Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Black Ops II And Gratuitous Space Battles Can Be Played For Free This Weekend

So gratuitous…

Maybe you’d like to play some games this weekend? Maybe you’d like them to be completely free? Maybe you’d also like them to be games you don’t own; games that will stop letting you play them on Sunday unless you pay a reduced price to secure their continued use? That’s a bizarre set of conditions, but whatever, Steam’s got you covered. BothCall of Duty: Black Ops 2andGratuitous Space Battlesare holding Free Weekend trials, giving you unpaid access to two completely different ends of the gaming spectrum.

Gratuitous Space Battles is a sci-fi strategy in which you design spaceships, construct a space-fleet, issue space-orders and then watch as your space-squadron battles it out against an army of spacejerks. In space. It’s currently 75%, with the generously stocked Complete Pack costing ?3.49.

CoDBlOps 2 is a purgatorial nightmare in which you’re forced to endlessly and repetitively kill aggressors, all while smug and indifferent soldiers babble in an alien language of numbers, Zs and Xs, performing depraved rituals like“Noscope” and… Oh wait, it’s just a relatively fun arcade FPS. It’s 33% off, at ?26.79.

Both trials will end at 9pm GMT on Sunday, at which point you’ll have to start playing games you actually own or something.

Prison Architect’s Alpha7 Update Bangs Up The Backers

The latest Prison Architect update celebrates the incarceration management sim’srecent milestonesby inserting the faces, names and bios of all backers who’ve pledged the required amounts. Players who’ve paid at least $50 can find themselves in the new Name in the Game option, and request to have themselves transferred to their jail.

Which means you can now watch helplessly as you’re shanked in your own prison. Weird.

Other additions in this new update include upgraded door unlocking, which stops prisoners from freely wandering about of their own accord, and a brand new feature called“changing the game’s resolution.” Sounds resolutionary.

It’s not too late to get your name and face added to the list of Prison Architect’s wrongdoers. Introversion have set up a newUpgrades pageto let people increase their pledge amount. Or, if you just want to buy the game, you can do thathere. At least, you can when the website comes back online. It seems to have escaped right now.

What We Want To See From Avalanche’s Rumoured Mad Max Game

Article by Nathan Ditum

Last year filming finally wrapped on a fourth Mad Max movie, subtitled Fury Road, after decades of stop-start development. We've known for some time that a tie-in game was also in the making, with God Of War 2 director Cory Barlog mentioning the project as early as 2008.

Since then Barlog has moved on but the screenshot above,tweetedby Avalanche Studios founder Christofer Sundberg, seems to give weight to persistent rumours that the Just Cause developer is now making the game. This would be a good thing, Just Cause having a blend of open-world freedom, vehicle-heavy mayhem and attaching people to exploding objects that scream "YES, THIS" to anyone familiar with Mel Gibson's pre-sugar titted big screen heyday. Here are some other things we think would make for an excellent Road Warrior game.

Customisable Cars

This is really stating the obvious on a level comparable to suggesting upcoming shooters should remember to have guns. But there are customisable cars and there are customisable cars - the post-civilisation modification of recognisable twentieth century road vehicles in the Mad Max films results in a fleet of ragged industrial hulks copied liberally by any number of existing videogames, and which comes with its own cult following (includingfabulously dated, in-depth websites). The look of the new film will obviously have an impact here, but it's hard to imagine playing a Mad Max game with vehicles that don't match this specific, influential style, and don't incorporate a junkyard approach to upgrading and personalising. Basically what we're saying is, make the vehicles look worn, real and dangerous, and if the supercharged Ford Falcon XB coupe isn't on board, then neither are we.

Driving combat

The first Mad Max film defied its tiny budget to make a lasting impression on the vocabulary of action cinema, creating chase sequences that weren't just fast but loud, muscular and traumatic. Should Avalanche indeed be involved we can take heart from the occasional magic of Just Cause's improvisational, toyboxy vehicle play (as seen above), but Mad Max will need something heavier and more grounded too, a weighty sense of mortality hanging over every grinding sideswipe and last-ditch game of chicken. Let there be jagged zooms and nitro boosts, let there be steel harpoons and flamethrowers, let there be a feeling of consequence and thoroughgoing murder.

An open world

This is crucial for two reasons. The fiction of Mad Max is founded fundamentally on the character of Australia. Being a big-ass desert, fuel and the ability to drive are key if you're to move any distance that registers on its colossal size. This is why Mad Max is about the battle for the roads, and why an ability to explore and survive on an open network of these roads is a must-have feature of any game. An open world is also important to Max himself. He's a husk, not a hero, a wanderer with a keen sense of survival and a reluctant moral streak - he shouldn't have a mission, as such, his story should come from the people he encounters on his endless, automatic journey. A bit like Codemasters' Fuel– pictured above– only loads better.


Related to this sense of the story coming from the people Max meets - all three of the existing films are defined by the survivors they feature. Each one creates fascinating "what ifs" of post-civilisation existence - the almost 2000 AD-like pursuit cops and frenzied road gangs of the first film, the peaceful refiners and even more feral raiders of the second, and most thoughtfully, the third film's rigid society of Bartertown ("break a deal, face the wheel") and haunting oasis of plane crash orphans with their hope of salvation and tales of Tomorrow-morrow Land. Extend (rather than copy) this approach and a Mad Max open world could be filled with tantalising myths, ideas and remnants.

Barter economy

Interaction with different clutches of survivors will mean trade, exchange, and the necessary grunt work of restocking game items. But it doesn't have to mean the same old currency transactions - to really capture a sense of Max's world, we'd like to see an economy designed around the principles of bartering and the primacy of fuel, which is now the most valuable commodity in the world. Does this mean Max learns carpentry to make high-end spoons which he then swaps for engine parts and ammunition? To quote a favouriteweb comic, that's not our fucking job (also - we really hope not) but the important thing is that some thought be given to the film's imaginative treatment of functional economies.

Those are our must-have features. Get down to the comments section and let us know what’s on your wish-list.

Dreamfall Chapters Gameplay Trailer Travels To The Neon-lit Streets Of Cyberpunk Europolis

Red Thread’s Dreamfall ChaptersKickstarter campaignhas done an impressive job stirring up anticipation for the next tale in The Longest Journey’s saga, passing the $1 million mark to achieve promised stretch goals for added lore, Mac and Linux support, andsolemn-looking monkeys. With more support needed to drum up an additional $1 million inextra funding, Director Ragnar T?rnquist and Writer Dag Scheve host a brief in-game tour of the brooding cyberpunk city in a new gameplay trailer.

