Mark Asher

Magic the Gathering Tactics gets its F.2.P. in your C.C.G.

, | Game reviews

I tumbled down the rabbit-hole with Magic the Gathering Tactics, and like Alice I’ve run into some wonderful things, and also some unpleasant ones. It’s a game with a number of rough edges that costs too much, needs more cards, and likely has balance issues, yet I found myself playing it day after day and thinking about it when I wasn’t playing it. Richard Garfield should be flogged for inventing the collectible card game.

After the jump, Asher in Wonderland Continue reading →


, | Games

At last, Dragon Dictate is now offering speech packs that will let gamers give voice commands to selected games, and yes, one of those games is Second Life. Furries everywhere are chirping with delight. The Boston Herald put Dragon Dictate through its paces:

Playing “Black Ops” with the speech pack was a big improvement from the moment the first mission started. I was used to dying frequently when relying on keyboard commands to do things like taking cover, switching or reloading weapons. But barking Dragon’s voice commands kept me alive longer and also freed me up to strategize more about how to complete my objectives.

In the “Mass Effect 2” role-playing space game, the action is not as fast and furious as a first-person shooter. But the speech pack’s voice commands for this game improved my attacks on opponents and helped me to control my squad more efficiently. The speech pack also really improved the immersion factor, the feeling that you are living in the game world rather than just playing.

I am looking forward to trying it out in PvP with World of Warcraft. “I said, ‘attack gnome!’ not ‘attack no one!'”

Other games that Dragon Dictate has speech packs available for include Starcraft 2, Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Warhammer 40,000 Dawn Of War, Medal of Honor, Pacific Poker, Rainbow 6 Vegas, Splinter Cell Convictions, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The best game ever! Making game lists

, | Games

PC Gamer, the UK version, has published the top 100 games of all time. The top five were posted in the Inquisitor. Here they are:

1. Deus Ex (2000)
2. World of Warcraft (2004)
3. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)
4. Team Fortress 2 (2007)
5. Half-Life 2 (2004)

I haven’t seen the rest of the list, but it appears as time edges onward the older games will be cited less and less in these kinds of lists, tumbleweeds rolling out of sight. Civilization, X-COM, Master of Orion, Doom, Red Baron, and all the other great games published before 2000, and not one of them made the top five? Not one?

For comparison, here’s the top ten from PC Gamer (probably the US version, but I’m not sure) back in 2005:

1. Half-Life
2. Doom
3. Civ 2
4. Half-Life 2
5. WarCraft 3 – Tides of Darkness
6. Diablo
7. Starcraft
8. X-Com UFO Defense
9. Battlefield 1942
10. Fallout

And for a decidedly old-school look at the best PC games, check out PC World’s list. If you’re a codger, it may warm your heart.

(graphic from

“There will have to be a Miracle button”

, | Games

Curious Sense, the developer behind the unforgettable REO Speedwagon game Find Your Own Way Home, is now taking on one of the most iconic bands in the American music scene, the Grateful Dead, according to Rolling Stone magazine. The game will be playable on multiple platforms and devices, though no mention is made of the commercial videogame platforms.

The developers think that the Grateful Dead are “one of two or three perfect bands for this kind of multi-channel game experience,” according to Adam Blumenthal, CEO of Curious Sense, who added that blending digital and real world elements are planned. From the Rolling Stone article:

Examples might include “playing scavenger hunt bingo with mobile phone cameras” where players try to find a Grateful Dead sticker on a Volkswagen camper. Still early in design, many of the game’s core facets remain undefined, but he says the title will reflect themes prevalent in Grateful Dead lore, including Americana, the old west, gambling, Biblical tales, nature, space and journeys. Rather than one single play style, the title is intended to bring many together under a single banner of red, white and blue skulls and dancing bears.

Upon entering the online game, ostensibly designed for play foremost on personal computers, enthusiasts will reportedly be greeted by an interactive, high-tech Grateful Dead universe. Adaptable to individual preference, the game world will be divided into regions filled with mini-games, activities and social events. Settings from familiar songs will host highlighted digital diversions, with familiar characters from popular songs featured throughout.

“Whimsy, surprises and pranks will delight,” says Blumenthal. “There will have to be a Miracle button.”

The Grateful Dead have enjoyed a unique relationship with their fans for decades. Ultimately, the game is about what will drive this special relationship forward into the digital age:

“We want a Deadhead Uncle to be able to buy a Grateful Dead Games gift card at Target to give to his nephew who will redeem the credits and special privileges in the game.”

