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TOM FRANCIS
REGRETS THIS ALREADY

Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.

Theme

By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

From Gunpoint To Heat Signature: A Narrative Journey

The Cost Of Simplifying Conversations In Videogames

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

What’s Your Fault?

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

One Desperate Battle In FTL

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault

A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

Arguing On The Internet

Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

The Suspicious Developments manifesto

GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole

Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint

Understanding Your Brain

What Makes Games Good

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

A Different Way To Level Up

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood Money And Sex

A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

First Night, Second Life

SWAT 4: The Movie Script

2008 In Games That Were Better Than Other Games

I like those gaming-moments-of-the-year lists, but they don’t always tell you what the best games were or even what they were like. So mine’s a games-of-the-year list, but with defining moments instead of descriptions. There’s often a particular experience in a game that exemplifies its appeal, usually the one that springs to mind when you fancy playing it. I’m talking about those rather than highlights or secrets – though often they coincide. This’ll be spoiler-free – indeed, it will at times say nothing meaningful at all – and in descending order: best first.
 

Fallout 3

It’s: a huge open-world action RPG set in Washington two hundred years after a global thermonuclear apocalypse. Wilted fifties chic mixed with zombies being decapitated in slow-motion.

Fallout3 2008-11-15 02-26-17-82

Defining experience: The Oasis

I’m not going to say anything about where or what Oasis is, and the screenshot above isn’t from it. Most people probably complete Fallout 3 without ever finding it – I know I did, first time through. Oasis is just the crowning example of what made Fallout 3 my favourite game this year, and the main thing it has over Oblivion.

I’d heard of it, but I wasn’t looking when I found it. I was just investigating some interesting rocks, as one likes to do on a Sunday. The wasteland is generally pretty flat, but I’d found a complex network of valleys and crags that looked like they might contain something interesting. They did.

Despite its size, and despite is apparent barreness, every interesting-looking place actually is interesting. It doesn’t have Guilds like Oblivion, so its content isn’t organised into neat little mini-careers your character can systematically complete. It’s sown evenly throughout its blasted landscape, leaving little pockets of story, character, treats, secrets and unique treasures.

Fallout3 2008-11-15 03-09-29-71

It’s a brave choice. More people will miss more of Fallout 3’s most extraordinary moments than they did with Oblivion. But once you realise it, once your pessimism about this next house, cave or Vault being a generic one has been disproved often enough, it evokes an explorer’s excitement that I don’t get anywhere else.

But I wish: the skills were more fairly balanced. Small Guns and Repair are just flat out more effective than the others. Melee and Unarmed are crippled because you can’t target bodyparts, and Lockpicking gets its arse kicked by Science because most locked things have a hackable terminal to unlock them.
 

Left 4 Dead

It’s: a co-operative horror shooter for four people, in which the tide of zombies and superzombies intensifies towards the end of each hour-long campaign.

zoe

Defining experience: “TANK!”
“I’ll throw a-“
“Oh God, I’m on fire!”
“So am I!”
“So am I!”
“Hunter!”
“So’s the Hunter!”
“I’ve got him. Look out for the Smo- ack!”
“I’m coming!”
“Help!”
“I’m coming!
“Aaaargh!”
“I can’t move right now, and I’m still very much on fire, but I am coming!”
“Aaaargh! Look out for the-“
“Aaaaaaargh!”
“AAAAAAH!”
“AAAAAHHH!”
“AAAAAAH!”
“AAAAAAAAAAHH!”
“Heheh. Again?”

But I wish: there was a difficulty mode where the first four levels are frantic, but the finale isn’t impossible. And that Versus mode was just the latter two maps of a campaign, and the Director would give the losing side the Tank earlier or at the same time as it did the winning side.
 

World of Goo

It’s: a squishy building game in which you conjoin sentient goo-balls with different physical properties to reach your goal.

Blustery Day

Defining experience: A Blustery Day

Not my favourite level – that’s Red Carpet – but Blustery Day is more typical of World of Goo. A new style of art that the level’s theme exquisitely, a booming score far too stirring for a physics game, and a smart new kind of puzzle that seems impossible until it occurs to you, obvious thereafter.

But I wish: there were fewer simple levels. Early on this makes sense, but later there are one or two where the task is simple but daunting – building a very long bridge, or a very tall tower. I never hit a difficulty spike in World of Goo – it’s eerily close to flawless – but on these few the challenge felt fussy rather than creative.
 