“Europolis is the dark heart of Europe,” T?rnquist says.“Gone are the days of economic growth and prosperity. Europe has become a dystopian, urban-industrial wasteland. Europolis is a cyberpunk vision of the future--dark, crime-ridden alleys, neon signs, seedy nightclubs, and opium-den-like dream factories where people go to escape their dreary realities.” Well, there goes my summer vacation plans.

The city spans the former countries of Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and the Netherlands as part of Stark, an alternate depiction of near-future, techno-dense Earth and the counterpart to Arcadia, a fantasy plane of magic and nature.

It’s as cyberpunk as a city gets--boulevards of neon jungles, sheets of rain, and gloomy pedestrians huddled beneath umbrellas for a strong Blade Runner vibe. A Vangelis synth track would feel right at home in Europolis’ metro-noir, but the warbles of the trailer’s ambiance suggests Red Thread has the city’s atmosphere well in hand leading to Dreamfall Chapter’s planned November 2014 release.

Will Wright And Ocean Quigley Talk About SimCity’s “guilt-driven Experience”

The newest video forSimCityfeatures franchise creator Will Wright sitting down with Designer Ocean Quigley to discuss how citizens react to player’s benevolent and malicious actions. Quigley tells the sim legend that he wants the player’s emotional investment with a populace to stay high throughout his or her mayoral career.

“One of the things I wanted to do with SimCity was to make you feel more responsibility for the the little people that lived there, because you can do all these horrible things to them,” explains Quigley.“You can poison them, burn down their houses, and because of your crappy economic decisions, they go homeless.

“So when that happened to them, you would have this guilt, you would feel this twinge of emotion about your responsibility for the life opportunities for these people in this world that you created.”

Like its predecessors, SimCity eschews a moral compass in favor for greater player control to fashion blissfully happy settlements or disaster-wracked hives of hell. Quigley’s comments echo what Lead Designer Stone Librande told us on thetopic of torture:“It's less like torture in The Sims, and more like messing with an anthill. So you can tell a story like,‘I'm the mean mayor, I killed them all,’ or you can tell the story like,‘I evicted them all and they left.’”

Back to the video discussion, Wright jokingly suggests Quigley’s intention is to“make SimCity a guilt-driven experience,” but Quigley fires back with his belief that“guilt is an underxploited emotion in videogames.” I might feel some guilt-pangs after letting my city become a sewage-flooded mess, so maybe I’ll keep that within the sanctuary of SimCity’ssandbox mode.

The Curious Case Of StarCraft’s Harvester Pathfinding Hack

StarCraft 2

Even the most mundane game mechanics sometimes boast extraordinary origins. In the StarCraft series, resource collectors ignore collisions whenever traveling to or returning with minerals. It’s a type of unit behavior universally experienced by every commander, but its beginnings tell a far more interesting story: ArenaNet co-founder and former Blizzard senior programmer Patrick Wyatt writes in aretrospective articlehow the simplified pathfinding arose from a quick and dirty hack to meet a looming release deadline for the original 1998 RTS.

“Because the project was always two months from launch, it was inconceivable that there was enough time to re-engineer the terrain engine to make pathfinding easier, so the pathfinding code just had to be made to work,” Wyatt recalls.“To handle all the tricky edge cases, the pathing code exploded into a gigantic state-machine which encoded all sorts of specialized‘get me out of here’ hacks.”

The trickiest problem for StarCraft’s programmers involved harvesters clogging up the area around mineral nodes as they jostled for free grid space on the terrain. The issue snowballed at that point--cash-flow screeched to a halt because of the traffic jam, and the player’s bases and armies would fall apart as a result.

StarCraft Brood War

Wyatt’s solution forsook elegance for expediency, but it worked:“Whenever harvesters are on their way to get minerals, or when they're on the way back carrying those minerals, they ignore collisions with other units. By eliminating the inter-unit collision code for the harvesters, there is never a rush-hour commute to get jammed up, and harvesters operate efficiently.”

What’s more interesting is that Blizzard never removed the hack. Because of its effectiveness, it remained in subsequent releases in the franchise--yes, even StarCraft 2--and ingrained itself deeply into basic harvester strategy. Savvy eSport athletes even leveraged the hack as an unconventional tactic during tournaments--the2008 Brood War OSL matchupbetween July and Best is perhaps the most famous demonstration of using harvesters to sail through a blockade.

Wyatt goes into further detail on StarCraft’s grid design similarities with the WarCraft games and how pathfinding was affected during development. It’sa truly fascinating read.

The Night Of The Rabbit, A New Adventure Game From Daedalic, Coming May 29

Earlier this week, German studio Daedalic Entertainment announced thatThe Night of the Rabbit(formerly known as“The Rabbit’s Apprentice”) will release internationally on May 29, and called the game its“biggest adventure game so far.”

The puzzle-adventure stars a 12-year-old boy who dreams of being a wizard (didn’t we all?), and borrows at least a little from the likes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia--the premise has the boy meet a magic, scheming,“elegantly dressed” rabbit who whisks him into a fantastic world. Rabbits man, they’re often magic, usually scheming, andalwaysdapper.

We expect to see The Night of the Rabbit on Steam and GOG, where you can find other Daedalic adventures, such asChaos on Deponia. Below are a few more screens--you can really see the power of Daedalic’s integrated high-speed charm generation engine.

Tomb Raider Trailer Shows Combat Moves, Resulting Blood-’splosions

The spry Lara Croft tumbles onto PCs on March 5, but Square Enix is taking a machete to the wait with another look at Tomb Raider’s combat, which apparently involves the good Ms. Croft’s natural skill at wanton slaughter. Stealth takedowns, melee slug-outs, and shooting sprees all show up, though the common result throws a lot of blood everywhere and turns the young adventurer into a rather brutal killer.

You’re also shown howupgrading at campfiresand discovering tombs to raid improves your arsenal and unlocks secondary combat abilities such as a rather messy pickaxe backstab and the option to stab bandits in the face with an arrow. In fact, there’s lots of stabbing going on in this trailer. Also, exploding barrels! Even a desolate tropical island is the perfect home for those classic, illogical game cylinders.

Square Enix says you’ll encounter“rare opportunities to cause larger explosions,” a fine plus for bloodthirsty survivalists but also another way of saying,“Prepare to run into the scripted-event monster.” Still, Tomb Raider’s various scraps look interesting enough, if only diluted somewhat by the linear impression of it all. I’m still hopeful for an engaging action-platformer on March 5.

