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The Barking Dog Issue


Technically I guess I shouldn't be reviewing it because it's still in alpha, but I paid $10 for it and I've sunk like 50 hours into it and it eats my time more consistently than any other game I've played in, oh, half a year.
Κείμενο Stephen Lea Sheppard

Photo by Dan Siney


Platform: PC

Publisher: Mojang Specifications


is a small, independent release for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, distributed over the internet. Technically I guess I shouldn’t be reviewing it because it’s still in alpha, but I paid $10 for it and I’ve sunk like 50 hours into it and it eats my time more consistently than any other game I’ve played in, oh, half a year, and I also have no idea when it’ll be officially finished, so I’ll review it if I wanna.


It’s like Lego. Sorta.

You play as a nameless guy—in his cameo in

Super Meat Boy

, another game I should probably review at some point, he’s called Steve—stranded in a procedurally generated landscape (that’s fancy-speak for “randomly generated according to some preexisting rules”) made up of cubes of various sorts of material, like dirt and stone and water. Grass grows on dirt, and so do trees, which are made of logs, another type of material block, and produce leaves, yet another type. Leaves are useless but logs are important, because when you reduce a tree to a bunch of logs, you can use the game’s simple crafting menu to make those logs into planks, and make planks into sticks. With sticks and planks, you can make a wooden pickax, which will let you mine stone and coal.

Monsters spawn wherever it’s dark. The game has a quick day/night cycle. Every ten minutes the sun rises or sets. During night, zombies, skeletons, and… other things (fucking creepers—I hate them) are born into the world and wander around. If they see you, they try to kill you. So your goal when you start the game is to work your way up to a wooden pickax and locate some coal. With coal and sticks you can make torches and, by extension, a structure with light sources to keep monsters away. Also, if you’re mining coal, you’re also mining stone, which you can make into stone tools—much more durable than wooden tools.


Once you have torches, you can build… whatever you want. Smelt sand to create glass, and make windows for your structures. Dig deep for iron ore, which you can smelt into ingots to create tools. Dig deeper for lava pools and redstone (to make compasses and watches and electric circuits) and diamond (to make diamond tools, weapons, and armor). With a diamond pickax, a bucket, some water, and a pool of lava, you can make and mine obsidian.

With obsidian and fire you can create a portal to Hell.

In Hell (actually it’s called the Nether, because the designer didn’t want to offend anybody’s religious sensibilities, but it looks and sounds like Hell, so…) you can find dirt that burns forever if you light it on fire, and you can build other portals back to the material world and use the Nether as a sort of hyperspace to travel long distances quickly.

I have built a tower of glass and stone, with torches burning brightly against the night, that spans from the foundations of the earth to the ceiling of the sky. At the very top of the tower is an obsidian ring. The ground beneath the tower is riddled with natural caverns, and I have a suit of iron armor, an iron sword, and a bow to aid me in my exploration as I strive to mine ever deeper and more greedily—too greedily and too deep sometimes. But what I’ve built is nothing compared with what some other people have gotten up to. YouTube has a video of a guy who’s built the skeleton of a life-scale replica of the


Enterprise D


The game is still buggy as heck and the multiplayer is incompletely implemented, but I’ve never actually lost a save file completely to a crash, so that’s a plus. But bugs, even major bugs, are to be expected, because it’s “still in alpha” (which has not impeded one tiny bit my ability to have fun with it). Once it graduates to beta the price is going to go up to $20, and even then it’ll be worth it. It will eat your life away and you’ll thank it afterward.


Platform: Xbox 360

Publisher: Ubisoft

Note: A preview of

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

already appeared on, but I wrote it having played only about three hours of the thing. Now that I’ve had more time to go through the entire game, here’s a proper review.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

is not


everything I had hoped for, but it’s the best-executed Assassin’s Creed game yet.

The game picks up where

Assassin’s Creed II

left off—Ezio Auditore has beaten but not killed Rodrigo “Pope Alexander VI” Borgia and is now in Rome to finish the job. The main story is of decent length, though a bit shorter than


’s story, but the number of side missions is kind of absurd. In addition to the main plot, you have Subject Sixteen puzzles; missions dedicated to growing the thief, mercenary, and courtesan guilds; delvings into the lairs of the Followers of Romulus (wolf-pelted dudes whose gameplay segments evoke the aesthetics of ancient Rome as a nice complement to the rest of the game’s focus on Renaissance Rome); quests to find and destroy war machines extorted by the Borgia family from Leonardo da Vinci; and flashback missions to repressed memories of Ezio’s love life, in a side plot that occurs parallel to the main events of



. Those last few are unlocked by achieving “full synchronization” in the other missions, which means accomplishing them some specific way, like under a time limit or by killing your target from stealth. Facilitating this is the ability to replay missions you’ve already finished, something Ubisoft intended to work into


but couldn’t get working in time.

So where’s the problem? It’s not with the gameplay. Gameplay’s great! It’s, uh… with the story. Which I expressed hope for in my preview. And which I feel bad about criticizing because I met Jeffrey Yohalem, the writer, when I went to preview the game. We got along well, and he really sold me on his vision for the game, but that may be part of the problem because the vision he sold me on didn’t quite make it into the product.

The two major conflicts in the game are 1) between the Assassins and the Borgia-controlled Templars, and 2) between Ezio and Niccolò Machiavelli for control of the Assassins’ Brotherhood. The former plot works well, and the latter falls flat. Ezio and Machiavelli are ideological rivals but

not enemies

—they each want to ensure the healthy survival of the Assassins but have different ideas of what this should be. Machiavelli believes in ruthlessness and Ezio believes in virtue. If the game had a satisfying dramatic arc, Ezio would commit to virtue early on, then something would happen to shake his belief in it. He’d spend the second act of the game wavering between staying his own course and giving up and handing the control of the Assassins to Machiavelli. Then he’d realize that virtue is a worthy pursuit after all and do something to convince Machiavelli that he (Machiavelli) is wrong and Ezio’s vision of the future is best.

Instead, early on Ezio says “Virtue!” and Machiavelli says “Ruthlessness!” and then Ezio just follows virtue for the whole game and succeeds and succeeds and succeeds. Then, at the end, Machiavelli goes, “Oh, I guess you were right.” Flat, as I said.

Great game otherwise, though.