Category: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

Game Brief: The Many Complications of Fogge’s Barrow

I’m running a D&D game right now. Uh, unless something’s gone very wrong, I’ve been running it for some time by the time this guide goes up. But when I make a game I start out by giving people a document, called a Game Brief, that gives them guidance on building characters, and what’s expected of them.

For this game, I knew I had a small party (only three players), because we’d be playing this when our fourth friend was absent from the game. I also knew I didn’t want a huge stake, and wanted it to be much more about something local without big potential impact, so I put it in the mid levels of Heroic. Enough room that players could play experienced characters, but not that they had a veritable tale to them yet.

I’m going to present the brief, as I started on it… and then talk about the complication that followed.

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Let’s Look At Some Assets And Brainstorm!

I need a catchier name than that for this.

Okay, look, something I do, regularly, is go looking for game assets I can use. I am, as a designer, kind of aesthetically flexible. I don’t tend to design games with a vision of how they should look ahead of time. And what’s more, I tend to be resource-inspired. If I see a new mechanic, or an art asset or something, my natural desire is to creatively explore it, to say ‘hey, I’d use this for this.’

I’m also uh, cheap? Like I don’t like the idea of my games as these ongoing costs. I want to buy assets, address my needs for a design, and be done. That means instead of comissioning an artist, I’d really like to buy their existing art as art assets rather than hire an artist to make things. It’s funny, too, because if the artist designs a thing and just makes it look right, great, that’s their choice and decision and I don’t have to try and tell the artist how to make it more, I dunno, ‘fwoowshy’ or appropriate to my needs.

I’m an odd boy, I know.

This is something I’ve been planning on doing for a while! How long have I been waiting on doing this? Well, the first draft of this article, and that name, is from January.

2019.

I gotta shake off that awkwardness, and just do it, so here’s the plan. I’m going to show you an asset pack, and tell you what I think about it, and what kind of games I’d think of doing with it.

Okay, so here’s the asset I found when I went looking that I want to talk about: Golem Battler Pack for RPG games by Anvilsoft. The images here are obtained from there.

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3e D&D: SONIC FIREBALLS

In the pantheon of D&D spells, there’s nothing, it seems, more iconically important to the identity of the game than ‘fireball,’ a spell that apparently nobody ever anywhere would come up with without D&D bringing it to their attention. Hm. Bit sarky there, I should come back at that again. Anyway, Fireball! What a great spell! A classic, a powerhouse, a spell that always comes quickly to the fingertips and that players love to hear when the wizard is about to start some shit with a fireball.

Anyway, you’d never bother casting it in 3rd edition D&D.

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Game Pile: Draftosaurus

There’s a couple of other dinosaur park themed games that hit the market recently, which ranged from the positively bombastic Dinosaur World by Pandasaurus to the more multiplayer-friendly Dinosaur Island: Rawr and Write by Pandasaurus to the sprawling euro of Dinosaur Island by Pandasaurus to — you know, maybe it’s just Pandasaurus games.

Nonetheless, you might be the kind of person to whom the theme of a dinosaur theme park, as inspired by classic 90s piece of pulp media, Dinopark Tycoon, just makes your heart sing, but you don’t want to have to reconstruct an actual academic model of a human heart out of cardboard and math. To you, I wish to show you the dlightful Draftosaurus, a game that sells itself almost immediately when I show you the meeples.

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How To Be: Disney’s Robin Hood (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

This month, I felt it was time to approach the challenge from a different angle, of taking something with an obvious, easy, simple solution and then exploring around that. And for that, we’re going to look at a classic character, a character who’s so well known we don’t even remember we’re referencing him when we reference him. A folk hero, a hero who defined a generation and set thousands of people on their path that would determine the kind of person they’d be.

We’re going to look at Robin Hood.

Specifically, the 1973 Disney’s Robin Hood.

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Game Pile: Magic Trick

This is a cute little game about playing a skateboarding kid in a town of animal people. It has pickups and tricks and magical powers that give you fast travel. It’s not a long game and I imagine if you’re better at skateboarding games than me, it’d probably only take a few hours to finish. It’s charming, it’s sweet, there’s a trans flag in the banner art.

If you want to check the game out, you can go get it here, and also, if you bought the Bundle For Racial Justice back in 2020, you already own a copy. But it’s also really cheap, so maybe buy it again?

