Archive for the ‘ Games ’ Category

Over the past weeks, %%% % % % a few interviews with me have appeared around the Web, and I thought I’d mention them here real quick, in case you are not following me on Twitter or Facebook – shame on you! – an may thus have overlooked these interesting tidbits.

I did a two-part interview with on the subject of eBook formatting. As you all know, I have written a book on the subject, called “Zen of eBook Formatting,” and David Powning, who is running, approached me to talk about the state of the industry. The interview turned out a bit lengthy as we covered all the areas and he decided to present it in two parts on the site.

The first part cover the basic questions about what the biggest pitfalls and stumbling blocks are in the field of eBook formatting, and also whether it makes sense to authors to format their eBooks themselves. The conversation goes into some pretty deep details that you may not have been aware of.

In the second part we talk abut the approach that traditional publishers take towards eBooks and the formatting, but also ventures into areas such as interactive eBook features.

Take a look, if you’ve gotten curious, and see what I have to say on the subject, and perhaps it may give you a few new ideas. You can find the interview here


Another interview arrived, courtesy of “Wilson’s Dachboden,” a German blog. It is an in-depth discussion of the first role-playing game I wrote, called “Spirit of Adventure.” The game was the perfect bridge from the text adventures I started with towards the large-scale role-playing productions like the “Realms of Arkania” games that followed. Fraught with problems during the development and the subsequent distribution, we never managed to bring the game to its full potential, unfortunately, but despite the problems, it opened the door to the “Realms of Arkania” games.

Christian Genzel, who runs “Wilson’s Dachboden,” has been playing “Spirit of Adventure” and is intimately familiar with the game and the conversation we had touches upon a lot of aspects that directly related to issues that had long been forgotten by time, or that had never really been discussed in public.

The interview is in German, but I found that the Bing Translator does a pretty decent job converting it to English.

Make sure to stop by there and check out this in-depth discussion of this classic RPG game of mine.


If names like Scott Adams, Infocom or Magnetic Scrolls make your eyes light up in excitement, you are my kind of crowd. A very special person, obviously with a long history in computer games, because these names are synonymous with the Text Adventure genre.

0031Those of you who have been following my work and career for a long time may actually recall that I started out in the games industry writing text adventures myself. I got hooked on these games after playing Scott Adams’ “The Count” in 1981 on the Apple II. The game captivated my imagination with its storyline, it conjured up images in my mind of gothic horror castles and vampires, it challenged me with its brutally hard puzzles, and it did it all without graphics!

That’s right, folks, as the name suggests, Text Adventures were games that worked without graphics and relied solely on text input and output to play. Today they are often referred to as Interactive Fiction, a term that perhaps describes them a little better, because these games are like reading a book, with the difference that you as the player affect how the story develops. Unlike Choose-your-own-adventure or Fighting Fantasy-style books, however, where the player is confronted with a set of multiple choices at key points, Text Adventures offered full conversational freedom. Using a text parser, you would type in complete sentences, directing and instructing the game to perform certain actions and the game, in return, would report back to you what happened in the story in response. The result was an experience that was, in many ways, richer than anything a game with graphics could offer, and inherently more personal, because the story unfolded entirely in your mind. All the imagery was the result of your own creativity and imagination being unleashed, like playing your personal movie version of the story in your head.

HellowoonCoverSmallScott Adams was one of the pioneers of the genre with his games “Adventureland,” “Voodoo Island,” “The Count” and “Pirate Adventure,” all of which held me spellbound for weeks. They were my first contact with the genre and they made me want to write my own games. These games, and “The Count” in particular, are the reason why I became a developer and have been for the past 30-some years. My very first game “Microchioptera” was a result of playing Scott Adams’ games and although it was never officially published, it was the precursor to my game “Hellowoon,” which was released in 1985 or so.

Around the same time as I played the Scott Adams adventures, I discovered the games made by Infocom, created by a group of MIT staffers and students. As Infocom grew over the years, they offered games in a wide variety of genres, ranging from comedy all the way to horror and everything in between including romance, fantasy and scifi, of course. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is still probably one of their most beloved games, along with titles such as my own personal favorites, “The Lurking Horror” and “Leather Goddesses of Phobos.”

Leather_Goddesses_of_Phobos_boxartHard as hell, these games were real challenges that would keep you occupied for weeks. Oftentimes you would get stuck in a single place for days, trying to find the right command to unlock the next step in the game. It was frustrating, yes, but also unbelievably satisfying when you finally worked it out. The rush that flooded through you, knowing that you had finally worked out the “magic” command just as you typed it, and then hitting the “Enter” key is indescribable, and the memory still brings butterflies to my stomach after more than 30 years.

