Skyrim EP38: Master Chef

By Shamus Posted Thursday May 29, 2014

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 78 comments

Link (YouTube)

I hate when I make a mistake that doesn’t get corrected until the next episode, because it means that once the episode is released I’ll have 24 hours of people informing me of an error I’ve already dealt with. So in an attempt to head that off: Max von Sydow is very much not Hungarian. I’ll talk more about him next episode, so I’ll leave the rest of my correction until then.

There are a lot of things wrong with how the game handles exposition and cutscenes, but right now I want to talk about two high-level problems.

1. The camera-grab-and-zoom approach to dialog does not work. Rather than enhancing immersion, it ruins it. It makes the models look worse, undercuts the voice performance, and frustrates and confuses the player when the grab is done at a bad moment. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that…

2. The designers abuse the camera-grab like crazy, using it for incidental characters and regularly creating these traffic jams of people waiting in line to camera-grab the player in succession.

The first thing – and I mean the very first thing before anyone does any more scripting or writes another line of Elder Scrolls dialog – is to KILL this camera-grab mechanic. BioWare already figured out how this works: When the player is close, the NPC says something like, “Do you have a minute?” and the player can initiate conversation when they’re good and ready. And if they don’t bother? Then they didn’t want to have the conversation anyway. Having an inattentive player accidentally miss some content is a trivial problem when compared to the crime of camera-grabbing EVERYONE, ALWAYS, so every piss-ant peasant can interrupt the player with random quest hooks.

Yes, there are a few small situations where you still need to pull the player into dialog. It would be pretty silly if Sovereign had showed up and just waited demurely for Commander Shepard to begin the conversation. But those moments are very few and far between and should only be initiated by important characters with important plot details and the quest writer should have to fight the lead designer for every one of them.

The other problem is that camera-grab dialog is very one-way: NPC to player. It doesn’t allow three people to have a conversation and it’s clear that Bethesda has basically given up on allowing the player to interact with the world through dialog. Since the player can’t contribute, there’s no reason to hold them hostage. Let them run around, loot the room, jump on the furniture, or whatever else. They will hear the dialog but not focus their attention on the dull body animations and complete lack of facial expression, which will be a net gain.

The conversation in Delphine’s basement is a good example of how it should work: The NPCs jabber exposition and they don’t interfere with the player until there’s a decision for the player to make. All Bethesda needs to do is take this approach and apply it to single-NPC conversations as well.

This won’t come close to fixing all of the dialog problems with this game, but it would be a massive step in the right direction.


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78 thoughts on “Skyrim EP38: Master Chef

  1. Ivellius says:

    Being a fantasy nerd, I’ve been watching this season with interest because, for all its flaws, I enjoyed Oblivion and the general setting of Tamriel. (Haven’t played Skyrim yet.)

    The camera grab moments have never failed to be immersion breaking and seem to have a knack for seizing control when the player is invariably in awkward positions for conversation, although maybe that’s just Josh.

    1. Nyctef says:

      At least in Skyrim you can use the tab key to exit conversations and jump around like a madman while they carry on talking. Now if they just stopped grabbing the camera in the first place ..

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Yes Nyctef exactly. Its a fair shade better than Morrowind where you have to go hit the same dialog entry for everyone until you find the guy who doesn’t offer the standard encyclopedic response (if you even know which of the seemingly normal encyclopedic entries will eventually yield a different plot advancing response)

    2. Eruanno says:

      Ugh. I didn’t play any Bethesda games until after I had played the first Mass Effect, and I was just so baffled by Fallout 3 when the camera kept zooming in on people’s faces and pausing all gameplay around you. It felt like five steps backwards and stumbling into a deep dark hole in comparison >:C

  2. Theminimanx says:

    The one problem with NPC’s delivering exposition while the player jumps around the room is that you can’t skip it when replaying the game. And giving how bad Bethesda’s writing can be, sometimes you really want to skip it.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Talking about skipping, the unskippable daedra speeches with their pathetic sound effects and pointless drivel have my vote for most annoying dialogue in Skyrim.

      1. ET says:

        Unskippable dialogue is sooo immersion-breaking! Arg!

  3. guy says:

    To be fair, most people couldn’t squeeze through a doorway while carrying their entire body weight in weapons, armor, and pots.

    Supposedly, if you interrupt the dragon ritual in precisely the right way, you can fight a dracolich.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      But that’s just the thing! Most people don’t have to, but they absolutely could if they needed to. And bsides, you aren’t “most people” in the first place!

      Of course, mobility has always been a sore point in these games. Why can’t your character climb stuff? Why can’t they squeeze through tight spaces? The answer (that you would be able to escape from the game world) is revealing all by itself. They aren’t making a robust fantasy simulator, or a deep game, or a good story… I doubt they know what they are trying to do themselves.

    2. Hitch says:

      I assume by “fight a dracolich” you mean starting the fight while it still looks like a skeleton before it grows it flesh and scales back. I managed to do that once. The game was so confused that the flesh grew back after I killed it while I was absorbing it’s soul. Then it just sat there as a complete dragon until I left. Later when I fast traveled back to the town I killed it in, it suddenly burst into flames. I was astonished by how calmly the locals took that.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I need to plug Consortium here,because that game did a great thing with its dialogues.You have complete freedom to do what you want,while the NPCs are talking,and if you want to respond,you just turn to them and a bar appears on the top of the screen showing you your response options.AND it has you involved in this big three way conversation during which you can also talk telepathically with two more people.

    Sadly,its a bit buggy,but if you dont mind playing a long introduction game for this world that revolves mostly around talking with just a few battles,you should definitely give it a try.

    1. Thomas says:

      Thanks for reminding that the game exists. I’d decided I was going to look out for it and then completely forgot

    2. ET says:

      Man, that game looks cool!

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Instead of the looping dungeons and the confusing sewer,skyrim really shouldve just added quick travel option inside that would allow you to quick travel back to the exit.That would even make a bit more sense than the way they have it now,and it would be pretty convenient.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      And while they’re at it, there should be a “quick-loot” button once you’ve cleared the dungeon of enemies and traps. Get to the end, quick loot the place, quick travel back to the entrance, bam, ready to move on.

      1. guy says:

        Then you fall over.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamoose,youre such an american.Max von Sydow is sweedish,not hungarian.Gawd!

    (I was anticipating the part in the video that you mentioned,because I didnt want to make this joke just based on your writing,tempting though it was)

    1. Hector says:

      Max von Sydow bit my sister once.

      It was nasty.

  7. hborrgg says:

    I always avoided murdering people in Skyrim, because if I ever did there was a 99% chance that they or a nearby witness would be marked essential and I’d have to go to prison. Which of course meant I’d lose all of my cool stolen stuff and have my immersion broken.

    1. Micamo says:

      There’s a setting in an INI file you can change to turn off all essential NPCs: It’ll cause quest scripts to break (and unlike New Vegas it won’t tell you which quests are broken) but it’s soooooo worth it to be able to go clear out the Ragged Flagon and greatsword Maven Black-Briar in the face.

  8. hborrgg says:

    It was a pretty cool ad though. Even despite the fact that Fus Ro Da does bugger all against dragons.

    1. Thomas says:

      That trailer looks like a game I want to play.

      I’m kind of surprised the only ads I ever saw were the live action ones when they had something like that

      1. ET says:

        Is it just me (and my underpowered laptop) or did that ad have like…more graphics than is possible even when you turn on all the options? Also, I think they turned off the desaturation, and put in some water visuals that aren’t in the final game, and…

    2. Lame Duck says:

      It’s an OK ad, but it’s pretty misleading; the Dovahkiin isn’t even wearing a chef’s hat!

  9. Neko says:

    Chef Catbert is awesome. You should do some actual cooking.

    1. Henson says:

      Well, they did just get some human flesh…

      1. Grudgeal says:

        “You question? Khajiit is the deity of Elseweyr combination experimental cooking of meats… Or so it claims. But in truth, by saying so, Khajiit is being overly humble. This one claims sole credit for the invention of edible food. Does the one before Khajiit enjoy the taste of food? Good. Khajiit is responsible for its entire wretched existence.”

        1. Corpital says:

          I just cooked some asparagus and made a Sauce Hollandaise and can’t help but feel a little sad. Philippe’s greatest (non-cannibal) invention uses 200year (drink!) old Mac&Cheese and is cooked with flamethrowers and Chef Catbert eats everything raw. And I mean everything. At the same time.

          Also, how does something made out of 75% butter manage to not feel like you filled your stomach with stones?

  10. Disc says:

    All the game would need is a way for the player to punish annoying NPCs in a non-lethal fashion. Like enhance the brawling to let you try and provoke them into a fistfight and then beat them into submission, permanently changing their disposition towards the player character to something more tolerable etc. Maybe have some consequences for pissing off the wrong (or right) guy.

    1. Joakim Karlen says:

      I never got the brawling in Skyrim to work properly. The other dude usually ends up aggroing me for real, pulling out his sword and attacking me.

      They could also use the Speechcraft skill for something other than barter. If they didn’t hide the (Persuade) and (Intimidate) skill checks from the player, it would actually mean something and be pretty neat.

      1. Henson says:

        This killed me during the Markarth quest. I’d have to get that one guy’s health bar to juuuust the right amount (not zero), and he’d give up. One punch more, and I’ve committed assault. This meant a brawl where I had to wait a few seconds after every. single. punch. Just to see if the fight was over. Bleh.

    2. Eruanno says:

      I just want a “slap NPC in the face”-button.

    3. saluk says:

      This is my favorite thing about the Gothic series. Defeating a (human) enemy doesn’t kill them – you have to perform a finishing move to actually kill them. You can beat someone up, get xp, take his money, and then leave him alone. Later dealings with him will reflect the fact that you defeated him. I really wish more rpgs would include this option.

  11. You know The Sanguine Rose may be my favorite weapon in Skyrim in terms of looks. Its just surprisingly nice looking for me in a game where i do not really like the art direction. It is kind of dumb looking but its dumb in a nice silly way unlike say Daedric Weapons. Also as you can never ever have to many summons its fun to use as well.

  12. DrMcCoy says:

    This is also not how you should pronounce Sydow. /nitpick :)

    1. Shamus says:

      Sigh-dow is it gets pronounced when people talk about (or to) him in interviews.

      I’ve never heard him say it himself. How does he pronounce it?

      1. Personally I say it more like see-dove (with the e silent). Considering I’m Norwegian and not Swedish that is probably not correct either.
        The correct way would ideally be the Swedish dialect from where he grew up. I’m sure a Swedish ‘bro’ lurks around here and can lend a hand.
        Wikipedia does list the pronunciation but I can’t read sound language so *shrug*.

        1. Ivellius says:

          Based on that pronunciation, it’d be something like “see-dō” (like the English “dough”) in English, but there’s an entry for the Swedish that says it’s more like “dove” in Swedish. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. Maybe it’s not a very heavy “v”?

        2. DrMcCoy says:

          Yeah, more like see-dove. I’m German, though, and not Swedish. But I do know that the Swedish “y”, like the German “༔ (and also the “y” in many cases), is a [y], which is the close front rounded vowel.

          “see” instead of “sigh” in the first syllable is close, but the mouth should be more rounded. Like in “few”. Maybe “sew-dove”?

          It’s in second 10 of this video here:

        3. Rymdsmurfen says:

          I guess “see-dove” is a decent approximation for an English speaker, given that the “y” vowel sound is not present in any English word (that I know of at least).

          Just to set the record straight: Listen to the (Swedish) reporter in the beginning of this clip addresssing a guy called Henrik von Sydow.

        4. Wolle says:

          Here it is pronounced by a Swede:

          1. Eruanno says:

            As a Swedish person, I can confirm that this is the correct way to pronounce his name.

          2. Shamus says:

            Very interesting. Thanks!

      2. Zukhramm says:

        General rule: If it’s not English, no single vowel is ever a diphthong.

  13. One NPC conversation in a Bethsoft game that I don’t think did a camera grab was Mr. Burke in Fallout 3. I could be wrong, but I think you had to actually click on him as he was waving to you if you wanted to chat. At the very least, he didn’t grab your camera when you walked into Moriarty’s bar.

    1. Addendum: Looking at the Vault Wiki, Burke had a house in Megaton for some reason. I’d never even thought to go around picking the locks in that place, probably because it just became a place to dump my stuff by the end of the game. Never noticed they had an armory, either…

  14. Grand Admiral Bob says:

    Chris, I’m sorry, but Esbern wouldn’t make a good “Dooku Jr.”–He would make an awesome Jorus C’Baoth!

    1. Hitch says:

      He’ll always be Ming of Mongo to me.

  15. Ofermod says:

    As far as Skyrim dungeons go, I found them all *really* dull and repetitive. With the exception of the Dwemer ruins. Those were always nifty for some reason, and I didn’t get bored of them *nearly* as quickly as the others.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Also because most dwarven ruins have Falmers, the foes you love to hate and my favorite Skyrim concept. (Though I don’t know hoe well they fit in the overall Elder Scrolls mythology…)

  16. djshire says:

    Hopefully Josh doesn’t try and wyrm his way out of dealing with the dragons

  17. Henson says:

    Chris: ‘Why didn’t we go to Alduin’s wall through the exit instead of going through all those caves?’

