Dénouement 2012: Part 3

  By Shamus   Jan 7, 2013   279 comments

splash_2012.jpg

Let’s put these last few whip-marks on the dead horse that was 2012 and move on. If I spend any more time looking back I’ll end up running into the stuff in front of me.

X-Com

X-Com

Just great. More brain-dead IP harvesting. Just take a random title from 20 years ago and give it to a bunch of people who have no idea what made the title special to begin with. Tell them you want “Mass Effect meets Gears of War”. Make it for consoles, then port it over to the PC six months later, tied to both Gamespy and Games for Windows LIVE. Put tits on the cover. Also, we need a main character, which should be a thirty-something white guy with short hair. You know, somebody everyone can relate to. Give the dev team a tight release schedule, and then blame pirates and the bad economy when nobody buys the damn thing.

What? They actually had a team that loved the original and understood what made it work? And they made a true gameplay sequel, even to the point of including something as exotic as turn based gameplay? It runs well on PC’s, it’s stable, and it preserves the core mechanics?

What is this mad, topsy-turvy universe I find myself in?

This game was everything I’d hoped it would be. It keeps the original gameply that worked, and improved on bits that didn’t. Sure, there are a few nitpicks I could make about some monster types or character classes, but that’s to be expected in anything this deep. The fact that we’re talking about “Why are snipers so powerful?” and not “Why did they remove the base-building and add all these prerendered cutscenes?” means the game is a successful remake of a classic in my book.

I hope it makes money. I suspect it didn’t sell Halo-level copies, but it probably didn’t cost $Halo bucks. I’d love to see publishers spending a little more money on this sort of thing.

The game also lends itself really well to Let’s Play style narratives, such as those written by Krellen and Jarenth.

Dishonored

Dishonored

I should have loved this game. It had a unique, non-photorealistic art style that made it stand out. It revived a lot of the gameplay mechanics from my beloved Thief franchise. It had a magic & steampunk setting, which is a favorite of mine. It had a many-paths-through design philosophy that has become all too rare over the last few years.

I should love this game. This should have been my game of the year. I should have played through it three times. Instead, I stalled partway into the third or forth mission. I put the game down, and haven’t picked it up again.

I’m not sure I can point to any one reason and say, “This is the central problem of the game.” I feel like I’m failing you as a critic, since that’s pretty much my job here. And yet I find myself falling back to vague, non-specific stuff like, “It just didn’t click for me” or “I couldn’t get immersed in the setting” or “Hey! Borderlands 2 sure is fun wheeeeeee!”

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about why this game didn’t work, but a lot of the discussion focuses on a lackadaisical approach to themes, a bit of bad balance, or how the morality system pushes you away from the fun mechanics. Those are all problems, sure, but they’re problems that become evident once you’re a few hours in. For me, the malaise began almost from the opening scene. I didn’t care about the protagonist, I didn’t care about the queen, and I didn’t really hate the bad guy. I sat through a first-person torture scene and by the end I didn’t have any real urge to settle up with the guy doing the torturing. It was almost a case of “Some kid died!You are being tortured therefore you hate this guy and are now motivated. Go! It all just felt so perfunctory.

If pressed, I suppose one thing that might have helped would be to move the initial betrayal back a bit. You’re betrayed pretty much as soon as the credits are over, without any time to settle into things. The game handed me something, and then yanked it away again before I even had a chance to feel like it was mine. I think there should have been one or two missions at the start where:

  1. The queen is established, along with her friendship with the player.
  2. The player gets a sense of the stakes for curing the plague, and follows a few leads.
  3. The player is encouraged to trust or respect the Evil Betrayer Guy, or work for/with him professionally.

This wouldn’t have needed to be much. Just a tutorial level where you slink about, listen in on some dudes, and get a feel for who you are and what you do. Give the player a goal, let them nearly accomplish it, and then have them betrayed just before their efforts pay off. Deus Ex: Human Revolution did a pretty good job at this. It let you be a human for a few minutes before yanking the rug out from under you, and the payoff was stronger for it.

My other complaint about the game is that everyone is just too boring. Corvo is a silent protagonist so we can’t expect any quirks out of him, but the rest of the cast really needed some more color in their personalities. The worst was The Other, a strange supernatural being who… looked like any other twenty-something white guy, had a straightforward delivery and didn’t feel particularly crazy, dangerous, unreliable, exotic, or deceptive, which are the traits we normally associate with enigmatic trickster gods.

Having said all that. This is not a bad game. At all. (Or at least, the first four levels aren’t bad.) I’ve slogged through much worse games. There’s nothing to really hate, but there’s nothing I loved either. I can’t bring myself to feel strongly about it one way or the other.

Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2

Hey! Borderlands 2 sure is fun wheeeeeee!

They did a good thing when they got Anthony Burch to do the writing on Borderlands 2. Borderlands Original Flavor did a lot of winking and elbowing and grinning like it was kidding around, but there weren’t all that many jokes. Scooter was sometimes amusing and the character intros were grin-worthy, but the bulk of the game was meandering and lacking in any kind of coherent villain. The wasn’t being funny, it was just reading cliché videogame dialog in a funny voice.

Borderlands 2 largely fixes this by maintaining a consistent tone and adding some jokes. Maybe the jokes work for you and maybe they don’t, but at least they exist this time around.

Handsome Jack is the best villain I’ve faced in a long time. He’s almost entirely a joke, but he has a lot of fun at the expense of the player character without ruining the fun of the player. Nicely done.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

If I was the sort of person who gave out “Game of the Year” awards all official-like, then this would be that.

Yeah, the game doesn’t have the choice it feels like it should. A few of the characters are more annoying than interesting. The puzzle elements in the first couple of episodes feel sort of tacked-on. And Kenny drives the plot (literally, as we’ll see in the upcoming episodes) more than he should.

But Walking Dead succeeds for me simply because it’s done what so many other games have failed to do: It creates an intense emotional connection and an investment with the plight of the characters. I cared more about protecting Clem than I did about protecting the entire Earth the last 4 or 5 times I’ve saved it.

You can haggle over whether this gameplay is really “new” or not. Is this the same as Heavy Rain? Is it a mashup of dialog-based games and old adventure game mechanics? This is like arguing over the term “RPG” or debating about where we draw the lines between genres. However you classify it, this game connected with me in a way that no other game has.

Wrapping up…

I wasn’t sure what to do about games like Skyrim and The Old Republic. They came out at the tail end of 2011, and so they aren’t 2012 releases. On the other hand, the conversation about these games didn’t really reach critical mass until 2012. How do we classify a game? According to the year of release, or according to when it was actually relevant? In the coming year, Far Cry 3 will have the same problem: It arrived too late in the year for me to play it, but its 2012 release date means it’s off the 2013 list.

In the end I concluded that if we’re going to do one of these arbitrary lists, we might as well stick to the rules. And if a few games get overlooked because they came out just before Christmas? No big deal. There’s only so many games a person can play in December, and there’s only so far back I can recall and still have meaningful things to say about a game. In any case, it was a good year.

Still no Half-Life 3.


A Hundred!A Hundred!20202019There are more than 278 comments. But less than 280


  1. MichaelG says:

    Half Life 3 has been delayed so long I actually resent it now. I might even wait a few months before buying it, just to show my annoyance.

    • Primogenitor says:

      There is still hope – Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana were eventually released. Oh wait, now I remember how they turned out…

      • Brandon says:

        I don’t get all the gripe with Duke Nukem Forever. Honestly, I loved it, it was exactly what I wanted from a Duke Nukem game. Playing through it, I noticed it was taking a lot of things out of the Half Life playbook, too. Combat-section, puzzle section, introducing mechanics in a “safe” puzzle and then making them more challenging by making you use those mechanics in combat, then breaking things up with the occasional vehicle segment.

        Was it perfect? Not even close, but I had a lot of fun with it, and felt it was a solid game. Maybe not as good as it could have been, given how many years it was in development, but I wasn’t expecting it to blow my mind, just entertain me, and it did that excellently.

        • Merle says:

          If it had let me carry more than two weapons, and had had better kinesthetics, I might have agreed with you.

          I thought it was okay. Just…okay. And for a game that took as long as DNF, “okay” was far worse than “terrible”. A terrible, broken husk of a game, we could have joked about. “Okay” was just disappointing.

    • Raygereio says:

      Half Life 3 has never been delayed. You need at the very least announce a game, before you can delay it.

      I suppose HL2 – Episode 3 has been delayed though. I vaguely recal Valve mentioning a christmas 2007 release date for it.

  2. Jokerman says:

    I hope you do a write up on Far Cry 3 when you do play it, im about 8 hours in and really enjoying it.

    I really think The walking dead (And heavy rain if you like) could open up a whole new avenue for game stories, ones not based on combat at all but all about the dialogue and choice. Every game story around right now is about combat….its the only story gaming really ever does outside of static point and clicks. I think that handicaps it compared to other mediums with its lack of flexibility.

    I would really like games like The Walking Dead to catch on, it might even open the way for other games based on movies,books or comics. They wouldnt of had to turn The Godfather into a lame GTA style shooter for example.

    • Roll-a-die says:

      Those games are really just carrying on the traditions from Planescape Torment and the other deep storied RPGs of around that time. Planescape Torment is notably the one that did it the best. But others included, Arcanum, Fallout 2, and Fallout. To a lesser degree you could also include Deus Ex, and the various sequels to that, as well as Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines, and probably a few others that spawned from the Deus Ex model of gameplay.

      The driving source of conflict resolution in those games is not merely combat. Which is what I think you were getting at. Unless you meant the abstraction of combat being done in those games? Where control is mostly removed from the player and the combat/conflict resolution is made into a QTE?

      Also I find it odd that Walking Dead uses similar dialogue timers to Alpha Protocol yet no one brings up any reference to that. And in fact it was one of the much maligned features in that game. There people complained that it made them feel rushed, or that it was annoying because they were still processing the dialogue. In walking dead it’s praised for “Adding to the tension and keeping the dialogue flowing…”

      • Nidokoenig says:

        Not having played either game, I gather the difference between the decision timers is length. In Walking Dead you get up to a minute, you have plenty of time to read all four options with only rare and justified exceptions like crashing into the zombie in the intro. With Alpha Protocol it’s constant, oppressive and requires pretty much immediate action, or you just decide on a particular flavour of response to auto-select. I’m pretty sure it was mentioned in the early Spoiler Warning episodes, maybe buried in the comments.

        As for non-combat video games, I think they’re pretty much always going to be a niche offering simply because they require so much more effort. Make this bullet travel x distance and remove x amount of health and, if necessary, start death animation. If you want to be real fancy you add bullet deceleration and drop, flinching and ragdolls, and the computer runs all those numbers because it’s arithmetic and ballistics, which is what computers were invented to do. Even in a game with a major emphasis on story, it’s handy filler.
        Non-violent games have to be pretty much hand-crafted, which is a labour of love, or abstract enough for us to fill in the blanks with our imagination, like Dwarf Fortress without the violence. Both methods require exponentially more work than making yet another manshoot.
        Although, if games like the Walking Dead become a standard, that could help. A big problem Walking Dead and Heavy Rain have is we’re told choices matter and the story doesn’t change much if at all in the big, physical sense many gamers expect. Part of that is because we’re used to the consequences being big, noticeable and cheap and having established genre standards helps, the other is that if these games had bigger budgets they’d be able to spend the time making the results of the choices as big as we expect, like how the Witcher 2 was able to make four acts for a three act game to give some real depth to the big choices. Or how Fallout 3 was able to let you nuke a major quest hub for the fun of it.

    • Dasick says:

      ones not based on combat at all but all about the dialogue and choice.

      Combat is really a theme if you think about it. A lot of systems can be re-skinned to look like something less violent.

      However, you are suggesting that games about ‘combat’ have no choice to be made, at least less than a game involving dialogue trees. I’m thinking of (the original, drink) XCom, where there is no dialogue choices, and it’s all about the combat with the aliens. But that system gives more meaningful choice than any dialogue tree I have seen. I can explore the combat system of Xcom for years and it will still be doing mostly new and interesting things with it’s mechanics.

      • Paul Spooner says:

        I think a lot of the ire directed against “combat” and “violence” would loose its edge if we admitted that some sort of conflict is necessary for a compelling story, game, movie, etc. Physical violence just happens to be the most visible, tactile, clear, compelling kind of conflict that most people can identify with. True, you could re-skin combat systems into something else, but you’re still going to be dealing with conflict.

        Even Minecraft Creative mode has conflict, although it is the player struggling with the desire to express weighed against the effort and time that expression will consume and the final value of the expression itself. While this kind of conflict is extrinsic to the game system itself, the game system does re-enforce it by allowing the player to only place or destroy one block at a time, and giving them no cut-paste powers.

        The conflict between the player and the aliens in X-com takes place on multiple levels, both on and off the battlefield. The variety of conflict expressions (technology vs new alien abilities, coverage and interceptors vs ufo attacks, panic, limited resources, etc) as well as the meaningful player agency in each of these areas makes the X-com conflict system complex and interesting.

        Although games are often well served by complex and intertwined systems, some players desire a simple straightforward experience over a variegated and convoluted one. Allowing the player to navigate these preferences as they desire is a mark of an excellent game.

        • Dasick says:

          Allowing the player to navigate these preferences as they desire is a mark of an excellent game.

          No, it’s a mark of a ‘game’ that has no focus. When you just throw things in, you have less time to focus on each one and to make that feature great, you have to split the focus and do with a couple of mediocre features.

          If the focus is story, unless the interactivity supports the story (and I do not believe that simply being interactive adds anything to the experience, except for a brief illusion that your choices matter to the story), there should be no interactivity.

          • Shamus says:

            “and I do not believe that simply being interactive adds anything to the experience, except for a brief illusion that your choices matter to the story”

            You’re making broad declarative statements about other people’s experiences. Other people have flat out said this is what made the game work for them, and you’re telling them they are… wrong? Then you go so far as to say that this kind of game shouldn’t exist.

            You don’t have to like it. But if you can’t accept this idea and make room for games you don’t like or understand, then you will never be more than a heckler in this conversation. You’re polite about it, (which I appreciate) but this line of reasoning can’t go anywhere.

            • Dasick says:

              I’m trying to figure out just how interactivity ‘enhances’ these kinds of games (different people’s experiences and all that, but we are all human, are we not?). I know that it works for some, but I also want to know *why* it works, hence the speculative statement.

              I’m not saying that people aren’t feeling that way, rather that I *think* the feeling is fragile and unsustainable. If I am wrong, do correct me, because I must have missed the argument against that.

              Other mediums can, and do, better through solid characterization, good pacing and internal consistency, which are also harder to achieve when player interactivity is involved. And if the feeling interactivity adds is so fragile, why include it?

              • Shamus says:

                That is a worthy goal. I’m firmly on the side of the idea that the interactivity is what makes this so much more interesting and engaging than just watching a show, but I’m asking myself the same question.

                • Dasick says:

                  Sure, and I think it’s because we get really giddy due to the thinking that the interactivity is somehow affecting the story in a significant way (otherwise, why would the devs ask for it?, wondered the naive brain)

                  But what happens when you start realizing just how little your choices really mean? Does the interactivity still retain it’s effect after that? That’s an honest question.

                  I’m thinking back to the TV shows and books and movies and comics I’ve seen and read. Some of them lots of times, and yet they’re still as engaging as ever.

                  • Paul Spooner says:

                    I’m fairly sure that interactivity is a critical part of what makes a game, and narrative is not. By all means improve narratives by adding trivial participation, like asking the audience to shout “Wake up puppets!” at the beginning of a puppet show. But attempts to improve games by eliminating any troublesome interactivity will only destroy the game itself.

                    The creators must decide if they are delivering a game, or a narrative. TWD has done an admirable job of blurring the boundaries, but is still clearly a narrative rather than a “game” in any traditional sense. A “choose your own adventure with an interesting game-like interface” kind of narrative to be sure. But chiefly a narrative none the less.

                    (I realize I’m attempting to re-define “game” in the middle of a discussion, on a page labeling the work in question as a game which the author has enjoyed a great deal, but this criteria of meaningful interactivity seems worth it.)

                    Would it have been better served without the trivial interactivity? Perhaps. The authors and developers of TWD probably thought that this was the best way to tell the story. Or, at least, the most profitable and engaging way.

                    But, if all the interactivity was removed, we’d hardly be having this discussion about “games” would we?

  3. Jokerman says:

    Also, loved XCOM. This was an amazing year gamimg wise for me. I dont think i disliked a single game i played….

    Far Cry 3 – just got it, liking it so far.
    Dishonored – Loved it, sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much Shamus.
    Mass Effect 3 – Yea, still down as a like.
    Sleeping Dogs
    Spec Ops: The Line – Did not love it….but it was good.
    Silent Hill: Downpour – First good Silent Hill game in a loooong time.
    Amalur
    Max Payne 3
    UFC3
    Metal Gear Solid HD
    The Witcher 2 – I played it this year, amazing game.

