Skyrim EP49: “Legitimately Obtainable”

By Shamus
on Jul 2, 2014
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

So this episode really does highlight one of the questions about power level in the context of an RPGWhatever THAT means. with leveling mechanics. How much is the player responsible for their own fun? If the game presents a system where you can become more powerful, and it’s possible to become so powerful that the game becomes boring, then who bears the blame when that happens? I think it depends on the game and the systems it uses. If most players manage to blunder into a boring state of godlike power, then I think most people would be comfortable putting blame on the designer. But what if that state was only obtainable by following a detailed guide of obscure actions and extensive grinding? I think you could argue that the super-power is not only allowable, but the rightful reward for a player who deliberately sought it out and worked to obtain it.

Even this question presents a sliding scale of blame, when I think it’s even more complex. If there’s some state that the game can have where all combat is trivialized and the normal gameplay systems break down, then context is important. How did the player get the game into that state?

  1. What if it’s the natural result of the given ruleset? (Like leveling up to ridiculous levels in some Final Fantasy games. “Hey, the game didn’t FORCE you to over-level. It just give you a goal and didn’t tell you when to stop pursuing it.”)
  2. What if it’s clearly a loophole in the rules that works around the many obvious efforts to balance and constrain the player’s power? (You could argue that this is the case here in Skyrim. Considering grinding yourself to max level in smithing is long, expensive, and doesn’t produce runaway damage numbers that crash the game.)
  3. What if it’s the result of a glitch or bug? (Like using the environment to clip through walls.)
  4. What if it’s the result of a designer that didn’t want to constrain the player? (The design philosophy of Richard Garriott comes to mind, where he would deliberately design one solution to a problem, but not try to wall off other creative solutions, thus recognizing them as valid even if they trivialized his puzzle.)

There’s no hard line here, but it is clear that at some point the complaint of, “If you do X, the game is trivial” can’t be adequately answered with “Then don’t do X!” There’s a fundamental conflict at work here: The game presents a system and challenges us to overcome it. It exists to create something for us to destroy. If we can’t overcome it, then the game failsAssuming we’re talking about a more traditional game. I know there are lots of examples of games where the only winning move is not to play.. But if we overcome it too easily, the game also fails. But computers are stupid and literal while humans are smart and creative. And the more complex the game is, the more chances there will be for a person to route around the challenge and ruin their own fun, simply by doing what the game asked them to do. (Overcome its systems.)

It’s a tough line for the aspiring game designer to walk. I’m sure this will all get much easier once we manage to build Skynet.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Whatever THAT means.

[2] Assuming we’re talking about a more traditional game. I know there are lots of examples of games where the only winning move is not to play.

[citation needed]



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From the Archives:

  1. Robyrt says:

    If your game plans to have any sort of a competitive scene, anything that trivializes major game systems will be patched rather quickly.

    Of course, all rules have exceptions. The famous Roll Cancel bug in Capcom vs. SNK 2, a difficult technique that grants your moves brief invulnerability, actually makes the game more interesting at high levels, so it was just left in there.

  2. Kevin Wagner says:

    As far as the elder scroll goes from what I can remember from the earlier games it damages you depending on your intelligence and ability to decipher it. So a pig farmer could open the scroll and be just fine, but a brilliant scholar would go blind that is why all the blind people are intelligent scholars. So I just assumed the reason you don’t go blind is your character is just an idiot.

    • Narkis says:

      There’s a book in the game that says the Moth priests go blind only after years of repeated Scroll readings, learning more and more in the process.

      • I can’t help but think that’s a metaphor for absorbing the game’s lore so you can notice the inconsistencies.

        The lesson? Learning too much causes brain damage.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Oh c’mon. The Dragonborn is repeatedly described as a doom driven hero (doom meaning fate in this context). The Elder Scrolls are woven into the fabric of reality. You don’t think a person with a special destiny might be allowed a peek at the scrolls?

          • Neruz says:

            Only mortals are driven blind by the Elder Scrolls; the Dragonborn has the soul of a Dragon and thus is not mortal. Dragons can read the Elder Scrolls just fine.

            So when you try to read the Elder Scroll it briefly tries to strike you blind and then reality is like “Wait no, you’re a dragon.” and resets so that you’re not blind anymore.

            Try reading the scroll elsewhere; the screen goes white as you go blind and then fades back as reality resets.

        • Humanoid says:

          Do they also give you hairy palms?

      • The Rocketeer says:

        The process and vulnerability are explained in this book.

        Given that the Dragonborn can read the scroll with only the most temporary discomfort and without learning anything at all from it, we can gather that the Dovahkiin is just barely more than a Naif. Interesting.

        Either that, or the Dragonborn is actually able to interpret the gibberish and what they see simply isn’t related to the audience. Which doesn’t really make sense.

    • Destrustor says:

      I assume it’s because the scrolls are too much for mere mortals to handle; the moth priests train their entire lives for this, making them a bit more resilient to the effects but still ultimately burned out.
      It’s like running a marathon, but for your eyes, brain and soul; training makes you more likely to complete the task and to do so unharmed.
      The reason I think this doesn’t apply to the player is because of the whole dragonborn thing: the player isn’t a mere mortal, he/she has the soul of a dragon, with all the mythic-tier superiority that comes with it. The player is basically born with cheetah genes to help him during the marathon of reading a scroll.
      And there’s also the fact that the player doesn’t actually read the scrolls.
      We kind of glance at them for a second or two then the game makes us look away because “we” can’t actually handle this. In this case, the dragonborn doesn’t really read the scroll so much as look at the “time-wound” through the scroll, and using its mystical omniscience to see what happened all the way back then, like an echo focused through the lens of the scroll.

