Tomb Raider EP11: Grim Därk

By Shamus
on Jul 11, 2013
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

I don’t have much to say about this part of the game that didn’t end up in the episode, so let me back up and talk about the section from last week when I was absent.

The section where Lara is caught in the rapids and has to dodge the hazards in the water was really hard for me. I just couldn’t see the obstacles mixed in with all the foaming water. By the time I spotted threats it was too late to avoid them. I kind of had to brute-force it by just memorizing a particular line. I think it took me five tries to get through it.

I have to hand it to the game for being really authentic for just how confusing it would be to find yourself in that kind of predicament, although it didn’t make for very interesting or fun gameplay.

Also, the debate about whether the death animations are appropriate or needlessly gruesome is kind of interesting to me. The first time I saw Lara get spiked by rusty metal I was shocked and nauseated. But I figured that was probably the response the designers intended. But the fifth time I saw it I began wondering just what the hell was wrong with the designers. The shock value was gone and replaced with a general sense of disgust for the work itself.

A movie can get away with having a single gory death. But if they repeat the same gory death over and over from different camera angles and in slow-motion, then suddenly our perception of the gore changes. Suddenly it feels like the story is just an excuse to put nasty stuff onscreen to satisfy the filmmaker’s sick fetish for the macabre. Repetition carries meaning and we respond to it.

But in the context of this game, the player can experience that sort of unsavory repetition through failure. I think it would be good for the designer to keep this in mind when designing these deaths. If anything, we should have been spared the full gore show for subsequent failures, maybe with a slam cut to black just before impact. The player will remember the earlier death and will probably flinch at the memory without needing to show them the full scene again.

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2020209Sixty-nine comments, dude! Excellent!

From the Archives:

  1. Cannibalguppy says:

    I might be weird but for some reason i enjoy gory deaths in games. I hate rape and such but the more gory it is the more i giggle.

    • Adam says:

      I have a similar response. I think it’s partially due to my own sexual politics (that is, I don’t have any, and sexuality in general makes me uneasy) and partly because of how much harder it is to laugh off a death than a sexual assault (or any kind of abuse, for that matter) Once someone dies, however painfully, the suffering is over. But I’ve known too many abuse victims to believe that just because someone was raped, the worst is behind them. Knowing that abuse can leave emotional and physical scars that linger for decades and ruin lives makes that sort of thing so much harder to laugh off.

  2. ChoppazAndDakka says:

    Watching Josh do the puzzle in the tomb was hard. Mostly because I went through the same trauma. Platformers are not my strong point.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

  4. Guildenstern says:

    Am I the only one who has no idea what the hell everybody’s talking about for like the first four minutes of the episode?

  5. rofltehcat says:

    So… Fallout Pen&Paper, huh? Will you record it or write it down or something? :)

    • BeamSplashX says:

      Check your Pipboy for updates.

      • rofltehcat says:

        Ok, so I obviously missed something. Can anyone let me in on it please? :(

        • The Pipboy is the thing on your wrist (Fallout 3 & NV) or the vacuum-tube control device (F1 and F2) that appears whenever you want to check your stats, inventory, etc. It’s the wasteland version of the PDA or Smartphone (minus the phone).

          Usually, quest information is available via Pipboy, so the joke is that you’d be able to monitor a Fallout RPG via a similar device.

          This has been “explaining the joke at the expense of all humor and amusement.” Ask for it by name.

          • rofltehcat says:

            Oh ok, thanks! I know what a Pipboy is, I simply didn’t get the joke. I thought it was supposed to be a in-character way of saying “check Shamus’ twitter” or something.

  6. newdarkcloud says:

    I think the way The Last of Us handled these kinds of horrible deaths was pretty good. Let’s say that for some reason the players failed to kill a Clicker in time and the monster got up to him and started chomping (which is an instant kill).

    The game shows the player the initial bite, then we hear Troy Baker as Joel scream and it cuts to black, giving you a hint and quickly taking you to the last checkpoint. It gives you just enough visual and audio cues to give you a sense of how horrible the death is without lingering for long enough to make it disturbing.

    A lot of the power these deaths in TR have come from the seconds where it lingers on before resetting. At least, that’s my theory.