Spore

It’s: a creative adventure in which you play every phase of a species’ life, from the microscopic to the interstellar, designing how it evolves along the way.

babystealer

Defining experience: “Holy shit, what’s that?

Spore’s riddled with Star Trek references, but there’s a more profound one that’s not explicit: here’s the game where you seek out new life. There’s an actual galaxy to explore, and you’ll meet species that perhaps one other human has ever seen: their creator.

I know a lot of people got pretty hung up on what they expected from Spore, or what else Spore could have been – and that is an interesting discussion. But I hope it didn’t blind anyone to what Spore actually is: an extraordinary exploration of human creativity, and the home of the most astonishing creatures I’ve ever seen.

But I wish: the other stages were integrated into the Space stage: fight an eco disaster by designing an anti-virus that you then control in the Cell game, impress a warlike race by beating their champion in the Creature game, claim a planet without a colony module by beaming down and starting a Tribe, or mind-control an enemy leader from orbit and take his planet by winning a Civilization game.
 

Mass Effect

It’s: a sci-fi action RPG with guns and science-magic in which you captain a spaceship to search for a single evil alien.

Mass Effect

Defining experience: “I’ve had enough of your snide insinuations.”

Actually that’s not the defining experience, but anyone who’s played it and said that line knows why it springs to mind whenever you try to nail down why Mass Effect is so much better than ordinary RPGs. For anyone who hasn’t played it yet, be sure to say it if you ever get the chance.

For me the defining experience was when I’d landed on a new planet, and was asked by security to surrender my weapons. I wasn’t going to do it. Thinking like a gamer, I’d assume the designers would never kill me while I’m defenseless. But I’d become so wrapped up in the character that BioWare’s writers, my decisions, and Jennifer Hale’s exemplary voice acting had collaborated to produce that I wasn’t thinking like a gamer anymore. I was thinking go to hell. You want my weapons? Come and fucking take them, see what happens.

I won’t spoil what the outcome was, but the moral of the story is this: trust Mass Effect. It’s so well written and exciting that you’ll find yourself slipping into a role that’s very much your own – stick with it, and you’ll find the story moulds around it beautifully.

But I wish: exploring a new planet felt a bit more like exploring a new planet. The Mako fun-bus was jarringly at odds with the serious tone of the game, I’d much rather have beamed down on foot.

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The Poisoned Sponge: I'd agree with most of these, but I have to say even the wacky box pirates of Spore couldn't save it from being mind numbingly annoying once I had a space empire. Mass Effect though, was brilliant in taking a gamer and making him play a character. Lovely stuff.

Ronin08: I actually found the Oasis by a different route---(I don't know if these are actual spoilers, but you are hereby warned that it might be.)

I was exploring the area north of Arefu, on the Maryland side of the Potomac river, when I stumbled upon a very deadly robot. Fleeing this robot, I ran into a church nearby. After destroying the robot by blowing up a car outside of the church, I suddenly realized that I wasn't alone. I looked up, and saw a man pointing a sniper rifle at me, with a clear intent to use it. One slow-mo death later, and I was inspecting his body. To my surprise, he had a map to some place called "Oasis" (which put a map market on my map, making it easy to find,) and a very, VERY nice sniper rifle called the "Reservist's Rifle," which I never wound up replacing after I repaired it using other sniper rifles.

That actually was more of a defining experience for Fallout 3 than me--sure, Oasis itself was a cool experience, but that stumbling on some random secret just by ducking into a church to avoid a killer robot was very much a "yes please" moment.

Pseudonym: I agree with all you said about Mass Effect and Fallout, haven't played the others though.

One question, I played Mass Effect a couple of times, and I don't remember saying that line. Can you give me a hint as to where it is, in a way that won't spoil anything for others? Or I guess I can just play the game again...

Smurfy: Also yer. I've played all of these, but I couldn't get into Mass Effect. I got to the part where I was rescuing some dudes from a planet (not very far in) and got bored by the monotonous combat. I kept dying. I'm sure after that it's very fun and open, but I can't be bothered.

Iain “DDude” Dawson: Well said. Just a shame my PC cannot run Fallout 3 or Mass Effect. Then again, I am having too much fun with Left 4 Dead to care right now.

Tom Francis: Ha, I found that guy too, but I couldn't search his corpse because I disintegrated him where he stood. Caught his rifle, but it wasn't much use to me because, as his cause of death might suggest, I'm an Energy Weapons specialist.

