Mitch Gross: Writing Samples

Snippets From Here and There

Posted in Uncategorized by Mitch on April 3, 2012

Here are some news items and blog posts from various social media pages and blogs I’ve worked on:

I’ve been remiss in not writing more about Distant Suns, which is a really cool astronomy app for iOS which lets you “carry the universe in your pocket”. I just have not had the time to sit down and give the app the time and attention it deserves but in the meantime check it out if you have not already! Check it out at


NY area developer and Co-Coordinator of the Xbox Live Indie Games Summer Uprising Dave Voyles recently participated in the first “What Woul Molydeux” game jam. He and his team ended up creating the game “Betraille: Part Deux” which is described as follows:

In the kingdom of the blind, the last man standing is king! Navigate your way through crowds of uniform, stumbling NPCs, while evading other players. If you don’t look blind enough, you stand out and are an easy target for your enemies.

You can get more information about and download the actual game here and Dave Voyle’s website is located here.


2 Dawn Games Announces RAVAGED, Vehicular Multiplayer FPS for PC

January 19, 2012 — Ravaged is a multiplayer only first-person shooter game with vehicles, team objectives and skill-based gameplay. Set upon a post-apocalyptic earth devastated by natural disasters caused by the sun’s solar flares, Ravaged chronicles the struggle between the “Resistance” and the “Scavengers” as they fight one another to gain an upper hand in an ongoing war for survival, territory and resources.

Scavengers are an oppressive group of lawless criminals that wish to claim all land and resources for themselves. They will stop at nothing to accomplish their goal. The Resistance is a group of fighters hell-bent on restoring civilization. These civilians were able to seek shelter as the world succumbed to natural disasters during the year 2012, taking with them precious goods and weapons while the criminals and less fortunate lived off the land.

“Much like Borderlands the game has a strong focus on cooperative multiplayer as well as wasteland combat and exploration using a number of vehicles and familiar weapons. From the looks of it the game is basically what Rage’s multiplayer should have been, so maybe id Software will take note for Rage 2.” —

The developers behind Ravaged wanted to create a fun, over-the-top team-based game and are working with the gaming community to do so. “We at 2 Dawn Games are focused on bringing the fun back into gaming. With skill-based gameplay, community-driven content and frequent updates, we are driven to play hard.”

Ravaged is currently in development with a beta planned for early 2012 and releasing on PC in spring 2012 via Steam and other PC distribution methods.


“Steal” This Game!

Award winning columnist and “Game Dork” writer Doug Elfman has struck again! He previously sang our praises and has once again recommended gamers pick up Frontlines: Fuel of War!

“Frontlines: Fuel of War (THQ) was my pick for the most underrated online game of 2008, and now it’s selling in used-game stores and online for $15, a steal. It comes with a solo, offline war, of course, where you move from point to point on battlefields, shooting rival soldiers with machine guns, tanks and bombs. That action-adventure is pretty good, pretty simple and fairly short. But online, it’s just amazingly addictive.”

Click here for the full article.


A Kinder, Gentler Azeroth?

Posted in Samples by Mitch on March 26, 2010

Two players on the official forums recently looked at Blizzard’s design philosophy and where they see the game going and what changes they fear are coming in the future.

“Kanedias” compared different sized raids and how they might be adjusted.

Currently, raids award gear based on their difficulty, so a 25 man raid will be harder and award better gear than a 10 man. People seem mostly satisfied with this and the hardcore players tend to gravitate towards the 25 man raids and others to the “more casual” 10 man raids.

However, keep in mind that the point of raids (for Blizzard) is to keep players subscribed (making money is their goal in the end of course, hard to keep making games if you don’t). So how can they make raiding more attractive and keep people subscribed to the game?

It seems likely Blizzard will make 25 and 10 man raids of equal difficulty and rewards.

The hard-core community won’t be happy with this, but those are people who will likely stay subscribed regardless, so the change is not focused on them.

Elsewhere on the forums, “Icosiol” looked at the game design of WoW in general and how it does not work.

Over time, classes have moved away from diversity and having their own strengths and weaknesses and more towards making all classes balanced against each other.