    Worse game of the year for me was Hitman: Absolution, hated it as a hitman game….not bad really though.

    • Aldowyn says:

      My two main games I regret buying are Diablo III and Guild Wars 2. Both at least decent, but not worth $60, especially when that bought so many awesome games. Even Assassin’s Creed 3 I don’t really regret.

      • Wedge says:

        Yeah, I’m kindof wishing now that I hadn’t paid $embarrassing amount for the D3 collector’s edition, because the game was pretty disappointing for me for whatever reasons.

        All in all, though, I can’t complain about 2012.

    • Henson says:

      Same for me with Witcher 2; I played it back in January.

      And while it was a really fun game, and I generally regard it as a better game than the first, there were a lot of things I missed from Witcher 1. The way potions work. Design of menus (especially alchemy & herbs). Meditation at fires only. Being able to try out skills at lower levels (bronze points) before specializing (gold points). That very different, very distinct Eastern European feel.

      Still, great game, and thank goodness I could still play it in Polish.

      • Rosseloh says:

        At the risk of sounding cliched (especially for this site), and bringing up the old argument, I think that was mostly the woes of the console-port. The first one was designed from the ground up as a PC game. The sequel was developed for a cross-platform release. Most of the UI changes that I noticed easily appear to stem from that, as well as the control differences.

        Still love both games, of course. I need to reinstall The Witcher and give that another run.

        edit: color me surprised, I didn’t know the xbox port wasn’t out until 2012. And I thought it was out for PS3 as well. I guess that’s what I get for staying mostly on the PC.
        I think the design points still stand, however. It was obvious from that leaked pre-release video that they were at least thinking of controller-based input, not to mention the fact that the PC version supports a 360 controller natively.

  4. krellen says:

    Hey! Borderlands 2 sure is fun wheeeeeee!

    Well played.

    • Nyctef says:

      I really liked BL2, except for one thing:
      “Borderlands 2 largely fixes this by maintaining a consistent tone” – I really disagree with this. Parts of Borderlands 2 (especially the sidequests) were hilarious, and a whole bunch of fun to play though. Other parts (especially some bits of the main quest) are absolutely tragic and sad to the point where I just want to stop playing. There’s a real sense of mood whiplash and I often felt guilty for going off to do sidequests when I should have been trying to kill Handsome Jack with every ounce of my being.

      I mean, obviously the writers did an amazing job on there. But it made the game a bit less fun to play for me.

      • Paul Spooner says:

        Haven’t played BL2, so all of this is per let’s play observations:
        I found Handsome Jack a really excellent antagonist. So good that, as you said, you kind of feel guilty for getting distracted. Also as you said, this isn’t really a writing problem, but a game-design problem. I’d like to explore this a bit.

        TL:DR Actions should have concequences.

        Ideally, the game would reward you for trying to solve the big problem (HJ must die) first. Putting off the main quest should make the main quest more difficult as HJ accrues power, etc. Doodling around with side quests makes you feel bad because in the real world this would be the equivalent of polishing the brass on a sinking ship. But there’s a mood dissonance between the game itself, and the game the writers are telling you about. The game itself will give you as much time as you want. The game the writers inform you of will not.

        Thus (ideally of course) you should be given the choice to persue side-quests at the cost of main-quest repercussions. Want to save granny’s cat? Fine… but the Big Bad crushed another town while you were at it. Don’t get distracted hero! Then, after HJ is down, you could go back and fiddle with some side-quests if you want. Or maybe the time-critical side-quests have already expired. The granny is sad that her cat died, but you can still feel justified that you ignored her plight in favor of solving a bigger problem.

        In short, I feel like an excellent motivating antagonist deserves the support of the entire game world to drive home the point that “this is a problem!” Side-quests should hurt the main quest. Grinding should hurt the main quest. Inventory management should hurt the main quest. If you enjoy these things more, great! Go do them! But if HJ is really that evil and such a pressing concern, the game mechanics and setting need to enforce it.

  5. James Schend says:

    Trying to avoid spoilers, but Dishonored *did* give you exactly what you’re asking for but you didn’t play long enough to get to that point.

    The characters were bland, though, I’ll give you that.

  6. Raygereio says:

    I should love this game. This should have been my game of the year. I should have played through it three times.

    I was really excited about Dishonered. And not because of the hype machine eather, I got myself alll hyped up from just watching gameplay footage.
    But after having played it, I feel similarly about Dishonored. I found myself unable to care about anything that was going on. The plot and characters weren’t interesting and even moving around the levels and city never felt fun to me.

    Dishonered won my “Wasted potential” award for this year. They could have done better with what they had, but they didn’t.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Yeah, I can’t say I got much into the characters, the fact that I thought the “character” you carry around with you was one of the most interesting is telling. I also couldn’t shake the feeling like the world had some depth to it but it just wasn’t explored, and the whole Outsider arc (if you’re willing to call it that) was a serious letdown.

      That said the gameplay managed to pull me through the game, I really enjoyed using my powers to travel the levels and poking my head into all sorts of nooks and crannies for a chance of listening on some conversation or finding something interesting lorewise.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I’ve been saying ‘hey Dishonored sounds awesome’ since like …E3 2011? There were a LOT of times I was like “hey have you heard of Dishonored? It’s like Bioshock meets Assassin’s Creed!” and people were like “no that does sound awesome!”

  7. kanodin says:

    Is the morality system pushing you away from fun mechanics a problem? I thought that was by far the most interesting and even daring part of Dishonored. They succeeded at creating a real temptation narrative where you want to be evil because evil has the best toys. Contrast this to, oh, most of the games spoiler warning has covered: mass effect, bioshock, or fallout 3 where being evil is pointless, gratuitous, and unrewarding.

    That the moral choice system actually mattered is what sold me on Dishonored, and being willing to make your game less fun for the sake of story is a really gutsy move.

    • StashAugustine says:

      I haven’t played Dishonored yet, so I’m kinda talking blind here. But, while the idea of tempting the player with the evil choice because it’s unarguably more powerful is a good idea, I’ve heard that the problem is that game is, roughly speaking, designed around an evil run.

      • psivamp says:

        The lethal/evil fight mechanics are more varied and interesting. If you approach a fight with the intention of non-lethally dealing with people you only have two options, choke or sleep dart.

        I found the game rewarding to play in both styles, but the lethal/evil approach is more immediately enjoyable. You can attach mines to rats, possess those rats and run them up to people. You can stop time when someone shoots at you, possess him and stick him in the path of his own bullet. You can blow people up. You can do that crazy whirlwind of death during stop time that was shown in some YouTube video where he murdered like seven guys before any of them could blink.

        But, all of that is wrong. You shouldn’t kill people because they’re just doing their job or they’re sick. It can either be an interesting tension, or a frustrating and un-fun tension between narrative and mechanics.

        • Mike S. says:

          Though the situation is complicated by the fact that the low chaos choice isn’t clearly the good choice much of the time. Not randomly murdering guards for doing their job, sure. But there are people in the game who could arguably use killing, and the nonlethal choices re the major targets are… not necessarily kinder than killing them.

          (Leaving aside the plot logic question about just how your moral choices have some of the effects they do. You may be magically empowered, but you’re still only one person making marginal additions to the death toll of a collapsing, plague-ridden society.)

          I still think the game was very well done. But it would be interesting to introduce that sort of restraint/temptation mechanic in a game with a more clearly defined and more relatable morality.

          • drkeiscool says:

            The “Evil has more fun toys” didn’t work for me, though. I approached the game as a stealth game, and I have the most fun in a stealth game when I only use my basic abilities (choke, sleep dart, and blink for example). Everything else feels a bit gratuitous. I think Evil was more fun in game when using only the sword and gun, because I felt a whirlwind of bloody death.

            Also, I assassinated most of the main targets, but avoided the guards, and still got the Good ending, so there’s that.

    • Raygereio says:

      being willing to make your game less fun for the sake of story is a really gutsy move

      It takes balls to do that, true. But so does kicking a bear in his future child support while naked and covered in honey.
      Both of these things are also not smart.

      Dishonered’s combat system is pretty engaging (I found that side of the gameplay actually far more fun and polished then the sneaking), but the game flatout tells you: “Don’t use this. If you kill people, you’re a bad person and I will tell you you’re a bad person.”.
      Sure, you technically have the freedom to aproach the missions in various ways. But if you do anything other then non-lethal & stealth, you have to put up with the game judging you. It’s annoying.

      And for that matter, I’m done with the whole Good/Evil dichotomy. I don’t care you if rename it Open Palm/Closed Fist or Order/Chaos, it’s still just regualar old Good/Evil. And I never found that to be interesting, not for gameplay and not for narrative.

      • Varil says:

        Oooo! Don’t even remind me of Open Palm/Closed Fist. The description made it the best sounding alignment system ever(Idealism vs. Pragmatism, mostly), but instead it was Saint vs. Jerkwad, the Jerkening. AGAIN. It occasionally paid lip-service to what the alignments were *supposed* to be, but could have been so much better.

        Still hoping to someday see a Jade Empire II. Same great gameplay, and maybe actually making the alignment interesting this time. Please? Someone?

        • Aldowyn says:

          Same thing as Paragon Renegade. They can’t even implement it right either >.> IMO the morality and charm/intimidate systems in Mass Effect are easily the most fundamentally flawed of their mechanics.

        • Wedge says:

          Yeah, this is what bothered me about BioWare’s black and white (or blue and red, as it were) morality in every game after KotOR. It was introduced in KotOR, because KotOR is STAR WARS. It makes perfect sense for a Star Wars RPG to have a black and white morality system because Star Wars has an actual in-universe morality mechanic that works (kindof) the same way. It’s not just that it fits, it’s an inseparable part of the setting–Star Wars without the force is not Star Wars. But the fact that they carried it on to games that had nothing to do with Star Wars was a stupid decision that hamstrung their writing and made the gameplay options in those games worse.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Yeah. This. Dragon Age is the game with their best morality system since KotOR, and guess what? It DOESN’T HAVE ONE.

            Reputation systems are much more realistic and flexible than binary moral ones :/

            • Mike S. says:

              Though I find it a lot easier to take a Renegade option that I think makes sense than to get one of my imaginary friends mad at me.

              Bioware tried to address that with the Rivalry option in DA2, which I’m told actually works decently. (Unlike various other aspects of the game, which we don’t need to rehash here. :-) ) I hear you can actually dissuade your companions from pursuing some of their crazy schemes rather than passively enabling their self-destruction But I never found out, because while I didn’t always max out Friendship (sorry, Fenris– I didn’t want to have to kill you), I was too skittish to max out Rivalry.

              (If only I liked the game better, I’d do another playthrough in which I told, e.g., Merrill just why what she was doing was a no good very bad idea, early and often, just to see how it played out.)

              • Khizan says:

                You can’t always talk them out of their crazy schemes, since that would remove questlines, but they do respond to them differently. 100% friend Merrill and 100% Rival Merrill react to their final quest very differently.

                • Kavonde says:

                  100% Rival Merril’s ending was very, very satisfying to me, after I’d spent my first playthrough trying to be diplomatic towards her. The only thing that would have made it better would be getting to deliver a firm slap upside her head.

              • lurkey says:

                While rivalry is fun, it doesn’t work that well either. Say, it makes sense when tough love inspires Merrill to be less stupid or pirate tart less selfish, but why would paranoid ultra-radical mages’ rights activist, possessed by an essentially single idea, want to be around a person who always sides and supports the organisation he is actively sabotaging? Or why a dude who hates mages keeps going on adventures with a mage he hates? And why city’s chief policewoman hangs out with outlaws, suspects and shady sleazy types, whatever alignment, all the time? For seven years?

                …ahem. I guess that would be one of them aspects that we don’t need to rehash here, namely “Nothing in DA2 makes any bloody sense” aspect, so, er, lets not rehash them.

      • Mm. Although I think the fact that it keeps creeping back in no matter how you try to redefine the axes says something about the concept.
        Good/Evil may not be interesting, but it’s more relevant than people often like to think.

        Seems to me though that they just didn’t try hard enough. All those cool mechanics for killing and nothing for the supposedly preferred option? I mean, if you’ve got awesome mind powers surely some of them should be usable nonlethally. Just the powers mentioned by psivamp above should have nonlethal/stealth applications. Stop time and run across the guard’s field of view in between his moments, for one. Possess person and make him hold still while you tie him up. And if you can flat-out possess people, surely some sort of mesmerism should be do-able; it’d be cool to just make the person hand you the key and forget you were ever there: “When I snap my fingers, you will awaken . . . “

        • Raygereio says:

          Although I think the fact that it keeps creeping back in no matter how you try to redefine the axes says something about the concept.
          Good/Evil may not be interesting, but it’s more relevant than people often like to think.

          That’s because regular Good/Evil is easy to do. Setting up a Grey/Gray sort of thing, where there is no clearly defined lines between good and bad, or even no good or bad at all, is much more difficult.

          • krellen says:

            You imply doing a difficult thing is more worthy than doing an easy thing, which I fundamentally disagree with. Why should we be encouraging creators to force us into situations where there is no “right” answer, where there is no good choice? Why should my entertainment be constantly boiled down to Sophie’s Choice, with no real solution to anything?

            FUCK DARK AND GRITTY, and fuck everyone that thinks it’s the better way.

            • Raygereio says:

              I think you’re under the misunderstanding that DARK, GRITTY, EVERYONE-IS-AN-EVIL-BASTARD nonsense is what you end up with if you go for a Grey/Gray sort of thing.

              It’s not, at least it’s not what I’d go for.
              I’ve grown to dislike Good/Evil in games (and other forms of media) because it invariably lacks all notion of subtetly. You always end with extremes, and that doesn’t make for good stories in my opinion.
              More importantly, when done correctly (meaning my way), there would be a right way. There would always be a right way as the right way would be whatever you – the player – wants the right way to be.

              • Dasick says:

                Hmm. Nah, that’s just a silly do-what-you-want-cause-it-doesn’t-matter type thing.

                What I would like to see is this: No inherently right or wrong way, but whatever the way you choose you have a chance to make it right. Freedom and consequence.

                Unfortunately, most games can’t do that because there is no way to actually enforce the consequences. If you make an option clearly the right thing to do, no matter how hard you make it the player has essentially Immortality and Clairvoyance via an Unlimited Temporal Displacement Device, that is triggered automatically on player death, and games are not designed to be fun in the absence of such a device.

                • Fleaman says:

                  I haven’t played Dishonored yet, so I don’t know if the game actually lives up to this; but I liked the way the morality system was described. “Evil” choices are called “Chaos”, because butchering guards and spreading plague incites terror in the population and increases repression from the guard. Your actions make the world a shittier place. It’s a concrete corruption rather than a spiritual or metaphysical one.

                  As far as I’m concerned, morality systems are a mechanic for building immersion and engagement by having the game world acknowledge the player’s activities (and if they’re not doing that, then they aren’t doing anything and are a waste of time). When I’m bored with Good/Evil in games, it’s because the game didn’t care about how Evil I was. If I chop up everyone in the Hero’s Guild and have horns and red smoke coming out of my eyes, I think the Guildmaster should maybe stop assuming I’m the right guy to save the world. If I fillet a hundred respawning guards and leave their bodies in a goofy pile in the middle of the market, I want the Imperial Guard to know my face and never forget it. I want to go to the tavern and overhear hushed conversations about the Chopper of Skingrad. I want to be confronted by a band of heroes and then sealed forever into a magic amulet. The heroes go “It’s over…” and two of them kiss and the credits roll for some completely different game as the sun sets over the sea and they pay their respects to a dead comrade you’ve never met.

                  • Dasick says:

                    Sound like you want to play Mount and Blade. It’s not there, but it scratches the itch. Or maybe Dwarf Fortress.

                    And yeah, I do wish for those kinds of games where the things I do matter. But I think that we will never achieve that if we keep tying games to stories and and other highly authored content that require actual humans to spend years of creative work.

                  • Alexander The 1st says:

                    I wouldn’t even call Dishonored’s system Good/Evil – as people point out to me on occasion, sometimes the non-lethal choices for taking down a mission target are worse than death (Branding the head priest a heretic for example, or Forcing the mine owners to work anonymously in their own slave mines aren’t the type of things Paragon Shepard would do.), which Chaos *always* goes for.

                    Only got the Low Chaos ending at the moment, but it tries to paint the whole “You’re sent to kill those who framed you for a murder you didn’t commit” issue as saying “You didn’t give in to your rage.” or such. Which is true – short of the Corvo Comet (That is, Blinking onto an enemy’s head from a high falling position), there’s no real aggressive way to take on the guards and weepers non-violently, and you have to store the bodies safely for the non-lethal achievement. You’re going out of your way to make the place not worse – Batman, if you will.

