The Altered Scrolls, Part 9: Small Considerations, IPISYDHT#3

By Rutskarn   Oct 3, 2015   Video Games 72 comments

Morrowind‘s narrative is settled around a religious schism between the “real” gods, who are worshiped by the occupying Empire, and three home-grown mortals-turned-gods who are worshiped proudly and a little spitefully by the unwillingly colonized natives. Unsurprisingly, there’s a complex lore and backstory behind this state of affairs, and I admit that this is where I would normally check out; this sort of thing is so commonly tiresome in fantasy. An author creates a convoluted narrative of gods and wars and legends and thinks the reader will find it as interesting as they do, if only they relay every detail precisely. The result is a plodding, ponderous shaggy dog myth that competes for headspace with the dozen other lores the player had to memorize. What these fantasy authors fail to realize is that history is not story. It’s the tools for telling a story.

This is one thing that Morrowind gets exactly right.

How did the self-made gods come into being? Great question! I don’t know. All I or anybody else knows is that there’s a half-dozen different accounts all believed passionately by factions that bring their own prejudices and needs and grudges onboard. The history of the tribunal’s divinity resembles a real history: a he-said she-said conflict of mythologies and folk accounts that sparks heated arguments and debate even between people on the same side. History as a debate is much more interesting to learn and follow than history as an inventory, and conflict over who is right is more interesting that conflict over who is stronger.


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Knights of the Old Republic EP15: I Love Your Goggles!

By Shamus   Oct 2, 2015   Spoiler Warning 120 comments

Link (YouTube)

I realize it’s a running joke on this show for Josh to play unconventionally and for the rest of us to rage about it, but let me drop the shtick just long enough to point out what a mess this boss fight is.

So apparently this fight is scripted to end when Calo “dies”. But the game doesn’t tell you that, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to want to deal with Davik first. But then Davik is almost immune to damage and your squad mates obsessively cancel orders to go back to beating on Calo. This becomes all the more befuddling later when Calo shows up for another boss fight on another planet.

As if being defeated by the player isn’t enough of a death sentence, Calo then blows himself up with a detonator. And is then hit by an orbital beam. And then some scenery falls on his head. Why inflict all this damage on him when the plot mandates he needs to show up later? And of course, once you fly away, Calo has no way to escape the planet, which is currently being bombed into gravel. Which means the encounter should kill Calo five times over: Once from the fight, once from setting off a grenade in his own face, once from the death-beam, once from the falling scenery, and finally from being left behind on a planet where everyone is doomed to die.

(It actually doesn’t show the detonator go off. I can’t tell if this means the orbits death-beam hit him before he could set it off, or if this is just a byproduct of 2003 animations and cutscenes.)

Why compel the player to attack the person that needs to survive this fight? Why subject him to so much overkill if he needs to show up later? Why portray Davik as the guy who is immune to damage, when he’s the one who dies? Why make a boss fight with two foes, only one of which you’re supposed to fight, without explaining the goal to the player? I guess the player is supposed to do this fight several times and then intuit how to beat it through heavy meta-gaming?

What a mess.

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Knights of the Old Republic EP14: Taris Trap

By Shamus   Oct 1, 2015   Spoiler Warning 78 comments

Link (YouTube)

So now Carth is wearing assless chaps and an Oculus Rift on his face. So is this the work of developers who wanted to grief the player with clown gear, or are we all victims or artists with no taste? Also, what BioWare game has the stupidest outfits? My money is on this one, but you could make the case that Jack and Samara could take the gold medal away from Carth’s chaps in the No-Dignity Olympics.

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Mass Effect Retrospective 16: Re-entry

By Shamus   Oct 1, 2015   Mass Effect 242 comments

I’ve found that retrospectives like this one can be very therapeutic, both for the author and the audience. If we find ourselves annoyed and frustrated at the way the story has failed us, we can’t very well do anything to fix it besides compose ever-more convoluted headcanon to try and patch over the holes. But even though we can’t fix the story, there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained in enumerating and organizing the problems as a way to give them a sense of finality and closure.

The opening of Mass Effect 2 is doubly painful. Not only is it packed with retcons, but it’s also exposition-heavy and clumsy. This is painful because the first game had already paid off the expositional overhead. With the Mass Effect 1 setup, the second game would have been free to jump right into the action without the need for an extended series of setup scenes. By breaking from the existing status quo, the writer obliged themselves to twist the world in knots to make the new setup work, and then they executed the transition in the most desultory way possible.


The effect is hard to spot in still frames like this, but it`s pretty obvious in motion.

At the opening of Mass Effect 2, the Normandy is flying around the Terminus Systems looking for Geth. A strange ship (the Collector ship) pops in, spots the Normandy despite their stealth driveI’m not going to cry foul over this one. Someone mentions it, so it’s not an oversight. I’m okay with them being able to spot the Normandy, given the handy excuse of “Reaper Tech”. It’s lampshaded. No foul. and attacks. Shepard runs around, gets seemingly “everyone” to the escape pods, and is then blown out into space. We see Shepard flailing, his suit leaking atmosphere, vanishing into the distance. As we fade out, we see what appear to be “re-entry” particle effects around him as he drifts towards the planet below.

Somber music plays, and we transition to the “bringing Shepard back from the dead” opening credits montage.

Some people insist Shepard didn’t really enter the atmosphere, simply because that is too stupid to believe.

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Knights of the Old Republic EP13: Save Scums

By Shamus   Sep 30, 2015   Spoiler Warning 159 comments

Link (YouTube)

In this episode, Rutskarn proposes going through the planets in the order of Tatooine, Kashyyyk….

Hang on…

“Kashyyyk”? Really, Expanded Universe? Really? The Wookiee homeworld has THREE vowels in a row? And all of them are the letter “Y”? And nobody had a problem with this? Not even Georgeee Lucaaas? What are you doing with your proper nouns? This is madness.


In this episode, Rutskarn proposes going through the planets in the order of Tatooine, Kashyyyk, Manaan, and then Korriban. You’re free to do the planets in any order you like, but I’m willing to bet Zalbaar’s freedom that this is the order that most people favor for subsequent play-throughs. I suppose you could make a pretty good case for swapping Tatooine and Kashyyyk, but otherwise this seems like objectively the best order.

  1. Tatooine and Kashyyyk each have a party member for you to recruit: HK-47 and Jolee Bindo, respectively. They’re two of the most popular characters in the game, and both are very powerful, so it makes sense to want to get them as soon as possible. The only question is which one you like best.

  2. Manaan has nobody for you to recruit, so there’s no harm in delaying this planet.
  3. Korriban is the one place where apparently people will recognize Bastila on sight, so she stays on the ship. But Bastila leaves the party after the third planet anyway, so by saving Korriban for last you make it so that you can have Bastila available on the other three worlds.

Basically, this ordering will maximize your choices with regards to party composition.

For those of you who played KOTOR more than once: What’s your preferred order?

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Good Robot #34: Guns, Guns, Guns

By Shamus   Sep 30, 2015   Good Robot 79 comments

Way back in July, I said the plan was to have the game “feature complete” by September. I think we sort of met that goal. We’ve completed all of the features planned so far, but I think everyone expects to add a few new features between now and the planned February 2016 release. We do have a mild case of Feature Creep, which can probably be managed through medication and therapy.

What we’ve done since July:

  1. The interface has solidified. Actually, it’s not so much “solidified” as “been entirely replaced with something else, which has then solidified”.
  2. The gameplay still has a few remaining question marks, but the core rhythm of the game is there.
  3. The art style has taken shape.
  4. The story hasn’t exactly been written yet, but we’ve stopped re-inventing the setting every time we have a meeting. We’ve settled on a single idea that everyone seems comfortable with.

Last week I talked about Good Robot going to EGX. As of this writing, I don’t have the feedback from the public on the game. Although by the time I post this the show will be long over.

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Half Time CH1: No Quarter

By Rutskarn   Sep 29, 2015   Video Games 68 comments

Hey, folks, Rutskarn here. I think we can all agree that the one thing really missing on this blog–the one subject you’d demand a website called Twenty Sided cover–is the world of professional sports. With that in mind, may I present my foray into the first videogame adaptation of Blood Bowl.

“Congratulations, lad,” said McGurrt, “you just bought yourself a Blood Bowl team.”

I live a fast-paced life with little room for complications. That morning, I had followed a train of logic that followed: I needed money. Sports teams make money. This sports team was very cheap for probably no reason in particular. To learn any other details before signing the contract would be not only irresponsible, but inconsiderate towards the feelings of others, particularly: Vicker the Shark, Tomag Loansemdollar, Zigler the Shark, Knee Breakin’ Frank, Dickie the Shark, and Mr. I Will Kill All Deadbeats, Esq, whose interests rates were fantastic thank you very much.

