Category: Gaming

Gridiron Solitaire is live!

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On 16 November, I told you about Gridiron Solitaire, an indie game developed by Friend-of-the-'Hat and all-around nice guy Bill Harris of Dubious Quality. At that time, Bill had submitted the game to Steam for possible greenlighting and I asked for votes in support of that effort. Alongside some Popehatters, friends of Bill from all around the 'verse joined in, and pretty soon afterward the game was approved.

Well, Gridiron Solitaire is now officially available on Steam! I'll bet it's a great way to spend a snowy evening….

Taffer Style

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This is a relatively self-indulgent post, but hey– blog!

This is fundamentally a gaming site, founded and sustained by gamers, and I was once, and remain, a rabid fan of the gaming franchise that began with Thief: The Dark Project, continued with Thief II: The Metal Age and Thief: Deadly Shadows, and will soon resume with 2014's Thief. These are the high water mark in first-person, hybrid, potentially non-violent, stealth-based, story-rich games.

A recent discussion of satire, parody, and pastiche in the comment section of another thread here reminded me that I wrote a handful of Thief-themed pastiches back in the early aughties. To share them with others who might like them, to store them in our database, and to revisit them with wistful nostalgia, I reproduce them below. Each is set to the theme of a pop song. Note well: these are only meaningful if you've played the games, and they're best read with the corresponding tunes playing in the background. :) The songs are Barbie Girl, All Star, Mickey, We Didn't Start The Fire, Uptown Girl, Cheers, and U Can't Touch This.

In one sense, the message of this post in a nutshell is "Ain't I a clever chap!" But if you, too, love the Thief games, then in joining the nostalgia perhaps you'll revisit some fond memories of your own.


Open Gaming Thread

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So what are you paying right now? What do you recommend?

I've recently been playing the latest Civ V expansion — Brave New World — and worked towards a culture victory to test of some of its new elements (like tourism and archeology) — but started to lose interest in the late game. I also pre-ordered the Beta of Age of Decadence but find it very challenging to stay alive.

I'd love to find a good-old-fashioned party-based crpg, something like Helherron. On the other hand, I'm tempted by Patrick's glowing reviews of Europa Universalis IV.


Gridiron Solitaire – ready for Greenlighting!

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In an earlier post, I introduced you to the forthcoming indie PC game Gridiron Solitaire by our friend, the amazing Bill Harris, whose blog Dubious Quality has kept us in sentiment, insight, and stitches for many a year.

The game is one of those 15-20 minutes-per-session card-based games that are easy to play over lunch or during a break. The game models football, including leagues, seasons, and the intricacies of football strategy, but presents it all in a highly accessible, enjoyable way. I'm not a football fan, though tonight's standoff between Stanford and USC nearly converted me. But I'm looking forward to this game because I know that Bill knows what makes games fun.

(If you missed the earlier post, go read it now!)

Well, his game is ready to be considered for distribution via Steam. All it takes is enough community support through the Greenlight system. So if you're a Steamer, consider headin' on over to the Gridiron Solitaire page at the Steam Community website an' doin' what yer Mama taught ya.

Scroll down to where it says "Would you buy this game if it were available in Steam?" and make the world a better place.

Gridiron Solitaire: the first preview

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From game reviewer and gaming market analyst to game… developer?! Yep. Our friend Bill Harris of the fascinating blog Dubious Quality has been creating a game for the past couplethree years.

One thing that's special about Bill is that he has an intricate understanding of all the tactical and strategic nuances of every sport that interests him. For example, whenever there was a release of NCAA or Madden in their heyday, Bill would spend countless hours on empirical testing of various configuration slider settings and then release a definitive slider configuration to make the video game as much like the live game as possible.

Another is that he has a broad and deep understanding of what makes games enjoyable. He's both analytic and intuitive, and his judgment has been honed through decades of playing, reviewing, and discussing.

