The Last of Us EP8: Grabbin’ Peels

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


Link (YouTube)

Allow me to elaborate on the gameplay suggestion I made in this episode:

This was originally my idea for making a tabletop game designed around an “action blockbuster” aesthetic. In movies, heroes can get away with all sorts of outrageous stuff that you’d never do in real life: Long falls, ridiculous car jumps, standing in the open during gunfire, leaping between vehicles, etc. These moments make movies fun to watch, but if there’s too many of them then the whole world turns into a cartoon parody of itself. One car jump is fun, but ten car jumps is silly and dumb. The hero standing in the open shooting is cool for ten seconds, but it’s stupid if they always do it.

So my idea was to have some sort of “credulity” based economy, where the players could spend some pointsI actually called them “bullshit points”. to do something amazing. Lots of tabletop systems have stuff like this (fate points come to mind) but my plan was to build a game around this one mechanic.

That never panned out, but I’d love to see something similar used in a videogame:

  1. A bad guy shoots at you in the open and he misses automatically, because of course the bad guy always misses on the first shot.
  2. The second shot starts eating away at the player’s “hero meter” or whatever, with each successive shot eating more and more of their supply of hero points. The bad guys keep missing, but the audience will only accept them missing for so long. The player needs to dive behind cover or else…
  3. If the player runs out of hero points, then they get shot and die.
  4. Hero points can be (partly) replenished in combat if you do something impressive, exciting, or action-movie-esque: Shove a guy off a ledge. One-shot someone in the head. Shoot something explosive that blows dudes up. Swat a grenade back at the bad guys. Use some bit of environment to kill a dude. Use the environment to do something cool. Basically, the goal is to keep the player moving, looking for interesting ways to dispatch foes that don’t involve standing in the open or playing boring stop-n-pop cover shooting. Our other goal is to do away with the “health” mechanic itself, where you take dozens of gunshot wounds on your journey but patch over them with “medkits” you find.

Tonally, I don’t think this would work with a Last of Us style game, which is more drama than action adventure. But this could work for something Uncharted-ish.

Also, this episode totally went up on the 17th.

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Footnotes:

[1] I actually called them “bullshit points”.



202020205There are now 85 comments. Almost a hundred!

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  1. Joshua says:

    D&D has gotten more and more towards HPs being less a measure of health and more a measure of fate/luck/plot points. Solves the whole problem of being perfectly functional until you reach 0 HP, plus the ludicrous idea you’ve been stabbed 17 times with a longsword before you finally drop dead.

    • NotDog says:

      Weren’t hit points originally a measure of fate/luck/plot points anyway?

      • ? says:

        Whether it was ever “how many stabs in meat can you take” is a never ending debate. On the one hand you restore HP through “Heal wounds” spells, not “recover luck and remove minor bruises” spells. On the other hand, HP loss does not match up with what getting wounded actually does to human body.
        In 3.5 , breath weapon of an adult red dragon does 66 damage on average. For 15th level character (level appropriate challenge) it would take 5 days to heal that naturally by doing nothing but having 8 hours of sleep every night. Maximum damage takes 8 days to heal. So I guess facefull of dragon fire is equivalent of a mild sunburn, small 2nd degree burn at worst? In one of the podcasts lead designer of 5th edition mocked 4th editions Warlord class by asking “how do you heal someones cut off arm by giving a motivational speech and shouting?”, but failed to explain how that amputee swings a two-handed sword…

        • Alex says:

          “In 3.5 , breath weapon of an adult red dragon does 66 damage on average. For 15th level character (level appropriate challenge) it would take 5 days to heal that naturally by doing nothing but having 8 hours of sleep every night. Maximum damage takes 8 days to heal. So I guess facefull of dragon fire is equivalent of a mild sunburn, small 2nd degree burn at worst?”

          Yes – if you’re 15th level. If you’re 15th level, you’re superhuman, full stop. Even if you’re not raising the dead or turning into a bear and eating people, you’re still Captain America.

