Skyrim EP26: Follow the White Rabbit

By Shamus
on Apr 17, 2014
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Chris hits on an interesting angle here, talking about the various costs of populating game space with extras. In Grand Theft Auto, you’ve got lots and lots of nameless, randomly generated extras who are poofed into existence as you enter an area and vanish the moment they’re no longer relevant to the scene. You can murder them, steal from them, shove them, or terrorize them without having any lasting impact on the city. They don’t matter. On the upside, the population density feels about right and really sells the notion that you’re in a real city.

At the other extreme we have Bethesda-esque games, which are lightly populated to the point of comedy. A small town like Riverwood doesn’t even have enough people to comprise one family of pre-technology people, much less a whole town. Even a major city like Solitude has barely enough people to fill a tiny village. On the upside, everyone has a name and a job and a place in the city. If you kill someone, they stay dead and the city goes on without them.

I don’t think that one approach is objectively better than another. They each lend themselves to different sorts of games. I sort of admire the Bethesda approach more, but I admit it also leaves more room for moments of “LOL videogame logic”. Why isn’t anyone married? Hey, Skyrim only has about 10% of the required farmland to supply this tiny population! This “war” between two dozen people looks ridiculous. Why aren’t there more graveyards? What keeps these smithies in business when there are already more swords than people?

The GTA world makes even less sense (nobody does anything, nobody has a job, nobody has kids, etc) but we notice it less because we understand the people don’t matter. But by adding detail to the world Bethesda sort of draws our attention to the extras, and then they crumble under the scrutiny. Which creates this strange situation where it might feel like there’s no point in trying. But I’d point to Fallout: New Vegas as an example of a game that does it right. Or perhaps not right, but less wrong. We don’t need perfection, but having fewer flagrant imperfections would help a lot.

I won’t get into the embassy quest just yet. We’re going to spend all of the next episode on it, so we’ll have plenty of time to discuss it then.

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From the Archives:

  1. Thomas says:

    The more we talk about Skyrim the more I want New Vegas 2 to be real.

  2. MrGuy says:

    One of the few things I think Fallout 3 did well. In at least some of the towns, in addition to the “named people,” they had what I think were randomly spawned people. I recall at least “Megaton Settler”s and “Tenpenny Resident”s. I think Paradise Falls had anonymous “Slaver”s as well. Don’t know if they were randomly spawned, or just pre-built characters with “we didn’t bother to give these ones backstory,” but at least it did help those towns feel a little more full and lived in.

    Of course, then you a bunch of “towns” like Girdershade, which was just “two people happen to live here for no reason,” which create exactly the opposite effect.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      And Skyrim is running on just a modified version of the same engine, which means it should be possible to have a similar density of people.

      • Neruz says:

        It is and there are mods that do it, but as the NPC density goes up the engine stability takes a noticable turn for the worse.

        • Thomas says:

          Hopefully this could be helped with the tech bump new consoles will create? Dead Rising 3 already had ‘more NPCs’ as it’s marketing gimmick

          • Raygereio says:

            Hopefully this could be helped with the tech bump new consoles will create?

            This sentiment has come up quite frequente in the comment thread for this season and the answer still is: Not really.
            Sure, if you have more processing power and memory for the game engine to munch on you could have larger cities and more NPCs active in memory without too much loss in performance.
            But that’s only treating the symptom, the problem of the engine being kinda crappy in how it handles things like NPCs would still be there. For the next Elder Scrolls game to have huge cities with large ammounts of NPCs milling about, Bethesda would have to completely rewrite a lot of their codebase. Which I don’t see happening anytime soon.

            • Eathanu says:

              No no no, THIS time we’ve taken the Gamebryo engine and bractically rewritten it from scratch to be better, faster, and more stable.

              *smug Todd Howard smile that you just want to stab until it stops*

              • Andrew_C says:

                Gamebryo was never the the problem. It’s all the hacks that Bethesda have piled on top of it. I’m convinced that the reason they renamed their pile of bugs and hacks sitting on an old version of Gamebryo to Creation Engine was that the new owners of Gamebryo demanded it because of the bad name Bethesda were giving it.

      • Klay F. says:

        Its also worth noting that Oblivion used the same engine as the Fallouts and has superior NPC population than either them or Skyrim. In Oblivion, every non-hostile NPC had a name and a schedule(EDIT:Derp. Forgot about the obvious exception of town guards, but even they have schedules and watch-changes). Obviously, this isn’t without its problems, but its interesting to note that as technology advanced, the NPC population of Bethsoft games got smaller and smaller.