Infocom was also famous for their packaging, as their games were usually loaded with weird and bizarre gimmicks relating to the games, including letters, notes, buttons, code wheels, goggles, scratch’n’sniff cards, stickers and other often outlandish gadgets. It inspired the packaging of my own game “Ooze” in 1989 where we packed hand-signed and hand-sealed copies of a death certificate and a Last Will note in the box for fans to peruse in the game. Ah, what fun we had…

GraphSpec_12_Guild_of_ThievesAs the genre matured, another star rose in the sky of the genre by the name of Magnetic Scrolls. An English company, under the direction of Anita Sinclair, the studio pushed the envelope of the genre quite a bit by adding imagery to the adventures they sold. These were beautifully painted still images that represented the scenes you were currently playing. It was a huge step forward, and the split-screen technology they employed that allowed you to smoothly drag the image up and down the screen, was nothing less of a revelation because it allowed traditional players to have the images removed entirely and play a traditional text-only adventure, while allowing others to enjoy the “scenery” while playing.

imagesMagnetic Scrolls dazzled players with their debut title “The Pawn” and quickly followed up their success with games such as “The Guild of Thieves,” “Jinxter,” “Corruption” and many others.

Sadly, as the 80s drew to a close, the genre was dying. People no longer wanted to read. They wanted to be flooded with imagery and sounds. The heydays of furious action titles began, as games started to be increasingly driven by visual technology. By the time games like “Wing Commander” hit store shelves, all was lost, and everyone in the industry was chasing after the next technological mega-game, while developers tried to outmatch each other in terms of graphics. A trend that has sadly not stopped since. Many game genres fell by the wayside since those years, and Text Adventures were the first games to get buried.

laasI look back on those games, including the last Text Adventure I wrote, “Drachen von Laas,” with a lot of nostalgia, no question, but with the advent of eBooks I’ve been wondering countless times if, perhaps, there would be a market for Text Adventure games again, after all. Quite clearly, Amazon has gotten people to read again, and from the market data, it is evident that these readers are voracious. More books are being sold than ever in the history of the world, and more books are actually available for sale than ever before, the vast majority of them in digital form, as print media are slowly fading away. With no inventory and stocking costs, digital books have flourished and the reading community has grown exponentially since the Kindle has been released seven years ago.

So, clearly, there is a huge market out there of people who have once again fallen in love with the written word, but currently their entertainment is limited to linear fiction—books. The writer and game developer in me would love to go back to my very roots, and I find asking myself often if these readers would, in fact, be interested in games like text adventures, where their imagination is stirred, where they are given control over the experience and the flow of the story. Part of me wants to say, yes, but another side of me understands that marketing and selling purely text-based products in a world where everything has to be flashy, fast and borderline offensive, and to a society that generally has the attention span of a house fly, would be a hopeless endeavor.

Still, one can dream, n’est-ce pas?


ShadowMordorI have to be honest. I did not follow the development of “Shadow of Mordor” at all. As you may recall, after it turned out to be impossible to get a viewing of the game during this year’s E3 despite my hour-long wait, I lost interest in the game altogether.

Now that it has been released, a lot of coverage has been given to one of the game’s innovative features, the so-called “Nemesis Feature,” which creates pseudo-intelligent opponents that follow certain social orders and appear to populate a living and breathing world that gives every entity the player encounters in the game world goals and purpose. Hmmmmh… I thought to myself when I first heard about this. That does sound very familiar to me!

The Nemesis Feature is essentially the same thing as Deathfire’s Psycho Engine!

If you may recall, a year ago we were trying to fund a game project called “Deathfire” through Kickstarter. It was a traditionally-based role-playing game, much in the vein of the award-winning “Realms of Arkania” cRPGs I have been working in the past, with an exceptionally strong focus on characters. Everything in the game was designed around the charcaters in the game and the emotional response you get from their interaction. Not only the player characters, but all the characters in the game world, including your opponents and the monsters. As you may recall, the system we outlined and had begun to develop for the game was called the “Psycho Engine.”

As I explored Mordor’s Nemesis Feature in more detail, it became apparent to me very quickly that in essence it is the same thing as the Psycho Engine I had designed well over a year ago.