Understanding and good judgment–that's a magical combination for creative endeavors, and so the anticipation is high for his soon-to-be-released game, Gridiron Solitaire.

The exclusive first look at Bill's game is now up at Red Door Blue Key. I have no interest at all in football, but I can't wait to play this game because I know Bill. I trust that his creature will not only be accessible, suitably challenging, and hugely replayable, but also that it will somehow capture the feel and the fun of genuine football. For anyone who does love football, the game will undoubtedly offer many special moments that I'll fail to intercept.

The more I played Gridiron Solitaire, the more I kept repeating that phrase: just like real football. It’s astonishing that an abstract, card-based mechanic can so closely mimic the peculiar feel of this sport. Ball control, time of possession, and clock management are crucial. The games end with realistic scores…

Check out the preview, read his designer blog installments (starting here), and watch this space for further info about when and where the game will drop!

Listen, Don't Mention The Malshandir. I Mentioned It Once, But I Think I Got Away With It All Right.

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Gentle readers, I write with important legal, ethical, and spiritual advice: don't say "Malshandir".

Really the core of my advice is not to name anyone or anything "Malshandir". Don't name your baby "Malshandir"; name it, I don't know, George or something. Don't name your dog "Malshandir". Don't name your macaw who rides on your shoulder as you ride your second-hand bike to the ironic t-shirt store "Malshandir." And for the love of the all-merciful God, whatever you do, don't name your pretend Elf, the non-existent avatar you use in an online game, "Malshandir", even if — and I want to make this very clear — you believe he deserves special recognition for having completed the "Fetid Slug Imbalance" quest successfully.

Fetid Slug Imbalance was dropped from the DSM-V, probably for political reasons.

Fetid Slug Imbalance was dropped from the DSM-V, probably for political reasons.

But it's not just about naming things "Malshandir." It's really not even safe to say "Malshandir." You shouldn't say "that piece of halibut was good enough for Malshandir," or "I've been having trouble with that stuff that builds up in the crevices of my groin, where I sweat a lot — what's it called? Malshandir?"

You shouldn't do these things because a guy named Thomas Freyer may sue you or have you arrested using European courts, which apparently are magic and render decisions in two hours. This, apparently, is Thomas Freyer:



We know these things because Thomas Freyer has been engaged in a furious dialogue with a web site devoted to the online fantasy game Everquest 2. That site had a profile of an EQ2 character, an Elf named "Malshandir." Mr. Freyer maintains this is VERBOTEN, because even if his domain name has expired, and even if he has not registered an American trademark for "Malshandir", and even if his English company "Malshandir" closed in 2010, and even if the "Malshandir" character was created on EQ2 in 2008, he has a European trademark on "Malshandir," which prevents you from calling anything "Malshandir", even a pretend Elf. Using the name "Malshandir" can have grave consequences, including but not limited to being forced to "delist your site from nameservers within the EU and reject all requests from servers and clients from the EU," a "decision from a court within 2 hours," and exposure to worrisome paradoxes, such as "BTW: I talk with a trademark lawyer. trademark attorneys doesn’t exist."

Read more about Mr. Freyer's legal acumen, and why you should fear his wrath, here.

Mr. Freyer apparently believes based on legal advice — which may or may not come from attorneys that you or I could see or hear — that if he trademarks a name for commercial purposes in Europe, then you or I may not use that name for completely unrelated non-commercial purposes in America, for instance to denote a pretend Elf. This would mean, for instance, that if someone trademarked "Buster" to sell marital aids in Oslo, you could not name your World of Warcraft Orc Buster, even if Buster is not in the actual or pretend trade of manufacturing or selling marital aids. [Note to self: develop pitch for new profession in World of Warcraft. Assign associate with lowest billable hours and least inclination to sue.]

I could explain why that is silly, but I think my head might explode. I am concerned that my head exploding could made some sound that resembles some word Mr. Freyer has trademarked in Europe, which could lead to further litigation against my estate.