I’m thinking more and more when it comes to itch games, just showing them off on my platform and talking about what I like about them is more interesting than trying to apply some deeper analysis to them. Not that I won’t for games that inspire it, but especially when it comes to games like this, I want to make sure I’m taking the opportunity to just share games.

Be kind with energy,
Be cruel with purpose.

3.0 D&D: Everyone Shapeshifts

Min-maxed 3.0 D&D was fucking weird.

I use the term 3.0 to talk about ‘third edition’ because there’s this weird way that people treat ‘3rd edition’ D&D as a single game, and not a period of time between the last release of 2nd edition and the first release of 4th edition. 3rd edition content is still being made and the game is still being played, even if I’d moved on from it. Important to this, though, is that ‘3rd edition’ is a term that I feel inappropriately ambiguates the two games made in 3rd edition.

When people are criticising 4th edition — hey maw he’s defending 4th edition gain — sometimes you get a ‘timeline’ argument; the idea that 4th edition, as a game that was only actively published and promoted for six years before the introduction of 5th edition. 5th edition has been going for 7 years since then (two of which were pandemic years), and 3rd edition went from 2000 to 2008, showing that 7 and 8 years are ‘good’ times for a game to exist, and 4th edition’s 6 years indicate that it was a ‘bad’ time. Thing is, 3rd edition D&D, the thing before 3.5, was only around for 3 years, and it was not the same game as 3.5. You couldn’t just pick up classes, creatures, or monsters and port them over. First party feats and classes were generally all weaker than 3.5, and spells were largely stronger.

4th edition never released a supplement that wasn’t compatible with all of 4th edition. By comparison, 3.0 lasted for 3 years, and 3.5 lasted for four – an immense rules patch apology.

And trust me, it was an immense rules patch.

Like, did you know in 3rd edition, in min-maxed groups, you basically never bothered building for physical stats if you were starting after level 3 or so?

Because in a min-maxed party, you very rarely were dealing with un-polymorphed characters.

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CoX: Wolfbit

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Cody always knew someone. He was the kid who knew everyone shifty, who could get you favours, who could find you things off the books. He never really worked out why he was good at it, why he could remember these trades so well, why he could read the people around him for what worked, what made sense about them.

When the wolf woke up, it made a bit more sense.

He’s a fixer, a bit of a crook, certainly a bit grubby. There’s a lot of ways poor people make things happen in the city, and in the dark spaces, sometimes you hope to find the wolf.

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Game Pile: Kyrandia 3: Malcolm’s Revenge

The medium is the message. If you look at the way things are made, rather than the content that is presented, you can see patterns of behaviour, see deformations of the way that things got made. The point-and-click adventure, for example, tends to get framed as a sort of game creature that evolved on the PC platform, existed for a while, then classically died out out of incompetence.

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We Are The Night: Aspirations, Contusions, And Bullshit

These articles document the ongoing process of examining the things required to make a Blades in the Dark hack. The premise is using Blades in the Dark to emulate a heroic vigilante environment, akin to the settings of Gotham City from We Are Robin, or Ikebukuro from Durarara!!

This time, I want to talk about a mechanical change to the injury system. We’re going to talk about Harm and Trauma, and ways to change that system.

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Henry Orenstein

I’m going to tell you a story. It jumps around a little, to future and past, and it has a big twist in it that I’m going to need you to trust me on. Because of that, the fold – and content warning – is coming later than you’d expect.

This story, started, for me, on the Transformers wiki.

This is a Rubsign. It’s a small piece of plastic that’s heat-reactive. When Transformers started out as a brand, there was an immediate push to make cheap knockoff toys with similar ideas. In order to ‘protect’ the brand and ensure kids only wanted to buy the genuine Transformers, they developed something that they could pretend was part of the play pattern: a small symbol on the robot’s body that had the silhouette of either the Decepticon or Autobot faction, and you wouldn’t know for sure if you didn’t heat it up, usually as a child, by rubbing it with your finger.

Transformers, and their gimmick of ‘transforming’, is essentially, open source. You can’t copyright it or even copyright the techniques of a mould. This is one of the reasons there’s so many knockoffs of those toys — the actual technique of a transforming toy is pretty much uncopyriteable method.

The rubsigns, however, were made with patented technology; not only weren’t other people allowed to put them on their toys, but even worse, they simply couldn’t make them because the method for their creation was proprietary. What I thought as a child was a clever way to represent a disguise, for a moment of tension in the narrative, was really just a corporate control collar, a thing that meant they could draw a hard line between their version of the idea and the other, shitty ones, so I could ensure my collection of second hand transforming robot toys was properly branded.

