Gamer Journal: “Xenonauts” or “Why Adam’s Not In Charge Of Military Decisions”

Journal! Hi there!

I just played Xenonauts (Goldhawk Interactive, 2014), one of my favourite games to play when I need a reminder that if the aliens actually invaded I shouldn’t be the one in charge. As you might know I’ve played and written about Xenonauts before. It is one of my go-to games when I am looking for a challenging strategy game that’s quick to start; and its often quick to end (cuz I’m not very good at it)!

Set in 1979 Earth Xenonauts is a faithful successor to X-COM: Enemy Unknown / UFO Defence (Mythos Games, 1994), a turn based strategy game placing the player in control of a worldwide organization charged with fighting against an alien invasion.

I really do like this game, but I am eager to play some of the other titles! So instead of doing a detailed write-up about the game here’s a video entry instead:




Gamer Journal: “Adam’s Apology to Deus Ex: Human Revolution”

Dear Deus Ex: Human Revolution,

I’m sorry I was a little harsh in my last entry about you. After a total of 31 hours I finally finished you and as it happens you’re pretty good.

Love, Adam.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about what makes a game enjoyable and I think I came up with a pretty okay answer. To me DE:HR, and games like it, are equatable to action movies; you’re not watching it because you want it to change your life, you’re watching because you want to be entertained. DE:HR is certainly entertaining.

I take back what I said about the story being passable. If the story was only ‘meh’ I don’t think I would have invested the 31 hours. Instead I update my opinion on the story to ‘decent’. It’s all very much a conspiracy theory and I still stand by my earlier comment about it being predictable, but it turns out to be divergent enough to be interesting. There were a couple of moments where I rolled my eyes or said things like “called it” but over all the story was good. I must also add (without spoilers) that the voice-overs for the final cut-scenes were well scripted and executed and do a good job of tying things together.

The game-play also held up. When playing a game for 30-40 hours it’s easy to get into some automatic routines and the game-play can become monotonous. The addition of some augments and the level design prevented monotony and kept me wanting to get to my next checkpoint.

There was a moment though that made me pretty upset. When Jensen is woken up from the shipping container and all his gear and stats were taken away. It felt like I was starting again at zero and it wasn’t really clear when my stats were restored. You do find your gear, with no ammo, and only 8 praxis kits; I had spent way more points than 8 building my stats up. For me, as a designer, I would have avoided removing all the stats and skills the player has been working hard to build unless I was giving it back to them right away. However, much later on I discovered that I had 11 points somehow, which might have been me missing the re-reward so I guess it evened out.

In the end Deus Ex: Human Revolution stands up as both an FPS and RPG and really knows how to rock that Bladerunner-Matrix vibe! Thanks for showing me that with a little cybernetic surgery, anyone can perform the sleeper hold.

Now that I am finished DE:HR it’s time for my favorite part of the show: DRAWING FROM THE FISHBOWL!

And the winner is…..

And the next game for my game journal blog is………..

A video posted by Adam Carriere (@adamthegameguy) on Nov 30, 2015 at 9:13pm PST

Xenonauts (Goldhawk Interactive, 2014)!

See you soon!

Gamer Journal: “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” or ” Bladerunner Has A Lovechild With The Matrix”

Hello Journal!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal, 2011) is a “cyberpunk-themed first-person action role-playing stealth video game” (Wikipedia) set in a run-down 2027 Detroit. The player is placed in the role of Adam Jensen, the augmented security manager for Sarif Industries, who needs to find and stop the people who gone done blowed up his girlfriend. Okay, they also blowed off Jensens arms and legs and some research and stuff too.

As I’ve mentioned before I don’t really get into FPS games all that much but DeHR had enough RPG elements to peak my interest; plus I’ve never really played a stealth game before and I wanted to give it a try. I also admit that having the same name as the main character added a completely unfounded personal connection between me and the game. Also plus the art style reminded me a lot of Bladerunner, except the game seams to be in a perpetual Matrix-esque darkness. Well, that, and Jensen sounds like Neo… And there’s this whole ‘chosen one’ vibe…


Flippant sarcasm aside, I am actually enjoying DeHR. Having played most of the weekend and in the evenings this week Steam says I have played 16 hours so far and I’ve unlocked 12/59 achievements. Overall, it’s a fun game. This is mostly due to it being greater than the sum of its parts. The story, for starters, is passable; fairly predictable but interesting enough for me to enjoy it. At this point the story has lacked an “OH MY GOD! THAT CAME OUT OF LEFT FIELD!” moment, but makes up for it with enough “hmmm yea okay” moments. The character interactions are good, especially with the social augmentation which you can add with “Praxis Points” (which are basically points you get when you get enough XP points; i.e. leveling up). Speaking of augmentations I thought it was an interesting way of tying in the RPG elements into the narrative.