Teamwork has suffered because of this trend towards balance. When putting together a team for a raid (for example), the leader no longer looks for specific classes and class specs, all of which were needed to make a successful team. Now, the raid leader just looks for any healer, any ranged dps, any melee dps and any tank.

Raids are now pretty much the same old thing over and over and the lack of diversity in teams is also reflected in the raid encounters.

He suggests Blizzard’s design philosophy for class balance, raids and loot should not be “make everyone happy” and focus more on making the game challenging and fun.

It does seem unlikely that Blizzard will change their approach at this point but who knows what Cataclysm will bring? Hardcore or not, everyone wants the game to be challenging and fun so we can still hope WoW will continue to change and improve over time.

Originally published at

Mass Effect 2 leads the charge to more action-oriented casual games

Posted in Samples by Mitch on March 26, 2010

The latest roleplaying masterpiece from Bioware has arrived and it definitely reflects the changing trends of the gaming industry and gamers. In 2007, Mass Effect was released and players experienced a highly cinematic game, which mixed high-stakes combat with deep roleplaying mechanics, including detailed squad and equipment management, NPCs who strongly react to the choices you make in the course of the game, and highly customizable characters. While much of this is still present in Mass Effect 2, the game has been highly streamlined as a reflection of the changes in the industry in the last few years to more of a focus on casual and fast-paced gameplay. As the gaming audience has become more impatient and less interested in detailed management of characters and inventory, so have the mechanics of “ME2” changed to the point that the game is much more of an action-oriented shooter with some roleplaying elements: inventory management is gone, ammo choices are more simplistic as is equipment upgrade research. Most telling of all, during roleplaying scenes players can now interrupt NPCs with their own dialogue choices instead of patiently waiting for the scenes to play out. After the sales success of Mass Effect 2, it will be interesting to see how the shift to more of an action focus will affect upcoming releases such as Borderlands 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Bioware’s own Dragon Age 2, and others.

Originally published at

Tabula Rasa First View

Posted in Samples by Mitch on January 2, 2009

– Led by veteran developers Richard Garriott and Starr Long, NCsoft’s in-house Destination Games team in Austin TX is hard at work on Tabula Rasa. A massively multiplayer science fiction game incorporating elements of first-person shooters and role-playing, it will transport players to the front lines of an intergalactic war against an alien enemy, the Bane.

Featuring fast action using a variety of melee and ranged weapons plus mystical powers, Tabula Rasa will offer diverse quests and battlefields, thereby supporting both solo and group play. Players will be able to join their friends almost instantly via teleportation, while a unique “character cloning system” will allow them to try out different options without making choices they will later regret. Integrated voice chat will make group coordination easier, and players will especially appreciate it when they participate in large-scale battles for control of planets. Content will be updated frequently in reaction to the players’ efforts, and there will be a number of rare and collectible items as rewards.

Tabula Rasa has changed considerably during development, including revision of the original vision. Vehicles, space combat and player housing won’t be included, and only humans will be playable at launch. Characters will be class- and level-based, possibly deterring fans of more open-ended progression. Crafting and player vs. player combat won’t be very important. There are questions about how instancing will work and how much there will be. The system requirements will be fairly steep, with a 3.5 GHz processor, 2 MB of RAM and a high-end video card currently recommended.

Tabula Rasa appears to have an interesting backstory and mix of elements. It remains to be seen how successful focusing on combat above other aspects will be. We certainly hope to learn much more, perhaps after beta begins, which seems likely to be next year.

Originally published at

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Second View

Posted in Samples by Mitch on January 2, 2009

Brad McQuaid and his Sigil Games Online team will soon share their vision for massively multiplayer online role-playing, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, now in beta, with launch currently projected for sometime this winter. Groups of players will face testing but rewarding challenges as they explore a high fantasy world, the look of which was created by the late Keith Parkinson.

Vanguard aims to be a next-generation title incorporating impressive visuals and sound effects while minimizing downtime and tedium. At the same time, it will take a cue from its predecessors by incorporating a “more challenge equals more fun” philosophy. The world of Telon will be seamless, and players will be able to travel to just about anywhere that is visible on the landscape. Both questing and crafting will be supported, with the overall play seemingly more focused on groups than solo activity, and on investigating and traveling the world over camping monster spawns. With some 19 races and 15 professions available, players will have plenty of choices for their characters.

