Freeware PC roleplaying tabletop games

Card Hunter and digital vs physical gaming

Card Hunter wallpaper
Card Hunter has the best visual design for a game I’ve seen in years.

As a regular reader might know, I play a lot of roleplaying games of the paper-based, face to face variety, as well as other tabletop games. So I pay attention whenever digital games approach this realm.

Obviously tabletop Dungeons & Dragons has had a major effect, inspiring digital games from 1970s onwards, and that inspiration has flowed the other way, too, with the current edition of D&D taking a lot of design cues from digital online RPGs (MMOs). My currently running D&D campaign uses a lot of very structured play – rules – and we spend the majority of our time at the table hunched over a map, pushing miniatures around. It is, essentially, a tactical exercise. If you leave out the human interaction and just hanging out with friends, is this something that could be adequately replicated in a digital game? One might think you could even improve considerably, what with today’s 3D rendering and computers taking care of the number crunching.

There is a very interesting case in point in Card Hunter, the beta of which is currently opening up. It makes an infectious, charming effort to take you by the hand and recreate that 1980s kitchen table where you sat down with your teenage friends to play (A)D&D. Even if you never did, I believe the feel-good warmth of it comes through. If you did, it’s equal parts endearing and maddeningly nostalgic. Those days may never return, but this is probably the closest you’re going to get. Card Hunter goes as far as including a newbie game master that stumbles through explaining the game to you, his more experienced, obnoxious older brother, and a pizza delivery girl the GM has a crush on. The game is presented as laid out on a table, surrounded by dice, cheese puffs and soda cans. The actual game components are cardboard, representing collectible cards and cardboard cutout characters on little plastic stands. I find the aesthetic completely irresistible.

Interestingly, Card Hunter’s approach mirrors what’s been happening in the tabletop roleplaying scene for some years now – a return to the simpler pleasures of hitting monsters with a sword and taking their stuff. There’s been a wave of retro-revival games, some of them very good.

Card Hunter is not roleplaying per se – all you do is fight exquisitely balanced tactical battles. Character development is all about equipping the gear you want, which in turn grant you more cards for that character’s deck. Mechanically, it combines the best elements of tabletop roleplaying by way of Dungeons & Dragons and collectible card games. But what you actually do at the table – fight battles over a grid-based layout, considering positioning and powers – resembles our bi-weekly D&D sessions very closely. It’s missing the real life banter and color you get from the characters’ long histories, loyalties and conflicts, ongoing jokes and drama, but the rules level and tactical space is similar.

Card Hunter screenshot
Card Hunter gameplay.

So does the tabletop experience have anything over the digital adaptation, on a mechanical level? You do get to play faster, and the fights resolve much quicker on the sceen, after all.

Even if you count out the face to face interaction, there are things digital games just can’t do, which turn an hours long tabletop confrontation with monsters into a memorable scene, whereas any given fight tends to be forgettable in a videogame – even if the fighting itself is very enjoyable, as is the case with Card Hunter.

I have a longer post coming up on this – the systemic differences of digital and tabletop games – but it’s interesting to see the differences just on the tactical level: grid and characters and powers. Because a videogame rarely relies on imagination, what you see is what you get. Characters on a grid are just characters on a grid, they aren’t actually just representations of the real game that’s taking place in the shared imagination of the players at the table. There are rules for movement and line of sight, but the digital game can’t adapt to surprising changes. You can’t suddenly bring in elements from above the flat game board or change things – unless, of course, they’ve been planned that way from the beginning. As the intensity ramps up in a tabletop fight, the players get crazy creative, using their powers in surprising ways, trying to find a way past their circumstances. In Card Hunter I must pray for the right combination of cards to get me through my “single hit point left and three foes standing” predicament, whereas in a tabletop game I might run away or improvise with a magic missile, perhaps bringing down the roof to buy some time.

And that element of the unknown is what keeps me coming back to the tabletop experience. Even if things start from an equal setup, a different group of players is always going to shape it into something new.