    Here are a few death scenes to give you an idea of what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIHDP8sksFM

    • Klay F. says:

      Not having ever played a Tomb Raider game, I was under the impression that all these graphic deaths were something the originals did as well. Its just the designers paying lip service to the franchise they are supposedly making a game for. Considering how much thought the designers put into the other hold-overs from the originals, it doesn’t surprise me they managed to fuck it up.

    • Tizzy says:

      Indeed. This came up in comments last week as well: it’s not so much the initial impact as the little twitches afterwards which are really disturbing.

  7. Miki says:

    I’ve found gory, gratuitous death and violence against female characters 3000x creepier ever since I found out ryona was a thing.

    No, don’t google it. Preserve your innocence. It is precious.

    • Adam says:

      The only “safe” link I could find for that was the tvtropes page for it. And as we all know, TVTropes is NEVER safe. That said:

      EEEAAAUUGGGHHHH…. I know everyone’s got their own thing, and it’s better the people who are into this stuff get it out of their systems in a video game instead of real life, but damned if I wouldn’t cut all ties with someone who said they were into it.

    • anaphysik says:

      Well, there’s the Urban Dictionary top definition for the term (and even that ‘top’ one has a roughly even thumbs-up/thumbs-down count :/ ). It starts all academic, then devolves in grammar and adopts a more typical ‘internet tone,’ before finally rambling itself to an actual good point – that the base phenomenon may be even more present in American/Western works, particularly by being less obviously the immediate point of a work (to both viewer and creator) because we don’t have a specific term for the phenomenon.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Maybe if they had a few more death animations for each of the hazards instead of one,the repetition thing couldve been avoided,or at least mitigated.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You know,now I really want someone to make a game where combat will get increasingly difficult towards the end not by increasing the mook count,but by giving you realistic wounds.Sort of a mesh of luck meter Shamoose talked about some time back and fallout 3s broken limbs system.

    Explanation:instead of health bar,you get a luck meter,and when the game calculates that a bullet would shoot you,it decreases,and the bullet is deflected to have a new trajectory that misses you.Once your luck runs out,no such calculation is done,and when a bullet hits,it hits.And if you get hit in a leg,your movement speed decreases,and you get a limp.If it hits you in the arm,your accuracy decreases.If it hits you in the head,you die.

    You also get bandages that could mitigate these negative effects somewhat,but can only be used outside of combat.So if you are playing really carefully,youd get to the end game with no wounds,and it would be easy for you.If you were rushing through,youd have a tough time fighting those 3 guys in the end.

    But,I guess thats not exciting enough for the average player,so we will probably never see this.Though it would be perfect for a game with high emphasis on stealth.

    • Trix2000 says:

      I think the problem is such a system as described punishes a poor player with even more difficulty as opposed to a good player who has an easy time all game. Neither will feel appropriately challenged.

      I do think there’s room to improve the system to avoid that issue, though. Not entirely sure how though.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Not really,since such a system has already been used in plenty of rpgs that allow grinding or have plenty of side quests.You either sacrifice time to have it easy in the end,or you rush through the main story and have a hard time later.

        But yes,it does need improvement,since it was just a basic sketch of the idea.

        • Trix2000 says:

          I don’t know if that quite works in a shooter, since a not-so-good player is liable to get shot whether they rush or not. If there’s a way they can fix the damage with time (ala grinding) maybe, but I can only see either a really easy experience (where getting wounded at all is rare) or something frustratingly difficult for the newbie.

          But yeah, I basically agree. Needs work, but could be pretty good with some more time put into it.

          • Syal says:

            Put Rabbit’s Feet around the level where you’d normally put health pickups.

            Or maybe you can find coins, and flip them, and you lose the coin but gain some luck.

            • harborpirate says:

              That last idea for a mechanism is a brilliant tweak to this idea! Perfect noob balancer.

              Imagine the quick shorthand for a game like that: “Yeah I beat Tom Braider 7 with 171 coins left”.

            • SyrusRayne says:

              I like what you’re getting at with those ideas, but they feel a bit… “hokey” to me, for lack of a better term.

              That mainly comes down to theme, however. With a bit of thematic tweaking (“Grit” for a Western game, perhaps. This would depend on the game in question. But you’d regain said Grit for doing cowboyish things. Trick shots, drinking, etc.) it could work quite well.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Yeah, it’s good realism, but bad game.

    • Khizan says:

      That system is incredibly punishing for poor players.