          • NotDog says:

            You know, as much as we can complain/laugh about hit points, as as poorly presented as “plot shield” points as they are in D&D and most video games, I do feel they’re the best choice we have for most games out there, which go for action blockbuster physics anyway.

            Most systems I’ve seen (I’m thinking of tabletop RPGs I’ve read about) that don’t involve actual hit points (including the hit-point-for-each-limb variety) seem to boil down to rolling dice while hoping that the Random Number Gods don’t hate you. This may be fine in a tabletop RPG where the GM can fudge everything, or in something where your characters are semi-disposable hirelings. But in something like Diablo or Doom? Not so much in my opinion.

            Of course, the right animations for when something is “hit” would better convey what hit points are supposed to mean. Also, since hit points are actually luck/skill points, they wouldn’t really be affected by things like health packs. Regenerating health is now justified.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Um,d&d is heavily reliant on rng.If you want a system thats way less luck dependent,try something like shadowrun,where while you get more dice to roll the more skillful you are.So while it does have a luck element in it,its way less present than d&d in which even if you are a god and try to tie your shoe,you will fail every 20th time.

              Also,wounds are better than hp.

              • Alex says:

                “So while it does have a luck element in it,its way less present than d&d in which even if you are a god and try to tie your shoe,you will fail every 20th time.”

                No, you won’t. Unless someone has a gun to your head or something similarly stressful, you will succeed in tying your shoelaces 100% of the time, as long as you are sufficiently competent that taking 10 (i.e. accepting the average roll) would be a success.

                • Fizban says:

                  Furthermore, skill and ability score checks do not auto-fail on a natural 1, and most everyday tasks have a DC of 5 or even 0. This means that even in a stressful situation where you can’t take 10 you’ll still succeed the vast majority of the time because it’s an everyday task that’s almost impossible to fail if you’re not taking a penalty from being sick or something. Now sure sometimes you literally trip over your own feet, and for people that demand I explain that mechanically I suggest crit fumbles: If you roll a 1 you roll again and a second failure actually causes a problem. You don’t mess up a daily task every 20 days, but 1/400 days (rolling two 1’s in a row, remember that the DCs of everyday tasks are low enough it should take two 1’s), yeah that seems reasonable.

                  I very much agree with NotDog that any system focusing on a roll to see if you get knocked out rather than counting down hit points or equivalent is annoying. That’s actually what high level DnD ends up as anyway with all the save-or-die spells, and that’s one of the biggest complaints.

                  Going back to the dragon breath: I’m totally fine with the level 15 character taking little more than a sunburn from dragon breath, the funny part is when the tables and chairs next to him are reduced to ash at the same time. And the sword laying on the ground is warped past useability, and the pile of gold is melted into a puddle of gold.

          • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            Seems to me that “mild sunburn” would be an appropriate description. In the movies, the dragons never hit you full on the face with the fire. It’s always everything around you. Even if they hit you, the armor takes most of the damage. But that much heat is still going to have a lot of convection (albeit short lived as it’ll burn out fast). But all that jumping around is going to tire you out, so eventually the dragon will cook you -that’s the last hit, and you probably won’t survive it. A particularly descriptive GM will describe your getting toasted.

            And, for what it’s worth, Star Wars D20 formalized this with both Hit Points and Vitality Points -where critical hits went straight to HP. One lucky shot was quite fatal.

            I, however, have always been a fan of the Twilight system. Weapons were incredibly lethal -lots of ways you could die in only 1 hit -but if the players were moderately smart avoiding getting hit was quite doable. Take cover, flank the enemy. Keep your head down. Every player I’ve ever had die in that game brought it on themselves -charging an enemy (in my partial defense I was 7 and didn’t realize it was an enemy, so I was quite surprised when he shot me in the head), taking cover behind a stone wall rather than in a building for an urban fight against tanks (and then not relocating when the tanks passed the stone wall) and throwing a grenade too close to their own position (That was a calculated risk because there were 3 enemies that had gotten way to close).

