Patrick Klepek Leaves Kotaku

Patrick Klepek:

It is with a heavy heart that I begin to say my goodbyes, readers. It’s been an honor to be part of Team Kotaku for the last two years.

Today is my last day at Kotaku. Tomorrow, a new journey begins. Though I can’t talk about where I’m headed yet, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know soon. I’m staying in journalism, building on my work over the past decade, but my byline will appear elsewhere. It wasn’t an easy decision, a sign I’d made a good decision to start writing for Kotaku in the first place. You were part of that, too.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at some truly memorable places over the years, but my time at the last two stops, Giant Bomb and Kotaku, have been the most gratifying yet. In various forms, from reporting to podcasts, I’ve done my best work because I’ve been surrounded by people who pushed me to do better.

Can’t wait to see what Patrick does next. It has been entertaining to watch his career go from a new guy at 1UP to an extremely well-regarded writer for Giant Bomb and Kotaku.

Inside Review (Windows)


The developers of Limbo, Playdead, have returned with what at first glance appears to be a very similar game in appearance. Just like Limbo, Inside looks like in a dark platforming adventure featuring a young man who is in some terrible strife.

When the game starts, you’re a nameless boy who is just running for his life, escaped from some terrible fate. Slow down or miss a moment and you might be beaten and dragged back or eaten alive by dogs. This child spends most of the first part of the game just running past scenes in the background of what look like people being rounded up by security forces. Games like Half-Life 2 depicted similar scenes with brighter colors, music that was more in your face, and people talking about the situation. I don’t think any of the characters of Inside ever speak a full phrase. It is the visuals and a subdued score that do the talking.

Limbo had a very stark visual style that was kind of like looking at shadows move across your screen. There were many games that proceeded to imitate that art style to different degrees of success. I don’t think they’ll try the same thing with Inside. It is a more stark game of contrasting colors and more depth to its dimension that are still dark and mostly gray.

The exception to that is what the game developers want to draw your attention to. A brightly colored cable that leads you to a secret. A smear of blood there. Flesh tones, there are those and anyone who has played the game should not speak of what or why to anyone who hasn’t.

Inside’s protagonist does so much running and dying, and the animation for all of that is wonderfully well done. Every interaction seems like it is perfectly in tune with the environment and responding to the strain the boy puts on himself to pick up a box as big as he is just to get up a little bit higher. If he falls from a height he’ll respond appropriately. Too high a fall and there’s always a gruesome scene that follows. What makes it truly awful is that the game forces you to watch, you can’t turn away or else the game won’t proceed. As a father, any time a child is harmed in a television show or movie or game it gets to me a little bit more than usual. When the dogs were tearing Inside’s boy apart, the game  subverted every attempt at skipping the scene so by not loading the last checkpoint until I used my  controller. Flailing at buttons didn’t seem to work, it was only measured responses to attempt to get the violence to stop that caused the game to proceed when it was good and ready, and felt like you had absorbed the impact of whatever mistake you made that caused that boy to die. It could have been timed, I’m not sure, I just didn’t want to watch that him die again.

All of the scenery behind the boy is just as vital to telling the story of the game, and occasionally it moves from the background into the foreground to interact with him. You’ll watch other characters who have been subdued (for reasons I won’t get into) marching in line, as you move through that area you’ll have to get in that line with them and mirror their movements or the boy will die. At the beginning of the game there are people searching for other people who have escaped their fate in the background and you’ll have to move carefully to not be detected by them or the boy will die.

The game doesn’t rely on stealth much outside of those few scenes, instead there are platforming puzzles. These puzzles aren’t particularly difficult to figure out if you’ve played any other side-scrolling games and know what to look for. Inside didn’t have many moments that stymied my progress either. What makes them vicious is that failure results in more prolonged death animations.