      In a game with a system like that, poor play can lock you into a DIAS endgame where you’ve got a situation that you can’t get out of without absolutely perfect play and/or luck.

      And if your luck regenerates at all, it would also make it possible to cheese certain things by just leaping out into fire, effectively turning it into a shield bar.

      • Syal says:

        Unless it’s a percentage thing.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well that could be the turned into a difficulty thing:
        Easy – Luck regenerates
        Normal – Luck regenerates only between levels
        Hard – There is no luck

      • Humanoid says:

        What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So award 1xp for every bullet you’re hit with!

        Being facetious, of course, but it sort of addresses the issue where there’s no counterbalance to the loss in performance you suffer for not repeating segments of the game over and over until you get it perfect. Some people might like that, but I don’t think it’d go down well overall given the current paradigm.

        So what then? Well personally I’d work with such a system if regardless of how well I did, I’d be able to get through and complete that playthrough with zero backtracking. So I’m thinking now, why not implement that counterweight? Instead of the persistent injuries being a straight-up penalty, implement some other mechanic that’d adapt either the character or the game inversely to your ‘health’.

        The simplest might be a better-disguised XP-for-being-shot mechanic. I mean some games sort of do this where time slows down as you’re on the brink of death, but a more comprehensive system isn’t out of the picture, which, regardless of what form it takes ends up being some sort of compensation for what you’ve lost.

        Perhaps a more interesting implementation would be to dynamically change the gameworld depending on your status. Something like Dishonored taken to the n-th degree. It’s been a long war, you’re limping and bleeding, struggling to breathe – but then, so are the soldiers on the other side. Some Stalingrad-style door-to-door fighting might suit this style well: how well organised and fortified the foe is depends on your own condition. Or maybe for a more cartoony style, you’ve had multiple encounters with some dude throughout the course of the game, and by the end, you’re both walking wounded – picture the last round of a Rocky Balboa vs Apollo Creed fight. Imagine if the final Shepard vs screw-Kai Leng fight was just a slugging match between two broken adversaries, dazed and delirious.

        ….okay, bad example.

    • ehlijen says:

      But the thing is, the combat as presented in this game was actually mostly fun.

      It was fast paced, felt lethal even if it isn’t and it gives the player a lot to do.

      Yes, it didn’t quite fit the tone they promised in the ads (though what the actual game delivers fits a fairly well as pulp action in my opinion), but I’d rather have seen the story change than good gameplay.

    • hborrgg says:

      I think what’s being gotten at is that with a system like that if you don’t get shot (or at least you don’t get shot enough to get wounded) then the game isn’t going to get any harder. You’re adding difficulty but that extra difficulty isn’t actually going to be seen unless someone is already struggling.

    • Interesting, but it sounds like a tarted up version of some kind of DOT effect (poison, for example) or a limited resource mechanic (air filters in Metro 2033) that pokes you to keep moving.

    • I like the idea of long-lasting injuries, but in the way you’ve suggested, I feel kind of iffy.
      It seems like you are encouraging players to be cautious. But the problem with being cautious is that players end up spending time in cover and waiting for the perfect moment and try to find the safest strategies, rather than getting out there and experimenting with any emergent properties your mechanics might have.
      A suggestion I would make would be to rip off the FATE core system – in a given fight, you can take a certain amount of stress (i.e. your luck bar can run out to a point). The stress instantaneously recharges to full at the end of a fight.
      But if you run out of luck, then you get into the realm of consequences, where injuries increase in deadliness:
      Firstly, mild injuries, which could be healed easily – maybe like healthpacks in l4d?
      Secondly, moderate injuries, which would need professional assistance of some kind.
      Thirdly, Severe injuries, things that will require hospitalisation and extensive recovery time.
      Finally, devastating injuries, injuries which are completely permanent.

      The key difference here is that the only permanent injuries happen in extremely rare cases and change something about your character. And also, you can hurt the player a lot without killing them – potentially, you could get rid of DIAS gameplay entirely and have no death, just incredibly severe consequences.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I love this idea. More approximate simulation! It’s no problem for the computer to keep track of, and it would lend a lot of depth to the game play instead of negating everything as soon as you reach the next zone.

  10. hborrgg says:

    I think this is what they were referencing in regards to flammable ropes.

    http://www.kongregate.com/games/mazapan/you-have-to-burn-the-rope

  11. ehlijen says:

    It would be pronounced something like ‘Grim Derk’ (e as in end). And yes, it’s called an Umlaut.

