Game review – Mars: War Logs

Mars: War Logs is an import game released in 2013 which I picked up on Steam during one of their numerous sales for something under $3 (retail is just under $15). I was curious about it based on the images which had a cool cinematic retro future look and because it’s in one of my favorite genre, the story driven RPG. I had trouble running it on my old PC but after getting my new laptop I thought I’d give it another try and I’m glad I did.

The story takes place in the distant future on Mars. Long ago in the history of the game Mars was a prosperous colony on a well terraformed world. Now it is something of a post apocalypse wasteland where the surviving remnants of civilization fight over continually dwindling resources. People known as Psychers use ancient technology to manifest magic like abilities serving as elite military personnel for the factions.

The protagonist of the game is a renegade Psycher who becomes embroiled in a plot to stop the Psychers from one of the factions from completing a secret project and taking control over society for their own mysterious ends. The story begins in a military prison from which the hero escapes with a comrade, then moves to a neighboring empire where you either ally with a band of idealistic rebels or a concerned faction of the establishment to stop the Psycher plot.

Game play is two pronged. There is a branching story to navigate and you can form alliances with different factions and relationships with different potential allies. There are also various side quests to occupy your time. This shares about equal footing with the hand to hand combat encounters which are a mix of arcade action and leveling/gearing your character in various combat powers and attributes.

The storytelling and world building are the game’s strongest selling points. Unfortunately both suffer a little from uneven writing in the dialog and plotting. At times the story can be quite compelling, especially in the game’s first two chapters. As it moves on things get a bit more predictable and wrote and the end of the game is on the anti-climactic side. The same goes for the world building. It starts out very intriguing but before too long you realize you are only going to scratch the surface of it while playing the game.

The combat and character building are lackluster but not deficient. Most of the combat choices are decent and they do lead to different tactics during fights. The controls are a little on the awkward side and the combat animations are not the sophisticated sort you find in Witcher 3 or the Batman games. It is a pretty simple game with fairly simple mechanics.

Ultimately it feels like a game made by professionals but both a bit behind the times and on a very limited budget. The locations are linear and limited and the range of enemies is pretty small. There is a fair bit of detail in the art, but there isn’t all that much of it. I certainly got my moneys worth and personally I like a short game with a concise story. By the time it had started to show its weaknesses the game was nearly over.

I recommend it for fans of the genre so long as you go in wanting a smaller simpler game than sprawling epics like Dragon Age but with the same sort of game play and in an unusual genre setting.


D&D Ultimate Edition: Late for the party

Last week I decided to write up a series of blog posts about D&D, edition wars, and a personal pet project I wanted to undertake to make my own “Ultimate” version of the D&D rule set.

Little did I know before I’d even started posting them, here comes WOTC announcing they are working on the next version of D&D. Not only that, but I was clearly picking up some telepathic transmissions from the design team as we seem to be working from a similar design document.

So here is what I wrote late last week (it was to be the fourth post in a series of five)….

Part 4: Rolling my own

I’ve gotten it into my head that I want to make a new version of D&D. Of course if I wanted to share it I’d need to call it something else but until then I’m calling it D&D: Ultimate Edition.  Not because I have confidence it will be all that ultimate, but to set a high bar for my objective of melding together some of what I think are the best aspects of D&D and adding a little of my own personal style to make it “perfect” for my personal needs. So it would only be “my ultimate edition,” not “the ultimate edition.”

There are a couple of philosophical approaches that should make the effort somewhat unique.

#1: I intend to construct one core set of rule books that contain layers of rules. The inner core game would serve as a simple and fast play model while the outer optional layers offer a more detailed and expansive play experience. The books would teach how to use the rules options to create games with different play styles but which are of the same familiar core mechanic.

#2: I want to explain myself and the rules. I intend to not only offer the rules but to give my most concise explanation of why they are the way they are. I want to empower the reader to change and improve on the game with the benefit of the reasons I structured it the way I did. If the rules have flaws and sacrifices made, I want to point out those as well.

Aside from all that, I will be borrowing heavily from every game I’ve ever played as well as from advice from those I know and respect. And I’ll set out to do what play testing I can. I expect that my output will be pretty far from any given edition of D&D but reading it you should have a clear idea where all the inspiration comes from and why I chose it.

Granted there is a good chance I simply won’t finish this project and like many it will go a ways and then my interest will simply shift elsewhere or it will never quite get the priority needed for the time it will take. Nor if I do finish it do I have any grand aspirations of trying to gain it some kind of wide acceptance or influence. Oh I may dream of such things of course, but I think it’s unlikely. Most great projects take a team and this is a by design a personal effort to satisfy myself. I’ll consider more what to do with it in earnest if I actually get close to finishing it.