In a way, Inside feels like the best parts of older Call of Duty campaigns when those were still impressive. It’s very linear, there is pretty much only a straight path that occasionally requires some minor backtracking or running to the left to complete the game. Just like Call of Duty, there are incredible scenes all around your character. Unlike Call of Duty, you’re going to want to stop and look at these because they make you feel something and I think that’s what makes this an incredible game. Those emotions are more than what you might expect upon first glance from screenshots of Inside if you’re familiar with Limbo. The art and sound and animation and programming all come together perfectly.

It isn’t surprising that Inside was developed in Denmark, it looks like a game that couldn’t have come from anywhere else. At times the puzzles can be tiresome because you instantly know what to do to solve them, but you’re forced to run back and forth across the screen at whatever pace the game’s designers set.

The worst part of Inside is the ending, it is anti-climactic and while I am sure it could mean something to somebody, it lacked the emotional connection from the rest of the game for me. That you have to go back for seconds to see the “real ending” isn’t positive. If you play the game, don’t look up either on video, just look up the solution to the multi-layered puzzle to get the second ending so that you can actually make both happen.

That ending and the few other flaws the game has aren’t enough to betray the rest of the experience which must be played.

If you were wondering what Playdead were doing in the 6 years since Limbo came out, Inside is the incredible answer. It took me roughly 5 hours to find everything there is to explore in the game, and if you’re at all interested in it you should not read or watch or listen to anything else about Inside. There are massive spoilers going around and knowing more about what kind of game it is can ruin the experience. I wish I had gone in knowing even less, but podcasts have basically ruined parts of the game without warning.

Inside is out now on Steam for Windows and the Xbox One digital distribution platforms.

4 out of 5 abject walruses.

Get A Head in Life

Headlander was recently put out for public consumption by Adult Swim Games and developed by Double Fine. It’s from the same game director, Lee Petty, as my favorite Double Fine game, Stacking. Which you should play if you haven’t because it is amazing.

Oh sorry, I lost my head thinking about Stacking. Headlander looks like a very fine metroidvania-style of game, and I appreciate the 70’s retrofuture aesthetic, along with the head swapping game mechanic which is kind of hilarious and also very clearly related to Stacking’s matryoshka doll swapping mechanic. Which, have you played? It’s really great.

Headlander is out now on Playstation 4, and Windows via Steam for $20 USD.

Stacking has been out forever on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Windows, macOS, and Linux. It’s $10.

Halo Graphics Boards and Nvidia’s Bungled 10-series Launch

Nvidia just started shipping the GTX 1060 for about $300, the lowest-priced card in their 10 series, and now they’ve announced the new generation of Titan X at $1200. With cars the “halo” model is one that nobody is ever going to buy, but it’s designed to appeal to car enthusiasts and bring them in the showroom for whatever else the company has. With graphics cards like this new Titan X, well, I’m not sure I see the point anymore. Maybe if you’re younger and more enthusiastic about silicon-snorting framecrushers. I’m old and happy with my 1070.

The 1060 is a great value, but the Titan X is a waste of money for anyone. The $1200 price is ridiculous compared to the $700 1080. No game is going to fully take advantage of what the Titan X offers. You can get most of the performance from any of the other boards Nvidia offers. 

Why not announce all of these cards at the same time? With the announcements coming so late after the announcement and release of the other 10-series cards you can’t quite make the justification “well, at least I’m not spending $1000 on the Titan X” when deciding to purchase the 1080 that the halo product is supposed to enable.

In the face of the 1060, the 1070 seems like a good value, and the 1080 and Titan X are extremely ridiculous. Perhaps the Titan X will finally be able to support 4K gaming at reasonable frame rates, which even the 1080 is not capable of.

Nvidia should stick with three cards at a time, announced at the same event on a regular schedule, and released at about the same time. The 1070 and 1080 were announced together months ago and released later but still can’t be purchased easily, the 1060 was announced more recently and finally released now, and now we have the Titan X announcement with a release next month on the 2nd and no price. This staggered product communication and release schedule is not helpful to people making purchasing decisions. Finally, there was a product called the Titan X with the previous generation of chips.