    • Shamus says:

      “So I just assumed the reason you don’t go blind is your character is just an idiot.”

      I love this explanation, because it explains so many OTHER things in the world as well. The Thieves Guild, the College, the main quest… they’re all the result of a group of people just trying to take advantage of this nearly indestructible and completely moronic demigod.

      • So Skyrim is really an homage to Groo The Wanderer?

        • Grudgeal says:

          Well, given that Groo’s specialties are to kill everything and break the plot through ignorance…

          “Now Reginald does what Reginald does best!”

      • Tizzy says:

        And the way Josh plays lends soooo much credence to that theory.

        Joking aside, I definitely felt an undertone of this, in game dialogue, but mostly in the lore, I guess: characters with these exalted destinies are not really masters of their actions and cannot foresee their consequences, and are used as pawns fighting someone else’s wars.

        Of course, it is a fairly common trope, but they seemed to pull it off reasonably well and consistently.

      • Dev Null says:

        Actually, there’s some great scope for writing a game around the fact that everyone in it recognises your character as an idiot. Feeling railroaded? You actually _are_ being led around by the nose. Don’t understand how things work that any peasant ought to know? Of course you don’t. Tutorials talking down to you? Well its only natural…

        Plus, it’d be the first RPG in the history of the genre where your character wasn’t an amnesiac for some reason. So there’s that.

        • IFS says:

          Well Arcanum and the original Fallout games (drink!) both have new reactions for pretty much every NPC if your character has low intelligence which created a much more comical story than the games normal one.

    • Neko says:

      I believe that the Elder Scrolls represent the game’s source code, hence the warnings that anyone who looks upon it will go mad and/or blind.

  3. Joshua490 says:

    Yeah I remember encountering this problem in New Vegas. It didn’t take long to become crazy powerful in very short order without even trying and to be able to wipe out legionary death squads without breaking a sweat. Even deathclaws became fairly trivial with the right combination rifles and explosives.

    It was pretty immersion breaking to realize that I effectively had the firepower of a small air force and the durability of an endbringer. This was one of the reasons I enjoyed Lonesome Road, due to it being the first time I actually felt challenged in many many hours.

    • Khizan says:

      In New Vegas, at least, it’s fairly easy to set arbitrary restrictions on yourself to help mitigate this kind of thing.

      The last time I went through the game, I decided that I was a pistoleer who was only able to use one-handed weapons.

    • ET says:

      Unfortunately, it’s also pretty easy to accidentally make yourself under-powered in New Vegas, if you pick the wrong perks. I don’t mean perks which are obviously flavour-text, or obviously for certain situations either; There’s perks which at first sound good, or even great for certain character builds, but which either stop being useful mid/late-game, or which were never useful to begin with. For example, if you pick Cowboy and Shotgun Surgeon as perks, thinking “Yeah, this is going to help me with my stylized character!”, then realize that it becomes completely useless, even when crafting slug rounds. Four levels down the drain. :C

      • Ringwraith says:

        Until you find a Ranger Sequoia anyway.
        Also I kept using a Hunting Shotgun (and its unique variant) for a long time, shotguns were in fact broken, at least at one time, because slugs took the normal 10×9 damage numbers and made them one huge number.
        Though I actually liked it because it meant buckshot chewed through unarmoured foes and slugs were needed for anything else.

  4. hborrgg says:

    Edit: Rambled a bit too much

    In short, the problem with tossing out a completely broken game and relying on the player to figure out how to make it fun is that they will probably have to play dozens of hours on a broken game before figuring out how they should have played.

    • Thomas says:

      That seems like a good rule for the situation. If your game is broken in a way where the player might break it and not even realise that doing that would break it, then you need to fix your system.

      When you overlevel in something like FF, where you need to level _a lot_ to make a difference, you’re aware of what you’re doing. Similarly it’s pretty clear that this kind of exploit breaks the game.

      It’s still not be all end all though. If you know you’re breaking the game, but it’s incredibly obvious to everyone who plays that you can do this thing and it’s also easy to carry out, then you still need to fix your system.

  5. The Rocketeer says:

    Paarthurnax is snuggling you! Dragonsnuggles!

    The thing that gets me about the alchemy/enchanting exploit is the same thing that got me about the exact same exploit with alchemy/conjuration/enchanting from Morrowind: potions that make you better at things are a normal and well-known part of these crafting systems’ lore. It’s a recognized part of their in-universe use.

    So has no one in Tamriel tried this before? The master alchemists of the Elder Scrolls world seems to be occupied with piddly crap like a box that will generate ingredients at a very slow rate, or phials that refill themselves eventually.