So: be sensible, be prudent, and don't say "Malshandir." And whatever you do, don't engage in any sort of contest to see which of you could photoshop the most creative use of "Malshandir" for commercial or artistic use, and especially what you do don't start with templates like this.

Edited to add: Dammit, people! I explicitly told you not to do things like this, from Aaron in the comments!



Updates: All right, who did this? That's very mean to Malshandir!

Meanwhile, Mr. Freyer seems to be very angry and threatening, and thinks that an EQ2 blog can take down posts from Popehat.

Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack

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This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday….

Got home late tonight and found a package on the front porch.



1, 2, 3


Confessions of a 43-Year-Old Gamer

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I have been playing video games since Pong. I learned some rudiments of BASIC on the Commodore 2000 just to program incredibly rudimentary "games." I was video-game-obsessed. It was my main hobby. My father once barked at me "THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN PAC-MAN." (I said something very similar to my son on the streets of Seoul and could hear my father laughing in my head.) I enjoyed video games to the detriment of studies and social relationships.

But . . .

Now I am 43 and married with kids and a job and a mortgage and pick-ups at soccer practice every weeknight and soccer games every weekend and errands and making a gesture towards helping around the house and so forth.

Leaving aside games like Civilization V which I can "finish" by virtue of winning a scenario, I can't remember the last video game I "finished."

Now that time is a much rarer commodity than money, I buy games and barely start them, let alone finish them.

I frequently plan to take a serious shot at a game, only to drift off into idly surfing the internet, or watching Netflix.

Where I used to be intimately familiar with the leading games in my chosen genre (rpgs and Civ-style turn-based strategy), I haven't played most of the "big" games for years.

Increasingly when I look for games, I am looking less for graphics or gameplay, but for a feeling — the feeling games used to give me. That's why I often get the most pleasure not from big-budget heavily-promoted releases, but from obscure indies with 25-year-old graphics.

But my quest may be fruitless. There are many beautiful and innovative and genuinely artistic games coming out, some with improvements on classic gameplay. But it will never again be 1983. I will never again be playing Ultima III on my Apple IIe, windows open to let in a summer breeze smelling of honeysuckle and suntan oil, without a care or responsibility in the world, gasping as I found my way into the treasure trove in Devil's Gulch.

u3chestsScreenshot courtesy of the fabulous CRPG Addict.


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I have one of each of the following oldie-but-goodie games to give away within the Steam ecosystem:

  • Half-Life 2 (taken)
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One (taken)
  • BioShock (taken)

Do you play games via Steam? Do you, for some inexplicable reason, lack one of these games? Would you like one of them?

If you have answered "Yes, Yes, Yes!" to these questions, then send an email to me, david at popehat dot com, requesting by title exactly one of the three games.

Each game will go to the first person who requests it, and each will go to a different person.


No Shit

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Former Diablo 3 Director Jay Wilson discusses Diablo 3's Auction House

He thought they would help reduce fraud, that they'd provide a wanted service to players, that only a small percentage of players would use it and that the price of items would limit how many were listed and sold.

But he said that once the game went live, Blizzard realized it was completely wrong about those last two points.

No shit.

That, said Wilson, made money a much higher motivator than the game's original motivation to simply kill Diablo, and "damaged item rewards" in the game.



"I think we would turn it off if we could," Wilson said during his talk.

no shit sherlock 2

Blizzard, Wilson said, doesn't want to remove a feature that lots of players will be unhappy to see go. But he did say that the team is working on a viable solution, without giving any other details about what that would be like.

Buy Torchlight 2.

Kickstart: Torment

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Do you remember with fond affection that masterpiece of PC gaming, Planescape: Torment? Have you never heard of Planescape: Torment? Do you wish you could dropstop everything right now and replay Planescape: Torment?

Well, you're not alone. But Big Publishing is too rational or terrified to make that sort of game anymore.

