Dishonored EP12: Your Score is Apple

By Shamus
on Apr 4, 2013
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

This episode was recorded at the tail end of a long session that included a podcast. We were all pretty ragged by this point, which is why we were so quiet until everything went wrong.

Thinking more about the level-size problem:

We crossed a pretty big threshold back in the early 2000’s. In the first two Thief games we had gigantic levels that you would explore for hours. Then we got to Thief 3 and suddenly levels were severely compartmentalized and each location was broken up by multiple loading screens. It basically ruined the flow of the game. The jump from Deus Ex to Deus Ex: Invisible War had the same problem. At the time, this was probably due to the fact that the games had to fit into the tiny 64MB memory of the original XBox.

Then the current generation came along and we got a little breathing room. The levels today are much more open than in those Xbox games, but still fairly small in comparison to what PC’s could do in 1998. This Sokolov mission is broken into 4 different areas, while Thief 2 could easily hold it all in a single level. (Disregarding the graphical differences and various line-of-sight challenges level designers would need to cope with back then. We’d probably have just as many WALLS, but there wouldn’t be loading screens.)

But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced we’re never going back to those old days. No matter how much memory or CPU we get, it’s probably impractical to go for areas that large with today’s development pipelines.

It’s a matter of scale. You can’t have four level designers build an entire AAA game now. These levels are just too dang detailed. You need a system where people can work in parallel. You can’t wait eight months for a single person to make the Sokolov level. You need to give it to 4 people and have it done in two. This is exacerbated by the way pipelines are getting longer.

In the old days, one artist might make the textures and another might make the geometry. Now you’ve got someone doing textures, and someone else sketching the concept layout, which will be handed off to the person building the actual layout of the place. Someone else is building all the furniture and decorations. You might even have someone dedicated just to atmospheric stuff like lighting and ambient sounds. And someone else is scripting. And someone else is animating little scenes and scripts. And often some of these people need to wait for others, who also need to wait for others. And the playtesters need to wait for everyone, and if they have any issues with the layout the level might need to pass through the entire pipeline again.

There are ways around this, but they’re fiddly. And even if you had one that worked well, you’d still have loading screens to deal with. Sure, the player’s machine might have 8GB of memory now, but you really don’t want to have to wait for 6GB of data to load in from the hard drive or (shudder) optical media.

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From the Archives:

  1. rrgg says:

    The way I got through the wheel part was choking out the guard up above, flipping the switch, and thinking “Gee, I should really try crawling through that wheel I just stopped.” Also I never realized you could actually go inside that building.

    @6:50 If you use the sink in that room 3 times it will open up a secret door. I am an expert on this fact due to time spent figuring it out.

    ——-
    Edit: Also what was wrong with the elevator exactly? I used it every time, at least on the way down. You choke out Solokov and the next logical step is to go loot his room which just so happens to be right next to that handy elevator.

  2. tzeneth says:

    Because there was no Rutskarn this week, I have to wonder if comparing my score of orange to your score of apple is fruitless.

  3. Ciennas says:

    Couldn’t they make it way easier on themselves by borrowing the landscape playable area ruleset from FUEL?

    Have one preset pass do the landscape. Have the next system build villages, with fully navigable buildings, built according to the system rules. Have a third set handle living AI behaviors.

    Import the tactical AI from those niche strategy games you mentioned in your twitter. BAM! insta game.

    And since it’s legoing most of the levels from scratch, you could cut down on disc space tremendously.

    I don’t remember the old article series you did on FUEL. So, not being a programmer myself, I understand my couple of sentences are orders of magnitude more complex then needful.

    But, is there a limit on what those systems could do? the biggest complaint is recognizing when the system has repeated a pattern. But if you just have the system power up with preset instructions, could you make your workload easier?

    Or have I swapped one problem set for another?

    • AyeGill says:

      You’re partway right. But it’s not just about making the levels not repetitive. They also have to make good levels. Teaching a computer good level design is probably going to be pretty gosh darn hard. Then, if you want modern graphics, you also need it to build optimized levels, ie make sure the player is never looking at too much stuff at the same time. Then you need it to draw pretty textures. And the AI from strategy games is unlikely to know how to deal with a guy sneaking into their base, or even fighting a single guy, for that matter.

      These problems aren’t unsolvable, but betting all-out on procedural generation like you’re suggesting is going to be pretty risky if it turns out you can’t solve them in a satisfying manner. Now, that said, I would definitely like to see a bigger focus on that sort of thing than what we’re getting now.

      • Ciennas says:

        Oh yeah, that was totally on my mind as I wrote it. But the optimization could be resolved with proper coding of the rules that govern the world making, and the good level design could be done by human hands, as well as the texturing.

        (Since an area would be built out of the shapes, they’d just need to make some interchangeable textures that could go over the shapes for different areas.)

        And then you just put down the flags and triggers to make the story work properly.

        If I have repeated myself, the takeaway is thus: I bet it just needs a refined ruleset in order to function well enough for you to just run through and spotweld it into workable real fast.

        As for advanced AI: I know it’s not interchangeable, but Shamus just mentioned how they are the most advanced. Surely they could be repurposed or modified to accomodate the demands of a non-RTS game.

        The whole point is to make it easier on the dev team to make good work, without getting dragged down in the pipeline Shamus described.

        (Sorta kinda like live testing- you spot a problem, you drop in the fix while the testers are still in the area.

  4. Klay F. says:

    Even if it were feasible for devs to make huge levels ala Thief with todays manymuch levels of memory, they still wouldn’t do it. Most triple A devs are obsessed with maximizing polygon counts, maximizing texture resolutions, and blinging out the lighting to the nth degree. Thats where the entire memory budget has gone this generation, and I don’t see any reason that will change with the upcoming generation. Its not like this industry is famous for its self-control.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Also those maze like levels of old were sor of famous for players getting lost and not knowing where to go next. It didn’t whappen all the time but ussually once or twice per game. And today when goal is accessiblility, you can understand why they would not like the idea of players quiting because they don’t know where to go next.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      There will be a point where graphical fidelity will simply be more trouble than it’s worth AND everyone will see it. We can’t really get too much more detailed than the games we have now.

      • Thomas says:

        Or we’ll invent mind-reading technology that you stick on your head and instantly creates the asset you’re thinking of. Or we’ll make computers smart enough to have creative input and they’ll design our games for us. Or it will become standard practice to build up an assets library that you reuse in all your games.

        Whichever comes first

        • Klay F. says:

          If we ever get computers smart enough to design games for us, they’ll be smart enough to know how much working in the game industry is a thankless and parasitic existence, then the revolution will come. We literally cannot win.

      • Oh, we could get better. We’re still not up to the quality of some pre-rendered stuff, but that’s also to do with how much they want to spend on “flavor” things, like having you reach out and touch nearby walls or what have you.

        As Shamus said, the concentration on making faces real-er is kind of a strange choice, given that it throws into contrast how un-real a lot of other things are. Not that it bugs me, but I find it kind of amusing that we’re getting these hyper-realisitc dudes (with really huge hands) in this game drinking out of glasses that have sharp corners on their “rounded” rims.

  5. X2-Eliah says:

    Re: level size – eh. I keep harping on about that game, but Witcher 2 had pretty huge levels. As for loading times – well, we are slowly moving onto SSD tech, that will be a good boost.

    Also, Shamus, you can totally do a ghost/no alarms clear of Sokolov’s house whilst going through the front door. Nobody says you have to be a bull and charge through the whole thing ;) But it is a bit tricky and you have to use blink a lot to walk on the pipes and such.

    Also, there’s a third way to enter the house, and it’s from the underside – when Josh jumped down, if he had swum to the other side (towards samuel’s boat), he’d end up at two water-paddle turbines; there’s an access hatch that can be used to get into the house.
    I have to say, I didn’t think that you could completely bypass most of the house by walking around and jumping off like that.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I went through the basement.Screw your roofs,I want to ride the wheel up.(wait for Shamoose to say “Huh,I didnt know you could do that”)

    Im pretty sure freeing all those prisoners is lowering chaos,because low chaos has nothing to do with actual chaos,but is just another fancy name for goody-good-good-guy-of-goodness.

    • Lame Duck says:

      The Dishonored Wiki confirms that freeing Sokolov’s test subject reduces chaos, because of…I don’t know. Reasons, I suppose.

      • Grudgeal says:

        Clearly, being infected means the weepers and rats ignore her. This frees her up to become a street-cleaning vigilante who keeps Dunwall’s streets safe with her slowly-dying-of-controlled-contagion powers.

  7. Eric says:

    I can’t wait for Chris’ low-cut dress photo shoot.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Also,its not that weird to choke someone out with stop time.When you interact with and object,you pull it in your little time bubble,so time works normally for them while you are touching them.Its when you let them go that they slip back into slowed time.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Yeah. Every object you ‘touch/bump’ goes into your time – that’s also why you can bump against a bullet / dart you just launched and have it shoot forwards whilst still in frozen time.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Thanks for not making me “that guy” for mentioning this first, I think it’s actually covered in the power description or some such place. For that matter this is also why you can open doors or throw things/people (even though they freeze a second after you let them go).

  9. KremlinLaptop says:

    Completely off-topic re:Scarlet Blade

    It is interesting that what got me to google the game and go to their website wasn’t the ads on the site (I just get Finnish ads most of the time anyway) but rather the mention of it that Shamus made on his twitter.

    With Evony the ads were deceptive in nature. Tits to lure people into playing a browser based strategy game, I like to imagine some people sunk a few hours into it before shouting in frustration, “There aren’t any boobs here at all!”

    After a solid look at Scarlet Blade I can see they solved that problem by ingeniously (and I use the word quite wrongly) making the game boobs all the way through, they’re certainly not going to get pegged for false advertising now. Oh no. On the character-classes page they have measurements listed for each class (The medic, for example, is a 34E), I am not even kidding and I wish I was. One of the micro-transaction purchases is a “lingerie unsealer” and I don’t even want to know what that does, but I can guess.

    I know this isn’t a new thing at all, the Dead or Alive franchise includes a whole beach volleyball game as an excuse to show off jiggle physics, but somehow this is just… so much more sleazy.

    Edit: http://www.aeriagames.com/forums/en/viewtopic.php?t=1948073#15916803

    Heh, someone should perhaps explain that the problem isn’t the ads appearing due to analytics but rather the content of the friggin’ ads. Also I’m guessing nuking the Scarlet Blade takes out advertising being offered by Aeria?

    • Raygereio says:

      I know this isn’t a new thing at all, the Dead or Alive franchise includes a whole beach volleyball game as an excuse to show off jiggle physics, but somehow this is just… so much more sleazy.

      And with “jiggle physics” you naturally mean movements that in no way resemble reality because neither the developers nor the target audience has ever seen a naked women with real breasts.

      Okay, I admit that was a low one. But I saw a DoA developer interview a while back where they were in all seriousness patting themselves on the back for their “realistic breast physics” and my reaction was 2 parts disgust and 1 part pity.

      This is part of the overal problem regarding how gaming culture looks at women and handles sexuality. It can be depressing at times to see just how childish – for a lack of a better word – some of these people can be.
      But hey, it could be worse! At least it’s not the Tera MMO which has a race whose sole purpose is catering to pedophiles. And as an aside: I really wish I was joking about that last bit. And I really, really wish that the people bitching about “cencorship” regarding Tera (specifically: making the hyper sexualized child clothing a tiny bit less sexualized, which still leaves them as very sexualized child clothing) just didn’t exist. Or better yet: sought out profesional help.

      I like to imagine some people sunk a few hours into it before shouting in frustration, “There aren’t any boobs here at all!”

      I unironically loved the Evony adds for that reason. The occasional complaints about false advertising were amazing and hilarious.

      • Thomas says:

        Scarlett Blade both has a race catering to paedophiles and has one of the ‘bonuses’ of paying for the special edition($120?) as allowing you to _entirely_ remove your avatars clothes

        The thing is, they’re probably making a pile of money off this. The thread on the Escapist went to 16+ pages in under a week, it’s on Shamus’ twitter etc. As long as they don’t have plans for long-term retention, I bet they’ve got way more players than the average asian grindfest right now

        • Irridium says:

          If anyone’s curious as to what the game actually plays like, NOTE: It’s really not safe for work, and kind of gross, click at your own risk and all that, this video demonstrates it.

          It really is just an awful game.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            Please kill me…

            Seriously, that is just… bad…

            • Lame Duck says:

              Honestly, I kind of respect what they’ve done there. In a lot of ways I actually prefer it to how other games use female sexuality as a marketing tool, because they embrace it so whole-heartedly. This is not a game whose tone was damaged by an unnecessary emphasis on tits, this is not a game that could have been about something more interesting, it’s not a game that could have been made less alienating to female players. It’s a game that exists purely to be masturbation material delivery system and it knows it and it’s completely open about that fact. No-one is going to spend hours futilely trying to find their character some real armour to put on, because the only reason anyone is going to play the game is to get their character to wear as little as possible.