    Most exploits consist of things that work mathematically within the systems but don’t actually make logical sense when examined from an immersed standpoint. But this kind of loop seems exactly like what someone would become an alchemist for in Tamriel. If someone just said, “Once potions pass a certain level of power they tend to frazzle your soul and screw up your physiology regardless of how you make it,” and that would explain why people don’t do things like this very often, except for multi-limbed, shrieking abominations you find in caves who took it too far.

    That way, true masters of alchemy and ‘roided-out dilettantes are separated by who knows who to try this kind of thing safely, without blowing themselves up like Daffy Duck doing a magic trick.

    It would still take a bit of patching to explain why YOU can’t/shouldn’t do the same thing- assuming you even want to curtail this behavior- but we already have a good explanation for why you could: you’re the chosen one. Prophesied. You can stare at an Elder Scroll without worrying about the consequences and. Given that you’re Dragonborn, god knows what your body and soul are like. Chug that shit.

    • IFS says:

      I suppose you could use CHIM as a justification for no one else using this, (this going off of my confused and limited understanding of CHIM). No one else can see/understand the system since they haven’t achieved CHIM so only the player, having done so, is able to put these exploits to use. Same as how the player can use CHIM to change clothes instantly during combat and so on.

      • Adam says:

        Excuse me, but what the hell is CHIM?

        • The Rocketeer says:

          That’s a question with no answer.

          Really, it’s more or less the quality of being an ubermensch and being able to write your own destiny in a world where fate is more or less law. It’s a quality often associated with figures who managed to do this to some extent, like Vivec and Talos/Shor.

          But mostly its a buzzword lazy writers use when they want to be pointlessly obtuse, and fans use when they want to destroy meaningful discussion by bogging everyone down in semantics, quotation, and ‘authorial intent.’

          I’m not accusing IFS of doing this, because it actually works in this context. But if you ever see a long, dense discussion of Elder Scrolls lore, and want to kill it for some reason, just ask, “But what about CHIM?” and watch it all fly apart.

          Come to think of it, you can make a pretty good drinking game out of Elder Scrolls keywords that will do this. Sip for “Dragon Break,” drink for “CHIM,” finish your drink when someone argues the semantics of the unknowable Aurbis/Dawn Era, and if someone quotes or references the “Imperial Library,” chug until it makes sense or you pass out.

          • fdgzd says:

            CHIM means you are the player character with the ability to quickload.

          • IFS says:

            Yeah I definitely don’t want to derail the conversation in any way, it just seemed to me that CHIM might be serviceable as an explanation for why NPCs don’t abuse alchemy or other exploits. (Now I do think it would be interesting to have an NPC show up in a game who did abuse an exploit, but that would probably take more self awareness on Bethesda’s part than they are capable of).

            My basic understanding of CHIM is that its an in lore explanation of how we see game mechanics in the world of TES, trying to explain it any better tends to get super confusing imo.

            • Ciennas says:

              Actually, they did make an NPC who abused the system to hell and back. His name was Gaenor, and he was a great middle finger to every player who hadn’t abused the system at all.

              He had a luck of 755, which meant he was only touchable whenever he felt le it, and had an innate reflect of both damage and spells of 100%, meaning there was only one way to kil him- die a lot as he repeatedly skewers you.

              Interesting quest design…. terrible character design. If they were so determined to punish players, they could have scripted him to be player luck +50 or so…. then he’s at least fair in a fight.

            • Atarlost says:

              I was under the impression that loading the game was a Dragon Break and CHIM was using the console or modding toolkit.

    • Humanoid says:

      Tamriel’s bankers haven’t discovered the power of compound interest. You might think that someone with a degree in Chemistry might also be rather handy at maths, but in Tamriel you have to grind those skills up independently.

    • Disc says:

      This reminded me of this book:

      http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:Twin_Secrets

      The lesson is either that only a few ever even dare to think of breaking the norms or that going past the known limits is indeed dangerous, assuming the final enchantment drove the guy to his deathbed.

      With that and all the college quests where experimental magic goes or has gone wrong added to the mix, you’re definitely on to something.

  6. Bropocalypse says:

    If the game is fun either way, then there’s really no problem at all.

    Besides that silly zen answer, I think the most balanced solution(so to speak) is to have a ‘zone’ of normal play, where players who value completing the quest can pass through with a modest challenge, and then have a ‘zone’ of ‘bragging’ play, where a solution that would otherwise be impossible or otherwise extremely difficult except for the player who values minmaxing.
    By ‘zone’ I don’t mean a literal play arena, but solutions/paths that change the type of game you play. Level scaling seems like a really hamfisted way to accomplish this, since it nullifies the numerical growth system in most RPGs. A more elegant solution that works in the context of a Bethesda-style open world RPG would be something like what a player could do with Vivec in Morrowind: Earn that story-centric axe from him by doing him favors(the ‘normal’ option), or kill him and take it(the hard option).
    Alternatively, there could be ultra-high-level dungeons that would be virtually impossible EXCEPT for absurdly minmaxed players, who could use these as a challenge to earn bragging rights. Imagine a ruin filled with nothing but dragon priests.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’m glad Bethesda doesn’t think like this. Skyrim and its predecessors are about being explored and appreciated, not about bragging rights.

