Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 16, 2017

Email: Video game value

I don’t think of it in terms of a ratio like dollars to minutes or some other quantifiable measure. It’s more a feeling of “is this game fun to play?” If it is, then I consider it a valuable use of my time and money. Fun, as you mentioned, is subjective. I also value a Switch game inherently more since it’s both portable and physical, and I’m willing to pay a little more for those qualities. DOOM would be in my Switch right now if I didn’t already have it on the PS4, and I may get it eventually because being able to play it untethered from a TV or PC is worth it to me.

Reviews by “games journalists” are generally worthless as a quality measure. They’re trying to blow through the game by a deadline, their employer is probably being sponsored by the publisher if it’s a AAA game, and they’re also usually given a free copy. Both of these facts taint their coverage no matter how stridently they deny it. Rushing also results in BS like Has-Been Heroes having a 53 Metascore despite being one of the top five games on the Switch.

If we’re talking pure monetary value, most modern games are worthless. I have thought lately about unloading my PS4 and 20+ games to focus on catching up on all the DOS classics that I missed. When I priced everything out at GameStop, I was barely able to get back the cost of a new game. Most of the games I have are less than two years old. The modern trends of annualized releases and online focus have combined to drive resale values into the basement, and I bet the current “turn every game into a Vegas casino with loot boxes” trend will make it even worse. Nintendo games, of course, are generally not subject to this.

I’ll send my thoughts on Ultima I in another e-mail once I finish it. The short version is that it’s primitive and confusing, but fun enough for that to not matter.

haha. You’re playing Ultima I? Geez….

I don’t think Ultima series is a ‘story series’. I think the series is best defined as ‘Here is the Open World using the current technology at the time…’ Ultima I is 1981 so it is extremely primitive. But yet, look at all the other 1981 games. Ultima I is light years ahead in many ways.

As it is with older games and with Ultimas, be sure to read the fictional manual. It is fun, adds to the world building, and it does fill in certain blanks.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 12, 2017

Email: Stardew Valley

I’d love to recommend a Switch game to you but sadly as of right now it’s only available on the Switch in digital form. However I suspect this will change as the Xbox and PS4 have physical versions and given that Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is getting a physical release on Switch, I won’t be surprised if Stardew Valley follow’s suit given how well it’s selling on the eshop.

Since finishing Zelda: BoTW WoW, Stardew Valley has become my new obsession. This I think could very much be a Malstrom game. It came out on Steam in 2016 and people are still playing it especially now being on Switch and being portable (surprising the game didn’t get a mobile port yet). This is also one of those Switch games where gamers have “double dipped” meaning they bought this on another platform but bought it on Switch for the portability. That’s happening more often than you might think.

You know I’ll just post this to save a lot of time.

Stardew Valley is one of those games where everyone has a different experience playing it that it makes for one of those games that’s fun to share experiences with. When you start out, your character leaves their depressing cubicle job to restore their grandfather’s farm that he left to you in his will. But once you arrive, you don’t just have to focus on farming, you can fish, explore caves and fight monsters, learn to craft items like in Minecraft. Eventually you’re able to unlock access to other places like a quarry and a desert to find more to explore and do.

Watching the video I shared here. The creator doesn’t suffer from a “game god” complex. He didn’t care about sharing his brilliant vision with the gaming community. He just wanted to make a fun life sim game namely because he felt the Harvest Moon series hasn’t expanded much since the PS1 days. Basically he wanted a sort of Harvest Moon/Minecraft hybrid.

But possibly the most interesting thing I learned was how this game was pirated but then said pirates turned around and bought the game properly because they enjoyed it so much. So that should be a signal to the game industry, not that they’ll pay attention.

Anyway I could gush on for pages about how addictive and fun Stardew Valley is but seriously when this game hopefully gets a physical Switch release I hope you check it out.

I tried it on PC and didn’t like it. If you like games like Harvest Moon, then Stardew Valley will be for you.

BTW, the story of pirates buying the game is very old and common. We have no way to determine a value of a game. Piracy doesn’t mean lost sales. I’d say low skill piracy is the problem (think of flashcarts for the DS).

Game Industry will never pay attention. Game Industry is so stupid, they can’t even figure out what happened business-wise for Generation 1 let alone Generation 8 or 9. Generation 7 is still a mystery to them. All they know is Generation 5 and 6 and think that is the only way (and ignore the handheld sector in those generations because Sony wasn’t there).

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 12, 2017

How do you determine video game value?

It is not so much that gaming is expensive, it is that gaming has no other purpose than entertainment. Unlike a computer, a game console either entertains or it does not. There is no utilitarian value in it. Some companies have tried to place such value such as DVD playing capabilities in a PS2, the Wii doing Netflix, etc. but game consoles live and die by their games.

And the games are difficult to judge for value. How are we, the amazing consumers, supposed to determine value? There are ‘previews’ from game journalists. How are we supposed to trust them? They all talk up the games. What about reviews? When do games not score below an ‘8’? Lately, gamers have flocked to lets play videos on youtube and twitch. At least, we see the gameplay.

Sometimes there are demos. Nintendo doesn’t like doing demos because most people who try the demo realize they don’t like the game (!!! haha).

The best way of determining value is to rent. We don’t do the renting thing today, but back during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, renting was huge. I believe I rented nearly the entire NES library. I would get a stack of games and go to town playing through them. As I’ve said before, I remember the first time I played Mega Man. “This game is pretty cool, but something about it seems off.” Then later, I would rent Mega Man 2 and go nuts over it. I immediately bought Mega Man 2 and pre-ordered Mega Man 3 to buy it the day it came out. I did buy Mega Man 4 blind and regretted it. Then, I stopped buying Mega Man games! The point is that at the end of the NES Era, my NES collection looked exactly like the ‘best of’ list.Since I am a gamer like all of you, my value approximation kept the games I want to keep playing and GOT RID of the games I didn’t. NES games were bartered and traded like gems then. SNES Era it was remarkably the same.

