PSA: DO NOT BUY DARK MATTER

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The newest game from InterWave Studios, a Metroidvania/horror game called Dark Matter, came out the other day and it has one massive flaw: The game is literally unfinished. The Steam forum is full of people who have "completed" the game...Which suddenly ends about four hours in, presenting you with a cheap, unceremonious black screen with white text that tells you "the game is over, click to return to the main menu." Nothing is resolved; you just go through a random door that looks like every other door and that's it. Of course, this is mentioned NO WHERE on the game description, and it isn't being sold as an Early Access game. Apparently the developers ran out of money and just said "**** it, release that ****" after they failed to meet their goals on Kickstarter.

This is just downright disgusting and I really hope that GOG and Steam take this game down until the developers can find a way to finish it. I give indies a lot of leniency, in both my reviews and personal gaming habits. I understand that a small team with a minimal budget has to cut corners, and I look past a lot of jankiness that I would flip tables over if it was in a AAA release, but this is just inexcusable. It's a real shame too, because I liked InterWave's previous game, Nuclear Dawn, and had some hope that Dark Matter might be decent. I promoted the game on a Greenlight Spotlight some time back. I even hear that Dark Matter is pretty good, but all of that is rendered void when you release a game that is literally incomplete.

So yeah, avoid this game at all costs. Hell, send an email to GOG and Steam to complain. At the very least this game needs to be moved to Early Access and not be sold in such a way that it misleads people into buying an unfinished product. This isn't even the first time this has happened on Steam, and just further proof that Valve seriously needs to check this **** before putting games up for sale.

Buy Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages you dummies

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Hopefully you guys see this in time; the new layout makes finding new blogs a giant pain in the ass.

Ring Runner is the current featured deal on IndieGameStand. As with all featured deals on the site, 10% of each purchase goes to charity (In this case Kids Need to Read) and if you pay above the average you get some nice extras. One of this year's sadly underrated gems because it can't get on Steam. It has some serious pacing problems in the first half of the campaign, and not too many people are playing online, but it is an awesome physics-based, top-down space shooter/RPG. BUY IT!

Also, would you kindly not be a jackass and pay $1 or something stupid like that just because it is "pay what you want?" It's a good game that has been selling like crap because the developers can't get out of Steam Greenlight Limbo and they could really use your money, to say nothing about the fact that some of the earnings go to charity.

Oh Joy...Another Redesign

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Yay, Gamespot redid everything yet again, forcing me to relearn where everything is! There doesn't seem to be a way to filter your feeds properly, at least as far as I can tell. I'm not sure where to look to see JUST new blog posts, instead I have to dig through the giant wall of text that tells me whenever someone picks their nose. Look, I don't really care to be notified every time someone changes their photo, gets in a flame war on the forums, etc. I just want to read their blogs. Oh, and of course our comments got devoured yet again.

You know, I had planned on writing a nice blog post about what games I've been playing, what I'm up to at Gameverse, etc., but after this latest redesign I'm not sure I can muster enough ****s to give about this site anymore.

Not On Steam

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In case you haven't heard about this sale yet, I wrote a handy article. I can't tell you much about most the games on sale because I don't really know about many of them, but I can say that you should stop being dumb and buy Ring Runner while its $5. Of course Race The Sun is there too, and Inescapable, Full Bore, and Tower of Guns all look promising. Really though, just browse around the site, I'm sure you'll find some interesting games that you've never heard of before. Don't forget to visit the Greenlight pages too.

Dat Ad Revenue

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I come bearing more shameless self promotion in the form of a Paranautical Activity first impressions and an article that provides us with further proof that Steam is a bit too powerful. This certainly isn't the first time that we've seen a game struggle without a Steam release; I mentioned in my review how the developers of Ring Runner: Flight of the Sage's have experienced a highly disappointing launch, and Ring Runner has the benefit of being on GOG, Amazon, GamersGate, Greenman, and Desura in addition to their official website. The "Steam or no buy" attitude is getting rather depressingly common among PC gamers. Which reminds me, Ring Runner just released their Dota-style multiplayer mode as part of the newest patch. I have an article explaining it, but it is still being edited.

Personally, I think any PC gamer without accounts on multiple distribution platforms is missing out. Yeah, it is annoying to have your game collection spread across like five digital distributors, but there are a lot of good games that simply don't make it to Steam. Plus, some of those sites have been outdoing Steam lately in terms of ridiculous sales.