There are things I believe digital games could add to have a better chance of replicating that tabletop freedom of creative play despite basically quite strict and clear rules. But more on those in that longer post.

Freeware PC

Warframe (PC)

Warframe screenshot
Warframe screenshot

The core gamer free to play field is filling fast. Most of my gaming time on the PC is already spent on Ghost Recon Online, with the occasional night of Hawken, Mechwarrior Online or World Of Tanks. Warframe represents something we haven’t really seen before: it’s a third-person dungeoncrawling brawler, with heavy co-op focus. Kind of like Gears Of War with loot grinding, except there’s no shooting from cover.

Other references I could drop: Hellgate London. The setup with reclaiming a lost world from monsters, the general feel of the combat, and the structure of the game, as well as some of the art style, reminds me of that lost opportunity. Then there’s the Dreamcast cult favorite, Phantasy Star Online, which is invoked with the default four-man co-op questing in enclosed arenas.

The fighting is tactical and does require both thought and skill to a degree, but it’s no Devil May Cry. Most closely it resembles Mass Effect’s fighting, if you played that in un-paused realtime, which can get confusing and lacks solidity. It’s not quite competent and a little fleeting as an action game, but for an MMO style fight it’s much more active and skill-focused. It’s a good enough take on an action game to get by.

The narrative is a problem, as you might expect with an action oriented online title. How to narrate, when you can’t require slowing down during the mission, because people are going to be running through maps? Left 4 Dead did this well, but they had the very well understood zombie apocalypse scenario for support. Here they’re trying to convey a world after humanity, with presumably human-manufactured “warframes” being activated to re-take the Solar system from the hostile force. Or something. I don’t quite get what the hostiles are, maybe a sort of alien? They seem to be using human parts. All told, it’s quite powerful stuff, something I’m really a sucker for, but it could use much stronger environmental storytelling, mission assignments, evocative menus and so forth. Since they can’t have us talk to NPCs during a mission, they really should pay more attention to what they can tell.

It’s not like there’s no effort made. The slightly too samey levels do have plenty of intriguing detail and it does leave me wanting to know more. I’ll take mysterious and vague over identikit tastelessness any day.

The level layouts are confusing. While they’re not randomly generated as in Hellgate London, they look like they are, and the layouts feel random. I spend a lot of time lost, tyring to figure out where to go, and I’ve completed entire missions without seeing anyone, including my squadmates, who’ve run off before me, doing everything.

If you play this as a single-player action game – you can – it doesn’t really work. The grindy elements become too apparent, and the fighting isn’t good enough to work solo. But co-op is where it shines. Playing with a group is faster and you tend to run into trouble instead of scouting it out and figuring out your approach calmly, which leads to much more exciting play, but also confused brawls and becoming lost in a quickly evolving situation, spread all over the map. They make the grouping exceptionally easy. It would be very hard to grief in this game, and while the teamplay is nowhere as tight as Left 4 Dead’s, it’s still solid. The defense missions, with waves of baddies converging on a target you’re all protecting, work best as teamplay. In the other missions it’s too easy for the objective to become lost.

Until very recently this would’ve been a pay to play game and as such it feels like a vision of how a lot of games are going to be in the near future. Combined with a game like Warface, a Call Of Duty like multiplayer FPS, playable in a browser – it does actually install and runs a separate executable, I think, but you never leave Chrome – the identity of a videogame is fast changing. It’s all just media that people are consuming wherever they happen to be. The idea of a dedicated game machine may feel antiquated much sooner than we as hardcore gamers like to think. It’s not hard at all to imagine next year’s mobile hardware sizing up to today’s Xbox 360 and PS3 – now six years old technology.

culture Freeware PC

Planetside 2 (PC)

Planetside 2 wallpaper
Planetside 2

I was very excited about Planetside 2. The promise of planet-scale warfare with thousands of other players is something no other game has. It’s enough to make a thirty four year old gamer’s mind spin. It’s inspiring.