What To Watch: The Week In ESports (February 22-28, 2013)

This week in eSports: EVE Online gets its first ongoing, competitive league. The IPL could be changing hands. And only the final four remain in the GSL Code S. Get ready to face-check your weekly helping of competitive gaming news. gl hf!

EVE launching Syndicate Competitive League

Organized, competitive spaceship scraps have been around for quite a while in EVE Online. Now, for the first time ever, theSyndicate Competitive Leagueis framing structured PvP in an ongoing format with regular, live streamed tournaments, commentators, and rankings. The prize pool will be drawn from sponsors within the EVE community, such as Monocle Madness and EVE-Bet.

You can check out theofficial sitefor more.

IGN ProLeague looking to change hands

As part of the restructuring that was announced for IGN and its affiliated sites this week, Ziff Davis CEO Vivek Shah has announced his intentions to sell off the IPL. He revealed in an e-mail (viaPolygon) that Ziff is“actively engaged with parties interested in acquiring IPL. IGN’s role going forward will be to broadcast and cover a variety of eSports events.”

IPL is a relative newcomer to the eSports scene, having launched in 2011 with a focus on StarCraft II. Their most recent season offered a $100,000 prize pool, with the top spot claimed by Leenock. If you havee a chunk of change sitting around and want to own an eSports league, this kind of opportunity probably isn’t going to come around terribly often.

We’re not sure how this will affect the IPL Season 6, still tentatively scheduled for March 28-31 in Las Vegas. We’ll let you know as soon as we know more.

StarCraft II

Blizzard released its final preview video for Heart of the Swarm this week, focusing oneSports-centric features. Resuming games from the exact moment of a hardware failure and fully-customizable observer UIs are sure to change the way we watch StarCraft II over the course of the next year. And it’s all coming just in time for some of the most intense events of 2013.

Upcoming Events

Four players remain in theGSL Code S: Symbol, Curious, TaeJa, and RorO. By this time next week, only two will stand. The most prestigious match in all of competitive StarCraft, the GSL Code S finals, are scheduled for March 9.

Watch it:GomTV

MLG’s Winter Championship Showdownshave qualified five more players for the main event in Dallas on March 15: Ret, Creator, Mvp, Seed, and MarineKing. We’re more than halfway through the Showdowns series, with the qualification matches of prominent players such as MC, TaeJa, IdrA, and HuK still on the line. MC vs aLive, this Sunday at 2 p.m. PST is a particularly anticipated match.

Watch it:Major League Gaming

Other Stuff

In a cosmic twist of fate, Day[9]‘s recent Funday Monday (focused on Terran drop harassment) featured players“TheButcher”and“[QUAD]DaMilkMan,” two current roommates who went to school with yours truly. In Johnson County, Kansas. Where Day[9] also went to school, a couple years earlier and a very short drive away. And here I am writing about it.

He also released aHeart of the Swarm-focused Newbie Tuesday, for those of you looking to jump in/jump back in when the expansion releases in a few short weeks.

In StarCraft, I constantly have this problem where I’m trying to engage something, but I’ve forgotten the rules for doing so. Axslav has us covered again this week, as usual, withRules of Engagement. Check out the high-level breakdowns of the ongoing Winter Championship Showdowns.MVP vs Curiousis particularly interesting, showing off how a top-tier player uses Reapers in their new (and probably finalized for HotS at ship) role.

League of Legends

Curse is currently leading the LCS Season 3 with an undefeated 6-0 record, followed by Dignitas at 5-2 and TSM Snapdragon at 4-2. You can check out the full match schedule on Riot’seSports Pro Site. Check out some highlights from Week 2 put together bytheoveNTVin the video above.

Other Stuff

New player looking to get in on the competitive LoL action but aren’t sure where to start? Have a look at long-standing community resource siteMobaFire. It’s continually updated with guides for specific characters that are voted on by the community, and generally does a pretty good job of making sure things relevant to current patches and metagame strats are easy to find.

Dota 2

Eizo, prominent sponsors of DreamHack (possibly Europe’s biggest eSports event) have announced a partnership with joinDOTA to bring theirEizo Cupto Valve’s MOBA. 16 teams will compete every month for EUR1,750 in prizes. joinDOTA has announced coverage in English and Czech, with more languages provided by“all other streamers who are interested in broadcasting the matches.” The fight begins Monday.

Watch it:Eizo Cup

The list of surviving teams inThe Defense 3is shrinking. Only Dignitas, Virtus Pro, Team Liquid, Mousesports, Evil Geniuses, and Fnatic remain. The next match is Liquid vs Mousesports in the lower bracket, scheduled for Monday.

Watch it:The Defense

Other Stuff

Valve has announced the addition of user-submitted Hero Guides to Steam. You’ll be able to create, share, and browse strategies for specific heroes right from the Steam client, with more functionality than currently exists with the standard Steam Guides. You can read more inthis blog post.

That’s it for this week, eSports faithful. Let us know in the comments what you think of this week’s stories, if there’s anything to add, and what eSports events you’re most looking forward to in the coming weeks.


Saturday Crapshoot: Castle Knatterfels: Curse Of The Zombie Krauts

Every week,Richard Cobbettrolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, Nazi zombies once again run amok in a spooky German castle full of mad necroscience… but it sure as hell‘aint Wolfenstein this time around.

Castle Knatterfels– Knatterfels being German for“Worst Shooter Ever”– is a game that really makes you think.“I think my clicking finger is falling off,” for instance.“I wonder what asbestos tastes like,” from time to time. Mostly though,“What weretheythinking?” Aside from“Heh, boobies,” obviously.

Wolf-Whistlenstein 3D here has a good claim to being one of the dumbest games ever, in every sense of the word. It’s one of those games that figures its audience will be so excited by the opportunity to see not even badly rendered nudity, but badly rendered lingerie, that the interconnecting tissue (Kleenex, presumably) doesn’t matter even a little. It goes one step beyond most though, by putting what we have to charitably call‘the good stuff’ on the death screen to be browsed at leisure, thus removing any need to actually descend into this nadir of fun and discover that the ending walks off with a Guinness World Record for being even lazier than what preceded it. This is actually quite an achievement…

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Operation Wolfenstein here starts with the longest, most pointless text scroll since the Uwe Boll classic Alone In The Dark– and if you want to read the whole thing, click the snippet above and then go find purpose in your life. Volunteer at Cat Rescue, for instance. Donate a pint or two of your blood to my proposed Greatest Water Balloon Fight Ever. Your call.

