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GS Code of Conduct Update

Just a heads up to anyone that happens to read my blog and hasn't already read the updated Terms of Use policy on Gamespot.  Gamespot has instituted a 3 Strikes rule, in a concerted effort to improve the community; Specifically the comments sections site-wide.  It is all explained in the link, so please read it when you have time.



Shadowrun Returns: A Brief History and Resurgence

Shadowrun banner

Hello Gamespotters,

I don't blog often as you all know.  This one I feel is worthwhile.  This article is to raise awareness for a great franchise that many people may have missed out on, particularly the younger ones.  If you'd like to skip to the contemporary part, please go down to Shadowrun Returns (2013).

I have basically grown up on Shadowrun, but it has been long-absent in the gaming world.  This game spun off several video games, 40 novels, a figurine based board game, and a trading card game, among other things.  It has been around since 1989 but is just now finally seeing a proper resurgence, thanks to Jordan Weisman and his team at Harebrained Schemes. 

Shadowrun is a game that got it's start as a pen and paper Role Playing Game made by FASA.  It had a large rule book and a lot of dice rolling as you might expect.  Character sheets back then were done in the back of the book with pencil and erased until barely legible.  Or if you had access to a photocopier, you could be a little more free-wheeling with it.  Personally when I would play with my friends, I made a digital copy (typed it out by hand) in Word Perfect 5.0 for DOS.  That is DOS 6.22, which might give you an idea of the time frame (1989 it began), and my age.

My friends and I would create these characters based on the original FASA ruleset, and L.A.R.P. (Live Action Role-Play) around the school yard during recess.  We were lucky to have had a very brilliant friend who was able to come up with scenarios and "runs" that were both engaging and entertaining.  He had a special knack for it, a creative spark I appreciated.  I recall having a Combat Mage named Max, and running around throwing fireballs at my friends, not unlike Ryu from Street Fighter II.  We really had a ball, and later expanded into other games but I always had a fondness for Shadowrun in particular, and that love eventually translated into some great video games.

The basic setting of Shadowrun is a dystopian cyberpunk future, where in 2011 magic came back to the world.   Dragons awoke, people were beginning to be born as orcs, elves, trolls, Native Shamanic rituals started to have real tangible power, and a lot more.  Essentially it is a melding of myth, technology, magic and ritual.   Corporations became megacorporations, something like our superpower nations of 2013.  Imagine if Microsoft owned North America, and Taco Bell owned Japan, etc.  Cybernetic limbs and synthetic muscles are now commonplace.  A large scale computer crash in 2029 led to the creation of the Matrix, basically the Internet on steroids; where people can "jack in" with direct neural links.  It is generally set in and around Seattle, which has become a city state.   Think Bladerunner meets Tolkien.

Players take on jobs or "shadow runs", which could be anything from kidnapping a VIP, or rescuing someone, stealing an item or hacking a company data server to steal a sensitive file for an opposing corporation.   Generally something "shadowy" and sensitive, that someone important would hire someone expendable to do.

The Shadowrun universe was heavily inspired by Neuromancer, a novel by William Gibson.  I personaly believe it has subsequently influenced a lot of modern sci fi, for example Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix, Deus Ex etc , though that is simply my opinion and would require some more research.  If you play the game(s), you will start to see what I mean, and I hope you do try them.

A brief history of Shadowrun video games:


In 1993 a Shadowrun RPG was released for the SNES, developed by Australian developer Beam Software.  It was loosely based on the novel Never Deal with a Dragon by Shadowrun co-creator Robert N. Charrette and set in the year 2050.  It was very well received, and is still well spoken of today.  I personally did not get very far in that game, as I wasn't made aware of it until much later.  It featured a point and click type of interaction interface, which was difficult for me to get used to on the SNES, although clearly many people did, based on its popularity.