    Because you can’t. You literally can’t.

    I actually found that exit to the Temple much earlier in the game by simply exploring the Reach and climbing sheer cliff faces. It’s right there, out in the open. And it’s protected by invisible walls.

    1. guy says:

      Man, usually they at least excuse it by having the door barred on the inside.

    2. Will Riker says:

      I was reminded of that episode of The Simpsons, where Burns goes to shut down the plant, and goes through a whole series of James-Bond like security systems (voice print, retinal scan, etc. etc.), reaches the control room, and there’s a screen door open to the outside and a dog has wandered in.

  18. Imposing Snail says:

    Reginald Catbert, Spawn Camper.

  19. Shamus, the two old go to “creepy” guys you are thinking of are probably: Peter Cushing (Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Grand Moff Tarkin) and Crhistopher Lee (Dracula, Saruman, Count Dooku, he’s got over 200 damn movies under his belt).

    Those two where the go to guys of old horror movies. Lee is “The Dracula” as far as I’m concerned, and Cushing is The Helsing (although I have to admit his Tarkin is way better so I guess he is “The Tarkin” instead.)

    If they’d ever make a movie with Dracula and Helsing chasing each there around at the old folks home I’d probably watch that just because they are Lee and Cushing.

    BTW! Anyone have any idea what the hell Christopher Lee voiced in Freelancer? A cursory googling turns up nothing useful.

  20. IFS says:

    I wonder if the horse was perhaps inherited from that one Silver-blood guy they killed back in Markarth… at least that’s the only explanation that makes sense to me (barring glitches of course because those can explain away almost anything in TES games).

  21. Max von Sydow in the new Star Wars huh?! I wonder if he’ll be Obi-Wan Kenobi (ghost)…

    1. Thomas says:

      Since we’re going forward in time now, the Force Ghosts can begin to stack. in Episode VII we get Qui-Gon Jin, Obi Wan, Yoda, Anakin Skywalker all as force ghosts giving mystical and cryptic advice. Then in Episode IX it’s Qui-Gon Jin, Obi Wan, Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Leia Solo, whatever mentor gets killed off in Episode VII, some reformed bad guys from Episode VIII.

      …by episode XX the film is the protagonist being driven insane by thousands and thousands of force ghosts who never ever give straightforward useful advice

      1. Thomas says:

        By episode MCMLXXXIV the living are now outnumbered 100 to 1. The pressure of numbers has forced the force ghosts to spread to galaxies far far away where their presence is registered as unusual happenings in the local habitations. To the inhabitants these events could be described as strange or even not-good-looking. They’re seeing things, running through their head. Invisible men sleeping in their beds. They’re all alone, they’ve dropped the phone.

        Who’re they gunna call?

  22. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I love the prices for things like “Top secret information regarding Thalmor plans to take over the world”: 2 GP.

  23. RTBones says:

    I’d have to go back and watch most of this season again, but given Josh’s proclivities regarding inventory management, I believe at one point he actually purchased the horse ‘accidentally’ when he was trying to get on a horse and figure out what he could give up/eat/consume so he could run – because he neeeevvveer carries too much. The woodcutters axe is similar – taking everything not nailed down (including forks, pots, plates, brooms, etc) and most things that are and combining that with the aforementioned inventory management proclivities, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Jenessa (sp?) fighting with a talking goat’s leg…still in the wolf’s mouth that ate it.

  24. allfreightoncanals says:

    In Mass Effect 1 I believe that the conversation with Sovereign was not a camera grab. I think the that you have to explicitly go and activate the console for the holographic communicator thingy.

    I don’t know what happened if you tried to leave the room without talking to Sovereign…

    1. Henson says:

      No, it is a camera grab. Activating the beacon only activates the trippy Prothean vision. You have to walk back upstairs, then camera grab to Sovereign conversation.

  25. Raygereio says:

    Re: NPCs not moving out of your way.
    The hitboxes of NPCs are fine. If the arms from the NPCs’ models were included from the hitbox then you’ll just get dumb looking clipping issues everywhere.
    The dumb thing is that Bethesda implented behaviour where NPCs will move out of your way and then cheerfully screwed it up by setting the variables wrong. In vanilla Skyrim you need to be in a NPC’s face for 4 seconds until they get the message they need to move and then they’ll only move a tiny bit (usually not even enough to move out of a doorway).