In summary though, you are world-renowned porn photographer Huge Beefner, and that is your real name, creator of the internationally renowned jazz mag CASTLE MAIDEN. The Playboy Mansion? Pah! Everyone knows it doesn’t get sexier than giant spooky castles full of Nazi science. Either that or this game’s creators had heard the goth scene was big, but thought everyone meant theVizigoths.

If you’re the best the Third Reich has to offer, we’re officially renaming your leader Adolf Shitler.

This is genuinely the story here, and of course, while the this game– or more likely, the game’s translator– saw no problem with the whole“Curse Of The Zombie Krauts” thing, the sexy side soon ends up being a sheepish and nervous as these things always seem to be. There’s no actual nudity, just girls in bikinis that clearly don’t fit– just check the image above for that. Its attempts to sound edgy are just… well… sad.“Mansfield, Monroe, Russell– I have photographed them all for my magazine, in the scantiest clothing imaginable!” boasts the intro.“It goes with the job that I have a jet set lifestyle– or do you think you can find women like that in the hamburger joint on the corner?”

Please. Church groups hit the beach in skimpier bikinis than this, and that’s just the vicars!

Half-naked doesn’t mean as much when everyone else is stripped to the bone.

Much like ancient John Goodman movie King Ralph, everything goes wrong when a lighting rig causes a short circuit, only this time spawning an army of the undead instead of a terrible comedy. Your mileage may vary on which is worse, but the result ends up being less Wolfenstein than Operation Wolf.

There is a chance that what follows may look like a fun blast. It is not.

You may have felt your mouse-clicking finger twitch in sympathy during that. If so, it is psychically appreciated. Castle Knatterfels is level after level of pure endurance, taking the simplest shooting gallery concept imaginable, adding girls in bikinis popping up as if to go“Toasty!” every now and again, and somehow managing to be more pointless than a blank box saying“SEXY GOES HERE”.

(Especially later on, when you’re routinely gunning down zombie bikini girls, at which point they only serve to waste your precious ammo. Get out of the way, idiots! And put some clothes on!)

What’s that? You’re trying to kill me with an axe? Come a bit closer, sweetie…

How many ways does this game suck? Let’s see. For starters, enemies don’t actually move or throw any kind of projectile that you might be able to deal with. A zombie will spring up miles away and wave his hand, and that seems to count as a hit. Stages always scroll, so you’ve got thing popping up all over the place whether you’re looking at them or not and cover does absolutely nothing to protect you. Weapons have painfully little ammo, and pick-ups only give bullets to the gun you’re using. As for those guns, automatic weapons… well, aren’t. There’s a reason most of these games default to using a chunky machine gun and let players spray indiscriminately like they’re in a music festival Portakabin. It means far less finger blistering, and far more of that‘fun’ thing that’s quite popular in the industry.

Finally, far from trying to take out the hordes, all you’re really doing is holding out until the timer expires. That puts you ridiculously at the mercy of health pickups appearing at the right time, and makes accidentally triggering a time bonus pick-up the equivalent of elbowing yourself in the face.

And that isn’t even possible!

Can’t help think that‘THE DEAD HAVE RISEN!’ might be a better sell than‘LOOK IT’S A GIRL IN A BIKINI!’

The reward for this, aside from every minute spent doing it knocking off two minutes in any purgatory you may find yourself in after death, is to have your lady friends to go“Meh,” at being pursued by zombies, Nazis, other models turned into succubi and spiders and whatever, and instead take the time out to wave their wobbly bits in front of a camera. Live fast, die young, become a beautiful zombie, I guess…

Okay, girls, time to put those weapons away, pick up some real guns, and help Tarantino these Nazis.

These sequences are better than the rest of the game, though only by default– other things in that category including stubbing your toe on the door, having your fingernails ripped out by the KGB, and the song“Call Me, Maybe.” It’s a timing based puzzle, as you stand miles and miles back to snap the most boring smut in the world, with a skeleton trying to photobomb the girl as she focuses and defocuses while the rest of the screen doesn’t. Succeed, and you get a better weapon to add to your arsenal for the next zombie wave, and lingering questions about where the hell she was keeping it.

For his trouble, our main character also gets unforgettable cheesecake shots like… uh… this.

Yep, that was worth fighting Nazi zombies to- Wait, you Photoshopped it? Just do that and avoid this mess, idiot!

The lack of any real tactics makes it easy to race through most of the game in one or two sittings, depending on health power-ups and if you accidentally slip into a state of torpor somewhere between stages 3 and 4. By the second though, it’s not the sexiness that stands out so much as the slip-ups in palette that make everything very visibly different art assets half-heartedly smushed together– spiders especially come from a mysterious land where artists haven’t heard of this thing we call‘gamma correction’. When the ending comes, it’s low-resolution in a way that suggests everyone involved figured almost nobody was going to see it anyway, and consists entirely of one quick visual gag and a last minute revelation about our hero that it probably wasn’t worth waiting the entire game for…

That’s right. You spent the whole game wearing the ugliest trousers in the world. TWIST ENDING!

Oh, my. No wonder the zombies didn’t invite him to their sexy afterparty.

It is, after all, a dead classy affair.

Let’s Reboot… Unreal

Unreal's most enduring legacy has been its engine tech. It's a shame. Not because Epic's awesomely powerful development toolkit is undeserving of its industry-dominating status, but because it now overshadows one of the most spectacular and evocative singleplayer experiences in gaming history. Unreal needs to come back, and it needs to use Epic's ever-increasing engine grunt to deliver a shooter as exotic and expansive as was suggested by the original.

“I want Unreal by way of Far Cry 3 with a little bit of The Witcher 2 on the side. I don't ask for much.”

But to truly deliver on that vision, it might have to make a departure from the kinds of shooters that Epic now tends to make: linear cinematic shooters. Unreal suggested a future not of tightly controlled set-pieces and cut-scenes, but of sprawling landscapes, complex histories and interesting alliances. An Unreal of today– at least, the awesome Unreal I can imagine– would have to be expansive, perhaps even an open world, and allow for a richer interaction with its inhabitants than was possible by waggling an Eightball at them. I want Unreal by way of Far Cry 3 with a little bit of The Witcher 2 on the side. I don't ask for much. Well, okay, I do– but surely no more than Epic's deep, deep pockets can fund.

