Door Kickers: Action Squad Has Good Co-Op

If there’s a constant in the gaming universe right now, it’s pixelated side-scrollers. Door Kickers: Action Squad is pixelated, yes, but it isn’t another exploratory metroidvania style adventure. Action Squad is a co-operators special that’s for distant or couched friends to shoot bad guys with the not-at-all-questionable overarching theme of police buddies just busting up mansions and warehouses, going room-to-room, looking for hostages and bombs.

Action Squad doesn’t take itself seriously. There is a progression system of upgrades to purchase between levels. Both skill points on a tech tree of sorts, and among the purchasable gear options are just regular frag grenades that don’t care if you’re hitting a hostage or a hostage-taker and this is what you see if you’re thinking about buying grenades:

It's a Gear selection screen with the frag grenade unlockable selected. One of the features and benefits is

I haven’t chosen those yet, but they’re in-line with the type of parody of police work that Action Squad is going for, and there are definitely situations in the game’s levels that call for room-clearing explosives.

There’s a very fine line between parody and cringing, and while I think that Action Squad earns its comedic violence, I also cringe every time I hear the unfortunate suicide-bombing character charging and yodeling what is probably nonsense at the forgettable player characters.That’s a stereotype best left behind.

I won’t be reviewing Action Squad, but I can recommend it for anyone looking for a good game to play with a friend. It isn’t perfect, Action Squad has crashed once or twice over the three hours I’ve spent with it so far, but I like that a studio called “Killhouse Games” can prove they don’t take themselves entirely too seriously by working with PixelShard Labs on this project. The music is good, the sprite work is good, the gameplay is fun. I love almost everything about this game. It even seems to revel in your loss, because you still earn experience points towards leveling up your characters and then it throws out an exclamation mark that seems to indicate an excitement in your SWAT team dying:

Swat team lost

Once you restart the mission, the level layouts are the same, so you will sometimes need to figure out how you’re going to do things differently the next time. One level in particular stands out where I had to kick a corpse through the odd skylight in a room with another room above it. Dropping the corpse lured enemies to one side of their basement. Every time I dropped down through the basement’s skylight without first luring the two other murder-men waiting below, I would almost always cause a stray bullet to hit a door, that would then open and bring in two more killers which was about one too many to deal with. Even once I figured out this piece of the murder-puzzle I had to remember to turn on the generator and press the elevator call-button. Otherwise opening the door to the elevator shaft would release the two bonus slayers.

In a world where we need to get the people who enjoy the knowledge that the doors of the powerless are kicked down all the time, this is a good start for Killhouse Games to pivot away from the serious tone in the original Door Kickers. Oh, what’s that? You say they’re working on Door Kickers 2? Well, good luck to them on that.

One more unfortunate note, while Door Kickers was on Windows, macOS, and Linux, the Action Squad is only available for Windows through Steam at the moment. However, Action Squad‘s price is right at $14, and there are a ton of other modes, including one infinite Die Hard-esque tower with procedural generation

Classic FPS Blood Getting Updated

Well I suppose this is more firey than bloody… Screenshot provided by Nightdive

There are family-friendly classics like Katamari Damacy getting remastered this year, and then there are the games we played as teenagers who thought that the coolest thing in the world was getting a little bit violent with our incredibly ridiculous games that just look silly compared to more modern gorefests like Soldier of Fortune. Blood falls into the latter category of goofy gore games.

For all of the once-youngsters who enjoyed it in 1997, Blood is being re-upped for modern systems by the old game professionals at NightDive. Here’s part of what their Daniel Grayshon had to say about the update, which sounds like it won’t be a big bloody change to get Blood on modern platforms:

Regarding the upgrading effort, Daniel said: “Blood stood up extremely well over time and we are taking care to preserve all the qualities that made the game so special. It really only needs minor updates to provide a better user experience for contemporary audiences. By using some of the functions of Nightdive’s KEX engine, we’ll be able to provide compatibility with today’s video standards, with DirectX and Vulkan support.”

He continued: “Similarly, we’ll provide compatibility with the current audio standards. We’ll add support for modern networks, Steamworks, and GOG Galaxy to bring this original game to more players. As part of this, we will preserve the accuracy of the game behavior. While these upgrades are relatively minor, we are confident that they will provide fans with a better, current generation gameplay experience.”

The only disappointing about this update is that the improvements won’t be open-source. Other games that Nightdive worked on have made it to other operating systems and platforms, and they do good work. However, like the original Blood this work will be frozen in time once Nightdive moves on.

That’s true for all commercial updates, releases, and remasters, but other games that were originally using the BUILD engine, like  Duke Nukem 3D, have had commercial and unofficial support through open-source projects once their individual game source code was released. Blood has never had it’s source officially released, which makes any work on it a little bit more crucial for preserving the game than other big BUILD engine games like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior.