    1. syal says:

      What they really ought to do is, if you run into a non-hostile NPC for three or so seconds, you automatically deck them, knock them down and walk on top of them. And then they get back up like five seconds later and go back to whatever it was they were doing that was so annoying.

  26. Thomas says:

    Chris’ descriptive console text idea is something that Wasteland 2 and really old RPGs do right? It sounds sweet, I’d love more text in my games

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not old,but old school.Avernums and eschalons do it as well.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Yeah, I was going to mention Spiderweb (Avernum, Geneforge, Nethergate), their games use text to convey a lot of information, obviously dictated by the style of graphics and sound but they also include input from other senses, things like temperature, smells and even a “feel” of the area where relevant. Also, this extra information is often useful in various ways, for example in Avernum if the area is really cold for no obvious reason this usually signifies the undead (or ice puddings).

        Eschalon is sort of sitting in my backlog until I both finish the final Geneforge game and can fork money for part 3 but I imagine with a similarly simplistic graphical style using a greater amount of text would make sense.

  27. Corpital says:

    Just remembered one thing, I wanted to mention for a while. All over Skyrim are marks left by the Thieves Guild, along with a book explaining the meaning of each symbol.

    More than once, I saw one of these marks on the doorframe of a house I was going to rob and it was neat to look it up and learn some detail about the household. Of course it didn’t matter, this is Skyrim, but at least it gave a tiny hint that the TG was actually doing something before you arrived.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Aye, a nice bit of flavour – little things like that can go a long way. (I confess I’ve only ever spotted one shadowmark whilst playing (the one on Belethor’s doorframe), but I suspect that’s mainly because I need new glasses.)

    2. Henson says:

      …and yet, I can’t find a single marker for any of Skyrim’s fences! Where did they all go? I really hate having to hike all the way to Riften every time I get over-encumbered with stolen goods.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Looks like there are only three or so ‘Fence’ shadowmarks in the game, and one of them only appears if you’ve done the Meadery bit of the TG questline:

        But there are several fences without shadowmarks:

        1. Henson says:

          Huh. I guess I just wasn’t looking in the right places; I kept searching on the outside of buildings within cities. I sorta assumed that fences would be more out in the open…which is stupid, when you think about it, but given how much Skyrim holds the player’s hand in so many other ways, it’s also not unexpected.

      2. Microwaviblerabbit says:

        Edit: This is basically the info from the links above.
        At least half the fences are in stupid locations. From the main quest there is one in the brewery you take over, one in the Solitude tavern, and one inside the college of Winterhold. The last is particularly stupid because you have to join the college to even get to him. The special jobs make the silversmith in Markarth (who wanders around the city randomly), and the elf merchant in the Windhelm marketplace (though only at night when she is in her house) fences. Another sidequest (which requires three special jobs completed) makes the Khajiit caravans fences. So basically you are stuck going to Riften or Solitude for a reliable fence.

        Though none of this matters once you get the speech perks that makes anyone who is a friend buy stolen goods (requires 90 speech), since investing in a merchant ( a prerequisite perk) automatically makes them a friend.

  28. ET says:

    I’m actually surprised they didn’t include something like an escape rope in Skyrim. Like, it shouldn’t be too hard to implement, and it’s a world filled with magic anyways, so it could be justified in-universe. (Secret of Mana had the escape rope too, and I’m sure that other RPGs also did.) Hell, they could even have a hidden mini-quest with it, if you use it while already outside. Like, maybe normally you get a message “that wouldn’t work”, but if you use it outside, in a full moon, it transports you to some sky-dungeon thing, full of cool talking dog NPCs or something! :)

  29. Vermander says:

    Regarding the camera grabbing NPCs, I’d like to see more games where after completing a certain number of quests the hero is considered too important and too famous for mere peasants to approach on the street. Have people whisper and point when they see you pass, but have most of them be too intimidated to approach you without permission. If someone has a quest for you they’ll come to your headquarters during designated hours with a petition.

    Similarly, once you get famous criminals should be on to you, and should be more cautious about doing or discussing anything illegal around you. The thieves guild might ask some low level mercenary to join, but they should be much more wary about discussing their business around a known friend of the ruler, and asking the Dragonborn to participate in petty larceny should be totally out of the question.

    If you encounter Brynjolf after completing the main quest he should try to avoid you and offer polite excuses for why he can’t talk right now.

  30. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I always wonder why you cant just go through friendly NPCs.Having them block you is just irritating,and rather than reinforce reality,breaks immersion completely.

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