One reason why I do not like console gaming is because I cannot determine the value of the games. The game industry chooses to be the predator, not the friend, and does everything it can to lie, distort, and make games seem like they are something else. I cannot trust game journalists since they may or may not be bought and paid for, but they are not the ‘common man’. They tend to be hipsters who like hobnobbing with the ‘industry’. The gaming message forums fare better, but those circles tend to attract similar types who are not the ‘common man’ because the ‘common man’ does not spend all day on Gaming Message Forum.

One safety relief valve for the consumers has been trading in used games. If gamers were sold a bill of goods, the games come back to the store. The gamer gets credit for a new purchase. The used games stack up as warning to new consumers. Game companies HATE used games, but it is critical to saving the customer. The reason why mobile games hasn’t blown up with ‘great games’ is because it is all digital. Game makers there are not accountable for putting out shit. They do not suffer the shame of their shit in a bargain bin or thrown out of retailers.

There was a recent reddit Switch thread about buying bad games. While some bought bad physical games, they simply just sold them back used to a retailer and went on with life. The ones who were bitter bought the digital copies of the bad game. They were stuck with the crappiness. Imagine someone buying 1-2 Switch digitally! The horror!

How do I determine a Switch game’s value? DOOM looks like a game I would want to buy. But it is $60 while the other versions of DOOM on PS4 and XB1 are $20 or $30. Does that seem right? Skyrim is coming out to Switch and will be $60. But the game is six years old! I don’t see Bethesda as giving Switch gamers a ‘gift’, I see them as exploiters let alone all these other Switch games that have a ‘Switch tax’. And what is with all these crappy indie games? Good thing my ‘no digital’ motto keeps me away from them.

I say the best way to determine value for a game is to see it at the end of the console generation. You will know which games are shit, which ones keep being replayed, and which ones are good after the hype wears off. In addition, the games will be much, much cheaper.

There are ‘game collectors’ who go around buying all these games and trying to get in before a game’s value shoots up. Then there are people like me, ‘value collectors’, who care nothing about collecting games but only collecting value. The difference is that a game collector would buy a shitty game that has a small print run because the game has value to collectors. A value collector is interested in the value of the game, not in the ‘collecting’ aspect of the game. A game collector would pass over a cool game with a reprinted case smeared with a sticker because ‘it would not fit into the collection well’. A value collector would snap up such a game because the person is interested in playing it, not displaying it.

There is a reason how I was able to buy Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for $5, Ikaruga for $3, and be given Metroid Prime for free (!).

In terms of value, I think Zelda BoW “Wow!” has its value meets its price. But what about the other games? It largely determines on how much you like such a game. Some love Binding of Isaac, some hate it. Some love Puyo puyo Tetris, others hate it. The next game I will probably buy full price completely blind would be Octopath Traveler. The demo sold me of its value. The rest? Well, let’s just see how it goes.

Nothing is worse than buying a bad game. It not only wastes your money and time, it stinks up everything. You look at your games, focus on the bad game, and you start swearing. You try to get rid of the foul thing.

How do you determine value?

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 11, 2017

Nintendo is ramping up Switch production

“The Kyoto-based company is sketching out a plan to make 25 million to 30 million units of the Switch in its next fiscal year, which begins April 2018, and has begun informing business partners about it, the people said,” the story states. “They said the plan is still in its early stages and Nintendo could aim higher depending on sales during this year’s holiday season.”

Dos Equis Laughing GIF by Dos Equis Gifs to the World

Pretty good for a ‘dead on arrival’ system ‘full of Wii U ports’. Oh, poor analysts and game forum dwellers!

I have been reviewing ‘discussion’ (ugh) on this topic, and I find no one mentioning the macro-economics.

“What does that matter, Malstrom?”

There are many factors that come into decisions to ramp up production. Sure, it is current market performance. However, Nintendo is a conservative company. This is another way of saying, “Nintendo doesn’t like losing money.” Strong sales and continued strong sales isn’t enough to justify pushing the pedal down on accelerating production.

There has been a change in the macro-economics.


Gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 4% in the three months through June. That was significantly higher than analysts had predicted and means Japan has now recorded six straight quarters of expansion.

The world’s third largest economy hasn’t seen such sustained growth since 2006, and analysts largely anticipate more good news.

“This is a big slingshot acceleration at the start of the financial year,” said Jesper Koll, head of Tokyo-based investment fund WisdomTree Japan. “The economy is in a sweet spot.”



Growth has surpassed expectations but is forecast to ease somewhat.
The European economy has performed significantly better than expected this year, propelled by resilient private consumption, stronger growth around the world, and falling unemployment.

Investment is also picking up amid favourable financing conditions and considerably brightened economic sentiment as uncertainty has faded. The economies of all Member States are expanding and their labour markets improving, but wages are rising only slowly.


United States:

The U.S. economy picked up steam during the second quarter, notching the fastest pace of growth in two years.

…economic growth hit 3%, according to revised estimates released by the government on Wednesday.
That’s the strongest growth since the first quarter of 2015. It’s more than double the pace of the first three months of 2017 and better than original estimates for the second quarter.

The government initially pegged second-quarter growth at 2.6% in July.

The economic momentum was driven by stronger consumer spending and healthier business investment.


“Why does this matter,” asks the innocent reader.

The 1980s and 1990s were a period of massive economic growth. These decades saw the end of the Cold War and the crumbling of the Soviet Union and its Berlin Wall. Japan’s economic boom did end in the 1990s, though, but it is undeniable that during its height, Japanese video game industry was doing crazy and ingenious things. As the boom turned into bust, many of these companies did not survive.

Japan also has a demographic problem. They are experiencing a population decline due to more older people than younger people.

Now pretend you are Nintendo. Your game consoles sell primarily among the children. What do you do with that pipeline of children disappearing? How do you sell in an economic recession?

You make an inexpensive console, and you make games outside of children and teenagers. You make games for older adults.

This is the story of Generation 7. This is the story of the Wii. And this is the story of the DS.

Generation 7 is very interesting and still not understood by even the most informed gamers. At the beginning of Generation 7, the United States was still in a very good place economically. The DS, released in 2004, and the Wii launched in 2006. The US would enter recession around 2007 but especially 2008. Wii was sold out for three years in the United States until 2008.

Japan had a most curious reaction. This was when Japan switched to primarily playing handheld game consoles to home consoles. DS became the main system, then PSP, then the rest (such as Wii).

