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Matt Chat gets Enlightened out the Wazoo with Ultima IV

Oh thee of impure thoughts, watcheth my sanctimonious retrospective of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. Even thou might becometh enlightened by the divine powers of Buddha British emanating from every line of code.

Downloadeth the .mp4, burneth it upon a platinum disc, and storeth it in cedar. Hey, wait a minute--dost thou have an ankh? Oh, whew, there for a minute I thought you were a rapscallion.

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Matt Chat 113: Jonas Kyratzes on Politics and Indepedent Game Development

In the last part of my interview with indie designer Jonas Kyratzes, we discuss his latest projects, including Alphaland, Phenomenon 32, The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House of Desert Bridge, and You Shall Know the Truth. This last game is based on the Wikileaks controversy and leads Jonas into a sure-to-be-controversial discussion of politics in America and Europe.

Remember to check out Jonas' blog at http://www.jonas-kyratzes.net/

Download the mp4.

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Matt Chat 112: Depressing Games with Jonas Kyratzes

Well, it's time to break out those handkerchiefs as Jonas and I talk about games that are sad and depressing--and how that can be fun! Well, at least as compelling as a sad movie or book. Specifically, we talk about his games Museum of Broken Memories, Phenomenon 32, The Great Machine, and Last Rose in a Desert Garden, his first project. These are really poetic and avant garde projects, so be sure to check them out if you've any interest in seeing gaming evolve into something more artistic.

Watch above or Download the mp4.

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The Top Ten Greatest Innovations in CRPGs

When you got 300 shortswords.No copper breastplate left behind.This week, I'm looking at what I consider the ten best innovations in CRPGs. That means, I'm looking at games that introduced new gameplay elements or at least adapted existing concepts, forging something that has become (or should have become) important, influential, or at least pretty damn awesome. Keep in mind that the game as a whole might be weak or even a flop; that isn't relevant here. What is relevant is which games introduced which concepts and when. So, let's get started with #10:

10. The mule in Dungeon Siege. Year: 2002. Concept: A pack animal to help carry your lootz. I don't remember much about the original Dungeon Siege game, but I will never forget that crusty pack animal. I'm pretty sure the thinking behind the mule was simply utilitarian; "Hey, that'd be handy to have around." But in one stroke the designers made a game ten times more memorable and self-parodying. And how many times did a battle hinge on the kicking of your mule? Mules literally kick ass. Wait, is that possible? Now I'm so spoiled that I always want a pack of them in assorted colors--what, I'm supposed to just leave that solid gold Elminster statue behind?

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Better Exposition in Gaming

More code, less codex, thank you.More code, less codex, thank you.I was recently kvetching about Dragon Age II for various reasons, but then decided to zero in on something that seems to be a problem for almost all modern games: crude exposition. By "exposition," I mean the parts of any narrative where you have to break from the action and provide context. For example, if you're describing a spy breaking into a safe, you might need to stop for a moment to let the reader know who the spy is and what he's doing there, where and what time period this is taking place in, etc. Most authors break this stuff up and distribute it throughout the piece, so you aren't just suddenly hit with page after page of facts, but get them piecemeal as you proceed through the story. For instance, the author might mention in passing that there's a flag with a swastika above the safe, thereby letting you know this is probably taking place in Germany during World War II. Then she might put you in the spy's head, imagining scientists building a missile based on the schematics in that safe. Without any kind of exposition, the reader will have no reason to care about what's taking place and probably stop reading. One sign of a good author is that the exposition doesn't impede the action too much, but maintains a certain flow that keeps us turning pages.

I've encountered so many examples of crude exposition in games recently...the "codex" in Dragon Age 2, the tape recorders in Bioshock 2, the consoles in Halo ODST, the pages in Alan Wake...It seems when confronted with presenting context, the first instinct of a game designer is to make it superfluous.

As you can imagine, the business of exposition is tricky for any medium. Watch some of the early X-Files episodes and you'll see a lot of rather blatant expositions, usually something like this: "Stonehenge? Oh, yes, the ancient druid stones that researchers think may have served an astronomical function, but some conspiracy theories think could not have been built by anyone but extraterrestrials," etc. I mention this show because the exposition is usually so blatant that it feels forced and thus obvious to viewers. Obviously, they didn't expect the audience to know much, if at all, about the subject matter of the show. Games shouldn't ever have this problem because designers know exactly what the players know--assuming they have done their homework and not made the context superfluous to the content.

Let me say here that it makes no more sense to interrupt the gameplay with a screen full of text than it does for a bag of fried chicken to include an instruction manual. If your game requires players to read text, re-design it so that it doesn't.*

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Matt Chat 111: Interview with Jonas Kyratzes

Jonas Kyratzes is an indie designer who enjoys pushing the boundaries of game design. He's got a lot of great projects under his belt, including The Museum of Broken Memories, Alphaland, Last Rose in a Desert Garden, and much more. Using a more "chat like" format than usual, Jonas and I discuss a range of topics including art, politics, entertainment, and of course, gaming.

Watch above or Download the mp4.