Augmentations basically serve as a mechanism to apply points to certain skills such as your fancy eyesight, computer hacking ability, or your uncanny ability to carry a crazy number of guns without a backpack. Where other RPGs I’ve played simply go “yay you’re a master lockpicker even though you’ve never picked a lock in your life” DeHR ties these skills into the game’s narrative by turning them into augments that you install in yourself.

The game-play is your standard FPS fare, but balanced in a way that favours stealth and choking out bad guys from behind a washing machine (not sarcasm, that happens in the game). What stood out for me was how you are able to take cover behind walls, poke your head around corners, and make stealthy jumps and somersaults between gaps without being detected.


I tend to enjoy games that offer multiple styles of play and I think DeHR allows for that. The level design does a really good job of giving Jensen a reason to be stealthy. Of course, you could also Rambo through the levels with guns blazing, but for me the stealthy route was the way to go.

As it stands there’s a good chance I will finish the main storyline (as I said I find the stealth missions fun) but I must admit that I am getting an itch to try something else for some reason; which could be due to the game, or just my mood. Maybe I should table this game and play another, going back to it when I’m more in the mood for Bladerunner: Reloaded.

Gamer Journal: LIMBO

LIMBO is an atmospheric puzzle-platformer developed by Playdead in 2010 which plays with your senses and toys with your fears. With an ambiance reminiscent of a 1932 film the audio and visual work in LIMBO is a demonstration of what it is like to live inside a nightmare. Never quite able to see ahead of you, or behind you, the only clear thing is that you are certainly there; wherever you are. You can never be certain of what awaits ahead; the boy can only walk further into the haze.

From a game design perspective LIMBO is a puzzle-platformer at its core. With simple run-jump-climb controls it’s very easy to get into this game and start playing. What really makes LIMBO stand out from the crowd is the way the designers and artists have created this nightmarish environment. From the beginning it is hard to determine where you are and what you are doing, but you very quickly realize that you cannot trust anything that you are seeing.

Something that stood out for me was the way the game was paced. There was often a long interval between puzzles which created these long periods of anticipation and short intense periods of HOLY SH*T THAT’S A FREAKING SPIDER THAT JUST KILLED ME OUT OF NOWHERE!!!!!! And if you watch the video you will see me nearly jumping out of my chair!

Not only are you being given audio and visual feedback you also get tactile feedback in the rumble of a gamepad; you should totally play this with a controller. By playing with these three senses, in tandem with the game’s pacing, I got this feeling of anticipation mixed with anxiety as I wait to be eviscerated by a spiked bear trap or impaled by a giant spider sent from the deepest depths of hell… I really hate that spider…

Where LIMBO succeeded in a fantastic and well rounded design I failed as a player.

LIMBO is a great game, and if you like puzzles that toy with your fears then this is for you!  LIMBO is full of very clever and well thought out puzzles. Players are given visual queues, foreshadowing, hints; all the things a great puzzle needs to allow players to succeed without hand holding. However, I am the type of player that doesn’t often thrive in this sort of environment. In addition to the jitters I suffer from what I like to call Puzzle Fatigue.

Essentially, puzzle fatigue happens when you have failed a puzzle multiple times and now you are getting frustrated to the point where you start failing faster, and then you get more frustrated. This started fairly early on for me when I encountered the giant spider for the first time. I was able to push through but through too many trials and errors after an hour and a half got frustrated enough to stop playing.

Don’t get me wrong, LIMBO is a well designed, well executed, and all around awesome game. I’m not you, so you might be into this sort of thing.


I'll Bet $27 On ARK: A Commentary On Early Access

So today I caved and I got myself an early access copy of ARK: Survival Evolved (Studio Wildcard, 2015). It’s Steam profile looked great, and I wanted to ride me a dinosaur!!!

I purchased, installed, ran… long story short: it took me 1 hour to adjust the graphics settings to something where I could actually play the game. Now, even on low-medium settings, I’m playing between 10 and 15 frames-per-second (with moments of 2 or 8 here and there). Now, I’m not a FPS junky. My monitor only has a 60 MHz refresh rate, and my computer boasts a modest Nvidia GeForce GT 740 graphics card backed up by an older quad core 2.90GHz AMD processor and 4GB RAM. It’s clear that I’m not looking for a 120 FPS experience; I’m happy with 25 to 30 FPS – the cinematic experience if you will. But anything below 24 FPS seams jagged and bad and on low settings I had hoped to get better performance.

ARK Trike
ARK: Survival Evolved — I ate a triceratops

But remember, this isn’t ARK‘s final release; I bought the early access version. This means that as a consumer/player I took a gamble and the question remains: was it a good gamble?

Well, that is yet to be determined. For the consumer/player the gamble is twofold: is the game enjoyable as it stands, and will the game be enjoyable in the future? Since the inception of Steam Refunds the risk for me is low; if I don’t like the game I can get a refund within two weeks of purchase. But this is Early Access and my purchase is going to change as it is developed. If I play the long game (pardon the pun) I might get a good return on my investment; ARK might turn into the best game I’ve ever played for all I know. Or I might not… It might turn into something awful. This is the gamble that we all play when we buy early access, but we’re not the only ones taking a gamble.

ARK Poop
ARK: Survival Evolved — There’s poop in this picture…

Developers and publishers are also taking a risk by releasing their unfinished work to the public. Just like meeting a person for the first time, a game’s first impression is the most important. If the player has a bad experience right off the bat the developer risks having to give customers a refund and also risks getting a bad reputation for having a broken product that may or may not get better. Studios are placing all their eggs in the “we’re gonna wait it out” basket. And in the long run, the game might not get better! There’s a level of uncertainty pertaining to whether or not the game will become what we envisioned it to be. But if we have a little faith, the payoff for the studios (and for us) can be immense. Not only are they getting cash up front to help further development, they receive free user testing, and often a dedicated user community providing their game with feedback, reviews, videos, and general evangelism. Kerbal Space Program (Squad, 2015) is a perfect example of the gamble paying off for both sides. Players formed tight knit and dedicated communities, feedback, and even user generated content.

So, what of ARK: Survival Evolved? For me, the jury is still out on whether my gamble has payed off; it’s honestly too early to tell. i will tell you I’ve been playing it all day. In regards to ARK as a game itself Studio Wildcard has done a great job in creating well rounded and robust health and crafting systems. Conceptually this game is awesome, and from what I can tell from my currently janky settings, the scenery and artwork is phenomenal. And dude, dinosaurs. If I get an optimization patch in the near future my gamble will have paid off.

To Mod or Not To Mod? That Is The Question

Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous User Interfaces meant for consoles and not PCs,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of overlooked bugs,
And by modding, end them?

Okay, enough bastardising the bard’s (the Stratford one) works for my own gain.

What I’m trying to ask is: as players, should we add mods to what we play? And, as designers, should we design our games to be expanded by user generated content?

Downloadable Content and User Generated Content are an interesting and unique trait that games have that other mediums generally don’t; can we take advantage if that? I’m not aware of a publicly accepted method of adding viewer content into West Side Story, or Citizen Kane; or of communities of art gallery patrons developing their own optional additions or modifications to Starry Night to load into their digitally downloaded pieces. Yes, there are artists who mimic other artists in both games, art, film, and literature; but these are artistic homages rather than user generated content or DLC. But what if JJ Abrams allowed a mod for removing lense flares? Would Star Trek (Paramount Pictures, 2009) have been a better film?

I think mods are awesome; at least as a concept. Mods allow hobbyist and aspiring developers/designers to generate their own content for a pre-existing game and distribute it to other users. These mods can be anything, ranging from content mods like new quests or items to unofficial patches fixing numerous bugs.

I don’t personally use mods very often. The only games I’ve really installed third-party content on is Microsoft Flight Simulator: X (ACES Studio/Microsoft Studios, 2006), Kerbal Space Program (Squad, 2015), and Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011). It’s not because of a moral opposition to mods though; not a lot of mods really appeal too much to me as a player. I’ve used things like SkyUI, or added non-stock planes and parts to FSX and KSP respectively.

For many players, mods genuinely enhance player experience; and often not from a disdain for the vanilla systems but as a display of love for the games. Not only do players want to play the game, they want to keep playing and contributing and playing and loving. In reality, if a game is comprehensively poor who would contribute to it at all?

In summary, I think its important for us as game designers to remember that games are for the player, and developing and adding mods extend their experience; often for better, some times for worse. My suggestion for players: don’t dismiss the vanilla versions; it might be your favourite flavour.

My Experiences With Anxiety And Games

Last week here in Canada it was Mental Health Awareness Week, and it’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this week. And to be completely honest with you all, I am having trouble starting to write this blogpost. This is because I have an anxiety disorder: more specifically a Social Anxiety Disorder. The Canadian Mental Health Association describes Social Anxiety Disorder as:

“[involving an] intense fear of being embarrassed or evaluated negatively by others. As a result, people avoid social situations. This is more than shyness. It can have a big impact on work or school performance and relationships.”

In my life this has affected my work life and my social life. Indeed, not only does having an anxiety problem affect my personal relationships with other people, including relationships with loved ones, it also has a profound effect on my personal relationship with myself: how I see myself, how I think about myself, and more importantly how I think others see and think about me. To be truthful it can be pretty debilitating (I have the doctor’s notes to prove it).