While many gamers are excited about Vanguard’s challenging dungeon crawls and raids, these same elements hold less appeal for those who prefer a more casual approach. Although the developers intend to have areas suited to different gameplay styles, it seems like groups and raiding may be relatively significant. The minimum system specs for Vanguard will be somewhat on the high side, including a 2.4 Ghz processor, a 128 MB graphics card and up to 25 GB of hard drive space.

Vanguard seems likely to suit online gamers seeking a serious challenge rather than a sandbox. However, it remains questionable how well it will appeal to a broader audience. With the beta having advanced to a stage with thousands of participants, it may not be long before we get more indications.

Originally published at

Top 10 Character Generation Tips

Posted in Samples by Mitch on January 2, 2009

I’ve spent countless hours with the City of Heroes character generation system trying out many different archeype and power combinations and of course, fun ideas I had for their appearance! I’ve filled two servers (so far) with an ever-changing roster of characters, some of which I’m not even playing but can’t bring myself to delete because they look so cool.

Well, at least I think they do.

Just last night, I was driving home listening to the song “1985” and as soon as I arrived, I ran to the computer, logged in to CoH and created an energy/electric blaster decked out in neon colors, a “Miami Vice” style suit and mohawk! Like, omigod!

Sure, I might not end up playing him much again but I had fun, which is why I am playing this game. Though I have dreams of someday reaching level 50 with a character (especially before Prestige Archetypes arrive), it is just SO much fun making out characters and trying different things.

After all this time spent making characters, I’ve come up with a list of tips that you should consider when making your character. So from the home office in Paragon City, here are my top ten character generation tips:

10. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Especially if you are just starting out in CoH, take some time to look through the different archetypes, powers and costume options. Read up in the manual and online if you want to get even more information. This isn’t a race or work. Making your character sometimes is just as much fun as playing it so take some time and see what you can come up with. There is no pressure and you can take time to make a bunch of characters to try out until you find something you like. Even if you are a dedicated power-leveller who wants to jump into action, it won’t hurt you to take some time to get things “just right” so everyone can see how cool you are!

9. Teal and taupe? UGH!

Unless you like playing in first-person view, you are going to be spending a lot of time looking at your character so make sure the costume design is something you like and can deal with. In the same vein, other people will have to look at your character as well; even though you love bright neon colors, other people in your Supergroup might not want to spend hours during a Taskforce mission being blinded every time you appear on their screens.

8. Does this blue go with electric blast?

When picking the colors of your costume, consider the color effects of your powers. Will they complement each other? Will they make them stand out more? A radiation hero who has a lot of bright green color effects might go with some darker shades to make those effects even more dramatic.

7. Let’s get symbolic!

Take a few minutes to go through all of the symbols and pick an appropriate one. A peace sign might not be the right one for “The Destructive and Bombastic War Guy”.

6. “I’m a loner, kid, I work alone. Wanna team up?”

When picking your archetype and powers, consider whether you primarily want to solo, group or some mix of the two. If you like to solo a lot, you might not want to play a character whose powers are primarily support-oriented. For example, “The Amazing Empathy Guy” might not be the character you make for solo play.

5. You mean there’s more than two colors?

By default, CoH randomly picks two colors for your hero plus a skin tone. All of which you can change of course, but don’t fall into the trap of using just two. Once you’ve picked a couple colors you like you might want to shut off the option to use those two colors on the entire costume and experiment with some others colors as well. Don’t feel like you have to have a rainbow of colors but three or four colors could certainly make things more interesting if they work well together. Certainly a primary color for the chest and pants with a secondary color for gloves, boots, belt, mask and a tertiary color for other accessories and your emblem and a pattern would be better than a two-tone color scheme if you put some thought into it.

4. Accessorize!

A body suit, belt, mask, boots and gloves are not enough! There are a lot of fun accessories and details you can add to your character. Maybe he smokes a cigar, maybe he has a goatee, maybe she has wings on her helmet, maybe she wears sunglasses, etc. Go through all the options and also look at what other people in-game are wearing and have some fun with it.