Our system was designed to create player and non-player entities/characters that showed behavior along certain personality lines, independently of what the player is doing. By doing so, these characters would not only have appeared visually unique in the game, because their appearance could be tailored to their stats in real-time, but they would also follow individual goals, determined by the Psycho Engine upon tracking and subsequently analyzing the state of the game and the world.

Psycho Engine went even further, giving entities the knowledge when they were inferior, so that they would respond to it by either abandoning their goals, or by pursuing them even more aggressively

If you compare this to the Nemesis Feature, you will see that it is a carbon copy of what is happening in the game “Shadow of Mordor.” Depending on certain randomly determined parameters, the game creates unique orcs that follow a visual appearance and naming guided by the parameters. Once they make an appearance in the game, they will follow certain goals, such as improving their rank within the orc army or to get involved in one of the many spill-over plots and quests the game offers for that purpose. In addition, these orcs have personalities, based on the parameters, giving them a certain set of dialogue lines and behavioral patterns to match their personalities and goals that make them distinctive and seemingly unique—within limits.

In a nutshell, it is exactly what the Psycho Engine outlined.

The Nemesis Feature also tracks events such as the survival of an orc. If he’s been involved in many battles during the game, like the player, he will level up and become stronger, making sure the same orc will match the player’s progress and always remain challenging when encountered. Once again, this is a feature we had outlined in the Psycho Engine. In fact, the Psycho Engine went even further, giving these entities the knowledge when they were inferior, so that they would be able to respond to it by either abandoning their goals, or by pursuing them even more aggressively.

SkeletonWarriorsFrontJust as our Psycho Engine, the tracking of information and data analysis capabilities of the Nemesis Feature go far beyond just these basics, however, and like our Psycho Engine it takes the information it gathers into account to influence the story and the world around the player. In the case of “Deathfire” we had many small story scenarios and side plots in petto, which were lying dormant in the game until the Psycho Engine would awaken them as a result of certain triggers, activated by either the player or some Psycho Engine-controlled entity.

You can observe the same kinds of events in “Shadow of Mordor,” where the actions of orcs seem to trigger relevant, as well as irrelevant, events relating to the overall story and world. You can observe them pursuing virtual careers and following random events that create rather complex goals, almost like their own side plots.

Seeing the Nemesis Feature in action is a bitter sweet pill for me, as you can certainly imagine. On the one hand the fact that it has been hailed by gamers and the media alike as the most important innovation in computer games in many years makes me happy, because it proves to me that I have been on the right track when I devised the Psycho Engine well over a year ago, at a time when no one was working on technology such as this, really. Of course, now that it has been touted as the revelation that it is, everyone will try to implement technology such as this in their future games. Which is definitely cool and all, because it will result in better games. Still, the thought that we were actually on the bleeding edge of this technology, yet will forever be completely unrecognized by gamers and the media alike, feels like a backhanded slap somehow.

“This could have been us!”

The thought that “This could have been us!” just keeps nagging at me, but in the end, it was an inevitable development. Somebody was bound to do it sooner or later, particularly since the idea for the technology has been germinating in my mind for years.

In retrospect, it is clear that at the time when we first laid information about the Psycho Engine open, the public did not appreciate or understand the far-reaching impact this technology would have on gameplay, as evidenced by the fact that “Deathfire” did not find even the modest financial support we required to continue developing and completing the game.

It will be interesting for me to see how future games will evolve this technology and make even better use of it. The capabilities of a system like the Psycho Engine, or the Nemesis Feature for that matter, are endless and are only limited by the granularity of the information a game keeps track of and, perhaps, its ability to spend processing time on the proper analysis of the data. In “Deathfire” the concept was to go pretty deep. Because the game wasn’t nearly as graphics-intensive as AAA-titles, there would have been headroom to dig pretty deep into the system and make use of the Psycho Engine with insane levels of depth. Imagine the possibilities in a real role-playing game, as opposed to what you are glimpsing in an action-oriented game like “Shadow of Mordor” and you will get a sense for what “Deathfire” would have been capable of.

It will be interesting to watch what other games will be doing, but remember, no matter what anyone tells you, you saw it here first! The Psycho Engine was way ahead of the curve, even if other games now claim the laurels!


I thought I’d write today about something that has been bothering me in computer and video games for many years—decades, in fact. Exaggerated idle animations, a problem that plagues even some of the most famous of AAA games.

When was the last time your chest was heaving up and down five inches when you were standing still? Really… try to remember. Or when was the last time you saw someone standing in place with his shoulders bobbing in a constant motion? When was the last time you saw anyone outside the boxing ring stand in a pose with slightly angled knees, forever raising himself up noticeably, only to lower himself back down in an endless dance-like loop? Never, is when you’ve seen this in real life. People don’t do that, and yet it has become one of the most common, and perhaps annoying, tropes in video games.

