Matt's List of the Top Ten Worst CRPGs

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Matt Barton's picture

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?

Will they notice it's shipping with 1987 graphics?Will they notice it's shipping with 1987 graphics?#9. Dungeon Master II: Skullkeep. The first Dungeon Master is a legend among CRPG fans, celebrated for its tight, real-time gameplay and fun level design. The first "official" sequel (don't get this confused with Chaos Strikes Back!) showed up in 1995. Like those puzzles in the first game? They're gone. But you get more combat!!! Only it's boring, repetitive combat...Click, click, click. Anyone with a measurable IQ need not apply here. Like a lot of the games on this list, Skullkeep probably wouldn't look so bad if it didn't try to claim the legacy of a truly awesome game. Maybe if knew nothing of the original's legacy, you might appreciate this for the mediocre game that it is. Ah, what bliss.

#8. DeathKeep. Another peanut-studded turd from the mid-90s, Deathkeep was another pathetic attempt to make CRPGs more appealing to boneheads by grafting them onto FPS engines. What results is a shooter game based on the AD&D license. It was released for 3DO (another embarrassing memory of the mid-90s) and Windows, with crappy graphics and choppy movement. It's a good thing the story makes up for it...Actually, it doesn't. Kill the evil wizard, er, necromancer. Yeah, that's original.

#7. Dungeon Siege 3. Whenever the original designer or design team outsources a sequel, have a plumber on speed dial. Chris Taylor was proud to put his name on the first and second games. While I doubt anyone would call even the first one "great," Dungeon Siege was entertaining and compelling enough to finish. Perhaps in a foolish and misguided effort to "adapt for console gamers," we end up with the clunky interface of the turd, er, third game. A bigger problem, though, is the forgettable cast of characters and gameplay shallower than a water-saving toilet basin. I guess they're taking the "siege" part seriously, particularly the part about sitting around and being really bored. I think all of us really wanted to see this game do well, since another great rpg (even an action RPG) would be really welcome right now. Something totally awesome!!! Damn, I selected the wrong curtain and got Dungeon Siege 3 instead.

#6. Alpha Protocol. Chris Avellone, what have you done? How could the same guy who gave us Planescape: Torment produce a flop like this, particularly when the premise (an "espionage RPG") sounds so fascinating? Just hearing that phrase alone makes me want to buy it. But, yeah, we just got another mess with more bugs than a public lavatory without any soap left. Like Dungeon Siege 3, I'm kinda reminded of a bunch of frat guys trying to bake a cake. But they didn't plan well, and now they're out of time, so they turn up the oven to broil thinking it'll turn out just as great in half the time. What really makes this game so galling is that you can't help but see that it could have--should have--been so much better. Perhaps the "alpha" in the title is a not so subtle clue?

Descent from Anus Descent from Anus #5. Descent to Undermountain. Ever heard of a game called Fallout? Yeah, I bet you have. Well, guess what--it was considered this developer's "B game." Their big project was Descent to Undermountain, an AD&D licensed game based on the Descent engine. Yeah, that's right, the @#$@ Descent engine. How the hell was that supposed to turn out? The devs blamed it on a rushed production schedule, but I don't know anyone who seriously thinks this stupid idea deserved another year of anybody's time. What's to like here? I don't know what criterion you could come up with that wouldn't make this game look bad. Awful AI, terrible graphics, repetitive gameplay...at least you to get fight some giant rats. And they even float in mid-air...!

#4. Dragonlance: Heroes of the Lance. I hope somebody came to serious harm while making this game. How dare they take one of my favorite licenses and treat it like this...I know people who give their toilet paper more respect. Not incidentally, this was another effort to interest console gamers in AD&D stuff, and I guess the assumption was that console gamers are a bunch of strategically shaven gorillas who enjoy mashing buttons. I mean, what the hell @$@ is this? Some kind of side-scrolling action game with some kind of AD&D rules under the hood? Did somebody ask for that? Please, if they did, rip their heart out with a dragonlance. Wait, scratch that. Use a spoon.

#3. Might and Magic IX. New World Computing is the greenest developer I know. Man, they LOVE recycling. Just look at M&M 7 and 8. I'd forgive anyone for not being able to tell them apart from 6. So, by 2002 they figured they'd really better do something different, because, I don't know, maybe the mandate had ended or something. They were so lazy, they couldn't even think of a title for this one, so it's just IX. That's a bad sign. The bullet points sound good, at least--3D engine, real & turn-based combat, a "conversation engine," etc. So what do we end up with? Another bloody mess. It's like they made a list of everything they did right in Mandate of Heaven and did the opposite. Simplistic character creation. Slow start. Lack of choice. Not even a clue why you're #$@ there. Won't make that mistake again. Neither will a publisher.