            • ? says:

              Exactly, this is what HP as plot armor is supposed to be. You dodged most of the flame, it didn’t even get your eyebrows, but next time will not be so lucky… Orc’s mace did not break your arm, it barely touched you and will leave nothing but a bruise, but you are getting tired of this… Dropping to 0 HP, now that seems more like getting a deep cut, breaking a bone or having large area of your skin burned by fire during combat. You drop on your ass in shock and try your best to not loose consciousness. Yeah yeah, adrenaline will make you superhumanly strong and resilient, that one guy stormed a machine gun nest while riddled with shrapnel, someone else lifted a car off their baby. But for every example of someone walking to safety on broken legs, there are hundreds or even thousands of examples of people being unable to make a step on their twisted ankle. Or an ankle they think they twisted but is actually fine.

          • ? says:

            But even Captain America doesn’t walk into napalm. The movie gives us this lovely example of villain stupidity just to avoid breaking the verisimilitude (and movie Captain America seems to be more superpowered than comics variation, who is merely olympic level fit and doesn’t have a healing factor). Unless the character’s main superpower is overclocked healing factor like Wolverine or Deadpool, the authors make a conscious decision to show enemies *not* hitting the hero. Spider-man has healing factor, yet rarely you see burglar shooting him in the kneecap or stabbing him in the abdomen. It just wouldn’t fit this superhuman character to shrug off a wound like that. But even if you take a level 1 threat, let’s say a Drow warrior from Monster Manual, at best their attack will do 7 damage, and it would take a week to heal naturally. ‘Tis is but a scratch.

            • Alex says:

              I’ll remind you that when discussing high level characters, we are talking about individuals who might be so strong they can charge through foot-thick stone walls, or so quick they can wipe out an undetectable ambush before they have time to launch their attack. Do you really need to make excuses for why they can’t be so tough they can shrug off arrows like rain?

            • Captain America is also in possession of a “magic shield,” his biology is altered to be super-human, and (presumably) his costume is made of some fairly sturdy stuff (originally it was chain mail, I think).

              In sci-fi, such a character might have a personal force-field, poly-macguffin alloy armor, and nano-enhanced epidermal implants.

              In fantasy, you’ve got your +3 ring of protection, +2 scale mail, and cloak of napalm resistance.

              Unless you want to have multiple stats that are handled separately, hit points seems a decent way to simplify it. Otherwise, you’d have to take whatever incoming attack numbers were generated and apply them separately to the character’s actual body, their clothing/armor, other defensive items (spells, technology, etc.), skills (dodging, acrobatics, etc.), and mitigating circumstances (cover, environment, etc.).

        • Counterpoint: Notice that you’re seeing the HP side of things as where unrealism lies instead of the fact that relief from physical damage can be had in handy liquid form, assuming there’s not some person about who can call on a deity or other mystic source to insta-repair any owies you might have.

          Also, there was an old adventure module in Dragon Magazine that had a scenario where the characters were transported to modern-day London to find (I think) The Cudgel of St. Cuthbert (not Cuftbert, sadly). In addition to the usual oddball ways spells wouldn’t work because of planar travel, it discouraged players from staying in London for too long by suggesting the DM have their abilities degrade over time. The idea was that as fantasy characters, their biology or heroic abilities were derived from their home environment, requiring them to remain their or slowly die (or become “normal” which is more or less the same thing).

          Think of most RPG worlds as being akin to “The Last Action Hero,” unless it’s something like the old Cyberpunk game with its “Friday Night Firefight” rules where most of the time a gunshot wound is fatal or debilitating.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Its not the first game thats “too realistic”.Remember during tom braider hoe you were saying it looks too real for how ridiculous and video gamey it gets?

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The plot shield mechanic Shamus describes can work great for rpgs and strategies,and maybe even for third person shooters.Basically,every game where you can see a health bar above your character.But for a first person game,it would be extremely difficult yo convey that you are getting “hit” without you getting hit,and having to constantly monitor your hud can be tiresome.

