Kevin VanOrd

Game Designer, Game Writer, and Game Critic

Location icon United States of America

Talented game designer, imaginative writer, proven video game critic, and longtime music composer ready to share his talents with a development studio or video game publication prepared for a unique storm of creativity, passion, and resourcefulness.


Game Design, Cleaversoft: Designer, EarthNight


EarthNight is a 2D runner about the dragon apocalypse featuring procedurally generated levels. We intend to change the way you think about runner games by designing on a much grander scale.

Game Design, Trion Worlds: Content Designer, Atlas Reactor

Game Design, Trion Worlds: Writer, Devilian

Criticism, Features, and Game Analysis

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

Update: I've now spent time with every version of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and when it comes to platform differences, the surprises are few, and divergences are a matter of degrees, not orders of magnitude.

King's Quest: A Revival Worth Celebrating

King's Quest would like to tell you a story. It would like you to pull up a chair and listen to a tale of brave knights and loyal friends. It would like to enrapture you with a fairy tale so magical, you might actually believe it to be true.

Guild Wars 2 Review

The world of Tyria, as imagined in the massively multiplayer Guild Wars 2, is an endlessly intriguing place, stuffed with mystery and adventure, gifting you with gorgeous sights and personal stories that etch themselves into your memory. These are the kinds of stories you tell for months to come--and they arise from your own spontaneous experiences.

Bloodborne Review

The beast appears, though you didn't expect it. You've never seen anything like this creature, a giant komondor dog with horns--and a former vicar of the church, apparently, evangelizing her faith by holding her paws together in prayer, then slamming them onto the ground and knocking you clear.

The Order: 1886 Review

The Order: 1886 is a torturer and a tease. It promises you a circuitous story populated with near-immortal knights, it promises you exciting encounters with snarling werewolves, it promises you clever weaponry the likes of which you rarely see in video games.

The Art And Music of Guild Wars 2's Living World

Oh, the life of a massively multiplayer role-playing game. Modern games typically evolve and grow even after they're fully released, but MMOGs have strikingly lengthy lifespans. Guild Wars 2 is no exception; the Living World's second season has just reached its mid-season finale, so it seemed like a great opportunity to talk to developer ArenaNet about how its artistic and musical themes have matured to suit the expanding story.

Dark Souls 2 Review

Welcome to Drangleic, a world that is not quick to whisper its secrets to you, in a game that trusts you to find the answers for yourself.

The State of the MMO: Creating a Soundscape, Part 1

Game audio. You might only notice it when it's really bad, and possibly, when it's really good. And yet audio is as vital a part of most games as are visuals, drawing us into entire universes with the sounds of footsteps, the calls of birds, and the strains of orchestras.

The State of the MMO: Creating a Soundscape, Part 2

Last week, I waded into the waters of persistent world sound design, along with audio directors and composers consistently knee-deep in audio concerns. This week, we dive into the murky depths to discover how massively multiplayer games in particular challenge the individuals creating their soundscapes, and the tricks they use to keep your ears engaged, even after you've spent dozens or hundreds of hours in a single, self-contained world.

Half-Life 2: The Anatomy of a Classic - Part One

"Wake up and smell the ashes." These words from G-Man, spoken just moments after Half-Life 2 begins, resonate throughout the game. There are plentiful theories as to who this man is, who employs him, and what his relationship is to Gordon.

Destiny Review

It's called the Black Garden. You see it from a clifftop above, gazing across the blooming acres through a thick green haze, and imagine the sights that might be seen there, and the adventures you might have there.

Ryse: Son of Rome Review

Music cognition specialist Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis tells us that "rituals [...] harness the power of repetition to concentrate the mind on immediate sensory details rather than broader practicalities." Margulis is concerned with the way our music-listening habits follow from our desire for ritual and repetition, but I suspect that her comments would apply just as well to the repetition inherent to certain video games.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Baldur's Gate Legacy, and the Value of an Open World

"It's required a lot of learning and a lot of trial and error as we've gone through the development in the last three or four years." I'm talking to Cameron Lee, producer of the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition, about the challenges of taking the BioWare story formula and making it work in an open world.

Taming the Beasts Lurking in Bloodborne's Chalice Dungeons

I can't avoid fate. I have turned down opportunities to play Bloodborne multiple times and have averted my eyes when I saw videos and articles on From Software's upcoming role-playing adventure. It springs from a structure introduced by Demon's Souls, and arguably perfected by Dark Souls, the game that proudly stands as my favorite of its console generation.

The Secret World Review

In a genre filled with dryads and dragons, The Secret World emerges as a dark and thoughtful counterpoint to the enchanted forests of most modern online role-playing games. Even when the skies are bright, an emotional cloud hangs over your every action.