And there you have it…

So now #1 is not so unique after all, in fact it sounds like one of the primary objectives of the new D&D design team. J Can’t say I’m disappointed. While they may not make all the same choices I would, I can say I’m on the same page and thinking on the same lines as Monty Cook and Bruce Cordell and that makes me pretty happy. Clearly they came to this conclusion a good bit before I but it seems we are connecting some of the same dots.

Of course #2 remains a bit unique. It’s something I did in my Advanced Feats series and it seemed well received. Since the 5E effort is going to be at least partly out in the open, and I do happen to know a few of the team members at least a little, I’ll be sure to put in a word for the open design philosophy.

If things go well and the gods of RPGs bless all the design team’s hearts with gaming goodness, perhaps we will all be playing our own Ultimate editions of D&D each in our own way yet also the same.

Paizo Con Aftermath

Back from Paizo con where I spent nearly all my weekend; from early Friday to Sunday afternoon. Paizo Con is a gaming convention for the Pathfinder RPG; which is in turn a D&D offshoot.


I tend to go to this Con mostly to support my friends Wolfgang and Shelly with their Open Design company, but this year it was personal! I had my first print RPG book with my name on it available for folks to buy, so in addition to selling their fine products I was selling my own.


Beyond manning the booth, collecting emails, and talking up the latest OD offerings I had special missions to run some adventures created and sponsored by the company as well as to host a panel about the wide world of feats. Both games and panes went off great, and we seemed to sell a pretty decent number of books considering the small size of the convention.


Some highlights for me

  • Players in my adventures praised them and I even got a hug and some chainmail as spontaneous tribute.
  • Despite the early Sunday morning panel time, I had a solid audience for my feats panel. (I find a small audience much scarier than a large one.)
  • Someone told me that their experience with the Netbook of Feats was what launched their freelance writing career.
  • Many people had kind words about my work and wanted to talk about feats with me.
  • I scored more freelancing missions to keep me hammering away at the keyboard.


Would you like fries with your decapitation?

My mind likes to form long rambling chains of thoughts where the connection from one to the next is sometimes more spiritual than logical. At some point I’ll laugh out loud and Anne will ask “OK, what is it?”

Yesterdays “inspiration” started with some talk about Oblivion, a Bathesda Elder scrolls game. Anne had been retro playing it recently in anticipation of their next release, Skyrim. I was thinking about the combat system which is one of the series weak points in some ways, it often swings widely from overly hard to exploitative easy. This led me to thinking of their Fallout games which have a different combat system, but also a bit flawed in similar respects. This led me to think of the coming Fallout MMO in development and how they might change combat there. Clearly VATS wasn’t workable for multi-player real time. My mind wandered to armor systems and trying to avoid every fall out player wearing powered armor at all times when in fact that simply made the most logical sense if you were being attacked by mutants and small nuclear weapons.

This in turn led me to consider getting blown up by said weapons and how they might handle death in a game with a wry sense of humor. I considered that being dead might be an opportunity for the game to chide you gently and perhaps share with you some strategic hints in a classic fallout style. Then, finally the idea referenced in the title came to me. They could use the opportunity of your inability to do much to show you some in game advertising. Hey, its not like you were doing anything just then right? Think of it as an in game insentive not to get yourself killed, and if the commercials were Fallout Funny, you might not even mind them so much.

Ultimately, I think it’s a bad idea. It creates an intensive or perceived intensive for the game to kill the characters as often as possible and keep them incapacitated so they can ply their eyeballs with paid adds. Still, I find it amusing and I think there is some opportunity to entertain dead players in a game that is heavy set with dark humor by torturing them just a little.

If you have any alternate death “penalties” I’d love to hear them.

Portal 2: Ya it’s really good

Yesterday Anne and I more or less declared a day off and did little other than play Portal 2. By 2am we had both beaten the single player as well as the co-opp which we tackled first.


Overall, we both loved it. Part of the joy of the original was… its originality and indeed much in the sequel is familiar. What it lacks in newness, it makes up for in added elements. The team play is wonderful, the more robust story is a lot of fun, and the new challenge elements add a lot of variety to the challenges. It is certainly much more a full game than its predecessor with far more puzzles, a wider range of environs, and a much richer story. That said, its still a “short” game in that you can play through it pretty quickly and replay is more limited than an RPG, Arcade or Strategy title. Personally, I prefer a shorter but richer game experience and I even though I ran through it in one marathon session, I felt like I got my full moneys worth of entertainment and challenge.