After only a couple of hours with the game, I uninstalled it. The reason is not its gameplay, which works fine, even if it’s very disorienting to a newcomer. I had no performance issues, either. What it came down to was art.

How is it that the developers of the game do not seem excited about the promise of Planetside 2? The game is just bland – so bland I found out I have no interest in playing it anymore.

There’s two sides to this and both are big issues in games.

One is technical art quality. If you can’t run the game on “high” settings, it looks very bad.  The “low” settings are reminiscent of bad Playstation 2 titles. This is something many PC games have been suffering from lately. The engines running the games no longer scale properly. Gone are the days when you could be sure that the game would look nice, and it was a matter of how much extra candy you could layer on top. I think this is also the domain of art direction – you should think about how the majority of your players are going to play the game and make sure it’s something you’re happy with.

If you can crank everything up, things do improve. It’s flashy enough and the scale of the game offsets a lot of the problems. What it doesn’t help with is (and this is the second issue) art direction in terms of identity. Not only should you be able to conjure a look that’s your own, you should evoke something that’s worthy of tens and hundreds of hours of play.

Planetside 2’s visual design is not based on anything. It’s cheap Saturday morning cartoon science fiction meets 90s PC gaming – cheap in terms of textures and polygons, lazy in terms of imagination and structure. There is no reason a shooter couldn’t look beyond make-believe ray guns. Aliens is the building block of most Western scifi because it’s so plausible – functional and based on what we know works in today’s world. Star Wars (IV-VI) are so powerful visually because of the believable, used and worn and lived-in look of its whole universe. Even places like the Death Star feel like something that could exist. You can go as far as basing your shooter on art deco like Bioshock did: it doesn’t matter that nobody in your audience knows what art deco is, but they know a consistent, unique, cool look when they see it.

The non-existent basis of the art leads to problems you don’t have when you’re dealing with reality. Even in something completely non-imaginative like Battlefield 3 or Ghost Recon Online, I care more about my avatars because I understand soldiers. I don’t understand these weird classes of Planetside 2 that don’t seem to exist anywhere. An interesting comparison is Tribes Ascend which is directly based on 90s shooters. It doesn’t make any more sense, but there is a stronger (visual) identity present and thus it makes me care.

Even on a purely functional level, there’s a lot the art should address. It’s very hard to tell apart the various guns, gadgets and classes in Planetside 2. It’s hard to even tell apart the fighting sides. Vehicle and building silhouettes don’t evoke anything. It’s just… stuff.

Normally I eat up concept art because it’s so evocative, even when it ends up normalized and weak in-game. In the case of Planetside 2, even the concept art is just as uninteresting. They don’t seem to care, and neither do I. I was insulted by seeing the first enemy tank that killed me. Surely nothing so lazy and worthless should be able to kill me!

Another big budget title that baffles me with its uninteresting art is The Elder Scrolls Online. When it should be evocative and exciting, it comes across as matter of factly and bland, like something directly descended from the “it’s just a game” identity of Everquest.  Compare that to World Of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2, which both have visual identities so strong they make people play them on their looks alone. And this is a world with titles as breathtaking as Morrowind and Skyrim in it! It’s not enough to just present art as a quantity anymore. You need soul in it to stand out.

culture Freeware PC

Hawken (PC)

Hawken screenshot
Hawken. It’s really pretty.

Every artist in the studio knew when that trailer hit. Hawken became a household name overnight. It took a while to register for a larger audience, but if you attended any game tradeshow over the past year or so, you couldn’t miss Hawken. This tiny team out of nowhere was seriously competing with the triple-A productions.

It’s still something of a mystery how they do it. They’re punching so much above their weight it’s like the rules and the laws just don’t apply.

When the previews started hitting, it was obvious Hawken was going to be big. It reaches that place where you’re effectively above casual criticism – you’re great and everybody wants to love you.