When Generation 8 came along, Nintendo made the 3DS and Wii U. Not to tread already traveled ground about the sheer arrogance of Nintendo then, the point is that the macroeconomics of Generation 8 were different from Generation 7. This led to different results.

Above: Malstrom pours himself a drink after writing the blog post

A Blue Ocean console sells OK in an economic depression. A Blue Ocean console sells gangbusters in an economic boom. Hell, anything sells well in an economic boom. If the Wii U came out during good economic times, the console would have done OK. However, the Wii U did not have this fate.

As much crap as the Wii U gets, factoring in the macroeconomics really shows you just how terrible the N64 and, especially, the Gamecube were. Both of those consoles had no cold market (like the NES and Gameboy had) and had no economic recession (maybe Japan).

The happy little Switch, Generation 9, is designed to win against every challenge the Wii U faced. The Switch is lucky to pop into the market right when economic booms are blowing up in the three major markets. It is very much a perfect storm for Nintendo.

The point of all this is that Nintendo heavily factors in macro-economics in its console strategy. If all economic indicators point toward ‘boom’, as well as the product being well received by the market, even conservative Nintendo is going to push the needle.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 10, 2017

World 8: First Person

What game inspired you to make games?

“It was [1992’s] Ultima Underworld. The feeling of being in a place compared to this abstraction that was adapted from board games–the feeling of being in a 3D world–was incredible. All the things that I wanted to do and all the games that I ended up working on came out of the inspiration I took from that product.”

-Ken Levine, designer of Bioshock. ‘Games Are the Convergence of Everything’. Forbes.


“[Ultima Underworld] had far more impact on me than Doom.”

-Cliff Blezinski, Ultima Underworld, the Legacy


“Ultima Underworld was truly revolutionary for its time – it was the first fully 3D textured first person game. As such it influenced pretty much all first person 3D games that came afterwards and could be truly called the granddaddy of first person Role Paying Games.“

-Chris Roberts, designer of Wing Commander series, Freelancer, and Star Citizen


“It’s amazingly fun!”

-Markus Persson, aka “Notch”, creator of Minecraft. Source: Twitter

Origin was reliant on Ultima making the company money (until Wing Commander) despite many other titles that failed to catch the public’s interest. One of the developers of these non-Ultima Origin games was Paul Neurath, a recent graduate from MIT.

Above: Paul Neurath

Above: Paul Neurath and Richard Garriott

Released in 1985 was a game called Auto Duel. It combined Road Warriors and Ultima. But actually it was an adaption of Steve Jackson’s game “Car Wars”.

“This game looks incredibly dated,” sighs the reader.

It is an open world game, reader! It is an arcade action with RPG elements. It is the precursor to Grand Theft Auto.

Above: Talking about Auto Duel

Yes, Auto Duel is incredibly dated even back in 1985. It is an Apple II game. Well, the game did get good reviews at the time but never sold well. The technology simply wasn’t there in 1985 for a game such as this.

Another Paul Neurath’s credits is on a game called Ogre published in 1986. It was another adaption of a Steve Jackson board game. Neurath is credited as being a programmer.

Above: Yech

Ogre didn’t sell well. Is it any wonder why?

Next on his credits is a game called Omega.

Above: Released in 1989

Omega is about tanks that compete against each other. However, you do not control the tank. The tank has an AI. What you do is program the AI. Omega is more of a programming simulation than a game.

Omega can be played over the Internet using modems.

Lately, Cross Platform Play has been hot in the news with Minecraft and Rocket League being playable with players on different platforms (PC, Xbox One, Switch). However, Omega was doing this in 1989 so Apple, Commodore, and IBM gamers could compete against one another! I am not sure if this was the first cross platform video game, but it is certainly one of the first if not the first.

Finally, Paul Neurath, who was doing all these simulation type games, got to design his own game.

Above: Deep Space Operation Copernicus

Very few people have heard about Deep Space Operation Copernicus which apparently is Paul Neurath’s first known game he designed. It was published by Sir-Tech, not Origin, so Origin fans have missed it.


Above: Pics shamelessly stolen from pixsoriginadventures

Above: Gameplay for Deep Space Operation Copernicus. Oh that PC speaker!

Deep Space Operation Copernicus is a 3d space combat game. It is full 3d as much as can be done in 1987. It shows Paul Neurath was definitely a pioneer for 3d orientated gameplay to make something this sophisticated back then.

But what if RPG elements were put on top of the space combat? You then get…


Above: Released in 1989 with Paul Neurath’s name on the cover.

It is the precursor to Wing Commander! It is the precursor to Privateer! It is a sci-fi space ship RPG!!!

But did Space Rogue help inspire Wing Commander? It looks like it did!

There is a connection to Wing Commander’s creator, Chris Roberts. I can recall Chris playing Space Rogue intently for several days straight, and peppering me with questions as to how the 3D graphics and physics worked. At that time Chris was designing a new fantasy game, but after he played Space Rogue he changed course and came up with the design for Wing Commander. I’d like to think that Space Rogue helped inspire Chris to try his hand in the genre.

-Paul Neurath Wayback machine of PC Games that Changed the World.

But it was in 1992 that Paul Neurath’s previous experiences with 3d as well as RPG with Space Rogue would help head out perhaps the most influential video game of all time: Ultima Underworld.


Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss

Generation 4 (16-bit Era)

Released 1992

Above: Title theme. By The Fat Man.


When Richard Garriott moved back to Austin, Texas to start development on Ultima V, it was the development side of Origin that re-located. Over time, the rest of Origin would re-locate there as well. But what happened to the former Origin developers who stayed in New England and refused to re-locate to Texas? They became ‘Blue Sky Productions’ made up of MIT students and graduates. Ultima Underworld was also produced by Warren Spector.