The Mental Health Foundation in the UK gives us a pretty good idea about the psychological impact of anxiety:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling depressed
  • Loss of self-confidence

“It can be hard to break this cycle, but you can learn to feel less worried and to cope with your anxiety so it doesn’t stop you enjoying life.” 

I can attest to what the MHF says here: I most often struggle with the first and last points.

What I needed to realize was that I am awesome, and that my lack of self-confidence was internal and generally unfounded. Upon reflection there was no reason to doubt myself, and that through striving to improve myself, for myself, I am able to achieve anything I set my mind to.

I want to break here for a moment to say that I am not a doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist; I’m just a dude with a laptop and a blog, and as such I cannot (nor will I) attempt to recommend any single therapy for dealing with an anxiety disorder. I can only tell you what has worked for me in the past, and what is working for me now (at this very moment as I am writing it is this Spotify Playlist; Bach is pretty great. I can also recommend my favourite composer Beethoven, who coincidently suffered from an intense case of depression; but I digress). If you feel like you are struggling with an anxiety disorder, or any other mental health issues, I urge you to seek out medical advice from a doctor who can recommend therapies; both medicinal and behavioural.

On that note, I have done both. In the beginning of my journey I was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication to use as a milestone between crippling anxiety and seeking a therapist. And I did seek a therapist for something called cognitive-bahavioural therapy.

I am happy to say to you that I can enjoy life! Anxiety is both manageable and treatable and it is absolutely possible to do great things!

So at this point I am sure you’re asking “Adam, this is a blog about games and game design; what does this have to do with that?” Well Dear Reader, I do sometimes talk about other stuff. But this has much to do with games and game design.

Many people seek out video games as a form of coping with anxiety; myself included. I happened to take it a step further and try to channel my anxiety into my game design work and my game design blogging. Often, playing a game for a little while helps distract me from my anxious mind, allows me to calm down by thinking critically about something else, and return to the task at hand refreshed and relaxed. However, video games can easily switch from a healthy coping mechanism to an unhealthy one.

It’s important for us to recognize the difference between using games as a coping mechanism; as a method of working out an internal struggle, and a dependance on games for self assurance, self-esteem, and self-confidence. In one of my first posts here titles What Do Games Do? I say that “Games can provide an escape” and that A game can provide an opportunity to be somebody else, or be the person you really want to be.” In general, these aren’t unhealthy things to seek out; it seems to me to be part of the reason we have things like books, movies, music, and theatre. They provide a respite from the stresses of work and life and as I mentioned above allows us to step back to somewhere else to unwind and return refreshed. This is the case for pretty much any coping mechanism. But what if you are always trying to ‘escape’?

There may come a point where one finds that games are the only things that make them happy for one reason or another. At that point one might begin to turn away from things like work, play, and social interactions by retreating into virtual worlds where they are in control. Not only can one turn their back on the world and on others they can begin to turn their back on themselves by neglecting their personal health, their personal hygiene, their self care, and their self worth. When this happens a person may only feel any self worth or self esteem inside a game. Games at this point have transitioned from constructive coping to detrimental dependancy. And if you can relate to the above; if you feel like your only happiness comes from a game, and that you have turned away from everything else, I once again urge you to seek out medical advice and therapy to help bring you back to health.

Remember that you are more than what you are in a game: you are a problem solver, you are driven, you are passionate, you are awesome.

I want to ask my fellow game designers to take these type of issues into consideration when we create. I think by including things like natural yet regular pauses in games we can allow our players to step away from our games for a time, but still desire to return later. I feel like it’s our responsibility as designers and developers to create not only compelling content, but healthy methods of play; sort of like our own little Hippocratic Oath:

I hereby swear to create games that are fun and compelling, yet who’s methods of play are both safe and healthy for my players; I swear this for the good of the player and the good of the game.


Anxiety, depression, and mental illness do not discriminate and are often invisible to those close to the people that suffer from them. If you think you or anyone you know are a victim of mental illness please do not be silent. Talk to your DOCTOR and a COUNSELLOR, right now.

If you or anyone you know are thinking about attempting or plan to attempt suicide, call 911 (or your regional emergency line) IMMEDIATELY! Stop reading this and call right now!

If you or a loved one are in crisis right now you can call:


Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868
Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
Or go to for more.


USA: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

UK: The Samaritans at 08457 90 90 90

I got help, you can too.

I know it is difficult to ask for help because that means admitting that there is something wrong; and the stigma around mental health issues makes that even harder. But I will tell you verily that it can help.

Remember that you are awesome, we are awesome, and we can do it; whatever it is!