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Kvetching on Dragon Age II

X, Y, A, A, B, etc.X, Y, A, A, B, etc.I've always been a bit divided on Bioware's games after they abandoned their compromising "real time with pause" gameplay and sacrificed their babies to the god of Twitch. If you listen to some people, they would have been doing this all along, but the technology of the time wouldn't allow it (rubbish). The real goal here is to cater to the widest possible demographic, which everyone seems to think means focusing on spectacle and instant gratification (look, mommie, this button makes him chop!). The only concessions to adults is usually some vague notion of "difficult choices" you have to make at a dialog tree or two, and perhaps a lot of boring text here and there that you can find and read if you're so inclined. You know you've come a long ways down a dark road when the closest thing you get to the tabletop experience is clicking through (not reading) a dozen such screens of text and earning an Xbox Live achievement about being "learned."

But anyway, back to Dragon Age 2. I was one of those poor bastards who actually pre-ordered the collector's edition. I sprang for the PC version, which was apparently a mistake. Still, while I was probably more frustrated by the combat and party AI than anything else, I did enjoy other parts of the game, particularly the characters. Yeah, I know it's a bad when the thing I like most about a CRPG is the drama.

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Matt's List of the Top Ten Worst CRPGs

Nooo! Don't play the third one!Nooo! Don't play the third one!What are the ten worst CRPGs? This is a question that takes a lot of thought, because terrible games typically do not sell well and are quickly forgotten. What I think most of us have in mind with questions like this are high profile disasters--games that received a huge amount of hype, had no excuses to be bad, and turned out to be so spectacularly awful that it was more fun reading and writing the scathing reviews than the game would have been in the first place. We're not talking about low budget, small-team productions that you wouldn't expect much from anyway. These are the big budget games that stank so badly you not only flushed them three times but actually went to the store for a giant can of industrial-strength Lysol. With that as my build up, let's crank up our Roto-Rooters and dredge these crusty wads back up to the surface.

#10. Lands of Lore III. The Lands of Lore series was created by Westwood Studios, the legendary developer responsible for Eye of the Beholder and plenty of other epic CRPGs. The original Lands of Lore debuted in 1993 to critical acclaim, offering an interface similar to Dungeon Master or EOB that holds up well even today. The franchise was brought to an intestine-blocking halt in 1999 with the arrival of this boring game with terrible graphics and enough bugs to keep an entomology department busy for decades. Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that the game tries to be an FPS, ratcheting up the "action" because that's what all gamers want, righhhht? Uh, nope. Don't worry, though, it's a pattern we'll see repeated. And we all know that the definition of genius is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, right?

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Matt Chat 109: Sex Drugs and Rock'n Roll with Jon Hare

Sorry, folks. I forgot to put episode 109 up last week. Here it is! You don't want to miss it, either, since Jon talks about his failed project Sex'n'Drugs'n'Rock'n'Roll, which would have probably been the Guitar Hero/Grand Theft Auto of its generation.

Download the MP4.

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Matt's Top Ten CRPGs

A lot of peeps have been asking me to compile a list of my top ten favorite CRPGs of all time. Like most fans of the genre, I have many favorites, and these will shift around as I come in and out of different phases. Also, this is just a personal list of what I either enjoy now or look back on with the most fondness; I'm not worried here about what is most influential or innovative. It's just my top ten favorite CRPGs, as of this moment. I'm also going to skip hybrid games that try to cross genres, such as Mass Effect and Deus Ex, as well as MUDs and MMORPGs. Okay, enough disclaiming already! Here goes the list:

Someday he's gonna be a jedi...Someday he's gonna be a jedi...10. Knights of the Old Republic. I have to admit the bulk of my appeal for this game comes from its setting in the Star Wars universe, which I love almost as much as Middle Earth and Krynn. There were times playing this game where I felt I had actually entered that universe and was a part of something bigger than the game itself. It seems to me that after this game, Bioware cut the cord and went Action, Action, ACTION. There's some of that tendency here, but compared to Dragon Age and Mass Effect, at least this still reminds me of a true CRPG.

9. The Bard's Tale. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure to love this game so much, since it was heavily derivative on Wizardry, but what can I say...It didn't take me long to really want to explore the town of Skara Brae and get my pack of wimpy, glass-jawed heroes up to snuff. I also really like the Bard as a class and character; it seems obvious today, but back then it was really fun to think about a guy out strumming a lute as the rest of the party fought for their lives. I also really like the artistic style, which adds a certain character that really is unique. It also has a great box that you can fold out and see a lovely map of the city. Good stuff.

8. Dungeon Master. Another game that I am deeply saddened to have missed out on when it was fresh. I know I would've absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, it required 1 megabyte of RAM to play, and my Amiga 1000 was limited to 512K. That still frustrates me to this day! Still, when I finally got to play it, I was really impressed with the interface, and it's obvious at once how the real-time elements set it apart from its predecessors and contemporaries. It's a bit hard to get into today because of the magic system, which definitely requires some reading, but overall it's still lots of fun. I remember the ads stressed that you need to wear headphones and only play the game at night. I don't know if that was necessary, but it was a neato game for sure.

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