It’s now in open beta. I wasn’t too impressed by my time in the closed beta, but hey – happy to be proven wrong! It’s come a long way since, being much more responsive, looking the part, and performing a ways better. There is no way I’m not going to play this a lot in the immediate future. It’s a fast-moving shooter in a super-cool, original world with its own language and mood. It’s free to play and very simple to pick up and run and gun, so go ahead and see if you like it. For me it hits a nice spot between Mechwarrior Online’s slow pace and the too-fast-for-me modern shooters like Call Of Duty.

All of that’s beside the point, because what’s interesting to me is the fact that this phenomenon of a free to play title is a… mecha title through and through. That’s not supposed to be marketable.

Science fiction in general is not supposed to sell – even though, hello, Gears Of War, Halo, Mass Effect – and come on, giant robots. Like anybody gives a toss about those! Today’s marketplace is all about serious soldiers. Mechwarrior was the one somewhat big name way back when, but in the west, there hasn’t been a giant robot IP that did well since.

I was talking to someone who deals with giant robots and markets and he was really surprised to hear that Hawken was a mecha title. “But giant robots and the west don’t mix!” I tried to explain why he had the view that he did and why this could be changed, but did a poor job of it. Here’s a better take on it.

It’s true that there haven’t been very many successful mecha titles in the west since Battletech/Mechwarrior. That franchise enjoys a die-hard reputation among old-time PC geeks, but nobody outside of that group really knows it. It’s so old and clunky, it’s like comparing a 1950s car to whatever the kids want to drive these days. You can’t draw too many conclusions from Battletech.

Myself, I’ve always been all over the mecha designs of the east. I never cared for any of the series they came from. The few games that have found some fans in the west are Armored Core and Front Mission. They are both far too obscure and hardcore for their own good, not built for mainstream audiences, much as I adore them. It doesn’t matter if they were built in the east or the west: this kind of game will never reach a big audience (a dedicated, super faithful hardcore audience? Sure!).

The notable omission from Japanese mainstays is the complete lack of Gundam. The impression is that the western audience doesn’t care for Gundam, but as far as I know, they never really attempted to make it popular over here. I don’t actually know if any of the Gundam shows or game series are any good – the only one I ever played was the decent 2D brawler (SNES, I believe). I just worship the art and design of the machines.

Based on what I’ve seen of Gundam games, I don’t really believe they could be popular in the west. They seem like they’re too much fan service, simplistic gameplay, token fandom. You can’t build them for the fans if you want to grab a western audience that knows next to nothing about your world. As an example, I reviewed one of the recent Naruto games. It was actually really good (much to my surprise, I admit), but I didn’t understand anything that was going on. It was hard to care when I was so painfully obviously not the target audience. I suspect there’s a similar problem with the Gundam games.

So I don’t believe the west care about giant robots per se. You need to have a good game and a world we’re welcome to enter.

That’s what Hawken is doing. It’s a bona fide mecha property, all about the machines, built from the ground up. Everybody is exploring it at the same time, starting with zero knowledge. It’s got a lot that you know: even though you’re customizing a walking tank, it’s not that different from customizing a tank in World Of Tanks. Yeah, it’s gorgeous mecha blowing each other to bits, but it’s the domination gameplay you know from Battlefield. The action is straight out of slowed down Unreal Tournament or even Counter-Strike. It’s a great shooter – just with a cool world and unique looks.

It can compete with anything you care to throw at it. Plus it’s got these cool giant robots.

Hawken has only surprised me once, but it’s oozing quality. Everything they put in there is just shining. The single surprise was my new starter mech, the one that looks like a walking microwave oven or CRT monitor with legs? It’s funny and sympathetic. Pulling that off in a supposedly serious military-themed shooter is a grand feat.

Oh and Transformers? That’s no giant robot series. Watch the trailer for Pacific Rim – though the mecha designs are uninspired, all the mecha tropes are there, straight out of Neon Genesis Evangelion. That’s a giant robot movie.

Freeware PC roleplaying tabletop games

Mechwarrior Online (PC)

Mechwarrior Online screenshot
Mechwarrior Online. There is no third person view.