Happily, we can acknowledge the waning importance of what Big Publishing thinks about this or anything else, for we now have tubes full of Kickstarter. (What can change the nature of games publishing?)

Many of the folks who made Planescape: Torment now work at inXile, and they're making a new game: Torment: Tides of Numenera.

Not actually a sequel to the previous game's story, which is self-contained (and recursive), Tides of Numenera will offer the same kind of thematically rich content within the framework of Monte Cook's (already fundedNumenera RPG system.

Anyhow, the studio's Kickstarter campaign began this morning and raised its 30-day target of $900,000 in six hours. That should tell you something about how the fans of Planescape: Torment regard this franchise and these developers and this plan.

There's still plenty of time to buy in, and there are plenty of perqs for berks, so if this is the sort of thing you're likely to like, then you know what to do!

Some People Call Me The Space Marine . . . And Get Threatened By Games Workshop

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M.C.A. Hogarth is a writer of many things, including science fiction.

You would think that it is difficult to draw frivolous legal threats and demands writing science fiction. You would be wrong. Hogarth wrote a book called Spots the Space Marine, only to find it yanked from Amazon, apparently based on a claim of trademark infringement by I-can't-believe-they-still-exist gaming institution Games Workshop. Games Workshop, it seems, told Amazon that they own the trademark to "Space Marine," not withstanding that (1) they don't own a trademark to it in the context of science fiction books, and (2) they couldn't, because the term has been in wide use in science fiction for the better part of a century.

Unprincipled and frivolous trademark threats chill speech just like defamation threats. Companies that make them should face consequences. Regrettably, Amazon will probably continue to pull books first and ask questions later.

Ignore This In Ten Minutes

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We (I say that cautiously, as I'm no longer really a part of "us") don't blog about games as we used to, which is sorta sad but people move on.

That said, one of the things I'd meant to be blogging about back when I was actively blogging here is Guild Wars 2, a "buy-to-play" (meaning no monthly subscription fee) massive, multiplayer online roleplaying game, which I think is the best game of 2012. I didn't, because I sorta ran out of steam on the whole blogging thing around July, but I have a few trial subscriptions for a free four day weekend trial of the game, which begins tomorrow night.

If you'd like one, say so in comments, using a real email address (in the email address field, not in the body of your comment), and as supplies last I'll provide you a free trial.  If you choose to play on the Ehmry Bay server in North America, you can even join the Popehat guild, which is pretty much just me.

Of course, if you try the game and like it, please consider buying it through the Amazon widget on the right sidebar.

Marian Call is on a Quest

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Marian Call Adventure Quest

Photo by Studio Valette,

A Kickstarter quest! Back in 2010, with help from her many fans, the charmingly geeky Alaskan songstress Marian Call managed to pull off a tour of all 50 states and a dash of Canada. In the wake of her album Something Fierce, Marian is now aiming to play Europe.

She has the music. She has the armor and weaponry. She has the kickstarter video (see below).  She has the adorably dorky Adventure Quest game by means of which the supporters of her kickstarter may unlock cities across Europe (i.e., bring her to them to play). She has a FAQ. She even has the publicly accessible thumbnail budget, whereby she establishes herself as the most open administration in history.

All she needs is support! The initial kickstarter amount takes her, and her guitarist, to England and Wales. Resources above that level unlock other countries, as shown on the game's map. Especially if you're a Popehat reader in Europe and a fan of Marian's work, please follow the links and see whether you'd like to play her game: (The kickstarter) (The game, rulebook, loot inventory, and adventuring opportunities)

Longtime readers of Popehat may recall my coverage of Marian's music– especially her lyrics– here (shallow) and here (deep).  I'll be supporting her quest, even though it means sending her far, far away to gives shows I won't attend. If you like her way of making, funding, spreading, and sharing art, then I invite you to join me!


Click to envidify!