I've banged on aboutwhy I love Unrealbefore, but here's the Cliff's Notes version: it crashes you into an alien world of (once) unprecedented scale and cohesive imagination. Stepping out of the ruined prison ship in which you were incarcerated, you find yourself in a place both familiar and alarmingly alien. It has its own history and its own politics– a subjugated tribal people, crushed by a race of lizard men, themselves under the command of a brutal invading hi-tech species, the Skaarj.

The first meeting with the Skaarj was terrifying.

As you fight to escape the planet itself, you unturf the world's many strata of civilisation. You wade through long-abandoned Mesoamerican-style water temples, and clamber across the rickety remnants of a Tibetan-ish mystic tradition, clinging to a cloud-puncturing bluff. European-style medievalism follows, then industrial mining operations and finally an ascent through technology towards the stars. All the while, you unravel the world's history through lore books and data pads, ultimately liberating its people.

“It’d be a missed opportunity to retell it as a series of corridor gun-battles.”

I mention these particular things instead of Unreal's (excellent) shooter credentials because these are the areas in which a reboot could really stand to expand and improve. It would be a missed opportunity to simply retell this story as a series of corridor gun-battles, as it was Unreal's sense of place, not its plot, that buoyed it to greatness.

One of the things that first impressed me, as my player character stooped out from the crumpled remains of the Vortex Rikers prison ship, was the organic world beyond– a verdant grassland, sloping into a tropical pool, fringed by palm-like trees and fed by a waterfall, which cascaded from a sheer rock-face. Beyond the high cliffs lay a distant mountain range beneath a lowering sky. In retrospect, all this was achieved with a handful of repeating textures, smeared across a flew polygonal slabs. With the sorts of greenery today's engines are capable of putting out, a rebooted Unreal could finally do justice to the steaming jungles and soaring mountains imagined by its predecessor, not to mention its crumbling, half-submerged ruins, monumental towers and unfathomable alien technologies.

That polygon is actually a spaceship– and it’s *huge*.

What a rebooted Unreal would need most, however, is scale. During one part of the original, you stumble into a trench carved by a crashed spaceship. It'shuge, taking minutes simply to walk down. Today's cutting-edge engines could spit that sort of thing out easily, and fill in all the landscape between you and those distant mountains, too.

“A true open world Unreal might forfeit the ability to manage the drama and lack the original's narrative drive.”

Unreal's levels may have ultimately described a linear progression and in doing delivered some well-orchestrated dramatic moments, but they often funnelled into arenas which were as open as the technology allowed. A true open world Unreal might forfeit the ability to manage the drama and lack the original's narrative drive, but I can foresee a happy compromise in a game which creates landscapes as much as levels, allowing the player to explore sprawling temple complexes or thronging jungles, before barrelling them to new areas through a sequence of more tightly controlled environments. A bit like Rage's hub-and-spoke system, then, only with textures that don't unload themselves whenever you blink.

Breathless though the original's escape trajectory was, a reboot might demand a more circuitous route– and perhaps not an entirely linear one, asking you to criss cross its vast locations to scavenge for the means of survival, rescue fellow castaways, and barter with locals. While Unreal was a shooter first and foremost, it seeded its landscape with story. Actual talking characters proffering quests are the natural extension of the original's scattered datapads and texts– it was merely a function of the game's limited palette of interaction that the only other survivors of the crash died before you reach them.

The locals aren’t the liveliest conversationalists.

Not only would chatty NPCs create a motive for you to explore this alien territory more completely, and create more of a sense of agency to your journey, but they might be played off one another. One of the tantalising things in that game was the suggested relationship between you, your erstwhile human captors, fellow inmates, the indigenous people, and their vicious alien masters. It paints a picture of difficult allegiances, and one which could be better explored today: necessity might put you in an alliance with a former prison guard or a convicted mass-murderer– and that tension could be a rich vein for drama.

“Necessity might ally you with a former prison guard or a mass-murderer.”

There are other malleable relationships which beg to be unpicked using a faction system, creating different narrative consequences: you might find your attempts to help the Nali come at your fellow survivors' expense, or, even discover that the other species the Skaarj have yoked into servitude might be willing to revolt against their masters.

Of course, you wouldn't want to compromise on the gunplay either. Successive Unreal Tournaments may have refined its arsenal for competitive play, but there was something thrilling about the original game's smorgasbord of idiosyncratic death-tools. Critically, nearly all of them fired projectiles at a visibly finite speed, turning combat into an intense dance, as you dodged arcing flak shells and tried to land your own rockets before the enemies could roll away. None of that stop-and-pop stuff here, thank you. We want chaotic sandbox combat that shows off the fearsome AI powers of the Skaarj– they shouldn't be regular enemies, but deadly opponents in command of more dispensable goons, and each one promising a fraught, easily lethal battle. However, I’d petition for them to be redesigned– latter versions of them in Unreal Tournament have made them hulking absurdities, when their principal threat was always their agility. Make them lithe and alien, rather than the toothsome big-foots that populate Gears of War.

Scariness is not proportional to shoe-size.

That's the kind of return to Na Pali I want: a sprawling exotic landscape of sky puncturing mountains, forgotten temples and crashed space-hulks. It should demand exploration in the way that only a non-linear game can, and be more about survival and escape than the original's simplistic motive of messianic destiny. It should build your criminal backstory into its mechanics, making significant the shaky alliances among a motley bunch of castaways, and giving you some choice over the degree to which you get embroiled in the indigenous people's struggle. It should be as strikingly otherworldly as its name suggests and a game of such scale and ambition that it’s remembered long after the tools it was built with. All Epic Games have to do is live up to their name.

Sword Of The Stars Spin-off The Pit Released On GamersGate

We didn’t think much of Sword of the Stars 2 the first orsecond time around, but perhaps its roguelikey spin-off The Pit will fare better. The dungeon-crawling sci-fi RPG has just been released exclusivelyon GamersGate– presumably it will hit other online stores later– andthis demoshould give you some idea of whether it’s the pits or not. More details below.

Kerberos’ latestis described on its GamersGate page thusly:“Sword of the Stars: The Pit is a fun, fast, light-hearted turn-based RPG, where the tradition of Rogue and other old school dungeon-diving games meets the sci-fi Sword of the Stars universe, where the question to ask isn’t‘Did you make it to the end?’ so much as‘How far did you make it into The Pit before the monsters got you?’” Yep– that sounds like a roguelike alright.