    • dp says:

      For third person games maybe you could have a library of player animations one of which plays when things are getting bad. When your character ducks his head to or dodges to the side to avoid a bullet you know the next one is for real.

      For an fps I can’t think of anything beyond having an exaggerated wooshing noise for near misses. Unless your making a sci-fi shooter in which case enemy laser blasts can change colour as they get closer to hitting you because of the fundamental nature of laser gun physics.

    • MrGuy says:

      I think the problem is more general that that. In first person games, it’s hard REGARDLESS of the mechanic to convey to the player that they’re getting hit.

      It’s not like a red flash over the screen (possibly indicating the direction) or smearing strawberry jam all over the camera is a highly realistic way to convey “you’ve been shot.”

      Any system you’d put in place for a “your luck is running out” would be awkward. But it’s swapping “already for awkward” for “differently awkward.”

      • ET says:

        Flashing the screen red or smearing strawberry jam on the camera isn’t realistic, but neither is being numb in your entire body. Like, as a functioning human, you could intuit easily that somebody smashed you in the back with a folding chair, but in a game, you have no tactile sensation, so the game needs to put a red indicator on the screen, to indicate you’re being hit.

  4. Tobias says:

    I never got around to playing it myself, but didn’t Duke Nukem Forever attempt that sort of heroism as health system?

    • DmL says:

      It had a recharging health/shield meter… they just labeled it “Ego”.

      • Jonathon says:

        For the most part it was just a recharging health meter, but the player could actually make it larger by performing Duke-like actions such as lifting weights or being a misogynist or whatever. It was just about the only part of the game I actually liked a little bit.

      • Nidokoenig says:

        Wet on the console toys had a more ego-meter-style health system. It had Max Payne-style slowdown during various bits of acrobatics, and the more dudes you killed while jumping through the air or sliding on your knees, the quicker your health regenerated, and it regenerated constantly, so no cowering and sucking your thumb to repair your bruised ego. Essentially the more you dominated the room, the less likely you were to die, though it still showed you getting hit.

    • Alex says:

      Space Marine had a bit of that as well. The preferred method of healing in that game? Curbstomps.

  5. lethal_guitar says:

    I have to say, the cutscenes in this game are so good that I have a really hard time following the commentary at the same time..

  6. Thk13421 says:

    From what I’ve heard, that game basically exists – it’s called Feung Shui, and it’s based on Hong Kong action cinema. The second edition is just about to wrap up it’s kickstarter. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/atlasgames/feng-shui-2-action-movie-roleplaying-game-by-robin

    • Stormkitten says:

      Thanks for mentioning that. I’ve always had a fondness for Feng Shui, and I didn’t even know that existed.

    • dp says:

      By wrapping the kickstarter he means that there is less than 4 hours to go to. $10+ backers get the final PDF version and access to a playtest draft (which looks like its made a few improvments over the original Feng Shui).

      I am a spam bot.

    • Exasperation says:

      Or maybe Theatrix? I once played a more recent pulp-setting game with rules that seem (in retrospect) heavily inspired by Theatrix (right down to some of the terminology; I distinctly remember the rulebook using the term “distributed directing”), but I can’t remember the name of it anymore. It didn’t have flow charts, though.

  7. Benjamin Hilton says:

    The dirty water conversation reminded me of one of Spoony’s counter monkey episodes, where he describes the PCs, after crawling through a sewer look at him in confusion and horror as he tells them they all need to roll like 5 saves versus disease.

  8. TmanEd says:

    There’s been at least one FPS to use that exact luck mechanic. Brothers In Arms is a WWII tactical shooter where you can order around your squad (main mechanic is using suppressive fire and maneuver), and instead of a health bar or regenerating health, your screen turns red as bullets whiz closer and closer to you, until one eventually hits you and you drop dead. Some characters even lampshade it a bit by saying things such as “you lucky son of a bitch!” or “careful, your luck won’t last forever!” after you’ve had a close call, if I remember correctly.