In 1994 BlueSky Software released another Shadowrun game, this time for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive.  It was a more traditional console control scheme, and allowed you to choose 3 different starting classes, but you had the ability to build your character how you liked as you played, to a certain extent.  I really enjoyed this game, though it isn't as highly spoken of.


In 1995 there was also a Japan-only SegaCD/MegaCD game released, which was the last game released for that console.  I have no experience with it, but it was loosely based on some Manga.  Recently due to the hype Shadowrun Returns and it's successfull Kickstarter campaign has created, some community people have begun a project to translate this game into English.  I for one hope they complete the project, as I'd love to play that too.


In 2007, Microsoft and FASA brought to us an Xbox 360 / Games for Windows Live (one of the first Games for Windows Live games) online multiplayer first person shooter based on this universe.  The game was not well received, especially by most fans of Shadowrun.  FASA closed it's doors that year, and the game servers went offline in 2008.  I personally was quite upset after having played the original, the SNES and Genesis games, only to find out it was going to be a shooter rather than an RPG.

Which brings us to 2013 and the reason for this blog. 



Shadowrun Returns

As some of you may know, Harebrained Schemes started a Kickstarter project to fund a new Shadowrun RPG, which has been one of the most successful Kickstarters so far (at nearly $1.9M).  This was fantastic news to me, as I had been hoping for a proper Shadowrun RPG followup since 1994, and I was quick to back this project.  I am not writing this to get you to give them any money, but I will say that $15 gets you a DRM free copy of the game, which is extremely reasonable.   I simply wish to raise awareness for Shadowrun, and maybe get some new people to experience it who may not have otherwise.

Because HBS exceeded their fund raising goal, an additional storyline was added to the game, tying it to both the SNES and Genesis versions of the game.  This content will at first be available only to backers, but will be available to everyone at a later time.  This game will also ship with the editor, so that you can create your own content!

The first gameplay video was released yesterday (March 08 2013), and was the impetus for this article.  It struck me as very similar to the original Fallout games, a 2D isometric view, turn based combat, and dialog choices.  This to me is a great thing, as I highly enjoyed the Fallout series as well.  After finally seeing the gameplay video I happily increased my pledge level. 

Shadowrun Returns was originally slated for a January 2013 release, however because funding goals were exceeded and the additional storyline is being added, it has been pushed back to June 2013.  There is also an MMORPG being developed by Cliffhanger Productions, which I will also be keeping an eye on.

I have not helped kickstart any other projects, but this one I was eager to help out with.  It's a part of my childhood Returned, and I hope some of you get to enjoy it as well.




Shadowrun Primer - Learn About the Universe of Shadowrun

Shadowrun Returns (Kickstarter)

Shadowrun Returns (link)

Harebrained Schemes (link)


Hands on with the Diablo 3 Beta - 4 down, 2 to go - Mostly spoiler free

There may be some minor spoilers but I will try to keep them minimal.. it's nothing you wouldn't have seen in Gamespot's coverage though.

Well I have had some more time with the Beta now; which by and large aside from the ending where it flashes "congratulations, you've beaten the Diablo 3 beta!", you would expect to be the finished game.

There are a few parts further down in the cathedral where you find spots that clearly are intended for some event, but that has not been completed yet -- little alcoves with tables or altars cluttered in things clearly meant to draw your attention, but that do nothing. There are a few journals scattered about which give backstory ala Bioshock voice logs when you activate the pedestals. The books drop on the ground and you click and hear the log; but there are a few that simply don't drop anything, further in, but there are still a fair amount and it's interesting to hear directly from King Leoric and some of his subjects via these.

So far I have finished the Beta with a Barbarian, a Demon Hunter, and a Monk. I am currently working on a Wizard. What I have noticed between classes, aside from their obvious differences (melee, ranged, combos) is that some are much easier to play than others (at least in the early game). Now I am assuming you finish normal difficulty, and move to nightmare and hell, similar to the previous game, but I simply can't tell from the Beta.