The garden of forking paths

, | Games

Salman Rushdie likes watching his thirteen-year-old son play Red Dead Redemption. He is intrigued by the idea of a narrative that “goes sideways” instead of from beginning to end and mentions that this kind of narrative is like the idea in Borges Garden of Forking Paths. Games are good, Rushdie says.

Wait — then he goes on to say that games don’t develop intelligence in children and that playing games may erode our attachment to storytelling, leaving open the question as to what that will do to us as humans. As Rushdie says, we are the only story-telling animals on the planet. Games are bad!

There’s a four-minute thirty-nine second clip of Rushdie discussing videogames here at Big Think. Videogames are a central idea in his childrens’ book, Luka and the Fire of Life. Here’s a clip from a NY Times review of the book:

With every heroic task he completes, Luka pushes a button to save his progress, and a new-level number appears in his field of vision. He also gets plenty of extra lives. But while the setting feels like something out of Nintendo, the characters come either from Rushdie’s lively interpretations of mythology or his jovial, limber imagination. A pixelated Fire Bug bursts into “a little cloud of angry, buzzing sparks,” and an army of insult-slinging warriors on flying carpets do battle with a colony of touchy rats.

Gods of Egyptian, Norse, Aztec and Chinese extraction, among others, converge in the final chapters, to stress the diversity of a mythical world eroded by onscreen interfaces. Rushdie isn’t against video games, exactly: Luka’s father cheerily defends them in the novel’s early pages. But the story suggests they are a mythmaker’s chief competition, and Rushdie seems determined to make his book busier than any game, a “supercolossal ultra-exploit.”

Play a game, design some RNA

, | Games

How I long for the days when gaming was as simple as being a drunken space marine trying to bag an elvin chick. Now I can’t even play an online game without also helping advance medical science.

ETeRNA is a free online puzzle game about RNA. I will let the NY Times explain:

Designed by some of the same researchers as Foldit, EteRNA is similar in that it is basically a two-dimensional puzzle-solving exercise performed in this case with the four bases — adenine, guanine, uracil and cytosine — that make up RNA molecules. Players can design elaborate structures including knots, lattices and switches. Unlike earlier efforts at crowd-sourced science, EteRNA will cross over from simulation to biology. Each week the best designs created by game players and chosen by the gaming community will be synthesized at Stanford, according to the scientists.

And these gamer-made bits of RNA will lead to this:

“The dream is that within a year or so we will be able to create RNA that is functional and that we can transcribe into cells to do things such as sense light or even deactivate a virus,” said Rhiju Das, a physicist who teaches in the Stanford biochemistry department and who is one of the designers of the game.

The article quotes says researchers think that RNA can be used to build a biological computer someday.

Gamers competing to design RNA that may someday be turned into a biological computer? What could possibly go wrong?

Bonecraft cumming soon

, | Games

Did I really just type cumming? Tom told me he was trying to elevate the tone around this place. Some ideas need to die a quick and messy death.

Anyway, exciting news from the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo:

A “Bonecraft” computer game at the expo was pitched as a spoof on popular videogames “Starcraft” and “World of Warcraft.”

The game opens with drunken space soldiers crashing on a planet with troll-like “orcs” and Elvin women.

“The space Marines start fighting the orcs to get with the Elvin women,” said a ‘Bonecraft’ spokeswoman who gave her name only as Sarah. “The goal of the game is to have more sex with Elvin women.”

And what a fine goal that is! Starcraft II, meet my dusty shelf. It’s Bonecraft time!

John Riccitiello’s “dirty little secret”

, | Games

How’s that for a headline, and I hope I misspelled his name and took game journalism down even lower. What could his secret be? That he paid $2000 on eBay for shoes worn by Rex Ryan’s wife? Probably did, but that’s not really a secret. Is it that the EA top banana looks at World of Warcraft revenue and has a secret man-crush on Acktard’s Bobby Kotick? There could be something to that, but no, that’s not this secret. In an article at he says that digital sales for PC will overtake brick and mortar sales this year, which is sort of interesting but not really. This, however, gave me pause:

The free-to-play model has been a huge boon for EA. Riccitiello noted, “Our highest ARPU (average revenue per user) are free-to-play games among paying users. You think about that and say, ‘how can a free game be the game they pay the most for?’ We have people who are giving us $5,000 in a month to play FIFA Ultimate Team. And it’s free. Dirty little secret.”

Riccitiello then rubbed his hands together and giggled.

People are paying five grand a month to play FIFA? That sure made me stop daydreaming about Ashton Kutcher’s abs. What are they paying for? More kicking tees for the field goal kicker? New helmets? I don’t get it.

This woman has never played a videogame!