3. The random button is your friend.

Sometimes I have a great idea for a character template (archetype and powers) but no idea for a name or the look. So I just start hitting the random button and sooner or later something pops up that I like and I mess around with the colors and other settings until everything falls into place. It is pretty amazing in general to just hit that button and see the huge variety of character looks that get generated!

2. Reading is fundamental.

No, the comic publishers didn’t put me up to this one but certainly if you need ideas for character concepts, powers and costumes, your friendly neighborhood comic shop would be a big help. Looking at the material that inspired CoH is a great way to get ideas and to get excited about your character. Just don’t fall into the copycat trap! Get inspired, but don’t read the last five years of X-Men comics, login to CoH and create “Visor Guy” who shoots red force beams from his eyes. Ahem.

It’s also pretty hard to come up with a name sometimes which is why a dictionary and thesaurus (in print or online) are your friend. Sometimes, funny spellings will work too. You can’t use the word “Weird” as it is a title used in-game, so the aforementioned neon-clad energy/electric blaster I created last night was named “Weeird Science” (based on the title of a movie from the 80s). I also considered W3ird Science, We1rd Science, Wyrd Science, etc. as well as names of other movies and people from that time period (St Elmo’s Fire, Real Genius, Kilmer, etc.. The Internet Movie Database and Google are also help here.

And the number one character generation tip:

1. Think about what sex you want your character to be.

Stop looking at me funny! I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of staring at my main character’s leather-clad “man butt” for hours on end. My next character is absolutely going to be a Lara Croft lookalike in short shorts!

Originally published at

The Sirens: Coding Their Cake and Eating It Too

Posted in Samples by Mitch on January 2, 2009

An all-female character group? Sounds a little extreme, right?

Well, The Sirens is an organization that’s all about working as a team and having fun.

According to Siren Kayaus, “We were the first all-female RSI faction in beta. But, I think that we stand out because we listen to our members. I never understood why some other factions seem to want to rule with an iron fist? It’s counter-productive as a whole. We are also laid back, which also helps out a lot. We pretty much look out for each other. That’s really our main goal. I would have to say for those main reasons we have gained SO many new members as of late.”

The Sirens look out for their members and have been getting a lot of new people joining and a lot of attention of late. They are allied with the Merovingian and consider themselves a special operations and assassination squad. As they put it, “we want the machines smashed, and the Matrix preserved as a haven for the Exiles and human entertainment.”

They’ve given their philosophy the name “cake” – inspired by the special cake the Merovingian created in The Matrix Reloaded – which they explain is symbolic of the more entertaining (and sexy) side of the Matrix. Enjoying the game is what they, and their founder Nimbus (who also founded the Collective), are all about.

Siren Scully explained, “The Sirens are about “Cake”. What is “Cake” you may ask. I would say it’s that sexy, cool and slightly perverse but also entertaining side of the Matrix. Do you remember how much FUN the Merovingian had while teasing Neo, Trinity and Morpheus? Well, that is attitude of The Sirens. We are out to 1.) enjoy this psuedo-existence within the Matrix 2.) revel in it’s physical-social pleasures 3.) and become an influential part of the community as a whole. Being a Siren is something that will be coveted, much like “The Eyes of the Oracle”. We are aligned with Merv and the Exiles in general. Our political tone is one simliar to the tone of most underground movements. Leave us alone to do what we like to do and we will leave you alone. We seek cooperation and compassion over factional conflict as a rule.”

Communication is key to the success of The Sirens. A council oversees the organization and they have an elected leader – Cycles is the current one – but their membership is very vocal and involved on their forums and Team Speak as well as AIM and MSN.

When The Sirens are asked who some of their notable members are, they all answer that every member is important and unique and contributes to the group. One member who should be mentioned however is Ika who is the “token male” of the organization, or as some of the members refer to him, the “pet male” of the group.

The major rule in The Sirens is that you have to have a female RSI to be a member. Whatever your sex in real life makes no difference as long as you can respectfully play a “sister” in the game – except for Ika of course! Prospective members must also be mature though there is no specific age requirement and have to agree to their code of conduct. There is also a one week evaluation period.