Three Games: Two Expensive, One Cheap; Two Great, One Not

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You're probably wanting to hear about the one that intersects between "cheap" and "great", so I'll point out that Warlock: Master of the Arcane, which Ken praised highly in May, can be purchased for less than ten dollars through Steam. This is a sale that will last through June 11. Although Ken's not as much a strategy gamer as I am, I trust his judgment. I bought the game and all of its bonus content for twelve dollars and forty-seven cents.

Now, about that other great game. Distant Worlds released in 2010, terrifically ambitious and rather buggy. Like most ambitious, bug-filled games, it was easy to admire the concept while damning the execution. The game has since undergone a number of patches, and two expansions. To fully enjoy the game, you'll need to buy both expansions. That'll put you back almost seventy bucks.

What do you get for your seventy bucks? I'm glad you asked: You get one of the deepest and most enjoyable strategy games ever released. Distant Worlds is a real time (pausable, with option to control game speed) galactic empire simulator. Think Master of Orion in concept. But Master of Orion was small.

Distant Worlds is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think Master of Orion was grand strategy with its fifty star galaxies, but that's just peanuts to Distant Worlds. Distant Worlds allows the player to enter a galaxy with 1400 stars, each with multiple planets, to fight battles involving hundreds of ships against twenty opposing empires. It has everything you expect from such a game: espionage, ship design, colonization, aliens, planetary invasions, technological research, space monsters, interstellar trade, diplomacy, individual leaders such as admirals, generals, scientists, and governors. Did I mention battles involving hundreds of ships at a time?

And yet it never bogs down or overwhelms the player, because the game allows you to automate the portions of your empire you find less than stimulating, while setting parameters for the computer to follow, and to take back control at will. Typically I allow the computer to build ships and run the economy for me, while I concentrate on diplomacy, exploration, colonization, research, and really vast space battles between huge fleets.

It's not for everyone, but if the game clicks, you can play it for hundreds of hours without getting bored. Distant Worlds will occupy my hard drive for years. If you're interested, note that you'll need the two expansions to get the most out of it.

Now, on to the expensive game that, well… It's unfair to say that Diablo III sucks. It's simply dull, drab, boring, and awful. I bought it on release day, and already I never want to play it again. Leaving aside common complaints such as the auction house trivializing the acquisition of loot (the point of Diablo is that shiny loot falls out of monsters if you beat them hard enough) and the mandatory internet connection, something isn't there. And that something is fun. Oh, the game plays like Diablo, but this isn't the year 2000, and all of Blizzard's "improvements" are distractions, side-tracks from the important work of beating monsters so hard that shiny loot falls out of them.

Technology is change, and usually for the better. But not in this case. You wouldn't want a twelve year old car if you could have something brand new. With Diablo III, Blizzard has given us a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis, stuck a huge tail fin on the back, and tried to sell it as this year's model.

Consumer Products That Did Not Disappoint Me This Month

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1. Game of Thrones on HBO. We're several episodes behind. I'm savoring them.

2. The Abbado recording of The Magic Flute. I treated myself to buying a few recordings on iTunes before vacation, and chose this based on the Penguin Guide recommendation. On the one hand, I don't love the pacing — it's authentic, but a little jumpy for my taste. However, the voices are simply spectacular.

3. To End All Wars, a book about England in World War One. Two themes were well-portrayed and resonated. The first was how hubris and uncritical devotion to traditional tactics led to disaster. The second was how, in wartime, nominal critics of government will become uncritically pro-war to gain and maintain power.

4. Warlock: Master of the Arcane. I've been looking for a game in this genre as satisfying as 1994's Master of Magic since — well, since 1994. This, as far as I am concerned, is it.

5. The iPad. My precious.

6. Patron tequila.

7. The Bloggess' new book. She's like the result of a genetic experiment involving Dave Barry, Dorothy Parker, Erma Bombeck, David Sedaris, and [think of some writer who says "fuck" a whole lot]. Hilarious, and in consistently surprising ways. She's one of those writers who makes me say "I want to be a writer."