The Pit boasts 3 character classes, 30 levels, and over 50 weapons, with“dozens and dozens of enemies drawn from the Sword of the Stars universe”. That’s all well and good, but can we fight the bugs that plagued SOTS2 upon release?

The Pit is out now for ?7.19, down from ?7.99 for the first week. Here’s a trailer, accompanied by a particularly awesome piece of music:

Avadon 2: The Corruption Announced, Get Your Old-school Role-playing Here

I enjoyed the old-fashioned isometric RPG Avadon, despite having a few raging issues with the interface, so the news that it’s getting a sequel makes my mouth do that upside-down-frown thing. If it’s anything like previous Spiderweb Software titles,Avadon 2: The Corruptionis unlikely to be too different, mechanically, from the original game, but a new story set in that richly detailed world sounds just fine. This new game– the second part of a trilogy– features five character classes (up from Avadon’s four), and tasks you with trying to“save your homeland from civil war and fiery destruction”. One would be bad enough, but both? You should definitely put a stop to that, I reckon.

The Corruption is expected to spread in Autumn this year, and it should run on any PC or Mac that still remembers what a Zip drive is. Handily, Spiderweb say that“experience with Avadon: The Black Fortress is entirely unnecessary to enjoy Avadon 2″, though it’s worth a look if you like what you see here. Aside from a few Spiderweb idiosyncracies (slightly fussy interface, no in-game music), there’s some great writing and world-building on show in Avadon. There’s no trailer for the sequel yet, so here’s one for the original game:

Skyrim Dragonborn Diary: The Leader’s Guide To Following Your Followers

I love my Skyrim wife, Mjoll the Lioness. She carries my spare gear with no complaint, she never runs out of arrows, and she doesn’t mind accompanying me when Imurder a bunch of farmers because I can’t find a common axe. However, I’ve just informed her I don’t want her following me any longer. I’ve been playing the Dragonborn expansion pack for Skyrim, and I want to try out (and write a column about) the new followers it offers.

Mjoll seems a bit crestfallen, but tells me she’ll be in Riften should I need her again. As she walks away, however, a thought occurs to me. If we were currently in Skyrim, she could just walk to Riften, but we’re not: we’re on the island of Solstheim, a completely different continent where the new Dragonborn content takes place. How, exactly, is Mjoll going to get back to Riften? My original column idea is instantly forgotten as Braul the Easily Distracted Orc decides to investigate this incredibly important mystery.

The only way I can travel between Skyrim and Solstheim is by paying a ship captain to ferry me between the cities of Raven Rock (in Solstheim) and Windhelm. Is Mjoll capable of doing that? If she’s not, how will she get off the continent? Also, what happens in general when you brush off a follower? Do they really remain persistent in the world for their entire journey back to their home city, or does the game just pluck them up and drop them off once they’ve walked out of sight? I decide I’ll find out by simply not letting Mjoll walk out of sight. I’ll follow her stealthily (or as stealthily as a giant orc clad in Daedric armor can) and see how she gets to Riften first-hand.

A spoiler-free map of Solstheim.

Technically, we’re not even on the island of Solstheim at the moment. We’re onanotherisland off the coast of the island of Solstheim. I swam over to to this little island a minute ago because I wanted to see if anything lived on it. (Nothing does. Anymore.) Now, as I watch, Mjoll strides into the water, headed for Solstheim. I follow, swimming at a careful distance.

I don’t want to be a backseat swimmer, but you don’t have to swim along the BOTTOM of the ocean.

First observation: she is an incredibly slow swimmer. Second observation: she is doing her incredibly slow swimming along the very bottom of the channel, which is making her even slower. Like all gifted detectives, I start drowning almost immediately. After coming up for air and healing myself, I dive back down and realize I’ve completely lost her. A minute after deciding I won’t let her out of my sight, I’ve let her out of my sight. Did the game already wink her out of existence already and plop her back in Riften, or is she still paddling around somewhere?

I swim across the channel and stand around on the main island for a bit to see if Mjoll will actually emerge from the water at some point. A few minutes later, to my surprise, I spot her to the east of me, still swimming. She eventually climbs onto land and begins walking in the direction of Raven Rock, far to the southeast. I take up a position about twenty yards behind her, and grimly prepare to spend the next couple days staring at her back.

Solstheim’s forensics team is going to wonder about the giant boot print on the corpse’s back.

As the sun slowly wheels across the sky, Mjoll slowly stalks across Solstheim, passing through a town, over a bridge, through a mountain pass, across a couple corpses, and along the steps of an ancient temple strewn with dragon skeletons, not showing much interest in any of it. It’s dusk and we’ve crossed half the island before any danger presents itself.

Honey! You can see the moon setting behind the volcano! Honey! Honey! You’re MISSING it!

If firing my loyal wife, making her walk home from a foreign country, and spying on her all day doesn’t make me sound like a terrible husband, this probably will: I decide not to help her fight off the various threats that begin to appear. As anyone who has spent time in Skyrim knows, simply walking near an NPC will cause them to stop in their tracks and talk to you. If the NPC is walking somewhere, they will sometimes even walk off in a different direction than they were headed before they stopped to chat. I’m trying to avoid even casual interaction with Mjoll, because I don’t want to muck up whatever travel plans she has. See, I’m doing this for science, and not because I’m a horrible uncaring jerk.

I didn’t enchant her armor with fire resistance, but I MEANT to. It’s the thought that counts.

So, when she’s attacked by some ash hoppers (giant crickets found in Solstheim), I watch her kill them. When a Burnt Spriggan sets her on fire, I watch as she hacks it into charred lumber. Further down the road, an angry wood elf conjures up a ghost wolf and some sort of elemental guardian, and I watch as she has considerable trouble dispatching the latter. An hour later, she comes across an Ice Wizard and a Fire Wizard, who are going toe-to-toe in an attempt to answer the eternal question: which is mightier, ice or fire? Mjoll answers the question for them, and Mjoll’s answer isMjoll.

Dude, don’t throw ice spikes through my wife. It just makes her angrier.

It’s the middle of the night when Mjoll finally reaches Raven Rock. She strolls to the docks and climbs aboard the ship I use when I need to travel between Skyrim and Solstheim. She doesn’t speak to the captain, she simply walks across the deck, appears to reach out and touch a barrel… and then fades from sight.