              • Sleeping Dragon says:

                Hmm, when you present it like this I can see your point… To be honest I’ve only heard of the damn thing from Shamus’ twitter and this comment thread so either their marketing doesn’t show up in my area or my banner blindness filtered it out of my perception. Anyway, I for one am all for porn existing as long as it is easily identifiable as porn and not posturing as something else and I guess if this game uses boobs as the main appeal in its marketing it is at least pretty honest and out about it.

              • Shamus says:

                I realized this after my little fit on Twitter. The game and the tone are so much clearer if we simply view it as soft-core pornography. It’s not a game with too much sexualization, it’s porn in game form. I don’t get outraged that Playboy exists, or demand that Maxim clean up their act and make entertainment that’s more welcoming to women.

                This could even be a good thing. In the early days of the internet, porn was all over the place. I ran into it by accident all the time. Now? I haven’t seen porn in… I dunno? I think the last time I saw the stuff was back when 4chan saw that Zynga was winning March Mayhem at the Escapist, and in the chaos some of them began posting porn into the discussion threads.

                These days we have nice, clean lines between the different types of entertainment. Maybe Scarlet Blade will gather up all the T&A business and games like Terra will conclude that it’s better to go for a more inclusive tone than to try and laser-focus in on the guys looking for that stuff.

                It’s all conjecture, of course, but the more I think about it the more I feel like Scarlet Blade could be the start of a good trend. (Although I’m still not going to allow their ads on my site.)

  10. Neko says:

    I really loved the huge sprawling levels of Thief and Thief 2, so when Thief 3 came along with its gimped levels specially for the ecxbawks gamer audience, I felt betrayed. There haven’t been many games since that have gone out of their way to avoid the loading screens, and it’s a damn shame.

    Loading screens break immersion for me much more than having a lower polygon count than the current-gen competition.

  11. Tom H. says:

    “never” is a strong word, and in this case is probably wrong.

    If Google Docs collaboration works for you, well, the exact same underlying theory was applied to CAD systems in the 90s, and all that is stopping us from having an editor based on it is a simple matter of programming.

    There was at least one shipped by a MMO middleware vendor in the mid-00s (I think there were two, depending on how fine-grained you want the collaboration to be). IIRC they ran into commercial difficulty, but the idea of many level designers simultaneously editing the same space worked.

    The problem isn’t limited to computer games. Consider trying to design a power plant or another piece of really complex machinery where there are several specialties each trying to route flows through a complex space. Even with daily design reviews & automated after-the-fact interference checking, you end up making VERY VERY EXPENSIVE mistakes. They’ve had interest in improving that workflow since the 90s.

    • decius says:

      In my experience, the prints just show the various equipment that needs to be routed through the ceiling and it’s up to the general contractor to coordinate the various trades so that everything actually fits.

      I remember specifically sneaking into an area ahead of time, with the blessings of the contractor doing the HVAC but not the GC, so that I could run copper water pipe above where the ductwork was going to go. (The GCs plan was to have the trades go through in order of how much wiggle room was possible in the location of their work; the ductwork was large and had to fit through dampers which were fixed to the fire-rated walls, but there was several feet above the ductwork most of the time because the beams supporting the next floor came down that far.

      The blueprints didn’t even try to locate every elbow in the water pipes; we just got a schematic specifying pipe sizes based on expected usage.

  12. arron says:

    I know that Shamus has talked in Spoiler Warning about removing the loading zones from Half Life, but there’s nothing stopping someone from going back into a lot of these retro games and removing the level barriers with the increased memory we have these days in PCs. I think that Thief III and Invisible War II would be prime candidates for this treatment along with games like System Shock II with the bulkheads and elevators.

    • Artur CalDazar says:

      Speaking to Dues Ex Invisible War, it wouldn’t matter all that much.

      Sure the levels are compartmentalised to the degree they are all tiny and going anywhere means lots of loading, but if you stuck those spaces together you wouldn’t really get a larger space.

      You’d get several areas that are far too small stuck together and thus still lack open areas and free movement through what is a reasonable simulation of a real space. Each level is to itself too small, connecting them together just makes the far too small airport in the same zone as the far too small downtown.

      Thats my impression anyway.

  13. Naota says:

    The Thief/Thief 2 level size dilemma is something I’ve been evangelizing about ever since my debut article. Whenever we advance far enough to open up our game environments the way they used to be, that power and storage gets used up for meaningless hyper-detail rather than something with a benefit to gameplay. Levels have stopped having the complexity to support any “flow” and started becoming rooms connected by linear corridors.

    Open world titles like Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry 3 now offer us areas of the same size as games like Thief and Deus Ex, but the amount of planning that goes into their level design is almost nonexistent. They’re aptly-named sandboxes full of toys without any conscious engineering – not directed experiences with multiple interconnecting paths and challenges.

    At the very least, the last few years have brought about the stirrings of a return to form with Human Revolution and Dishonored bringing back the “large”, non-sandbox level. While they aren’t huge by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a breath of fresh air to see that I can once again choose to crawl through the sewers, scale the wall, bribe the guard, or fight my way in the front door like the good old days.

    I doubt it will ever be feasible to make levels like the old days with today’s cutting edge technology, but a mid-tier game with a focus on level design before graphical fidelity? One that plans levels like it’s the year 2000 but takes advantage of modern tech to pretty everything up where possible? Provided the money was there (Kickstarter, I suppose) I could see it happening.

    Manually-created detail is the stumbling block of something like this, but there’s a lot we can do today to create detail without a great deal of effort from the artist (not everything needs a hand-crafted normal map, for instance). You’ll never get a Crysis game like this, but you can probably manage something much better-looking than Thief 2, and that’s all fans of the genre would need or want.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      You could probably even make large sprawling, yet detailed worlds if you manage your use of assets and are willing to liberally reuse some assets.

      Then again, I’m not an expert on these things.

      • Naota says:

        You most definitely can, and many developers build models in modular sets (model corners, flat faces, ceilings, and put them together in different orders for instant level!) for this reason. The thing is, it’s a poor substitute for the days in which you crafted and textured hallways, walls, and even larger props like dumpsters and cars out of BSP blocks right in the editor and that was the final product.

        We’ve come a long way from the days of “I need shelves. I’ll block some out with my level editor in 10 minutes and slap on a basic texture”, both in good ways and bad. Now the shelf is three models with a UVmap and four textures (normal, specular, gloss, diffuse), breakable by the player, and holds ten other models on top of it.

  14. Grudgeal says:

    Huh. I never noticed Sokolov had any test subjects. I just popped in, choked him, and popped out again. Must have left her in there. Alone. Dying of plague. With no-one around who could conceivably treat her.

    …Well.

  15. Bentusi16 says:

    I killed the test subject after releasing her.

    I do these things in games occasionally where I have a pang of morality, and it worked out to, Sokolov has intentionally infected her, not just with the plague, but an extremely virulent strain of the plague that will make her die in a terrible terrible way, unbelievable agony type pain.

    So I figured the more moral option, instead of letting her either A: Die in screaming pain or B: Accidentally infect her friends and family with this virulent strain or whoever she comes into contact with, knocking her out with a sleepy dart and then just giving her a quick painless stroke to the heart type deal.

    It would’ve been nice if there was an option to show her what sokolov had done and give HER the option of what she wants to have job but, you know, video games.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      Congrats then, because you committed a Highly Chaotic action.

      • Keeshhound says:

        No, no. It’s only Highly Chaotic if she tips the balance of kills from 19% to 20%.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Jokes aside I think this really shows how the chaos system is just a rename for your typical arbitrary gaming morality system.

        If they had an actual idea for “stability VS chaos” system this kind of choice would be both much more common and much better thought out.

        • Bentusi16 says:

          Well it’s not the DND morality system. Under the DND system that would probably be considered lawful, since I did it due to a personal code.

          I dunno, science.

          OH, that reminds is, is it me or is ‘natural philosophy’ pretty much always displayed as being bad, and the people doing it completely morally bankrupt? Even in the backstory stuff, all the natural philosophers seem super evil.

          • newdarkcloud says:

            The only two natural philosophers we see the game are Sokolov and Piero, and neither one can be seen as bad.

            Piero may be getting his ideas from The Outsider, but it’s not like he does anything malicious with them. He really seems to want to help Corvo out in his adventure and give him the tools he needs.

            Sokolov may want to contact the outsider, and his experiments are cruel, but he doesn’t like the way the aristocracy has been treating people and is in fact trying to cure the plague in an “ends justifies the means” kind of way.

            Not to mention the fact that they both have concocted their own anti-plague elixirs with added physical/mental benefits. And bringing them together gives them the ability to cure the plague outright in a Low Chaos ending.