      I don’t get bragging rights in at least 99% of video games (I can’t immediately think of what the 1% would be, but I’m leaving the possibility open). Outside of maybe puzzle and strategy games, there’s nothing impressive about being good at a video game. All it means is that you invested too much of your time in something with no real world use. (Caveat: If you personally enjoyed that play experience, you have not wasted that time. But if you need to be able to brag about what you did in order to be fulfilled or feel like the experience was personally justified or whatever, you spent too much time on it.)

      Are these challenges fun in context? Sure. But when gamers boast about their gaming skills, I just laugh. Its so ridiculous.

  7. Neko says:

    But what if that state was only obtainable by following a detailed guide of obscure actions and extensive grinding? I think you could argue that the super-power is not only allowable, but the rightful reward for a player who deliberately sought it out and worked to obtain it.

    Yes!

    I frequently find myself going beyond the limits of mortal NPCs in Elder Scrolls games, and I don’t consider it cheating at all. My stance is, if I could accomplish it entirely within the game world then it’s legit. In Catbert’s case, he simply discovered a fusion of magic and alchemy that gave him godly enchanting power – anyone else could have done the same if they ever did anything with those tables.

    In Ultima VII, I discovered that a rapid overdose of a sufficiently huge amount of Silver Serpent venom would make my companions (well I’m not going to do all this crazy experimentation on myself!) into ludicrously strong super soldiers. The actual explanation for this is that when they all wore off simultaneously they’d underflow the unsigned char used to store the strength stat, but I feel that “because drugs” is a perfectly good in-game explanation that justifies my actions (sorry Iolo).

    • Spammy says:

      Iolo? Really? Did it never strike you as dangerous to give someone so lame and worthless suddenly godlike strength? It’s like you’re asking for Iolo to snap and slay The Avatar and conquer Britannia.

      Although it’s funny that you bring up Ultima VII, because as the excellent LP on the Archives showed, you basically break Ultima VII open and can ignore a part of the main quest just by innocently completing the expansion.

      • Humanoid says:

        He’s probably less dangerous to you in that state while wielding a giant hammer than he is in his default state with a triple crossbow.

        But yeah, you can find the results of U7 drug experimentation here. Note particularly the important moral lesson here: You can take as many drugs as you like as long as you’re the Avatar.

    • Godlike powers near the endgame, I think, are not only justified, but a nice reward to players. By this point, we’ve experienced the game quite deeply, and having a way to bypass the grind we’ve had to endure before is an option some might take. It’s not only (perhaps) the logical way your character would progress (what fantasy badass DOESN’T want ultimate cosmic power?) but it lets you more easily get on with the plot.

      I mean, SW kind of complained about higher level perks in Fallout being basically game hacks, but is this really that much different from being able to fast travel while encumbered, swap your karma, etc.?

      • Neko says:

        Yeah. Why is it always the heroes who are under-prepared and charge foolhardily into the dungeon, while it’s the evil lich who spends time learning how the world works and grinds up their magical abilities until they can perform the ritual to end the world?

        I’d love a system that gave people who just wanted “Slightly Improved Fireball II” spells that while underneath having a rich meta-magic system that let sufficiently dedicated players come up with all sorts of emergent powers of ludicrousness. But obviously, that takes a lot of work so it’d end up being the whole focus of the game…

  8. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Did we even play the same Morrowind? The one with the depressing, bleak, tiresome ash encrusted wastelands, the pterodactyls (yes I know they call them cliff racers but I’m not giving them the credit, they’re either giant bats or pterodactyls). The scaly ball with legs? The furry ball with legs (I don’t know, the monsters were so abstract and unmemorable).

    When I went to Solstheim, it became clear to me that the only reason they went with weird exotic looking stuff in the base game was because if they’d tried something more realistic looking it would have been hideous with their graphics. With Skyrim however, the graphics were finally good enough to show off more realistic natural terrain (with touches of the exotic thrown in), and it is far more beautiful.

    You talk about how generic the towns are but they are a far sight more varied and beautiful than all those adobe huts and clay(?) buildings (oh and mushrooms, I’m sorry, because thats totally not recycled from their natural mushroom landscapes or vice versa, you want to talk about stupid and nonsensical but you don’t have a problem with people living inside a giant fungus). The dungeons in Morrowind were empty and barren compared to Skyrim.

    Really the visual experience of Morrowind was reading text off of one screen or another in that awful looking ms font. You can’t just buy stuff, you have to barter. You can’t just talk to people, you have to hunt through the codex of all their knowledge. And if you’re like me, you have to pull up your journal over and over again to remember where you’re going and what you’re doing because Morrowind is about tell, don’t show.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      I always found Morrowind visually dull too. Skyrim is the first Elder Scrolls game IMO that actually has decent art direction.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        You know, I know there are regulars here who disagree but it helps my sanity to know that at least one of you sees this the way I do.

        • Humanoid says:

          I only had a relatively brief time with Morrowind, and most of that was spent in the smallish arc of gameworld between Vivec and Caldera, I never really explored any further. So while I probably skipped most of the truly alien parts, it also means I never really experienced how different it was to its successors.

          • The Rocketeer says:

            The Ascadian Isles region near Vivec is probably the prettiest and most “familiar” looking area of the game, giant mushrooms notwithstanding.

            The biggest strike against Morrowind, visually, is that there isn’t enough contrast in the ash regions; I know they wanted to set up a striking disparity between the fertile regions of the island and the ashen regions, but that would work better if the ashlands were smaller, or if you rarely ventured into them. As it stands, the coastal areas have easily-identifiable landforms and biodiversity, and everything inland is just… ash. Ash, and maybe some lava. It sucks to go walking around the Ascadian Isles, which has plains, water, farms, rolling hills, trees, mushrooms, and flowers of every color, with castles and thatch-roof houses and Hlaalu plantations with netch-herds floating around them… and then you go to Molag Amur, or the Ald’ruhn vicinity, or the north coast of the island… and it’s just gray ash, or red-gray ash storms.

            I do want to point out that Morrowind has a pretty diverse set of biomes, though; it isn’t hard to tell where you are on the island by looking around, which is… considerably harder in Oblivion and Skyrim. In fact, thinking about it now, even in the numerous ashen areas, its easy to tell where you are. You can’t mistake Molag Amur for the Ald’ruhn vicinity, or the Urshilaky vicinity in the north for Red Mountain itself. Really, I think just adding more contrast and some clutter besides rocky pillars would have done wonders for keeping even the barren areas visually fresh.

        • Isaac says:

          I know, where would you be if no one here agreed with you?

    • Corpital says:

      And again, nobody mentions the awesome water in Morrowind.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Sorry about that (really). I’m sure it was impressive at the time but I didn’t play Morrowind till recently after having played much more modern games. So it didn’t the same impact (even with the Morrowind Graphics Overhaul installed).

  9. Ilseroth says:

    As someone who trends to *underpower* all of my elder scrolls characters; using the games own bad numbers against it isn’t even a bug.

    Is it an exploit? Well yeah, but in a single player game… who cares? I mean honestly if you get all finicky at someone because they choose to play their single player game in a particular way you might want to rethink your priorities.

    That being said, if this was a multiplayer game, I’d want that shit patched ASAP.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Basically this.You should be able to play a single player game any way you want.Use an exploit or dont,use cheats or dont,its up to you.The developer only has the responsibility to endure your laughter if they overlook a trivial exploit such as this one.

      • Matt Downie says:

        But as soon as you find the exploit, you can no longer play the game tactically. Before you find the exploit, you’re trying to get strong, you’re trying to pick the best choice for survival and victory. When you discover the exploit, that all changes. You’re now trying to decide what level of challenge you want to set yourself. The game you were playing is gone.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Sure you can.You just dont use the exploit.Its like saying that because youve discovered that the game has an easy setting,you cannot just play it on a harder difficulty.Especially if the game has the option to change the difficulty any time you want,and even more so if it actively offers to lower your difficulty when you die a lot.

          Basically every game lets you decide what level of difficulty you want to set for yourself,and the more options it offers in this regard(through various sliders,mods,and yes,even exploits and bugs)the better.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            I can sort of understand where he’s coming from. While I can (usually) resist the urge to outright cheat my way through a game when there is something that gives me an advantage within the game mechanics (like, a trick to level a skill quick) it becomes much, much harder to resist. I guess it’s a mentality thing but while cheating feels like powering up my character not (ab)using certain game mechanics feels like powering it down, which in turn goes against my instinct as a player. Though, to be fair, I could probably resist such blatant exploits as the one Josh is using here.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              It took me quite a while to start resisting my penny pinching urges in new vegas and skyrim.Yet no one calls it cheating/abusing the system when you penny pinch in order to get tons of money by the time you get to 1/10th of the main quest,and be able to buy out everyone from that point on.And people arent saying that the developers have ruined the game by allowing you to sell everything and a kitchen sink from every dungeon,but understand that its their own mentality that can create a problem in this case.

              The same goes for various exploits.It is a mentality thing.Most people need to train themselves in order not to use an exploit that will make them stronger than intended.But in the end,its their problem,not of the developer.Sure,the developer made a blunder when they introduced the exploit,but its your choice whether you are or arent going to abuse it.You should do what feels the most fun for you,not wait for someone else to put in some restrictions.

              • syal says:

                Penny-pinching is much like leveling up in an RPG. It’s an intrinsic part of the system. You can put an upper limit on cash or levels that go up with story progression or something, but that runs against the sandbox mentality.

                The thing about alchemy is, there’s no particular reason why you need to be able to level alchemy with alchemy. If you add that one restriction, the exploit goes away, and alchemy goes back to being a useful but not overpowered tool.

              • Sleeping Dragon says:

                Oh I didn’t mean “it’s the developer’s fault”, I was just saying that for me it’s much harder to resist using something that trivializes the challenge if it is integral to the game mechanics because it feels like playing the game suboptimally, which runs against my instincts as a player. To be honest in most games I prefer the feeling of exploration and progress and development to the sense of overcoming a challenge so it’s not that much of an issue for me. Just when it’s abusing the game systems it doesn’t strip me of the feeling I beat the game “fairly”.

        • I’d say it depends on the game. If the game’s quests and stories make no difference to the main plot (or to the player) and your choices don’t matter, then yes, you’ve just broken the main point of playing the game, which is the combat.

          If, however, you like the plot and roleplay/choices you make or are enjoying seeing how the storyline is developing, breaking combat means you’re just letting yourself get to “the good stuff” without all the grind.*

          * Assuming combat is, for said player, a grind and not an enjoyed hobby, like cannibalism.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “You are banished!”

    How silly is yelling that when no one else is around to hear it?Was he expecting for someone to look into the past like this and marvel at how cool he is?

    • Corpital says:

      From the look of the scene, he probably expected the dragon to be there a bit longer. Taking this heroic pose with an Elder Scroll over his head, shouting ‘You are banished!’ would sure make for some awesome stories his. But the dragon just vanished and he stood there like an idiot, alone and freezing. Stupid Alduin ruins everything.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      People do talk when there’s nobody actually there to hear. Who hasn’t yelled at his TV screen at least once playing a video game? Or talked to an animal that wouldn’t have given a shit what you had to say even if it could understand you? Talking is something we’re just so used to doing that we do it even when there’s no point.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yes,I did talk to myself a bunch of times for various reasons.No,it never was not silly in retrospect.Its even sillier when someone else does it.

  11. General Karthos says:

    Crusader Kings II had an exploit called by those who used it, “North Korea Mode” in which you were able to govern every single territory under your control directly, thereby bypassing the feudal mechanics the game attempts to simulate. The advantage to this situation was to increase your levies, thereby giving you far more troops than the computer nations (who played by the rules you were SUPPOSED to be playing by). It also neatly eliminated any succession problems or problems with treacherous lords. The advocates of this play style always said “then don’t play like this!”. The developer, Paradox Interactive (somewhat controversially) fixed this situation by making the penalties for going over the limit of controlled territories include decreasing the levies.

    This was a case where some players were breaking the game, intentionally, in a way unintended by the designer, and using the exact mechanics of the game to defeat the purpose and the spirit of the game. It wasn’t supposed to be possible to run games in North Korea mode, but when someone figured out how to do it, the developers quickly stepped in to fix it. It’s not exactly the same situation as above, but I’m very much in favor of walling off cheats and exploits. Now if you can solve your way past a puzzle in a manner that is creative but wasn’t intended to work, that’s great. May as well go ahead and do it. But this is a different situation. Exploiting the game mechanics to make them work for you and increase your power instead of constraining your power… yeah. That’s the sort of thing that should be fixed.

    • Exasperation says:

      I don’t think that’s as neat as the trick with custom character creation in CK2 that let you take all the negative traits possible, dump every point you got into health, and create an (effectively) immortal character capable of living from the 867 start date to the end of the game in 1453.

      Absolutely incompetent, but immortal.

  12. Paul Spooner says:

    Okay, challenge accepted!
    First though, I would distinguish “breaking the game” and “having fun”. It’s always the player’s job to have fun with a game, and if they aren’t having fun, they have no one to blame but themselves. Maybe they don’t want to have fun, and that’s fine too. But it isn’t the designer’s responsibility.
    Of course, the designer will want to make a game that is easy to enjoy, which maybe is what you were getting at. But ultimately, I’d say it’s the designer’s responsibility to make the game, not necessarily fun, but robust. I propose that if you are able to break the game from within the rules (not cheating or hacking or save-editing etc), then it’s 100% the designer’s fault.

    As you point out, this poses quite a challenge when working in the RPG field, since progressive increases in power are central to the genre. There are likely many solutions, but the one I propose is more thorough use of trade-offs and soft limits.

    An example of:
    Trade-offs: Perhaps leveling up your strength also increases the amount of food you have to eat. Suddenly, instead of wanting maximum strength all the time, you have to balance it against increased resource consumption.
    Soft Limits: Perhaps your food consumption increases with the square of your strength. There’s no hard cap on strength, but pushing past the optimum point becomes prohibitively expensive.

    It’s these kind of in-game mechanical balances that I think would result in a much more sensible and difficult to break game. But what am I saying, it’s clear that’s not Bethesda’s agenda, and never has been.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      “It’s always the player’s job to have fun with a game, and if they aren’t having fun, they have no one to blame but themselves.”

      That is just so fundamentally wrong…

      If a game is literally forty hours of one long, straight hallway with bulletsponge enemies occasionally popping up who take ten minutes of shooting in the head to kill and do nothing but block the path and espouse racist ideology while I shoot them… I don’t have anyone to blame there except myself for not enjoying that?

      The player making his own fun in a game is something that has to be fostered through pulling them into the game’s world and systems, not something that you can just demand upfront. A player has to be enjoying himself *first* in order to be immersed enough in the game to say “Gee, I think I’ll start collecting all of the books in the game.”

  13. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Recalling that KOTOR II had many problems with its ending, I always remember that I hated the end stage of KOTOR because I had to slug my way through a bunch of dreary 3-3 fights before the game briefly got interesting (the puzzle boss of 8 infinite respawning robots you had to figure out how to turn off), and then the final duel -which was kind of interesting, but was always really rough if you weren’t super-maxed with your lightsaber (since Malak had resistance out the wazoo for force powers).

    In KOTOR II, despite flinging tons of enemies at you in the final stage, it was much more fun because most of them were one-hitpoint-wonders. Get a good swarm of a dozen Sith around you and let off Force Wave or Lightning Storm and they’d all die immediately, or shortly after. And you could trick out the lightsabers and feats to slide-and-dice even high powered enemies. Then Sion was a conversation boss and finally Kreia a more traditional “hope you packed your medkits…” boss.