Most of the activity of the group is focused on helping each other. Leveling up, finding abilities and other needed items and grouping for mobs, missions and dungeons. They also party as much as possible!

Though he is the token male of the group, Ika echoed the feelings of the other members about The Matrix Online, “As a lay philosopher and technology enthusiast, I loved the original Matrix movie and the entire trilogy. When I found out about this I knew I had to try to get in on the beta test. I started in October and have seen the game make great strides. It has some ways to go but for starting somewhere it’s pretty solid. I have seen other MMOs and they just don’t appeal to me. As a game, this does and the fact that it is an extension of the philosophy and storyline of the movie is very compelling and thus I am very enthusiastic about this game. I respect the effort and the commitment to a quality experience that Monolith and WB have and it shows.”

Originally published at

Turbine Nation: Keith Baker Speaks!

Posted in Samples by Mitch on January 2, 2009

The creator of the Eberron campaign setting joined the crowd at Turbine Nation 2004 to share his thoughts and answer questions about Wizards of the Coast’s newest addition to the Dungeons & Dragons game which will also be the setting for Dungeons & Dragon’s Online.

Keith Baker prefaced his talk with a few statements and questions:

“Dungeons & Dragons has been around for thirty years and is finally coming online.”

“Why Eberron and what does it have to offer Dungeons & Dragons Online?”

And the big question…

“What is Eberron?”

Baker spoke about how D&D has been through three (and a half) versions of the rules and every time a new version comes out, a new world has been created to take best advantage of the changes. In this case, Wizards of the Coast had an open call for campaign setting ideas, in this case in the format of a one-page summary. They were expecting a few hundred, but over 12,000 showed up!

One of those submissions was made by Baker and the world of Eberron made it through all the elimination rounds to be chosen as the new world that would showcase the 3.0/3.5 versions of the D&D rules.

One of the requirements of the open call was a one-page description of the world. Baker revealed to us that his read, “Lord of the Rings meets Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Maltese Falcon.”

He went on to elaborate that he did not mean that the world should be a pulp fiction/film noir one but that it should meld fantasy with some of the core concepts of those genres to give the campaign setting a flavor not found in the previous worlds developed for D&D.

Baker felt D&D would benefit from the energy of pulp cinema and fiction – over the top cinematic action which makes the player a remarkable hero. From film noir he brought in a sense of intrigue, uncertainty and mystery to the setting in an effort to combine the black and white sense of a world based on alignments. “The lines are a lot greyer,” Baker said and warned players to expect conspiracies and schemes in Eberron.

Magic is another aspect of the setting that Baker discussed, explaining that magic in Eberron has followed a logical advancement in civilization in various aspects of life including transportation, communication, warfare and more. Despite this, magic still imparts a sense of wonder and high-level magic is still rare.

Because magic is more commonplace, things happen fast in the game. Players don’t spend their time “jogging” from place to place. Magical transportation lets them travel quickly and even at low-levels, adventures can be globe-spanning. Though his main focus is the face-to-face (F2F) game, Baker did mention that because of this “Dungeons & Dragons Online is going to be a game about adventure.”

The actual lands of Eberron support the pulp/noir concept of the game. D&D Online will be set in Xendrik, a seperate area from Khorvaire where the F2F game is set. Xendrik, according to Baker, is similar in many ways to Atlantis or Tarzan’s Africa. The lands are greatly unexplored and adventurers are just discovering evidence of ancient civilizations and lost temples. No one country rules Xendrik, its a no man’s land or a “Casablanca” for the fantasy gamer.

Another important thing to understand about Eberron is that it is recovering from a century-old war which only ended two years ago. One of the things players will explore is how a magical war has affected the world around them. One effect of this has been the development of “Dragonmarks” – marks of magical powers that are carried by bloodlines and the families that control them are one of the great powers of Eberron.

Online, players will not initially be in a faction though many exist in Eberron, says Baker, and this will drive the story to a great degree. In the F2F game, players can actually choose to join a faction from the start, even a Dragonmark House. Other groups and factions exist including religious ones like the Church of the Silver Flame – the dominant force for good in the world, though there are rumors of corruption in the church.