    And yeah, DIAS QTEs are just bad. But I still prefer the sliding adventure to the Boris Bossfight. I had to google what I was doing wrong because it just wouldn’t end. I had no problems staying alive, but no clue how to get the game to proceed.

    spoiler/much needed knowledge: QTE count as failed if you hit the button too soon >:(

    • anaphysik says:

      Yes, the specific type of diaeresis they’re talking about is called an umlaut. But it’s certainly not pronounce umm-LOT, Shamus, you oomlout. :P

    • Disc says:

      The other way to pronounce it is as æ. Which would make it sound a little like the letter A in words like “lap” or “action” when speaking with an American accent, only with a bit sharper and more distinct enunciation.

      • ehlijen says:

        The danish letter ae and the german a umlaut are basically the same sound, yeah.

        But I didn’t realise ae had an assigned sound in english?

      • anaphysik says:

        As far as I know, /æ/ doesn’t occur in Standard German phonology at all. (Maybe it’s a Süddeutsch thing?)

        ä is usually /ɛ/ (like ehlijen suggested) or /e/ (or their long forms). (This is, of course, ignoring the “äu” digraph, which is pronounced like “eu” (the /ɔʏ/ diphthong, though I’m liable to say it as /ɔɪ/ :/ )

        EDIT: I’d also like to note that this can all become rather muddled when you realize that IPA has a /ä/ sound as well ;D (It’s between /a/ and /ɑ/)

        • Disc says:

          Yeah sorry, I got stuck thinking about the universal utility of the ä. Being Finnish I felt I should point it out. I never studied German (though I wish I had) so call me clueless on its linguistics. My attention span is pretty terrible when I’m tired.

  12. For Chris’ edification: Rutskarn’s reference about “more dots” and so forth is (warning, lots of accented swears) from a famous audio clip often called “50 DKP Minus,” where a raid in World of Warcraft goes quite wrong in spectacular fashion.

    For the full rundown, here’s the Know Your Meme entry.

  13. RTbones says:

    Is it bad that when Chris asked, “What’s Grim’s full name?” my immediate response (by which I mean saying it out loud to my monitor) was Fandango….

  14. HiEv says:

    Wow. Not one mention of the weird burning arrow floating in the air in front of Lara’s face at 14:39-14:45 (right after the start of the rope firing cutscene the second time)? Especially amusing, since a subsequent arrow sets the floating arrow on fire a second time at the arrowhead before it disintegrates in a puff of pixie dust. Apparently the first fire wasn’t burning the arrow up, but the second fire on it did. ‘Cause arrowheads are super flammable. :-P

  15. newdarkcloud says:

    I love how shooting someone with a flaming arrow causes them a spontaneously combust. It’s not a problem unique to Tom Braider, but it still feels weird.

    There’s also the problem that we see the lighter make an arrow red hot, but then it suddenly created flaming arrows instead.

    • They should’ve used a flare gun, like in the old FPS, Blood. At least it let the mooks run around, still effective, before they burst into flames (becoming burning hazards if they got close) and turning into charred meat-piles.

  16. Hal says:

    Perhaps one way for the designers to handle such a scenario would be to show the gory death the first time you die in a particular section, whether that’s based on physical or narrative location. Subsequent deaths would be briefer, less protracted, and wouldn’t focus on the gruesomeness of the failure. This way it can pop up here and there as a reminder of brutality of the world without constantly shoving it in your face.

  17. Xaos says:

    Hey, Shamus, remember the shanty town from the other episode? When you guys were talking about “oh, this is where all the people that Laura has mowed down live” and also “But what the fuck are these guys eating?”

    This is largely because video games normally have you genocide massive numbers of mooks. But you kill these people in tiny, restricted areas where the developer can railroad you to the next part of the story. So this creates a discrepancy in just about EVERY video game that features bad guys in an isolated setting. Get used to it, its going to keep happening.

    Well, one thought that occurred to me is that maybe in a game where bad guys were defeated without lethal force, we could get some “mook recycling” and not have to worry about large numbers.

    But, one of the reasons the protagonists in these games frequently Rambo through enemies is because they are facing a serious threat themselves. You are fighting determined zealots and hardened murderers who wouldn’t think twice about firing a rocket launcher into your face, so you are not only justified in doing the same, it proves that this is a serious, adult conflict and anything less will just prove be more fuel on the fire of the accusation that video games are childish.