    I enjoyed it much more.

    Similarly between Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. In the first, I considered it obnoxious in the endgame (Broken Steel) that I was hitting Enclave soldiers in the head with the fancy-plasma-rifle three or four times to bring them down. In NV? Man, Hoover Dam was so fun one-shotting Legionaires on my way to the boss fight.

    • syal says:

      (the puzzle boss of 8 infinite respawning robots you had to figure out how to turn off)

      And then you find out the solution is “bash open the door that Malak ran through and ignore those machines entirely.”

      • Humanoid says:

        At least it wasn’t yet another Tower of Hanoi puzzle.

        (At least, I assume it wasn’t. I know I finished KoTOR but remember essentially none of it, one of the less memorable RPGs I’ve played.)

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I probably would have felt the same about the first KOTOR except for two things, 1) HK-47 and 2) I did a dark-side playthrough immediately after my light side playthrough.

          If you haven’t played darkside, I encourage you to do so. The contrast is striking. Its not like later Bioware games where you arrive in basically the same place but you’re just more of a dick about it. I won’t spoil it.

          Now KOTOR2 is a different story. The characters in that one were always memorable when I could get the game to work (thank God for the fans).

    • Jokerman says:

      Im not 100% since i never got that far into kotor 2, but from the sounds of it Bioware took that idea and used it for the end of Dragon Age Origins… most of the usual enemies would suddenly go down in one hit, making it feel like a climax to a fantasy movie.

  14. Ofermod says:

    Me, I tend to have a lot of fun getting crazy powerful. So I see no reason why having it as a possibility would harm anyone. Those who want the challenges can decide to not do so, while those who like the feeling of levelling up/charbuilding to become basically a god can do so as well.

  15. Izicata says:

    The whole point of Dragonrend (Mortal Finite Temporary) is that dragons don’t understand those concepts, and being forced to confront an incomprehensible thought prevents them from taking complex actions like flying. You can’t learn Dragonrend by absorbing knowledge from dragon souls because dragons don’t understand what it’s like to be mortal; they don’t have that knowledge for you to absorb. However, as a mortal, you inherently understand what it’s like to be mortal in a way no dragon can.

  16. The point of a game (in my eyes) is to provide a set of rules/structure/world/setting/story and let the player interact with and have fun with it, and if it is single player games the player should be free to stay within the rules or break them if they so choose (this includes exploits, cheat codes, secrets, mods, or save game editing or even trainers), if the player is not having fun then it’s no longer a game but a chore.

  17. Highlight of the episode, at 12:25 Josh gets groped by Paarthurnax, I’m sure there is a slashfic in there somewhere.

  18. @Rutskarn Oh Oracle of the Elderly Parchments, is the enchantment loop “trick” Josh did possible within the ruleset of the Elder Scrolls itself?
    Heck, take D&D or similar systems, could one do something like that there?

  19. GeneralBob says:

    I was listening to this episode while playing TF2 and when Paarthunax started talking I literally thought “Aw crap, how did a talking ad for Transformers 4 get into one of my tabs?”

  20. The only dragons i really like the look of are the Revered and Serpentine dragons. They look a bit more varied to me and not just more power? More Spikes.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      This is the one criticism from the episode I agree with most. Alduin is overdesigned (though I think other dragons look fine). Though I thought Paarthurnax looked his part.

      I think it would be interesting if Alduin were like Lucifer or like Sauron back when he had a body. Both were beautiful and majestic according to accounts. It would match up with his role as the Lord of Dragons.

  21. TmanEd says:

    Even without stacking potions, with a good smithing level and an alright enchanting level you can still make the game really trivial, even though it’s not “CUFTBERT PUNCH” level broken. A couple of ~200 damage swords and the attack speed shout means that anything in the game is going to die in a couple of seconds.

  22. Irregular says:

    Oh god, Jenassa interrupting the cutscene with a yell of “Die, Dragon!’ at roughly 17:30 is hilarious.

    It’s like she got sent back in time and arrived too late to do anything about the scenario, so she tries to fire off this snappy one-liner only to completely stumble and fail on it.

  23. James Porter says:

    In all truth, letting you play that “in the past” segment could fix all of the problems with that scene. You get teleportaled to the past, meet the nord heros, and they teach you the words for dragonrend, then three dragons show up and you have to fight them. Then alduin shows up and is sent into the future. Dragonborn DLC did a similar thing, where it asks you to go learn a word for the quest, and their is a convenient dragon nearby that you can use for the soul. Not only would that be a fun challange(I think you only ever fight 2 dragons at once) but you also can also talk to the heros and learn interesting stuff about nord culture(Maybe even a bit of lore that could stop the civil war)

    Actually, I kinda don’t like how little the civil war doesn’t matter if you don’t mess around with it. like you can see imperials and stormcloaks walking around, but you don’t feel like you are in a war torn country. Heck, the stormcloaks hate the dark elves because they are doing nothing to help the war. But the player never feels that way. The only thing I can think of is the ceasefire, which only happens if you haven’t won for either side.

  24. Grudgeal says:

    The Markarth rampage reminded me of an RPGnet post where someone had taken revenge on the city being generally crap by going on a pickpocketing rampage and stealing the pants of every guard in the city.