Nightdive hasn’t said when you’ll be able to check out their modern port of Blood, but you can also play the original unmodified version (and the sequel Blood 2) through Steam ($5) or gog ($6).

Katamari Damacy ReRoll Out Now on Switch & Steam

Katamari Damacy on Steam for Windows, the prince is just getting started at 6cm8mm

Katamari Damacy has had a troubled history of ephemerality, but the first game in the series has finally been re-released as Katamari Damacy ReRoll. It is a bare-bones update, the game was never a graphical showpiece, but the focus here is on making Katamari available again for the first time in over a decade

The unique gameplay of Katamari Damacy is still just as fun. Rolling things up to make a bigger katamari (ball) is so relaxing. The bigger your Katamari, the tinier the prince pushing the ball is by comparison, but the bigger ball also lets you and him roll up larger and larger objects until you’ve gone from rolling up erasers and pencils to rolling up continents and planets.

The Steam for Windows version of Katamari Damacy ReRoll suffers from some limitations due to how old Katamari’s design is. There is no autosaving, and it’ll warn you about that, so you need to return to a house on the main planetary menu to manually save between levels.

Another limitation shows up when you launch ReRoll on Windows for the first time. ReRoll appears in a tiny window on your screen, and you can’t access the options to change the resolution until you complete the first level. That might be difficult if you’re trying to play on your couch. It’s not a huge issue, but it was a surprise that Katamari didn’t immediately choose a resolution to match the desktop.

Katamari Damacy ReRoll is a can’t miss classic. At $30 it’s ten dollars more expensive than it was when it was originally released at the bargain price of $20, but Katamari is worth every penny. I can’t think of any game as hopeful and vibrantly silly. ReRoll is out now on the Nintendo Switch and Steam for Windows.

Counter-Strike: GOes F2P, Adds Battle Royale Mode

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the latest update to the classic Counter-Strike gameplay, and it is now free-to-play, and the game’s developers at Valve have added a battle royale mode called Danger Zone. Unfortunately that mode doesn’t involve crashing cars through puzzle-y intersections.

All of these updates are out now, and Valve has an FAQ about the free-to-play mechanics of the game.

Everyone who owned CS:GO previously now has “Prime Status,” which apparently puts you into a different match-making hopper with other “Prime Status” players. It sounds worse than it is, though, since it’s possible to get to that tier through playing the game and reaching the 21st rank, as the FAQ explains:

Prime Status is an upgrade available to all CS:GO players. When you have Prime Status you are matched with other players who also have Prime Status, and Prime users are eligible for Prime-exclusive souvenir items, item drops, and weapon cases.

There are two ways to upgrade your account to Prime Status; reach Rank 21 by earning XP and add an eligible phone number to your Steam account, or purchase the CS:GO Prime Status Upgrade in-game or through the Steam Store.

I suppose then the question is “how long does it take to reach Rank 21?” and the answer is probably “a long while” otherwise they wouldn’t be charging $15 for it.

Rival Megagun Is the Competitive Shoot-Em-Up Game Teens Crave

This is Rival Megagun, it’s a competitive multiplayer vertical-scrolling shooter. I love it.

Twinkle Star Sprites was the first competitive multiplayer vertical-scrolling shooter I ever played, it’s a Neo Geo classic.

The thing that makes these games special is that they are unique multiplayer novelties. There are fighting games, there are shooters, there was even Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo if you’re into competitive multiplayer puzzle games and have good color vision. As far as I know there are just two examples of the competitive multiplayer shoot-em-up, and Rival Megagun is much more approachable than Twinkle Star Sprites, although both games are available via modern digital download services with online multiplayer today.

Rival Megagun does even more to differentiate itself from it’s one rival. Megagun has more interesting characters, better music, and you have a dedicated button to send bombs and other interesting weapons to your competitor’s side of the screen. Even better, Rival Megagun lets you transform into a giant boss monster space ship and fuck your opponent’s shit up.

Grab a controller, get a buddy, fight to the death to save the world from the Harvester aliens that are here to destroy us all. Rival Megagun is $15 on Steam for Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and it’ll be out on the Switch soon (December 6th.) It’s a delightful novelty.

If you fall in love with this tiny genre (of two?) then you should try the version of Twinkle Star Sprites that DotEMU put out, it’s good and $8 on Steam for Windows.

Ben Heck Found a Use for the Neo Geo Mini

Ben Heck left The Ben Heck Show at Element 14 and is back on his own channel. SNK’s cash-in on the mini console wave produced a mostly disappointing miniature arcade machine that doesn’t even wear the red and white color scheme we’ve come to expect. Heck’s first big project post TBHS is tearing down the Neo Geo Mini with his expert commentary and then rebuilding it as a portable, with the correct colors, in these two videos:

Watching Heck work is always fun.

