Portal - title

Portal is one of the best and most successful video games ever made. In the current climate of table top board game manufacturers trying to license every property that they can possibly get a hold of, I guess it only makes sense that there would have been a board game based on the Portal video game. But what could a board game designer possibly do with the physics and gravity-bending environmental puzzle-solving concepts of the 2 Portal video games? Cryptozoic's answer was to not even really try. While they did manage to come up with a unique and novel board game design, it's a design that I don't feel really does justice to the title's namesake.

You will be tested, and then there will be cake

Portal: The Uncooperative Cake-Acquisition Game is based around a modular, evolving board concept. 15 tiles are placed on the table in three rows of 5. At the end of each player's turn, one tile is removed from the right edge of the board (the "Old Edge"), flipped over, and moved to the left edge of the board (the "New Edge"). If a player controls a majority of the test subject pieces in the removed tile, he or she is given a set of rewards printed on the tile. This may include being able to place additional test subjects in order to establish more control over the board, being able to place or move a turret or Companion Cube figurine, or placing a victory point token on the board (which takes the form of a plastic slice of cake).

Any player piece(s) on the removed tile are also destroyed. Test subjects are returned to the respective player's supply, but any cake slices (which are victory points) are placed in the "Incinerator", and are removed from the game permanently. The objective of the game, thus, is to place as much cake on the board as you can, while also trying to keep that cake away from the old edge of the board so that it does not become incinerated. What makes this a somewhat challenging puzzle to solve is that the conveyor belt nature of the board is constantly pushing everything towards incineration.

Tiles move from one end of the board to the other, like a conveyor belt.

Each players' test subject tokens can pick up a piece of cake (belonging to any player) and carry the cake with it when the test subject moves. This is how players protect their own cake from the incinerator, but it also allows other players to pick up a rival's cake and move it closer to being incinerated. Thus, the competitive and subversive element is introduced. Players must try to maximize their own resources, while simultaneously trying to minimize their opponents' resources.

Oh, and there's also a couple of portal tokens which allow test subjects to move long distances across the board (and potentially take cake with them). And there's also a GladOS cardboard cutout, which does absolutely nothing except to mark which test chamber tile is being incinerated and recycled. The actual portals in the game's namesake, and the primary villain of the games, thus feel under-utilized. The portals just provide an extra opportunity for long-distance movement, but the game is completely playable without including them at all. They aren't even remotely necessary -- let alone fundamental -- to the board game's design, the way they are in the video game.

Turret and Companion Cube are nice 3-D plastic models,
but GladOS is just a cardboard cutout.

It's also a shame that the GladOS token is not a 3-D plastic model. The turret and Companion Cube are both plastic models and look really nice, so it's a shame that GladOS didn't get the same treatment. If she had, I could easily see this game's pieces becoming part of a nice little display diorama on a shelf somewhere when they are not in use for actual play.

In general, the board game lacks the spatial puzzle-solving element of the video game. The board is constantly in flux, and so a large focus of the game is on manipulating the physical space of the game board, and there is a certain degree of spatial-puzzle-solving present. But from my experience, most of that manipulation feels pretty rote and predictable. While there are certainly the occasional opportunities for really creative plays (especially when ability cards are used to modify various game rules or give the player extra powerful actions), the bulk of the game is pretty straight-forward.

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Steam logo

The video game developer and distribution platform-owner Valve has announced that it will no longer moderate game submissions to Steam, and will instead "allow everything", so long as it is not blatantly illegal or "straight up trolling". This comes after literal years of complaints from players about the poor quality of games being submitted on the platform, and years of failed attempts by Valve to shut down or limit such releases. Apparently, they are just giving up.

Valve executive Erik Johnson made this announcement on an official blog post today, in which he defended the change in policy as a matter of protecting free speech rights.

"If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending. There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that’s it."

   -- Erik Johnson, Valve executive, official blog

I'm a huge proponent of free speech, and a firm opponent of censorship, but I'm not sure if this move from Valve is the right one. For me, this is less an issue of free speech and censorship, and more an issue of quality control. Steam is already inundated with crappy, barely-working games that are phishing for people's money. People have been submitting, and charging consumers for, blatant asset-flips, Unity tutorials, copy-pasted rip-offs and clones, achievement farms, and all sorts of other low-quality, minimum-effort games and "fake games". In essence, Valve is enabling illigitimate developers to sell defective merchandise to the public, and Valve is directly profiting off of those sales. Does this represent a conflict of interest? Is Valve under a perverse incentive to facilitate the sale of as much crap as it possibly can?

That doesn't even include larger indie debacles like Life of Black Tiger, which actually saw a release on PSN as well! It also doesn't include the vast array of Early Access titles that may or may not at some point be released as "complete", fully-functional titles.