Smurfy, you can turn the combat difficulty down in Mass Effect if it's causing you grief. It's pretty sudden-death on Normal, so things can go wrong before you have a chance to react.

I really like it, actually. KotoR's combat was one of the main reasons I never got into it, and Jade Empire's was good but not quite there yet.

ZomBuster: That sums up the mayor PC games in 2008 I guess.
Haven't picked up Mass Effect yet, I'm now too busy working my way trough Beyond Good & Evil,
(finally on Steam in Europe and so cheap you can't not buy it)

Bob Arctor: To be fair FO1 and FO2 had very unbalanced skills as well. But unarmed's rubbishness is even more annoying than in Oblivion (such a waste of a charecter!!!!) as in FO2 particularly the old kick to the eyes or powerfist to the groin was so good.

Weird Fish: Mass Effect was just fantastic, best RPG i've ever played tbh.

Left 4 Dead just doensn't appeal to me, and TF2 remains the better game.

Spore gets progressively worse as the game goes on, and what starts as fantastic and innovative becomes dreary and irritating.

Fallout 3 is pretty much perfect, other than the mess of a skill system in which half of them are useless.

J-Man: No Call of Duty? Ah well.

Useful this, because I just found out that most Steam games are ridiculously cheap until tomorrow. Any other suggestions?

J-Man: Hhhmm... would Left 4 Dead and Trials 2 be suitable purchases?

Snow: [Fallout 3 ending spoiler!]

Fallout 3 was great and everything but I wish they didn't kill me at the end! i had so much more exploring to do even if i let the girl die (why didn't she have her helmet on?).

[End of Fallout 3 ending spoiler!]

Defining moment: sitting around medium evilness and three dog keeps calling me evil. Then I think "OK time to be good so three dog will like me". Twenty minutes later i look at my karma and I'm maximum evil! I'm no good at being nice.

Will: I actually started seeking the Oasis, once I ran into a few people who would mention it, and then decide to kill me so I couldn't tell other people about it. It was my major motivation for exploring the wastes (beyond the joy of exploring the wastes), and finally finding it was a profound sense of relief (even though I'd accidentally spoiled myself on the identity of its most interesting occupant).

My biggest gripe about the game is that, on replay, I began to feel a distinct lack of control (starting from the ending, which actively shuts down more creative avenues of dealing with the final problem with some claptrap about "destiny"). There's (almost) no way to influence the outcome of the main quest, and what input there is comes in the last minute of the game. More fundamentally, the inability to kill "important" NPCs feels, frankly, impotent. I gather this is what Oblivion did, as well, and I much prefer Morrowind's method of letting you kill whoever you want (and being informed of and accepting the consequences if you just broke the main quest). Bethesda are better world designers than they are writers, and I'd rather have freedom over mandated plot.

That being said, Fallout 3 was my second-favorite game of the year (after Mass Effect).

Smurfy: In response to my earlier comment about Mass Effect being a bad game, I just installed and played it on my new computer. I really like it, it's really fun. I can only assume that my opinions of it were tinged with hate because it ran awfully on my old PC.

Tom Francis: The number of unkillable characters dropped dramatically from Oblivion to Fallout 3. In Oblivion, pretty much anyone who had anything significant to do with any questline was invincible, so frequently you wouldn't even know why the game was insisting on keeping them alive. So Bethesda are moving in that direction, they just haven't got there yet.

J-Man: I haven't played the latest Call of Duty, and after sitting next to Alec while he was reviewing it, I don't plan to. Seemed like the worst bits of CoD exaggerated, with the special bits taken out and the setting dragged back to one place I don't care about.

Ronin08: Pentadact, were you able to get close to the remains? Every time I disintegrated somebody, I was able to go their still-glowing bits and loot the body still...a bit of a break on the immersion factor, but hey.

...dammit, now I want to go play Fallout 3 again and just keep wandering. I remember a whole bunch of places I didn't get to fully explore...