Hitman (2016) 2 (2018) is Ready for Disguises and Murder

The all-caps sequel to the all-caps Hitman (2016) is out, Hitman (2016) 2 (2018) is io interactive’s first murder simulator post-expulsion from Square Enix and apparently this iteration has a magic briefcase. It also has all of the missions from the first (2016) game upgraded a bit for people who already owned that. If you don’t, they’ll make them available for a twenty.

There’s a freely-downloadable prologue on Steam for Windows that lets you play those upgraded Hitman (2016)’s campaign missions, if you have access to them, as well as redone training missions from Hitman (2016) that include the new features like vegetation you can hide in.

I loved Hitman (2016) for all its quirks, it’s the best goofy action game where you can dress up and get shot for pulling a fire alarm. Although this game drops the episodic format, Hitman (2016) 2 ( 2018) still includes the scheduled elusive targets that were the reason I returned for many more silly one-off assassinations every month.

PC Gamers’ Phil Savage likes this sequel well enough:

Mumbai is like a better version of 2016 Hitman’s Marrakesh, with large, bustling crowds that border more restricted areas that, crucially, are more enjoyable to traverse. A construction site that doubles as a movie set is a particular standout, with a clever placement of guards that ensures that—even with the right disguise—you’ll need to take a circuitous path or scale the unfinished elevator shaft. A great Hitman level forces you to adapt and respond as you go, and Hitman 2’s environments excel at providing the routes and options needed to adjust your plan on the fly.

Hitman (2016) 2 (2018) is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam for Windows at $60 all the way up to an eye-watering $140 for the ridiculous edition that includes a briefcase with a rubber duck inside.

There was a version of the previous Hitman game for Linux and macOS but I haven’t seen anything promising those ports for this sequel.

Chris Schilling’s Tetris Effect Review

Tetris Effect is out now, here’s part of Chris Schilling’s review:

Tetris has always been an exceptional puzzle game; now, thanks to the efforts of Tetsuya Mizuguchi and developer Resonair, it’s something much more than that. Mizuguchi’s career-long fascination with synaesthesia has given us the likes of Rez, Lumines and Child of Eden – and in the way it turns play into performance, Tetris Effect has at least as much in common with those games as Alexey Pajitnov’s seminal puzzler. The result, not unexpectedly, is extraordinary.

My favorite part of this review, though, is in the list of pros and cons, there’s this con: “Pretty much ruins all other Tetris games”

The only  downside I can see is the PlayStation 4 exclusivity, but it’s the $40 price tag which will be more of a shock to many folks looking at a downloadable puzzle game. There is also a physical disc version, which is more likely to drop in price faster.

Gouranga is Gone

While writing up the last post I noticed that the long-running Grand Theft Auto fan site, Gouranga (named after the original GTA’s kind of awful practice of running over a procession of Hare Krishna’s), has shut down and the domain is owned by Rockstar’s parent company, Take Two.

Here’s the last copy of Gouranga that I can find on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive’s copy also goes way back to 1999.

Gouranga was the place to read about Grand Theft Auto until the site’s owner, schu, stopped updating it during the development of Grand Theft Auto IV. Schu was even nice enough to offer unofficial support for those games.

Red Dead Redemption 2, Games Labor, and Dan Houser’s Office

Red Dead Redemption 2 is out today, it’s another game that doesn’t understand that a bigger number means sequel because this is Rockstar Games’ prequel to Red Dead Redemption. Not Red Dead 1, that was a different game called Red Dead Revolver which as near as I can tell almost nobody played but impressed somebody enough to greenlight Red Dead Redemption.

Keza MacDonald calls RDR2 “a near miracle”:

Anybody coming to Red Dead Redemption 2 expecting Grand Theft Auto with horses will be rather baffled by this slow-paced, sumptuous, character-driven Old West historical drama, in which you spend probably 60% of your time simply riding around the American wilderness. There’s action too, in the form of shootouts, train robberies and frequent thrilling escapes on horseback, but these flashes of excitement punctuate a game that is largely about just being somewhere; about hunting, fishing and having long conversations on cross-country rides or around a campfire. In a mad fit of indulgence, Rockstar Games – the creators of Grand Theft Auto and one of the most successful game developers in the world – appears to have spent seven years and hundreds of millions creating the video game equivalent of Deadwood.

Sounds great, I’m excited. Fire up the consoles, we’re going to ride horsies like big boys, yeehaw.

Oh wait, Rockstar Games founder Dan Houser had to talk about the working conditions in this article from Harold Goldberg:

The polishing, rewrites, and reedits Rockstar does are immense. “We were working 100-hour weeks” several times in 2018, Dan says. The finished game includes 300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue, and many more lines of code. Even for each RDR2 trailer and TV commercial, “we probably made 70 versions, but the editors may make several hundred. Sam and I will both make both make lots of suggestions, as will other members of the team.”