  3. BeardedDork says:

    One of the mods I’ve been playing with “Inconsequential NPCs” just does what it says on the tin and adds a bunch of nobodies to Skyrim, it makes the populations of towns and cities feel about right..

    • AdmiralCheez says:

      Combined with the “Interesting NPCs” mod, which adds people with backstories and fully-voiced, custom dialogue trees, Skyrim becomes a much more lively place. You’ve got the standard NPCs, which are annoying to talk to, and mostly used for quests, you’ve got the interesting NPCs, who can all get into lengthy conversations about life, philosophy, anything really, and the inconsequential NPCs, which are mostly just there for flavor. It’s a really great balance that makes the world seem at least a little more realistically populated.

      The thing I like most about the inconsequential NPCs, though, is that they just brush you off when you try to talk to them. It makes sense that not everyone in the world is going to want to tell their life’s story to everyone who asks.

      • Kana says:

        Speaking about the Interesting NPCs mod, I don’t remember there ever being that many people you can just talk to without being given a quest. Would that be fun or interesting for the player if Bethesda added or changed a few NPCs just to have some dialog with, and nothing else?

        It might help with giving a little more room for a player to role play, but I can’t help but feel like I’d be “wasting” some time if I got into a random conversation with no gameplay payoff.

  4. Merzendi says:

    “Why isn’t anyone married? Hey, Skyrim only has about 10% of the required to supply this tiny population!”

    Er, Shamus, 10% of the required what?

    • Shamus says:

      Cell phone towers.

      I mean farms. I meant farms. (Fixed. Thanks.)

      • To be fair, we can thank consoles for the population dip in every Bethsoft game, pretty much. I am impressed at how much better this game looks than Oblivion when both were coded for the same hardware.

        But yeah, we’re supposed to see the people there as shorthand for a larger population, the same way the Vaults in Fallout are supposed to be bigger and have more people. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a restoration mod for New Vegas that adds a LOT of NPCs to Freeside and the strip, making it actually seem more like a bustling urban area.

        Speaking of consoles, I’m really hoping what’s holding up Fallout 4 is Bethesda trying to decide how to construct the game based on XBone/PS4 hardware requirements and/or whether or not to make it playable on the 360/PS3. M’self, I’d love it if they kept the graphics engine they have and add more content, world, quests, etc., but that would probably go against the “make it look next-gen” edict that every game company is clinging to.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          While I would not object to a fuller game world, I have never been as bothered by the lack of people as our host. Of course, Henry V is one of my favorite plays, so…

          “So great an object, can this cockpit hold
          the vast fields of France? Or may we cram
          within this wooden O the very casques
          that did affright the air at Agincourt?

          “On your imaginary forces work
          Suppose within the girdle of these walls
          are now confined two mighty monarchies
          whose high upreared and abutted fronts
          The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder
          Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts
          Into a thousand parts divide a man…
          Think when we talk of horses that you see them…
          Carry them here and there: jumping o’er times
          Turning the accomplishment of many years
          Into an hour-glass for which supply…
          Who prologue like you humble patience pray
          Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

          • Kylroy says:

            To answer the question you probably didn’t mean to ask –

            A modern video game can absolutely hold the vast fields of France, with all the afrightning casques you could ask for. Suspension of disbelief at the theater is different.

            Although something similar could be said for the Rockstart approach – yes, these people only exist as props to be used or ignored as you the player choose, but would you really care if we did more?

          • Aerik says:

            Okay, tangent, but have you seen The Hollow Crown’s production of Henry V?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hollow_Crown_%28TV_series%29

            Tom Hiddleston as Henry V! Highly recommended.

            • Henson says:

              I watched their Henry IV, part I. Not bad, though kind of a shame that so much of the Hotspur stuff was cut. It also had the amusing Skyrim problem of a couple dozen guys representing an army.

              Hiddleston made a pretty nice Prince Hal. Though I really liked Jeremy Irons as Henry Bolingbroke; he made the part interesting.

    • el_b says:

      overlords, bethesda needs to spawn more of them.

  5. Henson says:

    So here’s an interesting thing about that farm where you meet Delphine…

    As Josh showed earlier in the season, NPCs will let you take some of their stuff if you do them favors; the word ‘Steal’ will no longer be present. For farmers, you can do this by ‘helping to pick crops’, aka stealing the farmers’ potatoes and selling them back to them.

    If you help pick crops at Katla’s Farm, they will let you take their horse. Forever.

    Skyrim is a weird place.

  6. Bloodsquirrel says:

    Wait, no cemeteries?