Sorta like how GOG is continuing their birthday bash with a 5 for $5 sale. For the next week, you can get VVVVVV, The Adventures of Shuggy, Gateways, Time Gentlemen, Please! + Ben There, Dan That!, and Escape Goat for $4.95. I wouldn't classify any of these games as "must haves," (Then again, I have no idea what Time Gentlemen, Please! is) but they are all pretty good.

Finally, a warning: Avoid Takedown: Red Sabre. That game is a total mess right now. Its a real shame, because I was looking forward to this one. With the shooter genre being saturated by CoD and CoD clones, I've been longing for more shooters that do something different...Like Takedown, which is a return to the old Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear and Ghost Recon-style of tactical shooters. Unfortunately, Takedown is currently broken. The AI keeps flipping out between solid and stuck-against-wall stupid, people are getting "disconnected from host" messages in offline mode, tons of issues finding and connecting to servers, etc. If you are affected by low FOV, the game also lacks an FOV slider, or any sort of decent options menu for that matter. The game is clearly unfinished and needs a lot of work before it can reach anything resembling a good game.

Bad developers! You had a good concept here and screwed it up by launching too early! Now go sit in the corner and think about what you did!

Ring Runner Review and new Greenlight Spotlight

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I reviewed Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages a while back. It's a really solid game, if you can get past the rather slow start, and still has yet to be Greenlit on Steam. You can currently find it on GOG, GamersGate, and basically every other major digital distributor besides Steam. I also did a new Greenlight Spotlight today. Despite Valve Greenlighting 100 games recently, there are still a lot of gems sitting there in limbo.

As usual, I've been playing a lot of indie games lately. If you haven't bought it yet, go get Papers, Please. It's one of the most compelling games of this year, and has some serious messages to get across. It's the perfect example of why I love the indie scene so much, and it's one of those gems that keeps me interested in this hobby despite all the BS and idiocy coming from major publishers. I've been playing around with Steam Big Picture mode lately on my TV. I recently got around to buying a new controller for my PC, a Logitech F310, mainly because Guacamelee is almost unplayable with a keyboard and mouse. Even remapping the controls isn't an ideal solution, the way throws and special attacks work just doesn't translate well to an input device that lacks analogue sticks. If you do have a controller though, then you'll find one of the best Metroidvania-style games to come out in some time. I've also be playing Strike Suit Zero, which I picked up during the summer sale. Its...decent. The controls in Strike Mode just don't feel right, the missions are too scripted, and some of the gun weapons just seem underpowered. The optional objectives to unlock fighter upgrades are also a tad insane at times. It isn't a bad game, but maybe not something I'd recommend at full price. Maybe give it a go during a sale.

I'm looking for more stuff to cover on Gameverse right now. I never did a follow-up interview about Warmachine: Tactics, mainly because the Kickstarter ended at a bad time. I may still do that at some point. There are a lot of games that we never did cover on Gameverse, like Shadowrun Returns. I do want to start a preview series looking at games on Steam Early Access. I just need a snappy name for it.

A rant about MOBAs

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I wrote this rant/opinion piece a week ago for Gameverse. The editor finally got around to it today...and rejected its current form because I need more facts to back up my opinion and expand my views more or something. So, I decided to post it here instead. Now I'm just waiting for my Ring Runner review, which I submitted over two weeks ago, to be edited so I can post it.

It seems like a new Dota-style game is being announced every week, and it's getting really out of hand now. It's no secret that League of Legends and Dota 2 are industry juggernauts. With enormous player bases and huge eSports scenes, both games are making their respective developers more money than they know what to do with. Naturally, the rest of the game industry wants a piece of the MOBA pie. Techland recently announced, of all things, a Dead Island MOBA. Yes, it has gotten to the point where developers are taking preexisting, established franchises from totally different genres and making a MOBA version, because LoL and Dota 2 are big and everyone seems to think that aping them is like creating a machine that prints free money. Of course, with all big trends in the game industry, no one is stopping to think why this is a terrible idea.