For years I’ve had Saitek Cyborg 3D USB Gold sitting right above me on the shelf, next to the desktop computer. It’s pretty hardcore. It comes with a hex key. It makes me feel somewhat superior to today’s kids. Who has joysticks these days?

Not that I’ve used it in years. It was initially bought for the original IL-2 Sturmovik (2001) or Heavy Gear II (1999). (Speaking of Heavy Gear, the videogame license has been granted just a couple of months ago to Stompy Bot Productions. This fills me with joy. Do it justice, guys.) Regardless, joysticks are basically only valid tools for flight sims, the these days exceedingly rare space sims and giant robot games. As a man who still dreams, I must have my own joystick so I may pilot a giant robot when the day comes.

That day is here with the open beta phase of the new, free to play, Mechwarrior Online. I never played the original series, not having a gaming PC at the time. I am familiar with the Battletech universe, though, having bought into both the original board game and the pen and paper RPG (also called Mechwarrior). It’s good fun, although as a game it never really grabbed me. The scenario of controlling skyscraper scale robots in gladiatorial combat is very appealing.

Heavy Gear II was everything I ever wanted in a videogame, much like I imagine the Mechwarrior series was for most western mecha fans. Compared to that this new Mechwarrior is slow and limited, but it does a better job of conveying that compelling scenario in the heart of Battletech than the hardcopy games ever did. Marching with your lance mates to meet the enemy, throttling up your ‘mech, assigning weapon groups, it’s every bit the giant robot fantasy. It hasn’t felt this authentic since Steel Battalion.

But how does it fare as a game? They’ve taken a very conservative approach here, not really expanding the game to all the directions it could go. With only the ‘mechs on the battlefield, the fighting feels a little empty, sterile and dreamy. It’s hard to buy into it. But everything that’s strictly about the ‘mech on ‘mech combat just works. As long as you have some semblance of teamwork going on, it’s a very enjoyable game. Few things in online combat feel as good as landing a killing blow to a house-sized fighting machine. Powered by CryEngine 3, it looks and feels the part, too, even if there’s a distinct lack of detail. If they could marry this scale with the bombast of Battlefield 3, we’d have a game I’d be happy to play for years to come. (Hawken is trying just that, as it happens, but it’s closer to something like Unreal Tournament than the slow, methodical, mechanical combat of what a mech experience should be.)

An interesting choice is how expensive the machines are. A basic one will cost you around 10 real money (USD/EUR) or some 3-4 nights of saving up for one, fighting in loaned machines (which don’t award you XP at all). Of course this makes them matter more. Once  you finally do get one, it feels special, even without any customization. As it stands, the customization options are a tad limited. For a mech game, the customization should be the beef, and here it feels rather cumbersome and limited. It just doesn’t compare to something like Armored Core. I would imagine it’s a high priority for them to expand on upon launch.

Somewhat to my surprise, that dear old Saitek still works. If I’m perfectly honest, it’s easier and more effective to pilot with a mouse and a keyboard, but that matters not. Dying with your fingers on four triggers is a worthy death.


Freeware PC

Ghost Recon Online (PC)

Ghost Recon Online screenshot
Ghost Recon Online – you’ll be crouching behind walls a lot

Me and Ghost Recon go way back. Eleven years, all the way to 2001. I’d include Rogue Spear (1999) into the legacy, too, even though it’s technically part of the Rainbow Six franchise, but for me an obsession with Tom Clancy themed shooters started with Rogue Spear. I played that so much I can still recall all the levels (the ship was the best). A couple of years later Ghost Recon blew me away – technically and also gameplay-wise, there was nothing like it. It’s the only game I ever played in a clan. I continued with the series through the GR expansion Desert Siege, but then the lacklustre console versions killed it for me.

I did play through Advanced Warfighter on the Xbox 360, but it’s just not the same. When Ubisoft announced a free to play title, Ghost Recon Online, my heart sank even further. But what do you know – based on one solid evening with it and the first five levels in an assault class, it’s actually pretty good.