    Skyrim is full of tombs. In fact, they’ve probably got their newer tombs hidden because you keep grave-robbing the older ones.

    • Henson says:

      Well, they’ve got their Halls of the Dead in Markarth, Whiterun, Solitude and Windhelm, which I suppose are newer tombs, despite using the same palette as the old tombs.

      I’m guessing people in Dawnstar in Riften send their dead out on burning boats, given their proximity to water. The mages probably incinerate bodies in Winterhold, or perhaps they just throw bodies over the cliffs for fun.

      People in Rorikstead are just screwed, though.

      • Yanni says:

        Something cool about the Halls of the Dead is that if you kill townsfolk they will actually eventually (you know… after the cell reloads) end up buried there.

        • aldowyn says:

          :O really? That’s actually really cool!

          • Janus says:

            Wow, I’ve never seen that either…
            That’s so typically Skyrim. Every now and then you stumble upon some hidden gem, that’s never alluded or gameplay-relevant in any way.
            Seems like they had a lot of really interesting ideas for their world-building, but for some reason decided to keep the actual gameplay as far away from them as possible.

            Also, I never got the logic of the nordic tombs.
            They’re supposed to be the normal way people are buried apparently (except for Falkreath). And the Forsworw use them too, traditionally (red eagle).
            But the tombs are also supposed to be the remnants of the old “Dragon Cult”, who mummified their dead/created Draugr. But Draugr hang out in almost all of them, new and old, and they all look the same anyway.
            So, after they defeated the horrible, vile and despised Dragon-Cult, they just continued burying their dead according to the Cults customs? Including mummification? … What?

          • Indy says:

            Just looking it up on the wiki, only two halls specifically mention doing this: Riften and Whiterun. Maybe the others do too but I doubt it.

    • Hitch says:

      The people of Falkreath go on and on about how big their cemetery is. Unfortunately, I came in from a different direction and couldn’t find it until I’d gotten sick of hearing about it. It looks like it might have about six graves, so it IS pretty huge. (By Skyrim standards.)

    • IFS says:

      Well I mean really is there a point to building more tombs when the dead get up half the time and leave theirs vacant? Really someone should start a ‘used tomb’ dealership, fill up that now empty space.

  7. ? says:

    About those graveyards… In medieval Europe graves were often reused once they were old enough, taking up space and not cared for by anybody. Any skeletal remains would be moved to special chamber on cemetery grounds (word of the day: ossuary) and new body could be put in it’s place. It’s still on sacred ground and nobody living cares anyway. Also, mass graves for the poor. With their mortality rate, keeping each individual grave for ever and ever would fill up all living space and farmland quickly.

    • DIN aDN says:

      These are good points, but even still there are very few places in Skyrim that aren’t residences, dungeons, shops, or open wilderness. In an actual medieval setting you’d have warehouses, pastures, cropping, meeting-places, favoured local haunts, and depending on where you were in the world some combination of churches, sports fields, mustering grounds, temples, market grounds, fisheries, beekeepers, cobblers, fletchers et al. And that’s without mentioning the whole slew of small industries that you’d find in and around larger settlements before factories became widespread – tanneries, glassmakers, reduction furnaces, dye ponds & mills, cane-weavers, potters, wineries, paper-makers and the rest. In Skyrim this is pretty much restricted to smiths, breweries and merchants, and even those are fairly flat and lifeless.

      Don’t get me wrong, I liked the game a lot – look at some of my other comments – but I’ve got to agree with the sentiments from Shamus & co on this one [At least that’s what I think I’m doing here]. The world it presents to you is pretty much a simple backdrop that looks real enough for it to be a fun thing to play out your adventures in front of. A couple of places you come across are a little more interesting to explore and take in Blackreach, some of the draugr dungeons, I’m sure I’ve forgotten several others but by and large if you leave the main paths to go sightseeing or exploring instead of dungeon crawling it’s pretty disappointing. At least that’s how I found it.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Truish story (there may be some embelishments in the story as related to me). One of the cities I worked in had a public cemetery, alas they were running out of space, so they started contemplating burying two people in the same grave -either one on top of the other, or burying them vertically.

      Issue comes up at a Town Council meeting, and they explain how they would sell the same plot to couples and bury them one on top of the other.

      To which one of the councilmembers says -in an open meeting – “I like this idea -it means I can finally be on top!”

      The idea was quietly shelved and the city refurbished the mausoleum instead.

    • Jabrwock says:

      In colder climes you also use crypts to store the bodies during the winter, because the ground is too hard to dig up.