Idle animations have their origin in the mid 80s, when graphics capabilities of home computers began to improve and with the move towards more realistic imagery, it suddenly became evident that a static sprite of a standing character just didn’t cut it anymore. It looked lifeless and had no personality whatsoever. In response to that, game developers began adding a subtle animation loop to these sprites to suggest the character is breathing. However, “subtle” in those days had a very different meaning than today. Back then a pixel was the size of a Lego brick and with limited technical capabilities, these animations became inherently larger than life. They were about as subtle as a 90-ton steam engine, but we had to make do with them, and we happily did.

But here’s what irks me. It has been 30 years since then, and technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Display resolutions have increased manifold, bringing the size of a pixel down to a mere pinprick, even on the largest of displays. With sub-pixel resolutions in the render pipeline, it is easily possible today to create even the most subtle of movements; movement that is barely hinted at, just the way natural breathing looks like in real life. And yet, video game characters are still routinely huffing worse than a long-distance runner after a 5-hour marathon.

To me it appears as if this is a clear case of “this is how we always did it, so that’s how we continue to do it.” It is strange, but the mentality we typically attribute to people in a rut suddenly makes its presence known in something as “young“ as the games industry? Well, that’s perhaps the second-largest misconception our industry has. It is no longer “young”—hasn’t been in a long time. But that’s a topic for some other time.

Quite evidently, a long time ago, someone proved that a looped idle sprite is more convincing than a static one but it would appear as if no one’s really questioned the validity of it ever since. I wonder how many game developers really spend time thinking about these pumping idle stances in terms of how much is too much. Hasn’t it just become routine to make them big and over the top, because it’s always been that way? Shouldn’t we, perhaps, take a step back some time and reevaluate not only their value but also their aesthetics?

Instead of simply duplicating the same loops we’ve used for years, perhaps animators should begin to question the practice and break the mold. It seems strange to me that the practice still continues, because other animations have matured to such a degree that they have become incredibly realistic and fluid—and yet, the pumping idling breaks your suspense of disbelief every time.

Less is often more in all of the arts and I am firmly convinced that many game characters would benefit from idle animations that were really nothing more than a bit of near-invisible breathing. Especially when you are working in a realistic world depiction it is important to remember that the idea is to give the character life, not to turn it into a spitting cartoon image of itself. And while we’re at it, this may be a good time to get rid of the body-builder idle poses as well. People take on a wide variety of poses when they stand. Take a moment during lunch, sit down in a populated place to eat and just observe.
Take a page from real life instead of simply rehashing those universal animation data from the previous character or game you’ve been working on.

Just take a few minutes to really think about idling and I am certain you could come up with a wealth of realistic-looking animations that are no harder to implement than the cycles that are currently being rehashed ad nauseam.

A character’s hair could blow in the wind if he’s outdoors. No chest heaving necessary—the flying hair alone would give him life. If he’s wearing loose clothing, fluttering clothing would add to it.

Idle animations could even be adaptive to situations in the game. If the character comes out of a battle or has been running, make the idle loop more noticeable while reducing its scale when the character is not exhausted. Find ways to let a character come to life through other means, like the fluttering clothes I mentioned, or perhaps simple huffs of condensing breath in the chilly air.

Note that none of these are fidget animations, which are usually added to break up the monotony. I am strictly referring to the underlying idling, which makes up the majority of what the player is presented with.

I truly believe it is time to challenge the status quo and do away with overly grand idle animations, and make sure the movements of a character standing still are every bit as subtle as the ones you employ or him during the rest of the game.

Your players will thank you for it, I am sure.


Rife with possibilities, %%% % % % this setting should be worth more than it is.

”The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the sense awake and revolt from it.”

Ian Fleming was hardly the first author to use a casino setting in his writing, but he is arguably the most famous. His descriptions of the Monte Carlo Casino in Casino Royale remain to be some of the best – something that writers continue to strive for to this very day.

M-Resort-Casino-Floor-4For all of the publicity that Fleming has brought to casinos, however – not to mention all their reputation as luxurious places for the rich and famous – casinos have hardly been given much notice in the world of video games. Although the world has seen an active online casino gaming industry since the launch of InterCasino in 1996, gameplay has been more or less the same. Casino games are overly simplistic, and there’s not much for players to do other than log onto their accounts and start spending money.