Avatar DLC includes 50% more sparkles! Avatar DLC includes 50% more sparkles! #2. Ultima IX: Ascension. Like Roberta Williams, Richard Garriott's fame was earned by taking big chances and pushing every conceivable boundary. He was usually pretty good at predicting what fans wanted, even if they didn't realize it, and surpassing their expectations. The Ultima series was something that not just CRPG nuts got excited about; the entire computer games industry kept their eye on Origin because they were always a full step ahead of everybody else. But sometimes when you're blindly leaping forward, you land in a puddle of manure. Garriott began doubting his fans, convincing himself (again like Williams) that he had to stop doing what he did best and try to appeal to the masses by bringing in more ACTION and less of everything else (except bugs, of course). I guess he felt was that he didn't go far enough towards stupid with Pagan, so they had take it down a notch or six. But Ascension, oh wow...This was the game that should have proved that Garriott had lost it completely, but it took Tabula Rasa to do that. I guess Garriott's brilliant plan for IX was to turn Ultima into the next Tomb Raider. That's probably not that bad of an idea considering the success of Tomb Raider and Zelda, but it's not Ultima. It didn't help that it was another rush job with tons of show-stopping bugs.

#1. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. Sigh. I once said that I would never mention this game because I was afraid that somehow, even by dissing it, I would be drawing attention to it and some idiot out there would be curious enough to seek it out. I'd like to think this game didn't really exist, and that I could somehow alter history so that it never existed. As you know, Pool of Radiance was my first long-term relationship with a role-playing game, and man I always wanted to go back. But when you do go back ten years later, your sweetheart has put on 300 pounds, lost her teeth, and is rolling around Wal-Mart in a motorized wheelchair with a confederate flag jutting out the back.

To say that this game was a disappointment would be like saying Julius Caesar faced a small obstacle during the Ides of March. Or that Pompeii entered a mild recession due to an annoying volcano.

Even the dragons are decrepit.Even the dragons are decrepit.I hate to even have to talk about why this game was so awful, but it's the same sort of thing wrong with all the games listed here: awful productions. Can you imagine the drama that must have been going on behind the scenes? Overbearing egos, vital tasks assigned to "coders" who had maybe made a mod or two, estranged publishers threatening to cut funding at any moment...Eventually people get fed up and say SCREW IT, just release this thing even though we all know it's a P.O.S. This publisher/developer/supervisor doesn't deserve better. At that point, a terrible fan reception is revenge; they can point at them and say "See, I told ya. Now I feel completely justified."

I remember one time a guy told me that he was really excited to play Pool of Radiance after he read my reviews and descriptions of it. But he said it was a bit dated, so he'd just play the updated sequel instead. Can you imagine my horror?

What really makes me maddest of all, though, is that it pretty much guarantees that no one will ever invest in such a project again. For all intents and purposes, turn-based is dead. We'll probably never see another great, AAA-budgeted CRPG again, because now it's "proven" that gamers only want action, action, ACTION! Intelligence? That's boring! What, do you think gamers actually have brains? Of course they don't.

So you see, these games aren't just failures we can laugh at and move on. They are failures that doomed my beloved CRPG genre to the nether regions of the indie scene. Now all we can ever hope for is yet another shooter game with some "rpg elements" thrown in to keep us from going completely brain dead.

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Anonymouse (not verified)
Pool of Radiance: Ruins of

Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor sounds really interesting!

Matt Barton
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I'm hesitant to put JRPGs on

I'm hesitant to put JRPGs on the list, since I really hate them as a genre and haven't put in enough time (whew!) to know which ones are worse than others. I heard so many fanholes spewing about how great they are that I felt obligated to choose a few to play through to the end. I selected Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, and Final Fantasy I. Chrono Trigger was the best of them, though I just don't care for the kiddie, cutesy themes running through it. I felt like I was playing a RPG made by Fisher Price.

As for the Final Fantasy series, I never have and probably never will get it. Part of it is the gameplay is repetitive to the point of pain. Perhaps if I could've gotten more into the story I would've liked it, but I pretty much feel the same way about anime and manga in general. It's just not for me. Once you adopt that style, you've shifted into something that doesn't interest me anymore. Sadly, it seems to be the default, go-to style for almost everything these days. It's like heavy metal. I much prefer the old school bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Newer acts like Cradle of Filth or In Flames leaves me cold. Maybe it's just a generation gap and I'm getting old. Thank goodness there are still bands like Accept out there putting out the good stuff, though. Too bad we don't have that in CRPGs.