The Barbarian seems very powerful; you knock enemies flying, jump right into the midst of 50 enemies and destroy them in short order, hardly taking a scratch. Being my first character, I thought the game was too easy (again, on normal) compared to D2. I think certain classes start strong and wane in the endgame, and vice versa some will start weaker but become powerful.

The Demon Hunter is much like the Amazon from D2, usually using a bow or crossbow firing projectiles. This is how I played her, anyway. Which reminds me, you can pick your gender for any class.. but the female Barbarian is pretty horrid looking. Anyway, she isn't able to wade into the fray like the Barbarian, and is a bit more vulnerable once you start encountering some tougher enemies.. but eventually the skills catch up and you do pretty well.

The Monk is interesting.. you use fists and "knuckles" for your primary weapons.. you can dual wield but I'm unclear if it makes much difference in the early game. I feel that you will want to dual wield more for the bonuses the offhand weapon gives later on, than the damage output -- but I'm not positive. I went with one weapon and a shield, for added defense because you're generally attacking 1 or maybe 2 targets out of a possible 10-20+ at a time, leaving you pretty vulnerable. You have a knockback type skill which helps keep the crowds back though. I felt this character was very underpowered, until I started unlocking some later skills, at which time I felt she was almost as powerful as the Barbarian.

The Wizard I haven't finished with yet, but with the upgraded items (I'll explain) I gave him, he is mostly 1 or 2 shotting the enemies. I feel it would be around the same as the Demon Hunter without these items however. The Frost Nova from D2 is back, and is good for crowd control as it freezes enemies solid for a time.

I can only surmise they will tweak the balance a bit before launch, and also the harder difficulties will not be quite so easy. I feel the entire experience (like happened to WoW) has become dumbed down for easy entry, and that endgame content will be where the challenge is. That being said, the gameplay is pure Diablo, and very satisfying. The loot somehow makes you happy for an upgrade, rather than it being meaningless numbers -- I'm not sure how to define the difference, but in Torchlight I really didn't care much when I got a shiny new helmet.. but in Diablo 3 they have paced it such that it feels special and is incentive to keep playing as well.

On the incentive note, achievements are here, straight out of World of Warcraft, right down to the "Y" hotkey to open the achievements page. This will surely be just as addicting as it was in WoW, and I feel it's a nice addition. I've unlocked most of them, and other than the couple Co-Op ones (anyone else playing the Beta?) I should have them all unlocked by the time I'm done with the last character.

There are many influences and lessons learned from WoW that have filtered into Diablo as was to be expected. You know about the auction house; but I have discovered on my second character that your stash chest is universal to all your characters. The things I left in there on my Barbarian were available to my Demon Hunter and so on. You also must purchase additional space in your stash, with gold. Thus far I have spent all my spare gold on the blacksmith so I still have the first row of slots.

This will prevent muling, at least to a degree, as you will only be able to use player inventory space not each player's stash as well.

The blacksmith as I mentioned spending gold on, you can upgrade by training him. His entire workshop (smithy) will upgrade when he levels up, and each training session allows you to craft new weapons and armor. It starts off relatively inexpensive but my smithy is level 4 now and its 2000g per training session. I feel it's well worth it, as the items you create are far better than most of what you find, at least this early in the game. You first "salvage" items (not all items are eligible) for their parts, much like disenchanting in WoW, then use these base items to create new ones, along with some gold. You're not so much enchanting an existing item, as you are creating a new one, because you only need the base ingredients and gold, at least at the moment. They will have a few properties you can see, and a couple random magical properties. I lucked out and created a fist for my Monk with life leech (steals health from enemies), which made things much easier.

Also to Jim's question about social aspects, I forgot to mention there is a big social button above the main toolbar in the lower right, which is just for friends list, inviting friends, finding previous played with people etc. I have yet to try it out, but it's similar to WoW in that respect. It's prominence on the HUD seems significant.