Okay! I guess that’s how NPCs handle cross-continental travel: magic barrel-poking. Question answered. Though… now I’m kind of curious if I can catch up to her in Skyrim. I pay the captain to take me to Windhelm, but when I arrive I don’t see Mjoll anywhere. Maybe nowthe game has transported her to Riften? If not, where would she have gone? South, I guess. I jump into the icy river to see if she’s paddling sluggishly around near the bottom, but I can’t see much, so I run up the bank on the opposite side. There’s a female NPC walking around near the bridge that’s south of Riften, but it’s not my wife.

I run around a bit more, and eventually spot a figure walking across another bridge, off in the distance, headed west. It’s her! For some reason, she’s taken off her ebony armor and cult mask and is instead clothed in her original duds. Weird. On the other hand, cool! I found her! Now to continue following her for days like a bizarre creep. I also can’t help but notice she’s not walking in the direction of Riften. She seems to be heading west and soon crosses a river to head north, aiming for Dawnstar. Why would she be going there?

Why aren’t you wearing your mask? I tore that mask off a dead cultist’s face just for you!

I’m puzzling over this when a dragon rudely lands right in front of me and starts turning me into a popsicle. Come on, stupid dragon, I’m trying to keep a low profile while I stalk my wife. A couple hacks from my enchanted battleaxe and it’s dead. Mjoll calmly strolls right through the middle of the disintegrating dragon, and then of course there’s the usual pompous noisy business as I devour the dragon’s soul, so I think a low profile might be out the window at this point. At least she didn’t stop to talk to me.


As I clump after her through the night, periodically watching her get into pitched battles with marauders and murderers, it occurs to me that perhaps I should not be standing around, twiddling my gauntleted thumbs, while she has to repeatedly fight for her life. Maybe I can help, without being too obvious about it, by going out on point and handling anything threatening before it reaches her. Also, if she has to continuously stop to fight every man and monster that comes roaring out of the underbrush, this trip is going to take forever.

I skirt around her and sprint ahead along the route she’s taking, looking for danger to de-dangerize. A snowy sabre cat leaps out at me, giving me a good chance to try out the new Bend Will shout I learned in the Dragonborn content, which lets you tame dragons but can also pacify other hostile creatures. When Mjoll finally catches up, all she sees is a random guy dressed exactly like her husband with a peaceful giant tiger monster sitting next to him. Once she’s walked by, I kill the cat (the shout’s effects don’t last terribly long), and sprint ahead again, looking for more threats.

Evening, Ma’am.

The morning comes, and Mjoll continues her uninterrupted stroll, perhaps curious about at all the fresh corpses now littering the road ahead of her. She walks past several dead sabre cats, a couple dead wolves, two dead frost trolls, a beheaded skooma dealer, and a living giant frost spider oddly indifferent to her presence, almost as if someone had shrieked magical will-bending dragon curses in its face.

There’s an even more unusual sight as she reaches the top of a hill: someone dressed like her husband, lying on the ground, completely paralyzed. Seems hemaybegot a little bored waiting for her, andmaybedecided to pass the time by eating some of his alchemical ingredients to determine their effects, and one ingredient from Solstheim, Netch Jelly,maybehas paralyzation properties, and so hemaybekeeled over onto his back like a big dumb statue.Maybe. As she passes his stiff body, he clambers to his feet, looks at her, and then races off into the trees. Whoever he is.


A little further ahead, I spot a wolf and a horse fighting to the death. Naturally, I side with the horse, and I’m surprised to discover that the horse turns out to be my actual, owned horse, who I haven’t seen in months. I have no idea what he’s doing out here, but it seems like the whole Braul family is back together for this dysfunctional roadtrip. Speaking of dysfunctional, every time I dismount to kill something, my horse starts walking away, so I have to spend twice as much time chasing him down. Eventually, I just let him leave to wherever he’s going. I don’t have time for horse-following, I’m busy wife-following.

I am not your husband chasing after not-your-husband’s horse. IGNORE ME

Night is falling again as we approach Solitude, where I’ve remembered I own a home, which I assume is where Mjoll is actually headed instead of Riften or Dawnstar. It also appears she’s going to be doing some swimming again, since she’s approaching it from across the bay. She walks into the water and disappears, and I follow, though I almost immediately lose sight of her. Then, from behind me, I hear her angrily shouting“This ends now!” I swim back and pop out of the water, only to find her standing near the shore, aiming a bow at me. Jeez! What the heck did I do, besides creepily follow you around for days and almost let you die several times?

My wife trying to kill me? Saddens me. Doesn’t surprise me. Saddens me.

Turns out, she’s actually attacking (and verbally threatening) some slaughterfish that swam too close for her liking. I begin bellowing at swinging my axe as well, before realizing the fish are a good twenty feet away and I’m just chopping air. Mjoll quickly kills all three fish at range, walks past me wordlessly, and starts paddling across the bay. I haven’t felt that stupid since, well, yesterday, when I paralyzed myself in front of her.

Emerging on the far bank, I realize I’m not even sure how to walk into Solitude, since I generally opt to poke it on my map and materialize inside it. Mjoll knows, though. She climbs through a pass and finds a door built into the rock that I didn’t know was there. A circular staircase leads to a tunnel, the tunnel leads to the streets of Solitude, and the streets lead to the back door of our home (I also had no idea we had a back door.)

Mjoll the Lioness and Braul the Easily Distracted Orc. Home at last.

I walk up to Mjoll in our dining room.“How nice to see you again,” she says sweetly, as if it’s been days since she’s seen me. As if she didn’tjustsee me swinging my axe impotently at fish that were nowhere near me. As if she didn’t see me repeatedly chasing my stupid horse all over Skyrim. As if she didn’t see me chow down on handful of jelly and keel over like a stroke victim. That’s tact.

I know I originally set out to write about the new followers in Dragonborn, but with a wife like Mjoll, why would I ever need another?

Sim-plicity: I Am Captain Of A Floating Hotel

Having retired from world-saving heroics,Christopher Livingstonis living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he's captain of a cruise ship the size of a skyscraper, though the sky is just about the only thing won’t get scraped.

There were some astounding events last week! A meteor entered our atmosphere and exploded noisily over Russia, and another asteroid passed closer to Earth than many of our own satellites fly. The U.S. media, meanwhile, were going nuts over another incredibly important story: POOP CRUISE. See, a Carnival cruise ship had lost power, and the toilets stopped working, and there were reports of sewage sloshing around the hallways of the luxury liner. Clearly, a boat filling with poop-water was far more important than a couple of mind-blowing once-in-a-lifetime astronomical events, which were mentioned only briefly between showing phone cam footage of stopped-up toilets on a boat.