Neurath wrote the original design document for a game to be titled Underworld, which was intended to be a next-generation dungeon crawler building on the new ideas in FTL Game’s Dungeon Master, a widely-ported RPG which took the basic formula of Wizardry-style dungeon-crawling and made it happen in real-time with mouse rather than keyboard control and skill-building rather than level gaining. Completing the original group of three was MIT student Doug Church as programmer, and Origin concept artist Doug Wilke drawing reference art for the team. Development began in the summer of 1990, first on the Apple II and then later on the IBM PC due to the Apple II’s ancient hardware not being up to the demands the game was placing on it. This early build of Underworld was demonstrated at the 1990 CES show, where Origin Systems saw the game for the first time and were, in Spector’s words, “totally floored by it”. Origin agreed to publish the game and suggested reworking it to fit into the Ultima universe. The team quickly expanded with an infusion of Origin employees as well as much-loved freelance composer George “The Fat Man” Sanger on sound and music, and began massive time-crunch work to finish the game, with Warren Spector managing the team to keep everyone from going too crazy. Bug-testing was done by MIT friends of the development team, and it was finally released in March 1992, close two years after work began.

-From Hardcoregaming 101’s entry on Ultima Underworld

Blue Sky Productions would later be renamed to Looking Glass Studios.

Above: Look at this ad. They were trying to show off the 3d movement and told the reader to RUN to their retailer and look at the demo. If there was no demo, then Origin would send one to that retailer right away!

Ultima Underworld took two years to make. It was released in 1992. In 1992, the games that were released were Wolfenstien 3d [id], Star Control II [Accolade], Super Mario Kart [Nintendo], Ultima VII [Origin], Virtua Racing [Sega], Mortal Kombat [Midway], Sonic the Hedgehog 2 [Sega]., and Mega Man 5 [Capcom].

The Underworld team was something really special. They were a bunch of young, brash, MIT students and ex-students. Kids, really. Most of them lived together in a place they called “Deco Morono” (“Ten Dumb Guys”) but they immediately put the lie to that the first time I set foot in the place. I mean, maybe my memory’s faulty and I’m misremembering what happened but I swear there was a conversation going on in old English when I arrived. And I don’t think anyone was quoting Chaucer – there were people TALKING in old English. Morono indeed!

Eventually, the Underworld team moved out of the Blue Sky offices in New Hampshire (and stopped working out of dumb guys) and, in the dead of winter, found themselves in a terrible little office in Somerville, Massachussets. Paul found the place – in the basement of some social services building, meaning there were always interesting people around! I don’t know what he was thinking… Anyway, the place was locked when we arrived for the first time but several of the team members just whipped out their lockpicks (physical hacking being a big deal at MIT, apparently) and we were in. The wind whistled in under the doors so badly, we had to stuff towels under them to keep from freezing. Throw a bunch of folding tables, a bunch of folding beach chairs, a fax machine and anywhere from 6-10 people into a room so small I wouldn’t put three people in it nowadays and you’ve got the picture.

But in that little office, that team created some serious magic. I mean, the sense of doing something incredible was palpable. They may not have noticed – they were too busy MAKING the magic or maybe they were just too young or new to the business to realise how special they were and how special what they were doing was. But I was there those last few months, working on docs, going over buglists with them, testing the game as it changed, daily, and I felt how special it was every minute I was there. It isn’t too much to say I felt HONOURED to be there with them.

That team was more cohesive than any I’ve ever worked with. They were more audacious and enthusiastic than they should have been under any circumstances, let alone under the pressure of completing their studio’s first game – a game unlike anything anyone had ever seen. It was an absolutely incredible experience – one I feel lucky to have been able to share.

Oh, and make sure you tell the story of Kevin Wasserman, MIT PhD and ace playtester (!), who managed to get through Underworld in something like 47 minutes. Lots of people challenged him, but I don’t think anyone ever beat his time…

All I’m saying is make sure the team gets appropriate credit. It’s great that people are going to read about Paul, Doug and myself, but they should know about Dan Schmidt and Jon Maiara and Marc LeBlanc and James Fleming and Tim Stellmach and Kevin and the other people who changed the face of gaming in a draughty little basement in Somerville…

-Warren Spector Wayback machine of PC Games that Changed the World.

The Story

Above: The Introduction with ‘voice acting! Ahhh… “Treachery and doom!” hahaha

The apparition at the beginning of the intro draws you, the Avatar, back into Britannia. Apparently, the Avatar appears in the bedroom of Baron Almric’s daughter. The Avatar also appears there at the right time the wizard Tyball kidnaps the daughter. As the wizard escapes, the Avatar is caught by the baron’s guards and taken before him.

The baron doesn’t know whether to believe you are the Avatar. The last time the Avatar was in Britannia was in Ultima VI. He throws you into the Great Stygian Abyss for if you are guilty, you belong there. If you actually are the Avatar, you will be able to save his daughter and come out of the abyss. You start with nothing and must attempt to survive.

The Stygian Abyss, itself, was introduced as the final dungeon in Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar on the Isle of the Avatar, inside a volcano. The abyss is the antithesis of all good things, opposing all of the virtues at the same time, and is home to the darkest of creatures. It also led to the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom which the Avatar obtains at the end of Ultima IV.

Above: Wanderer theme.

After the Codex was pulled up to Britannia after Ultima IV, the lava cooled. The Shrine of the Codex was build to seal the entrance to the Great Stygian Abyss.

Sir Cabirus had the idea of founding a colony of the Eight Virtues in the place where it was most opposed. Even though the entrance was sealed, Cabirus used another entrance. Cabirus would die in his sleep, and the colony would break apart into opposing factions. The entire endeavor became a failure.

Other races and ‘towns’ are found inside the abyss from lizardmen to gargoyles to goblins. Each have their own story and political structures.

The end of the game takes place in the former Chamber of the Codex. The Slasher of Veils is accidentally summoned and held in the chamber by magic. Not a normal daemon, the Slasher of Veils is a type of ‘boss daemon’, a Balron, where no mortal weapon or spell can kill it. The Avatar uses the eight talismans of Sir Cabirus to suck the Slasher of Veils and himself into a pocket dimension. The Avatar escapes through the collapsing exit and traps the Slasher inside forever.


The First Person Open World

Above: A list of the gaming revolutions Ultima Underworld made.

Some of what is mentioned is…

First true 3d world- Ultima Underworld came out before Wolfenstein 3d. It was THAT far ahead of its time.

Survival gameplay- You get hungry. You sleep. You start with nothing. You must fight to survive.

Weapons that break- Zelda: Breath of the Wild fans will now know where these breaking weapons came from.