            • guy says:

              Sokolov is very much a FOR SCIENCE! type, of the “I make sure the rockets go up. Where they come down is not my department” type, which definitely gives him a leg up over sadists that make up the rest of the target list. Yes, he’s deliberately infecting people with the plague to study it, but there’s actually a point to that. Piero, aside from the… incident… is a nice if abrasive person.

              According to the backstory, the whale oil guy was appalled by the uses his research got put to and eventually committed suicide.

              • Zekiel says:

                I would like to point out that Piero being a nice person is slightly undermined by the fact that one of the notes you can read in his laboratory talks about his desire to put a human test subject in a tank for months and gradually increase the pressure to see what effect it has… and notes that he hopes the Empress/Regent would provide the appropriate immunity from repercussions. (So he clearly realises its not something that many people would appreciate.)

                For all that various people have labelled him bland, I find Piero quite interesting actually. His desire to have his genius (and Sokolov’s comparative inadequcy) publically recognised is quite amusing.

                • WJS says:

                  Well, that one could be read one of two ways, I think. It could be read as “She could give me someone to do what I like with”, or “She could guarantee me protection from lawsuits” (I’m pretty sure most human testing today has that kind of thing)

  16. Raygereio says:

    The jump from Deus Ex to Deus Ex: Invisible War had the same problem. At the time, this was probably due to the fact that the games had to fit into the tiny 64MB memory of the original XBox.

    The console memory was certainly a factor. But I reckon that the guy who designed the graphics engine quitting midway through development didn’t help.
    From what I’ve picked up, this fellow was in the middle of redesigning the whole thing and when he left the rest of the DX:IW and Thief: Deadly Shadows team and to frantically readjust their scope and level design around a barely functioning hackjob that was put ontop of the Unreal Engine 2.

    I suspect that if that guy stayed on and finished his work, or if the development team had more time to deal with the mess he left behind, Invisible Wars’ and Deadly Shadow’s technical aspects could have been a lot better.

    Edit: This post got auto-moderated, but my previous one got through fine?
    One of these days Shamus, you ought to make blogpost that details how that thing works.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      The trick is, Shamus himself is not quite sure on how the comment-filtering system works (iirc he mentioned that a while ago), on account of it being a monster of a wordpress filter with automatic stuffings in it.

  17. newdarkcloud says:

    Even though there are still a couple of ways to complete it, this IS a noticeably more linear mission than any other mission in the game. It makes sense for it to be, but it’s worth noting.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Which is why I think they didn’t make the player escape all the way back, it would be the same long trek the other way, only with Sokolov and most likely having already seen pretty much everything the level has to offer. Normally exploring the level at the very least gives you an advantage of being able to plan your escape route, in here you’d have to go through each of these sublevels again. Having said that I do think that making one mission like this actually sorta adds to the variety of the game as a whole.

  18. Samopsa says:

    But there are (very recent!) games with really open levels, like all open-world games (not very detailed), but also games like Dark Souls, where the entire world is a single entity connected to each other, without any load screens. That game did not have a horrible development time either. So I guess it is actually possible to create large levels in games nowadays, but developers just don’t bother because it’s easier to create separate instances.

    • burningdragoon says:

      Dark Souls is one of my favorite games this generation, but I don’t know if it’s really a good example (or maybe it’s actually a great example?). When you get down to it, the world in DS is actually pretty small. It’s seamless (other than 2/3 specific areas) but there’s also a lot elevators, ladders and only a handful of entry/exit points to each area. Also the Silent Hill-esque visibility in the darker levels. Those aren’t bad things, those are awesome things. But I dunno how that would apply to something more open like Dishonored.

      DS is a good example of not putting super focus on graphics though. No facial animations, no camera-grabbing conversation system, very, very few cutscenes. Butt-ugly character creation that turns out to be pretty pointless unless you are exceptional good at the game or don’t play online ever.

      Also not treating the player like an idiot with the story or the mechanics.

  19. Thomas says:

    One of the things about the PC market is always how much of it you’re willing to cut off. Because it has be able to all run on the monster machines, but like 10% of Steam users have cruddy intel integrated graphics and 15% have less than 2gb RAM and settings can only go so far when you’ve got AI and level sizes to deal with

    • Mike S. says:

      And the problem is compounded by the shift to notebooks and all-in-ones. Last decade, if my nieces or nephews developed an interest in PC games more hardware-intensive than Minecraft, it would have been a matter of throwing in a low-end graphics card. Now they’re stuck with whatever the machine came with, and their parents certainly aren’t looking for discrete graphics.