, | Games

And that’s why Betty White is still alive and ready to repopulate the world with Ashton Kutcher after the social order collapses, according to a study conducted in Scotland:

People who exercise regularly but still love the box are just as likely to keel over as couch potatoes, research revealed yesterday.
The reason is thought to be that simply sitting for so long causes coronary problems.
Computer game addicts also increase their heart attack risk by 125 per cent – as do office workers who spend too much time at their desks.
Smoking, high blood pressure and being overweight simply ADD to the peril, research by University College London found.

Well, at least I don’t smoke!

Games I want to see made: Wild Boars Chasing Dumb Celebrities

, | Games

Recently Ashton Kutcher made comments about how people should get as fit as possible. Maybe he was joshing. Maybe it was just an elaborate joke that tied in to his interview that’s the cover story for Men’s Fitness. Or maybe he’s ready to move to Australia and bunk with Grimoire non-developer Cleve Blakemore in his underground vault. Here is why we have to get in shape, according to Kutcher: We are going to lose our electricity and this will be…The Apocalypse!

“It won’t take very much, I’m telling you. It will not take much for people to hit the panic button. The amount of convenience that people rely on based on electricity alone. You start taking out electricity and satellites, and people are going to lose their noodle. People don’t have maps anymore. People use their iPhones or GPS systems, so if there’s no electricity, nobody has maps.”

Dear god, in a world without maps how will I ever find my way to my local Hooters? It gets worse, though:

“And people are going to go, ‘That land’s not yours, prove that it’s yours,’ and the only thing you have to prove it’s yours is on an electric file. Then it’s like, ‘What’s the value of currency, and whose food is whose?’ People’s alarm systems at their homes will no longer work. Neither will our heating, our garbage disposals, hot-water heaters that run on gas but depend on electricity – what happens when all our modern conveniences fail? I’m going to be ready to take myself and my family to a safe place where they don’t have to worry.”

So what game do I want? A tower defense game would be interesting: How long can Ashton hold out as the mindless cannibals attack? No, that’s not really it.

Kutcher has been running in the canyons near his bunker to get in shape, and he is spurred on in his runs by “visions of being chased by a wild boar.” There’s something Freudian there, but I’m not sure what it is — let us hope Ashton someday gets over his inner struggle and finds peace.

So here’s my dream game, and it’s simple: I play a boar. I chase down Ashton Kutcher. And when I catch him, the world’s collective I.Q. rises dramatically. Queue the Mario power-up music.

O Cleveland! First LeBron… Now this!

, | Games

A Cleveland man is doing some serious time in jail for pirating PC games and selling them on eBay and Amazon between 2005 and 2009.

“According to federal agents, Qiang “Michael” Bi of Powell, Ohio, purchased legitimate retail copies of various computer games, duplicated the games illegally, and then sold them for $9.95 on eBay and Amazon.”

He was initially given a 90 day suspended sentence but when the judge discovered that one of the games Bi was selling was Rogue Warrior, the judge changed the sentence to 30 months in prison and ordered him to pay the court $367,669 in cash, as well as ordering him to forfeit his house, a car and computer and electronic equipment. The Judge then lectured Bi:

“I believe at your core you are a good person,” Judge Marbley told Bi. “You made a gross error in judgment … Rogue Warrior? That terrible game with the Mickey Rourke voiceover? Dude!”

Of course, all this probably took place in an alternate dimension:

“Investigators found that Bi had sold the games from 2005 through December 2009 for $10 rather than the $20 retail price for an original new game.

“Investigators estimated that the value of the games Bi counterfeited and sold would have been $700,000 at retail.”

And that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the eleventy billion dollars a year that game publishers have scientifically proven they lose due to piracy.

Fun Inc. is a little light reading

, | Games

There’s a new book out about gaming, Fun Inc., by Tom Chatfield. It seems to be getting some traction in the press. From The Guardian across the pond:

“Chatfield’s open-minded approach allows games to be a window to human experience. Did you know, for example, that the amount of time a jump lasts in a game is remarkably consistent across a whole range of titles? A game jump is “around double the duration of the time that an ordinary human can lift themselves off the ground for”. Or that, in online games which could theoretically award millions of (imaginary) gold pieces and mystic swords to every player, “the most successful… emerged as those that imposed brutal regimes of scarcity on their players”? What does it say about us that, given a potential electronic heaven where all our wishes could be granted, we have opted to create starkly unequal worlds, where there’ll never be enough mystic swords for everyone?”

Chatfield is also mentioned in a Financial Times article about gold farmers. It all is a bit more high-minded than I care for, but all you games-as-art people might enjoy it. I will continue to work on my real life jumping so I can jump as high as my WoW character. Of course, Ashton Kutcher will still be able to outjump me….stay tuned for that later today.