Brakketology Thinks Horizontally


This week’s Brakketology (admit it, like a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome, you’re starting to like the name) checks in on the Grimrock 2 team and comes out forever changed. Sorta. Also, Stardock teases, the Arkham games get a much-needed Steam update, 2k wants you to give them a fiver, Sega just won’t quit Aliens, and Sid Meier learns an important lesson about why the free-to-play model is teh suxorz.

Grimrock 2 Gets It. One of my big bugaboos in RPGs is the degree to which the entire genre has marginalized leveling up characters. There was a time, and this is going way back, when gaining a level in an RPG was exciting. More hit points! A new skill! Maybe even an attribute bump! These are all things you still get, of course, but somewhere along the way the excitement got lost. I attribute this to the fact that designers decided leveling was so awesome for gamers that they should be hearing the little ding every 23.8 seconds. A funny thing happens, though, when you make a special occurrence a routine one — it stops being exciting. I blame Diablo for starting the trend, but regardless, once you realize there’s little in the way of rewards that mean anything, it becomes a long slow exercise in diminishing returns. Hey, look, another skill I’m not going to use! Alright! I now get a 23% bonus to fire damage instead of a 22%! Woo?

Enter the recent dev diary from the Legend of Grimrock 2 team:

When we started throwing around ideas about the new skill system, a few things came up often in the discussions. Firstly, every character level gained should feel special. Essentially this means that every skillpoint spent should improve the character in some way. In contrast the skill system of Grimrock 1 was designed so that you get a benefit every time you crossed a threshold in a skill. If you spent points in multiple skills, or otherwise didn’t reach the threshold, the character did not really advance at that character level. Combined with the fact that skills were very deep (maxed out at level 50), this resulted in a situation where optimal strategy is to pump all skill points into very few skills. Especially with magic skills, this resulted in mages specializing in one or two schools of spells, which resulted in fewer spells to be available to mage. Fewer spells = less fun to the player. Also at higher levels, spending skillpoints became almost automatic and there was less decision making involved.

With LoG2 skill system we want to have more diversity and every level up should present an important choice to the player.

They’re accomplishing this goal via shorter skill trees (most only go 1-3 levels deep) and developing interrelated skills. Call it a more horizontal layout where, for example, to be able to enhance your ability with shields, you first have to have a fundamental understanding of how to use armor. If they pull it off the way they describe, there will be a more coherent and logical progression that also provides a greater variety of skills that actually have meaning for how you play the game.

After a brief hit of warming nostalgia, I quickly grew a bit bored with the original Legend of Grimrock, so I’m not entirely all-in for the sequel just yet, but making the process of leveling up fun again will go along way towards separating me from my cash.

Sound and Fury or Nothing? Stardock made some waves last week when they announced that Galactic Civilizations III is in development. You’ll note that the trailer above tells you absolutely nothing about the gameplay. I know this is how teasers go these days, but you can’t even tell it’s a strategy game from this, so beyond goodwill for the name, what exactly am I supposed to care about here? (If your goal is to show something, while actually showing nothing, might I suggest the teaser for Darkest Dungeon?)

Arkham Ditches GfWL. Also, Your Saves. The Arkham games for PC have been patched to remove Games for Windows Live. This is a woot moment if ever there were one. Steam-based owners of these games are all set, but if you got your versions “somewhere else” you’ll need your code. Presumably you have one, right? RIGHT?!?! Also a downer, any old saves you might have won’t work. That’s a killer, but at the cost of being free from GfW? I’m calling it a win, but then I don’t have any saves to preserve. (If you check the comments in the link this process is not going entirely smoothly for all comers.)

More Nickel and Dim’n. Civilization 5 is getting a possibly interesting map pack that scrambles up good old Earth’s terrain. So, in Scrambled Continents, you get a bunch land vaguely shaped like the Americas, Europe, Africa, etc., but with interior features that are notably different. You an also do maps that are single scrambled up nations. Gimmicky and probably not worth $5, but hey, it’s not a bad way to spice up gameplay. (Note that version one of this blurb included 70% more outrage as Joystiq reported that there were multiple packs at $5 each. That would indeed be insane; if, that is, Joystiq knew what they were talking about. Fortunately, I double-checked the Steam page before posting. It’s all one product. Score one for research!)

Not This Again. Kotaku has a “source” that says work on a new Alien game at Creative Assembly (they of the always buggy Total War games) has been quietly progressing the past two years. After the debacle that was Colonial Marines there is nothing Sega can do to instill even a thimbleful of anticipation for an Alien-branded game. Rumors like this one will not help:

You, as Amanda, spend most if not all of the game on a single space station, according to our source. There’s only one alien for “most” of the game, our source said; you’ll mostly be shooting through “clones and soldiers.” Vents, lockers, and melee weapons are a big part of Isolation, our source said, and the game is heavily inspired by the first Alien movie.

Amanda is Ripley’s daughter from the Aliens movie. The dedication to which designers/producers will bend over backwards to have an unnecessary connection to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic heroine is astonishing. If true, it won’t make the game better or worse for going this route, but it doesn’t exactly scream thinking outside the box. I was momentarily intrigued by the notion of there being one or at least very few aliens in the game until it was followed up with the bit about shooting through clones and soldiers, which conjures images of Yet Another Boring Shooter.


More Ace Patrol. 100% Less F2P. Given how much I loathe the free-to-play model, even in games I might otherwise have enjoyed (see: Hunter, Card) I got a fair bit of time out of my investment in the original Ace Patrol, a freely downloadable iOS game that also made its way to Steam (for something like $10, I think). It was a fun little turn-based tactical WW1-era dogfighting game that was good for killing a few hours and then setting aside. Now, per a story at Polygon, Sid Meier’s team is about to release a sequel, Pacific Skies, which takes place (obviously) in a different theater and includes more planes, more maneuvers, and no hint of any F2P nonsense. Says, Sid:

“I think there’s almost a natural suspicion when you get a free game that there must be a catch,” he said. “That is almost as much in your mind as the actual gameplay. You don’t want to let yourself have too much fun because you’re afraid that you’re going to run into that moment, all of a sudden, when you’re really enjoying the game, something’s going to pop up and say, ‘Hey! Now you gotta do this!’ So I think there’s almost a game-within-a-game that’s being played with the free-to-play-type titles, and our players are used to jumping into a game and expecting to play for an hour or two hours to reach this deep and rich experience, and you don’t have to be kind of always worried as you’re playing that something’s going to come in and disrupt that experience.”

Yep, that about sums it up.

*Originally published at, 10/22/2013
*Updated 2/23/2016 (minor text updates)


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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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