  8. djshire says:

    No cemeteries? What a grave thing to talk about!

  9. Thearpox says:

    The Witcher 2 did it well? Especially when talking about population density, and keeping people busy, I was quite satisfied.

    I know Shamus didn’t like it, but I think he got as far as the Flotsam. The nightly campfire songs and stories especially, are something I have enjoyed a great deal, and will continue to remember for a long time.

    PS: Dwarf Fortress has what are probably the best cities. Realistic size, realistic farmland, sewer system, realistic markets and housing, semi-realistic loaded population, and tracking of traded goods.

    And with the new release, we will also have patrols, hooligans standing by the well, armed conflicts and site takeover, not to mention population sites of elves, dwarves, and goblins; each one unique.

    The people still stand around like dolts without a job, so there’s a lot to improve, but it’s getting there.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this very issue lately in my most recent playthrough, once I realized that counting guards, the biggest cities have a pitiful number of people in them. We know that Skyrim can definitely have large zones – so why are cities so small? I know people don’t like closed-off-city zones, but there’s no reason we can’t expand them a bit. Why is Windhelm’s “Grey Quarter” literally one store, one bar, and two houses? I will grant is actually is almost a quarter of the town, but that’s due to it being tiny. Morrowind, and a lesser degree Oblivion actually had towns with recognizable streets. They might be only symbolically cities, but it was enough to *feel* big. There shouldn’t be any reason you couldn’t put in a number of houses and nameless NPC’s who just don’t care to talk.
    However, you don’t have to stop there. Guild Wars 2, Dark Souls and oddly Shadow Warrior (2013) showed me another point: Skyboxes can also be ground boxes. That is, you can use modern technology to show areas (which the player can’t visit and doesn’t need to), that make the area look vastly bigger. Yes, being able to go anywhere you can see if cool. But having some sections that make the world feel much larger adds some mystery and cool. Those mysterious ruins, the huge far corner of the graveyard, or the myriad houses built into the top floor of the city walls all add scope to the world and a few mysteries you can never quite plumb.

    GW2 does a fantastic job at this, with a number of graphical tricks which not only make the world look incredibly awesome, but which are easy to implement, take very little processing power, and feel very nice.

    Also, dungeons do *not* need to be a warren of narrow corridors. Just, no.

    • ET says:

      Your comment about nameless people, who don’t want to be talked to, would be actually pretty easy to implement. Like, just have randomly spawned NPCs, and if you try to click on them, they say one of a half dozen phrases, like “I’m late to a meeting”, “don’t bother me, I’m busy”, and maybe like a full dozen variations of non-verbal grunts, or skeletal animations, like shoulder-shrugs. If you keep clicking on the same guy, or several people in a short period of time, the town guard comes and fines you some petty amount of gold for “disturbing the public”. Easy to implement, and makes the cities feel more alive. :)

    • Tizzy says:

      To be fair, the dungeons are not *all* mazes of narrow corridors: they did make an effort to go the huge cave direction as well, and usually I really liked discovering and exploring those.

      Let me second the ground box idea as well. After all, if I can get used to holes in the ceiling of caves that can’t be found on the surface, I can probably get used to areas of towns that I can reach, too.

      • ET says:

        Although the dungeons have some wide-open caves in them, I still don’t feel that they are living up to their full potential. The main reason, is that they don’t have any loops in them*. Some of them are long room-after-room type affairs, where you just go Entrance-A-B-C-…-Exit, and some of them have central hub-type rooms, where A/B/C/D all branch off of H. However, none of them** ever have something like A-B-C-A. It’s not like it would be too confusing either – the player is given a friggin’ auto-map to follow! So, I really hope the next Elder Scrolls game, has some more interesting layouts for its dungeons. I think that this type of structure, would make the dungeons more interesting to explore. :)

        * Teleglitch has this problem, with its randomly-generated levels too. I forgive it however, since it’s only got a three-person dev team, and programming loops in without having them go all weird/glitchy, would be very hard. ALso, the rest of the game is absolutely amaaaazing!

        ** OK, this is not 100% correct, but it is definitely the case for enough dungeons to feel like all of them. There are a couple that technically have loops in them, but they don’t feel like proper loops, since they have high ledges and platforms and holes, which act as one-way doors, so that you can’t reverse your direction and do the loop backwards. Also, all the dungeons which have the hidden-door-back-to-the-entrance don’t count, since you can’t access that loop, until you’re already finished with the dungeon, and therefore have no need to loop around anymore.

        • Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I play a game where a level loops around on itself, my first thought isn’t usually “oh, the exit is hidden over here and I just left past the gift shop.” It’s almost always, “Oh, someone made this level so you could deathmatch it with your buddies over a LAN.”

          Y’see kids, there was a time before the interwebs when you had to have a local network with more than one computer on it if you wanted to shoot a friend without being arrested…

  11. Radio Silence says:

    More scripting trivia:

    The Hooded Thalmor robe/disguise thing is /hugely/ dependent on player race and proximity. The closer you are to them, the more likely they are to realize you’re not one of them. The more Altmer-esque your race, the less likely they are to notice.

    So it works, but not for anyone blatantly not an Altmer like, say, Reginald Catbert, Khajiit, Argonians or Orsimer/Orcs.

    It also breaks if you run, rather than walk, which is…a typical case since how many people take the time to walk their Dovahkiin?

    It also becomes entirely irrelevant after a particular point during the mission, more or less because Bethesda, and you wind up having to kill your way through a significant cross-section of everyone you just got done avoiding.

    So a surprising amount of thought and attention to detail went into engineering something that winds up largely self defeating and kind of pointless that most players will never really encounter, notice or make use of.

    Classic Beth.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      As a bit of an added point – the Hooded Thalmor Robe *is* in the mansion itself – IIRC, you have to kill one of the wizards before you leave the first building to loot it though.

      And then yeah – there’s one guard you can use it to dialogue your way past, and then (At least in the run where I pulled that tactic off) immediately get triggered by everyone there saying you shouldn’t be there.

      • I remember having a fairly high stealth character and the requisite sneaky magic and I couldn’t get a robe without making everyone go ballistic. I thought that would fail the quest, but apparently not. After I discovered that, I just boarded the train to murder-town.

        Oh, wait. I did manage to get a Thalmor robe from one wizard that separated himself from the rest that I one-shot killed (so the rest of them stayed calm), but the NPCs treated me like I was wearing a Thalmor robe emblazoned with the legend, “TOTALLY NOT A THALMOR!”

        Did I mention I was playing a high elf as well? Stupid quest…

      • AdmiralCheez says:

        I thought there was a set just lying around in an empty room. From that first hallway when Malborn locks the door behind you, go to the room all the way down on the right. I seem to remember a full set on a table or a chair.

        • Indy says:

          It lacks the all-important hood so it doesn’t work (I feel like this was a mistake but even then it makes sense). The hooded one will only work in the first room with the guards and outside so long as you don’t get too near the wizards who can see through it. After you get back inside, it doesn’t work anymore and everyone is auto-hostile.

          • AdmiralCheez says:

            Ah, never mind then. I think I probably just ended up using Invisibility potions to sneak through, seen as the disguise wouldn’t have worked anyway (Khajit).

    • Tizzy says:

      In other words… a typical sandbox game. Sigh…

  12. Hold up, nerds. Its the Pronunciation Police. I’ve let a few things slide, like how Josh says “sphere” like “schfeer,” since he could be slurring his words due to excessive drink.

    But how does anyone who “does words” for a living pronounce “serenading” as “sara-nodding” as was done at 14:43?

    • ET says:

      Bring me Buttskarn’s head on a pike!

    • DIN aDN says:

      Because serenade is, in English, a word of romance derivation rather than germanic. So you could use either of English’s long ‘A’s without mangling the word, even if it’s not a widespread pronunciation [And it might be; I’m not actually familiar with American English and its dialects]. See cannonade, charade and tomato. And that’s before you even get into any of the complicated ways that words can change sounds.

      So yes. There you go. Hoping I did not just inadvertently insult anyone’s intelligence.

      • ET says:

        Blasphemy!
        Head!
        On a pike!!!

      • Looking at every online dictionary with a spoken word pronunciation function, I’m afraid Rutskarn’s looking at that head-on-pike thing. Of course, I’m no linguist, but I’m an AmURican, which is the next best thing (just kidding) and my intelligence doesn’t even realize when it’s being insulted!

        Tomato-tomato sticks around largely due to the famous “Lets Call The Whole Thing Off” song, I think, as I’ve never heard the “sarah-nod” pronunciation before this episode. If the derivation you cite is correct, it could be one of those things where it could’ve gone either way and one mode was just kind of selected by common use.

        All I know is I’m not calling it “lemon-odd” when I want a refreshing summer beverage, even if it is made from explosive lemons.

  13. Hal says:

    Okay Josh:

    Chaurus Eggs
    Ice Wraith Teeth
    Luna Moth Wing
    Nirnroot
    Vampire Dust

    You have the ingredients for invisibility potions already.