Screamride Review

As fun as it is, there's something rather...disturbing...about Screamride. A game about racing rollercoaster cars down rails at tremendous speeds and smashing them into concrete skyscrapers isn't to be taken seriously, of course, and I'm not terribly concerned about the riders, who seem beyond thrilled for the chance to sacrifice their well-being for the chance to fling themselves into solid objects.

Lords of the Fallen - Ancient Labyrinth Review

Lords of the Fallen cannot escape Dark Souls' shadow, but its weighty combat and impossibly chunky art style still give it an identity of its own. Yet the shadow still looms, and in the case of Lords of the Fallen's newest add-on, Ancient Labyrinth, it wholly swallows its imitator.

King's Quest: The Vibrant Return of a Beloved Series

Many games have aimed for a "bedtime story" vibe, but few capture the charm of a tall tale as told to a youngster by an adult she looks up to. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one game that understood the magic of a fairy tale, and I suspect the upcoming narrative adventure King's Quest will be another.

Building a Relationship In Firewatch

Chris and Kevin talk about how the Firewatch demo shows the potential and perils of choice-based, conversation-driven games.

Ori and the Blind Forest Review

The first ten minutes of Ori and the Blind Forest depict a beautiful and soul-crushing story of friendship, selflessness, and loss. They recall the opening minutes of Pixar's in their melancholy, and like in Up!, the introduction provides an emotional foundation for the life-affirming journey that follows.

EverQuest Next: A Life of Consequence

What is the next big thing in online role-playing games? As Sony Online Entertainment sees it, we've played the same game over and over again. Massively multiplayer worlds go by different names, and the details differ, but once you've explored enough of them, doesn't it feel as if you've seen everything there is to see?

Lost Constellation Review

The storyteller's art involves more than simply repeating tall tales of old, or reciting scripts that have been committed to memory. A true spinner of yarns is a conduit that filters a story through his own experience, drawing you in not just through the epic he relates, but also through the embellishments he gilds it with.

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved Review

According to the film Fantasia, Mickey Mouse was not much of a sorcerer, but he's always been an enthusiastic conductor, which means that the mouse and I have a few things in common.

Crowfall: Solving the Endgame Problem

I am sitting with the two veteran game designers behind the upcoming Crowfall, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game the duo refers to as "deeper than a virtual amusement park" and "more impactful than a virtual sandbox." One of them is former Shadowbane creator J.

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

I look across the Alik'r desert from atop my steed. The arid ground below its hooves has been cracked by the sun's intense heat, and only husks are left where vegetation once thrived. I see a shrine in the distance signaling a friendly oasis, but it's lonely here, and I long to catch a ride on the hot breezes that blow past.

Civilization: Beyond Earth and the Physics of Space Travel

If the universe is as teeming with life as we expect it is, then why do we not have indisputable evidence of alien civilizations? Or, as physicist Enrico Fermi asked, "Where is everybody?" This question is at the heart of the Fermi paradox.

The Gothic Sensibilities of Darkest Dungeon

How much can an artist say with a single image? I wonder this as I look at the title screen for Darkest Dungeon. On the surface, it's just a creepy mansion on a hill. But there's something particularly foreboding about this abode.

Connections and Camaraderie at GaymerX

This weekend, I witnessed something special. After serenading the audience with a stirring rendition of the famous Portal theme Still Alive, actress and singer Ellen McLain (the voice of GlaDOS) announced that new lyrics had been unearthed--but that she needed someone from the audience to help her perform them.

Hand of Fate Review

Hand of Fate may not be a Dungeons & Dragons game, but it captures the imagination in a similar way: by abstracting exploration and encouraging your mind to create exactly what the forests, dungeons, and villages you encounter might look like.

Neverwinter - Launch Review

Neverwinter does one thing particularly well: combat. This Dungeons & Dragons-themed online game wants you to feel the clash of steel on steel, and the impact of magic missiles on Orcish flesh. Forget the tab-targeting so common (but increasingly less common) to games of this type: hover your targeting reticle over your foe and then swing that sword or fire that arcane spell.

Dust 514 - Launch Review

Dust 514 is an innovative concept and a merely decent game, two disparate halves that are never combined into a consistently rewarding whole. The idea behind this online-only free-to-play shooter is great, at least.

Limbo Review

"Nana, do little boys and girls go to heaven when they die?" "No, honey. They go to limbo." This conversation with my grandmother introduced me to the idea of an otherworldly realm in which I pictured children wandering aimlessly through darkness and mist, denied the pleasure of communing with God.