We've seen this all before. Whenever a particular genre or game setting gets popular, everyone and their dog starts making games like it. We saw it with WWII shooters many years ago, we saw it, and to a lesser degree still do, with WoW-clone MMOs, and we are still seeing it with modern military shooters. In many cases, this ends badly for the imitators; EA's attempt to "update" the Medal of Honor series with a modern setting to compete with the current Call of Duty games ended in disaster. The 2010 reboot was met with fairly positive reviews and ended up being a commercial success, while last year's Warfighter was such a gigantic flop that it killed both the Medal of Honor series and its developer Danger Close Games. While we are on the subject of massive failures, how much money has been wasted trying to create a "WoW killer" MMO that ended up dead and forgotten before its first anniversary?

So what can we learn from all of this? Well, trying to dethrone--or at least take gamers away from--a massive, established series like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft is really freaking hard. Activision is still swimming in money from the latest Black Ops II map pack, and even though WoW is hemorrhaging subscribers, they are still above the 7 million players mark. The same thing will happen with anyone trying to take on LoL and Dota 2, and in this case it is even harder to take players away from an established MOBA because of the very nature of the genre.

MOBAs (A term I've never really been a fan of myself) have an extremely high learning curve. It can take a very long time just to get the basics down, and it gets even more complicated when you consider all the champions/heroes/whatevers, all the items and builds, etc. This means that once you really get into a game like Dota 2 or LoL, you probably won't be leaving it for another MOBA. It takes such a huge investment of time to get halfway decent at these games that the idea of relearning all this stuff in another game is just too daunting.

This isn't even taking into consideration the persistent account you may have built up; all those skins you bought in LoL, all the items you acquired one way or another in Dota 2...it is hard to leave all of that and start from scratch in another game. You probably have friends who play a particular game with you as well, and you don't want to go over to a game they don't play. It's for these very reasons that most people only seriously play one MOBA, be it Dota or LoL, and maybe dabble in something like Awesomenauts or Smite. It's the same with MMOs. You spend so much time, and possibly money, building up this persistent character that you become too invested. You don't want to leave it to start all over again somewhere else. This, and the friendships you've established in the game, is ultimately what keeps bringing long-time players back to WoW.

Honestly, I also feel that most major companies just don't even have the right mindset and business practices to create a thriving MOBA. I don't think many publishers realize just how much you have to put into a MOBA to make it any good. Games in the genre require very regular updates to tweak the balance, add new heroes to keep people interested, make sure these new heroes are properly balanced...These games require years and years of proper support, almost like an MMO. A far cry from the practices of the current mainstream, AAA industry that craps out a game and four DLC packs before doing it all over again next year. This is exactly what Warner Bros. did when they published Guardians of Middle-earth by Monolith Productions. They released the game, tossed out some token patches and updates, and created a season pass DLC that added some new guardians. Now the game has been abandoned less than a year later for the DC Universe MOBA Infinite Crisis. You CANNOT take this "fire and forget" approach to MOBAs.

Then there is the eSports scene. A huge part of why LoL and Dota 2 are so big is because of the massive eSports support provided by Riot and Valve. These two companies are in a pseudo-arms race to one-up each other and provide the biggest prize pools in eSports history. The currently ongoing The International 2013 for Dota 2 has a prize pool of nearly $3 million. Valve and Riot know that throwing all this money at the eSports scene is worth it in the end because of all the coverage their games get. These tournaments bring in a lot of viewers via streams, and this coverage can also bring in new players and keep current players interested. I don't think that companies like EA and Warner Bros. understand this, and probably aren't willing to invest so heavily in the eSports scene. This is actually fairly important if you are trying to build a Dota or LoL-style game, which is exactly what they are trying to do with Dawngate and Infinite Crisis. Oh sure, you can ignore the eSports scene entirely, but don't expect your MOBA to bring in huge numbers of players unless you are doing something really unique.

This is the other big problem that publishers don't seem to understand. You can't try to beat a really popular game by just copying it as closely as possible. This has been said many, many times regarding WoW and all the MMOs that try to clone it: Why would I play something exactly like WoW when I can just play WoW? Likewise, why would I play a copycat of Dota or LoL when I can just play the real deal? These games have large, established player bases and you can expect them to be supported for many years to come. From what I've heard so far, Infinite Crisis plays a hell of a lot like LoL, with the only real gimmick being that it involves DC superheroes. Will the DC gimmick help the game stand out and survive where others have failed? Probably not, in the long run.

If you look at the MOBAs that have carved a successful niche for themselves in the shadow of the big two iron giants of the genre, they all offer something very unique that you can't get from Dota 2 and LoL. Awesomenauts is a very popular game, and quite a few Dota and LoL players play it as a fun side game. Awesomenauts takes the core idea of a MOBA, building up a character and pushing lanes to destroy the enemy team's base, and turns it into an extremely charming 2D platformer. Smite takes that MOBA gameplay and changes the perspective, making it a third-person, over-the-shoulder game instead of the traditional overhead view for the genre. AirMech gives you direct control of a transforming mech that you can use to pick up and place creeps around the map. Instead of making something that looks and feels like LoL/Dota and just tweaking some stuff here and there or trying to get by with a gimmick like being set in the DC Universe or Middle-earth, try thinking outside the box and fusing that core MOBA experience with another genre. It seems like this is the only way to really succeed alongside the likes of Dota and LoL, and it gives us gamers a refreshing and interesting new game to play.

Make no mistake, most of these MOBAs popping up are going to fail horribly. We are seeing it happen already. Battle for Graxia, formerly Rise of Immortals, by Petroglyph is one such example. Petroglyph used the setting from their rather decent turn-based strategy game series Graxia and created the Battle for Graxia MOBA. Battle for Graxia was shut down around eight months after release. Then there was EA's previous attempt at making a MOBA, Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes. This extreme distillation of Warhammer Online's PVP was such a complete and total flop that it didn't even make it out of open beta before being shut down, which was likely due to the game being absolutely terrible.

You might be asking why I care about this so much. Why am I writing this rant, instead of simply just ignoring all these MOBAs that the industry is crapping out in our general direction? Well, because it is also starting to affect other games I do care about. Dungeon Defender, a fairly good co-op third-person action RPG/tower defense hybrid, is getting a free-to-play sequel that is mainly focused on a new MOBA mode. There will be content along the lines of the previous game's co-op tower defense gameplay, but the main focus thus far has been this new MOBA mode. Admittedly, Dungeon Defender 2 is trying some interesting new things in its MOBA mode, but it is still an example of a non-MOBA franchise getting a MOBA sequel because that's the new trend.

What I'm more angry about is End of Nations and how it was retooled into a freaking MOBA. I liked the old End of Nations, before Trion Worlds took over and decided to screw everything up. It was a bit janky and needed some polish for sure, but I was really looking forward to EON when it was a team-based RTS with match sizes more reminiscent of an FPS than your typical strategy game. Then Trion took over development and decided to retool the game to "improve" it, and now we have this vehicular MOBA thing. Yes, it's true that we still know very little about the EON redesign, but the fact that they are actively calling it a MOBA now instead of an RTS greatly disappoints me.

I guess the point I'm vainly trying to make here is that Dota clones and MOBAs are the new bandwagon genre that all the developers and publishers are trying to jump on as quickly as possible...And this path will only lead to disappointment and failure. Tell me, how many times have you heard a gamer say "Gee whiz guys, I could really use another MOBA to play!" You haven't, because everyone interested in MOBAs already plays Dota 2 or LoL and have no interest in another one. They don't want more games just like Dota 2 and LoL because they are already playing Dota 2 and LoL. People simply don't play multiple MOBAs; you find one you like (Dota 2 or LoL) and you stick with it. Transitioning from one to another is simply too big of a time investment for most people.

Most of all, I don't want to see companies blow money on pointless endeavors when it could have been used on something good. I especially don't want to see more franchises twisted into something they aren't in some grossly misguided cash grab chasing the new bandwagon genre. If you are going to make a MOBA, give us something really new and unique. Awesomenauts did it and last I heard the developers are doing very well for themselves. Don't just try to copy Dota 2 and LoL because you think that a game similar to those two will draw in a bunch of players, because it sure as hell won't.

My first interview!

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So, I bagged my first interview as a game journalist. It was with Lyle Lowery, marketing manager at Privateer Press, and covers some basic questions about Warmachine: Tactics. I tried asking a good mix of questions aimed at both current Warmachine fans and gamers who have never heard of the franchise before. After all, the Kickstarter is attracting attention from (video) gamers that have never played, or even heard of, the tabletop game. I also have a (rather lengthy) new Greenlight Spotlight.

Expeditions: Conquistador Review

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My review for Expeditions: Conquistador is done and on Gameverse. It has some flaws and missed potential, but I'd still recommend giving it a look. The Kickstarter for the Warmachine video game goes live tomorrow. I already have an interview lined up with their PR guy, so we'll be exchanging emails over the next few days and I'll get an article up about the game sometime in the near future.