Bungie’s interplanetary space-fantasy teems with grand-sounding names that sound almost blandly epic — this is another battle of Light versus Darkness — but the game backs all that up with badass gear, mysterious figures, and rich environments that are all about the interplay of light and shadow. This might be most evident on Earth’s moon. Look at that sky (it changes all the time) and the way its light plays on the weapon of warfare that anchors you in the frame.

The Relationship Between Good Game Writing and Good Game Design

Every game writer should read George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.”

[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

There’s so much RPG writing out there whose only foundational influence is other RPG writing — “bad habits spread by imitation.”

And Orwell nails it (hence my emphasis) when he points out that this sloppy, thoughtless use of language actually makes our designs worse, not just because it makes the written expression of our designs less elegant, but because sloppy writing actually affects our thinking about games in the first place.

Designers string together bits of description, bits of background, bits of mechanic that have come before without critical thought, with the vague sense that if they’ve come before, there must be some kind of reason.

[M]odern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.

If you are an RPG developer and you’ve never received 10,000 words from a freelance writer that has exactly that problem, you’re fortunate.

That said, the good news is up there in the first quote: “…the process is reversible.” There’s a virtuous cycle of precise language and thoughtful design. They feed each other.

Read the essay.

My Eyes On Alien: Isolation

I didn’t spend much time on the floor at PAX Prime this past weekend for two main reasons: 1.) The throngs make me uncomfortable and 2.) I’ve assigned my video-game budget up through February already, so I didn’t need to be sold on games I’m already buying.

Still, I went up there to check out Alien: Isolation because I am deeply excited about that game and I wanted to see if I could watch someone play it. And, sure enough, the booth had a monitor displaying the actual play of those inside a giant, enclosed alien egg with an Xbox One.

The game’s lovely, lovingly realized, and moody as all hell. The loading screen is brilliant — even the loading screen! — and the mission briefing has a great VHS quality I appreciate. But what about the gameplay itself?

There, in the midst of those teeming throngs, with the noise and hubbub of the floor all around us, I watched a dozen or so people flinch and shudder and recoil as the alien itself strode onto the screen hunting the player. It was chilling. The alien looks spectacular — and enormous. It’s tail flickers about behind it and its body language is just discernible enough to know that this thing means business. The folks I saw play didn’t get out of the demo — every one of them was caught and slain by the beast even when they had an incinerator on hand. Their deaths were frightening but still a little classy: smash cut to darkness.

I am going to play this game a whole bunch, I predict.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Will Feature Co-op Multiplayer!!!



Cooperative multiplayer is coming to Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the four-player adventure isn’t as close to Mass Effect 3’s online mode as you might expect. Both share qualities, particularly in their economies, but in almost every instance, Inquisition’s levels, characters, and economy are significantly deeper.

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Having dug Mass Effect’s multiplayer, I am intrigued…

XCOM: The Board Game's companion app is more than just a gimmick

Am I shocked to learn that board-gaming veteran and genius, Eric Lang (Chaos in the Old World, Quarriors!), is blurring the lines between app and board game? That he’s integrating digital functionality into a board game? That he’s made the app something more than accessory or optional add-on? That he’s done it with a franchise as rich and fun as XCOM? That he’s done it, by all accounts, in a way that is not only satisfying and logical but also pioneering and terrific fun? 

I am not. This is what Eric Lang does.

Go get us, Eric Lang.

Life is Strange, episodic adventure game, coming from Remember Me dev

i haven’t finished playing Remember Me, yet, but I really dug its world-building and its design — lots of interesting choices made in that game. I picked up the art book for it because that game’s so lovely (and because I’m a fan of art director Aleksi Briclot).

Now the developers at Dontnod are cooking up a story-driven adventure game about rewinding time and a mysterious disappearance? I’m in. I love that the game is being teased with an image of faces and light … the other photo is pretty commonplace for modern video games, alas.

Thanks for the heads-up, Polygon!

Shadows and Lore

The gameplay clips from Monolith’s forthcoming Shadow of Mordor fascinated me. The game looks to build on an Assassin’s Creed-style open world by developing relationships between the player’s protagonist and a Mordor full of distinct orcs and Uruks, using a game mechanism called the Nemesis System. Intriguing.

But why is this game set in Middle-earth? Why pit the lone hero, Talion (with yet another motivation of familial revenge driving yet another dude on a grimdark quest), against a nation and a ruler we are almost certain cannot be defeated within this play experience? We can find some dramatic tension there, knowing that Talion’s mission is doomed, I guess.

This all felt like a disharmonious combination of mechanics and theme, to me. Until I heard that the resurrecting spirit that gives Talion his shot at revenge draws from the lore of Middle-earth in a way I didn’t expect. That wraith is Celebrimbor, the Elf and smith who helped a disguised Sauron craft the Rings of Power in the forges of Eregion at the foot of the Misty Mountains back in the Second Age. Now we have a big, dramatic backdrop for this game that explores some of the years between The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring in a new light. Backing that up with distinctive gameplay in a region of Middle-earth we seldom get to see as more than a volcano — that’s an art-design challenge I want to see Monolith tackle.

Between this, my fondness for LOTRO, and the new e-books I’ve picked up for The One Ring roleplaying game, (including Rivendell and its look at Eriador), I think some more gaming in Middle-earth might be in my future.