                    Whereas with Chaos, it’s about achieving your goal with all the skills at your disposal, while giving in to the irony of trying to clear your name of murder by murdering people. Most of these people deserve to die anyways for how they’re treating the city, but it’s an eye for an eye treatment of the abusers of power. Iron Man, if you will.

              • krellen says:

                As a believer in absolute morality, I cannot truck with the idea that “whatever you think is right” is the right answer. There exist things that are objectively right and wrong.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  Off topic, that is an interesting philosophy, in that it flies in the face of pretty much everything I personally hold true. Namely, that everything–personal behaviors, sociological & governmental constructs, and technological advancements as well as more concrete things like manufactured goods or services rendered–has a price. This price may not have a explicit means of measure–free speech, for example, carries the cost of human dignity for those in the spotlight, pain and suffering for those who wrongly end up on the wrong side of public opinion, security from ne’er-do-wells who capitalize on the communications infrastructure to perpetrate scams on a massive scale, etc.–however, the cost is always there. Given the relative nature of this scale of costs, there’s no such thing as an “Objective right,” only “acceptable collateral.”

                  On topic, I think you can make gray areas without it always being Sophie’s Choice, and I wish games would do that. However, there are a number of issues that make dark and gritty MUCH easier if you want Gray/Gray choices. First, it generates more conflict if people don’t like either option. This artificially and lazily ratchets suspense in the scene, but it works.

                  Second, it won’t tick people off. No one is going to be angry if they get a unsatisfactory result from Evil Option 1 versus Evil Option 2, because they don’t like either option. If you make someone pick between (say) a fiscally conservative vs. a fiscally liberal option, it’s virtually guaranteed to piss pretty much everyone off.

                  So yeah, I would like less dark and gritty, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for a game that combines a moderate tone with a morality system beyond “lawful stupid vs. evil jerkwad.” And if my choice is between “less depressing but black and white” and “dark and gritty but I have to actually think about choices” (see the cost system at work here?) I’ll take dark and gritty.

                  • Paul Spooner says:

                    I would love to have a philosophical discussion with the two of you. I think you may be talking about the same thing at two different scales.

                    On topic: I’m pretty sure the good/evil thing needs a reference point. “Compared to what?” is the question. In traditional religious settings, it is “Compared to God” and nearly everyone sucks. In traditional humanist settings, it is “Compared to Man” and nearly everyone is average. Departing from that requires another answer, and probably new axies as well. But, if there is no “better” or “worse” choices, then there is no game, because there is no conflict.

                    So whatever the axies, whatever the coordinates, you are going to be dealing with a numerical scale of some kind. These are computer games, they deal with numbers; No matter how fancily the math is obscured by verbiage, philosophies, and/or lens flare. The “meter” will always be there in some form, as long as the game judges your performance at all.

            • Aldowyn says:

              In a proper choice it should be based on different perceptions of good. Liiiike… The choice to turn or destroy the Geth in ME2. Or at least half of the choices in Dragon Age.

              Binary good/evil is BORING to me because there’s no actual choice. You’re not choosing between the options given, you’re just following a set path. “Oh you’re paragon well I guess you have to release the Rachni Queen then!” And the mechanics prove you right.

              • Mike S. says:

                Paragon/Renegade really seems like it could be worked reasonably, with some decisions working out better when you extend trust and hope, and others working out better when you make the hard but necessary choice. (Possibly with ME3’s reputation bar if you want a persuade mechanic, so that you’re not pushed by the mechanics to be an angel or the Punisher.)

                The Rachni Queen decision, for example, was a perfect opportunity to make the Renegade choice give the best results even though the Queen is sincere and doesn’t betray you: kill the Queen, and there are no Ravagers, period. (The enemy is either that much less numerous, or they’re replaced by a weaker enemy unit.) Let her live, and yes, you can rescue her and she can contribute to the war effort (War Assets, whatever), but it’s made clear that the Ravagers are more of a threat than the non-indoctrinated rachni are an asset.

                If you’re a Paragon, you saved a species, and it stays saved (assuming you don’t get the Everyone Dies ending), but you made your own life harder and the overall war that much worse. If you’re a Renegade, you made a choice that made your difficult struggle less difficult and defended the lives you signed up to defend by not recreating a galactic menace.

                It would be a real choice, with real consequences, that doesn’t have the game hitting you over the head with which one was right, and doesn’t tell you that either choice leads to gray despair and corruption. The way they did it (with Renegade just making things unambiguously worse) strikes me as a real missed opportunity.

                • Dasick says:

                  The Feros colonist situation is an example of this being done right… almost. Among other issues, the game had to make either choice beatable to let people see the story.

                  To be honest, I don’t care if people try to make story-games (by the way, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG BLRAGAWARGAHWARGAWAH). But when game-games become almost extinct in favor of story-games, I worry about loosing my hobby.

                  • Mike S. says:

                    Feros works from a role-playing perspective, since Renegade Shepard doesn’t know what happened in Paragon Shepard’s playthrough, and it’s reasonable to suppose that trying to spare everyone just leads to everyone being killed. So Renegade works as a defensible moral position in-world. (Three soldiers trying to gas and punch out twenty armed people backed by plant-zombies? With the fate of the entire galaxy in the balance if they fail? The needs of the many, etc.)

                    But the omniscient player is still left aware that the only reason anyone died was because the player decided they had to. I’m not sure how to balance that without getting rid of the nonlethal option entirely (in which case there’s no choice) or countering it with some other consequence.

                    I’m a well-wisher re the creation of sorts of games you like, even if I don’t consider it likely that I’d ever play any of them regularly. Like a lot of music, they strike me as a worthy art form that just doesn’t happen to be my thing.

                    (And if it makes you feel any better, the kind of story-game I like seems to be thin on the ground, and getting thinner. :-) )

                    • Dasick says:

                      In a pen and paper RPG you still don’t know how the GM is going to react.

                      Player Omniscience and Immortality is the result of saving-loading mechanics and player ‘death’. Whatever the solution is, it will cause it’s own set of problems that will require a massive fundamental overhaul, and I’m guessing the highly authored, finely crafted story is going to be one of the first things to go in favour of something more abstract and reusable.

                      I’ve been playing ME3 multiplayer over at a friends house and I’m completely baffled by it’s potential to organically create decisions to make.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      I haven’t played the multiplayer. What sorts of decisions does it present?

                    • Dasick says:

                      It becomes more ambiguous on higher difficulties and less frustrating with voice communicating teammates.

                      Saving a downed teammates is almost always a big risk, but you need their firepower and help with the objectives. Circular map design helps bring out flanking, and facing one direction all the time will get you flanked. Dashing for ammo, sometimes you’re exposing yourself. Deciding who is going to activate a node or carry the backpack since she will be out of action for that time. Some objectives require you to stay in a certain zone and sometimes you have to retreat to take care of enemies, but the balancing point between retreating and staying is fuzzy and shifting, since you get more credits the longer you stay in the zone (actually, you fill up a progress bar and the faster it fills up the more credits everyone earns). Using grenades, since you only get a limited amount per wave. Using medi-gel, rocket launchers and equipment enhancers (they’re a lot like ME1 amps, omni tools and armor mods), since you get a limited amount and it’s a meta-resource that you might not earn enough credits to reimburse.

                      It’s pretty standard horde mode to be honest, and the Awesome Button is still there, but there has been a lot of balance patches and the characters and weapons tend to be equally valid options, which is always nice. The amount of ambiguous decisions that actually matter to the system is staggering compared to ME1 and 2, and I do think a pretty cool single player game can be made on this foundation (given enough additional design)

                    • Mike S. says:

                      Thanks– that was very helpful. (The fact that some of the MP mechanics were used in the later ME3 DLC also helps me get some of what’s going on there.)

                      I’d certainly be glad to see the gameplay applied to a single-player game– albeit restoring the pause button, since I am unashamedly dependent on it in the ME games.

                      (Though only if I found the story and characters compelling, of course. ;-) )

                    • StashAugustine says:

                      Speaking of which, did anyone ever get twentysiders together for a match? I remember people talking about it back in the ME3 season, but I never heard anything about it.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      I got as far as friending anaphysik back on Origin… and then was distracted by other things to the point of not logging into Origin again for a while. So if anything came of it, I missed it. :-)

            • Dasick says:

              I personally prefer systems where learning to intuit what the right answer is the goal. Such systems have a theoretical right answer, but the journey to it should last as long as possible.

          • Dasick says:

            The way I view things, I don’t think that anything is truly gray. Rather, there are lots of tiny black and white things that create the illusion of grey when look at from afar.

            And regular Good/Evil is not easy to do, at least not effectively. It’s really hard to make a sympathetic Evil villain who must be undeniably stopped, and it’s hard to characterize a protagonist who is Good not because that’s her nature, but because that is the right thing to do, no matter how hard.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          My problem isn’t so much with the good-evil dichotomy but rather with how the games handle it, especially regarding player characters. On the one hand to rack up good points I need to do all sorts of stupid and illogical stuff, I need to suck up to people, I need to trust the obvious villains, I need to play by their rules… On the other hand playing evil characters isn’t fun because it requires me to be a jerk to everyone, whereas this isn’t how evil, even fantasy evil, should work. For that matter both evil and good characters can very well be engaged in the same quest, just with different motivations and without making those motivations overtly obvious.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Have you played KotOR 2? Because what you just said distinctly reminds me of Kreia’s philosophies. KotOR 2 manages to use and deconstruct the idea of a morality system, and everyone ignored what it said – or Bioware did at least >.>

            • Sleeping Dragon says:

              I did a long time ago and I am, in fact, reaching the point of being ready to replay it as it becomes somewhat blurry. I do remember I found Kreia’s/Traya’s philosophy fascinating in the context of the Star Wars universe which mostly deals with black-white morality (at least far as the original trilogy is concerned) and I remember her as an excellent character, though at this point nostalgia glasses are likely to apply.

              • Kavonde says:

                If you don’t quite feel up to replaying it, there’s an excellent, written Let’s Play of it from several years back. It covers a lot of the player-restored content and examines the philosophies and symbolism behind the game. Playing through it again myself recently, it really helped me appreciate some of the subtlety I missed back in the day.

                Also, if you don’t get it through Steam, you’re probably going to have some issues getting it running. Just a heads-up.

        • kanodin says:

          Uhmm, they do have non lethal applications, and specifically your example of using time stop to run past guards is in the game.

          @Raygerio, I can’t really argue, your complaints are all justified, but that’s also kinda why I respect Dishonored. Arkane knowingly created a game that would alienate a lot of it’s own audience, and did so for the sake of creating a piece of art about the nature of temptation. And I especially like that this idea is conveyed primarily through the gameplay itself, it’s not watching someone struggle with temptation it’s trying to get you to struggle with that temptation yourself.

      • jarppi says:

        I don’t think that good/evil choice is the problem here. It is, like you said, that ridiculous contrast between them. You are either all good or all evil. It is just so binary. 0 or 1.

        Anyway, that binary choice wasn’t the biggest problem in that game for me. There just were no characters (except Samuel, maybe). No real characters leads to no immersion. Which is bad. Really bad. And sad, because gameplay was excellent and so was the art style. Loved it.

        Dishonored wins my “biggest dissapointment” avard. Unfortunately :(

  8. ” wasn’t sure what to do”…
    “They came out at the tail end of 2011, and so they aren’t 2012 releases”…

    Do “review years” then. Ie. if you play/review the game in 2013 then it ends up in the 2013 pile. If you played/reviewed it in 2012 it’s in the 2012 pile.

    No need to make it any more/less complicated than that really.

    • Nick-B says:

      This is a good idea. Tying reviews or talk of a game to a calendar year when, in some cases, you have less than a month to even try it out (and with the speed of end-of-the-year releases being what they are, you cannot even play some).

  9. Muspel says:

    To me, it’s interesting that most of the best video game stories are the most linear ones. Despite all of the emphasis on open world and choice, it’s clearly a lot easier to write a good plot if you don’t have to worry about it going in a dozen different directions.

    What’s interesting to me, though, is the fact that in terms of basic structure, the Mass Effect series and the Walking Dead have a lot in common. They’re both choice-driven plot-based games with multiple installments that carry your choices over, and no matter what choices you make, they both hit the same major events on every playthrough. Both of them were more focused on the characters than a big plot arc.

    Despite this, Mass Effect wasn’t that great, and Walking Dead was fantastic.

    • Aldowyn says:

      It’s because TWD knew EXACTLY what it was trying to do with its choice and characters, while Mass Effect tries to do a lot more and doesn’t do it right.

      And yeah I’d agree with you about linear stories. It makes it a lot easier to make everything work out the way you want it to.

    • Khizan says:

      TWD was way less ambitious in scope.

      In TWD, you’re a dude who wants to protect a little girl in a zombie apocalypse and you’re concerned with small-scale things. Find a boat so we 5 can survive. Protect my immediate group. Survive one more night.

      In ME1/2/3, you’re the hero of a galaxy-spanning space opera concerned with the fate of multiple planets and, eventually, survival of life as we know it.

      It’s way, way easier to get something like TWD right than to get ME right, because the scope is smaller.

      • drkeiscool says:

        I don’t think it’s a matter of scope; it’s a matter of planning and foresight. TWD had a plan; it was a vague plan, but the developers had certain plot points they knew they wanted to hit. The Mass Effect Trilogy didn’t, though, and suffered for it (and lost a lot of people involved in the first one, which aggravated things).

        • Thomas says:

          I still maintain different purposes. The design goal for TWD was ‘make this story’ and the design goal for ME was something more nebulous like ‘create expansive universe with choices, combat and story’. Choices were never made to be a tool to tell the story like they were in TWD

          EDIT: At its most basic ME was aiming to let you play 2 seperate characters at least, TWD made you play one. That outlines the differences in how choices were used more than planning I feel

      • Klay F. says:

        Actually I think its easier to create a story with a large scope than one with a small scope, at least with regard to video games.

        Think about it. How often have you saved the country/world/solar system/galaxy/universe from certain destruction in a video game? If you are anything like me, it more times than you can count. Hell, even many games that profess to have smaller, more personal stories, still have you end up saving a city or whatever (Dragon Age 2).

    • Dasick says:

      To me, it’s interesting that most of the best video game stories are the most linear ones. Despite all of the emphasis on open world and choice, it’s clearly a lot easier to write a good plot if you don’t have to worry about it going in a dozen different directions.

      That’s one of the reasons I say stories and games hurt each other. I mean, if we’re removing choice from a story-game to make it a better story, why not go all the way and make it just a story, like a CGI film or something? If your goal is to tell a great story, how does giving the audience a bunch of false choices serve that purpose?

      Mass Effect and TWD both tried to do tell a character driven story and evoke emotion. TWD is generally considered to be more successful at it than Mass Effect. It also has less gameplay. Dude, imagine if we like, removed all gameplay from a game, how good a story that game would tell, dude.

      • Abnaxis says:

        If we removed the game from the story, TWD would be much, much worse off. I’ve never felt a much suspense watching a character fighting off a zombie in a movie as I have wrestling with zombies as Lee in TWD.

        IMO, the thing that makes TWD great is that the story and gameplay complement each other. They’re both mediocre if you try to analyze them independently from one another.

        • Khizan says:

          On the other hand, I think the gameplay often ruined my immersion in the story.

          Episode II spoilers:
          So there I am, hiding in a stall from the crazed cannibal, about to make a jump at him. I lean in, tell Kenny where he is, and lean back and BAM GUN IN MY FACE!. I fumble the grab and I die. Restart. I make the grab this time, which is not surprising at all, since I know it’s coming. But I expect that to be that and I miss the second grab. Bam. Restart. Up to this point, I have been comfortably immersed in the story, but the DIAS gameplay has now noticed my presence, and it raises its hand and slaps me out into the cold night of quicktime events.

          And that’s just one of the many times where the suspense was ruined by a missed click forcing me to repeat a section a time or two. IMO, it would have been a stronger ‘game’ WITHOUT those gameplay elements intruding at those moments.

          • Abnaxis says:

            That happened to me (well, the first grab; I don’t remember there being a second one…), but still, for me at least, the immersion I felt after the reload was more comparable to what I would feel watching a movie, compared to what I was feeling before when I was actually involved.

            Maybe I just have some sort of movie-armor in my brain, but I just don’t get even remotely close to TWD levels of immersion when I’m watching other people do stuff on the screen.

  10. StashAugustine says:

    I’m really excited about X-Com. I had a whole lot of nitpicks, but it hit a niche that really hasn’t been exploited. I can’t think of any major Western turn-based tactics games recently, and as a old Avalon Hill fan, I’d really like to see more of that.
    EDIT: Reading Shamus’ post about PAX, he mentions talking to one of the devs. Having seen ALL THE THINGS about X-Com before it came out, I have to say they have probably the best PR handling of any game I’ve seen.

