Marlow Briggs EP14: Marlow Briggs and the Montage of Sadmaking

By Shamus
on Sep 11, 2014
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Josh brings up a good point about magic: All spells seem to take 60% of your mana, so you can’t use them more than once without a refill. I haven’t played the game so I don’t know what I’m missing, but from a design standpoint I have to wonder why we bother with mana at all. Like, if we can use one spell and then we need a power-up (which totally refills the bar) then why have a bar? The bar could be replaced with a simple “charge” concept: You either have one or you don’t.

Spoiler: No need to shout advice at him in the comments. We’re done with the game now, and I don’t imagine Josh is going to be in any particular hurry to play it again.

So now that we’re just about done with this circus sideshow, I guess I might as well do some actual game analysis:

I love the idea of coming up with terminology for stuff. And I think “edge metaphor” that Chris mentioned is darn near perfect. There are a lot of ideas in games that we don’t have words for yet. We can discuss movies in terms of having bad framing, editing, pacing. We talk about the MacGuffin, the damsel, flashbacks, foreshadowing. (To be fair, a lot of this stuff is basic narrative lingo more than movie lingo.) But we don’t have a handy word for the situation we find in the fight in the middle of the episode: There are powerups strewn around the playfield, suggesting that you’re supposed to rely on them. But if you try to grab any of them you’ll get hitThe ninja guys have ranged attack with a huge reach, so I don’t think distance will help. – possibly even stunlockedStunlocked is a pretty good jargon word. – and be denied the item. This creates an unbalancing effect on gameplay: The more you’re struggling, the harder it getsThis is the opposite of what you see in Half-Life, where health pickups give more benefit when you’re low and very little when you’re already healthy.. We need a word for that. I mean, you can make one up in the comments, but it doesn’t do any good until some reasonable portion of the public understands what you mean.

This entire sequence to access the staircase reminds me of the elevator ride in Prince of Persia:Sands of Time. Both sequences have the same problems and appear at about the same point in the game, with the same effect. The combat in Sands of Time was always a slog that lasted two or three times longer than it needed to, but the elevator ride was about four times longer than it should have been, and was also really, really fiddly with a small margin for error. I played through that game many times, and I always dreaded the elevator. In both games this prolonged encounter is supposed to be a final exam for your fighting skills, but for me it felt like a long, unwelcome distraction that belabored the point and sucked the momentum out of the story. You think you’re about to reach the end, and instead it’s more of the same crap you’re already sick of, only longer and more difficult.

In both cases, I think part of the problem is that there isn’t any buildup or sense of progress. Guys keep spawning, and you have no idea how long it will last. It’s clearly a major fight, but you’re not expecting a major fight and the story hasn’t given any weight to this encounter. (Oh, what will we do when we get to the elevator? We can never defeat so so many!)

Paul Spooner was inspired(?) by Marlow Briggs to make some fan(?) art.


This one is based on Rutskarn’s imagined future for Marlow.

marlow_briggs_box.jpg

Here is the sunglasses ad that Chris joked about last episode:

http://www.peripheralarbor.com/gallery/d/4050-2/SunglassesAndDeath.jpg

“Exasperation” made this one:

marlow_briggs_treachery.jpg

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Footnotes:

[1] The ninja guys have ranged attack with a huge reach, so I don’t think distance will help.

[2] Stunlocked is a pretty good jargon word.

[3] This is the opposite of what you see in Half-Life, where health pickups give more benefit when you’re low and very little when you’re already healthy.



A Hundred!2013There are 133 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. MrGuy says:

    Marlo Briggs – Eternian Dentist.

  2. Hitch says:

    Marlow Briggs and the Monotony of Repetition. Do this over and over again until you inexplicably succeed. Falter once along the way and start over.

  3. Muspel says:

    “Cascade failure” sounds like a fairly accurate term. Or “negative feedback loop”.

    • mhoff12358 says:

      I’m pretty sure this qualifies as a type of death spiral. Although there might be some distinction in that this makes the game harder for a player specifically, not just by having lower odds.

      • Dev Null says:

        I independently came up with the same term (as well as others in the thread) so this might actually qualify as communication…

      • Ravens Cry says:

        TV Tropes has a term for this, Unstable Equilibrium. No, I am not linking to it.
        I am evil, but I am not quite that evil.
        On the other hand, I am forcing you to look it up yourselves, with all the potential pitfalls and distractions along the way, so maybe I am worse

    • syal says:

      I thought it fell under Snowball Effect.

    • ehlijen says:

      I thought the term ‘death spiral’ already existed, at least in PnP RPGs?

      It’s come up a few times when my friends and I were discussing the merit of realistic wound penalty systems. In some games, the more hurt you are, the easier it is to hurt you further (ie a death spiral, you go down and down, speeding up as you go). Other games don’t penalise you at all because they want the game to go for a few whacks each. And yet other games penalise your active actions, but not your defence, to encourage the player to flee, but not hobble him from doing so.

      • Eric says:

        Death Spiral and Critical Existence Failure are the two I read about a lot in terms of TTRPGs.

        Death Spiral, as said above, means that as you get more hurt it becomes harder for you to survive due to various penalties inflicted upon you.

        Critical Existence Failure is the de facto standard in games where there is no difference in your character’s performance at 100% HP and 1% HP. The only negative effect is when you hit 0 and die.

      • Pen-n-paper RPGs have TPK (Total Party Kill) and TPW (Total Party Wipe), which is different from “Rocks fall, everybody dies” by virtue of having killed everyone due to bad luck and/or stupidity as opposed to the DM declaring the campaign hopeless.

      • The intelligent way to do it would be to penalize your ability to dodge and flee but ramp up your offense and soak as you get hurt. This would actually parallel real life in many ways because both all-out offense AND ignoring damage are harder at the start of a fight than after your body has fully engaged the adrenaline response.

        You could even build in the different methods as different playstyles within the same game so that depending on your build you take different penalties. So you could have, say:

        1. Dodge style, aka “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. You’re all about avoiding getting hit and exhausting your enemies until they become vulnerable. Your offenses are minor and mostly just incur stacking debuffs, except for a few powerful “I win now” attacks that require critical hits or specific vulnerable conditions to go off. You can lower your offense to increase your defense, but eventually this methodology will fail to the inevitable sheer bad luck crit, so you invest in single-use defenses that can get you past those fail points.

        2. Speed style, aka “I will go first and mess you up before you have a chance to react” you have powerful front-loaded offenses but little defense–you rely on your initial attacks landing because you have little follow up. A long fight is death to you, but in general you can prevent this from happening. You can trade defense for offense, but if you get hit before you can do anything, you have a good chance of never getting your attack off in the first place. So you invest heavily in initiative. The ability to rapidly disengage from a battle that has turned against you is also vital.

        3. Soak style, aka “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” your offense and defense are moderate, but it takes a lot of hurt to put you down. Offense and defense can both be traded for damage resistance, giving you a large pool to pull from, but on the other hand that pool is depleted at a steady and ongoing rate.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Vicious circle?

        • MichaelGC says:

          Nice! I had to translate that, and as well as ‘vicious circle’ it gave me the – in my opinion far superior – option of:

          DOOM LOOP

          • Peter H. Coffin says:

            The power-up stations are “honey-pots”, which is a broader category of “monkey trap”. The monkey trap involve (apocryphally, I’m sure) a monkey trying to retrieve a snack from a narrow-mouth jar. The hand fits in, but a closed fist does not, and the monkey (being unwilling to let go of the date or nut or whatever) can’t free himself from the jar and is thereby captured. A honey-pot is more general: any attractive thing that keeps the player busy until some too-late situation comes along. It may not involve actual trapping, but primarily functions by distraction or tempting a player into an exposed position for some amount of time. It’s a subset of baiting mechanisms that function just by being appealing. But in the case of this fight, the position by the power up isn’t particularly more dangerous than anyplace else on the field, it’s just that being stuck there for the 3-5 seconds or whatever it is means the mobile hazard has time to close in and attack.

            • Bubble181 says:

              A monkey trap isn’t at all apocryphical – it’s often used as a test for intelligence. Most apes know to let go and find another solution (turn over the bowl, for instance). Most smaller monkeys you can actually trap this way. Some of the “smarter” animals (dolphins, though the test has to be modified slightly, dogs, cats) succeed on this test, some don’t. A bit impolite to mention, perhaps, but it’s also used as a test for determining the intelligence level of people with mental disabilities.

            • Felblood says:

              I have constructed literally Honey Traps.

              You use them to kill bees and flies.

              It’s a mason jar with a dab of honey (or tuna works better) and a hole punched downward into the lid.

              Bugs follow the smell of honey through the hole, but try to follow the light out the sides.

    • Zukhramm says:

      Surely “cascade failure” would be a positive feedback loop and not a negative?

  4. Dude says:

    So, which game gets the Spoiler Warning treatment next?

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    A montage!Yay!

  6. Phantos says:

    Normally you see copycat games from something that actually moved the medium forward, like Super Mario Bros., or Grand Theft Auto III. Which is why I don’t understand how so many God of War clones came out, considering God of War wasn’t any good to begin with.

    It’s like, hey, thanks for making quicktime-events a running gag in video games, jerks!

    • DTor says:

      I’d say that God of War set a new standard for polish in the video game industry. The art direction, the graphics technology, the voice acting, the animation, the user interface, the soundtrack…everything about that game showed an enormous investment of time by a very talented group of people. You could argue that the game was derivative and failed to innovate in any meaningful way, but I’d say it did move the medium forward, or at least in a new direction.

      Big budget game developers today aspire to make things as flawless as God of War, and yeah, they do imitate the annoying QTEs, but, look, they only want to be perfect, and that’s nothing to scoff at.

      • Phantos says:

        I did not find any of that polish in God of War. I hated the look of it, the camera, the controls, the characters, the “plot”, the macho douchebaggery overtones, all of it reeked of something that the Marlow Briggs team would have scrapped for not being ready for public release. The whole experience felt clumsy and brainless, something farted out in a year to meet a fiscal earnings target rather than something developed by human beings for the intention of delivering entertainment.

        I can’t comment on later games in the series, but the first game is still one of the few miserable experiences I had on the Playstation 2.

        • IFS says:

          I enjoyed the first God of War (the plot is actually fairly decent for the first one imo) though the combat is pretty meh to me (definitely far too many QTEs). The second and third are not very good imo, they represent where storywise the writers try to treat Kratos as if he isn’t an asshole (whereas the first game was well aware of this and used it to some extent). The combat is somewhat improved in each of them but its still not as strong as in other action games, so overall not really that great of games.

          • Kizer says:

            I really enjoyed the first God of War. As mentioned above, it did have a coherent and interesting story, and made it very clear that your character was an unrepentant asshole. I actually found the combat fairly engaging, as there were meaningful differences between different combo attacks. On top of that, GoW is one of the few games that I feel treats QTEs correctly. Like some of the enemies in Marlow Briggs, you trigger the QTE by pressing the button hovering over the enemy. In other words, you choose when and if you have a QTE, they aren’t forced upon you in the middle of a combat sequence.

            Unfortunately, the boss battles have the same problem Shamus previously pointed out here. Still, it was a fun beat ’em up that made for a fantastic standalone game and really didn’t need sequels. Sigh.

          • Darren says:

            Wow, that’s a fascinatingly different take than what I have. The first game tries to make Kratos sympathetic but culpable, but the second and third are pretty explicit that he’s a terrible asshole. It’s not until the very end of GoW 3 that the game really tries to make him sympathetic–every last god screams about how monstrous he is, and the entire world collapses as he murders his way up Olympus–and it’s a huge misstep for how out of sync with the rest of the game it really is.

            • IFS says:

              Hmm, I suppose I phrased my opinion a bit poorly, I didn’t mean to say that he wasn’t an asshole in 2 and 3, but rather that the writers didn’t seem to know how to make that engaging. He’s clearly an asshole in all three but the first is the only one that knows what to do with that.

      • Wasn’t it the first huge hit to involve dual-wielded swords on chains? That trope seems to have infected large portions of the industry quite thoroughly with no signs of ending any time soon.

        I blame too many people liking Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Just because you dont like it doesnt mean its bad,or that others shouldnt like it as well.Case in point:The witcher.Shamoose didnt like it.Does that mean that everyone else is just a deluded fool,and only those that agree with Shamoose are smart?

      • Phantos says:

        Well now we’re just getting into semantics. Any time someone says “this movie is bad”, I trust we all know that that can never be an objective statement. It’s just another way for people to say: “I didn’t like this”. Even if they declare it “The Worst Anything Ever”.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          True,but in many cases you can prove why something is bad.For example:
          Why is transformers bad?
          Too much shaky cam.

          With video games,its even easier to do at times,because theres usually a greater emphasis on mechanics.So poor implementation of qtes drags the new tom braider down significantly.High responsiveness of controls in combat and platforming sections brings it back up.Etc.

      • Zukhramm says:

        Whichever side is in majority is objectively wrong.

        • In some ways, they can be. Take the oft-noted movie franchise, “The Transformers” by Michael Bay. By just about every standard, few people I’m aware of can, with a straight face, say that any of the films in the series are actually good. In this case, “good” means these are movies viewers will want to own or re-watch with the same level of enjoyment one might give Star Wars, the first Matrix film, Pixar’s offerings, or the Lord of the Rings movies.

          Bay’s Transformers films have awful dialog, the plots don’t make sense, the acting is horrid, and they’re just an excuse for huge FX setpieces. The movies are also riddled with juvenile humor (even by juvenile standards), clumsy characterization that can come off as racist, and in one film, a giant robot with wrecking balls for testicles.

          By most standards, these are not “good” movies.

          The problem with dismissing them is they make lots of money. Myself, I don’t care what magic lantern shows people enjoy, but I do often point out that the obvious lesson studios learn from these movies is that brainless explosions with robots sells tickets. This, along with sequel-reboot-itis, causes there to be fewer and fewer original ideas in our films than ever before with little sign of stopping. The majority have spoken, and they want Bayformers-style movies, and the studios are listening. Just as the game industry seems to be dominated by bro-shooters and other kill-n-run games because they make money, it means fewer major studio releases are going to try out new things because there’s a nearly sure-fire way to recoup one’s investment. And it feeds back into itself and tears the ship apart.

      • Thomas says:

        It is kind of odd that there were a ton of God of War clones (and still are) but there was never actually one that took the subgenre forward.

        I can’t think of many examples of that happening in games. Despite being massively popular, God of War is a cul-de-sac.

        Maybe it’s because hack ‘n slashes of almost all forms have kind of died off as of late? Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry peaked ages ago. Only Platinum Games continues to move on with their own particular subgenre.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          What about mgs …um revengfulness?Whatever it was called,the one with the sword dude.I hear it adds some pretty interesting stuff you can do with the sword.

          • NotDog says:

            It’s called “Blade Mode” (and the title ends in “Revengeance”). If you hit an enemy in a certain way it becomes vulnerable to your blade mode attack, where you hold a button down to enter Blade Mode. In Blade Mode time slows down and you can aim your sword cuts. There’s usually a red square on the enemy during Blade Mode; if you slice through the square you’ll cut out the enemy’s cyber spine to refill your health. The game also makes you do Blade Mode for certain boss events, like striking it in certain locations.

            It looks neat (the actual enemy model is cut appart) thought it’s a complete gimmick and could be classified as another kind of quick-time event.

          • Corpital says:

            MSG the reveangencenings is from Platinum Games, so the above statement still stands. Like a male cyborg on high heels.

            Still, give it a few year and these games will come back in force, just like every fad after 10-20year.

          • IFS says:

            Revengeance is pretty fantastic, blade mode is a lot of fun and interesting to use and as stated above its a way of doing QTEs right. Personally I wouldn’t define it as a QTE as you can use it at any time and its fully within your control, but in the moments where the game has QTEs (usually as boss finishers) it does them very well and blade mode is often used as a part of those sequences (basically letting you hack the boss into as many pieces as you want to).

            • NotDog says:

              Yeah. I compared Blade Mode to QTEs because, while you can use it anywhere, it seems to only be useful in certain situations. The times Blade Mode does anything that I know of are indicated whenever time slows down for a split second and either an orange cloud show up around the enemy or that giant blue Japanese symbol appears.

              Though being able to slice apart bosses into a hundred pieces at the end of a fight is satisfying.

              • IFS says:

                There are moments where it can be useful (or at least cool) to use outside of those, though yeah those moments are the main times you’ll want to use it. You can bring it out to slice grenades or even RPGs in half to stop them from blowing you up for instance.

          • Thomas says:

            MGS: Revengance is down the Bayonetta line which is closer to Devil May Cry (and God Hand) than a successor to God of War. I think Platinum Games lines are the only hack n slashes that show development, every more direct descendant of Ninja Gaiden/God of War seems to have wilted.

    • Cody says:

      I’m Just going to go ahead and let Extra Credits talk for me this time.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtgA6SaHHa0

  7. Feriority says:

    I think the magic system is less awful than you think. It *is* pretty bad that the mana upgrades don’t really let you cast more, but when you’re fighting large groups of mooks, you get mana back from killing them. There have been a few cases where Josh used the fire attack and killed enough mooks to get most of the mana back and be able to immediately use it again. Also, the spirit knives, which seem to have stopped being useful half a game ago, used only a little mana each time.

    The problem comes in when you’re fighting bosses or a small group of really strong enemies and no longer have an easy way to recover mana. Normally, the solution to that is to throw mooks at you during boss fights, so you can get HP and MP drops during the fight. But Marlow Briggs is probably the last game I want to recommend more mooks to…

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      I’ve started playing God of War II lately, out of curiosity, and the health/mana masks mechanic in Marlow Briggs is more or less directly stolen from the health and mana chests in God of War. I’m pretty sure that, as Shamus said in the video, the masks/chests exist so that you can’t gather health and mana in the middle of a fight (at least, not easily). That said, given that the only choices the game gives you are “kill enemies to heal” or “find several clear seconds to hit this thingy and heal”, I really think that an instant-action health pickup might have been a good idea.

    • Cybron says:

      This is what I noticed. It seems to be fine when there are mooks around, but relatively ineffective against bosses.

  8. Lachlan the Mad says:

    I’m watching the dragon fight, and something that I’m noticing; when the dragon lifts his head after a beating, he teleports backwards. You’re not “knocking him back” — his position along the slide literally jumps backwards along with his health bar.

  9. Tychoxi says:

    No wonder your dad freaked out. That drill sergeant was a *real* drill sergeant, he was there as an advisor or something like that but Kubrick went “Dude, this guy is too good.” His lines aren’t scripted, it’s what he would have said (and actually said countless times before) in real life!

  10. Wow, first time I’ve seen a game consider rage-quitting. Also, Marlow Briggs and the “What’ya mean a scythe isn’t an appropriate tool for a root canal?!?”

    And a bit of fanfic…Marlow Briggs’ next job interview
    “So, you were a fireman, right?”
    “Yes, but then my girlfriend…”
    “Okay, I’m going to stop you there. You destroyed several priceless ruins, set a rainforest and a swamp on fire, and I didn’t even know it was possible to kill a helicopter, let alone 976. You are aware that firemen generally put fires out and don’t commit random acts of destruction?”
    “Well, yeah, but…”
    “Look, maybe, just maybe, after heavy medication and several years of intensive psychotherapy I’d consider you for the post of janitor, but….Sir, what the hell is that and where did it come from?!? Sir, put down the weapon! Security! SECURITY! SEC…”

    • Grudgeal says:

      Marlow Briggs and the I *really* Wish I Hadn’t Posted About All This On My Facebook Wall.

    • Bubble181 says:

      He might have better luck applying for the post of professor in archeology. Indy seems to wreck about the same amount of destruction.

    • “Security here. Is this the new hire?”
      “WHAT? Have you SEEN his work history?!”
      “Are you kidding? We use it for training! Man, I love being part of a private contractor firm. We get paid more than the people we replaced, we get to bust heads, and we’ve got no accountability!”
      “And if he turns this place into a glowing crater?”
      “Meh, we change our company name again and find a new sugar daddy, just like the last time.”
      “Last time?!”
      “Oops, that was confidential. Mention it again and we can sue you. C’mon, Marlow! You can train everyone on scythe techniques and we can finally throw out those wimpy police batons they made us carry around!”

  11. Exasperation says:

    A thing that makes the health + mana pickups scattered around the arenas even worse is that they’re activated by a context sensitive command that’s mapped to a control you use to fight things, so Josh kept trying to use that button to kill something only to have Marlow attempt to collect a health item and get suckerpunched instead.

  12. Nick says:

    That was one hell of a boss fight. Also that thing with a dragon dragged on for a bit.

  13. Ivan says:

    Thus ends the adventures of “Marlo Briggs and the, Nope. Never again.”

    In any case I’m glad someone (Chris) pointed out the absurd amounts of health these guys had. Now I’ve never played God of War but I have experienced this mostly through increasing the difficulty in Borderlands (2 specifically).

    Yes, giving enemies more health makes them harder to beat, but this is the laziest and least satisfying way to increase the difficulty of an encounter. I have yet to see a single game benefit from this approach. I mean, it does work at first but soon you reach a tipping point where the difficulty isn’t in fighting, but in staying awake long enough to complete the encounter. We all saw how frustrated Josh was at the end of that, and except for those spirit dart thingies I can’t think of anything he missed (and I don’t think they would have helped a great deal).

    A shorter and higher stakes encounter (enemies have less health but hit harder) would have been much more rewarding then making everything into a tank. At least then you’ll feel like you could have won if you had played better.

    • Exasperation says:

      Going in that direction has its own problems; if you go too far in that direction you reach a point where there’s no margin for error, since everything is a one-hit-kill on you. It can turn the game into a long series of quick-time events with no button prompts. Alternately, if it’s a game with character customization, it can turn whole categories of available upgrades into failure states (oh, you wasted points on damage upgrades instead of health? — time to reroll your character, you’ll never finish the game like that!).

      Game balance is a tricky thing.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        However,a fight against glass cannons is much more satisfying than a fight against…err,brick…..sponges?What is the opposite of glass cannon anyway?

        I mean just look at some of the toughest games of old.Contra was hard and frustrating,but while there were a plethora of enemies that could one hit kill you,you could one hit kill most of them as well,which was a nice balance.

        • Phantos says:

          Yeah, with some exceptions, I’d rather play a harder game where everyone is vulnerable, rather than a game where everyone handles heavy artillery fire as if it were a gentle breeze on a spring day.

          The worst is when you’re weak but everyone else is super strong, and you’re not even playing on one of the higher difficulty settings.

          I don’t understand the people who can play Bioshock Infinite on anything above Normal mode.

        • MichaelGC says:

          Steel slingshot? Diamond peashooter? Adamantium rolled-up newspaper?

        • Exasperation says:

          This is dependent on the player’s personality type and reflexes though; I personally find that twitchy DIAS fights where everything one-hits everything else are even worse than plodding fights that drag on as you slowly chip away at each other. In the slow case, I can at least push my way through it by being patient and methodical, but in the case where every mistake kills you I get more frustrated with every death and my performance gets worse as I get more frustrated – the glass cannon solution just causes a death spiral until I can’t stand to play anymore.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            What about hotline miami?Practically everyone here who hates dias gameplay(me included)liked that one.

            Plus,its not really dias if it doesnt have gotcha moments.

            • Exasperation says:

              I never played Hotline Miami, so… *shrug*

              My point is that, in a game with combat where the enemies react to what you do instead of just following a pre-scripted pattern, tuning the damage so that you and the enemies more or less one-hit each other makes EVERY moment a gotcha moment, since you can never be sure exactly what stimulus makes them react in what fashion, or that you’ll be able to execute exactly the same moves in order to provoke the same reactions, or even that they don’t have some random component in their decision making.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                Not really.If their reaction is “When player is in range shoot slow moving bullet at that location”,you can always avoid it if by doing the same thing,dodging the slow moving bullet.Thats what made contra fun,for example.

                • Bubble181 says:

                  Sure, but take Diablo III for example. Some character types are bullet sponges, some character types are glass cannons. I generalyl like glass cannon style gameplay more, but on higher difficulties, there are simply too many enemies that can one-hit-kill you, sometimes from off screen. Yes, I know, you can retune and retune your character to be survivable, but that sucks the fun out of the gameplay for me – then I’d rather play an actual tank who can wade in and slowly bludgeon everything to death.

                  Anyway, it’s also a place where most of the balancing is done by lowering your resistances, upping the enemy health and increasing their damage. It works, as far as I’m concerned. There are a few extra skills and events that enemies use at higher levels, but not all that much.

                  NOT increasing both would change the gameplay significantly – I just upgraded to another weapon, and was one-hitting everything and two-hitting rare monsters. Upping the difficulty means I have a challenge again, of more-or-less the same level of gameplay variation from before.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    The problem with diablo 3 is that there are some special mook powers that combined make annihilate a full party of tanks in seconds.Yet even on the highest difficulty,every boss is defeatable no matter the player composition,as long as everyone plays their class well.

                • Exasperation says:

                  That only works within a very narrow range; easily avoidable attacks from extremely predictable enemies in relatively small numbers. You can fudge those a little and still have it work (for example, if you make the enemies completely predictable but in large numbers you have the “bullet hell” genre). However if you have unpredictable enemies (like some of the ones in Marlow Briggs; the ones that disappear underground and reappear right next to you come to mind), hard to avoid attacks (like the high-speed projectiles some of the MB enemies shoot), and enough enemies that you can’t watch them all at once (like some of the swarm fights in MB), it just becomes a recipe for a frustrating impossible mess.

            • syal says:

              Hotline Miami is essentially a puzzle game with multiple solutions.

      • Ivan says:

        “Game balance is a tricky thing.”

        Oh absolutely, and my solution is by no means a catch all. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure it’s appropriate for Marlo Briggs (because the less forgiving the game is the more precise the controls need to be, and Marlo looks like he is very clumsy (I think what this game needs is more enemies at once and less health on each)). I just wanted to point it out because I’ve been frustrated by so many games that fall into this pitfall.

        I understand why it is there too, the health/damage an enemy has/does is just a number, and that number is very cheaply and easily scaled up. In a game like Borderlands that wants you to keep replaying it on harder and harder difficulties it is the obvious solution. But again, this is lazy and unsatisfying.

        The proper way to increase the difficulty would be to add in more mechanics for the player to master. I would like to give examples of this but unfortunately what is appropriate is highly dependent on the game in question (although Bastion pulled this off extremely well). This could be anything from more unique enemies types, to adding arena hazards, to giving the player more abilities with more specific strengths and weaknesses so that a player needs to assess the situation and choose the right tool for the job.

        Looking back on Marlo Briggs, it does have 4 unique weapons and 4 unique spells, but for the life of me I can barely tell them apart. Each weapon does seem to behave differently, scyth looks like the all rounder, swords are single target(?) and possibly have life steal (maybe on one of their combos?), whip looks like it should be best at AOE with it’s sweeping attacks and long reach but it just seemed to get Josh hurt without doing much back, and the hammer is good at stun-locking. Unfortunately I feel like the weapon you pick is less determined by the situation and more dependent on personal preference. That’s partly because the massive amounts of health everything has sabotages it all and makes damage output the dominating factor and really watering down any additional benefits the weapon in question has. The same goes for all the spells. After all, what good is stunning your foe for half a second when they take 5 min to grind down?

        • Exasperation says:

          Yeah, I pretty much agree with all of this. I just had to throw in my two cents because of how many games I’ve seen fall into the opposite pitfall (less forgiving => automatically better), especially ones where the controls are not super responsive (for example, multiplayer games where the control precision is always limited by latency).

          The only spell I noticed seeming significantly different was the ice one (with its freeze effect), but that only got used a handful of times in this playthrough, so it’s hard to say whether it would be significant enough.

    • Eric says:

      I remember reaching my breaking point with that kind of artificial difficulty was Dragon Age: Origins. I played through the first few hours on Normal, but found the combat (the centerpiece of the game) took so loooong that I bumped the difficulty down to the lowest I could just so that I could finish the game in a more reasonable amount of time. It still took forever because enemies had way too much health, even then.

  14. ehlijen says:

    Marlow Briggs and the ‘Do you get why I always look so bored, yet?’

  15. ZeroKills says:

    The last episode should end with Josh uninstalling this game, uninstalling Steam, and setting fire to his computer.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What?Not a single link to tvtropes?In a discussion about what the common tropes should be named?For shame.

  17. Izicata says:

    This is the part of the game that didn’t get playtested because they ran out of time before release. Everything has too much health, the bossfights are terrible, it’s like the Xen level from Half-Life.

    This sort of thing is actually really common. The last 10-20% of game suddenly turns awful because the developers had to rush the game out the door to meet the release date.

    • IFS says:

      Yeah tvtropes even has a trope for it: Dissapointing Last Level though its not really the greatest term for a discussion. I prefer endgame slog myself, but I don’t know if that term works that well either.

    • Phantos says:

      What I don’t get is why developers do this stuff in chronological order. Movies don’t do that. They’re smart enough to know that the beginning and end are way more important than the interconnecting filler between major events. They film important stuff first, in case they run out of time or budget later.

      For all of the games’ industry’s cult-like obsession with being movies, you’d think they’d have copied this attitude by now. I mean, is two hours before the discs ship to the stores really the best time to work on the final level and ending?

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        The problem is games often encounter more limitations than movies do halfway through their development. Ideally you’d want to have your endgame utilize and be the pinnacle of the overall game mechanics, it’s hard to design, even more so balance, this part of the game if you’re not sure what’s going to make it into the final release. For example, you could design part of the final fight around the cool object throwing mechanics and then have the mechanics scrapped halfway through game development due to problems with the physics engine. You’d then have to redesign the final boss fight in a way that it would still be entertaining and the missing part didn’t leave any very visible seams.

        Movies encounter these problems too, things are too expensive, or don’t look quite as good as expected, but they’re usually easier to patch. James Bond is not going to fail the final confrontation because a car chase was removed from the script and he didn’t have enough points to upgrade his health, he is not going to miss a gun due to poor camera placement, he is not going to forget about a gimmick because it hasn’t been used for the last hour and a half…

      • Well, given the stats on people starting vs. finishing games, I can understand why they polish the crap out of the beginning. If that’s all a good portion of your audience will see, you want it to be awesome, and if only 10% (not actual number, I can’t be bothered to look it up but I remember it not being a large one) will see the ending, that’s a good place to skimp. Honestly, a game having a bad ending will not stop me from buying it, since I know my chances of seeing it are pretty nil (unless it’s a very short game like Gone Home, I’ve an abysmal game completion rate).

        Of course, it’s causing some obvious problems here, and it’s a major source of discussion in the MMO community. But the endgame’s a bit out of proportion in importance for most MMOs compared to a single-player game.

        There’s also the fact that most people I know who create (generally writers, I know lots of them for some reason) more or less go in the same order that it’ll be read, so the ending naturally is the last thing to be done. They spend more time reworking it than the middle, but it’s still last.

        • Ivan says:

          @ Melfina
          That’s really strange, I’ve heard the statistic before (that the vast majority never finish the game) but I never understood it. What kind of player never finishes a game they bought? I always assumed it was one that didn’t like the game in the first place, in which case they’re not likely to buy the next one in the series or maybe even from the developer again.

          You don’t give that impression though so why don’t you generally finish a game?

          At the risk of getting ahead of myself I’ll just brainstorm a few things.

          1. Players don’t finish a game because the ending is the least polished part, so it is where they get bored most easily and decide to quit. (some chicken and egg level stuff going on here)

          2. A lot of the players who abandon games got them on an impulse buy (steam sale) or received them as a gift.

          3. Does this statistic count games that someone might get solely for the multiplayer component (CoD, Battlefield, ect.)?

          4. Do games build up less momentum with some players and more with others? Do I just generally finish a game because I’m more forgiving of the monotony and hopeful that it will get better, or simply just want to see how it ends? I can see that not everyone would have the patience and/or time for that though.

          • syal says:

            5 (4a?). Players don’t finish games because they play them for the mechanics not the story. (Remember that people complained when the ending to Fallout 3 ended the game.)

            6. Players don’t finish games because finishing a game is often a massive time investment while just playing a game offhand lasts however little time you want it to.

            7. Some games are just stupidly hard.

    • Thomas says:

      I always wonder why developer tend to overdo it instead of underdo it. I’d always prefer a last level that is way too easy to a level that is way too hard and tedious.

      Case in point, I prefer KotoR 2’s endgame slog to KotoR 1, because in 2 they just throw a lot of really cheap mooks at you who can be blasted aside with force powers. It’s less tedious and it at least makes you feel like you’ve really progressed

      • Adam says:

        See also: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which gives you (1) a doom laser that can fire practically forever, and (2) a cyborg dragon mount with his own lasers. You are practically invincible, and that’s the point. The game is about empowering you to do things your way, and this is you at your strongest and most triumphant. The most challenging fight in the game is where you earn your doom laser, so in effect the final charge is your REWARD for making it that far.

  18. Dev Null says:

    “The Treachery of Farm Implements” is a helluva band name.

  19. IFS says:

    From what I remember of God of War 1 there were a few horrible combat slogs near when you got Pandora’s box (which is near the end of the game) one incredibly annoying one on a treadmill stands out in my mind to this day.

    As for comparing GoW with say DMC I feel like while both are action games they are very different style of action games. DMC is really about being awesome and looking cool while doing it, GoW seems more about looking brutal while doing it. Both are engineered around spectacle to some extent but in GoW that spectacle is all of the games making (for instance a scene where you climb up a Titan’s arm or something looks cool, but in gameplay is mostly the player pushing up on the stick) whereas DMC it just gives you the fights, the situations and so on and lets you create the spectacle via trying not just to win the fight but to do so stylishly, which creates a fundamentally different experience. I’m not really sure if there is a genre name/term for the two different varieties (other than God of war clone and DMC clone respectively) but there really should be one.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      4chan’s /vg/ board refers to the DMC3+4/God Hand/Ninja Gaiden style as “cuhrayzee”, inspired by the opening cutscene of DMC 3. God of War and the new Devil May Cry game most certainly do not qualify, they generally get lumped into hack and slash, action games or “I don’t care” by fans of the genre. I think a fundamental difference is that cuhrayzee games are much more movement based, with things like arcing dodges, stinger moves(dash at targetted enemy), rising attacks and often some form of context sensitive slow-mo, basically they give you the tools to control the arena and dominate the enemy, whereas Marlow Briggs’ special moves are pretty much just AoE damage that deal with a threat in a mechanically boring way that just happens to have fireballs attached to it, which makes it feel more like a matter of attrition.

      Many games on the Japanese side, especially those directed by Hideki Kamiya, are designed to allow for a player to beat every encounter in the game without taking damage, skill permitting, which is excellent at making the player feel powerful. In fact, I think that’s the main difference between the two kinds, one is designed to make the player character look powerful with scripted events and button-mashing, the other is designed to teach the player to be powerful with a toolkit that takes time to master but allows total control.

    • Thomas says:

      I remember people talking about God of War and Devil May Cry being divergent points. They had the same root and ideas, but they were the stage where the mutations had become severe enough that they were now distinct species.

      People used to talk about the different attitudes to blocking in both games and how that fundamentally changed the experience.

  20. Phil says:

    While Death Spiral has been mentioned, I kinda feel like the thing that actually needs a trope name in this post isn’t that, so much as it is the c*ckblocked attempts to grab the health/mana refills.

    I propose “Bait and Sw-on of a b*tch!”

