Magical Mystery Puppy Mill


Age of Wonders 3 is a beautiful game and I mostly use it to do terrible things to wyverns.

There is a mid-level Sorcerer spell called Invoke Extraordinary Mount, and it is exactly what it sounds like: you do an invocation, you get a mount, and it will be extraordinary.

Or a raptor, because what more would you want from forty mana than a bow-legged, land-locked lizard? I never allowed them to hatch. My lands were littered with abandoned eggs, discarded the moment I realised the reptile within was flightless. I was the reason the RSPCA makes adverts.

Did you know that if you give a rat a button which provides it with a pellet, it will largely use it as and when it needs to? The stability keeps it calm. But if the button is unreliable, only paying out five times out of ten, that rat will lose its tiny shit. It will hammer on that button until its little velvety paws quiver with exhaustion, hoard what it gets, and take more than it needs to. There’s a theory that this is the same sporadic reward system that makes humans drop our rent money into slot machines. It’s fascinating.

I like to call it the Unpredictable Wyvern Effect.

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The Nicest Motherfucker

There are (were) two tabletop stores on one street in Glasgow.

One is bright yellow outside and bright-lit inside. It has twice the selection, three times the staff, and what must be the most micromanaged binder of Pokemon cards ever compiled. No matter when you go in, whatever the position of the stars or the waxing of the moon, some guy is rearranging it to some pattern only he knows.

One has wire security doors and a sign so faded that you can’t direct people there by name (and when you do, you tell them not to show up any earlier than one, even though the window says 12:00-17:00). Inside, the bulbs are a little dim and the air is a little cold. Cash, no cards – the owner is still steadfastly holding back the ’90s.

One of these stores doesn’t want to know you, and barely wants to know your money. One of these stores closed down last month.

Yes, of course it’s the bloody nice one.

Looking at these fine establishments, it’s easy to guess which has the unshakeable rep for ‘you want to interrupt our chatting with your customer malarkey?’ shenanigans. It’s the shabby little joint, obviously, else we’d have gone through these contrived parallels for nothing. What, you thought those florid descriptions served nothing greater than a telegraphed gotcha twist? Come, now. We’re both women of the narrative cliche world, you and me. They were in service of a meandering joke about gotcha twists.


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Merry ChristmasBrains


It is half past two, and I am on a coach heading away from London. It is half past two, and I will be on a coach heading to Glasgow until ten to eight.

Every other bugger but me has put out their light, put down their head and gone to, if not sleep, at least some sort of waking delirium. I am a little island of white. I am a crystal jellyfish in an ocean of cut-price public transport. I have four hearts in my pocket and I am very, very happy.

Plastic hearts, I should stress. This was neither the aftermath of Aztecan revelry, nor an ill-considered metaphor for my feminine wiles – especially not the latter; I look like God ran out of faces and had to make do. No, these are cute little pixel hearts printed on cute little plastic rectangles, and they stand as testament to how bad Grant Howitt is at Rock, Paper Scissors.

I love you, Grant Howitt. I love you and your drunken lack of pattern recognition.

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Fairgrounds For Dismissal

'Taro Fair' by rednut on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License

The only game which ever taught me anything was a real classic. Old-school graphics, retro platform, only one real mechanic to speak of: walk through a glass maze, try not to get bruises.

I was-

An indeterminate age. Something-teen. More than four, less than seven. I’d be specific, but my retroactive timestamping reference points – Lord of the Rings films, one Tuesday afternoon, which sibling had cut off which parent – stop working after fourteen. Remove the impossible. Spin the wheel.

-fifteen, it was October, and the Taro Fair was in town.

It was an old-fashioned thing that rolled up once a year and spread itself out across the Heath, spilling stalls and games and rides onto damp grass. In Autumn, it would have been a charming small-town tradition. In Winter, it was a charming small-town flu generator.

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Fallen London is a Lousy Sandwich

'BLT Sandwich + Fries' by punctuated on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Fallen London is a lousy sandwich.

For years I resisted playing it, knowing from the barest descriptions that this game would hook me like cocaine. But last night, in a moment of weakness, I gave in, hid my wallet, and signed up.

It’s…not been the addictive marathon I was dreading.