Games like GoldFire’s CasinoRPG have tried to take casino games down a different path, allowing for some degree of customization and socialization. But then, story lines in casino games remain to be quite limited, if not linear. And in a world of free-roam and free-world MMORPGs and games like Grand Theft Auto proving time and again that a world of limitless possibilities can be achieved, the lack of a great story sets casino games up for failure.

Today’s game development scene is unique in that Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing techniques now allow developers to produce less conventional games. Without having to worry about worldwide sales and sponsorships, independent developers are free to experiment with different combinations of genres, resulting in games like Poker Knight being developed. But rather than creating a game that has some elements of casino games integrated into its battles, why not create a game centered around a casino experience?

Developers should take Fleming’s descriptions of the experience of playing in a high-end casino as a challenge, and seek to recreate this experience in a video game. Rendering some of the best, most beautiful casinos into a 3D game, developers should be able to begin setting up the stage for some of the gaming industry’s most intense, emotional scenes. Players should be able to speak to each character in the casino and slowly get to know them, with each NPC having its own back story and personality.

Of course, the player himself should also be interesting, and not just the bland piece of cardboard that most protagonists often end up becoming. As they play along, they discover more about the character they’re controlling, and more of their quest is revealed to them.

Game developers could take things to the next level by creating a game not just set in a casino, but in a city like Las Vegas, where casinos are the star attractions. Moving from casino to casino, players can begin to make a name for themselves, all while following an engaging plot and encountering interesting characters along the way.


As many of you know, I’ve been a game developer for most of my life, and my career in the industry goes back over 30 years. As such, I have seen trade shows come and go, and I was there when the Electronic Entertainment Expo, now universally known as E3, was first conceived as the industry’s replacement for the Chicago CES show.

Yesterday I went to the Los Angeles Convention Center to visit this year’s E3, but what greeted me was more reminiscent of a visit to Disneyland than a trade show. Let me explain…

For the past two or three years a strange trend has permeated E3, one that is unique to this particular trade show. Exhibitors would take their showcase games and no longer display them on the show floor. Instead they would isolate them in a separate room in the actual booth, allowing only a few people inside to see the game, in the course, forcing people to line up to wait their turn. SquareEnix was probably the first company to do this, years ago, to show off the latest “Final Fantasy” entry and over time other publishers adopted the practice.

Well, this year it took a turn for the extreme, because if you were visiting E3 this year, the odds are you didn’t even see half the games that were on display. Instead you saw theme-park-like waiting lines in virtually every major publisher’s booth. In fact, half the booth space of exhibitors, such as Warner Interactive, consisted of nothing but roped-off waiting lines. Take a look at this picture.

The entire length of the booth consisted of people waiting in line to see one of Warner’s top games. Because I was curious I actually decided to get in line to take a look at “Shadow Of Mordor,” the latest “Lord of the Rings” game, waited in line for almost 30 minutes, only to find that my line was cut off four or five guys ahead of me. Unable to get into that presentation I would have had to wait another hour to see the next one! Sorry, folks but that is just ludicrous.


Or take a look at the presentation of “Bloodborne” at the Sony booth.

The publisher deliberately placed the screen inwards so that you could not see the presentation from the outside. How backwards is that? Do you want people to see the game or not? How hard would it have been turn the booth 180 degrees and allow people walking by to see that game. It would have resulted in tons of additional exposure, but no, it is much more important to have people line up, clutter the rest of the booth and create a traffic block. Well done, guys!

What’s even more ridiculous is that some exhibitors made people line up to even check out games that have been already released. Electronic Arts, for example, forced people to line up, just to get their hands on “Titanfall,” an action shooter that was released three months ago! EA has never been known as a company with a lot of common sense, but this certainly scraped the bottom of the barrel.

This, of course, begs the question, are publishers afraid to show you their games? Not really. The answer is actually much simpler. It is sadly as juvenile as the games most of them make.

It all has to do with the opinion most publishers have of themselves. You have people in their marketing departments whose job it is to create excitement around the games they sell, and you have the executives of these companies whose job it is to turn a profit and make the shareholders happy. When you talk to these people, they all have one thing in common: They all think the games they sell are the best in the world and that the company they work for — which strangely changes very frequently — is the most important and influential player in the industry. In short, they live in this bubble where they make themselves believe the hype they are trying to create.