Yeah, you’re going to have to deal with the (very well done) third person view except when you’re aiming down the sights. I don’t mind because the animation and connection you get with the game world is so good, and taking cover is a big part of staying alive. The sense of mobility, being able to climb on obstacles and through windows and so forth, really adds to the game. Rushing and sliding from cover to cover, it brings an air of urgency to the otherwise commendably clinical action.

I really dislike the super high-tech way they’re portraying the Ghosts these days. There’s HUD elements all over the place. Though most of it is actually useful, they could remove a lot of needless numbers and text from the screen to calm it down a bit. That said, the HUD is nothing compared to the amount of ridiculous glowing lights and just-about-believable-but-still-dorky high-tech gadgetry all the soldiers are fitted with. I don’t know, I’m really struggling with the esthetics. The soldiers look too much like GI Joe or Ken dolls, rather than deadly professionals. As a weird detail, dead guys turn into these gray versions, almost like they’re untextured. I guess they’re trying to keep it sanitized and bloodless, but it sure looks strange.

But the gameplay does work. It’s very considerate, very much single sniper shot taking you out type of thing, forcing you to work as a team to get through the easily defendable positions. The gameplay is about territorial control in a sequence of control points, and it works well with teams as small as six on a side. I don’t know how much they support at maximum, but it’s still early days for the playerbase. All the classes are getting playtime. It feels much more thoughtful than a Call Of Duty and less explosive than a Battlefield – there are no vehicles. It’s nowhere as slow and methodical as the original GR titles, but there’s still the same feeling of every open area being watched by more than one sniper. Run and gun does not work.

There are not a lot of levels, but they’re of good quality. The basic structure is a tunnel with three lines of attack and easy to defend, hard to reach control points. I’m somewhat surprised to like the very linear subway level the best.

The menu system is very well done (not confusing) and for a game still in beta, they’re doing a good job of telling you how to play the game (and buy stuff). I especially appreciated the short video tutorial with the lead designer.

Technical quality is alright – it looks a lot like an Xbox 360 title, but runs smoothly and comes with proper PC controls. There isn’t much in the way of graphical options (vsync, resolution, vague low/mid/high option), though, and even maxed out, it’s nothing to get excited about. As a free to play title, it’s fine.

The monetization is not bothering me in the least as of yet. You’re getting enough in-game currency by playing well to keep you stocked up on grenades and body armor or special ammunition.

We’ll see if it manages to stay on as a worthwhile military FPS contender, but they’re doing a lot of things right and it’s worth your time if you’re into this sort of thing.

Freeware PC

New PC playgrounds


My four year old graphics card died yesterday. I proceeded to pick up the cheapest “gaming card” I could get off the shelf, which is what I’ve always done. (Tom’s Hardware consulting.) That meant an Nvidia Geforce 250GS at 130€. It’s my first GPU which needs a separate power supply.

Not a PC hardware issue without complications, but this was a very smooth upgrade nonetheless. I didn’t even have to install any drivers as I was already using a GPU from the same family. For some obscure reason, the upgrade did cause my external HDD to disappear. I had to disable Firewire in the Windows device manager for the thing to come up again. Or maybe it was reassigning all the drive letters after C: that did the trick. Don’t ask me why, I don’t even care. Lucky that I don’t need Firewire for anything.

All other components being equal, including the ageing AM2 socketed Athlon 64 X2 processor, the new GPU really breathed life on my PC. I dug out a bunch of games I haven’t been able to properly appreciate until now.

Crysis runs smoothly on medium settings and looks gorgeous. I played it some ways with my old setup, but it was ugly and painful. I am going to check out the recently released Crysis total conversion mod based on the Battletech universe, Mechwarrior Living Legends. Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the free release of Mechwarrior 4.

Empire Total War now runs enjoyably. It seems more of a processor-hog than Crysis, but it’s still nice-looking and entirely playable.

I am going to re-install Need For Speed Undercover, it always struck me as something I’d like to play more of and the added eye-candy is probably all the excuse I need.