Jason L: Things wot I bought in the Steal From Steam Sale:
Left4Dead - at $50, no. At $35...I'll bite. FOR YOU, Valve.
Trackmania United Forever Gelatinous Chartreuse Gamma Melange - was already firmly in the next-purchase chair, at half-price wahey
Trials 2 - I actually don't like it as much as their Flash versions, but two bucks for it is still daylight robbery on my part. Just the savegames are worth that.
Unreal Deal Pack - I actually thought this excluded UT3 when I cheerfully bought it for $20. It doesn't. Later they bumped the price to $40 and then eliminated it altogether so you can't buy it nyah.
Complete Naval Combat Pack - many masterfully modeled modern marine 'mersible murder mechanisms
Audiosurf - At the price, yes just in case I try it again and like it.
Bioshock - It's five dollars. The first room is worth that, even if the rest turn out not to be.
Everyday Shooter - wanted it for a long time, threw it in
Iron Warriors - It's a hardcore tank command sim. That's so Russian balls-grognard that it's worth two bucks.
Mount and Blade - worth it at the price
Nexus - wanted it for a long time
Peggle - *ahem* worth it at the price
X-Com - worth it merely for the time saved on tweaking DOSBox
X3 - an edge case, this one

Tom Francis: Wow, you have kind of a lot to do. I hope BioShock sees a big upswing from that crazy price - at this stage I guess it's just promotional material for BioShock 2.

Ronin - yeah, the problem wasn't that I disintegrated him, it was that I disintegrated him where he stood: on an inaccessible scaffold in the roof.

mandrill: As an indicator of how good Fallout 3 is: its the first game that I have completed in a long, long time. Getting to work on Mass Effect and GTA IV now.

I liked the little incidental things in Fallout 3 that were nothing to do with the main plot. The things which brought a hint of other genre's to this behemoth of a game.

If you haven't found it already The Dunwich Building south of Girdershade is worth a look, make sure you pick up all the journal entries though and read/listen to them. There are (AFAIK) no quests associated with it but its a decent adventure in its own right and has all the elements of a complete game. It is this that makes Fallout 3 my game of the year.

Jason L: Oh yes indeed, but I've always got a pile of shame taller than I am. Fortunately(?) I'm less interested in 2009 than any year in my memory. There's Solium Infernum, Mirror's Edge PC has a chance, maybe Fallout 3 if I think I'll have time to play it, maybe Love, Braid on one platform or another depending on when I can fix my 360...and then in the fall The First Third of Starcraft 2 might get a chance to explain itself but probably not. I'm sure a few gaps will fill in, but from where I sit 2007-2008 was really quite a peak. I might have time to actually play some of the stuff I have!

Dan: Ugh, Mass Effect. I loved Mass Effect, then I was on that planet with the blue bitch i was supposed to take care of, and after learning WHY exactly i really have to start using quicksave (doing the Mako part like 5 times), and why diplomacy is not always the solution, I got messed up and couldn't get past the part. After all the time I spent getting to this certain point, i couldnt do it. Pissed me off.

Alexander: So GTA IV isn't one of them?

Ben Abraham: Yeah cause Science is SOOO much better than lockpick. All those ammo containers with hackable terminals on them rendered Lockpick redundant... :P

SenatorPalpatine: This makes me want to play Fallout 3. L4D and World of Goo were indeed better than other games. I never played Mass Effect, and I'm not sure if I want to.

I have Bioshock and Darwinia + Multiwinia to play now thanks to sale on Steam. And I'm on the hard levels in Trials 2.

Ronin08: Pentadact--Ah, that would do it. I suspected that might have been the case after I thought back to that encounter some more...

And mandrill, I found that building, and listened to all the tapes. Did you get to that inner part with the "WTF OMG I JUST PISSED MY PANTS" moment? If you did, WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THERE?! I looked and looked but couldn't figure out what was going on.


...On second thought, don't tell me. Just tell me if there was an answer, so I can go back and spend eight hours scouring the building and looking for it.

Alek: Yeah, I can get behind this list. World of Goo I just picked up 2 days ago maybe, and I heartily agree with it being good. The only thing that makes me sad is that I ended up skipping a decent chunk of the levels in Chapter 3. I knew the solution very clearly, but at that point, the 4th try felt just tedious.

Also, GTA IV? Having played all the stuff on this list in addition to IV, I can imagine it would fall just below Mass Effect. Good, but not as good as the others on the list.

Tom Francis: If GTA IV's video editor could be considered a game, that would be way up there.

GTA IV freeplay multiplayer can be brilliant fun, but there's not enough to it to compare with the other games mentioned here.

And the single-player... Rockstar are great at scale, great at simulation, great at style and atmosphere and detail. All they're really lacking is any discernible talent for game design or storytelling.