If you truly believe the success of your company or the sales of your game are determined by the length of the waiting line at E3, I have one word for you: psycho-analysis. Seriously, though, it is frightening to think that publishers are so simple-minded that they believe that bigger crowding in their booth buys them karma points and intimidates their competitors. (In their own minds, I have no doubt, their own crowds will always be the biggest and their lines will always be the longest, just as their company will always be the best.)


Therefore, a post-E3 statement at Warner Interactive, might easily sound something like this — “Did you see how long the lines were to see Mortal Kombat X? People really loved that game.”

What’s wrong with this statement? Well, first of all, it completely misses the point, because just because people stood in line doesn’t mean they actually got to see the game, let away, liked it. Since they never got to see the game and stood in line simply based on the assumption that the game might be interesting, to deduce that people liked the game is no more valid than saying that, with its lines and all, the DMV must be the epitome of a happy place.

In the real world, at a really useful trade event, the statement could have been “Did you see the crowd and how excited people were that they could finally see Mortal Kombat X?“

But that would predicate that people actually had the chance to witness the game as an openly accessible presentation in the booth, which was clearly not the case at E3. I didn’t see a single frame of Mortal Combat X, or Shadows of Mordor, or the new Batman: Arkham Asylum, or The Sims 4 and countless other games. And it frustrates me. Not only the fact that I went to a trade show to see the latest games, but also the fact that publisher truly expect me to stand in line for hours to see a video clip for single game, then leave, wait in line for an hour to see a clip of their other game, and so forth.

In their desire to appear to be the show’s hot ticket, they mistake a waiting line for actual enthusiasm. Or then again, they do not mistake it, they are fully aware of the farce, but they are so misguided that they think YOU can’t tell the difference, because the reason they really do it is because in their mind, they believe that these lines, reflect positively on them and the game you’re trying to see. Creating this barrier, the game becomes this intangible, unreachable objective that everyone has to aspire to because if the waiting lines are so long, the game has to be so cool, right.

Boy, oh boy… I saw through that gimmick in first grade when my teacher tried to use gold stars to draw better performances and behavior out of us. It is sad to see that these huge business entities allow the handling of their trade shows to stoop down to the level of first-graders. Gamers are not stupid…


As things go in the real world that I roamed in, the real sentiment among visitors at E3 these days is that they are disgruntled because they never even had the chance to see the game. Instead of spending the time talking to colleagues about the cool games we saw, creating real word of mouth interest, conversations around E3 were often taking place about how frustrating it is to get to see anything of interest. To assume that a visitor has an endless amount of time on their hands is completely half-baked and, frankly, stuck-up. Many industry professionals have to squeeze as much in a single day as they can, and there is no room to wait in line for hours on end. Evidently, for people who are working the trade-show booths this is not an issue because to them it is one large three-day event, but for the throngs of visitors it is not.

So, in the end, exhibitors are really shooting themselves in the foot with this practice. I would have been happy to tell people about how great “The Sims 4” looks, how amazing “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” or how cool “Shadow of Mordor” seems to be, but I can’t and I won’t, because I never saw the games, and to me that is a joke. It is a sign for me that the industry has lost all perspective in its self-indulgent make-believe bubble. You either want to show off your product, or you don’t. If the latter is true, you have no place on the trade show floor, and if the number of guards, whose job it is to make sure no one’s jumping lines, outnumbers the number of presenters in your booth, you know that you definitely got something wrong.

E3 is the only trade show I’ve ever seen with this kind of practice. These are not closed door meetings, which have their value and purpose, but public displays that deliberately shun visitors to create the illusion of something special. To me, that is just backfiring. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and, quite honestly, I no longer care if “Shadow of Mordor” is any good or not. I have lost interest… good job!


Look what I found…

While I was going through materials and documents I just stumbled across this 1999 interview with GameWeek Magazine. The magazine is no longer around and folded in 2002.

It’s a bit of nostalgia and one of the interviews I like and remember most coming out of my “Planescape: Torment” era. Since many of you may never have seen this, or may not remember, I thought I’d post this little gem for you.

Click on the image for an enlarged version

It’s always fun to find little things like this one somewhere in your stash. I hope you will enjoy the read.


If you’ve been following the development of my current game project, “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore,” you may be aware of the fact that we are currently trying to find this project on Kickstarter.

Here is a short trailer for the game, which taken from the full Kickstarter pitch video. Check it out and see if this is something you like.

So far we’ve already raised almost $40k, but it will be a long, hard way to the end, to get the full funding in place for the game, which is necessary to make the Kickstarter succeed.