      So my nephews are naturally focused on the Xbox (aside from older games like the used copy of Grim Fandango mentioned last thread), and my nieces on Minecraft. (Plus iOS games for both, of course.) Which is fine for now, but I wish there were some inexpensive upgrade to make more resource-intensive PC gaming possible for them as and when. (Alas, external graphics cards have always been curiosities rather than a serious retail niche.)

      • Ciennas says:

        That might become a retail phenomenon now that the all in ones are getting ubiquitous.

        honestly, I’d just like the case to be able to swap the parts or load more in more easily. Want better graphics? stick in a new graphics chip, right next to your old one! want even better? Swap out the older one for a newer one!

        I know there’s some limitations there, but we can seriously store a terabyte on a thumbnail sized chip. dedicated graphics processors shouldn’t be hard.

        besides, what if they just soldered on an extra generic processor, but slotted in so that it can do calculations solely for rendering? Is that a silly and fanciful dream?

        • X2-Eliah says:

          Thumbnail terabyte ramchips don’t have the heating problems that graphics cards do. For something that you push into a slot (meaning, microSD/SD-like slot), you just plain cannot make a proper heatsink.

  20. tzeneth says:

    Was anyone else here yelling at Josh going “Why are you walking? Use the blink power with the body. Why are you jumping down fully? Use blink. I SAID USE BLINK!”

  21. Tse says:

    I think it would be very easy to design huge seamless levels. First, you get a level planner, who puts every building or area or group of rooms in the level as simple shapes. After that, everyone gets one of the shapes and starts designing. Then the level planner can get started on his own part of the level or, maybe, make objects that are to be used by all the building/area/room designers. That way you get the added benefit of varying architecture/room design within a single loading zone. I don’t think it would be that hard to do, technically speaking, many programs can have multiple people working on the same file. Hell, real buildings are being designed this way nowadays.
    P.S. You still do more work for the same area, compared to 10 years ago, though.

  22. I like how with Rutskarn away he still gets a mention. Does that mean that every person who is not present get a mention?

    That is a lot of people. Penny Arcade did a thing recently where they chased ducks saying names (That is Mike was saying names hile chasing ducks, not chasing ducks who were saying names..) from the people who helped on the Kickstarter. The video was about an hour long…

  23. guy says:

    High chaos on this one was pretty fun; the automated defenses prevented a straightforward direct assault down the bridge and let me mess with rewire tools, then the large number of Overseers inside (including my first music box guys) made the fight fairly challenging but not too tough for me and like a billion rats.

  24. Ilseroth says:

    Perhaps I am a bit cynical, but I don’t see larger levels designed for exploration happening. Would require massive amounts of collaboration that modern developers wouldn’t risk. The costs of development are just too damn high, and if it’s safer to break up areas (it is) then they will do it as risk prevention management.

    You may be able to find that kind of optimism in indie developers, but they lack the resources necessary to make those kind of large 3d worlds in the first place. Granted, that’s not entirely true, but those kind of large space require a large time input, or a large team; indy devs rarely have either.

  25. Kavonde says:

    I actually did the same thing Josh did in the basement room with the lady and the rats. I saw the rat swarms, but misjudged where the survivor was; I thought she was along the left wall, not right in the middle. I dropped a dead guard down there to get the swarm clustered, followed it with a grenade, and…

    Hey, at least the rats didn’t get her, right?

    • Humanoid says:

      I thought it was interesting that the “choice” here was described as Bethesda-style, whereas a previous example, the DX:HR “multiple levels of failure” gas room was described as Bioware-esque. The effect and consequence is the same in either case, but I suppose the difference is that in the latter case they tend to make a song and dance about it, where the former tucks away their karma dispensers silently.

      I’m now somewhat curious in both cases whether you could knock them out (and maybe carry them away) to save them.

  26. Baltar says:

    You know, if you want a nice example of Massive levels being possible, Arma 3 is making a great stride at it. Sure, if you want to make a area choked full of troops and tanks, you will need one beastly computer, but the possibility is there.

  27. I think the largest contiguous-area game I’ve ever played was Gothic–it was a huge sandbox-style game with count it, one loading screen. On the older PC I originally played it on, it took FOREVER to load up, though, but once it was loaded you could pretty much play indefinitely–the lack of loads also seemed to mean a lack of memory leaks and other issues that gradually filled up memory and led to game slowdown and an eventual crash.