    Also, if you’re in need of healing potions, buy the normal ones (not just the minor potions), and make some of those, too.

  14. lucky7 says:

    During the water bug, did anyone else catch Jenny saying “What the?”

  15. MetalSeagull says:

    The Bill Bryson book Rutskarn refers to as “a short history of private life” is titled “At Home” and is a fascinating read.

  16. BitFever says:

    It would have been really easy for towns to actually have funerals in them. They could have held funerals in them with the pretence that it was for people who died in the war. That way it wouldn’t be lowering the already comically low population of the cities and it would make the war feel more real by showing how it effects people who are losing family and friends over it.

    • Tizzy says:

      If only this game had treated that civil war seriously, as something with serious consequences… I’m sorry, but the occasional Thalmor patrol or imperial prisoner convoy doesn’t cut it. Neither does NPC’s just talking about it, especially with such bored indifference for most of them.

  17. Phantos says:

    Perhaps that quality vs. quantity issue of characters in a game world might be why something like The Walking Dead affects me much more than Skyrim or Fallout(or even a zombie-centric open world game like State of Decay, where you can have LOTS AND LOTS of 1-dimensional, interchangeable meat puppets).

    Of course, we all know the reason there are so few villagers in a Skyrim village. And also why the “riots” in New Thief can’t handle more than a few dorks onscreen at a time. More people means more strain on the game, and we need to have more polygons you guys, or else those people we bribe might give us a 9.8 instead of a 10.

  18. Annikai says:

    I had a cemetery at my school also. It was between the school and the gym but they fenced it off so you couldn’t walk through it. The reason is that I live in the south of the United States so naturally my school was built on an old plantation (sadly none of the original building beyond the cemetery survived).

  19. Kavonde says:

    You know, I actually rolled a high elf character specifically to see if I would get new opportunities (or at least dialogue) in the Embassy. I even went to the trouble of stealing Thalmor robes beforehand, and having them stashed with my gear.

    It doesn’t change a damn thing, which at the time baffled me. Why would they play up the racial tensions throughout the game, why would they create this great new villainous, elf-supremacist faction, if race was never going to play any actual factor in how the story unfolds?

    But, no. Doesn’t matter if you’re a Nord, an Altmer, or a frickin’ Khajit. Skyrim does not care, beyond obnoxious comments from passerby. (I swear, if my Alik’r warrior hears one more crack about “mercenaries from Hammerfell strutting about,” I’m laying waste to as much of Whiterun as the game will let me kill. So, two or three people.)

  20. Neko says:

    I was stoked for the Embassy quest, hoping for at least some actual espionage, and based off some comment from Delphine early on I actually went to the trouble to obtain some civilian clothes for myself to wear and give them some enchantments to give myself an advantage.

    …. aaaaand then I’m given some quest-specific “Party Clothes” that look terrible. And then the rest of the embassy mission which no doubt we’ll have fun with next episode.

    I did manage to smuggle in weapons of my own by going up to the embassy and throwing it over the wall; IIRC I retrieved them while standing around in the snow before having your papers checked, but wasn’t able to use them until the moment where the game allows you to use weapons anyway.

  21. Mathias says:

    Is it just me, or does the prophecy on the loading screen sound vaguely like the world’s least bawdy limerick?

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Skyrim maybe has not enough farms,but at least it HAS them.Remember fallout 3 where everyone was eating dirt and 200 year old cans?Now thats stupid.Skyrim is at least a model of (somewhat) real world,only scaled down in terms of quantity,so it doesnt bother me that much.

  23. Wulfgar says:

    Why we don’t have mobs like in Hitman: Blood Money The Murder of Crows mission? It looked like there were hundreds of people on streets, and performance didn’t suffer. How did they achieve that? Magic?

    • Chris says:

      It’s a conscious design decision on the part of Bethesda – they want a world where every person “matters,” in part because Radiant AI kind of requires it. Every person has a home and a bed they sleep in; every person has a routine and a job. The towns aren’t full of John Randos, they’re full of people whose inventory, job, sleep schedule, etc are tracked and executed.

      This isn’t like Thief (2014), which legitimately seemed to have problems showing more than three active characters at once due to.. AI performance? Pathfinding issues? Design considerations given the small-ish corridors in the level designs? I dunno. But that game felt hampered by some unseen constraint. Skyrim clearly doesn’t have problems rendering decently sized mobs with AI doing stuff (at least on the PC, which is another point of concern – RAM restrictions on the consoles probably contributed to overall battle size tremendously). So the engine can do it, but design considerations and console hardware are probably the two driving factors that limit the overall size of the population in battles/towns.

      • Wulfgar says:

        But you can make hybrid system where NPCs have their home/work behavior and random mob that spawns from area inaccessible for players (e.g. Viking Longhouse). They would just move around during day (markets full of people would look nice).

        I blame consoles.

        • Chris says:

          The problem is that players can follow individual people around. This was a selling point of the Radiant AI demo from a while back; that players could figure out schedules of NPCs by following them around and know when it’d be cool to break into a home or shop. What happens when you wander into a bustling market mid-afternoon, then just let the game run because you got up to make a sandwich (or just decided to people watch)? Evening approaches. Midnight. 2 AM. The throngs of people are still at the market because they can’t go anywhere else (they have no homes to go to!). You could make them slowly disperse over time, I guess, but what happens when the player stops standing still and follows one NPC as they try to wander away from the player and delete themselves? I mean, that sounds like a really awesome plot for a game/movie, but it’s not something you want to have happen in a game like Skyrim.

          Plus, yeah, console memory restrictions are a serious limit – Dead Rising and Hitman can get away with big crowds because they’re using a limited set of models/textures with really simple AI routines and it’s just pushing pixels around the screen. Even if we loaded up a bunch of randos for a market scene in Skyrim you’re still going to end up needing to give them clothes/stats/inventories/complete AI structures/etc.

          (Also, check out that alternative way-less-crappy speechcraft system and the amount of completely faked AI in that video. That sort of staged demo fakery should probably be criminal.)

          • “Stop right there, criminal scum! Your demo has violated the law! Pay the court a fine or serve your sentence.”

            Were there any repercussions for Aliens: Colonial Marines basically tarting up their “demo footage?” I want to say there were threats of lawsuits, but since the game blew like a busted airlock, I wonder if anyone would bother now.

          • Wulfgar says:

            You misunderstood my concept (just a bit). You fill town with few inaccessible buildings (like those Boarding Houses from Banished), random guys exit them in the morning, they walk around (like zombies unfortunately) and they go back before it gets dark. nameless, speechless, statless, without inventory.
            I get you point and you are probably right. but i think still think it could enhance skyrim experience.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Thats basically what Shamoose has described for gta.You have a plethora of nameless guys and a bunch of locked buildings,and theres nothing wrong with that.But thats not the feeling that they wanted for skyrim.They wanted for everyone to have a name,a job and a house that you can explore.They didnt choose wrong,they just chose to go for a different feeling.

            • Ventus says:

              I agree with you but the point is, would Bethesda’s marketing department? Which sounds better?

              “Nearly everyone has a routine, job, and family. You, as the player, can follow most of them around, make notes of where they go and when and use that information against them! Or to help them!”

              Or

              “Absolutely EVERYONE has a routine, job, and family. You, as the player, can follow any character around, make notes of where they go and when and use that information against them! Or to help them!”

              Or whatever. Looking at the game state now, we might say, “gee, this place looks like a ghost town, some randomer characters wandering around would really help bring it to life, even if they aren’t very detailed.”

              But if that had actually been the case from the get go? Then maybe all we’d be saying is, “What is the point of all these characters that don’t do anything? They just walk around in circles and then head into this fake house at the end of the day, they’re pointless, the devs should have spent the time they did on those on something more important.”

            • That brings up something I like in the Bethsoft mod libraries: New interior spaces. I mean, if you have a building, they ought to be accessible (within reason). Maybe it doesn’t do much for Skyrim, but the Fallout Interiors projects help with atmosphere when you can enter and poke around a nuked cafe or storefront instead of hitting another boarded up (who boarded up everything after the apocalypse, anyway?) door or window.

              For Skyrim, just a simple interior with some NPC that looks up and asks what you’re doing here and how it feels being the [Insert Meaningless Title] of the [Insert Name of Specialist Group you Probably Aren’t Qualified to Intern For, Much Less Lead] Guild would do.

          • Hitch says:

            When the player tries following the nameless NPCs as they clear the streets, the NPCs walk to one of the several permanently locked doors you have scattered around the town and disappear through that. Then when you need to fill the streets again, they emerge from those same doors. That does create the problem of the permanently locked doors that limit the player’s mobility. But the only way around that is having system requirements of a computer with the power of Deep Thought.

            • Benjamin Hilton says:

              I think you kinda hit on one of the problems here. Which is that people play these games for freedom.

              If there were a bunch of permanently locked doors all over the place people would get really pissed at it. I mean the number of doors that a thief should be able to get through but can’t is already rather high.

              If every town had two to three buildings you could never enter, even in a world where magic unlocking spells exist, then players would revolt.

      • imtoolazy says:

        Wondering, do you mean John Does?

        Cause this seems to be John Rando.

        But then, urban dictionary is giving me this…

      • Benjamin Hilton says:

        At least there are random unnamed enemies…could you imagine if Skyrim tried to give a name to every single bandit like in Morrowind?

        I mean it certainly helped Morrowind feel more real that everyone had a name, but It would really be unfeasible in a game like this without making the entire world have a total of like 30 bandits.

  24. RTBones says:

    The first time I played this mission, I looked forward to it. Then I realized how broken it is. This became my defacto mission where I stopped the main quest for a while.

    Regarding Shamus’s comment on Speechcraft and lore – imagine the same game, going to the same party, except that you have Alpha Protocol’s conversation system. Depending on what you’ve done and who you’ve talked to and how high your speechcraft is, the participants at the party react differently. Depending on what you say to them while at the party, the rest of the game is different.

  25. Abnaxis says:

    Re: the whole “let me think about it” discussion at the video start.

    I think the problem with it is it’s telling the player what their motivation is, which is also what your “let me prepare first” solution is doing. I think the right way to do it is to give the player the response, “I’ll get back with you on that,” and let the player decide why they’re procrastinating, instead of forcing a motivation on them.

    Bethesda is pretty bad about this–all the responses need is to tell what the player is responding, there’s no reason to give it a why, especially since it isn’t voiced.

  26. Neil W says:

    The towns have sewers but no toilets. Now this isn’t totally impossible as sewers can be mostly used for drainage (for example the Cloaca Maxima in Rome which drained the field that became the forum) but that’s not a reason to give them a pass; these towns are still 20 or so houses, often right by running water. Drainage ditches yes. Sewers no.

    Also at 13:00 “Is this Tim Burton high?” – that might explain something.

    • Jabrwock says:

      It would make sense if the castle and richer houses had toilets, and the lower houses did not. The sewers were not initially built to handle toilets, they were built to drain the effluent off the streets where everyone was throwing it. So it would go down the drain, problem solved. Later it dawned on people that you could avoid the shit in the street altogether if you just plumbed it straight from a “water closet” through a pipe.

  27. hborrgg says:

    Smiths can make weapons in seconds but they only sell for a fraction of their ingredients’ cost.

  28. guy says:

    I kinda liked the Hooded Thalmor Robes thing. See, I used them as a disguise for my Imperial briefly, then stepped out and ran into a suspicious guard, who looked into my robe and said, more or less, “Hang on, we’re a fanatical racial supremist faction of high elves. You’re wearing our uniform but you aren’t a high elf. INTRUDER!”. My response was basically, “Fair enough.”

  29. Tychoxi says:

    This is the problem photorealism brought to RPGs. RPGs are about abstraction, it’s not just the game systems that are abstractions of real skills or combat and whathaveyou, it’s what you see too.

  30. Jabrwock says:

    Graveyards take up a lot less space if you use a crypt or ossuary, which was a lot more common in the past. The body gets stored until the flesh is gone, and then the bones are collected and stored in a much smaller container, which you can stack on shelves.

    They should have alluded to this a bit more in the Nord crypts, because the first stage (laying the body out on a shelf) is clearly shown.

    This would also better explain why there is fresh food and torches lit, because you’d have crypt “keepers” who would visit to shift bones around, tidy up, prepare shelves for new arrivals, etc. Maybe the draugr wouldn’t attack them because they’re not thieves, they’re “staff”. Although in the older ones it wouldn’t make sense to have anyone visiting.

  31. Jabrwock says:

    I assumed that Falkreach was proud of the fact that they had such a large actual grave plot, with surface graves and actual headstones, instead of a dank crypt/ossuary. Maybe it was a novelty compared to other places.

  32. Veloxyll says:

    Shamus, surely you realise Josh took the quill because the quill pen is mightier than the sword!

  33. You can really tell when a game is dragging when you think of episodes as “the one where Josh dies from the arrows” or “the one where the horse hovers” as opposed to anything going on with the plot. Not even Fallout 3 had this problem for me.

  34. Sunf1re96 says:

    Was I the only one who went to the Hall of the Dead?

  35. August says:

    “But I’d point to Fallout: New Vegas as an example of a game that does it right. Or perhaps not right, but less wrong.”
    What? NV fills the void with more nameless GTA style NPCs, but its towns are still as small as Skyrim’s are, and make about as much sense.

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