I'll stop the wall of text for now, and write about the last 2 characters later.

Hands on with the Diablo 3 Beta - Early Impressions

Well Hello, to those of you that remember me.

I do not remember how long ago it was, or the exact circumstances; but I gleefully raised my hand at a chance to Beta test Diablo 3. Well apparently the magic mirror or 8 ball or what have you at Activision has given me a chance to play this game early. In my PC gaming infancy, I cut my teeth on Diablo and Diablo 2 was my online addiction for a long time.

@Allicrombie at some point, talked me into playing World of Warcraft with her, and my affair with (now) Activision-Blizzard continued. This was fortunate, as Diablo 3 borrows many things from WoW. Those of you reading this have probably seen the previews and watched videos of early footage etc, so I won't bore you with the exact details.

What I will say is that I've had a couple hours after downloading the rather large Beta (15GB) to sit down and play it; which I will be returning to after writing this. I chose a Barbarian because that was my preferred class in Diablo II, though I played them all. I plan on trying all the classes in this Beta and getting as much time in as I can -- if I find how to report bugs I will report a few I've seen thus far.

So far I have run into the daughter of a vendor, Deckard Cain.. and Leoric, the Skeleton King. I am not far in to the Beta, and it only encompasses most of Act 1.. but I am still thrilled with it so far.

The leveling system is quite different.. you don't distribute stat points anymore.. only skills, and only at certain intervals. For several levels you do not get to make changes. I am only level 7 at this point, so I can't speak much about this system.. I'm not sure if I like it or not yet.

The gameplay is classic Diablo, but with modern amenities like destructible surroundings.. my barbarian likes to smash gravestones and send chunks flying as he battles with skeletons and zombies etc.

The social aspect plans seem to be rather large with this game, and I assume future A-B games. It appears by default friends can drop in and drop out of your game.. and you can choose to allow public or other groups to join or not join. I have not tested this, as I know nobody that is also testing the Beta.

Feel free to PM me or comment if you are and want a partner.

Anyway, I hope the day finds you well, and game on.

Games I've Finished Since I Quit World of Warcraft

So In case anyone remembers me, I just wanted to write a quick blurb about my gaming backlog.

A friend of mine got me into WoW, and subsequently also OUT of WoW. . it just wasn't as much fun without her around to talk to.

Since then however, I've had time to play other games; games I've wanted to play for a long time but kept putting them on the backlog. So far I've only touched on PC games, I have a large console backlog as well.

A short list (and corona blamed; I shall miss a few I'm sure)

- Modern Warfare (replay)

- Modern Warfare 2 (replay but did Special Ops on Veteran Solo) Incidentally, much fun to be had in spec ops.. anyone play?

- Medal of Honor (pretty good, though a bit buggy)

- Forgot to add Homefront

- not sure what I'm going to play next.. but it feels good to be playing new games again. I think Bastion probably.

How is everyone?

Games for Cold Days

Some games are so visually beautiful and immersive we feel like we're a part of the world. In terms of graphics, that is the mark of quality in my mind, not photorealism, but immersiveness; the ability to make you forget your earthly woes and take part in something altogether different.

On cold winter days I like to go back and play Far Cry (PC) and sometimes Crysis (PC), because the lush tropical archipelago surroundings are so enticing and jaw droppingly beautiful compared to the dirt and slush outside my window. It's a great way to warm up on a cold winter day.

Does anyone else do something similar? Cold weather games? Or seasonal games in general?


PS. Winter is nice too :P

Gamespot Game Night: Black Ops

Well lastnight was a blast, despite difficulties. Black Ops hasn't improved as such, but it was still fun to play with Kevin and the rest of the Gamespot group who showed up lastnight.

In terms of performance, I updated Sound and Video drivers (which the changelogs didn't indicate would help), as well as enabled multi threading for COD Single and Multiplayer by editing a few config files. The latter of which I believe helped a bit, as the game was mostly playable but still laggy. I left it on the default medium settings as I was pressed for time, which may have also contributed to the improvement. But I will stress that it is far from fixed.