Rubsigns are a cop is what I’m saying.

But, they had to be invented.

This is Henry Orenstein. Learning about the origin of the rubsign meant learning that to my surprise, the patent for them is not held by The company per se, but is instead partially owned by Hasbro, and partially owned by this one dude, Henry Orenstein.

When I found his name in the Transformers wiki, the wiki stated, perhaps boldly: His life is more interesting than Transformers.

Bold claim.

This is professional Poker. It’s a well known game that involves players playing for extremely large sums of money, often with similarly large sums of money involved in the buy-in. It’s grown in popularity over the past twenty years, in part because of improvements in presenting the game to an audience. Back in 1995, a patent was filed for a device known as a hole camera, which let the broadcasters collect the information about the players’ hands without doing anything that disrupted the natural flow of the game. The hole camera was used in 1999, and that’s about when poker started to pick up in public discourse.

And the patent for the earliest hole camera (which isn’t used much any more) is to a guy named Henry Orenstein. So important was this – and his winnings and his achievements lifetime – that he’s been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

This is a Johnny Seven OMA, which were made by Topper Toys. And that’s a company Henry Orenstein founded to make his toys after being annoyed at how expensive dolls and toy guns were for poor kids. Topper Toys eventually folded into another brand, Deluxe Reading, which I understand if you are a hardcore toy collector, really into things like barbie accessories and cross compatibility, is very important to the hobby.

This background was how Henry got the attention of Hasbro, and wound up working with them on acquiring new toy properties. That meant he was in position to be in Japan, looking at Takara and Microchange toys, and come back with the idea of acquiring both toy sets, and rebranding them as Transformers in 1980.

Interesting dude, right? He should write a memoir.

Except he did already:

And now, when we jump back in the story, I have to say: Content Warning: Nazis.

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4e: Sneaky Feys

It’s said, that humans learned magic from the gods; some say that humans learned it from studying the universe around them. Some, in the oldest and darkest stories, say that humans learned magic from the fey, because they couldn’t wait to see how badly we fucked it up.

One thing I love about D&D 4e is the way that making a character is pretty simple and robust. Rather than gate things like werewolves and werebears behind layers of power back in third edition, the game finds ways to let you play that straight up, out of the gates. Same with Vampires, and, if you want, you can play all sorts of weird character types out of nowhere.

If you want to play a weirdo, fae-realms inspired fey creature, you have options too! And, of them, the Satyr and Hamadryad, are bad. Fortunately, though, Fox made some better ones, and I’m going to give you some feat support for them!

Now, this is a bit of a different direction in the kind of 4e content I make. This isn’t about something from established books, this is something based on the character heritages for 4th edition that Fox made. It’s going to be about feat support for the Gruuwar, Pooka, and Firbolg heritages she wrote, and put up on The Square Fireball.

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Game Pile: Among Us

Among Us is a 2018 social deduction videogame, developed and released by Innersloth games. It is a borderline omnipresent media thing right now and you may have seen it on like, kid’s t-shirts and stuff if you are lucky enough to be able to walk around outside right now. There’s a non-zero chance that you don’t know what this game is or how it plays, so I’m going to fly through that real quick.

In Among Us, players are dropped into a play environment (known as the map) with nothing but their little blobby toes and a team affiliation to their name. Then they’re required to do a number of tasks to ‘fix’ the map — like, getting a spaceship going, for example — and that’s it.

Oh, wait, that’s what you have to do if your team is ‘crew.’

See, in any given map, there is one, and maybe two non-crew members, that look like crew members but aren’t — they’re a fangly shapeshifting alien (or aliens) — and they want to sabotage the tasks and kill off all the other members of the crew. This is obviously bad, so, whenever a player discovers a body, they can call for a meeting, where the crew can vote on who they think is the murderer (or not vote, if they so want), and if someone gets a majority of the votes, they’re spaced.

This creates the basic systems of the game. The alien wants to isolate people and kill them in places that are likely to go undiscovered, build a cover identity and defray suspicion. Non-aliens want to get their tasks done without being killed, and without being perceived as suspicious, for fear of being flushed out into space mistakenly. Alien wins when they’re equal or majority of the crew, crew win when all their tasks are done or the imposters are disposed of.