  28. thark says:

    Re: Large levels, I’ve recently been playing through Might & Magic VI (1998ish if I’m not mistaken), and some of the dungeons are really frappin’ huge. (Tomb of VARN in particular.)

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      They are, though to be fair they are often big but simple. And there is supposedly a resurrection of the series in the works. I will admit that IX was… less than amazing, but I quite enjoyed the earlier instalments in the series so for now I’m willing to call it good news.

  29. Kdansky says:

    You miss a really big one there, Shamus: World of Warcraft. It only has loading screens when you switch continents or teleport very far, but the world is utterly gigantic. We should be able to do the same again in a short time: I got 32 GB of RAM and a generic SSD (about 500 MB/s read speed), that’s less than $200 for a ~256 GB disk (mine’s just 128 because it’s old), and another $200 for the RAM [Yeah, it’s too much, but I really didn’t want to save $100 now for the risk of having to upgrade RAM at some point], really not on the expensive side any more. After the first few GB (four seconds for two GB) the level would be ready to enter, and far-away rooms can be loaded on the fly.

    On a side-note: If the next generation of consoles doesn’t come with SSDs, I predict that will be a huge issue. Start-up speed of games is not irrelevant, and DVD vs SSD is like a fat, old man versus Usain Bolt. If the DVD gets lucky, it’s only 20 times slower. Three seconds become a minute. It’s one of the reasons I hate my PS3: It takes multiple minutes to get into a game, whereas my PC takes mere seconds.

    Even your pipeline concerns strike me as old-fashioned. Even on programming code, it is perfectly reasonable nowadays that more than one person is editing the same files at the same time, with the versioning control (git or .hg) taking care of most conflicts. In level design, you could just designate areas, or go all-out and have a multi-person editor, like Google Docs or Minecraft. Sure, we need to write a few great tools, but it’s high time for tools like Bethesda’s level editor to be replaced. No wonder their games are shallow: The tool to make them is really weak.

    • Humanoid says:

      I don’t own a PS3, but find it interesting that reports say installing an SSD in one (since their drives are bog-standard 2.5″ disks) improves loading times and general speediness by bugger-all. Wonder what’s going on behind the scenes that would cause that. Is it the disk controller? The OS? The games themselves?

      Aside, WoW (which I haven’t played for some time now) was and still is the only game where I’ve noticed any difference between 4GB and 8GB of RAM. Since then I’ve had one of my sticks fail so I’m back down to 4GB, and while I had the intention of replacing it all with a new set, the combination of no perceptible difference in any games I play and the current spike in prices means I’ll probably not even bother until I buy a wholly new system altogether.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Considering how weird the PS3’s architecture is, I wouldn’t be surprised if disc performance doesn’t increase largely because the hard drive isn’t used as much for a typical PC “installation”, but rather a whole lot of the loading is coming from the optical drive (with it’s tens of GBs available).

  30. Artur CalDazar says:

    On your first playthrough you have no reason not to think Sokolov will have an escape or fallback if you just do the direct assault.
    I actually think its a bit odd he doesn’t, I guess they wanted to save that mechanic for the Lord Regent?

    Anyway, I don’t see why releasing her would be a chaotic action, she is just going to lie down and die some place she feels safe, inside that room but outside the cage.

    I don’t think there is a problem with them not telling us how chaos works per se, that’s something I actually like, sinking the mechanics out of view when you really don’t need to see them is a good thing.

    However it doesn’t work here because we don’t really know how the chaos system works, outside of the fact killing is chaotic. We don’t know what the axis is based on.

    For example in Mass effect they could remove the paragon and Renegade stuff and we’d still understand what was what, we do not need each instance pointed out because the object is already clearly defined.

  31. I really think that we can get to the point with better development tool where we could go back to the days of the 1990s, if we embraced that tradeoff and stopped chasing graphics, which is already something the most successful games are. League of Legends and World of Warcraft, two of the most successful games in the world, have technology that runs on computers that are years old. If everything were just a little less detailed, we could have games that were Thief-sized.

  32. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Perhaps I am too young to remember correctly,

    but didn’t Mrs. Packman score you in fruit? Apple, Triple Banana.

  33. WJS says:

    About the prisoners, I can’t remember if Sokolov has had people in the early stages of the plague rounded up, or if he’s infecting them himself. That obviously makes a huge difference about whether it should be chaotic to release them or not.
    EDIT: Well, in a sane world, anyway. In one where killing weepers is chaotic, who knows?

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