The Cat Lady Review

Suicide is final. Unless, that is, you are Susan Ashworth, the Cat Lady. A bouquet of flowers is a symbol of love, unless you are Susan Ashworth, for whom they are a reminder of loss. If you're Susan Ashworth, life isn't fair--even after you've exorcised the most harmful demons from your soul.

Homeworld Remastered Collection Review

Outer space has been famously referred to as the final frontier, but it's a well-worn setting in video games at this stage--even in real-time strategy games. Yet Homeworld refuses to be outdone, beautifully capturing the loneliness of the black void, and then disturbing its eerie allure with the light trails of starfighters engaged in conflict.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Review

"If I am a vessel, I am an empty one." So says Lightning, aka Claire Farron, aka the heroine of Final Fantasy XIII, and now, the heroine of Lightning Returns. And she's right. In her newest adventure, Lightning is not interesting in and of herself, but because of what she means to others, and what others mean to her.

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

South Park: The Stick of Truth is as simplistic as role-playing games come, but it captures the spirit of the animated show's riotous raunch.

Elegy for a Dead World Review

"What is Elegy for a Dead World?" you might ask, though the answer is as ephemeral as understanding particle/wave duality, or describing love to one who has never felt it. It is an interactive writing tool and an exploration game that provides no answers and expects you to supply them.

Duke Nukem Forever Review

So this is what we've been waiting for, it seems: a tedious and unattractive sci-fi shooter that would quickly hit the bargain bin if it weren't called Duke Nukem Forever. Duke may be an icon, but he's just going through the motions in this stitched-together collection of poorly paced levels, which do the unimaginable: they make Duke boring.

X Rebirth Review

Einstein taught us that space is both homogeneous and isotropic--that is, on a large scale, the universe is smooth and uniform in all directions. It's empty out there. Like many space games before it, X Rebirth depicts an unrealistically vibrant universe bursting with color and texture, and that's as it should be.

Only If Review

The first time Only If induced rage was when I returned to its single major choice--a point at which you must choose one chess piece over another. No matter which piece I chose, the game surged forward in the same manner, leaving me to wonder if it were passing judgment on the illusion of player agency in video games.

D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die Review

"Look for D," she says, and I giggle. Internet culture has ruined the fourth letter of the alphabet, and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is drowning in D-driven dialogue. "I must find D," he says, and I become a puerile manchild; every line becomes a double entendre, and I can barely contain my laughter.

Metro: Last Light Review

The shadows of the past linger. They appear as silhouettes on crumbling walls each time lightning bolts slash across the sky. They haunt you as you journey across annihilated cityscapes once teeming with life and love.

Resident Evil 6 Review

With Resident Evil 6, a once-mighty series makes another stumble. From a production standpoint, this atmospheric third-person shooter (this is no survival horror game, certainly) hits a number of high notes, weaving multiple stories into a single narrative that you untangle from different perspectives.

Air Control Review

Three ugly character models sit around a fire: an unblinking man in a suit with his arms locked at 20-degree angles from his body; a dwarf that stole Catwoman's mask; and a zombie with its fists clipped through a chair yanked from a tavern in World of Warcraft.

Dreamfall Chapters Book One: Reborn Review

Eight years is a long time to wait for answers, and the opening scenes of Dreamfall Chapters understand as much, providing a tearful gut-punch that is as much of a conclusion as it is an introduction.

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4 - In Sheep's Clothing Review

At the opening of the fourth episode of The Wolf Among Us, titled In Sheep's Clothing, the pieces of a silver bullet remain lodged in Bigby Wolf's arm. The shards come out, and Bigby's bones slip back into their proper positions, but not without some pain--pain on the part of the snarling victim, and pain on the part of the cringing player.

Revelations 2012 Review

The end of the world has arrived, and things are looking grim. Ancient Mayans swarm sacred temples, running up and down walls as if the laws of gravity have been repealed. Boulders pop into existence and fall to the ground, squishing you underneath.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review

It is 2:00 a.m., my right thumb is sore and my brain is fried, yet I cannot sleep--not just yet. I am staring at two numbers in the millions, one of which is higher than the other. The higher number belongs to a colleague at another publication.

Far Cry 4 Review

Pagan Min is a nasty piece of work. He is the vain and arrogant despot that welcomes you to the fictional Himalayan nation of Kyrat with a depraved display of violence.

Daylight Review

When Daylight's ridiculous final image appeared on my screen and the credits then rolled, I stared into my screen, mouth agape. What. Was. That? My incredulity wasn't a result of how scary this first-person survival horror game is, but how poor it is, how it makes no effort to escape rusty cliches, and how nonsensical its writing is.

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