Ultima games were famous examples.  The player got ahead (no small feat; the Ultima games were not easy ) by robbing merchants blind, even if the merchants were scurvy dogs on the Isle of Buccaneers in Ultima III.  A disconnect existed between the player and the game world, even in worlds as awesome as Origins (and they were noted for this, well before Ultima IV).  NPCs, at their best, were vending machines for the players.  There was richness in tabletop RPGs that simply didn't exist.  And it couldn't all be explained away by the limitations of the medium.

The front of the Ultima III box pictured a rather nasty looking daemon.  As such, the game came under fire from some right leaning, parental type groups.  It came under fire for all the wrong reasons.  Computer games are not vicious seeds of Satan that corrupt our children or anything like that (like anything else, as a parent you wouldn't want your kid spending all their time with them, nor would you necessarily want your kid to play certain games at certain ages or even at all).  Garriott wasn't condoning Satanism or any other kind of ism by putting a big mean daemon on the box.  But Garriott was at a peculiar time in his life, and the criticism none the less struck home.  There were problems with CRPGs as he saw it, and the criticism was close to those problems if inadvertently so.

And what we got was Ultima IV.  A game with more than its fair share of monster smashing and loot grabbing (particularly in the final dungeon, The Abyss).  But also a game where being a paragon of what it is to be heroic and noble was not just encouraged, but required to win.  The game moved beyond monsters and loot even as they remained a big part of it.  Players found themselves in pursuit of enlightenment, practicing the eight virtues (Compassion, Honor, Humility, Honesty, Justice, Sacrifice, Valor, and Spirituality).  Suddenly players had to stop and think about what they were doing.  Helping people who needed it – whether by donating blood at the local house of healing or giving a beggar a few coins – was an important part of the game.  So was allowing certain, "non evil" types of monsters to flee battle if they so chose.  Lying was verboten, and the almost unfathomably deep conversation system provided more than a few chances for players to do that.  Ultima IV's world was a sandbox and many of your actions affected your standing in each of the eight virtues, for good or for bad.  Garriot made Ultima IV's Britannia a land of darkness and strife, in need of a shining beacon.  And you, the player, were it.   Literally; the game began with you creating a character and taking a quiz filled with wonderful moral quandaries of the "do you honorably report a poor farmer for stealing bread to feed his family, or compassionately let him off?" variety.  The character was one from our world who had wandered into the games'.  The game practically begged you to enter your name in when you created a character, and it's clear this journey was considered *your* journey.  Decisions in the game revolved less around "well, what will net me the most gain so I can go kill the bad guy" to "what would *I* do if I had been sucked into this fantastic world?".

Ultima IV was a revolution.  Anyway, if you are curious don't listen to me.  Try the flash version, which we have mentioned previously (I'll link to that post as soon as I find it).


With Science, Friday Afternoon Will Never Go to Waste

Effluvia, Geekery

What makes a volcano explode?

How did the dinosaurs die?

How do magnets work?

These and much more are the burning questions of our time.  Fake Science has answers.


For Your Friday Time Spending Pleasure

Effluvia, Gaming, Geekery

It can't be wasting time if it feels good to do it, right?

Obey the Game is the latest flash game effort from thoughtful author John (previous interesting efforts include: Achievement Unlocked and This is the Only Level).  The other games I mentioned offered some interesting if shallow looks at certain kinds of game mechanics.  Obey the Game is cleverer and more fun to boot.  The game places you in a series of challenges, each needing to be beaten before a short timer expires.  The goal is displayed in the center of the screen (e.g. "use the stairs" on a level with several spiked platforms and, yes, a stair case).  Follow the instructions and you advance to the next level.  Consecutive wins will net extra lives.  Some of the challenges are arcadish and they get harder as you go.  Simple right?  Well, the game (randomly?  I don't know) will sometimes tell you to "disobey", which means doing the opposite.  Don't take the stairs (dying is appropriate here!).  Don't collect the coins.  Stay alive (on the suicide level, natch). The only thing that costs a life is failing to obey (or, if the game so orders it, disobey) the goal.  The challenge escalates quickly often meaning a split second decision wins or loses the level.  The game is surprisingly fun.

Secondly, we have Elona Shooter .  A castle defense game based on the fascinating rogue like of the same name.  It features different classes, leveling and skill gain, lots of structures to build up in town which do different things, loot collecting.  It's difficult but pretty fun.  Hunter and Rogue are the suggested starting classes (both get an immediate helper you'll want to replace ASAP.  The hunter gets a bow gun, they rule.  The rogue is a money making machine).  You can earn achievements to help you on the current and subsequent play-throughs (if you're a masochist; I am).


Spiderweb on game sales, part the second

Gaming, Geekery

Jeff Vogel has his second in a two part blog post detailing some of the cost and sales numbers for Spider Web's games (part the first). It's pretty fascinating even though he doesn't hand out every last detail. It also shows how leveraging online distribution allows a game maker to benefit from the long tail. Geneforge 4, the game detailed, is not yet profitable but is on the cusp. And is a sure thing to be a long-term money earner even if it's not spectacular by indie standards (which are irrelevant by the money-hat-making standards of someone like Blizzard or even the money-bracelet-making standards of Valve).  It costs Spiderweb software nothing to offer Geneforge 4 alongside all of its other games.  Here's hoping it sells at a steady rate from now until the stage 4 zombie outbreak Popehat has predicted for 2016, and that he and his are able to weather those trying times and begin making games anew as the remnants of society begin to pick up the pieces (we will need diversions to help ease the burden of the horrors that we came through, of course).

Continue Reading »


Automated Forum Registration Temporarily Offline

Geekery, Technology

We are experiencing some technical difficulties with forum registration right now and have been forced to disable them for the short term.  Anyone who would like to register on our forums should click the "contact" link and express your wishes to do so, in 300 words or less, and we'll get you set up.

Why would you want to register on our forums?  Because it's the virtual equivalent of us wandering around in our homes, nay our dominions, pantless.  For reasons that are difficult to articulate but should just "feel right", this is something everyone should experience at least once.  Currently our forums are featuring fascinating topics like like Left 4 Dead the "zombie" themed shooter from Vavle software that has very little to do with zombies (technically, your foes are "infected" with some sort of mutant strain of rabies, just like the film 28 Days Later, only not), but is a terrific game and has tremendous atmosphere.  Atmosphere that is worthy for a Romero movie, in fact. Consider our thread on Dreams, which has won awards, and for example the dream I had last night that made me wake up screaming.  Or even fetishes.  Our official policy is to neither condone nor praise fetishes as a general rule, but judge each on its own merits and artistic flair.  We also judge based on composition and technique.

So contact us if you feel so inclined and we'll get you set up in no time.

You'll float down here. We all float down here.

Comments Off

More 4e D&D impressions: rules and materials

Gaming, Geekery

The 4th Edition of the Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper roll playing system was released at the end of last week. I know what you are thinking: “this must have been a holiday for geeks everywhere!” Well, sort of, but geek holidays are complicated beasts and not really what you were expecting. It’s important to remember that the #1 pass time for most of us nerd types is not doing nerdly things. It is talking about, and really arguing about, those nerdly things on the Internet machine. So the real reason everyone is excited is that at any given moment someone somewhere will be discussing 4e D&D online, and they’ll be wrong. Such things cannot be allowed to stand, because someone being wrong on the Internet attracts geeks like flies to poop (not that POOP). One day, the Internet will be powered by the furious rage generated by these geek-rumbles. I’m not kidding – you ask Mike what we do to people who dare to suggest King Kong could really beat Godzilla. The server Popehat is housed on is powered by their souls.

Continue Reading »


This is Everything My Brain Knows About Depths of Peril

Gaming, Geekery

. . . minus all the things I forgot while expending energy to write this post.

As a Diablo 2 clone, Depths of Peril is a decent though not groundbreaking game. There are dungeons with monsters who collect piles of loot; all desperately waiting for you to come along and explore, exterminate, and collect and then turn around and do it all again. There are four character classes – the staple fighter, mage, cleric, thief – and each one has 3 unique skill trees (and a fourth special tree that each class has access too). There is the color coded item system – now a genre staple thanks to Diablo – where green is a magic item, orange a unique "named" artifact, and so on and so forth. Graphically, the game has a retro but pleasant look. There's large variety to creature graphics and the art style is very effective, ranging from the familiar (giant scorpions) to the bizarre (like the big behemoth looking poison gas belching crab-spider spawning things. I'm, not even sure what they're called). That variety extends into how the monsters "play", if you will. There are a wide variety of monster abilities, employing a wide variety of elemental or annoyance inducing attacks (like stunning, or immobility, or preventing you from using special abilities). Not to mention champion monsters (green color to the name, and much tougher), elites (yellow/gold color, and tougher still) and unique/named (orange, and they're often really nasty). There are quests to do, quests in spades, and I don't know if the player will ever run out of tasks to complete. It all works well enough, if unspectacularly. Depths of Peril, though, isn't just a Diablo 2 clone.

Continue Reading »

Comments Off

The forums are changing

Effluvia, Geekery, Irksome, Language, Meta

Please bear with us (no, Ken, I did not attempt to upgrade to phpBB 3.0, I think Dreamhosters is doing that for us, which you hopefully got a notification about.  Or you are doing this, in which case my pre-emptive post to avoid getting yelled at is for naught).

Also, please don't touch anything.

'Ware killer bees.


The RPG Museum will waste a little of your time

Effluvia, Gaming, Geekery

Well, the unofficial RPG Museum perhaps.  This is a modest, though still somewhat interesting, attempt to make a museum for pen-and-paper RPGs.  Apropos with the passing of one of the two men who helped birth the genre, to be sure.  Also something that will provide some quality nostalgia for more than a few members of this fine site.  It's not comprehensive – not even close – but it does have some gems there.  I remember the Jorune computer game, which was some sort of funky RPG-something hybrid.  Never played it, alas.

The RPG reviews are pretty solid and detailed, and there are worse ways to spend a Friday.

« Older Posts