Yes, it is nice that indie developers (especially budding young ones) have a platform on which to publish their work. However, the flood of games on the platform is not necessarily good for the consumer. Even if all the games that were submitted to Steam were quality games submitted by honest developers in good faith, the shear volume of games would already make it difficult to weed through to find what you are looking for.

Steam releases per year
Almost half of all games ever released on Steam were released in a single year.
Source: Steam Spy.

Instead of doing their own moderation or quality-control, Valve apparently intends to release a suite of controls intended to allow end users to filter out content that they don't want to see...

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So, Chichian and I have both recently had issues with Steam that required us to create a support ticket. Steam has a rather obtuse system for support tickets, and for many users, it apparently doesn't work at all.

First and foremost, Steam's support requires that you make a separate account just for support. You don't log into Steam support using your existing Steam account. Supposedly, this is because the most common ticket is to retrieve access to a lost account. Either the player forgot their account info, or it had been hijacked. So in order to prevent people from having to make a whole separate Steam user account just to create a support ticket to retrieve their old Steam account, they set up this system in which support is its own separate account to begin with - for everybody. So even if you have full access to your Steam account and only want to report a bug in the client or have an issue with a purchased game not showing up in your library, you still have to go to the trouble of creating a completely separate account.

Steam Support account sign in
Steam Support requires a separate account from your normal Steam account.

You then have to go through the email validation process. After you create an account, they'll send you a verification email. Pretty common stuff. Unfortunately, many users (including myself and Chichian) never get these emails. The same might apply for email requests to reset a password if you forgot your support account's password. The email doesn't go into a spam folder. It doesn't go to the wrong account. It doesn't show up two days later because their emailer services are slow. The emails simply never show up. You're not crazy, there is an explanation.

Apparently, some email providers completely block Steam Support from sending emails to their users for ... some reason. I guess they think Steam Support is some kind of spammer or malware threat? Usually, you'd expect such an email to get sent to a spam folder. But not in this case. It's really annoying that providers are able to simply refuse traffic from specific sources, especially a source that is legitimate like Steam.

Steam Support account sign in
Use a gmail account for Steam Support.
It works ... for now ...

So bottom line: if you are having issues with creating or accessing a Steam Support account, you're not alone. If you're waiting for validation or password reset emails that simply never show up, it's probably because your provider is blocking them. Chichian's Steam Support emails were blocked by Hotmail and Yahoo. Mine was blocked by AOL. It appears that gmail does not block Steam Support though. We were both able to receive the emails when we created an account using gmail. So if you are having issues, I recommend using a gmail address to create your Steam Support account. It will save you some confusion and frustration.

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Civilization V

In anticipation of the upcoming Brave New World expansion pack for Sid Meier's Civilization V, I've been working on some mod projects.

Today, I published a small resource mod called "Just a pinch of salt" that adjusts the yield of the salt luxury resource. By default, salt is a very strong resource to start near, as it provides +1 food and +1 gold base yield. Since it shows up frequently on plains, these tiles give your fledgling city a 2 food, 1 production, 1 gold tile out of the gate. With the addition of a mine, the food and production yield goes up by 1.

Civ V mod - reduced-yield salt Civ V mod - Granary improves salt
Extra food from salt requires building a Granary.

This mod aims to scale back the power of salt a little bit by removing the base +1 food modifier and moving that bonus to require the construction of a Granary building. In addition to it's existing bonuses, the granary now adds the +1 food to salt.

  • Salt: +1 Gold base yield.
  • Granary: +1 Food from salt worked by the city.
Civ V mod - Max salt yield
Total salt yield after building Granary and mine.

Once you have mined the salt and built a granary in the city, the total output of the salt tile is the same as in the unmodded game.

The mod can be downloaded from Civilization V's in-game mod browser by searching for "just a pinch of salt", or through Steam by visiting MegaBearsFan's Workshop (http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=145306648).

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Civilization V

In anticipation of the upcoming Brave New World expansion pack for Sid Meier's Civilization V, I've been working on some mod projects.

Today, I published a small resource mod called "Copper Buff" that improves the effectiveness of the copper resource in the game. Currently, copper is a fairly weak luxury resource, since it doesn't get buffed by any buildings in the game. This mod adjusts the Forge and Mint buildings to provide a bonus towards nearby copper as follows:

  • Forge: +1 Production from copper worked by the city.
  • Mint: +1 Gold from copper worked by the city.

Both buildings can be constructed in a city if copper is present within the city's borders.

Civ V mod - Forge improves Copper Civ V mod - Mint improves Copper
Forge and Mint improve nearby copper.

The mod can be downloaded from Civilization V's in-game mod browser by searching for "copper buff", or through Steam by visiting MegaBearsFan's Workshop (http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=144822605).

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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