Stamina system- You get tired and need to wait for your stamina to refill.

Karma- You steal stuff, you get punished!

Angled Walls- Walls are not always straight. Some are angled. Some floors are intentionally crooked. There are bridges and ramps.

Doors Actually Open- The doors actually open in a 3d environment. In other games, the doors slide into the wall.

Look up and Down- You can look up and down.

Inertia- You jump against the wall, you bounce back due to a physics system. You cannot change your jump in midair.

Combat Techniques- Combat is more than pressing a button. You can thrust, swing down, etc. A sword does more damage by thrusting, but a giant axe would do better by swinging down.

Projectiles- Arrows are actual projectiles. When they miss, you can go and collect them.

Weight- Everything has weight. You cannot just hoard stuff. You won’t be able to take it all with you!

Lighting- Variable lighting in a 3d space.

Swimming- You can swim.

Flying- You can fly.

Dynamic music- Music changes on your situation.

Objects- Objects exist throughout the game and can be manipulated and interacted.

Jumping– You couldn’t do this in id’s early games.

NPCs with deep conversations- NPCs walk around, have a purpose in this world other than being experience for you to kill. You can talk to them, ask them things.

Political System- There are NPCs that exist in factions with the player having different reputations.

Unique language- Had to hand translate and type in words for a language you had to learn. No ‘automated’ read document and everything they say is translated!

WASD for movement- Back when Doom was still using arrow keys for movement.

Writable and auto-mapping- Not only was the map auto-mapping, you could write and put notes on it.

Open World- Don’t have the key to a door? You can blow it up. There are many solutions to different scenarios. You can do anything when you want and how you want.

Above: Maps and Legends song.

What struck me most after spending some time with Underworld was that this wasn’t the hack-n-slasher I thought it was going to be. For some reason, I had the impression that these 80’s dungeon crawls were something more like a first-person Diablo – you’d simply wander around levels, bash things with a sword to get better at bashing things with a sword, all the while looking for awesome gear to loot and the stairs to the next level. This is not the case. Underworld’s factions have grouped into colonies within the dungeon’s levels, and you’ll interact directly with NPCs to get information and side quests. There’s some politics going on. There’s history to uncover. I think it may actually be impossible to complete the game without the help of your fellow man (or goblin). Stealing and random violence have consequences. It’s, well, a proper RPG.

Justgamesretro on Ultima Undeworld

Doug Church, newly graduated from MIT, was the lead programmer of Ultima Underworld. What he says is amazing for the context of Open World gaming. Listen!

I feel most of Underworld’s innovation was in terms of trying to bring simulation-style gameplay into a traditional RPG environment. Technically, we managed to fit a fairly flexible and detailed environment (for its time, obviously) into a reasonable amount of space, and have it support a reasonable amount of interaction and behaviours. But I think the design synthesis is the major thing.

The 3D was certainly okay, and it was the first indoor real-time 3D game to allow the player to look up and down, and jump, and chasms, et cetera. There was certainly plenty of interesting and hard work to get that going. That was all important, and hopefully helped push the technical innovation for all of us. But that progress is somewhat inevitable in our field, and the industry has continued to build on its technical successes. Sadly, as an industry we seem to know much less about design, and how to continue to extend and grow design capabilities, especially given how much effort we expend keeping up with the technology. So I think the most important things Underworld did were trying to show the power and value of a style and type of gameplay, though I don’t think many games went in that direction after us.

-Doug Church Wayback machine of PC Games that Changed the World.

Simulation gameplay to a traditional RPG environment. Simulation is WORLD.

Next up, Doug Church talks about emergent gameplay. Listen!

Emergent gameplay was the best aspect, I think. While we had clearly built a bunch of specific elements, at its best Underworld allowed people to do things their own way. Some of my favourite aspects were when people would describe something that happened to them, and it was a combination of sim systems working together, to create a new experience that only that player had, as opposed to some pre-scripted thing we had written up. For instance, a player was walking down a hall, and a fireball comes shooting out of the darkness. Fleeing from it, they reach a locked door, which they try and pick, but no luck. Finally, they take out their axe and beat the door down, just as the wizard comes up behind them. But there are skeletons on the other side. With creatures on either side, the player leaps into the passing river, and heads up stream, hoping for a beach. Now, we didn’t write any of that. It comes from the players play style, and instantaneous decisions when confronted by situations. While the world was very limited, we attempted to enable the player to act as they wanted to. Personally, it was also fun to be so involved. It was fun to build levels, write conversations, code systems, and so on. One definitely felt like a creator of the aspect.

-Doug Church Wayback machine of PC Games that Changed the World.


Above: IGN Tal Belvins says why Ultima Underworld is the best game ever

First Person Shooters Versus the First Person World

A funny thing happened on the way to the future. After the release of Doom 1 and 2, and Quake 1, 2, 3, as well as Unreal Tournament, 2003, and 2004, we were told the future of gaming is First Person Shooters. They are so popular, we were told, to dwarf the sun. Why, id created a massive gaming revolution that changed everything.

Is this true? If so, then why does Unreal Tournament 4 exist only as a free fan-made community-made game? Where are the ‘modern’ Quake games? Sure, there is a remake of ‘Doom’, but the biggest FPS game was the Call of Duty genre that involved more tactics. While there are first person shooter games out there, they certainly are not the bulk or even majority of gaming today. Perhaps it is not that the future turned us in for a loop. Perhaps it is that we didn’t understand the present long ago and made incorrect trends about the future.

The major clue, when pulled is like a thread loosening up everything, is Ultima Underworld. There is still controversy over the issue of influence.

“Ultima Underworld shipped about a month before Wolfenstein 3D. We had shown Id an Underworld demo the year before, and I recall John Carmack, who was all of about 19 at the time and as yet unknown in the game industry, saying that he could write a faster texture mapper…”

-Paul Neurath Wayback machine of PC Games that Changed the World.

John Romero denies this occurred. Paul Neurath says it did. Whatever is going on, there is another angle to all this.

A very fascinating 2003 Salon article on the ‘Masters of Doom’ book poo poos and challenges Kushner’s narrative. Let’s take a look.