The result of all their labor, Dan says, is “this seamless, natural-feeling experience in a world that appears real, an interactive homage to the American rural experience. [It’s] a vast four-dimensional mosaic in which the fourth dimension is time, in which the world unfolds around you, dependent on what you do.”

Who was working 100 hour weeks? “We”

Rockstar followed-up with Jason Schreier and denied the interpretation that the whole studio was that mismanaged and forced to work 100 hour weeks, sort of. Houser said the quote was only about the senior writing staff, and nobody else was forced to work that hard:

“…that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this. Lots of other senior people work in an entirely different way and are just as productive – I’m just not one of them! No one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard.”

That’s not a real denial of anything, and keep in mind that it has been 8 years since Red Dead Redemption shipped. 8 years sure sounds like plenty of time to ship anything, even if they also shipped Grand Theft Auto V 5 years ago and have been working on Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V Online since. Clearly Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge game and the high scores benefitted from the work these people put into the game they love over that seemingly vast time, but there’s no way this gets better.

Rockstar then made a half-hearted attempt at remedying the situation by allowing current employees to speak publicly without fear of retaliation, which, I don’t know what you think that means but it definitely doesn’t actually mean you could talk about working conditions without fear of retaliation. Anyone who has worked for more than a few years knows that you can’t speak frankly about a current employer unless you are the executive running the company.

Jason Schreier was already working on a story about this that you must read, and of course the majority of the 77 current and former employees he spoke with requested anonymity. It’s a depressingly realistic look at the practice of crunch at Rockstar:

Three people who worked at Rockstar San Diego between 2011 and 2016 recall a period where they were told that overtime wasn’t optional. “It was mandatory 80 hours for basically the whole studio,” said one person who was there. “If you don’t have any work to do on Red Dead 2, just test GTA V for another eight hours.” Said a second: “Maybe they didn’t tell anyone 100 hours, but they definitely told us 80. Concept artists were sitting there being glorified QA.”


For some people working on Red Dead Redemption 2, crunch started as early as 2016. For others at Rockstar, crunch periods started in the fall of 2017, a year before the game’s release date. Even when the company wasn’t in official crunch mode, dozens of current and former employees say they’ve felt compelled to stay late for a variety of reasons. “Rockstar pressures employees to put in overtime in several direct and indirect ways,” said one current Rockstar developer. “Coming in on weekends is perhaps the only way to show you are dedicated and care. So you can be very efficient and hard-working during the week, but if you don’t show up on the weekend, you’re accused of not doing your share and will be constantly harassed.”

Schreier also confirmed that an employee who worked on a Rockstar game for multiple years and leaves before it ships won’t be included in the game’s credits:

“That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line,” said Jennifer Kolbe. “And so a very long time ago, we decided that if you didn’t actually finish the game, then you wouldn’t be in the credits.”

Rockstar have a website up to credit people who left before the game shipped, which is good except it doesn’t include any mention of title or contribution, and this list should also be in the fucking game. People working on games everywhere need a union to collectively bargain for their time, pay, and define standards for receiving credit for the work they’ve done.

Later, Dan Houser was quoted by Sam White in British GQ as saying that he feels like games are magical because people don’t understand how they’re made:

…and it’s that games are still magical. It’s like they’re made by elves. You turn on the screen and it’s just this world that exists on TV. I think you gain something by not knowing how they’re made. As much as we might lose something in terms of people’s respect for what we do, their enjoyment of what we do is enhanced. Which is probably more important.”

Not knowing how something is made, or caring about it, is the hurdle that players need to cross in order to help the people making these games attempt to have a life outside of work. If you appreciate games, even ones with highs as high as Red Dead Redemption 2 (and there are some incredible lows in the writing of it and other Rockstar games), then you need to learn that everyone working on them needs to be able to have a life outside of them.

Patrick Klepek has a great article on Waypoint talking about how to make a difference in the lives of everyone working on games, and how a boycott might not be the best way to bring change. There’s this one really important tip Klepek has about buying games that are on Steam when the developer also has other options for buying the same game without giving up a 30% cut to Valve:

Another note: if a developer has a game listed on Steam,, and a personal website, buy it anywhere but Steam. Sure, yes, Steam is a useful tool and it’s nice to have your games in a single spot, but gives developers greater flexibility in profit margins, and on a personal website, nearly all of it goes to them. For smaller developers, the dollars add up. Other forms of economic reinforcement include supporting creators on Patreon—or tipping.

Maybe the most telling quote about this situation was from Houser in Goldberg’s original article that sparked the current conversation about poorly managed crunch. Speaking about his office, Houser said: “It’s an absolute shithole,”