Cartho: I am having tremendous fun with mass Effect, when I can play it without it crashing randomly, totally locking up my system and forcing a restart. It seems it disagrees with 8800 GTs and there has been no word from Bioware on a future patch to fix its tech related problems.

Amazing game though, I am playing it kinda like you Tom, as a totally imperious dick, who communicates by punching people / with threats of extreme physical violence: "You can't go there!"
"I can't go there? I'm a spectre god dammit I will go wherever the hell I want! *smack*"

its the first RPG which has really made me feel important - you play a spectre, a figure commanding instant respect and obedience from 99.999% of the galaxy, and abusing that power is wonderfully fulfilling

J-Man: I agree on the fact that in Mass Effect landing on a new planet was instantaneously under-whelming, although hunting down a cute monkey who's taken a peice of machinery and then retreated into a colony of roughly 300 monkies was a highlight for me.

Jazmeister: Having a lot of fun with spore right now, and yeah - the things it could be are innumerable. What the hell is it? I perhaps hastily branded it an RPG, what with the levels and xp and loot, the hobo clownism and mobs and grind... but you aren't a "you", you're an "us", you're role-playing a genus, playing the part of a world. I think that, because it isn't a shooter or an rts, because it's not the sims but it's like the sims, I think people saw in it what they wanted to, that it reflected some fragment of a forgotten gaming dream that it could never live up to.

Fallout 3 cut right through that shit and gave you the Fat Man.

Roadrunner: I went into Zavvi (that virgin megastore chain which recently went into administration) and apart from a nifty pile of music I picked up for a neat total of £25, I also got ahold of Mass Effect for £5. That's the best deal of all year :D
It was a choice of that, Tomb Raider Anniversary, or Frontlines Fuels of War. Hopefully I picked the right one, Despite me hating RPGs.

Bumface the Brave: The fact that you CAN be a dick in Mass Effect is great, except I always get huge spasms of conscience whenever I am so I tend to stick to being nice.

@ Roadrunner

A friend of mine got Mass Effect for £3 in Zavvi. Not sure what significance that has, but I'm just sayin'.

Roadrunner: Well, I went to the big one in town, and all the shops in towns are more expensive because of tourists, and as they're the biggest stores they hike up the prices anyway :|
Still a good deal though? :D

Bumface the Brave: I got it for £35 soon after it came out on the Xbox 360, so yeah, you got a good deal there. :p

Jazmeister: Just bought Bioshock a couple of days ago. I'd say that it's worth the £3.49, dear christ.

Roadrunner: As for mass effect....all it's done is reminded me why I hate RPGs.
No, I don't want to walk at a snail-pace across a bloody huge map to speak to someone, I would like to get there fast and in an exicting way (preferably with explosions) to go and blow someones head off.
I guess i'm an FPS-junkie.

J-Man: Unrelated, Indie Pop rocks on [SomaFm] is really good, but the amount of time it took me understand how to work it was obscene.

LaZodiac: I've recently found the Oasis, useing vauge directions from these comments, and based on the lucky fact that I was on the way to the *spoiler* that has the guy with the directions there.

I had to check the Fallout Wiki to find out just what exactly was so special. Now I feel all happy inside, like I'm apart of one really big thing.

J-Man: Since it's unlikely I'll be playing Fallout 3, I also looked on the wiki at the oasis. Is it solely that character which is the big deal? Unless he's got the same voice as Walton Simons from Deus Ex I'm not impressed.

Tom Francis: No, it's nothing to do with him. Looking it up on a wiki probably isn't going to capture the emotional impact of (vague spoiler) finding that place by chance after sixty hours in a wasteland without seeing a single one of the things that are in abundance there.

Roadrunner: It must be someone with talented and not melodramatic voice acting then.

Put a big spoiler in, I'm never going to buy Fallout 3 anyway xD

Excelsior: Melee is pretty important. I mean, whenever I try outgunning a super mutant master, I usually get sodomized. Repeatedly. Usually, the best strategy for me is to bum-rush the LEFT SIDE of the mutant and slash at its arms and back. Like this, I can take down two Brutes and a Master on VERY HARD.

And Science blows. What do you need it for besides disabling turrets (which you can destroy), or unlocking safes (which you can lockpick)? Completely useless.

J-Man: [POSSIBLE MASSIVE SPOILERS]@Pentadact: Trees? The big deal is over a bunch of trees?[END POSSIBLE MASSIVE SPOILERS]

DoctorDisaster: I grabbed Mass Effect during the steam sale and it's just as good as everybody says. I find myself taking elevators in the citadel more than is really necessary, just to hear the members of my party interact. The MAKO sequences can be annoying as hell, but only once in a while, and ground combat generally makes up for it.