  11. slipshod says:

    Thanks to the Steam Christmas sale, my game of the year became DX:HR. Spent hours upon happy hours messing around in Hengsha and Detroit, then bought the DLC and proceeded to alienate some more npcs.

    Dishonored strangely did not click with me, either. I was extremely excited about it, but the sneaking system ended up feeling awkward.

    …and Borderlands 2, of course. Still on my list. Maybe next Christmas; music gigs don’t pay enough to support my gaming habits, heh.

  12. My biggest problem with Dishonored (or Dish On O’Red, as I call it) was that the world the game wanted me to inhabit was so bloody miserable, depressing and SEXIST.

    Really, REALLY sexist.

    Admittedly, I didn’t make it all the way through the game, but during the time I played, I did not encounter a single strong, independent female character who wasn’t a)the Empress, and b)dead.

    I have to tolerate sexism and misogyny in real life. Why would I want to subject myself to it while playing in an imaginary world?

    • Asimech says:

      I think the defence with Dishonoured was “because it’s realistic” or something. I know that is usually the excuse for games set in a past era that are not historically accurate at all.

      • kanodin says:

        I don’t think realism works as a justification in a magical steampunk fictional whaling city. Now it certainly makes sense for these pseudo Victorians to be as sexist as the real ones, but on the other hand their ruling dynasty seems to mostly be empresses which you’d think might make them respect women a bit more.

        • Asimech says:

          Hasn’t in the real world, but there’s of course no reason why it wouldn’t inside a fictional one. Especially since believability and enjoyment really should be preferred over realism when the setting aims for the fantastic.

      • So, in the case of Dishonored, magically jumping into other people’s bodies is perfectly ok?

        But having female NPC guards (or any other role that’s equal to the male NPCs) in the game world would just be completely “unrealistic”?

        I don’t think developers realize how insulting that is when they give “historical realism” as an excuse for excluding or marginalizing female characters in video games.

        • Jokerman says:

          In fantasy games its ridiculous i agree, in games set in a realistic past then i let it slide. But a fictional fantasy world with an empress and future empress its pretty silly….the whole game you are fighting to put a female on the throne. Its not a valid excuses.

          Its an area Bioware deserves some credit.

        • Phantom Hoover says:

          You have a point, but that example is terrible considering that even today it’s impossible for a woman to serve as infantry in some places.

          • Asimech says:

            I fail to see how the current real world situation should define how it should be in a fantastical setting. The whole point is to avoid the BS of the real world in the fictional one.

            Also a female guard is a good example, since it’s a bit part and therefore shouldn’t be hard to make but enough to give a feel that the world is at least somewhat egalitarian regarding sex.

            • Phantom Hoover says:

              I have no idea why I have to explain why portraying a sexist society does not, in and of itself, make a game sexist. I suppose if someone made a game with a setting inspired by the old American South you’d call it racist for portraying slavery?

              • Asimech says:

                I’m not saying the game is sexist for not having female guards, I’m saying there’s no reason* not to have them for the benefit of the experience.

                * Or at least the “realism” angle for justifying a sexist world in this context is bad.

                • Phantom Hoover says:

                  The society of Dunwall is heavily inspired by Victorian Britain. As such, its prejudices and inequalities are largely those of Victorian Britain. You might as well accuse the devs of classism and imperialism as well.

                  • Asimech says:

                    Are you actually reading my comments?

                    I explicitly stated there I’m not accusing the devs of sexism.

                    I’m explicitly stating that it’s irrelevant what it’s inspired by, it’s still good design to get rid of sexist stuff since we’ve already got it in the real world, why would we want to escape to one with them?

                    Classism and imperialism could reasonably be argued to be core parts of Victorian era, as they’re what people tend to think when thinking about the Victorian era, but sexism much less so.

        • Asimech says:

          I think the “historical realism” excuse was given by fans, not the developers. But I haven’t heard much from the developers, so I don’t know.

          • X2-Eliah says:

            The game setting was initially meant to literally be as close to industrial-upstart London as possible. The whole ‘no women allowed’ thing may have spawned there.

            And yeah, the game’s setting is very, um, sexist. I guess if that’s the kind of stuff you notice a lot, then the game won’t be very enjoyable.

        • Naota says:

          To be fair, the setting is deliberately crafted to be a sexist place, and so far as I can tell it clearly treats this as a negative thing that (among other fundamental problems) is causing the city’s society to fall apart. It’s not the presence of sexism in the game world that’s a concern, but the way it’s presented to us and how the creators treat it. Dishonored could certainly have handled the subject better and with more awareness, but it was far from promoting sexism to its audience.

          Plenty of games feature worlds fraught with slavery, inequitable social classes, racism, and not least of all murder. Dragon Age’s inhumane treatment of mages by the religious majority doesn’t draw people’s ire, nor does the inbred racism between the Krogan and the Turians in Mass Effect.

          What makes sexism special in this regard? Why should every author need to pen a perfectly fair, peaceful, and equitable world for their characters to inhabit just to satisfy everyone’s escapism?

          Conflict, inequality, and even ignorance are important parts of fictional world-building. We can’t simply throw them away because reality would be better off without them. What’s important is being aware of their connotations in the narrative and the message they might send.

          • Kyoodle says:

            I agree, a completely egalitarian fantasy world would be dull. I thought sexism was handled fairly well in Dishonored and quite liked The Mary Sue’s article on it’s portrayal of women.

            ‘What makes sexism special in that regard?’

            I think thats due to those other conflicts not carrying any real-world emotional baggage. The racism between Turians and Krogan or the Templar’s persecution of mages are nice clean slates for the writers to build on.

            When real religions are used people do tend to become a bit more uncomfortable. I can’t even think of a game that uses real world racial conflicts.

            The only way to convey sexism in this way would be to invent a species with different genders.

        • Abnaxis says:

          A couple things:

          1) By the societal standards in the setting, jumping into people isn’t ok. It’s a power granted by a forbidden god–presumably, the god is forbidden precisely because he grants powers like this.

          2) To me, using “historical accuracy” isn’t a very good justification either, and I think the language used isn’t really expressing intent. However, including prejudice is a setting is accuracy of a sort. Defining power strictures based on arbitrary gender rules is a thing people have done and still do. Settings where gender/race/background/family don’t matter just aren’t as realistic as settings where those factors are salient.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          I think the infuriating issue is not the flaw of sexism itself (well, it is, but not only that), but that the flaw is assumed to not merit declaration.

          Taking it to a different perspective for a moment: I don’t want to play in a world with widespread cannibalism, so I don’t play horror, zombie, fallout, etc kinds of games. Cannibalism is a known and featured flaw of many of the characters in this kind of game, and so I can reliably avoid it.

          But (for reasons about which I will not speculate) sexism is not pigeonholed as a genre specific character flaw. Thus it is difficult to discern where it will crop up in games. If I want to avoid sexism (because, as you say, it’s common enough already in real life) I can’t just say “ok, no Victorian settings, and no dudebro shooters.” It crops up everywhere. In this, I completely support your point. If Dishonored had said “Set in a Misogynistic Victorian era!” right on the box you probably wouldn’t have bought it and would feel a lot happier right now. I’d say that transparency about these things is a win for everyone.

          Now, I’m not sure this is your actual objection. Perhaps you object to sexism being portrayed at all, in the same way that some people would object to the portrayal of violence in games. To that I can only say, developers have the freedom to express what they wish, and to limit their expression (even of sexism) amounts to a violation of their declared rights under Federal law. I don’t think this is what you are saying though.

          So, yes! More transparency! Before I invest time and money in a game, I want to know (in a general sense) what kind of world I’ll be playing in. Sexism deserves to be on the list with “a world in turmoil” and “populated by stingy misers” as something featured in a game world instead of merely assumed.

    • Nimas says:

      I suppose *technically* you could say the witch was at least independent. Although she could have the second criteria apply to her. Honestly though, I was disappointed too in the quality of the female characters, especially given this was a nation ruled by a female and was going to be passed onto a female (not sure if it was always an empress).

      I honestly would not have minded if the world sexist (older societies tend to be :( ) if it at least had some characters who at the very least chaffed against the restrictions. Preferably from both genders.

      • Raygereio says:

        it at least had some characters who at the very least chaffed against the restrictions

        There are. If you use the heart on the girl who takes care of the Princess, it’ll say she dreams of being a whaler, but can’t be one because she’s a woman.
        There’s also a conversation you can overhear in (I think) the Overseer mission where a guy is lamenting that his sister is persuing intellectual persuits, instead of being a good girl.

        Tidbits like that made me think that the sexism in Dishonord’s setting wasn’t just regular laziness, or malicious in nature, but mostly intentional. It could be concidered part of this world’s general crapsack nature. This is not a fun place, and the sexism is used to drive home this point to the player.

        Which brings us to a rather important problem with Dishonored narrative and on that Beldotti mentioned as well: This world is friggin depressing.
        It’s one of the reasons why I found myself not caring about this world. It’s such a dump and at no point during the game did I get the feeling that I was working towards making this a better place. If anything I was making things worse when I had the audacity to use the game’s fun combat.

        Also there is the unfortunate case of Lady Boyle. The non-lethal way (read: good way, or at least the way that won’t result in the game judging you) to deal with her is to condemn her to sexual slavery.
        Erm…
        Yeah, I reloaded and just stabbed the woman. It made me feel less creepy.

        • LunaticFringe says:

          I did enjoy that ‘women wanting to learn math is the influence of the Outsider’ discussion. Really highlighted how the political and social hierarchy was being justified by power elites in the most ridiculous of ways.

          I personally liked most of Dishonoured’s world building. I do like to see ‘crapsack worlds’ complete with major problems and issues that reflect a different cultural view point. The arbitrary class and sexual divisions really sold me on the fact that this society was completely dysfunctional. I actually thought they were going to hint at the Outsider being some natural response to when a society grew too decadent and deprived (since they reference a previous civilization being completely destroyed).

          I question the moral logic of several of the non lethal methods though.

          • Dasick says:

            I think that the chaos system isn’t about morality. Rather it is a system about your impact on the city. If Lady Boyle is found murdered in her house then it will cause more commotion and panic than if she simply disappeared (that will cause panic, just less since it’s not confirmed and people won’t start to really worry for a couple of days/weeks).

            The reason the city is able to deal with the plague in the low-chaos ending is because it had the capacity to survive that, so long as you don’t interfere and disrupt it.

            • Mike S. says:

              On the other hand, you have ways and means of disposing of bodies. (And could have more, if the game wanted to emphasize that it’s discovery that’s the problem.) As far as I know, killing the target increases chaos even if the body is dumped in the river or eaten by rats, even though in at least half the cases that looks identical from everyone else’s perspective to the nonlethal option.

              • X2-Eliah says:

                Well, if it is dumped in water or eaten by rats, then it most definitely would contribute a lot to the spread of the disease and/or rat numbers…

                Rotting corpses and well-fed rats, after all.

                Now, the ability that makes bodies disappear as you kill them, that is.. interesting. Does it remove the bodies from this plane of existence, or just teleport them a few city blocks away in some random place?

                • Mike S. says:

                  I’m willing to accept for the sake of the game that what you do metaphysically matters. (Especially since you have the attention of some sort of god.) But even a very bloody-handed Corvo can’t really be making that big a contribution to the body count of a city ravaged by plague and constant street violence, to the point of upping the infection rate and rat population by normal causality. (How many people does Corvo kill in a really psychotic playthrough? Dozens? A hundred?)

                • Nick says:

                  The animation kinda infers that the ability makes them crumble to ash, then blow away in the wind. You’ve still killed them and they’ll be missed, disrupting the world that way – but plague-wise it’s a good option

            • LunaticFringe says:

              I’m talking about things like the achievement for non-lethal play being called ‘Clean Hands’. In a previous discussion I jokingly linked to Bane’s “Your punishment must be more severe” quote because that’s what a lot of the non-lethal options feel like. Random example: You can kill the Head Overseer, or you can scar him with a religious symbol that discredits him and causes him to later become a Weeper (you can find him in the Flooded Distinct and mercy-kill him). I’d be much more inclined to not call it a morality system if Samuel didn’t praise or condemn your actions at the end.

              And killing only the intended targets still results in Low Chaos.

        • Fleaman says:

          I think a lot of murder sandbox games do this sort of thing. Think of GTA, or Hitman, or Prototype (less sexism in that one). The thought evoked is “This world sucks, and it’s fine if I have fun killing everyone in it.”

          I don’t have a judgment on whether that’s right or wrong vis-a-vis sexism. I just think that’s the reason it’s there.

    • Aldowyn says:

      The implication was there was that Emily would grow up to be just as strong and independent as her mother, for sure.

      I see your point, though. I guess it didn’t matter to me because the only characters I actually LIKED to any degree were the scientists, Piero and Sokolov. Oh, and that one maid with the bossy head-maid?

      • krellen says:

        How strong and independent is Emily really when her entire future is pinned on the example the player – playing the very male Corvo – sets?

        • karthik says:

          ‘Would grow up to be’ being the operative phrase.

          Whatever her qualities, she’s still a child who looks up to her father figure.

          Of course, this is not to dispute the original point of this thread, that the game is incredibly sexist. (It is.)

        • Mike S. says:

          I also wondered just how much of a renascence the reign of Emily the Wise could really be. She can’t wave her hand to replace the decadent nobility or the gangs who dominate the lives of the poor. Her economy depends on an ongoing mystical/environmental disaster. There’s an amoral chaos god giving people magic powers just to mess with things. Her mother was implied to be the prototypical Good Empress, and while things have gone downhill with the plague and martial law, I don’t get the impression that the general steampunk-Victorian dismalness is new. Emily may be able to make things better (though the influence of a monarch is easy to overestimate), but she can’t really make them good.

        • Aldowyn says:

          Well, she’s STRONG at least. But yeah, I definitely see your point.

    • Shamus says:

      “(or Dish On O’Red, as I call it”

      Oh my gosh. I thought I was the only one.

    • hborrgg says:

      I wonder if the game would have been better if they had actually done more to play up that aspect. No doubt many players would have been put off by the apparent sexism, whaling, dogfighting, class divisions, hedonism, corruption, general ugliness, etc. If a lot of people came to the conclusion that Dunwall simply wasn’t a society worth saving then that would make the outcome out to be a pretty decent moral choice.

      It is possible to bring an end to the empire of course, but the plot seems to make RPing an “F- it all” Corvo rather difficult. The Dialog, the missions, the character actions all tent to be built around the assumption that Corvo is single-mindedly pursuing the goal of rescuing Emily and putting her back on the throne to save Dunwall. It’s really almost as if the developers started to set up this really grey and complex scenario, but then wound up coming to a conclusion about what the right answer was way too prematurely.

      Or maybe Shamus is right that this was simply a year for pretending to choose things.

      • Paul Spooner says:

        Yeah, developers assuming you are going to do something is pretty annoying. Of course, the other option means burdensome branching of story-lines until the game is impossible to finish (for the developer), let alone keep track of.
        That said, allowing a single simple shift of attitude between “I’m trying to save the town” and “I’m watching the world burn” would have been helpful, especially since so many players probably have the later attitude implicitly. The initial bifurcation would still double the number of storylines required, but at least it wouldn’t be the x^x problem of true choice.

        EDIT: it’s not actually x^x… let’s say that D is the number of decisions you get to make during a game, and N is the number of choices per decision. Binary choice (choose this or that) means that N = 2, etc. Let’s call the total number of “game states” required for “truly meaningful choice” G.
        The “real” way to do this is with a summation series, but a really close answer (for D larger than 2) is:
        G = 1.5*N^(D-1)
        If each decision has three choices, and you get to make ten decisions during the entire game, the designers have to support around 30,000 game states. That number is why “false choice” is such an attractive option. Make N = 1 (choices don’t matter) and see what you get.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          Oops. Messed up my math. The exact answer (for integers N>1 and D>0) is:
          G = (N/(N-1))*N^(D-1) – (1/(N-1))
          Which simplifies to:
          G = ((N^D)-1)/(N-1)
          Not sure if that simplifies further.
          In any case, it’s a number that gets big quick. Too quick for traditional content creation coupled with traditional stories.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I have seen many people with this kind of attitude, and it kinda bugs me. I understand that you don’t enjoy it and while I’m not female I have had plenty of experience with the bite of prejudice. However, when I go to play my favorite game (or partake in my more favorite books and media), I am not playing to escape to a happy wonderland (otherwise, as an atheist, I’d never touch 99% of RPGs with a ten-foot pole; DnD astrology reserves the worst punishment possible for non-believers, worse than murderers and demons).

      Rather, I enjoy myself the most when I am mentally engaged, following a particularly engaging bit of intrigue or reflecting on real-world ideas being explored in a ‘believable’ setting. The sexism in Dishonoured makes the world much more compelling to me, because it is part of the struggle for power and a reflection of human nature. From the setting, I know the empress’s sex was a factor in the struggle for power even though I haven’t found an explicit reference to it (I’ve only played a bit through, though I watched Chris’s video on this subject) . The female empress is usurped and her killers establish a male-dominated power structure, using the tools of sexism and misogyny as they have been used in real life–to maintain dominance and power to the male status quo. That’s politics.

      I see three positive I see coming from adding sexism to the setting. First, it increases verisimilitude, and the more I believe the world I am in, the more engaged I become. Second, as I said above, it adds a new dimension to the struggle for power that is taking place in the story. And third, it reflects an awareness that sexism is actually a thing and points a spotlight at it (How many times have a you played a game where every single guard is male, but nobody bats an eye? I think a game where sexism is explicitly shown is preferable to one where it is omnipresent and implicit but never acknowledged).

      Why do fantasy settings have to be all knights and orcs and wizards? I get that you personally don’t like it, but please understand that there are people who do enjoy a little gritty in their media, and don’t write it off like it should never have been made that way.

      • Dasick says:

        I kinda do a double take when people talk about playing for power fantasy or escapism.

        If I just solved a complex puzzle or made an incredibly good decision, the feeling of power is no illusion, the game merely gave me the opportunity to test my abilities.

        Your brain doesn’t die when you play a game, you carry the experiences to and from them, sometimes subconsciously, but you don’t stop learning and applying knowledge.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          Which comes back the question of if it’s a good idea to play as a comedic flawed character. Do we carry the flaws with us? Do we carry the lessons learned from the consequences of those flaws? Tragic flaws seem more true and beneficial, but seem to be less fun.

    • Otters34 says:

      Hardly my business, but if I had to guess I would say “because they never thought of that.” For the people figuring out the story, sexism and misogyny would be things incorporated into that world almost automatically, as things that remind people of the time periods Dishonored attempts to evoke. Kind of like how it’s a given that people living in the land based off of ancient Egypt will have clothes and architecture shaped to remind you of that place and period. To give the people ‘modern’ sensibilities would jar with that, like if people in Egyptland wore togas, lived in igloos and talked about some variation of the Lord Chancellor of Chancery.

      Of course, there’s the simple and obvious problem that this ISN’T really our world and it’s no more ‘realistic’ with so few awesome women than if every lady you met kicked more ass than Corvo and had awesome lives where every day was an adventure. However, the fact that the world of the game is, as you said, a miserable and depressing place to live(a virulent plague, rigorously defined strata of society where advancement is meager at best, everything being slightly gray and cold) makes it plain that on some level it’s downright intentional. “This is a grim, SERIOUS place where most people don’t get a happy ending, kid.” seems implicit with a lot of the world-building. In that kind of environment playing the old-timey sexism card seems like a natural and easy way to reinforce that message. It’s just assumed that every place ‘like’ Dunwall is going to have mores and society like England’s was once, which gets hilarious FAST.

      The biggest problem, I’d say, is the simple fact that if the writers hadn’t gone the route of making the women in Dunwall so inconsequential, they’d feel like they were evading important issues that would make their work that much more serious and deep, and I doubt such…I don’t know, lack of verisimilitude? would fly with players who like gritty worlds and the ever-present sense of gloom that makes success in them all the sweeter.

      Lastly, I would bet that while the writers were aware that sexism is a reality, it’s not such a one that frequent reminders of it are infuriating and embittering to go through.

      EDIT: Darn it, late.

  13. Hargrimm says:

    X-com didn’t really work for me. It was okay, but I really had a problem with some fundamental design decisions.

    I’d explain myself, but these articles do it better than I could.

    • Kdansky says:

      Without reading them, let me guess:

      The shallow gameplay?

      Because let’s be honest, the actual tactical gameplay looks very good at first, but then quickly devolves into very repetitive busy-work, because the real underlying mechanics are just not very strong. You are never pressed for time (except for one terror mission, and you can safely sacrifice pretty much all civilians if you have to, but even if you’re slow, you can save 25% of them), so the ideal strategy becomes “move on guy forward, end turn”. If you need ammo, reload and overwatch with everyone, then end turn. If your scout encounters enemies, nuke them with your whole squad, then move the scout back. Repeat until win. You can only get in trouble if you either don’t stick to the plan, or run into tripple groups of super-mutons, and even then you can recover by sprinting the whole team the hell away, and spamming overwatch until the enemies blunder into your line of fire.

      The game was literally ruined for replays by going with an MMO-like “pull enemy mobs” mechanic instead of proper AI.

      • Aldowyn says:

        A lot of the problems with XCOM turn out to be that you’re better off the slower you go, both tactically and strategically, and there’s very rarely something pushing you forward.

        • Aldowyn says:

          *actually reads articles*

          I liked the first one, it definitely made some interesting points I hadn’t gotten at all since I haven’t played the original.

          But I couldn’t make it through the second, it was too negative, while the first one REPEATEDLY stresses ‘this doesn’t make the new one worse’. Once the second article accused Firaxis of having the goal of ‘making lots of money without doing a lot of bothersome work’, I quit. I guess I lost faith in the author. :P (Even if it’s TRUE it doesn’t change what the game IS at all, which is the point >.>)

        • Hargrimm says:

          Yep.

          I also found many of the rules too “gamey”. Like how soldiers only have one extra inventory slot and can only put one item in there, regardless of size or weight. How you also have to choose between three abduction missions every time they pop up, with no chance to intercept. The one base and one skyranger restriction etc.

          Then there is the way hits are calculated. Just a flat to-hit chance, without calculating the trajectory, which enables everyone to shoot through solid walls and enemies/teammates. The unnecessarily restrictive movement system…
          Basically everything covered in the articles.

          • Kdansky says:

            I didn’t mind these things so much. I can stove a pretty big amount of abstraction before it bothers me, but that’s a matter of preference. I can completely understand why this might bother someone, and to be honest, I would prefer a bit more realism myself in the “line of fire” department.

            And I have to add that I think XCOM made mistakes, but I’m very glad we can talk about those instead about how it was remade as a generic cover-based whack-a-mole. They tried hard, and failed a few crucial things, but at least they tried! While I didn’t get similar replay-value to the original out of it (I’ve played that every two years since its release), I was well entertained for 30 hours or so, until I cracked the tactical combat and got bored, so I don’t feel ripped off.

            I’ll buy an expansion if it’s decent, and I’ll buy another game like this in a heart beat. Make more like this! It wasn’t perfect, but it was still leagues better than 99% of all other games.

            • Dasick says:

              I agree with your sentiments, but it makes me kinda sad. Possibly the most interesting game with the longest lifespan of 2012, and it’s utterly childish compared to what we got 10 years ago.

              • Stranger says:

                . . . I can disagree, right?

                The first XCom was a very challenging game, and I very much enjoy it. However, I think the remake does a lot of things which work better. I can list six things which were an inexcusable problem in the original two games (as they shared the engine):

                – Aliens had maphacks. If an alien spotted you, all aliens knew where you were. If there was a Psionic/MC user in the mission, expect to be attacked on the aliens’ turn.

                – Extra bases were often underutilized, and chances were your main base was going to be the only target anyway if you had the stealth shield researched.

                – Alien bases/colonies would simply spontaneously generate after a time without a chance to prevent them. This leads to essentially a hidden limit before you cannot win against the odds, no matter how good you can fight them off. It also means if you take it slow and cautious you *will* lose.

                – Chrysalids were unfair. Tentacluts were more unfair. If an enemy had a Blaster Launcher, see point #1 and understand you *will* be hit with it if you give them half a chance to get a good path with it.

                – Research was broken in both the games. In the first, there was nothing stopping you from researching truly devastating equipment early enough aside from resources (and after three missions, you could probably have enough funding from black market sales to get your scientists). In the second one, there was a high chance of bugging the research so the game became unwinnable.

                – Due to various of these issues, it was almost a given unless you overused save games to avoid crushing losses . . . you were going to lose enough soldiers to make it a moot point to try to train them up. Also, training them to raise their stats was an arcane process never explained anywhere outside of extremely detailed FAQs or strategy guides. (Assuming it was in the strategy guide, I never owned one.) In short, you were expected to lose your men at a staggering rate until your tech level got high enough to get powered armor. Then you would still lose them to alien control, Chrysalids/Tentacluts, or Blaster Bombs.

                Put simply, the game was challenging, primarily because not much was explained to you by the game and it took a lot of glee in breaking your kneecaps and asking you to set a 100m dash record.

                • Dasick says:

                  Xcom was closer to the sweet point of balance between challenging and fair (while still way off) than Xcom2012.

                  • Stranger says:

                    But I found XCom 2012 more fun to play and less frustrating. Was it perfect? No. But the original was also not perfect.

                    BOTH games’ flaws are very closely related to the gaming ages they were made in. Back then some of these points I’d hold against the game were commonplace. And today some of the things XCom 2012 could have count against it are commonplace to other games.

                    I do disagree that the original was “better” in any objective sense. It had more play, but it was prone to a whole host of other issues. It had more strategic depth, but it was considerably more unforgiving . . . and had much much more busy work which was simply THERE cluttering things up.

    • StashAugustine says:

      I read the metagearsolid.org review, and I think the problem is that the developers were not trying to create a simulation. They wanted to create a tactics game about managing risk. Jake Solomon and the other devs were very clear in interviews that they wanted to make a game where the outcome of your actions was clear. Take the shooting mechanics- it might be somewhat illogical, but it gave you good information. This guy has a 50% chance on that alien, but this other guy has a 80% shot. On the other hand, he’s also got a shot on a more dangerous guy. If I move the first guy, I can get better odds, but he’ll be in range of a third alien. It’s a system of very clear choices (which is why the handful of slip-ups in communication like the oddities of flanking are so troublesome.) In the original, you have no idea what your chance to hit is. Sure, it gives you a percent, but the shot modeling means that it might hit a wall on the way over, or might hit the other guy behind him. You could move the guy, but it’s not at all clear how many TUs it will take to get there (adjusted by weight), turn, and fire. And for all the complaining about how illogical it is, I tried out the original XCom early this year and it’s not at all intuitive.
      EDIT: Sorry if that seems aggressive, I just liked the design of the game and enjoy talking about it. Just trying to have a discussion.

      • Hargrimm says:

        “They wanted to create a tactics game about managing risk.”

        That makes a lot of sense, although I still don’t like some of the design, even when viewed through that lense.
        A lot of the restrictions that force you to take risks just seem so arbitrary, which leaves me with the feeling that the game forces me to take *unnecessary* risk.(Which also makes me feel like the game forces me to behave like an idiot)
        Like the movement system that prevents my guys from getting back into cover after shooting.(Proper cover I mean, not the to-hit malus the game calls cover*) It ends my guys turn after shooting, regardless of whether or not he already spent one of his actions, leaving me feeling cheated out of my action points and them anchored to their position.

        * This also makes cover feel very… “floaty”, for lack of a better word, when combined with the whole “shooting through walls” thing.

        “…you have no idea what your chance to hit is.”
        “…not at all clear how many TUs it will take to get there”
        I agree, those were a little unclear in the original. I’m just not convinced that they had to change the entire foundation of the game from simulation to boardgame to correct this.
        How about a tutorial explaining these things to the player? And a function that let’s you “record” your actions before confirming them with an AP count, so that you can more easily manage your action points while planning possible moves.(essentially an expanded version of the “reserve snap/auto/aimed shot” buttons that let’s you see the total AP cost of your planned move before you execute it, or parts of it, preventing you from running out of AP halfway through.)

        Or, in short, more like Jagged Alliance 2 1.13.

        Something unrelated to your argument that I wanted to mention nonetheless:
        I never understood this whole “X-com feeling” angle that the developers were arguing for, because, for me, the game was not about that but rather the design of the game allowed for it to happen, because of it’s design. And that made it so unique and loved.
        The new X-com just feels like a shallow imitation to me, trying to elicit the same feelings without really “getting” X-com.(Yes, I know how this sounds. My point is that the mechanics themselves is what made X-com unique, not the feelings it evoked.)
        I feel like that after all this time, almost twenty years since the original, it would not be too much to ask for an X-com game that simply expands on the previous titles, improving it in every way. Things like balance(psi powers) and the aforementioned AP management. Iteration instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
        Instead, Firaxis went with their own “civilisation style” boardgame approach. That’s what they know best, fair enough, but I don’t feel like I should praise them for that alone or for “revitalising” the franchise, because I’m not looking for their brand of strategy in an X-com game.

        Call me unreasonable or entitled, but I still feel a bit betrayed.
        I wanted a simulation, not a boardgame, wah waah WAAAH!

        • StashAugustine says:

          I’ve played a little of Xenonauts (which is pretty good but a little behind schedule, look it up if you’d like a stricter remake.) It’s a lot more intuitive, but it still suffers from the fact that it’s a lot to juggle- managing 15 guys with 50 action points each is a little tricky. I wouldn’t be opposed to a more Fallout 1&2 style system, where you’ve got between 5-10 (more or less) action points (Fallout Tactics was pretty good except that it won the prize for Worst Inventory Design of all time.)

      • Dasick says:

        XCOM2012 was a noble effort, the original was far from perfect, and the Firaxis team deserves a medal. But I can’t help feeling that they killed some important elements that made XCom special. Getting killed by of-screen aliens may be frustrating when it happens, but it creates a feeling of persistent threat that keeps you on guard, moving, double-guessing your every decision.

        Calculating to-hit is a more clear system, but that may be the reason they removed the ability to shoot empty space and walls the stuff. If it is, screw that I want freely destructible environments back. The old model was more organic and it allowed for cool interactions.

        Time units seems to be a problem that is easily fixed by allowing the player to see how much does it cost to do a certain action or a series of actions. Maybe some sort of a dry-run simulation that won’t reveal hidden parts of the map.

        And speaking of map, why aren’t the maps random anymore?

        • StashAugustine says:

          The problem is that UFO Defense was both a tactics game and a simulation, and the simulation aspects were adversely affecting the tactical gameplay. Firaxis decided to cut back on the sim aspects to make a more focused game. I do miss the redshirt meat grinder and the mysterious shots from the dark, but Enemy Unknown is much better at a straight-up firefight. I know that simulations are a dying genre, but honestly so is turn-based tactics (at least in the West) and I hope more devs follow suit.

        • Nidokoenig says:

          I think the reason the maps aren’t random is because Firaxis decided they need to be planned out. Julian Gollop talks about his former colleagues at Ubisoft wanting very locked-down games where everything happened just so, which was a major problem in Ghost Recon: Shadow War, which was a lovely game, very evocative of X-Com, but did suffer from each level essentially being a puzzle to be solved rather than a situation to be dealt with. It was still forty-odd hours until I put it down, with only a few challenge maps unsolved because I couldn’t be bothered working out how to exploit the AI.

          This, I think, informed the move to pre-built maps and move-n-shoot. In X-Com, you could field a squad with no rockets, or up to twenty-six soldiers in the Avenger armed with rocket launchers. In XCOM, you can have six, if you make it a founding principle of that game session. In X-Com, you can have two soldiers and six tanks in the Skyranger, or fourteen soldiers.
          There are limits on how you can approach things, and this allows the devs to think of ways to implement puzzles they want to include, puzzles they’ve thought of. The issue is that this tends to lock down emergent challenges and play, and remove the fear that results from playing a random map that hasn’t been painstakingly designed, checked for balance and approved. It also greatly damages replayability by making the game “solvable”.
          Move-n-shoot makes the amount of ground you can cover and how quickly very predictable, and lets the devs design levels around those limits. It forces limits on all the fun toys, because if you only have one shot per turn, choosing between the pistol and the RAWKET LAWNCHAIR is a no-brainer[1]. It also probably lead to the the decision to have aliens spawn from roving pods rather than moving from cover to cover on the map before they’re seen seem a better idea than it is. Levels have a distinct and designed flow that kills any sense of unknown peril after the player settles into the game.
          That’s not to say it’s a bad game, but it shows a distinct decision to make a game that wasn’t X-Com but just felt like it, and to rebalance it and make a more reliable, consistent product.
          I’ve spent far too much time complaining and nitpicking about a game I don’t regret pre-ordering but haven’t played because I’m still saving up to buy a computer that can run it.

          [1]Whereas in X-Com you can have 12 laser shots per person per turn with a laser pistol(Auto four times). Or up to 312 if everyone in the Avenger has one and doesn’t need to expend any TUs. And you can save some TUs for reaction fire.
          Whereas you can have 14 rocket launcher shots, or 28 under absolutely ideal conditions that require very strong and accurate veterans(enough to carry and shoot two rocket launchers), expend pretty much your entire ammunition supply and leave no reaction time or movement points. And pretty much no map.
          This makes me wish X-Com(and Xenonauts for that matter) had an option to zoom out and replay a turn with simultaneous movement.