I did feel that Portal 2 was not exceptionally challenging and both Anne and I were rarely stumped for more than a handful of minutes. I’d like to think I’m just terribly clever, but I suspect that most won’t find it too hard unless spacial puzzles just aren’t your thing in which case…. might not be your kind of game. 🙂  Then again, it gave the pleasure of making me feel very clever without ever making me feel too stupid to figure it out. I think that is likely the sweet spot most game designers are shooting for so I’d call that a win. If you have never played Portal, it may be more challenging until you “get” the basic idea, fortunately the game does a great job bringing you up to speed as you play so you should find yourself feeling clever in no time flat.


Its very funny, more so than the first and with more characters worked into the story while still featuring lots of Glados. All of them are great! They also do a wonderful job expanding on both the world and the narrative story without slowing down the action at all. Valve is really great at story telling in action games, miles beyond a lot of other designers/writers.


Summary: Its a damn fine sequel and a wonderful game. Good job Valve!



Advanced Feats: Best Sellers

I like to watch over my little game products and see how they are doing, respond to readers, and generally indulge in a little internal joy at their mere existences. I was happy to discover that three of them have manged to be awarded copper sales medals at Drive Through RPG.


I don’t know exactly how many that is. It is the lowest of the sales awards they have, yet not all that many products I’ve looked at sport any such awards so I feel like its at least a little bit special. The three oldest books are sporting it and I hope that in time they all garner one.

Secrets of the Alchemist

Witch’s Brew

Summoner’s Circle


I have to say that much of the credit goes to Shelly Baur for her hard work on marketing and promoting Advanced Feats as well as for coming up with the idea of having me do feats books for them. She does a killer job for Open Design.

My first published game product!

I’m very excited because today, Open Design released my first solo game project!

You can pick it up for a mere $3.95 from the Kobold Quarterly store here
Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist

This is the first in a series called Advanced Feats, which details each of the new classes in the Pathfinder Advanced Players guide. For those not hooked into gamer culture its an off shoot of Dungeons and Dragons.

While I’ve written some articles for Kobold Quarterly and I have done a lot of free work on line with the Netbook of Feats, its exciting to do my own product and actually sell it in the marketplace where it has to compete for your hard earned dollar against many other fine offerings.

So if you are a pathfinder player, and you have the Advanced Players Guide, grab a copy of Secrets of the Alchemist and make me a happy author! Here is the product description in case your interested.

Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist gives you insight into the alchemist class and the tools to make an exciting character that is a “blast” to play. Created by Sigfried Trent, this 12-page book includes:

  • A breakdown of the Alchemist class
  • 30 new feats for alchemists, such as Bottoms Up, Fire in the Hole, Primeval Fury, and Sundering Bomb
  • Alchemist character builds: The Carpet Bomber, Mighty Mutant, and Mad Scientist!

When the goblin chief asks you what’s in all those funny bottles hanging from your belt, uncork a laboratory full of whoop-ass on him! Get your copy of Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist today–and stay tuned in the months to come for the rest of the Advanced Feats series for the other new Pathfinder character classes.

Current gaming addiction (DDO)

Current gaming addiction

Lately I’ve been back into playing DDO.  While I’m a subscriber to it, the free to play model has brought in a lot of new players and the development team has been cranking out new and fun content to play.  It really feels like the game has re-invented itself and found its audience as a result.

Ive been playing for 4 years but I’ve been out of game for at least 18 months of that time here and there, mostly because another game has caught my fancy or I just want a break from grinding monsters and treasure for a while.  The guild I started back on day 1, Umber Hulks, is still kicking long after I stepped down as its leader.  I’m amazed how many of its members are still playing and remain loyal to the guild.

About half my DDO time is spent playing and about half is spent creating character ideas, chatting with other players, and sifting through my inventory.  My experience has shown that’s something I like in an MMO, a bit of a social experience and virtual shopping simulator along with a nice complicated game to make the prior two exercises worthwhile.  These days you can find me in game, on the forums, and on the DDO podcast.  I have something of a reputation as a rules and mechanics guru.

What makes the actual game such a pleasure is that the mechanics are complex, the strategies varied, and the action is fast paced.  I find most of the other MMO’s tend to have straight forward mechanics (though still quite strategic) and a fairly plodding pace to the combat.

If you are looking for a fantasy hack and slash RPG, I highly recommend it.  It is free to download and free to play from level 1 to 20.  But be warned, while the free options make for a great game the paid options will grow very tempting.  Turbine makes more now than they ever did with subscribers and it’s not by forcing anyone to pay.