Nvidia doesn’t have an exclusive lock on the idea of a halo graphics board, it’s just that they announced this card today at a ridiculous price, made a very poor naming decision, and the whole 10-series launch was fragmented. Unlike halo vehicles, graphics cards aren’t collectible or classic. It’ll be obsolete in a year or 18 months. I don’t think it’s wrong to buy one if you’re into it, but it isn’t a rational decision. The Titan X product seems kind of gross, and it makes the 10-series launch look bungled.

Ben Heck’s Hands-On With The Nintendo Playstation Prototype

Ben Heck met with and interviewed the people who found a prototype of the original Playstation. That was actually going to be a joint project between Sony and Nintendo where Sony would develop the hardware and Nintendo the software for a CD add-on to the Super Nintendo. The partnership didn’t work out between the two companies, which is why we have Sony’s Playstation competing with Nintendo’s consoles today. Heck tears down the Nintendo Playstation prototype in this video, and in the next part he’ll attempt to repair it.

Advice for the Developers of Pokémon Go

My old colleague, and current game consultant, Wes Leviton gave some free advice to Niantic, the developers of Pokémon Go on Wes (and I for a short time) worked on a game called Life is Crime that was similar to Pokémon Go, though it was somewhat closer to Foursquare (now Swarm) in that you fought for ownership of a specific location instead of gyms that are a bit further apart.

In addition to his other advice, Wes recommends tolerating cheaters who use external tools to bypass the in-game GPS tracking and show up in places they aren’t:

There are numerous applications available that makes it trivial to “spoof” your location allowing players to virtually teleport to anywhere in the world. While the great majority of Pokémon GO players will play the game honestly, a small percentage of players will undoubtedly resort to faking their location to avoid walk/driving around town. As developers, we’re often quick to implement countermeasures to prevent such behavior in the name of fair play.

During my time on Life is Crime we explored many options to block geo spoofing but decided against it because our data indicated that geo cheaters were far and away the most engaged players and had an insanely high conversion rate and the time it would take to effectively block a small number of cheaters would take away from the development of new features.

Ultimately, we decided that the best way to level the playing field between geo cheaters and honest players was to provide a limited time in game portal to major cities powered by soft currency where prices varied based on your distance from the destination. Players loved the feature and destination cities quickly became hotspots for competition with highly contested cities becoming the “big leagues.”

As Wes mentions, it was often obvious to the developers when players were cheating. This wasn’t a secret, the top of every leaderboard in each competition was won by players who either spent more, cheated more, or both.

Of course, Life is Crime cheaters on Android didn’t have to go far to falsify their location. Software built-in to that operating system allows developers to test different GPS locations and users could easily access that function. If you blocked that, there was other software that would intercept your application’s request to the system for a GPS location. Anyone who was sufficiently motivated could take it further and subvert actual GPS radio signals. As far as I know, Life is Crime players were never that motivated. There’s almost no way to block cheaters and it was brilliant to work around that by making it part of the game.

What I’ve played of Pokémon Go reminds me of something else I tried to get done on Life is Crime, but wasn’t able to. Built-in community discussions. It’s tough to implement because a straight-up bulletin board forum like phpbb isn’t going to work for a huge community like Pokémon Go. You’d need to localize it to a town and maybe by team, and hire local moderators. A good online community could change Pokémon Go from a fad lasting a few months into a stable group of players that could stick around for years.

Quadrilateral Cowboy Out Next Week, The 25th

Blendo Games’ Brendon Chung has done some wacky fun games in the past, and his next opus Quadrilateral Cowboy has been in the works for what feels like forever. Chung calls it a “…cyberpunk heist adventure…” I’m very excited to see that it’ll be out next week on Windows via Steam, and will have Mac and Linux versions this September.