    I wonder if Markarth just has that effect on people.

    • IFS says:

      While not Markarth I remember when a friend and I abused corprus in Morrowind to become absurdly strong and proceeded to murder all the guards in Vivec that we came across, and steal their pants for good measure. So maybe its just an effect TES as a whole has on people :P

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I think every game where you can remove pants from people who annoy you is bound to trigger that sooner or later. And boy are those ordinators obnoxious.

  25. Octapode says:

    The whole “stealing an ancient weapon from the past to defeat a world destroying dragon” plotline is interestingly similar to the Dragon Soul plotline in WoW (three dungeons and a raid, ending with killing Deathwing). Dragon Soul was way more fun than this one looks though (never got to this point in my Skyrim playthrough), mostly because it wasn’t just a case of beating on Deathwing till he died. It also helps that as you go through the actual kill in Dragon Soul, Deathwing falls apart into a giant firey tentacle monster and it actually feels like you are making progress, unlike here where it looks like the only sense you have done something is Alduin’s health bar gets shorter until he gets bored and leaves.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      That wasn’t the final battle. You have to fight him again in Sovengarde (basically Valhalla).

      • Octapode says:

        Ah that’s good at least. Does the final battle require you to do more than hit him and use the shout at the right time?

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          You have to clear out a fog with the clear skies shout and you gather a few heroes from Valhalla to help you. But after that yeah its dragonrend and attack. Miraak was the only battle that felt anything like a classic boss battle.

  26. I find this conundrum kind of funny because, to me, most games become annoying and thus boring if you DON’T eventually reach a sufficient level of “smack this nonsense aside and keep going”. I get bored intellectually with most combat systems, particularly if the system is such that you level faster in the early game and the space between levels draws out Longer and Loooooonger and loooooooooooooooonger as you go so by mid-game you’re not getting anything particularly new and useful any more and it’s not particularly interesting when you do get it.

    Couple that with Try It Again, Stupid gameplay mechanics and I’m very likely to finish the second half of the game via developer console cheats.

    To me, game *difficulty* is all-but-indistinguishable from game *pacing* and my favorite games are generally the ones where I have some degree of control over the pacing. (Dungeons and Dragons Online is actually a really good example of this). If I’m finding things boring because there’s no “challenge” . . . well, I’ll go pull 50 enemies at once, then. I’ll try out a new combat method that I haven’t done much with. I’ll try hacking my way through an obvious stealth section. I’ll wear the armor that looks good instead of the one with the best stats. I’ll use the weapon I like best instead of the one with the best stats. I’ll sell off 99% of my gear instead of compulsively hoarding everything. I’ll solo instead of bringing party members along.

    Games are an *interactive* medium. Expecting the game itself to deliver into your lap a difficulty curve specially tuned to your personal interests is futile. You have to *interact* with it. Of course, it helps when the devs don’t bolt you to some rails so that you CAN. So, I’d say it’s the devs job to give you some room to maneuver, and let you go at it. But, on the flip side of that, if you take that room and cheese the hell out of it then complain that you find the game “too easy” . . . you did that to yourself. And you didn’t have to. Any game with wiggle room is going to have cheese in it. It can be a lot of fun to discover it, too. But NOBODY is forcing you to WALLOW in it.

    I see this a lot in DDO. The people who complain that the game is “too easy” are, uniformly, the people who play the cheesiest easy-button builds in the game. They NEVER play ANYTHING else. They’re often not even particularly *good* players. They’re just addicted to cheese.

  27. “The game presents a system and challenges us to overcome it. It exists to create something for us to destroy. If we can’t overcome it, then the game fails[2]. But if we overcome it too easily, the game also fails.”

    This is way too simplified a statement. A game doesn’t have to present “challenges”. It has to present you with interesting stuff you can *fiddle* with. Challenge *helps* keep it interesting, but like the story it’s predominately there to *motivate you to fiddle*. As long as you’re motivated to keep on fiddling and to enjoy said fiddling the game is doing its job regardless of whether you’re “overcoming” anything or not.

  28. Mintskittle says:

    This is the part where my game started to really break down. I had the same bug Josh mentioned, where Alduin didn’t spawn for his cutscene fight, only I had it several times in a row. Then Balgruuf wouldn’t show up for the peace talks. The final breaking point was capturing Odahviing. After Odahviing is locked down, Balgruuf keeps trying to initiate a conversation with me, but he’s got nothing to say and I have no new talk options for him either. I have not seen anything after the capture because the game refuses to advance.

  29. Lilith Novale says:

    The game-breaking glitches discussion is incredibly dependent on context. From a personal perspective, if I was playing through Skyrim for the first time and knew you could do this, I would decide that I wouldn’t want to do it – I would want to play the game to try and feel like a character in a fantasy world.

    However, from the persepective of a speedrunner, there are only 2 rules:
    1. Don’t modify the game files
    2. Don’t use cheat codes.

    In speedrunning, everything is fair game – if it’s possible to clip through walls with a bowl, then you can do that. You can’t use mods to make you run faster or use console commands to just teleport yourself to the end of the game, but anything within the game, even if it breaks the spirit of the game is legal.

  30. Nick Powell says:

    It’s upsetting how much of this game can be played just by clicking the mouse button and waiting.

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