          • Stranger says:

            In XCom while you can shoot a laser pistol 12 times, well, it’s very inaccurate. VERY inaccurate. And you could get further sometimes by throwing that pistol at them. Or just say screw it and throw grenades.

            Really, the laser weapons in the first game were of questionable use.

  14. Urs says:

    Oh, Walking DeaLA-LA-LAH-LAAAAAH I CAN’T READ YOU!

    scrolling…but I’m looking forward to do it later when I’ve played through the final 5th episode. I have to thank you (guys) for being at least fifty percent responsible for me finally getting over my reservations and buying it. One word: Fantastic.

  15. Jarenth says:

    2012 was a pretty interesting year for games, wasn’t it?

    Were I the sort of person who gave out year-end awards, XCOM would probably be the clear winner. It’s one of the only games I’ve ever started a serious second playthrough on, and I might even go for a third later. Plus there’s that whole four-month Let’s Play thing.

    Which, incidentally, I should probably make a better organizing page for. The actual opening post is here, if any of you here got interested by Shamus’ link but chose to read these comments before clicking his. And every post links forward into the next one, because I at least try to give a nod to user-friendly navigation every now and again.

    EDIT: Also, I love how the main Council guy pronounces the XCOM Project, which is in such a way that I feel only bolding it does it justice.

  16. Nick-B says:

    Dishonored ended the exact same way with me, Shamus. I got about 4 levels in and… stopped playing. I’ve always leaned towards non-lethal encounters and ghosting levels, but this game does not really seem to encourage that. The money-hunt just leads to being able to purchase more lethal upgrades, yet the game discourages it by slapping a “immoral!” label on you if you try it. There are no “fun” spells to use as a non-lethal run through, and it’s astonishing that it forces you to brandish a weapon in your hand that you will never use for the entirety of the game.

    Borderlands 2 is my current favorite game. The humor in it is just spot on for my tastes (semi-random humor, no matter how crude), and it’s amusing to me to try to figure out JUST WHAT HAPPENED to all these people that made them turn out this way. From generally the entire bandit population (one side quest explains they were all family men miners put there by Dahl, before being abandoned completely later), to Tiny Tina (what happened to her to make her act like a semi-psycho 20 year old by that age?), to that woman in Overlook who hates Dave so damned much.

    Some gripes I have with BL2, though, is that they seem very stingy with good guns. I suppose it leads me to keep going, but it gets frustrating that I never even equip anything better than a blue until end-game because the rares I find are either bad, or too low level. And how the game forces co-op on you if you want to do certain things, such as the super-secret end-boss. Taking it on alone results in instant one-shot deaths that end up costing you money, wasting your time, and resetting the boss’ health so you can’t even zerg it.

    • Nimas says:

      Although I agree with you in that most of the upgrades for “good” were pretty lackluster. I, at least personally, wouldn’t say that you got no fun powers. I friggin’ loved teleport, and tended to framp about the levels with little regard for the actual mission.

      I suppose I’m a little biased ;) always love more speed based characters, and Nightcrawler does have my favourite X-men power.

      • Nick-B says:

        Teleport seemed like a cheap way of them implementing the ol rope ladder from thief, or other sneakier ways of passing guards. While fun, it also broke the game a lot when you can, if you chose a bad hide spot, just magically *poof* right behind said enemy with him totally oblivious to the loud *whoomp* noise of the teleport. Movement in the game seemed entirely based around it as baseline, negating the fun of watching enemy patrol routes and sprinting (or crouching) to that precious vault spot over the hedge or wall.

    • Robyrt says:

      I found that for about 2/3 of a non-lethal playthrough, I could spend all my money and upgrade points on things that were very useful. The game also showers you with achievements and lowered difficulty for going down that path, along with the moral angle, so I didn’t feel like I wasn’t being appreciated. It did get kind of blah, though, because the non-lethal powers essentially all trade a big chunk of mana for a free pass through whatever room you’re having trouble with.

    • Khizan says:

      The best approach I’ve ever seen to non-lethal playthroughs was Mark of the Ninja. Why? Because aside from a few distraction type items and their teleport, there wasn’t a lot that was important for a ‘ghost’ game.

      And why’s that good? Because too many of the fun toys make it into a reskinned violent game. Instead of a sneak attack kill, I get a sleeper hold. Sleep darts instead of throwing stars. Knockout gas instead of poison gas. Etc, etc. Eventually it ends up feeling like you’re playing like it’s a violent game, but you’re just stashing drugged guards in closets instead of corpses.

      • Nick says:

        Yup, killing people in Mark of the Ninja is fairly easy. Ghosting past them without them even being sure you were really there, therein lay the challenge (and for me, most of the fun – for my new game plus I killed almost no-one unessential and followed the Path of Silence throughout)

        Not that killing people wasn’t a lot of fun in MotN, but it’s way easier to stealth kill everything than sneak through groups of guards. Though the Terror dart with the upgrade is a hilarious, hilarious weapon

    • X2-Eliah says:

      I do find it odd that people who are disappointed in Dishonored are happy with Borderlands 2, of all things.

      I mean.. Okay, I have not played BL2, but it looks like your super-average shoot-everything-that-moves-while-blindly-charging-in maniac meatfest… Where does that offer what Dishonored doesn’t? Better stealth? More variety (oh please; more guns, maybe, but gun A vs. gun B is not variety)?

  17. Rack says:

    While Xcom neutered base building and was full of in engine cutscenes it did still really feel like an Xcom game. My biggest issue with it was the best strategy was to move forward slowly and activate overwatch every turn, dull but highly effective and there was very seldom any reason not to do so. It was also one of the major flaws of the original. I can’t really fault them for being faithful but I do hope they can release a sequel or new version that tightens up all the major issues.

  18. Asimech says:

    Nitpick warning. Well, that’s usual for me, but still.

    “It keeps the original gameply that worked, and improved on bits that didn’t.”

    From what I’ve gathered it’s more accurate to say that they successfully streamlined mechanics (a notable achievement) since some of the changes aren’t for the better but different.

    For instance the Move-action system requires that you choose an ability from the tree in order to shoot-then-move and you can’t pick up a fallen unit’s medikit to stabilise them. Both were possible in the original and both intuitively feel like something that should be possible.

  19. Dasick says:

    The new XCom is one of the better games of 2012 but I feel it really undermined a few core concepts from the original to the point where the amount of viable strategies is really low. Points go in order of importance.

    -Aliens only become active after you’ve seen them. In the original, I never felt safe and every move was a decision. The knowledge that they’re out there, lurking, taking positions and what not was really creepy and a great motivator to keep moving.

    -Non-random geometry. A big thing about the original was that even exploring the map was a challenge. Now you just eventually memorize the layouts and kills that aspect of the game. Plus, same maps breed similar strategies, to the point where the a dominant strategy becomes apparent.

    -No targeting environment/empty space. Wanna go flank the aliens by blasting a hole in the wall? Sorry, what did you think you were doing, being creative in a vidjageym.

    -Static roles and lack of inventory. Less strategical options, more binary design. If my heavy dies, there’s no decision who is going to pick up his role, even if she is less adequate at it.

    -Time units. Just kills a whole lot of little things you can with it, like shoot then move, or move to scout then decide what to do in that situation.

    • Asimech says:

      Fun activity: Think about problems in Xcom and think how much they would ultimately matter if it was a boardgame. Everything I remember and you said there should be either

      avoidable (e.g. ignore the “you can’t shoot walls” thing and just follow standard “I’m trying to hit something, how much I miss”)

      or a natural result of it being a boardgame and therefore unavoidable (e.g. aliens do nothing until found since they wouldn’t be in the game until found)

      Then try to act surprised when you hear that it was in its original form a board game. (Source: http://www.shutupshow.com/post/34426556753/su-sd-present-the-board-game-golden-age It’s long, but interesting.)

      • Dasick says:

        Xcom2012 as a system stops asking you to make interesting decisions. As flawed and clunky as the original was, it’s still asking me to make tough judgement calls given limited information, with a constant, persistent threat.

        The flaws I mention would still matter, because Xcom2012 fails the decision-making aspect, and it would still be as shallow as it is in boardgame form. I’m not saying the only solution was to keep everything Xcom had, but those are the differences that killed the depth in Xcom2012. They removed the pillars that held the roof, but they didn’t replace them with anything.

        • Asimech says:

          I don’t mean if they’d matter as a sequel to the original X-com, but from general gamedesign perspective. The problems are largely irrelevant or inherent in board game form, but very much real and fixable in video game. Basically they failed to translate it from tabletop to digital properly.

    • Tomas says:

      I totally agree with all your points, and in that very order too. Possibly with the exception of the last one (regarding time units), which I personally think is a reasonable trade-off.

      No. 1 is a bigger issue than all the others combined. You can always stay in place and be perfectly safe, while moving carries the risk of stepping on a hornet’s nest, or sometimes two. For regular missions, this means the game rewards playing a pawn game.

    • Stranger says:

      “No targeting environment/empty space. Wanna go flank the aliens by blasting a hole in the wall? Sorry, what did you think you were doing, being creative in a vidjageym.”

      Frag Grenades or Rockets do wonders. Which, BEING HONEST, is what I tended to use in the original too once I realized that a single shot wasted the entire clip for a weapon. So better to go with cheap grenades :)

      At least 2012 doesn’t make me pay for the grenades.

  20. karthik says:

    Shamus, there is one palatable character you meet late in the game (well, early in the game if you pay attention) who has some depth to him.

    So I’m with you on your criticisms of the characters and the story, but Dishonored’s worldbuilding was phenomenal. Somehow the setting melded steampunk, whales, Victorian era and police state motifs and made it all seamless.

    As abysmal as plague-ridden Dunwall was, I did not want that world to end. It was a post-fantasy world where magic and witchcraft elements were once prevalent but have been ostracized over centuries by industrialization and religion. I’ve never played any game that pulls off such a setting, save Thief, which is markedly different in tone.

    Sure, they missed a few tricks–mainly “show, don’t tell”–as the heavy lifting was left to the same old journals, logs and in-game books as in every game ever, and the heart was basically a clever subversion of the audio logs from games like Bioshock. But Dunwall, and by extension the Isles and the Pandyssian continent were simply fascinating. After the gameplay peaked (around Lady Boyle’s mission) it was the desire to explore the world that kept me going.

    Here’s a description of The Fugue Feast, for a taste of what I’m talking about. (No Spoilers.)

    Dishonored also did not feel the need to pull a Bioware and be ham fisted about its revelations and many small mysteries. The truth about the heart, Granny Rags’ history, and even the origin of the plague are things the player might never learn if she’s not paying attention.

    Finally, the game’s respect for the player’s freedom and agency is astonishing. I don’t know if there’s a (mostly linear) game made in the last decade that even compares.

    Plenty of missed opportunities, though. I don’t know what they were thinking with the Outsider–for one, there was nothing alien about him. They could have learnt a thing or two about being enigmatic from the G-Man, who serves the exact same role in Half-Life.

    • Zekiel says:

      Yes I wanted to chip in in Dishonored’s defence. I felt like it was the first time since Bioshock that I’d played in a truly original-feeling world. Even the tried-and-tested plague plot device didn’t irritate me (like it does whenever Bioware wheel it out). I wanted to find out more about the whaling industry, about Sokolv’s inventions, about Pierro’s history, about the history of Dunwall etc etc. I think that is an impressive thing in a game.

  21. Adam says:

    The great thing about Xcom is that they made it for PCs first, but for those of us without *ahem* robust home computers to run it, they ported it to consoles without losing anything from the tactical nature of the game. Imagine that!

    Compare that to what happened to Dragon Age: Origins, which was noticeably easier on the console than on PCs. Easy mode protected you from ANY friendly-fire damage, as opposed to reducing it by half on PCs. I guess they figured console twitch-gamer reflexes wouldn’t be able to handle the game. (Of course, in my case, they were right. My roommate and I hurled ourselves against normal difficulty in vain for a few weeks before I switched to easy and started loving it.)

    • Jarenth says:

      I’ll second that. My very first experience with XCOM was playing the 360 version at a convention, and that was enough to get me interested; looking back, the only really appreciable difference is that I just prefer mouse controls.

  22. Dasick says:

    My interest in in Dishonored kinda died on account of two things.

    1) The whole chaos system. I think they were trying to create a system where you have to cause chaos in order to progress, ie it’s a necessary evil, and the virtuosity comes from scoring as low chaos as possible. It’s a solid idea if that’s what they were going for, but it’s poorly executed.

    2) Quicksaving. I don’t know just how random is the set up of the quests, but every time I messed up the stealth I ended up dead and facing loading, which turned every gameplay decision into a trial-die-loading type-thing. I wasn’t getting better at playing the game, but memorizing patterns. Granted I was playing on the hardest difficulty, but in my experience this is where the game either falls apart or really snaps together. And it fell apart.

  23. Dude says:

    Yeeeaaaah Borderlands 2!

    I can’t say I’ve had more ridiculous gun-ketchup fun with any other game this past year. I’d say the first half of it was devoured by Skyrim and Saints Row The Third, and the third quarter by movies, and no games at all, and the last quarter almost entirely by Borderlands 2, except a few runs on Spec Ops and whenever a Walking Dead episode came out.

    This is so flawed for solo play at times, but now I finally GET why Diablo got so big.

  24. Dasick says:

    I wonder what criteria you would use for the “Game of the Year Award”.

    this game connected with me in a way that no other game has.

    But has it done that using *gameplay* or something completely unrelated, like animations and voice acting? And if the answer is “something completely unrelated to gameplay”, why would we ever categorize it as a game?

    • Zukhramm says:

      Animation and voice-acting is not completely irrelevant to gameplay. In TWD’s case either would be less without the other.

      • Aldowyn says:

        In TWD’s case, I’d almost say the dialogue system IS the real gameplay and not the adventure game mechanics.

        I wouldn’t necessarily say that doesn’t make it a game, though. At the very least it’s trying to redefine it.

        • Dasick says:

          The dialogue system is really flat. I mean, it’s a dialogue tree and those are really binary and easily exhaustible. The value of those isn’t in the tree itself, but the rather as a supporting piece for a much more organic gameplay system, or as flavor.

          If we’re judging dialogue as a game, Deus Ex HR did a much better job, and that’s still incredibly binary and exhaustible.

          (Oblivion’s persuasion mini-game deserves an honorable mention for the noble intent of abstracting and gamefying human conversations, even if it did fail miserably. Morrowind’s system of gambling is ok as well)

      • Dasick says:

        It isn’t gameplay, and 90% of the time it doesn’t stand for something that is happening to the gameplay. Is it really fair to call it a game, when you can remove the gameplay significance and the scenes retain their impact?

        All the gameplay really does is it creates an illusion that your choices matter. An illusion that is easily shattered on repeat playthroughs.

        • krellen says:

          The dialogue lacks its significance if the author is simply choosing the answer for you. The entire fact that it is you choosing is what creates the significance.

          • Dasick says:

            I’m not talking about personal significance which is a completely different thing, but if the choice you make doesn’t really affect anything within the game, what is it’s significance?

            • krellen says:

              Because it effects you, the player. It actually doesn’t matter one wit if a choice effects the game so long as it actually effects the player.

              • Dasick says:

                If a choice affects the game, the player learns something about the system. If the choice the player makes is hard and ambiguous, it is a decision. The player in effect is practicing learning, adapting and decision-making, highly valuable skills IRL and it scratches a very specific itch in the brain. It can also reveal who the person is by what the person does when pressed for a decision. If a game can maintain this process of decision making and learning not only the system but oneself for the duration of a person’s lifetime, it has great significance.

                Dialogue trees fall really short in trying to achieve the above. Should we not have dialogue trees that try that? Not necessarily, but there are more efficient way of doing this if that is the desired goal.

                • krellen says:

                  What can change the nature of a man?

                  • Thomas says:

                    I hope thats a reference to what I think it is. If so + infinity points/cookies/kittens

                    • StashAugustine says:

                      I’m about 2/3 of the way through, and I can’t help but respond with “Money? Power? No. A man chooses…”

                  • Dasick says:

                    I dunno. Is there a choice of dialogue that represents exactly how you feel provided by the game?

                    BTW, my answer would be:

                    “Nothing. The liquid does not change when given a different vessel, but it does fill it. The question you should be asking is, is it you making the vessel, and why not?”

                    • krellen says:

                      Yes. There’s a canon answer that is good, and my answer which is equally valid.

                      “Belief” and “Remorse” respectively.

                      In fact, most of the options given could be argued as a good answer (and “Nothing” is in fact one.) And it doesn’t MATTER what you choose – just that you do.