    OR WILL IT!?

    Here’s a number of reasons you might want to leave the Uzi at home:

    *- That’s not what the game is about. You can have the world be at stake, but you aren’t going to save it with weapons or superpowers because the Stealth Fantasy is fundamentally different from the Power Fantasy. Yahtzee has devoted an article of “Extra Punctuation” about designing stealth gameplay -three whole stealth classes in fact- that is truly nonviolent. The game is about outsmarting the enemy and laughing as you picture the looks on their faces afterwards, not bashing everything’s brains in like a Neanderthal. You are a Thief, but not a Ninja assassin.
    *- The nature of the conflict you have with the antagonists doesn’t warrant excessive force. Both sides are afraid of reprisal (or perhaps notice) from some outside authority, should violence escalate to the level where it makes the natives restless.
    *- Back to the stealth example, maybe the reason you are not willing to hurt the guard is because they’re actually friends or allies who don’t know what they are dealing with and you’re only stealing from them because they either won’t listen or won’t wait to hear about what horrifying truths you have discovered about the McGuffin of Death they just spent billions of dollars to acquire before some rival did. So, you have to save them from themselves. Preferably without snapping the necks of all the guards just doing their job.
    *- The Enemy…IS INVINCIBLE! Demons, ghosts, truly gigantic giants with titanium skin, psions who stop bullets in mid-air, or maybe ordinary humans wearing space marine armor made with some kind of super metal.
    *- The Protagonist is unable to kill anything. Maybe you are playing a child, a small animal, or a robot whose programming forbids it from harming even dangerously violent human beings. Maybe its a point and click adventure game and there is no combat engine, just scenes where you die.
    *- The player is facing any of those things from above, and deadly force is not appropriate for the situation. Yes, even children. Children-on-children conflicts happen in fiction, and are mostly what happens in Bully.
    *-The protagonist believes in non-violent ideals, and simply would not consider killing the mooks.

    • Xaos says:

      Oh, and one more:

      *-Its a zombie apocalypse, and you are facing zombies.

      Hey, sit back down, I’m not down speaking yet!

      Zombies are always marked as “okay” to mow down, even though there are different types of Zombies (Infected who still technically “alive”, Mass Effect Husks, etc.), mostly because they are hostile and an immediate threat, and also because “they’re dead already.”

      But what if you could get them back? What if you knew that you could eventually change them back.

      Actually, I don’t even need to go that far. How about a game where the “zombies” are just normal, perfectly well people under mind control? Transmittable mind control, if that floats your boat?

      A mind control apocalypse works like a zombie apocalypse (although people do more readily wonder things like what the controlled are going to eat…), but it takes the nauseating absolution of “its sad, but they are already dead” and replaces it with a tension and asks a level of responsibility from the play that most Black-and-White morality systems fail to do. You don’t decide you’re going to “Play as the Dark Side” this time, you just fuck up. You fuck up and either have to kill a lot of innocent victims who cannot be held responsible for their actions, or else losing people who can still help you save everyone.

      It would be like Dishonored, but getting a bad ending from killing too many people makes sense because each life you take increases the chances of soul-crushing guilt, revenge from family members, or melancholy after the abandonment (or betrayal or suicide) of some people close to the protagonist catching up with you by the end!

      • Scourge says:

        Now this idea sort of reminds me of a particular chapter of Franken Fran ( a manga, for those curisity incluned) where said Franken Fran is taking a holiday.. and suddenly zombie outbreak. Turns out though that the people are just infected by a common parasite that has been around ages, which coincidentally just were able to jump to humans through mutation.

        Said mutation also makes the infectees stumble around very zombie like and try to eat everything, cause they are always hungry.

        Fran in the end even remarks that everyone was so gunhappy and ready to shoot down these people cause they have seen so many games and films where Zombies are mowed down. They didn’t even think they could be cured.

        Now this would work perfectly into a wonderful plot twist. Maybe halfway through or in the end you meed a Doctor who explain this to you.. that the zombies are not undead but just sick people and that they can be cured, if only they could be given proper attention.

        Maybe even hint at it at the beginning, some Doctors talking in the background as you walk through a camp, wondering if they are sick or something or of they are truly zombies.

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