By Kushner’s lights, this is the ideal that id supposedly brought us much closer to, to what he calls an “utopian vision of a game.”

But this is precisely what they did not do. Their games were allowed to be 3D worlds only insofar as you were moving fast and killing stuff in them — and you were allowed to be interactive in them only insofar as you were moving fast and killing stuff.

-Wagner, Ali, “The Masters of Doom” Salon.

id had no interest in creating a 3d world.

But Romero, Kushner reports, would have none of that: “[I]t’s slowing the game down,” he moans. “Anything that’s going to stop us from mowing shit down — get rid of it!”

And that became the model for what most of us came to assume, incorrectly, wrong-headedly, shortsightedly, a first-person game was supposed to be. So it’s important to see the near-simultaneous release of “Wolfenstein 3-D” and “Ultima Underworld” as a crucial turning point in how later technology would come to shape our lives — much the same way, in the same time frame, Apple’s Macintosh still had a chance to become the dominant personal computer system, competing as it was against the far inferior (but far less expensive) DOS/Windows PC clones.

-Wagner, Ali, “The Masters of Doom” Salon.

Was Ultima Underworld the Macintosh of First Person video games while id’s Wolfenstein 3d and Doom the Microsoft of First Person video games?

While I quote this Salon article extensively, part of the reason is in case the article disappears (as happens frequently with things I quote). Forgive me, reader, for quoting huge blocks of text. But this is some eye opening stuff to me.

Let’s talk about my favorite subject: sales. If a game is soooo popular, it would show marketplace or critic reactions during its time period.

Similarly, “Wolf 3-D’s” dominance was more a matter of market timing and revenue model, over quality: When id’s game came out, most PC owners didn’t have computers that were powerful enough to run “Underworld.” (Which also was, it must be said, difficult to learn, and indifferently marketed.) Meanwhile, “Wolfenstein” was easy to play, fun for what it was, and best of all, free. While many paid for the full registered version of the game, far more were happy just to enjoy the shareware version that was downloadable everywhere. “Ultima Underworld” and its 1993 sequel together sold almost half a million copies — more, as it turns out, than “Wolfenstein 3-D” (150,000) and “Spear of Destiny” (135,000), the expanded retail version sold in stores. Despite this, the ubiquity of the shareware version helped foster the illusion that id’s game was the real blockbuster.

-Wagner, Ali, “The Masters of Doom” Salon.

In other words, Ultima Underworld 1 and 2 outsold Wolfenstein 3d and its expansion. Yet, we continue to think Wolfenstein 3d was ‘more popular’.

This misperception was also true for “Doom”: id sold just under 1.5 million copies of the registered version, but it’s estimated that over 15 million copies of the shareware version were downloaded. In other words, id’s games didn’t seem so phenomenally popular because they were great — rather, they seemed popular because they were pretty good games that were basically free.

-Wagner, Ali, “The Masters of Doom” Salon.

The First Person Shooter was popular, but was it ever as popular as we have been led to believe? The high rate of freeware downloads to actual buys indicates that there was wide-scale rejection of the game. The games sold, but they did not sell everywhere.

But the game industry went ahead and gleaned the wrong lesson from it, dumping the market with derivative first-person shooters. From “Wolfenstein 3-D” in 1992 to now, an online game database counts over 500 FPS titles — on average, a joyless churn rate of one per week, almost all of them irredeemably wack. Despite this deluge, total market share for the genre never exceeded 10 percent or so. (Wondering if they’d enjoyed an aggregate post-Doom surge in popularity, in the ’90s, I double-checked with Douglas Lowenstein, president of the IDSA, the game industry’s lead advocacy group. “Through the mid and late 1990s,” he e-mails me, “first-person shooters were a small portion of the total PC game market and they remain a niche market today.”) And even id’s games were significantly outsold in the mid-90’s by crossover titles “Myst” and “Microsoft Flight Simulator.” All of which groin-kicks Kushner’s fanciful notion that id somehow transformed popular culture in the ’90s: Not only were their games interactive knock-offs of 80’s movies like “The Terminator” and “Aliens,” and not only did their games’ influence not cross over into other mediums, what influence they did have was mostly confined to a very nichey genre of computer game.

-Wagner, Ali, “The Masters of Doom” Salon. [Emphasis by Malstrom]


If you count the hundreds of millions of dollars spent developing these mediocre games, and the tens of millions more spent making them compatible with all the 3D cards on the market, all for the relatively small, fickle audience that id created, the industry’s opportunity cost is staggering. The most ironic casualty on this ledger is surely Looking Glass Studios, the original creator of “Ultima Underworld” and the first-person game; many blame the company’s death on John Romero himself, and the lucre-soaked failure of “Daikatana,” his first, post-id project. But that’s another story.

-Wagner, Ali, “The Masters of Doom” Salon

From my point of view, id’s first person shooters were always presented to be more popular than they actually were. I thought the games good fun, but, “That’s all?” They got boring. Ultima Underworld was much more interesting. id’s shooters felt like 3d spiritual successors to arcade games while Ultima Underworld was the 3d spiritual successor to computer role playing game.

The shooters that usually sell well now are best defined by how much they aren’t like id games — story-free kill fests set in an undefined world, where you frag anything that moves with implausibly gargantuan firepower. Instead, there are first-person tactical shooters, which depend just as much on teamwork and strategy as they do on twitch reflexes, and realistic shooters like “Medal of Honor: Allied Assault” and “Battlefield: 1942,” both of which succeed due to their World War II historical verisimilitude. To that group, add story-driven shooters like “Half Life” and “Deus Ex,” a “first-person simulation” created by several lead alumni from Looking Glass Studios, who now carry on as Ion Storm Austin. (Before his financing publisher ejected him from his own company, John Romero set them up as a satellite studio — another of his redeeming acts.)

-Wagner, Ali, “The Masters of Doom” Salon

Now consider this quote from Doug Church, the lead programmer on Ultima Underworld who wonders why 3d first person games did not evolve past Ultima Underworld.