If I had to find something to complain about, it would probably be that I didn't find the romantic subplot very convincing. I haven't seen it through to its conclusion, so it may get better, but at the moment Liara reeks of one-dimensional nerd wish fulfillment. That may come along with the genre influence; the only TV scifi I've ever seen offer well-drawn love interests was Battlestar Galactica, and it's by no means batting a thousand. (Six? Anders? Try harder please.)

The Kaidan/Shepard homoeroticism, on the other hand, you could cut with a knife.

Tom Francis: It's a shame Williams doesn't swing both ways - she's a convincing character if only for being so objectionable, but I can't abide male Shepard. And yes, Liara is by far the worst character in the game. She fills an archetype BioWare keep revisiting in their games, without ever making it compelling: meek-voiced, earnest paragon of virtue haunted by visions and hot for the player.

Roadrunner: My squad is fairly useless comapared to what it would be if Kaidan was in my squad. But i keep him out of it because of his inane and incessant flirting.

LaZodiac: I gotta admit though, from the point of view of a Canon Junky, the Oasis is beautifull in more ways then one.

Tom Francis: I actually benched him for practical reasons before I realised he was also annoying. He seemed to die in every fight - a product of having zero Combat skill without being good enough at either of the other two disciplines to get access to the really cool top-tier skills. Tali, for example, has a late-game ability that's fantastic against the Geth.

Weird Fish: Am I the only one who enjoys the mako combat? I found it nice to be in a pretty easy and fun situation after slogging through all the awesome, but tiring foot combat.

I think I had Wrex in my team, and my mind seems to have wiped all memory of the other characters names >_> fantastic RPG though

CloakRaider: I agree with you on most of those, but Spore...really?
For me, Spore bombed, didn't meet expectations and from what I hear got dropped by 90% of the people that bought it after 2 weeks.

J-Man: At least Tom was smart enough not to include Far Cry 2. No offence to Mr. Edwards, but that review just didn't show the game as it truly was; a mildly fun but deeply flawed FPS.

Aldo: I thought Far Cry 2 was a deeply fun but mildly flawed FPS, myself. Que cera cera.

J-Man: Ah c'mon. The fact that the health system was in fact so basic (tap H not to die), the repair system was basic (tap F to not explode) and the map system was just average (tap 5 to immediately see where you are), and these were all hyped so much. As well as the below-average AI, gun-jamming and abysmal story-line and buddies, and I think you have a deeply flawed game.

Aldo: I'm not arguing with you over it - maybe because I wasn't really bothered by these things, maybe because I didn't see much of the hype until late on in development, or perhaps simply because I've played a different set of games at different times as (my) reference points - I enjoyed it and rate it highly in my opinion. I didn't find the health, map, etc system basic, because that would entail I'd prefer complicated.

It's an unrestricted (wall-free) shooter with good explosions, an atmospheric setting, a (for games) fairly interesting (in terms of ambiguity) storyline, which made it a whole lot of fun for me.

Sure, there's probably a million different improvements I could suggest (some of which probably aren't technologically feasible), but the absence of them didn't stop me enjoying the game a lot.

Feel free to disagree. :)

J-Man: I don't want an argument, just intelligent discourse ;D

It didn't feel wall-free to me, because there were too many enemies for me to just go wandering, which I would have enjoyed a ridiculous amount. I also felt the boring side-characters whotalkedreallyreallyfast were incredibly annoying, although I had a weird fondness for the South African (APR, I think?) who kept calling me "China." I liked him more than all of my buddies, even Frank Bilders.

Actually, the game definitely did provoke an emotional response especially when [SPOILERS]your buddies betrayed you[END SPOILERS].

Roadrunner: How can a game provoke an emotional response if you feel no emotion to any of the characters.

Jazmeister: Most of my customers provoke no emotional response from me, and I don't care about them. If one of them died, gave me a million pounds, or tried to kill me, I'd get emotional, alright.

J-Man: That Ken Levine interview is awesome. Also, damn you PCG for not offering work experience, and instead referring me to PC Zone!

DoctorDisaster: Weird Fish, I think you may be the only one. :(

Although it wasn't the combat aspect of driving the MAKO that bugged me, it was just navigating some of the preposterous fractal landscapes. Oddly, I found myself jonesing for a Landmaster. It's been years since I've played StarFox 64, but that's where my mind immediately leapt: a vehicle with some weight and stability, but proper hover jets.