                  • drkeiscool says:

                    That answer doesn’t feel fair, if only because it’s too good (if that makes sense).

                    Planescape: Torment is almost made of excellent dialogue and storytelling. But if you look at Fallout 3, or KotOR 1, or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the dialogue isn’t quite as spectacular. A good dialogue system doesn’t actually rely on the system, but on the writer (and potentially, speaker) of the dialogue, and everything that builds up to it.

                    So many dialogue trees don’t work because the dialogue is sub-par, is what I’m trying to say.

                    • Dasick says:

                      Too bad it’s held together by a rather shoddy combat system that has nothing to do with the actually good bits, and serves as an arbitrary time-wasting barrier for people to enjoy it.

                      If you feel that the fact that you choose the line is an important part of it’s significance, there are still better ways of implementing this. Visual Novels, as they are called, are all about choosing your responses. I’ve presented my arguments on the role of interactivity before and can’t really say much, other that to me, it would have been equally interesting if the question was presented and discussed in a novel or a film.

                    • Thomas says:

                      A visual novel would lose out to Planescape though (by the way just for clarification I tend to use the word ‘game’ as an ‘interactive work’ because we haven’t really got a good word for that yet and going up the Visual Novel, The Walking Dead, Planescape, Mass Effect line the only clear distinction I can see is challenge gratification which would be a sucky thing to base a medium on (to me at least)) -because being able to move around in a living world was a key part of Planescapes feeling. My favourite section of the game was finding the secrets in Grace’s brothel. Imagine that sequence if you couldn’t choose who to talk to, you couldn’t run around from person to person with new threads of information. It would feel very flat and lifeless in visual novel form.

                      … But that actual combat should have gone, or been hugely lessened. Inventory management, free movement etc were all key pieces (as was the ability to have a fight) but the combat should have been purely as part of narrative/exploration/roleplaying engagement rather than something we’re expected to have fun doing by itself

          • Dasick says:

            The dialogue lacks its significance if the author is simply choosing the answer for you. The entire fact that it is you choosing is what creates the significance.

            So what you’re saying is that no matter how well written, well paced, appropriate the dialogue is, it will never have any impact on the audience unless the audience actively ‘chooses’ for a character to say that?

            When observing a work of fiction, I don’t need permission to think and to respond, to form my own opinions about the situation presented. I participate in a way significant to myself simply by observing.

            • krellen says:

              No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m saying that dialogue that is crafted to elicit a response based upon the viewer being in control is not going to be effective unless the viewer is in control.

              I was talking about a specific, not a general. Context is king.

    • Shamus says:

      “But has it done that using *gameplay* or something completely unrelated, like animations and voice acting?”

      Animations and voice acting ARE part of a game, in the same way that props and lighting are part of making a movie. You’re using the word “gameplay” here to make it sound like that’s all that matters. That’s like saying that the only thing that matters in a movie is the script, or the only thing that matters in a painting is what colors are used.

      “And if the answer is “something completely unrelated to gameplay”, why would we ever categorize it as a game?”

      I’ll just pretend that we’re talking about something that really is unrelated to the game. Let’s say I was in love with the box art. Therefore I say, “The Walking Dead is the Best game of the year because it has the best box art.”

      Then you argue that because I like it for non-game reasons, it’s not a game. This does not follow. My reasons for liking it do not alter its classification as a game.

      • Dasick says:

        Animations and voice acting ARE part of a game, in the same way that props and lighting are part of making a movie.

        Sure, they are a part of the experience, and they do have tremendous value in enhancing it, but if we start removing those things, their absence shouldn’t kill the experience (maybe cripple it, but that just shows how weak the core is). If the experience dies, then that was the core. Whatever a movie is really about, be it the screen play, the plot, the cinematography or even just special effects, everything else should exist in support of that one thing. If it doesn’t, wouldn’t we say that it’s disjointed, lacking focus or identity?

        My belief is that clear focus of what the work is about is important, and if something overshadows it, then it either needs to be toned down or the focus, even the form, needs to shift. No matter how good it’s elements are, a work without focus is not going to be great (unless the focus is the coming together of those elements – but that can be a focus).

        Then you argue that because I like it for non-game reasons, it’s not a game.

        Yeah I done goofed a logical leap. What I meant to say is that if you like something for reasons unrelated to gameplay, is it really fair to call it “Game of the Year”?

        • Zukhramm says:

          Fair? Games do not have feelings, what does it matter if we are unfair? We’re just talking about what games we liked this year.

          And if games crippled by removing the parts you call “unrelated” have weak cores there are few games with hard cores. Even Chess uses symbols like “King” and “Pawn” as well as physical position on a supposed battlefield. Sure, you could design a Chess game which replaces all these with complete abstract concepts, the different pieces just named “type 1, type 2″ etc. and with the position replaced with changing their color to a different mix of red and blue. Sure, the system of game mechanics is the same and as interesting as it’s always been but how we represent the pieces says a lot about the game, about what their values are, what their role within the game is and even about how they are used.

          Even a game like Super Hexagon wouldn’t be the same if it was presented differently. You could make something mechanically the exact same game by having six vertical fields on the screen and the player pointer moving around the bottom, jumping to their other side. Suddenly you can keep threats on all six “sides” in your view a lot easier, making a much more boring game.

          • Dasick says:

            Fair might have been a poor choice of words. I think it’s really silly and confusing comparing things that attempt to do wildly different things in wildly different ways. For example, TWD and XCOM are two completely different beasts and how do you even go about comparing the two in a manner productive to the discussion?

            And if games crippled by removing the parts you call “unrelated” have weak cores there are few games with hard cores.

            Yep. Just as there are few novels and movies and plays (and anything, really) with strong cores.

            Sure, the system of game mechanics is the same and as interesting as it’s always been but how we represent the pieces says a lot about the game, about what their values are, what their role within the game is and even about how they are used.

            In chess all of the theming it uses serves the purpose of teaching and representing the abstract concept of “Chess Game”. The other things are in support of the the thing Chess focuses on.

            And I didn’t say that artworks should be presented only as their cores, I’m saying that this is how you identify a core, and tell if it strong or not. There is tremendous value in enhancing the experience through additional means, but they should exist in support, otherwise you have a crisis of identity and the feeling that some parts are competing for attention.

            Suddenly you can keep threats on all six “sides” in your view a lot easier, making a much more boring game.

            Superhexagon is about measuring your manual dexterity and reflex. That’s what it’s trying to do. If allowing the player to see threats coming from afar messes with the measurement aspect, then it makes sense that whatever the presentation is, it needs to be surprising the player. That presentation can be anything, so long as it serves the core – reaction and precision, otherwise it would be broken and boring.

            The thing about the supplemental ‘fluff’ is that there needs to be a balance. Kinda like a diamond and it’s frame. The diamond needs to be a good stone, but the frame can help highlight how good a stone it is, and it would be silly to ignore that opportunity.

        • CaptainBooshi says:

          You’re argument appears to me, as clearly as I can tell, to be that the core focus of every game needs to be gameplay, or it’s not a proper game. This is just wrong. Gameplay is obviously an important part of games, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of every game. Gameplay is simply one of multiple aspects that a game has, and can choose to focus on.

          • Dasick says:

            Why is it wrong to try and categorize different works by their aim and means? We make such a distinction between documentaries and movies for example, and it’s a really handy distinction.

            Even physical ‘games’ do this. There are aisles for games, and there are aisles for toys and there are aisles for puzzles. And it make sense, since the overall goal and focus of those things is completely different.

            If the focus of a work isn’t the gameplay, then it is a different beast than something that focuses on gameplay. Not better or worse, but different, and I think it helps the discussion if we make the distinction clear.

            (Personally, I think the word ‘game’ in the English language has something to do with ambiguity and decisions, but being the dirty immigrant that I am, what do I know?)

            • CaptainBooshi says:

              “We make such a distinction between documentaries and movies for example, and it’s a really handy distinction.”

              What do you mean by this? A documentary is a type of movie, they’re not different things. There actually isn’t a distinction between the two, besides the fact that ‘movie’ refers to more things than just documentaries. If someone wanted to claim that “Man on Wire,” for example, was the best movie of 2008, I might not agree with them, but trying to argue that because it’s a documentary, it shouldn’t be in the running for best movie would be nonsensical.

              This to me seems a fairly apt analogy. “The Walking Dead” is a type of game that doesn’t focus on gameplay, and therefore should still be fair game for best game, just as “Man on Wire” is a type of movie, and could be reasonably considered for best movie, even though it’s a documentary, and not normally what one thinks of when talking about movies.

            • Urs says:

              For the record: I had very high reservations about TWD as I firmly believe that video game developers have to realize and embrace the unique possibilities (and dangers) of their medium instead of taking the medium of the Movie and making it interactive by letting you walk around (a bit) and prompting for key presses every now and then.
              Hell, I don’t even care for stories – I’d take a Bethesda over a Bioware at any time. And Minecraft above all.
              Imagine my surprise when I found myself not only fantastically entertained, but brought close to tears actually. And I contribute this a lot on me having been in charge. When I picked up TWD four days ago, I pretty much knew that my choices will not really affect anything within the game, but as said above somewhere, they affected me.

              Now, what I’m trying to say is this: While I somewhat share your sentiment (or used to share), does it really matter how we label those pieces of interactive ..media? Look at the ‘physical’ world: We’re doing quite fine with calling Soccer, Hide and Seek, Ludo, Hopscotch, Solitaire etc. all “games”.

              “But when game-games become almost extinct in favor of story-games, I worry about loosing my hobby.”

              Again, I know this thought, but the last days have made me realize that it could maybe be a nice thing to have video games really dig into their possibilities of story telling. After all, it’s a young medium, let it evolve a bit in that direction, too.

        • Shamus says:

          “is it really fair to call it “Game of the Year”?”

          Pfft. I dunno. This is why I shy away from doing game of the year in any official way. What is “Game of the Year?” Biggest selling? Most talked about? Most innovative? Personal favorite? It’s like Time’s “Person of the Year”. It can mean almost anything.

          I had a real emotional connection with this game. It’s rare for a game to even attempt this, and astoundingly rare for a game to achieve it. It’s not the only criteria by which I judge games, but it’s important to me and I don’t get it very often.

          • Dasick says:

            Well, you’re putting it into the same category as Guild Wars and Xcom, and those are so different from one another, it doesn’t make sense to bunch it together. Guild Wars is building a social experience (maybe) and Xcom is trying to be machine for presenting tough, ambiguous decisions. With such a broad range of goals and means, “Game of the Year” could mean anything, and it means very little.

            You say you had a real emotional connection with TWD, and I’m really curious why (even though I suspect it has little to do with the gameplay). I think it’s an important question, and if the artists started answering such questions, they would be able to create and refine works that are greater than anything we have seen.

            • Nick says:

              The storytelling was excellent. The gameplay is what immerses you – it instills the sense of panic that the character’s feeling, and that’s what really draws you in.

              Once you’re there, you get to know the characters, and their quirks, and that makes them more than just zombie chow. Above all else though, the pacing was top notch. It knew when to take things slowly and when to ramp up the action.

            • Cybron says:

              “With such a broad range of goals and means, “Game of the Year” could mean anything, and it means very little.”

              I think it has a very simple and straightforward meaning: Game he liked best this year.

              I think the movie analogy is spot on. If I like a movie for its soundtrack, that doesn’t make it a not-movie. Laying down arbitrary definitions of what is and isn’t a game seems much more unfair to me than merely saying one liked a game more than they other games this year.

          • Jokerman says:

            Games never ever tug on my heart strings, The walking dead might just be the only one to do it….ever.

            I think when picking a game of the year you should base it on what matters to you. I really love a good story, i also love a lot of choice…a game that has this will normally top my list. Though this year XCOM was right up there, so maybe just how much fun (Chris hates this word) I have with a game is the only qualification i really have for where i rate games at the end of a year.

  25. Nicksaurus says:

    To add to your point about Handsome Jack being great, I want to talk about a certain bit in the story. You know, the bit where a very, very bad thing happens to him.

    I honestly think his reaction to that event makes it one of the most emotional scenes I’ve ever played through in a game.

  26. Dasick says:

    I wasn’t sure what to do about games like Skyrim and The Old Republic.

    Hey, it’s your blog, just post about them. Actually, just post about a game as soon as you’re done with it, or when you realize you’re not coming back, like you did with FTL.

    But if we’re on the topic of those…

    The more games I play the deeper I learn to loathe Skyrim. Anything it tried to do failed utterly, and it was done better by an earlier game with a tighter team and budget.

    First person combat? Pirates Vikings Knights II

    Mounted Dragons? Drakan, order of the flame. Released in the early naughts.

    Living world, complex political system and character building? Mount and Blade.

    Dynamic spell system? Magicka.

    • Wedge says:

      Whoa, anyone other than me played Drakan?

      That was such a good game. The multiplayer was a lot of fun, especially the dragon PvP.

    • Aldowyn says:

      but it does all of them at once, and lets you choose what you want to do :/

      It’s not good because any particular aspect is good, but because it has so many different things about it that are at least competent.

      But, different strokes for different folks. You can keep loathing it, while I keep thinking it’s awesome.

      • Dasick says:

        I’m being a game design hipster here, but I think that the only reason games would have different systems is if it ties them all together, creating one super-awesome mega system. If it doesn’t, then it’s not really one game, it’s a bunch of them packaged together and connected by a weird, often time-wasting interface.

        It is my belief that Skyrim fails to create that ueber-system, there are some connections but it’s really weak, it’s mostly just a bunch of disjointed systems that get in the way when you want to do something specific. Oh, you want to pick flowers and explore the alchemical system? Too bad, here’s this bear to send you to the loading screen a couple dozen times because you’re level 50, even though you have a 10 in your highest combat related skill.

        Playing some other games makes more sense not just cause they’re better at that specific thing (and the systems in Skyrim are really flat), but because you don’t have completely unrelated things getting in the way of things you want to do.

  27. Vagrant says:

    I personally loved Dishonored, and I feel that the number of comments about it here says something about the game. I don’t know what exactly but it certainly says something.

  28. Jenson says:

    Don’t worry Shamus, XCOM Enemy Unknown was a financial success.

    http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2012/10/31/xcom-enemy-unknown-a-success-more-dlc-coming.aspx

    No sales numbers, but hey! It made money!

  29. LunaticFringe says:

    I enjoyed XCOM as well, and think it’s great to see turn-based tactics at least being given a shot. That being said, there’s plenty of legitimate complaints that can be made. I thought the abduction missions were pretty arbitrary and annoying. Base defense missions would’ve also been nice, the fail state of losing eight council members seemed nonsensical. If I have enough funding coming in from, say, the G8 countries, what’s it matter if I lost countries like Mexico? An expanded tech tree would’ve also been satisfying, it seems like you have no reason to build labs.

    • Stranger says:

      The fail condition of losing too many funding countries is probably related to the original – if you lost too many funding partners then you would lose similarly. And while you could lose more in that one, well . . . there was considerably MORE to lose funding from.

      What it does share from the original is something I find not quite to my liking. Once you know what you need to do, and you get a feel for it . . . the game feels short. Very short. The original, I think someone once said it was possible . . . unlikely but possible . . . to win before May.

  30. Urs says:

    From your list:

    TWD: Based on a meh TV series based on a meh comic there comes a game based around things I don’t care for in games… and I love it? Huh. GOTTL*

    Spec Ops: Let’s say it is an important game. I just don’t think it is actually *that* good. I’m not quite able to buy into the notion that the amount of exact resamblances into.. lesser representatives of the genre (i.e. and admittedly: all of them) was all part of a “message”.

    Guild Wars 2: Seeing how, after playing it more than was good for me, a couple-of-days break around New Year’s Eve has made me lose all appetite for it.. yeaah. I have not completely reached the point you’re at, but maybe I’m just in denial. Was a shitton of fun while it lasted, though. (lvl 80 [~115?] Ranger, lvl 40 Warrior)

    *Game Of TopTen Lists

  31. rrgg says:

    I really liked Dishonored and I hope you get around to finishing it sometime. However, I’ll admit that I’ve still only completed it once so far. I finished with the good ending at first (I had a really high chaos rating for the first few levels and eventually decided to redeem myself), I then got about halfway through with a kill-everything run before I decided to let a friend play on my account and the steam cloud doing what it does overwrote all of my saves. Since then I really haven’t had time or will to get back to it.

    It looks as though a lot of the complaints you and Chris had good examples of the “trusting the writer” problem you brought up a while ago. For me most of the plot and characters made perfect sense; Corvo has everything pulled out from under him early on so he’s quick to latch onto whatever allies he can still find for example. I even really, really liked the Chaos system and how it implies your actions actually are affecting the outcome. There’s the fact that more rats and weepers appear of course, but more subtly I noticed that with high chaos Emily started to slowly get darker, showing more and more interest in weapons and violence. That really stuck with me, the fact that Corvo isn’t just acting for himself, he’s wound up serving as the role model showing Emily how she needs to lead as empress.