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Bill Loguidice
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More thoughts...
Matt Barton wrote:

I'm hesitant to put JRPGs on the list, since I really hate them as a genre and haven't put in enough time (whew!) to know which ones are worse than others. I heard so many fanholes spewing about how great they are that I felt obligated to choose a few to play through to the end. I selected Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, and Final Fantasy I. Chrono Trigger was the best of them, though I just don't care for the kiddie, cutesy themes running through it. I felt like I was playing a RPG made by Fisher Price.

As for the Final Fantasy series, I never have and probably never will get it. Part of it is the gameplay is repetitive to the point of pain. Perhaps if I could've gotten more into the story I would've liked it, but I pretty much feel the same way about anime and manga in general. It's just not for me. Once you adopt that style, you've shifted into something that doesn't interest me anymore. Sadly, it seems to be the default, go-to style for almost everything these days. It's like heavy metal. I much prefer the old school bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Newer acts like Cradle of Filth or In Flames leaves me cold. Maybe it's just a generation gap and I'm getting old. Thank goodness there are still bands like Accept out there putting out the good stuff, though. Too bad we don't have that in CRPGs.

I think a big part of the issue is that technology is at the point now where expectations by devs and publishers - and presumably by most of the game buying public - is that everything needs to be real-time and dramatically rendered with state-of-the-art audio-visuals, which significantly alters what made some of the best CRPGs great. With a handful of exceptions, we were talking turn-based games with average at best audio-visuals that favored stats, imagination and some grinding. Compare and contrast that to a modern day big-time RPG, Skyrim (which I'll be getting), and you have something very, very different, but still supposedly the same category of game. It isn't. Today's RPGs are not the same RPGs we had with the classic CRPGs. Though it too is different and not a practical replacement for a variety of reasons, probably the closest analogs we have to the classic CRPGs we hold near and dear are the MMORPGs, which are most like classic pen and paper D&D-style games that inspired the CRPG classics. Like turn-based strategy (outside of the anomaly that is Civ) and wargames, text adventures, and the like, turn-based CRPGs are dead as a mainstream genre and are unlikely to ever come back outside of indie devs, which probably will never have the resources to create something great (at least in the CRPG space, certainly there are great indie examples of strategy/war games and text adventures the equal of anything before them).

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Dave (not verified)
Not surprising

You look like the kind of semen fed, goatie wearing twit that likes shit like heavy metal and bearded, muck covered, half-naked pagans bashing themselves over the head with broadswords in their RPGs. Maybe when you retire from the hipster, live action D and D crowd or when your mother kicks you out of her basement, you'll have a better appreciation for Jrpgs. I doubt it though. But hey, atleast you can make some bank as a Wierd Al Yankovic impersonator at birthday parties. Say hello to the sexless dweebs in the Poison and Ratt T shirts at the local comic shop for me. I hear the hot topic this week is a theoretical debate on what female breasts feel like.

Bill Loguidice
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Please try again Dave
Dave wrote:

You look like the kind of semen fed, goatie wearing twit that likes shit like heavy metal and bearded, muck covered, half-naked pagans bashing themselves over the head with broadswords in their RPGs. Maybe when you retire from the hipster, live action D and D crowd or when your mother kicks you out of her basement, you'll have a better appreciation for Jrpgs. I doubt it though. But hey, atleast you can make some bank as a Wierd Al Yankovic impersonator at birthday parties. Say hello to the sexless dweebs in the Poison and Ratt T shirts at the local comic shop for me. I hear the hot topic this week is a theoretical debate on what female breasts feel like.

Wow, that was a pretty poor attempt at a put-down... It would have been nice if it were relevant or funny or interesting, etc. Something. It's just a rather weak and tired mish-mash of cliche' comments.

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clok1966
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I kinda laughed.. Semen fed-

I kinda laughed..

Semen fed- that seems to be a gay slur (maybe Im wrong) not worth a comment.

Goatie- sorry that was the 1900's and back though I know they made a brief comback in the 60's (before my time).. and OH YA! the kids of today.. of course they call it a SOUL PATCH.. I'm probebly wrong but I bet there are more Goaties now on people under 25 then there where at any time during the last 50 years. And some people look just fine with one. So Im guessing you cant grow one and there is some anger issues revolving around that fact?

heavy metal of JRPG music.. hmm i like both.. cant say much about that.