Who knows? A lot of games seem to be heading towards a large scale shallow stat-based environment. And that allows developers to focus on familiar gameplay, while adding incremental improvements to the major systems. This is clearly do-able, and something that is yielding more refined versions of the games we are used to. Personally, with Underworld to System Shock to Thief, we attempted to enable more player actions, though often by limiting the players scope. We’ve been trying to get rid of systems which are poorly emulated. And find ways to transfer control from the designer to the player, allowing the player to show off and do cool things, as opposed to walking people through bad fantasy/sci-fi novels where the only control they have is in combat.

My hope is that as we learn to do this better, and give the player more and more capability, we will be able to start removing these limits, and create environments where we extend the players capabilities. Ideally, we can get beyond games where the only form of player expression is what weapon you use to kill people. Sadly, at the moment, it is hard to convince publishers to do risky new design, unless you are essentially a franchise in yourself (and, really, it sounds like even Will Wright and others get significant pushback from publishers when they try and innovate). Publishers understand clones, and understand sequels, and understand faster graphics cards. But it is hard to clearly and meaningfully express game design goals to an audience of non-gamers, especially when – as the designer – one isn’t quite sure how to get it all working.

-Doug Church Wayback machine of PC Games that Changed the World.

The answer seems to be that the Game Industry and game media thought the first person game can be and should only be about ‘killing stuff’ as in id’s games. But in our future today, no one is trying to be like id’s games. Everyone is trying to be more like Ultima Underworld.

But let us talk more about Looking Glass’s legacy. While the game industry chased after the ‘ultra violent’ shooters of First Person Shooters from id, Looking Glass showed gaming an alternate timeline.


Ultima Underworld 2:  Labyrinth of Worlds

Generation 4 (16-bit Era)

Released 1993 (January)



It takes place after Ultima VII: The Black Gate.

Above: Introduction to Ultima Underworld 2: Labyrinth of Worlds

During a celebration at Lord British’s castle, a dome of blackrock envelopes the castle and traps everyone inside including the Avatar. The Guardian plans to attack Britannia while all the characters are trapped.

However, the castle connects to the sewers. Searching the sewers, the Avatar finds a smaller blackrock crystal that leads to alternate dimensions. The magic the Guardian used to create the dome caused portals to open between eight parallel world, each of these worlds controlled by the Guardian.

All these dimensions offer clues as to a traitor being inside the castle. Eventually, the Avatar discovers who it is and shatters the blackrock dome.


Ultima Underworld 2 was made with the idea of creating a more complex plot, more interesting places to see and do, and do with the sequel what they couldn’t with the first. An improved color palette, new texture mapping algorithms, new sprite animations, all of these would be used to help make the sequel.

Ultima Underworld 2’s development time was 9 months. This rushed production created burnout for Looking Glass Studios, and they decided to take a break from fantasy based games.

Above: A great retrospective on Ultima Underworld I and II


System Shock

After the development of Ultima Underworlds II, Doug Church and Warren Spector thought about taking the next project in a more sci-fi direction. This would be another ‘immersive simulation game’ and was initially titled ‘Alien Commander’ after Wing Commander’s line.

Above: System Shock gameplay

Above: Shodan laughs as you run through her corridors. How can you challenge a perfect immortal machine?


Flight Unlimited

Looking Glass studios wanted to publish their own games. So they made a flight simulator that challenged Microsoft Flight Simulator. While the game was unsuccessful in its challenge, the game was a commercial success.

Seamus Blackley, who was hired by Looking Glass and helped worked on Ultima Underworld, created the physics for Flight Unlimited. He wanted to do a sequel for Flight Unlimited that involved combat calling the game Flight Combat. The new manager at Looking Glass Studios, put in place by capital investors, demanded he make a direct sequel, a type of Flight Unlimited II. Blackley refused so he was fired.

Seamus Blackley would go from a couple game companies to eventually ending up at Microsoft to work on Direct X. He and co-worker Bachus would then co-write the original Xbox proposal.


Terra Nova

This is the first 3d tactical first person shooter game. At the end of a very long development cycle for Terra Nova, Looking Glass decided to implement the FPS ‘blow shit up’ and move away from simulation elements. The game did not sell well enough to recoup development costs and was a ‘disaster’ to the company.

Above: Thief: The Dark Project was a 3d first person game revolving around stealth and thievery. Thief was commercially successful and a critical hit.

Above: Another hit for Looking Glass Studios. System Shock 2 sold well and was a huge hit with critics.

Above: British Open Championship Golf would flop so bad to destroy Looking Glass Studios as a company.


Above: After Looking Glass lost money and lost Warren Spector, he took his successor idea of Ultima Underworld, known as ‘Troubleshooter’, to Ion Storm which became Deus Ex.


Above: After a recent kickstarter, Paul Neurath and Warren Spector are making the third Underworld game.

You can see how all these major 3d games today came from the pioneering open world of 3d that Ultima Underworld pioneered. Bioshock. Elder Scrolls. There are too many to mention. But there is one more that I hesitate to mention…

“Do not hesitate, Malstrom,” says the reader. “Do not hesitate! Tell us, what other game series is a descendant from Ultima Underworld?”

Well, there was a game called King’s Field that plays very similar to Ultima Underworld. It is like the Japanese version of Underworld. And after King’s Field, the same company made a game you may have heard.

“What’s that?”

Demon’s Souls and its follow up: Dark Souls.

The reader’s eyes grow wide.

Yes. Dark Souls and Bioshock are cousins.

Above: Start watching at 2:53 for an explanation of the tie ins of Ultima Underworld and Dark Souls

[Back to Table of Contents]

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 5, 2017

That feeling when you buy a new game console…

…and you don’t know if you were drunk or high at the time you did it. Even the credit card company is freezing my account going, “WTF you doing!?” haha

Of course, it is in the mail. When it arrives, it is either ‘hurrah!’ or I just threw away hundreds of dollars. Oh, I will tell you all about it when it arrives, dear reader. Let it be a secret just between us, reader.

You may ask, “Malstrom, what are you doing? We are entering shopping Christmas time. You can’t go around buying game consoles (which also means you have to buy controllers, buy games so the game console doesn’t just sit there and look cute, etc).

Reader, I understand your concerns. I have realized that I am not like the ‘game reviewers’ out there or most game forum dwellers.

There is a hype train out there. A game comes out, it is hype, hype, hype. Long ass threads are started on gaming forums. Youtube videos come out. Everyone wants to talk about the game.