“Something the matter?” said McGurrt. “You look worried.”

“What? No. Why would I be worried?”

“I don’t know. I mean, you haven’t even seen them yet.”


It turns out I’m not very good at spotting red flags.

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Experienced Points: Why Do I Need to Restart the Game?

By Shamus   Sep 29, 2015   Escapist 45 comments

My column this week answers the question posed by the title, which means the Title Police can piss off and can’t refer to it as “clickbait”. (Seriously, the Title Police have become almost as annoying as the clickbaiters by this point. But that’s a topic for another day.)

This is yet another topic where you can go an inch deep or a mile deep, and you still won’t hit the bottom. It all depends on how much technical knowledge you demand of your audience. On the Escapist, I tried to keep things broad and accessible for general audiences.

But let’s look a little deeper:

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Diecast #122: Drew Karpyshyn at BioWare, Destiny, Assassins Creed, D&D

By Shamus   Sep 28, 2015   Diecast 147 comments

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster.

Episode edited by Rachel.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Bad and Wrong Music Lessons: DAWs

By Shamus   Sep 27, 2015   Music 35 comments

“DAW” stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and is a somewhat sloppy term used to refer to all the various programs people use to make music. It’s sloppy, because the term “audio” can efer to a lot of non-musical work. Or it could be the program you use to mix all the sounds of the real-world instruments you played with your fleshy human hands. Or it could mean – as in my case – the program used to make all the instrument sounds, map their notes, and mix them together. In any case, for our purposes here when I say DAW I mean “the thing I use to make a song on the computer”.

In the past few entries I complained about Magix Music Maker, my DAW of choice. Several people suggested I give LMMS a try. I did, and now I’m really conflicted.

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Kerbal Space Problems: It’s over!

By Shamus   Sep 25, 2015   Notices 47 comments

EDIT: Thanks for watching. We’ll hopefully upload the whole thing to YouTube later this week for those of you who missed it.

Original post:

Today at 6pm Eastern US time, we’re going to play Kerbal Space Program. Well, Josh is going to play KSP, and I’m going to watch. And so are you. Yes, because this will be his first time playing the game. If you’ve never played the game before, it will be an instructive experience to help you get started. If you have played the game, it will allow you to to experience the feeling of smug superiority you get from watching someone else fail at something you understand.

KSP was one of my top picks of 2013, and I still come back to it once in a while. I can’t wait until Josh uncovers all the problems that explain why the game is probably actually horrible and everyone should feel bad for liking it. Because that’s his job. The stream will be live here when the event starts:

If you are irresponsible and have Flash enabled then this countdown timer should show when the event starts:

If not, you’ll have to do the math yourself. Good luck!

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The Altered Scrolls, Part 8: No Fair Fights

By Rutskarn   Sep 25, 2015   Video Games 105 comments

As I discussed last time, the series’ abstract dice-rolling combats felt–with the advent of more precise graphics and more engaging action-game contemporaries–increasingly alienating and unsatisfying. There was always something reasonably abstract about a failed sword swing in a crudely-rendered 2D game, something that took the sting out of a wimpy failure, but players could now see that they were holding up their end perfectly; when they clicked the mouse, they saw their spear go right the enemy’s bean, dead on the money. Hearing that damnable teeth-grinding whff that signaled a wasted attack felt like getting punished for something that was the character’s fault, not the players’. As far as cardinal RPG sins go, creating a deliberate and hostile disconnect between player and character ranks highly.

Morrowind was just about the last videogame that hadn’t learned this lesson: if you’re gonna roll dice, roll dice. Asking players to successfully perform a task and then rolling to see if it succeeds is just frustrating and obnoxious. This mishandling, compounded with the game’s rather stern beginning, makes for a very unpleasant and ragged start to the game.

This is the city of Vivec. It is inconveniently large and complicated, like many towns in Arena and Daggerfall. Unlike these towns it is designed purposefully and characterfully.

There’s only one reason this combat is bearable at all, and it’s this: the game provides the tools to make failure rare or nonexistent. Let’s talk about all the level scaling Morrowind didn’t have.

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