Instead, the MAKO handles like a souped-up moon buggy, regardless of the gravity. Given that astronauts bitched about what a pain the real thing was to drive, someone should have realized this might not be such a great idea. Oh, and to whoever tacked on that quarter-second of perpendicular thrust: thanks, I only wish more driving games came with a "detach from traction surface in favor of uncontrolled midair floundering" button.

It's a measure of how spectacular the rest of the game is that despite all that complaining, I still give Mass Effect an unqualified recommendation whenever a Steam friend asks about it.

J-Man: Regarding the MAKO, it's the only part of combat I find tiresome. Shoot rocket, machinegun, machinegun, machinegun, hover to avoid rocket, shoot rocket, repeat.

Tom Francis: It's sad, because a lot of work obviously went into it. It can't be easy tacking vehicles, vehicular combat, traction, suspension, wide open areas and the like onto a trundle-about RPG, letting the player get out anywhere and making sure he can't irredeemably flip it or trap himself. But the end result is just so wrong for the game it's in, tacky and arcadey.

I didn't hate it, partly because I found most of it easy to drive straight through without pause. The bigger actual grievance for me was squadmates not going where they're told, claiming to be blocked when they're not, and using their powers unwisely.

J-Man: @Pentadact

Regarding the vehicles, Bethesda did a wonderful job with their horses in Oblivion, I can't see why err... whoever developed ME can't just simplify things. Take out the combat, or the jets, and you'd have a much easier going in the MAKO.

Bumface the Brave: They don't need to take out all of the combat, just the combat with those nightmarish Thresher Maw things.

Nonomu198: Spore is a massive piece of crap. I wish I could run Fallout 3 and Mass Effect just so I can prove so by pointing out how awesome they are.

Tom Francis: Weirdly, I didn't encounter a single one of those in my first play through. Second time through, just recently, I still only met one. It was fine the first time I fought it, but I died later on and the autosave is so worthless that I was set back to before the fight. This time it just randomly came up beneath me and it was game over. Classy, BioWare, classy.

J-Man: @Bumface (that name never gets old)

I didn't mind combat with NPCs, but the rocket turrets and thresher maws had me practically sleeping.

TooNu: Hey great to read that. I own left4Dead and have as yet never tried the versus mode because I hate to play with others I don't know irl so I guess I miss out. This doesn't stop me from shouting at Bill for needlessly chillin' outside the safe room every damn time! "GET IN YOU GIT GET IN!!"

I won Fallout3 from the first 12days of christmas competition at your day job so I can't wait to play it. Actually, I have wanted this game for years but bought L4D rather based on the reviews and hype L4D was getting at the time.
The day I won the competition, my girlfriend had to take the copy she bought me for christmas back to the shop 0_o how much of a mixed blessing is that..and how very typical. Anyway, the box should arrive to my house here in Sweden within the next week or so and again I can't wait to play it.

Happy new year! to you and everybody else that reads this blog of awesome.

Tom Francis: Aw, poor girlfriend. Pretend it's from her and not us, we won't mind.

Yeah, I'm not crazy about playing Left 4 Dead with strangers either. I'm fine playing with internet friends I haven't met, though. Even so, it's pretty rare that seven people I know all feel like playing Left 4 Dead for two hours at exactly the same time as me, so Versus just isn't very convenient.

DoctorDisaster: @Pentadact: There ARE inescapable pits in some of the Mako levels. Trust me. And just imagine the wonderment of trying to manage the camera in a deep hole barely large enough to accomodate the buggy, with sheer walls on all sides.

(Wrex voice) That was fun.

I agree that another type of vehicle entirely would be preferable. Some kind of speeder bike thing would be especially cool, I think, because you'd still have a sense that the rest of your team existed. The only giggles I've ever gotten from driving the Mako were when I was bouncing drunkenly over some mildly uneven terrain and suddenly realized that somewhere in the silly tank thing, Wrex and Kaidan and Shepard had to be flying around like dice in a box. While this was hilarious, it can't be a good thing for an RPG when it's hard to visualize your characters in their situation, and the resulting juxtaposition is ludicrous enough to make the player laugh.