Sometimes, I talk about the game that is the Big Shiny at the moment. Other times, I’ve noticed, I’m either skipping out or playing a game twenty years ago. What to make of this?

I believe game reviews are ALL WRONG. You get a game review and it goes, “Graphics… check. Sound…. check. Gameplay…. check.” I am not criticizing them or the reviewers, it is just not how I play games. I have never been persuaded by the Big Shiny or game industry hype.

I do not let the ‘gaming heart’ determine what I play. I let my hands do it. My game playing is determined by unconscious determinations, not by conscious ones. How else would we be addicted to games like WoW? Who would consciously choose to keep playing that game?

I believe the majesty of gaming lies in the invisible, not the visible, in the non-explained instead of the explained.

I have one factor in determining a good game. Only one. It is this: I keep playing it again and again. That’s it. That is the ONLY factor I care about.

If I keep playing a game again and again, there is something inside it that is good. I cannot explain it. I do not want to explain it either. I just keep playing it.

I’ve also let this habit guide me to whatever game I play next. There is no ‘Malstrom backlog’ or anything like that. Many times, I think, “Why am I playing this?” It is like I am sleepwalking through my gaming habits!

I am trying to think of a game console I really regret buying. The only one I can think of is the Switch because, currently, it is only a Zelda BoW machine for me.

When the Wii was selling left and right, I didn’t buy more Wii games. I bought a Gamecube and bought all the Gamecube games when they were cheapest. I bought Fire Emblem Path of Radiance, Ikaruga, Zelda WW, Metroid Prime, Smash Bros. Melee for $5 each. No joke!

History tends to repeat.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 5, 2017

WoW Classic announced

I’ve been bouncing around on some WoW classic private servers. The worst aspects of vanilla WoW is actually the resolution and other graphical artifacts. Gameplay is awesomely hard and grindy.

“You like that?”

Last week, I beat Final Fantasy 1 for NES again.


Gamers are out there who like that. All the newer fans of WoW will buy it too because they keep hearing about ‘the experience of vanilla’ and they want to jump in. It is like NES Classic for Blizzard! It will do very well, and it will be very profitable since Blizzard doesn’t have to do any gameplay balancing or art/asset creation!

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 5, 2017

Email: Caster of Magic

It’s a big ol mod for Master of Magic. Have you tried it? It makes the early game significantly faster and adds a lot of neat new abilities to try out at wizard creation. It’s a pretty comprehensive overhaul. Id never think about playing gnolls in vanilla but even they have strong points under the mod.

I didn’t even know there were Master of Magic mods! hahaha.

Here is a video I found on the subject. I’ll check it out.

I have to be very careful with my ‘favorite games’. I got hooked on a ‘lets play’ video on a guy for Urquan Masters. He knew about Star Control 1, was a sci-fi nerd, but knew nothing of Star Control 2 and played it blind. He thought it was just going to be pew pew action like Star Control 1. “LOL who cares about the story?” he says at the intro. It was amazing to watch someone *discover* the game in the way it properly should. His reactions mirror my own and made me remember the first time I played the game.

Eventually, I couldn’t resist, so I downloaded Ur-Quan Masters and gave it a play. Now, reader, I have played this game many times and know all the ins and outs, the best resource locations, the best order to do things, and so on. Even skipping most of the conversations, the game took me seven hours to beat (which I did in one sitting which embarasses me completely but still shows how compelling the game still is for me).

Do I really need to be sucked into Master of Magic and waste countless hours playing a game I have already spent countless hours on?

Yes. Yes I do. Fuck these new games. If they can’t be more compelling than old ones despite their new graphics and shit, then why shouldn’t I keep playing the old one?

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 5, 2017

Email: Two things that have been bothering me about Mario Odyssey

There are two things that have been really irking me since the announcement of the game: the music with lyrics, and the regular people.

I always understood that Mario is a regular human who travelled to a magical place (the Mushroom Kingdom), but now when he travels to Not-New-York-City in Odyssey the entire city is filled with normal looking people and Mario stands out like a CGI smurf.

It would be one thing if all the people were cartoony like Mario, but that’s not the case. At least in the awful Smurfs movie the human character Gargamel was played by an actual human.

The other thing is the soundtrack with lyrics. It’s hard to put my finger on why it is, but having lyrics in a video game sound track is just wrong. The only time having voices work for me is when the voices are used in an a capella way, i.e. in place of instruments like in The Witcher, but not when the lyrics were meant to be complete sentences to be listened to. Watching the ending really made me double-cringe.

Both of those things remind me of the 3D Sonic games, they too have both lyrics in their soundtrack and cartoony animals interacting with what are meant to be real people. It’s just wrong.

It is interesting if game makers, such as Nintendo, develop games such as Mario Odyssey based on the direction they see movies going. We know that Mario developers have been heavily influenced by popular shows that kids watch. If it weren’t for Minecraft’s popularity with kids, Nintendo would likely never have dared to have such camera control to players in Zelda BoW “Wow!”.

All I know is that Mario games are not made for me. I actually wonder who they are made for. With the exception of Sunshine, every Mario game is lauded as ‘incredible’ and ‘amazing’, yet the hardware sometimes sells or sometimes doesn’t sell.

I do think the heritage of old school Mario inoculates modern 3d Mario from serious criticism.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 4, 2017

Email: Super Mario Oddity

Been playing for another couple hours, ready to put the controller down for good possibly. The Game promises an open world but really it is an illusion. It is just linear sandboxes that give you the same moon over and over again for walking through a level and becoming whatever object the developers want you to play as. They literally are saying “this is our sandbox, and you will play with our toys how we want you to play in our sandbox”
The camera control is cursory and allows a static fixed view most of the time. You cannot really crane to see anything out of view that well. Because then you would have too much freedom and go where you want to go.

Maybe it’s an early semi hot take, but this game will probably sell 9 million copies due the switches user base, but it will not sell systems. The only fun parts so far have been the 2D Mario parts, where you get to play as Mario, not a frog or a flashlight. The HD 2D Mario art really pops and they should forget this shit and make onna dose instead.

I might steal your ‘Super Mario Oddity’ branding.

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