There are, I think, maybe two forty year olds who read this blog who may be going: Oh, is that it?

And yeah, that is it.

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MTG: July’s Custom Cards: Echo, Echo, Echo!

With Time Spiral Remastered hitting the shelves this year, I got to think about my earliest custom card designs, from back around Onslaught through Time Spiral era. Back when Time Spiral first landed, it brought with it a change to echo, and at that time, Fox and I designed five different ways for Echo to work across the five colours.  I love Echo as a mechanic, but it is something of a dead mechanic. Wizards doesn’t tend to play with strict drawback mechanics, which is a bummer (to me).

But despite that, I quite like the way those cards worked out, so I dusted the ideas off and tried to make some new cards using those ideas!

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We Are The Night: Actual Constables Aren’t Bluecloaks

These articles document the ongoing process of examining the things required to make a Blades in the Dark hack. The premise is using Blades in the Dark to emulate a heroic vigilante environment, akin to the settings of Gotham City from We Are Robin, or Ikebukuro from Durarara!!

This time, I want to talk about a setting difference that’s going to present a problem with the factions in We Are The Night: Police.

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Game Pile: Familiar Alchemy

Two things before we start. One, I backed this game on kickstarter, because a friend of mine, Calvin Wong Tze Loon, talked about doing work for it on his twitter. I followed that, thought it looked good, and backed it. I have, therefore, a clear connection, socially, to the making of this game. As it happens, Calvin’s main job was editing the rulebook, and the rulebook is pretty stellar, but I would say that, wouldn’t I.

The other thing, before I talk about this game, I need to get one thing out of the way, up front. The kickstarter for this game, the reason I own this game, the access point for this game, describes it as:

A wondrous world of plants, potions and familiars await in Familiar Alchemy, a semi-cooperative game rooted in Scottish folklore.

See that? See them bolded words?

What I need you to know is that’s a fucking lie.

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How To Be: Goliath from Gargoyles (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

This month, we’re going to look at a challenging build; we’re going to be looking at a powerhouse of muscle and stone, in the form of Goliath from the Disney series Gargoyles.

CoX – Ghostwright

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


“You’re back early, how was the party-“

“Birthday’s haunted.”

“What?”

She loaded her bag with all the rock salt she could carry as she headed back to the front door. “Birthday’s haunted.”

Reagan got a lot of things from her parents, like the cute little magic shop (which is nice) and the cursed connection to a moon cult (which isn’t so nice) and the regular customers that want curses, hexes, and boner pills (mixed bag) and the speakeasy full of monsters and nightkin underneath it (pretty cool but lousy tippers). Now, she’s doing hero work, you know, as part of the business, because it needs doing.

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MTG: Not Interested In The Forgotten Realms

Tomorrow Magic: The Gathering – Adventures in the Forgotten Realms will drop on MTG Arena and MTGO. I’m not excited for its release – in fact, at this point when I’m writing this, my initial active resistance to the idea has turned into full-blown antipathy. Simply put: I think this is a bad idea, root and branch.

I don’t mean in that pontificating way of ‘wizards should do this for the good of the game.’ That kind of heavy handed rhetoric involves a vision of the future that feels like climbing mount cleverest. It’s the same mindset that calls for bannings on day one, where your ability to prognosticate about the future of the game is some kind of skill you want to demonstrate. Don’t get me wrong, some people can do that – Pat Chapin was calling Jace overpowered real early, but let’s presume we’re not talking about Hall Of Famer big brain Mike Flores’ Best Friend Pat Chapin.

It’s not like I’m not going to try some of these cards, or even play with them. It’s more that while I may have had interest in trying standard again with the release of a new standard set, that interest dissolved as this set was revealed. I’m more likely to sit things out, because I don’t like this set.

Why don’t I like this set? Especially since I haven’t played with any cards in it?

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Not Attracting The Worm

Rhythm games fascinate me.

I can’t make them, not really. Not with my tools and skillset.

See, here’s the thing: I am a low-tech creator. I have some nice systems like computers that let me make my things look prettier, but ultimately, I’m not coding machines. I am not making mechanical devices that can serve as timers. Ultimately, because of the medium I work in, the things that dictate the types of games I can make are ‘what can people manage’ and ‘how can I do this with cardboard.’ There are some things I really wish I could make happen that I just can’t with my rules, and my current understandings of games.