Performance aside, the console (PS3 and 360) users had no problems getting into a match together and were off to the races long before we PC users were. This was due to the fact Black Ops went back to the dedicated server paradigm; the master server browser was having issues updating to include our player made server, and so some of us couldn't get in the game for quite a while. In the end we had to have the host (Kevin) invite us, back out to the main menu and use the in-game Friend button (not the Steam friend list, which works fine with most games) and find our invites there to join.

We played for an hour or so, and I managed to get in for 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 rounds, I'm not sure how many I missed leading up to that point.

All in all it was great fun once we got everything rolling. Kevin at one point exclaimed "Why is it so hard to play with my friends !?" which I think was a very apt description of the PC multiplayer at this point, but I'm sure they'll improve that over time.

Jody was very kind in helping us all communicate in the chat room while we were having problems as well.

I'm still crossing my fingers that the problems will be alleviated over time with patches, but as far as I'm concerned I had fun with the game, and that's the whole point afterall.

Black Ops (PC) - Launch Day Dissappointment. Patches (hopefully) may resolve.

*Rant warning + technobabble.

Well let me start by saying I do not get excited for many games. Call of Duty is one of those franchises that I do enjoy. I am a long time shooter fan, since they began, but today there are so many garbage shooters out there only a few stand out. COD (at least Infinity Ward iterations) is one of the few and the proud.

Treyarch's games have always been substandard when compared to IW, I don't think anyone would argue that. It's not that they have a bad premise, story, or even gameplay sometimes; it's that they're buggy, glitchy, and just poorly optimized. Despite this, I was quite excited about Black Ops because they're using the same engine, so how wrong can they go? Or so I thought. They added many good things to the multiplayer, modes, weapons, customizations, monetary systems, betting matches, etc. On paper this seems like an exceptional addition to the series, and I was really hoping (and assuming) that Treyarch would step up to the plate and deliver for once (riding on IW's shoulders at least).

With World At War, many customers couldn't install the game, much less run it. It took me days to get it working, and I fix computers for a living. It seems that many customers are reporting similar issues with Black Ops, however that's not what I'm here to write about.

First of all, MW and MW2 run flawlessly on most systems, especially mine. While my PC is not top of the line at this point, it's still respectable and easily exceeds the requirements for Black Ops. The game runs, but even the loading videos halted and sputtered and even before the main menu loaded I had my concerns. The mouse cursor on the main menu stutters and hangs; not a lot, but it's not perfectly smooth as it should be.

Getting into the game itself, the frame rates are inconsistent, causing the mouse to "feel" wrong.. It tends to 'jerk' rather than glide, or "hang and resume" as you would expect from a lack of ram. Years of experience with PC games and upgrading and running on sub par hardware causes you to almost instinctively know what is causing what, in terms of performance issues, at least it has for me. Lack of ram will cause stuttering (hard drive accessing usually apparent) when loading areas or spinning around or coming to a long distance view etc.. whereas video card (GPU) lag is more of the constant dragging slowness, more of a delay in your actions than anything. CPU lag is sometimes a combination of both, and harder to pinpoint.

Long story short, Black Ops is lagging where it shouldn't. Online matches should be laggy as the huge influx of new players is going to bog down the networks, but that's to be expected. What is NOT to be expected, is the lag within single player, or bot matches.. regardless of graphics settings. This should be rectified with a patch or several patches, but only time will tell.

This game has a massive amount of potential to be great, I just hope they take the time and make things right.

Let me reiterate, there is still hope for this game to be what I thought it would be, but as of right now I'm not a happy camper. I could play through the single player campaign despite the lag, but in terms of multiplayer, frame rate is life. If you can't react in a split second to a flicker of movement as you round a corner, you've lost. Whether it's at 1024x768 or 1920x1200 (my monitor's native res), the game lags badly. MW1/MW2 run flawlessly with all settings maxed.. FSAA/AF etc. No setting makes Black Ops playable right now, which leaves it up to Activision and Treyarch to fix it. Otherwise we're all waiting for COD8 from IW.