Death is a little more serious in Eberron than other D&D campaign settings Baker warned us. Clerics don’t sell their services and resurrections are not easy to come by. To bring a character back from the dead might involve a major quest or even a trip to the Underworld to try and bring them back. To make the point, Baker said, “If you’re first level and you’re dead, you’re dead!”

Another aftereffect of the war is the creation of the Warforged – a race of constructed soldiers (“golems”) that were built for war, but now the war is over. Warforged are a playable race both in the F2F game as well as in D&D Online according to Baker. Warforged cannot be healed normally – wizards will actually have to take on the role of healer if a Warforged is in the party.

Eberron, compared to previous D&D worlds has very powerful forces for good. There is no “super-wizard” according to Baker, so the world needs the player. It is possible to play an evil character but there are many other evil people and groups and good and evil is not always clearly defined in the game.

Baker and the D&D developers did consider having players starting at a higher level on creation to jump them into the action but decided to leave that up to the players. One suggestion he made was that as the war ended two years ago, players might start out as veterans who fought together in the war and could actually play a scene from the war in a flashback that might bring them up to second level at the end of the adventure and give them a good reason for why they are an adventuring party and how they got some of the skills they have.

Dungeons grow out of the concept that Xendrik is a “world to be explored” as Baker put it. There are all kinds of things out there and don’t be surprised if your explorations take you to such places as the “City of the Spider People” or other pulp-style locations.

Another way Eberron focuses the game on the players is by Action Points – “bursts of luck” that players get in addition to skills and classes NPCs don’t have, though Baker warns don’t be surprised if a Master Villain has access to the same special abilities as the players…

The reason for keeping Xendrik seperate from the main continent of Khorvaire is to seperate what is happening in D&D Online from changes that will take place in the F2F game. Some of these changes may filter down to Xendrik but the developers at Turbine will be able to better control expectations. The war never actually touched Xendrik so don’t expect what you find in the F2F game is completely the same in D&D Online.

As he wrapped up his talk, Baker focused on why Eberron is a good setting for D&D Online and for Turbine to develop. He has been watching the development of the online game and has found that the developers know D&D and are doing a good job of capturing the essence of it. They “hit the button” he said in capturing the energy of combat in Eberron which is supposed to be “active and energetic, colorful and exciting, which is what Eberron is all about.”

Originally published on – archive link below:

R.A. Salvatore? FEH!

Posted in Samples by Mitch on January 2, 2009

So I’ve never been a fan of R.A. Salvatore despite all the other gamers and fantasy fans who seem to drool at the drop of a hat when his name or stories are mentioned.

His writing style never grabbed me. I never finished any of the Drizzt novels, barely got beyond the first chapters in fact. Earlier this year, my wife went to the library and brought home The Gazillion Blades or whatever the new Drizzt series is called and I couldn’t get through it. I just found it… silly, frankly. Cliches abounded and the writing was just so over the top.

And then it happened…

She did it again!

My wife went to the library a couple weeks ago and brought home ANOTHER Salvatore book. Guess she forgot what happened last time. Or maybe the fact that the last time she did it, the book quickly put me to sleep. Hmmmm…

But, having nothing else to read, I gave it a chance.


I liked it!

The story had some twists and turns that I did not anticipate, and as I did not read any advance press or the info on the inside cover; it went in directions that surprised me.

Though the ending wrapped things up a little too neatly and conveniently, I was enjoying the story and characters so that it didn’t bother me.

Basically, Salvatore took elements of Superman and Zorro and other mythic figures and melded them together and transported the end result to the typical medieval fantasy setting (Corona, which figures in some of his other books but you don’t have to have read them).

The end result is a enjoyable tale, which has some elements that are a bit graphic (not for those who are squeamish) but serves to heighten the villainy of the evil The Highwayman must face.

All in all, I’d recommend this book for anyone who enjoys tales of adventure and fantasy and who might be looking for interesting settings, characters and adventure ideas.

You can visit The Highwayman website for more details about the book, including a sample chapter, peek at the comic book and more.

P.S. There is a Drizzt short story at the end of the book as well which I also enjoyed – though it was still a little over the top, it wasn’t as bad as some of the others I’ve read. Maybe Salvatore is mellowing…

Originally published on, archive link below: