Postcards from The Witcher 3

Playing The Witcher 3 was a spectacular, standout experience. Despite not being mechanically very different from other roleplaying games, it manages to create a unique atmosphere and voice. This comes down to many different things, like the fantasy setting rooted in Slavic mythology, the mournful writing, and the commitment to naturalistic, believable world building.

It is nothing short of a masterpiece, and one of the most important games of the past 10 years.

I played the game on my trusty Playstation 4, and as always I took a bunch of screenshots while playing. Here are a few of them, selected in an attempt to give you a sense of the atmosphere of The Witcher 3.

Novigrad

Seven Cats Inn

Velen

Novigrad

White Orchard

White Orchard

White Orchard

Velen

The eternal dark

Games almost always get death wrong. One moment you’re alive, and bam, the next moment you are gone. They treat it like an event, but real death is a process. It takes time to die. In fact, it takes a lifetime.

I recently played a game that gets it kind of right – The Long Dark. Its authors probably wanted to make a game about survival rather than its opposite, but they ended up with a game about the process of dying. No matter how well you play, a slow and difficult death is the only possible outcome.

Alone in the icy cold of the northern Canadian wilderness, The Long Dark is about getting through the day (and the night). Escaped from a crashed plane and dressed in a summer outfit, you find yourself exploring forests, mountains and snowy valleys.

First there’s the cold. You want warmer clothes and some shelter. Then there’s the hunger and the thirst. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to find a small cabin with a bed and a stove. You burn the cabin’s firewood to get the temperature up. Perhaps you melt some snow to drink, and cook some meat you took from the frozen deer carcass outside.

Slowly but surely your resources start to run out. You must decide how hungry you must get, or how much the temperature in the cabin must drop before you go back out in the storm. And what will you find once you head out there?

There’s a sense of melancholy in The Long Dark, because it makes the decay of life tangible. The game is a fight to delay the inevitable, to slow the process, but the end is coming. You will freeze to death, or starve, or thirst. Whatever comes first. You see your remaining life eroded by the forces of nature, by time itself.

The game presents you with no happy endings. So what do you do, when you’re out there desperately scavenging for something to eat or some wood to burn so that you’ll live a little bit longer? You take pleasure in the journey. Discovering a frozen lake surrounded by mountains and snow clad pine trees. Watching the aurora borealis dance on a starry night sky.

My first play session ended with me reaching a mountain hut and then freezing to death in my sleep. But it was a beautiful climb to get there.

Being gods

Video games reveal that just as human beings seem to have a desire to believe in god, we also carry a desire to be god. Like a jealous and furious old testament deity, we crave the power to destroy our enemies and reshape mankind according to our fickle will.

Get ready! Get psyched!

Get psyched!

We’ve finally revealed the release date – Wolfenstein: The New Order is out May 20 in the US and May 23 in Europe. I’m thrilled that you’re all going to get the chance to step into our world in just a few months! Check out the fantastic new trailer, and… Get ready! Get psyched!

The ever-growing list

There’s a special kind of madness originating from the Steam Christmas sale.

Tons of games suddenly become so cheap that it feels like sheer stupidity not to buy them. As long as one might find something interesting about a title, it will be bought. Why not? You might want to play it later, on a rainy Sunday afternoon or during a boring trip somewhere. And if there’s nothing special about the game, rest assured it’s part of some package, a collection of games so incredibly cheap it would be criminal to ignore.

Steam logoIf you are anything like me, your Steam list is cluttered by games never played, never installed and some you don’t even remember. Perhaps this seems like a luxury to the average gamer. You’ll never run out of games to play. Yeah, that sounds pretty great. To me, however, it’s stressful just to look at the list at this point.

Know this about game designers – they need to play games. They seek deeper understanding of mechanics, attempt to be on top of trends, and have a general overview of the competition. There’s always the notion of not playing enough games, of not getting enough insight into what others are making. Having a long list of games you’ve bought but never played whispers in your ear, each time you’re glancing at it, “you’re not doing enough research, buddy”.

I had a solution this Christmas. I never even looked at Steam. How will they sell me games if I put my fingers in my ears and shout “la-la-la-la-la I’m not listening”? This, surely, is a problem Valve will have figured out for Christmas 2014. They always do.

Some of the things E3 2013 was

I spent last week at E3 in Los Angeles, showing our game Wolfenstein: The New Order to an army of journalists and retailers. It was fun, hectic, exciting, tiring, challenging, new and crazy…

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E3 2013 was being reminded how incredibly professional, dedicated and supportive the Bethesda team is.

E3 2013 was a battle between jetlag and strong, black coffee.

E3 2013 was a three day long marathon with almost thirty interviews.

E3 2013 was about thundering noise from neighboring booths, air condition systems that seemed like they were built by Finnish sauna experts, and 48000 people trying to do their job.

E3 2013 was learning that the presence of a video camera makes me more focused when interviewed.

E3 2013 was meeting Warren Spector for the first time, and once again being inspired by his design ethos.

Warren and Andreas

E3 2013 was struggling drinking enough water each day, and trying not to have too much coffee.

E3 2013 was about overcoming fears and mapping new territory professionally and personally.

E3 2013 was the pleasure of having a great game to show, and not having to talk it up.