    At first I started going towards the low chaos ending simply because I wanted to get the good ending, but later on I realized that I was continuing to avoid killing anyone because I just didn’t want to, all those guards were only doing their jobs after all. It only got better later on when I started to realize that some of the non-leathal options for primary targets where actually much smarter and cooler than simply killing the guy would have been.

    I did do some thinking on what was wrong with the game then for me and started compiling a small list of possible fixes, but pretty soon I realized they were just a bunch of additions would have required a lot more time on the developers’ part and almost completely overhauled the game. The re-playability issue largely seems to stem from the “bottlenecking” problem that you see so often in these semi-open world games. You have these big playground areas with tons of optional routes and enemies to fight that have a lot of potential, but then you have that one door or that one corridor that you need to go through every time you play. And it doesn’t help when these choke points get used to deliver long-winded dialog and exposition that the player has already heard or neat set-pieces that he has already seen. Basically yeah, I would love to go back and play the last level using exploding bullets and all of the lethal powers but do I really want to go through the outsider’s blink tutorial again? That’s the sort of thing that would really be pretty hard to fix short of completely redesigning the levels or working out how to occasionally include a “Skip this entire section of the level without missing any of the loot you scattered all over the place” button.

    But, the biggest problem with Dishonored has to be the way that it inadvertently ends up limiting its own gameplay. As it is now there is practically nothing to non-lethal gameplay. Strangling or sleepy darts, those are pretty much your only options, oh and if you ever get spotted at all then good luck, really the only good non-lethal recourse is to do the ol’ Ben Kenobi and wait until you can reload a quicksave. In Chris’s video he suggested that perhaps this was intentional in order to make the player choose between doing what is right and using all these fun mechanics, and if that’s the case then i think it was definitely a terrible idea. Perhaps it just wasn’t clarified well enough but as it is you have the story screaming to the player “This is the way the game should be played!” while the mechanics and any time you look at the inventory screen are screaming “No this is the way it should be played!” even the sword which is about as close as you get to the game’s signature weapon and needs to be held in the right hand any time you use another power or weapon ends up being completely superfluous if you are going for non-lethal take-downs. It serves only to confuse the player and make the game significantly less fun on both counts.

    I think what I would have really wanted out of the game is just more complexity to non-lethal (or at least to less-lethal) play. The sword could be able to sometimes knock opponents out while fighting (like they did to you in the intro) or along with the pistol it could be used to threaten individual enemies causing them to either flee or surrender. Gunshots and explosions should send people diving for cover instead of wandering over to the corpse of their commander and shouting “I’ll find you…” If they did it right, the game could have asked a lot of interesting questions about, for instance, what would be more Chaotic? Suddenly setting a man on fire in front of all his friends, tossing grenades in random directions and firing your pistol into the air as you slip past in the confusion, or ghosting through without ever being detected or even making sound, yet leaving entire dumpsters stuffed with corpses everywhere you go? Also they both sound really fun.

    • Mike S. says:

      Sometimes if you’re spotted, you can run/blink away, and eventually they’ll just wander around muttering about how they’ll find you till you can pop behind them with a sleeper hold. But it’s true that in my experience, if a bunch of people see you then pretty soon you’re just being riddled full of holes.

      (I had the most trouble early in the game, when you don’t have your cool powers and the guards sure seem to stay in line of sight of each other a lot.)

  32. Thomas says:

    On the subject of 2012(thinly veiled excuse to pimp link) I discovered this game this year
    http://www.kongregate.com/games/AlexanderOcias/loved
    Which wins the category for most disturbing 2D platformer about abusive relationships that I’ve played in 2012. And has another take on the idea of choice in games =D

    (I already posted the link in part 2, but as part of a discussion well after everyone stopped reading)

  33. zob says:

    My 2012 awakening was a rather weird one. After seeing the comments here after Dishonored and Spec Ops, I noticed something. There is a population among gamers that doesn’t like being reminded of the fact that killing human beings is bad and it has rather drastic consequences. They simply want to kill people without having to think about it.

    edit: Just to be clear, I’m not saying those guys are bad people or anything.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I think the complaint is more along the lines of: they hate being told to kill bad guys, and then getting hectored for doing it.

      • zob says:

        Well you can call it “complaint”, but that’s actually the rationalization of said discomfort. “I’m just following games orders, it can’t say I’m doing a bad thing.” Goes closely by “Game let’s me horribly murder nuns, so it must be OK. If it wasn’t game wouldn’t let me.”

        You don’t want to feel bad about it so you are making it developers’ fault. They gave the order, they gave you the power to those things.

        • Dasick says:

          Yeah, but that particular game wouldn’t be interesting if I didn’t follow the orders. So the game is kind of a hypocrite…

          On the other hand, if avoiding killing people is a core component of a game, but there is some sort of an incentive to kill people, it’s ok for the game to scold you

          • StashAugustine says:

            From what I’ve seen, Dishonored’s problem is not that it encourages a non-lethal run, but that doing so is missing out on gameplay mechanics. I’d say the better thing to do is to either hurt your XP progression or to make the non-lethal techniques less effective or vulnerable in a different way (eg enemies wake up ala MGS)

          • zob says:

            If that particular game’s message was “stop killing people” you might be right. But Spec Ops’ message is basically “be aware of/face what you are doing”.

            • Cody says:

              I was totally aware of what I was doing, the fact that the game left me no option but to shoot people in the face rather then IDK walk away makes the game just plain out bad in the regard.

              • zob says:

                So I take it you apply same criticism to every game that you are forced to kill others(with notable exceptions like doom where you kill demons from hell aside). And you know, call them plain out bad.

                • Dasick says:

                  Well, if am to pay 60$ for a game where the only right option it presents is not to play it, that’s kinda annoying ain’t it?

                  And then it judges you for playing it. How dare you, you sicko!

                  • zob says:

                    Well, if am to pay 60$ for a game where the only right option it presents is not to play it, that’s kinda annoying ain’t it?

                    As I implied to Cody, I’m not buying that excuse. You do all kinds of horrific stuff in all kinds of games. Unless you are treating them the same way you are treating this one based on this excuse, you are lying to yourself.

                    And then it judges you for playing it
                    Same thing applies here. It’s ok for a game to design a experience makes you feel good, for the experience they designed and created. But when they create an experience that doesn’t make you feel good suddenly game is judging you? Games are judging you to be awesome when you finish them too. I don’t see you complaining about it.

                    I’m more than ok with you not liking the game. It’s the excuses I can’t stand.

                  • Zukhramm says:

                    Yeah, so would I, but I’ve never seen a game like that.

                  • Cody says:

                    Woops wrong area

                • Cody says:

                  Nope, I only apply that criticism to games that force you to play a certain way then spend every opportunity it has to beat you over the head about how bad you are for playing that way.

                  That’s like selling someone a taco then after taking their money you yell at them for eating it instead of throwing it away.

                  As far as I am concerned there is not one single redeeming factor in this game at all. It’s just as bad as the games it hates and it does the exact same thing they do.

                  • zob says:

                    But, you didn’t say that in your previous comment. You said you criticize games for not giving you a chance of not shooting people in the head. That’s why I gave you that specific answer.

                    Now you are saying it’s same as other games out there, but you don’t like this game because it constantly reminds you that shooting people in the face is a bad thing.

                    And that was my original point.

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    Nope, I only apply that criticism to games that force you to play a certain way then spend every opportunity it has to beat you over the head about how bad you are for playing that way.

                    It’s a parody. That’s what parody does–mimic established works in a satirical way in order to make some sort of statement about them. Saying “the game is criticizing me for playing it” is missing the point–Spec Ops isn’t criticizing you for playing Spec Ops, it’s criticizing you for playing bro shooters with its dramatized parody of bro shooter staples.

                    • Cody says:

                      The problem with calling it a parody or satire is for me it’s not really any of those things, it plays it’s story straight and the story is really bad. As a movie it might have worked, it would have been a far cry from Apocalypse Now or Platoon, but I wouldn’t have treated it so badly.

                      Spoilers

                      The game completely fell apart for me at the WP incident, that part was so badly mismanaged and such an intricate part to the rest of the game that my entire opinion of the game is destroyed because of it. I spent around 40 minutes trying to kill the guys on the ground without going to the WP and using it, but it turns out that without using it you get stuck with infinitely respawning snipers, and no way down to the main level to collect more ammo. Then after finally accepting that to move on with the story I had to use the WP I get to play a dumb little minigame and then I spend the next 4 hours listening to every bitch to be that im such a bad person because the designers couldn’t figure out a decent way of handling their own game.

                      Put that into perspective with the level were you are at the nest. You are weaving in and out of a shanty town trying to save civilians from bad guys(horribly simplistic but I’m trying to shorten this down). In the middle of the chaos I’m sprinting through some fire and see a figure start running at me, so I quickly fire twice into it’s head and start running again. It’s not until I start to sprint closer as it is falling do I notice it was a woman that got stuck in the crossfire. I felt horrible about that, and it did make me much more careful with what I was doing with everything after that encounter, subtle things like that would have worked for this game but sadly they decided that being subtle and doing anything but treating the player like a moron was to hard so they didn’t even try.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      But it doesn’t play the story straight. It uses staples of the bro-shooter genre, including doors that don’t open until someone opens them for you, unavoidable linear sequences where you’re forced to mortar enemies to proceed, and a protagonist that will always move forward into more violence, because he thinks he is right.

                      It then runs with those cliches and presents them in a context designed to illustrate how ridiculous they are. The main characters cause an uncountable death toll, which includes both Walker’s teammates and his sanity. Having main characters suffer from PTSD is not “playing it straight,” it’s a textbook example of Latin satire structure–first, the writers introduce the game as a classical example of its genre, then as it progresses they show that it’s not all beer and rocket-propelled grenades.

                    • Cody says:

                      How does it not play the story straight? You said it didn’t then proceeded to tell me exactly how it did. This is not a tongue in cheek satire or even a subtle one. This is plain out a “war is bad and you are bad” plot that does nothing but try to beat you over the head with it’s message.

                      The entire thing s CoD written by an angsty 16 year that also features horrible gameplay/mechanics. Case in point Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the last post.

      • Zukhramm says:

        But no one was ordered to kill people out of the blue. We specifically buy games about killing people because we want to play that kind of game.

    • drkeiscool says:

      Is it bad to kill bad human beings?

      • Dasick says:

        Define ‘bad’.

        • drkeiscool says:

          I suppose it was more of a rhetorical question, but let’s use Hitler as an example. would it be wrong to kill Hitler?

          • Gruhunchously says:

            Why kill Hitler when you can put him in the cupboard instead?

            • Forumrabbit says:

              Is that a Doctor Who reference?

              Also, “Make it for consoles, then port it over to the PC six months later,” You just described what it’s like being an Aussie and waiting patiently for movie, TV and sometimes game releases to come over here (Rock band came out here AFTER ROCK BAND 2 CAME OUT IN THE USA, TV is always 2 months+ late like Game of Thrones season 1, Wreck-It Ralph came out Boxing Day here as well as The Hobbit, The Bourne Legacy came out a lot later etc).

              I’ll be surprised if Valve release a new game within the next few years that isn’t a bought out mod like Portal or L4D were (TF2 is based on an existing IP so doesn’t really count as they built it from the groun up); they’re just sitting on steam and releasing games so cheap to take advantage of the human psyche (why they often have job positions available for psychologists to take advantage of this) says you must buy this product at 75% off (supermarkets do it too).

              Although being an Australian that still typically means a few dollars cheaper than the usual USA price if you’re using steam, so kudos to GMG for really ramping up in 2012 and becoming THE major player for new digital titles whilst keeping out of regional pricing (except when 2K forced them). So disappointed Valve allow it to occur as all the other digital distributors either don’t have it or make it trivial to bypass (amazon can’t sell games digitally to us unless we CLAIM we’re American, whereas Valve will check your IP to ensure their bottom line remains intact as they also sell the product to us for different prices).

          • Josh says:

            If there’s anything the last 60 years of speculative fiction has taught us, it’s that going back in time to kill Hitler never works and always ends better for Hitler than it would have if you hadn’t done it in the first place.

            Notable exception: Killing Hitler works but the timeline corrects itself and Stalin steps in as the Big Bad of the 20th century.

            So yeah, it’s bad to kill Hitler.

  34. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I stalled out on Dishonored in around the same place. I’m attacking the Regent’s tower and… I just can’t quite bring myself to do it.

    There’s a lot to like about the game, but none of it actually registers with me. What I think is going on is:

    1.) Stealth Gameplay is about timing, not exploring. I hate timing. I do not have the patience to time the guards and figure out when this guard will be over there looking the wrong direction so that I can choke out the other guard and then hide the body, then flash over to -ARGH! Look, let me find a vent, or a platform -make me do jumping puzzles, or find rat holes. These are in there, but rare.

    2.) This interacts poorly with my pack-rat and exploration tendencies. I want to go everywhere and see everything, and sitting on a perch timing guard routes does not go well with this desire.

    3.) The story develops too slowly, and yet goes by too quickly. I think this was the part that first triggered my “good grief,” mechanism. There are huge parts of DX:HR and the original DX where you won’t fire a shot, and whether a mission devolves into a gun battle is largely up to the player. And there are also missions where gun battles erupt suddenly, and then are over just as fast. The Hounds Pub scenes are not good enough to get past the fact that you spend 90% of the game in a battlezone. There is a huge amount of make-work for not a lot of payoff, and there are no breaks in between.

    4.) And the characters and story are flat. There is depth, but it’s all told not shown -and only if you go hunting for it. The original AC sometimes went overboard, but if you did the missions completely you would always have a good feel for what was going on. Me, I’m still lost, and hoping that once the betrayal happens, it will make more sense, but not holding out hope.

  35. Takkelmaggot says:

    Totally agree with your opinion of Borderlands 2, Shamus. A friend and I are about 16 hours into it and having a blast. Handsome Jack is my favorite villain since GlaDOS- probably for the same reasons. (Butt Stallion says hi.)

    • some random dood says:

      Re: (Butt Stallion says hi.)
      I think this is the scariest thing I have heard this year. I *really* hope I don’t get to hear anything scarier…

      • Takkelmaggot says:

        LOL! It’s a reference to one of the voice messages Handsome Jack taunts you with in Borderlands 2.
        To be clear- Butt Stallion is *not* the handle of the friend I’m playing with. May I offer you some context?
        When I realized how my post must read to most people I almost fell out of my seat. Thanks for making me smile!

  36. ACman says:

    It’s really like to see you talk more about (tear apart) Skyrim. The game’s great but there are some many bits of broken story telling. I know you already been through thief guild’s idiocy, but what about the broken quest triggers in Markarth quest? What seems to have huge amounts of subtle intrigue quickly degenerates into an easy to break railroad with no substance.

    It’s probably a little late though. Spoiler Warning perhaps?

  37. Talby says:

    I felt the exact same way about Dishonored. I got up to the third mission or so and just stopped playing. I had no motivation to stop the bad guy or save the kidnapped girl. I can’t even feel strongly enough about it to dislike it. It’s just… there.

    It would have really benefited from having a fully voiced protagonist with an actual personality and motivations, a few non-hostile hub areas like in Deus Ex, and a story that’s worth caring about.

  38. Krellen turned me into a killing machine!

  39. Cody says:

    Ah I am a little bit sad that there was no mention of Crusader Kings 2 in here. It is probably the best strategy game I have played in a very long time.

  40. Paul Spooner says:

    Every time I leave several comments on the same post, that “Confirm you are NOT a spammer” checkbox gets more and more accusatory:
    “Ooh! I have something to say to that! Totally not a spammer.”
    “Hmm, this could use a response, still not spam.”
    “Hey, that’s an interseting idea. I’ll just respond a little. I’ts not really spam yet.”
    “I’d like to say something here… but I’m starting to feel like a spammer.”
    “What have I become? Perhaps I really AM a spammer! Can I check the checkbox still? I’ll be better next time! Honest!”

  41. Blackbird71 says:

    How is it that I am a military-trained “thirty-something white guy with short hair”, and I still can’t relate to the typical shooter protaganists?

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Imagine this, maybe it will get you close:
      Everything you say or do first has to go through a corporate approval committee which despises its audience as frothing cretins, but also wants all their money. Then forget everything you’ve ever enjoyed, hated, loved, or experienced, and let someone completely irresponsible drive you around with a mouse and keyboard like a toy truck.

      • Blackbird71 says:

        Ok, I’m picturing, I think I’m starting to get it… corporate approval, got it… money, ok… forget everything, sure… someone completely irresponsible..

        Hey! Wait a minute!

        *drops mouse and keyboard and looks around furtively to see if anyone noticed*

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