Half-naked? pretty much all females video games are that way, let alone in Jrpg's (and yes our old school ones too!) but the old school ones tend to keep them adult, where JRPG's tend to be teens or younger (now my like or half naked pagans (female) does seem a bit more conventional and "nomral" then somebodys like for under aged teens)

heavy metal of JRPG music.. hmm i like both.. cant say much about that.

bashing with broadswords- again... dont Jrpg's do this.. in spades? you Know, a sword wider and bigger than anybody
could actually wield? I think all "fantasy" Rpg's do this... not restricted ot one type.

"hipster, live action D and D crowd" those two go togther, Hipster? you might want to check out that word, its normaly applied to 60's people D&D cam out in the 70's (well it wasnt a HUGE craze till the early 80's really) As for Live action RP... again.. sorry not just the D&D crowd does that, in fact there is quite a craze for it in Anima inspired JPRG too. Me myslef , I even get a luagh out of it.. but hey, if they enjoy it (live action) i sure dont begrudge um.

basement thing- lets look at EVERY put down on the net.. it includes this.. besides i live in a basement.. not my folks house though, its an Apartment :)

Wierd Al Yankovic - I'm not sure where this comes from, hope this doesnt come off as rude, but I guess matt might have some slight resemblance.. but just cuase of the hair... Is there "bank" in impersonating Wierd Al? matt can you sing Like him?

Posion and Ratt T shirts? Well as I have an EXTREME dislike for Posion i really hate you inclueded them With RATT.. and most of those old concert T-shirts sell for far to much to wear!!!! if they are in any shape. Imust admit as an Old metal head I had very few tshirts with my favorite bands on them, in fact I do belive I bought a KISS one at there first "farwell" tour.. never wore it. I wonder where the bands of today will be when they are 20+ years down the road like the ones you mentioned.. doubtfully even a "joke" footnote in a rant in a internet thread as most wont be remebered at all. and I will say.. back when metal was big "sexless" was highly unlikley as there where as many girls at those shows actualy at posion, more girls) as guys. On the updside the Sexualy transmitted stuff was in much smaller numbers back than so ... much fun was had by all. But ic ant see waht that would have to do with RPG's of anykind....

Comic shop!!!! lat time i was in one, about half the shelves where anima (you know the ART ALL JRPG's are based off).. yes I did buy them back in the past.. not much nowdays.. in fact not sure when I picked one up last 8 years ago maybe? If you do ever enter one you mightnot see a heavy metal t-shirt ever.. but I bet you see a Anima one! I only mention Heavy metal as you did twice.. I really am not sure hwo this releates at all either. metal was the big thing in the 80's, "My world sucks" teen agnst, grunge the 90's, Rap/hip hop seems to be king now.. My bet is ANY LOCATION now would have more rap/hip hop related wear then metal.

and female breasts feel like bag of sand (sorry had to use the 40 yer old virgin quote since that is where this came from anyways).

I know I should not have replied to this,even if I did it jokingly, score one for a troll.. As Bill said, if you had pointed out why you like them, and dislike D&D style ones I'm sure we would have had a fun discussion. I dont think anybody here HATES Jrpg's, there just seems to be a singel art style for them that can get repetative. And While I jokingly said something about TEEN's above, most JRPG's tend to have under 18 "hero's" that whine alot.. not all, but many. I'm sure some of the voice acting in some (or translations) are not the best which adds to the dislike of it (dialog and whineing). JRPG's tend to have very complex stories, some great some bad, some so-so with anima characters which the western world tend to dislike. Our comics (anima) has always tended to look more real, while both over do it on the "sex" side, western seems to make barbie doll "perfect" bodies and Asian goes for Big boobs, impossibly large eyes (which is and has alwasy been a way of showing age, larger is younger).. just two styles, each has it strengths and weakness.

personally I grew up with both and enjoy both. As the OLD SCHOOL rpg's came out before the JRPG's (most early JRPG's actually site games like Ultima and Wizardry as there influance.. so like it or not, the JRPG wouldnt exsist if it wasnt for those early RPG's with pagens :) )
Righ now JRPG's have pretty much a singel art style.. and yes I know anima has 100's of variations. But a STYLE is a STYLE.. and its getting old. I'm tired of them all looking the same (same can be said for some western stuff too.. Im getting tired of a million FPS too). My real dislike (nowdays) of JRPG's is the child hero's and "my life sucks" attuitude most have. We know a hero who isnt a hero to start with is a easy way to start a game.. but good god, change it up (and I dont mean changing it from a female to male lead). The JRPG's seem to have decided if they are not chaging art, we need to add new stuff to combat. While this is a great idea, making a sword swing 7 differnt sellections is not a good move. The New Star Ocean is an example of this, its not a RPG its Street Fighter combo moves for combat (opinion).
To me its just getting to be a tired style.. much like the old school games we all talk about here. they died out as they where getting to be al the same and people lost interest. its happening with the Jrpg market too.. when a FF is considered a failure in Japan, you know its going down hill.