@Bumface: The threshers aren't that bad once you learn to recognize their hangouts: large, flat space with a few low, circular plateaus and a tantalizing anomaly in the middle. Then you just go in reverse toward the anomaly until the thresher appears, and bombard it while simultaneously gunning your forward accelerator. This way you can reliably get out of their zone before they can pull that adorable "shoot out of the ground right underneath you" trick.

@J-Man: Bioware developed Mass Effect. For shame!

Simpunzle: After that comment on the Oblivion horses...

I want to ride a Yao Guai!

One of those motorcycles sitting around all over the place would rock too. You get a vehicle in the other FO games, why not this one? It would make your repair skill even more useful.

Last character I played in FO3 ran into a unique wasteland trader. No special name, but he had a pack mule and a friggin PET Yao Guai! I WANT!

J-Man: Dear Tom,

HOLY FUCKING SHIT THANKS FOR THE CITY OF HEROES COMPETITION PRIZE.

Love,

J-Man.

Roadrunner: I once won a pogo stick off cartoon network which I never ever used. I was 8 at the time, and this wasn't when pogo sticks were cool.

It wasn't even a proper pogo stick, it was a stupid looking purple and green plastic one which was heavier than a car and didn't work because the spring was the kind of spring you'd get in a cold war russian steel factory.

But it is a conversation starter.

J-Man: Anybody know the monthly subscription cost for city of heroes?

Tom Francis: You should thank Graham, he sorted out the festivities this year. The rate's probably on their EU site, I think it was about £6 last time I checked. My favourite MMOG, by the way.

J-Man: Methinks I should meet up with you.

Tell Graham I said cheers. Or maybe it's cause I used the name "Dexter", so I got Craig and John on my side...

Surprisingly, I didn't even know I won. And what's this little figurine thingy?

Jeez, PCG really made my day.

J-Man: Oh, and I meant meet up with you in game btw. Sorry, didn't wanna dash your hopes and dreams.

MartinJ: On the Mass Effect note, (SPOILER ALERT), what did you guys do with Wrex on the mission to the Krogan cure facility? Personally, I had enough charm points to persuade him to stand down, but it was in my Shepard's (I'm playing female) character to... (HEAVY SPOILER) shoot him. I felt really bad after it, but I couldn't rely on him anymore and was afraid he'd backstab me.

Zephyrtr0n: I finally bought a 360 the other day, and I ummed and ahhhed about buying Fallout 3. But in the end, it's easily one of my fave games for a really long time.
The VATS thing really works, and feels totally convincing within the world.
The atmosphere is excellent - towns feel like real pits of survival, and there's a sense of not wanting to stray too far out, unlike Oblivion. It reminds me of Stalker in that way - spend too long running through the wastes and you could end up being very badly ambushed.
Unlike Oblivion it also has a really tangible sense of place and existance. Everywhere looks *right*, and there's just enough mystery to make you wonder.
All in all, I'm having more fun with it that I ever thought I would. I just wish, however, that when a crucial character is murdered because of a choice you make in a quest conversation, people actually reacted rather than just ignore it. It's jarring as hell, even if later dialogue does cover the death. Especially when the body lies around in a busy doorway half-dressed for 24 hours. Well, I had to loot his cool gear, didn't I!

Thomas Lawrence: Looks like one of your left 4 Dead complaints (the one about the Tank spawning at different times for either side of a Versus match) has been fixed by the latest update. Plus a bunch of other bugs and exploits.

I's like some shorter campaigns in general. I mean, in Campaign mode you can just choose to start on part three, but in many ways I'd prefer Valve to release say, three campaigns of half the length of the current ones than two of the same length.

Thomas Lawrence: Hey Tom, another thing about Left 4 Dead. It struck me just last night that you can have just the latter two maps of the campaign in versus mode. You just need to select chapter four as the starting chapter when you set the game up in the lobby.

Thomas “Padre” Lawrence: Also in Left 4 Dead news, a special message from Eminem: http://www.videosift... ...ad-Players

Thomas “Padre” Lawrence: Also in Left 4 Dead news, a special message from Eminem - click the link in my name. (Warning: lots of swears)

Redhawk: I love that Mass Effect screenshot. It looks like Kaidan was giving some serious speech and Shepard just popped into the screen and was like "HAY GUSY".

Gunpoint problem?

Don't post them here, I'm a useless idiot! E-mail tech support with as much detail about your system and the problem as possible, and they can actually do something.

Question?

There's a page about the games I've worked on, what I use to make them, and what platforms they're coming to.

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