Fortunately, you can help – even if you’re not into games and even if you don’t care for this one in particular perhaps. Why? Because your friends, relatives or acquaintances might be interested, and all I would ask of you is to share the good news. And to make it really easy for you, I have even prepared a couple of buttons, so that with three simple clicks, you can do a tremendously good deed and support our efforts. Just click on the link below, if you would,and my eternal thanks will be guaranteed. not to mention that your karma will go through the roof!

As you may recall, “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” is a single-player party-based fantasy role-playing game that combines deep characters and solid storytelling with turn-based combat. One of the really cool things about the project is that we have a great team, consisting of people I have known and worked over the past 25 years or so. Some of our team members go back with me as far as “Shadows over Riva.” How cool is that?

It is a fun project to develop, and we’re trying to make something that truly harkens back to the traditional role-playing games of the Golden Era, when we all glued to our screens playing “Realms of Arkania,” “Wizardry,” “Might&Magic” or “Dungeon Master” and such. Creating the same kind of depth and attachment, but wrapping it in new technology and a beautiful visual presentation, we hope that “Deathfire” will truly speak to people who love classic role-playing games. After all, it’s what we know how to do best.


I know that I have been remiss on this, and I apologize, but we opened the official website for my current game project “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” a little while ago and have transferred all the Development Diary entries over there. Instead of updating both blogs constantly, I think I will stop posting these updates here and will do them on the official site instead.

In case you missed the past update, we released a series of screenshots recently, showing some of the interiors of one of the game’s dungeons. You can find the post here, complete with a bit more background information.

Today, I have also posted a new Development Diary update, talking briefly about a number of new members who have joined the “Deathfire” team recently. Make sure to stop by and check it out, because the post also sports two new screenshots showing off some of the improvements we have been working on in the past weeks, to increase the visual impact and atmosphere of our scenery in Unity.


While venturing through the catacombs somewhere in the depths of the Ruins of Nethermore the other day, we stumbled across a strange set of notes. They seem to be coming from the pages of a diary. In fact, someone suggested, they might be a diary entry from the great elven wizard Tesselar.


Long and heated discussion broke out over this suggestion here in our offices, but the more we did our research, the more it became evident, that the handwriting does indeed seem to match that of the legendary Tesselar. We also discovered hints in various reports that the elusive wizard-who-walks-the-ages has been seen approaching the Nethermore Mountains some weeks past, shortly after the initial outbreak of the undead plague. Tesselar’s appearance is significant, of course, in many ways, because the wizard magister had not been seen for many years prior, and the only explanation for his presence in the Nethermore region is that he has been following the same goal as ours… to find the source and stop the horrors of the walking dead, just as these mysterious notes indicate.

You are skeptical? Well then, read for yourself…

Tesselar's Diary

Earlier today, I reached an intersection in the tunnels deep beneath the Nethermore Mountains. The stench that lay heavy in the air down here was so overpowering that my knees began to buckle. I had to lean heavily on my staff as bile rose in the back of my throat, triggered by the stench of decay and rot that surrounded me. I was wrestling with the many emotions that flooded over me at the sight that lay before me. So bizarre was it that I have to commit it to paper in detail. No part of it must be lost or forgotten. For some reason, I have a sense that what I’ve been looking at is more important than it may seem just now, and I may need to rely on my notes at some later point.

The path before me was rough. Here, deep beneath the Earth, the bedrock had chiseled its own path, the force and sheer weight of tons of granite forcing itself between the old walls of the catacombs, creating deep rifts, and cracking the overhead structures with ease. I was surrounded by silence, except for reluctant drops of water that echoed in the distance as they dripped to the ground. The soft, shimmering light from my staff struggled to penetrate the darkness before me.

The peaceful silence was deceiving, for I was surrounded by at least one dozen animal carcasses; cadavers that appeared to be clawing at each other even in the moment of death that had caught up with them no more than two days ago. Reluctantly, I stepped toward the rotting flesh, careful not to trip on the brittle ground. Wet and black from the sewage and blood, my rope was steeped up to my ankles. As I looked closer, the light of my staff revealed that these were no animals. At least not ordinary animals. Their rat-like bodies were decidedly humanoid and must have been at least as tall as a man. The cadavers were clad in armor and carried weapons, as far as I could tell from their shredded remains.

As my gaze roved across the floor I noticed another dead creature among them. Amongst the rat-like warriors lay slender, insect-like body parts, their severed heads staring at me with dully facetted, expressionless black eyes. What a massacre… what rage… not a single victim that was left intact.