Particularly, one thing I can’t really just ‘add’ to games is rhythm.

I’ve experimented with it – in the tiny flick-em-up Wobbegong-12, there’s a mechanic where players, if they don’t want to play in real time, have to all count down together to three, in order to power their carts. But that mechanic is kind of fuzzy and uncertain. After all, if players are counting down together, three, two, one, flick, what happens if someone falls out? The only enforcement is themselves, and other players, and the game is so silly it doesn’t really have a punishment system.

 

 

But if I want to make a rhythm game, like the whole category of videogames, I don’t have the means to do that, at least right now. What’s more I don’t even have the fundamental skill underpinnings to try. I don’t know what makes rhythm good. I can’t dance. I don’t know how to identify the beat, and every time people remark on this with me it’s with this incredulous ‘surely you can do this’ kind of reaction that makes me feel stupid. Which is embarrassing and we’re moving on.

It’s not like rhythm games aren’t doable with the tools and implements I have. Every clapping game, every call-and-response song, every make-up-a-rhyme, a bunch of grievance songs, almost any kind of singing, dancing, or clapping that involves playing with the possibility of the sound is itself, a kind of rhythm game. And those are games that just seem so impossible to translate, to put into a context that I can share them with people.

After all, the main way we have to convey rhythm is to show people, rather than to tell people.

 

 

3.5 Memories: The Struggles Of The Hexblade

We’ve spoken before about how the wizard and sorcerer presented a sort of top-and-bottom of the top tier of D&D 3.5’s utterly unbalanced nonsense space, and it’s something of a storied matter of lore that the Fighter represents a most obvious terrible class. It creates a pretty simple narrative that spellcasters are great and melee damage dealers are ass. This isn’t totally right – after all, the Truenamer, the worst D&D class, period, is a spellcaster, and there are classes that are primarily melee damage dealers that aren’t underpowered compared to standard enemy content.

But it does hold, generally.

The core rules brought with it a set of three arcane casters and four divine spellcasters. Of those divine spellcasters, two were what we call ‘full’ spellcasters – they cast spells at level 1, and every level their spells get better – and were the Druid and the Cleric, two of the most stupidly powerful classes in the game. The other two were the Paladin and the Ranger, who had a pretty interesting structure; both were full-base attack bonus classes, with special abilities that made them better in melee combat, and after level 4, they started to get a small number of spells that gave them a lot of potential options. And honestly, the Ranger and Paladin were pretty damn good. They weren’t the worldshakers that the primary spellcasters could be, but if you wanted to hang in their parties, you were at least going to get interesting choices and could do some cool things.

But what if there was an arcane class that was templated off the Paladin and the Ranger?

What if there was a melee-capable class that got arcane magic and special powers to round out their flavour space?

Well, there was.

Presented in the Complete Warrior, we got our Arcane Paladin-Ranger-type.

It was the Hexblade.

And it suuucked.

 

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Revising the Botch

I released the Botch in 2016. I made this game in a week, with the help of a friend who had similarly manic energy creating the art, and what resulted was one of my most successful games.It’s not Dog Bear successful (though, same artist!), but it is a game I still think of fondly, can pitch easily, and sells well at conventions.

Remember conventions?

I don’t think that I’m perfect. Every person I’ve taught about making things, I tell every thing you make is making you better at making the next thing. And I have a lot of games – a big library of games. And some of them, with years of progress and learning, I’d like to revisit and improve. Since The Botch is one of my best, I’d like to start with that. I’m going to share with you some notes about improving and changing The Botch and ways it’s going to change in light of pressures that aren’t my fault.

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Game Pile: Shadowcaster

There are two stories about Raven Software.

For those of you not familiar, Raven Software were-slash-are a Wisconsin-based videogame development company founded in 1990. They were responsible, most famously to nerds like me, for the games Heretic, Hexen, and Hexen 2, a set of first-person fantasy shooters that used id game engines to tell you the story of multiple fantasy realms being assaulted by dreadful Serpent Riders.

The first story, the story I know I’m part of telling, is as an understudy company that stands next to id software and waits for them to be done with an engine before they make a game. This is a history that tends to happen when you work backwards; id software made Quake, which Raven turned into Hexen 2. id made Doom 2, which Raven used to make Hexen. id made Doom, which Raven used to make Heretic. When I spoke about Heretic earlier this year, I said this, even!

This is not a wrong story.

It is an incomplete story.

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