This all served to remind me to never, ever watch 24-hour news channels, but also made me wonder if there was a simulation game that would let me captain my own enormous floating luxury toilet. And there is! It’s calledShip Simulator Extremes.

While I’m keen to immediately jump into the captain’s chair of a cruise ship and start ruining the lives of everyone on board, I figure I should first practice on a couple of smaller ships. I start with the tutorial, learning how to throttle up and steer, and how to deploy a couple of other craft, like a motor boat and a lifeboat, which I’m directed to navigate out to an icon on the map. Then, the tutorial suddenly stops instructing me on what to do next, so I sort of just bob around in the water a bit before quitting.

Achievement Unlocked: You Did A Thing With Some Boats

I choose another mission that lets me pilot a motor-assisted sailing yacht for Greenpeace, the environmental organization. My goal: track down a cargo ship that has been spotted dumping barrels of toxic waste into the ocean. There’s no time to lose: I know from my studies that toxic waste dumped in the ocean leads to giant fish monsters who eat bikini-clad women at beach parties (I mainly studied low-budget horror movies).


After a good ten minutes of driving the yacht slowly in a straight line, I spot the criminal cargo ship, but I’m apparently too slow to catch it and have to deploy a RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) to continue the chase. Using the smaller, speedier craft, I catch up to the enormous cargo ship and spot a guy in an orange jumpsuit pushing barrels into the water. A-HA! Caught you, dastardly eco-terrorist! Now, it’s just a simple matter to… wait, what am I supposed to do now?

If Greenpeace captains carried sniper rifles, this mission would be OVER

The game doesn’t tell me. The mission briefing never updates: it’s still telling me to catch the boat, which I’ve done. I try to ram the boat but just pass right through it. I then notice another control stick on my HUD, which lets me aim a water cannon. It’s a struggle to control the throttle, steer, and aim the cannon at the same time, but I eventually manage to spray water at the cargo ship.

Hah! You didn’t count on your boat getting SLIGHTLY DAMP, did you?

Unfortunately, spraying the boat with water somehow doesn’t cause all of the polluters to put their hands up, surrender, and spend the night in the Greenpeace Prison (built from 100% recycled material from other prisons). Even when I pull alongside and spray water directly on the little jumpsuited man he never stops pushing barrels overboard. I can’t think of what else to do, and the game doesn’t seem particularly interested in telling me, so I just quit. The important thing is that I scored a moral victory, and the more important thing is that I’ve spent a few minutes driving two small boats so I’m pretty sure I’m now completely qualified to captain a cruise ship the length of four football fields.

In case it’s not clear, this game has a lot of boats.

The backstory of the cruise ship portion of the simulation is: the captain of the cruise liner has fallen ill, and I’m filling in for him. Of course, this isn’t the type of game to simply drop you into the cockpit (or whatever it’s called on a ship) and let you start driving (or whatever it’s called when you do it to a ship). First, I have to make my way to the cruise ship viaanotherboat. So, I drive my own little boat for roughly twenty minutes, finally spot the cruise ship, and attempt to dock my boat at the pier.

In case it’s not clear, I am not good at boats.

It does not go well. I cruise in a little too quickly (I’m only going 10 knots, but then again I don’t know how much a knot is) and bump the pier, and my boat promptly sinks right in front of the cruise ship, which must fill my employers with a lot of confidence. Since I hadn’t saved the game at any point, I’m forced to repeat the twenty-minute trip all over again. This time, I’m much more careful steering (meaning this time I steer) and much more careful with my speed (zero knots seems like a safe bet) which takes considerably more time, but at least I don’t sink.

Now, finally, I’m captain of a cruise ship! I cast off the moorings, throttle up, and instantly realize that driving a ship the size of a skyscraper is utterly harrowing.

Hooray! We’re off! Here we go! Oh god wait I don’t want to do this

I mean, it’s just sobig. Like,huge. And I’m piloting it? This is a terrible idea. Why did I want to do this? I’m a bit worried as I push on the throttle and nothing happens for a while, and then I’m even more worried when, a few minutes later, the ship actually starts to move.

And that’s the thing about piloting a ship that’s carrying a ten-story hotel on its back. You do thingsnow, like moving the throttle or turning the wheel, but the things you are doing actually take place in thefuture. For instance, I turned to maneuver away from the spot I was docked, but it’s not until a couple minutes later than I actually see that the ship is turning. By the time I notice the ship is turning, I’ve turned way more than I had intended. Now that the turn I’ve made in the past is happening in the present, I see that I really need to turn the other way, and I need to turn the other waynow, which means I should have started doing it ages ago. But I didn’t.

And so…

Oh whoa whoa whoa

Oh no no no no

Eee gah gah gah gah

I somehow manage to not actually damage the ship, and eventually I get the hang of making my speed and directional adjustments in anticipation of when they’ll be needed in the future. Things are actually going well! The next issue I’m faced with is that when things are going well, there’s really not a whole heck of a lot to do but sit here and watch things going well. I have a very, very long way to go before I even pick up any passengers, it seems. In fact, about an hour goes by with me just sort of sitting here, watching my ship do its thing slowly up the river.

Then, I just suddenly appear off the coast of the Isle of Wight. The game mercifully decides I don’t need to sit through the entire trip across the English Channel, but not-so-mercifully deposits me there in the middle of the night.

This doesn’t seem like a terrible idea at all.

I chug on in the dark, headed for Southampton. The channel gets shallower, so I chug slower, past Netley, Weston, Woolston and a place charmingly named East Mud. It’s been, like, two more hours or so of this, just sort of watching a giant ship slowly move in one direction, and I don’t even have passengers yet. Knowing how long it takes to slow down this ship, I throttle back and start creeping through the water. Finally, the game tells me to moor at the designated pier at Southampton harbor. It does not, however, indicate which is the designated pier.

I keep going, expecting the game to tell me, at some point, which dock I’m supposed to use. It doesn’t. I cruise past them all until I essentially run out of river. Seems like I’m going to have to somehow turn this giant ship all the way around and make my way back to the piers, and just start trying to dock at them, hoping to pick the right one. I can’t even imagine how long that will take.

Then, I come up with a better plan. I click the icon for my life raft, drop it into the water, climb in, and sneak away under cover of night.

Be right back. Honest. I’m… just headed out for cigarettes.

Conclusion: It’s probably illegal for a captain to just abandon a enormous floating hotel in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t care. I’ll be in East Mud by morning. I’ll start a new life.