Again we dont HATE Jrpg's but (me, cant speak for others) feel they are getting to be a bit "samey"..

PS i still kinda think his reply was funny :) not in a witty way.. just in a kid ranting way (and he may be just as 'adult" as me (only in years, not in mind).. I rant now and then too :)

Hatta
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Exceptionally well said!

Exceptionally well said!

Turd (not verified)
Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor

I can't wait to try Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor! Thanks for the recommendation!

clok1966
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You have to look at the

You have to look at the player base, time it takes etc. Most of us here would love an updated (new story new grpahics,updated interface, but keep the mechanics) of a EOB or the Gold Box series.. problem is the MOH/COD crowd would not. Now that is no put down to COD/MOH as I enjoy both games. But i think you look at us who played the classic rpg's.. then take the that number and thin out the ones who "grew up" and dont play computer games anymore. Take the ones who have moved to watching tv, or have far to full (work/vacations/kids, etc) lives to play.. if you started with a 100, you are probelby at 25 now.. We are just not a target for anybody who has the cash and will to do this stuff in a grand way.

I do hope.. everything old is new again, i suspect the old school RPG may make some kind of comeback someday.

Matt Barton
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I think we're in a "dumb

I think we're in a "dumb phase" right now. Publishers (not so much designers) are fixated on the idea of the "big hit." To make a big hit, you take whatever last year's hit was, make it a bigger spectacle, and put everything into marketing. You see the same thing in movies. The only difference is, in movies, it's not nearly as expensive or difficult to make a film for a smaller audience that looks just as good (or at least comparable) to the big movie. Even TV shows are now looking just as good as a lot of big budget movies--Legend of the Seeker or Battlestar Galactica springs to mind here. BG is a good example because that's a show that would not at all appeal to the masses, and thus would not "deserve" an unlimited budget and full-on ad campaign that you'd get for something like American Idol. Yet they were able to make a show that IMO looks a lot better than plenty of SF movies, and the story/scripting and so on are worlds better. Appropriately, guys like Spielberg, Lucas, and Cameron developed a lot of the tech that is being used to make stuff today. That's about the only benefit of the hit culture; if you're Peter Jackson making the next epic movie, you have funds to put into R&D to develop new stuff that will later trickle down to the guys doing a TV show.

Where we need to get is the point where a small team can make an AAA game, or at least something that you don't instantly think "budget" or "last generation," on the cheap. We gotta cut costs WAY down. It needs to be to the point where three or four dudes (not millionaires) can borrow the money to make a great game. The only limitation will be their imagination and work they put into it, not the fact that they're stuck working with obsolete tools or lacking the computing power to render objects and so on. As long as you're talking about games costing millions or tens of millions, that's a fantasy. But if we get it down into the hundreds of thousands, I think some doors will open up.

We're getting close if not already there, but what probably needs to happen is for hundreds of these teams to do a better job pooling their resources, so that there are giant repositories available for the 3D assets and AI scripts and so on. From what I've seen and read about, the biggest hurdle is creating all of that stuff. If you look at what people were able to do with the Unreal engine (Bioshock, for instance) you get some idea of what I have in mind--just take that concept and double it, so it's twice as cheap and twice as fast. That way you can make a game that will never be a hit (not even your goal!) but is still worth making and WILL sell enough copies to its target audience to make a profit.

So the short of it is that you need to get costs down so that it makes sense to cater to other markets besides the mainstream. There's obviously a great niche available for Pool of Radiance II (I hope they'd just ignore Ruins) that would have turn-based combat and let you create a party. Imagine, though, such a game with AAA 3D graphics/animation, a slick interface for console play, surround sound, smarter AI, etc. You can't tell me that guys like us wouldn't be pre-ordering that.

Guys like us don't require that everything be about constantly mashing buttons or the "ooh ahh" spectacle. Yet modern games are about that first and foremost--what's gonna look good in the trailers, what's gonna distract you best from the lack of substance? Let's require them to press buttons in a precise sequence at just the right time. Yeah, that'll do it.

It'd be like telling Napoleon--look, we'll handle all the big picture stuff. You just get in there and concentrate on lighting these cannons--blue, red, and yellow cannon--when you see the corresponding enemy helmet. Now if you fire the red twice and then the yellow, you create a particle boom blah blah...blah blah meh. What the #$@ does that have to do with running a campaign?

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