I understand the theory1 behind the dragged-out, drip-fed mechanics: to stop players from gorging themselves sick. To show them this perfect sandwich, where the bacon is just the right side of crunchy and the lettuce is crisp and the tomatoes, oh, the tomatoes, and to allow them one scrumptious, savoury bite and then to take it away. The anticipation will make the bread softer, the mayonnaise…marginally less disgusting, and the whole experience will just be one of delicately delayed bliss.

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Why Thief 4 Needs to be a Reboot


Why does Thief Mk2 need to be a reboot? Because industrialisation, bitches.

Despite the previous games’ themes of magic vs. technology, there hasn’t been any room for technology vs. artisans. Cogs and levers are too integrated into the setting; you might as well do The People of London vs. Indoor Plumbing. Yes, we haven’t seen any evidence of, say, widespread machine weaving but they can sort out a functional artificial eye, I think they could knock together a clockwork loom.

There is, technically, space for it in the current incarnation of Thief, but you’re gonna need a shoehorn and a mallet to get it in there. In fact, you’re going to need that combo to fit anything into current Thief canon. That timeline’s fuller than Arkham graveyard after a full moon.

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Peter Molyneux is Pretty Alright

Pictured here: a monster thirsting for your tears of anguish.

Pictured here: a monster thirsting for your tears of anguish.

Peter Molyneux’s pretty alright, really. The whole Spinner of Lies, Peddler of Broken Dreams thing never quite jived for me – it requires a level of forethought I’m just not seeing, especially considering the bloke’s biggest problem is talking faster than his team can say ‘hold on, Pete, we’re still not sure that’s possible’.

Over time I have gone from rolling my eyes at his extravagant promises, to wanting to roll a ball of wool across the floor for him because ‘d’aww, he’s just like an excitable kitten’. And you know why? Bawling anti-fans. Irritating hate-junkies. This pernicious and entirely baseless meme that he consistently produces bad games. At this point if the inevitable letdown involved him personally coming to my house, setting fire to my cat and charging me for his taxi fare, I would smile and give it 89%.

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Sit Down, Shut Up, Stop Whining: A Letter to Publishers About Used Games


Dear publishers,

Sit down, shut up, stop whining.

“But it’s taking money from our pock-“

No, it isn’t. Sit down. Shut up. Stop whining.

“You’re screwing over develop-“

That’s your schtick. SD. SU. SW.

“We won’t be able to afford to make gam-“

Rethink your business model. And while you’re at it, have you considered SD, SU, SW?

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Thief 4 Trailer: Still Remarkably Unlike Assassin’s Creed

Despite the prerequisite freaking out from the fans about how Garrett is clearly a ninja now – because gymnast = hired killer, apparently[¹] – having him go out of his way to race around the guard and escape shows an emphasis on non-violent play.

Mind you, anyone who thinks the original games forcefully encouraged pure sneaking and pacifism either never played the originals, or is looking back through a rosy haze. Why do you think the first two gave you an armoury’s worth of broadheads at the start of every mission? It wasn’t for the bloody archery minigame.

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Connection Interrupted

My friend killed herself yesterday and the last thing we did together was play Iron Grip: Warlord.

Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the last thing we did was talk over Steam, her saying I can’t take it anymore and I’ve ruined everything and you remember when I tried to kill myself last year? while I sat, helpless with the distance of 378 miles, and sent back have you called the helpline? and it’ll be okay and *hugs*. But what I remember is Iron Grip: Warlord.

She was a generous player, quick to build and quick to mend, and I loved being alongside her as waves of enemies scrambled up the bridge; just me, my boyfriend and her against the odds. I thought playing with us would make her happier and I think I was right. I hoped it might help her and I was wrong.

You can’t fix depression with three victories and a retry, I knew that. You can’t even fix loneliness. But I wanted it to. I wanted it to chase away her shadows long enough for the helpline to be dialled, the call to be answered. I told my boyfriend yesterday that I hoped we were doing her some good, before I woke up this morning, before I opened my email and found out she was dead. Maybe she was dead when I said it.

I haven’t opened Iron Grip: Warlord today and I’m not sure when I will. There’s a hole in my team. There’s a hole in my team, ZP, and you’re not there.