But then, from the corner of my eyes I noticed a single rat, somewhat separated from the others. Lying partially obscured in the shadows, this one was not humanoid, but instead it was enormous… easily the size of a fully grown Worg. The animal had deep cuts on its head and hideous lacerations along its flanks – wounds far beyond anything that healing powers could salvage, and yet, a last dying spark of life was still glimmering in the eyes of this animal.

I took another step closer and slowly reached out my hand. I could sense the animal’s wealth of emotions. This was clearly no ordinary animal. Its sense of sadness swept over me, so profound that it threatened to bring tears to my eyes. I felt its exhaustion from the battle and the deathly wounds. It was intelligent… comparable to the mind of a child, perhaps, but intelligent nonetheless. And it was dreaming… the feverish hallucinations of a life dwindling away with every heartbeat.

I had to know what had happened here! Especially in light of the fact that I have to continue on this path through these very catacombs. I gently place my hand on the animal’s matted fur, right between its dimming eyes. Only barely did I register the saddle on the animal’s back at that point, because already, its confused memories that wound their way through its dying mind began to appear before my own mind’s eye.


Giant rats were battling in the ruined halls of some ancient temple. Side by side with their humanoid, armor-clad brethren, the giant rats fought with the desperate ferocity of cornered animals, as wave after wave of their opponents broke upon them. Humans! The images I saw were blurred and out of focus, and I felt the animal was passing quickly now, its heartbeat already slowing to a crawl. Among the carnage I witnessed an opponent’s torso being ripped to pieces, its human body crashing lifelessly to the ground. As it lay there in rivulets of crimson blood, it began to regenerate itself and the corpse rose yet again to continue the fight. As more and more rats fell, the odds became overwhelming, and before this horde of relentless, undead warriors, the surviving rats eventually fled into bottomless pits and uncharted sewer channels to escape the bloodshed.

That is where it all started, I realized! The undead flood. The walking dead. The ancient temple ruins. This is where I will have to go!

Another image appeared before my mind’s eye just then, of another battleground. Dank cave tunnels this time. The rats were tangled up in fighting yet again, only this time without their humanoid brethren by their sides. An emotion came with the vision of the battle scene, a different sensation… hunger. The rats were starving. I witnessed as flitting images of eggs danced before my eyes. Food for the rats, much of the shells cracked and empty. Food aplenty. And there were flashes of weapons! Guards! A number of insectoid creatures, heavily armored in their chitin shells, were pummeling the rats, slowly driving them back, away from the eggs. A froth of saliva shot from the insect creatures’ mouths like projectiles, as they poisoned the rats, paralyzing them and finally capturing them as they lay helplessly on the floor.

As I tried to piece together the fragmented vision that had spun through my mind, it appeared to me that the rats must have been pillaging an insectoid nest for food, when they were surprised by guards defending the nesting grounds.

The rat twitched under my touch, as its heartbeat became irregular. A last series of images flashed before me. The giant rat was fighting once again, but a strange red color tinges everything this time. I recognized the surroundings, the fight was taking place right where I stood… in these primordial catacombs… this very place… but there was more. In horror I observed that the rat was fighting its own humanoid brethren! Movement in the corner of my vision caught my attention and I was able to see her companions, fellow giant rats with fiercely glowing red eyes. Rats with saddles fastened on their backs, carrying the chitin monsters as they sliced the wooden pole arms of the humanoid rats with razor sharp claws. The humanoid rats were fighting back with a vengeance, but their expressions were unmistakable. They were horrified and stunned by the fact that they were facing their own kin in battle.

Insectoids fell dead from their saddled thrones in the slaughter, but driven by some emotionless impetus, the giant rats continued to fight their own brethren tooth and nail. With sharp claws they pulled the humanoid rats to the ground, then ripped their throats with blood-stained teeth. All the while, their brethren fought back vehemently, piercing their attackers’ lungs and stabbing them to death with daggers made from bones. The massacre ended when all humanoid rats lay dead, when most of the chitin monsters had ceased to breathe. The few who lived moved on, down the tunnel to nurse their wounds. Only this lone rat remained, dying…

When the last of its life ebbed from the rat’s body and its skull slowly grew cold under my touch, the enormity of what I had just witnessed jerked me back to my senses. The path that lies ahead of me had just become a whole lot more challenging, for now I know that there is not only the plague of the undead to deal with. The dark tunnels ahead of me hold promise of a violent conflict between two different races. A conflict I do not wish to be dragged into. But I realize that, in time, my hand will be forced and I will have to choose. But what choice will it be?