I am looking forward to enjoying more of Company Of Heroes, now with higher settings. It already looked good, I expect it to look phenomenal now, despite being a rather old title by now.

Freeware PC roleplaying

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

I have built three characters up to level three in Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited (DDO for short). It’s taken me a week and considering how slow levelling is in DDO, I believe I’ve already spent more time with it than with any other MMO.

I first visited the game some time ago but decided to re-visit it now that it had become free to play. It’s been fun so far. The opening area is well built and written and there’s a good sense of adventure in the proceedings. You get to explore the island and do something fairly epic despite being a first or second level adventurer, including saving a community and facing a grown dragon.

I never really understood the appeal of MMORPGs before playing with my wife. Exploring the game world and our characters and working on our teamwork just brings that much more depth. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering that these are supposed to be multiplayer affairs. I’ve been saying for years that MMOs just aren’t for me, and I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. Seems like such an obvious thing. I really (really!) didn’t understand how much of a difference it would be to play with company. I’m not sure if I’d be happy with just online buddies, but playing side by side with someone in the same room is just great.

That said, I have enjoyed my time soloing my paladin and ranger characters much more than soloing in other games. A part of the charm is the very familiar D&D framework, albeit adjusted for real-time gaming. I have all the races and classes I know and love, and I get to fight all these iconic D&D monsters.

Is DDO a substitute to playing pen and paper D&D, which is also something I long for? To a degree. The same themes and mechanical lures are there. I honestly don’t miss the ability to do whatever I can imagine within the context all that much, but I do miss my own imagination. I don’t like being shown what Eberron looks like, when it’s considerably more high fantasy than I what always imagined my D&D to be. I like my characters, but I don’t like all these cartoon characters with funny names around me – although there are many awesome characters, as well.

But I get to roll twenties.

culture DS Freeware PC

Post I.T. Shooter

Kloonigames has a new game up. Falling resolutely on the “art” side of the “games as art” debate, it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss. It’s a scrolling shooter presented as a stop motion animation, composed of Post-It notes.

Coincidentally, I just bought Space Invaders Extreme for the DS and have been playing that. Pretty great stuff, actually. If only my trigger finger could be pressed to service like in days long gone. Nice tunes, great rhythm and suitably hard.

Freeware PC


I’ve been playing Neotokyo. It is basically Counter-Strike with a Ghost In The Shell skin, and in my books that’s a good thing.

There is just one game mode, Capture The Ghost, and it works very well. It’s capture the flag with a shared objective, being an android torso. Everyone can see where the Ghost is at all times and whether it’s unclaimed or in friendly or enemy hands. Whoever holds the Ghost can use it to see enemy positions. They can then use voice communication to relay the information to their team. This is an excellent mechanic and when you happen into a team where the Ghost is used properly, it really feels like a well-coordinated operation, even with total strangers.

In addition to seeing the Ghost’s location, everyone can see where their team mates are and both friendly and hostile retrieval points. All this information at everyone’s hands leads to the play being usually satisfyingly tactical. It feels very good to work in a team of over ten guys, sensing how a coordinated effort is going to win the day.

There are three classes, all with interesting abilities. The recon can see in the dark, get around quickly and use therm-optic camouflage to remain unseen. The assault class can see moving targets and has limited therm-optic camouflage to compensate for added armor and fragmentation grenades. My favourite class is the support, which can’t go around invisible, but can take a beating and see thermal images, penetrating the smoke he can lay to cover his approach.

When you do well (take out enemy operatives, survive the round, carry the Ghost to retrieval point), you gain experience points, which unlock better guns. There’s a good selection of those, as well.

The maps are a little hit and miss. Some are very atmospheric (nt_ghost_ctg, the android assembly line, is my favourite), but some are lacking in both gameplay and visuals. For the most part, this is very good stuff, though.

For a free mod there’s a nice amount of detail, like the way any sustained damage can lead to blood covering parts of your therm-optic camouflage. Bullets also penetrate more or less realistically.

Neotokyo is a cool take on old themes and gameplay, clad in very nice clothes.