  21. I remember one of my first forum threads was asking if there was a term for how the fidelity of a game’s visuals informed the player of the fidelity of it’s interaction. We had fun making up terms for that…and getting nowhere near any sort of consensus…

    As for running out of ideas…isn’t that kinda Game Design 101? There’s some statistic isn’t there regarding how many people reach the end of any given game and it’s a low as hell number. Like somewhere in the 10% – 20% range if I recall. Seems pretty prudent to put yer best foot forward with that in mind. Kinda the reverse of movies…

  22. Artur CalDazar says:

    Didn’t those ranged dagger things you could use cost mana? THe things Josh was using to kill bugs before he settled on cotton eye joe?

  23. Neko says:

    I suggest the term Difficulty Landmine: Something you step on without realising it’s there, which makes the difficulty level explode. Like maybe before you grab all the health powerups after a mook fight, you go investigate that ledge over there and oh, cutscene, start of boss fight, with you checkpoint-saved on low health and resources.

    Also, I’m pretty sure this is an established term but holy hell were those last guys bullet sponges! Even the sped up footage seemed to take forever. I hope Josh had a lot of booze to get through all that. This is a situation where it wouldn’t hurt to just give the damn guys health bars, even if it breaks immersion. Or enable God of War style finisher moves if you manage to stagger a guy, to let the fight go quicker.

  24. Svick says:

    Ceci n’est pas une fauchet. Ceci est une fauKhet.

  25. dustDevil says:

    Funlocked. Use liberally and wherever necessary.

  26. Darren says:

    So what’s up with Josh’s site? I’ve been hoping to see another entry in his Morrowind retrospective, but I keep getting “database error” messages.

  27. Cybron says:

    That ending had me laughing hard for some reason. I think it’s mostly the image of Josh-as-Marlow jumping through the wheel, screaming “Gawd DAMMIT” into the empty cavern as he sails away on his wings of not giving a crap.

  28. Grudgeal says:

    If it hadn’t been a violation of copyright I’d suggest you link to the benny hill theme for the timeskip parts. I know that’s what I went for after the first one.

  29. Malimar says:

    “The more you’re struggling, the harder it gets.” For this, and three related concepts, I’ve heard and used the terms “lose-more”, “lose-less”, “win-more”, and “win-less”. If you’re already losing, a lose-more mechanic makes you lose faster. The others are similarly exactly what it says on the tin.

    None of the four are inherently bad: lose-more at least gets the pain over with if you can start fresh without too much aggravation. A lose-less or win-less mechanic can allow somebody who’s doing poorly to turn the tide and eke out a victory, making a game more exciting. A win-more mechanic can end the game faster — Monopoly is a terrible game because it’s got a win-more mechanic, but it still takes all day.

    • Felblood says:

      Monopoly is played very badly, because people houserule out all the “Lose-More” mechanics and it drags the game on for days.

      This actually is Monopoly’s fault, because it makes losing hurt SO BAD. It’s lose-more mechanics are very direct and mean-spirited, while it’s win-more mechanics are subtle and require strategy and experience. The goal is not to win, but to lose the most slowly. Anything which helps players stay alive will drag it out, which is a wierd mindsapce to inhabit.

      Beating a person at Monopoly isn’t something you would normally do to someone you like, at least not using the rules as-written.

  30. Adam says:

    It’s not a video game, but in the tabletop RPG Eclipse Phase there’s the concept of the downward spiral; as you take damage/mental stress, your ability to resist those effects is hindered, making it more likely that the next such source of trauma will have more lasting effects. Exalted has a similar problem that was the source of quite a bit of focus testing in the new edition, where the first person to get significantly hurt would almost invariably lose because the penalties for even minor injuries were so severe. (There is some wiggle room in both systems, but by and large in a fight between two equal combatants, the first one to roll low enough to get hurt would almost invariably lose.)

  31. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I’m late with this one but if they ever did do a game like SW suggests with Strong Bad free associating ridiculous over the top stuff, there really should be a “powered by the cheat” style section with inferior graphics, idiosyncratic flat voice acting and barely strung together thoughts.

  32. djshire says:

    So are we ever going to hear the intelligent conversation about butts?

  33. Dt3r says:

    The last part of the winged serpent fight is a good example of game design that worked well in 2D, but not in 3D. It’s the same idea as the crocomire fight from Super Metroid; push the invulnerable enemy back so it dies to the environment. The difference is that in a 2D setting there’s much fewer things going on, and it’s much clearer what you need to do.

    Changing up combat with a fight like this can work, but you need to keep it simple enough to figure out. The Super Metroid example works because the game clearly presents the 3 important details to the player:
    -enemy moves constantly to the left
    -shooting the enemy in the mouth pushes it back
    -lava behind the enemy

    The game also avoids adding other distractions in the room. In short: if you change the rules, make sure the player has enough space to figure the new rules.

  34. Dt3r says:

    Here’s a short clip of the crocomire fight, for anyone who isn’t familiar with it.
    http://youtu.be/-xgIn-9aQhA

  35. nemryn says:

    It’s learned some of the wrong lessons from Dark Souls, really. The FAQ says “you should know how to deal with these guys by now,” but Josh doesn’t, because the game hasn’t enforced it; it’s been letting him get away with just comboing guys until they fall down, instead of teaching him the ‘right’ way to do things.

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