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E3 2013 was learning just how sticky and disgusting a gamepad could get, and learning to appreciate hand sanitizers on a whole new level.

E3 2013 was trying to get enough sleep, and waking up in the middle of the night because of jetlag.

E3 2013 was getting professional makeup done before doing live shows.

E3 2013 was about the extremely talented team back in Uppsala who built the amazing game we had the honor to demo and present.

Returning to Chernarus to escape it

I hadn’t played ARMA II since having my mind blown by DayZ some months ago, but somehow buying and trying the sequel ARMA III brought me back. There’s this ARMA II mod some friends from work are playing, called Escape Chernarus. While not as revolutionary as DayZ, it shows the strengths of the game in the very best of lights, and adds an exciting and dynamic struggle for survival to it.

It all begins in a military camp. You and your friends are prisoners of war, guarded by a lone enemy soldier somewhere on the island of Chernarus. The location of the camp is random, so you don’t know where you are. You have no map, no compass. No weapons at all.

Suddenly the guard dies. Who knows from what – just quickly take whatever he’s got on him and get the hell out of the compound.

He usually carries a pistol and some kind of rifle. If you’re three players (like we have been) that means one of you will have to face the deadly opposition outside the camp walls unarmed and defenseless. But out you must, or reinforcements will make your life very very difficult and very very short.

You exit the camp, and if you’re still alive you have one simple objective: Get off the island. Escape Chernarus.

This is easier said than done. You have no means of leaving the island by yourself, so you’re going to have to find a military base and send a distress signal for allies to come and pick you up at some distant shore. But you can’t simply waltz into a base, so you’re going to have to take it by force. And one of you is unarmed, you got shit gear, you’re probably running out of ammo and you have no idea where you are.

Find a map. A compass. Better weapons. Unfortunately you’re going to have to take them from the cooling bodies of your enemies. Attack a roadblock, a village, a patrol, whatever that might hold some of the gear you so desperately need. But the island is teeming with soldiers, and they’re looking for you. Be quick. If they spot you, don’t let them live long enough to call for reinforcements. And here comes the helicopter searching for you, again.

Run. Hide. Fight. Survive. Steal a vehicle, preferably an armored one. If it’s night, see if you can get your hands on some night vision goggles.

Once the distress signal has been sent you get a coordinate on the map telling you where they’ll pick you up. However, that coordinate is probably going to be very far away, and you have an army looking for you. Do you try to get there quickly by following the roads, or do you try to stay undetected by moving through forests, fields, hills? Do you travel in the same vehicle, or do you split up to reduce risk of all dying from a single rocket, missile or grenade?

If you have the skills and the luck you might make it to that shore, and the help will come. Climb onboard. Escape Chernarus, and enjoy the moment – for I predict that most play sessions will end with you bleeding to death somewhere far away from any hope of rescue.

This mod makes the aging ARMA II engine shine. The smart AI, the wealth of weapons, gear and vehicles, the enormous and varied landscape, the weather systems and day/night cycle all come into play each play session. The dynamic nature of the mod creates a unique experience each time you play it, and it really feels like the enemy is searching for you, hunting you. Like DayZ, it makes Chernarus come alive.

It will be interesting to see how it’ll translate to ARMA III.

The magic of the unknown

After some months of abstinence I’ve gone back to Skyrim. The extra content in Hearthfire and Dragonborn pulled me back, and I realized there are still quite a few things for me to discover amidst the original game’s snow, ice and dragons. The world threatening conflict of Dragonborn adds a bit of much needed energy to the old world, so I’ll probably not finish that quest line quite just yet. You see, once I finished Skyrim’s main quest the last of the tension, the life, the sense that anything could happen, poured out of the setting and it became a less interesting space to be in. Dragonborn mends that a little bit, but only a little.

It wasn’t just finishing the main quest – it was the 90+ hours I had sunk into Skyrim. After so many hours I knew that everything I would do, everything I would encounter, would be variations on a theme. I’ve realized that if I’m to be immersed in Bethesda’s game there needs to be something unknown waiting on the other side of the next mountain. If the world is to feel alive, there needs to be systems I still don’t know, like hidden treasures of potential that could allow me to interact with the world and its inhabitants in new, deeper ways. If that potential would ever deliver was of less importance than the potential itself.

I can’t help but to do draw parallels to life itself. When I was younger life used to feel like an ocean full of unturned stones. But then I grew up and realized that while there were still plenty of stones to turn, I had already seen all kinds of rock – and every stone I’d flip in the future would end up being one of those. I know the mechanics of a life now. Life, death, work, love, family, promotions, redundancies, achievement, failure, disappointment, pride, oceans, mountains, cities, stars and empty space. Tomorrow won’t surprise me, and neither will the next decade.

Perhaps the dreariness this results in is a big reason for why people believe in not only gods, but UFO landings, life after death, magic, conspiracy theories and everything else that spells “faith”. Anything at all that promise an unknown country hiding somewhere beyond the horizon. Something that whispers “there is more” into your ear when the earth beneath your feet is about to give way.

Hope. I used to dislike the concept, but I get it now. We all thirst for it. A vague, shimmering shape in the distance. The magic of the unknown. Some people pursuit it in religion. Perhaps a group of us faithless seek it in game worlds, as some sort of substitute. Did Skyrim show me some of the magic I no longer see in the real world?