Kudos to Console users on this one, you've lucked out -- though I hear they have their share of issues as well, but nothing nearly as bad.

It seems other than Kevin Van Ord, I'm the only one of my steam friends to have the game, and I haven't yet asked him his opinion on it. But if anyone else has it for PC, please let me know what you've experienced, and your system specs.

Hope everyone is having a better day than I :)

Thanks and apologies to anyone who made it through my disorganized rambling.

Requisite Duke Nukem Blog / Retrospective

Duke Nukem 3D was the first PC game I ever purchased (ie: begged my parents until they bought it for me). At the time I was running a 80486 @ 33Mhz, MS-DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1. Duke ran like a slide show, but I still played it incessantly every spare minute I had. I had played the demo a hundred times if I'd played it once, and I knew every square inch of the demo, so getting my hands on the real thing was like heaven.

At the time 3D shooters were in their infancy, and Duke was a step ahead of everything else, despite it's 2D sprites. The humor, the style, the action was all top tier for it's time. Doom was the first big name pc shooter to go 3D, and still synonymous with PC shooters today, although moreso in a retrospective sense. Duke however took it all a step further, and was also the first game I'd ever played with other people over the internet.

At the time HEAT was big, and the promise of playing with other people and winning REAL money was quite awesome. Back then I was in my own infancy as far as PC shooters, and was still playing with the arrow keys and shooting with the control button. "What, use a mouse to aim? are you frikken nuts!?". But back in those days, people were more mature. There was none of the 12 year old kids trying to prove something, no ranting children ruining your experience. If you were lagging, people would pass you by and let you catch up (remember, 56k was basically broadband, back then, and I was running a 33.6k). People still felt a semblance of responsibility for their actions, it was a heady time before the rush of today.

The adrenaline felt from the multiplayer rush of facing off against a HUMAN opponent was like nothing I'd experience, and i was instantly hooked. This was only topped by Quake 1, 2, and it's progeny (one of if not the first shooter to use 3D models instead of 2D sprites, and to require a PENTIUM processor).

Alas those days are gone, HEAT is long defunct, and I've been waiting for the next Duke Nukem.. (it was required) Forever.

I watched as teaser trailers came and went, engines and game concepts were scrapped and replaced, lackluster console spinoffs came and went, people lost faith and started making fun of the team at 3D Realms, and one of the best IPs out there. Duke Nukem has become a joke to many gamers, and I find this upsetting.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but many of these gamers are not even old enough to have played the original games, they do not know what is this magical "DOS". I among other mature gamers still venture back to the old games, for I believe they are still some of the most entertaining games to be played. Back then games didn't have million dollar budgets, it wasn't about huge production values and hollywood thinking, it was about simple fun and they excelled at it.

I think I'm one of the few people who always knew Duke would be released, even if I had no idea about when. It's been dangled in front of our faces and yanked away more times than I can count. I've had my heart broken by it more than once, especially in recent years.

So when I read that Gearbox and many of the original team are finishing Duke Nukem Forever, and furthermore now own the rights to all things Duke, I am extremely elated. This is probably the most excited I've been about a game, since.. well Duke Nukem Forever was announced and I viewed that first trailer all those years ago. Though the Unreal 1.0 engine is long gone, the heady feeling is the same. This is a hallmark event for mature gamers, and with any luck, all gamers. I hope that this instigates a resurgence in the Duke franchise, and it regains the popularity it deserves.

I hope all is well with my GS friends :) Anyone else an old school fan? I know JodyR is with me on that one (with Quake if not Duke) :P

PS: It's (nearly) time to kick ace and chew bubblegum, and I'm all outta gum!