    It’s mechanically the same as regenerating health, but a lot easier to roll with than the thought of taking a few rifle rounds to the chest and waiting for them to heal.

  9. Isy says:

    While we’re covering ourselves in filthy zombie water, let’s be sure to dive in there so our gas-mask filter is filled up with it too.

  10. Piflik says:

    Well…your Bullshit Points are really just a different metaphor for the same gameplay mechanic…if your protagonist dodges bullets or eats them doesn’t really change much else than the visual representation and how ‘standing in the open during a firefight is stupid’ is conveyed to the player.

    • Shamus says:

      Yes, that’s the point: Same mechanics, but less dumb visuals, which fit better with the added realism of modern games.

      • Ringwraith says:

        Interestingly, this was sort of done in a more grounded fashion, and basically as a thematic replacement for (regenerating) health, in Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway.
        Instead of having a health display of any sort, getting shot at would essentially deplete your ‘luck’, as the screen would get redder the more you were fired at (and quicker if you were in the open or they weren’t under suppressing fire), and when it was completely red the next shot would actually hit you so you’d die.
        Kinda worked in a way, as it sort of reflected people zoning in on you while aiming.
        Kinda.

        Better method of doing regenerating health at least, or just fixed health per mission (which is what the previous games did, though smartly, if you died at the same checkpoint multiple times it would offer to heal you and your squad back to full).

        • I think I said Band of Brothers (can ya blame me), but yeah Hell’s Highway. It’s also a pretty striking game for having storytelling right on par with Last of Us, but waaaay back in days when the last generation was just starting out. The writing, direction, performances both vocal and animated…it really is the most impressive non-interactive storytelling I’ve seen from a game.

      • Thomas says:

        The problem is though, your pitch is very tonally unrealistic, right? It only works for real high action settings where a ‘luck’ meter wouldn’t seem completely ridiculous. It’d feel very wrong in The Last of Us or anything trying to be very dramatic (where the solution would be to die in one shot if you wanted to go down that route). It’s too theoretical and non-real life of an idea to work in a modern realistic game.

        And for the high octane adventures, it’s more visceral and dramatic to have blood fly everwhere and bullets pump into you. Maybe it would fit into a John Woo game or Bulletstorm.

        Yahtzee pitched a really similar idea in his column a few years ago, but in the end he decided that being shot was a much more satisfying feedback then have a HitPoints meter going down. The character can jerk back, blood can splatter. There’s very immediate ways to communicate it to the player without having to engage their higher brain processes

        • Thomas says:

          Maybe you could work it into a serious game as an AI feature. No health bar or anything, but you establish in the world that it’s actually really hard to fire a gun quickly, especially under pressure.

          So it’s a one hit kill, but that hit only comes after a number of mistakes which allow the AI to get their shot on target.

          The Last of Us kind of messes around with that, if you run straight towards someone, then the AI shoots you hard in your centre of mass, whereas if you run away from them it takes them a while to zone in on you. If you combined that with one hit kills and lots of animations that show in the AI that they’re regaining focus and locking you down…

          Then it’s not a bar at the top of your screen and it’s not an abstract concept. You’d have to animate it really well though, because you need to communicate getting hit, not through getting hit, but in what the AI is doing.

          ———————-
          And that _still_ doesn’t solve the problem that if you’re ‘getting shot’ from behind, there’s no way to communicate that to the player. In a shoot people with bullets game they make the screen flash red in the direction of the shot, knock the protagonists body and make a ‘you’ve been shot’ noise. I don’t know how that would work with the hero meter concept or the enemy AI one

      • Vect says:

        I remember a flash game called “Madness Combat: Project Nexus”, which had a “TEC” mechanic in which your character had a meter that measured how many bullets you’d reflexively dodge before he started to actually take damage. It essentially functioned as an Energy Shield mechanic, but it reminds me a whole lot of that.

      • I’d add to that description: “For modern games without armor.” This game wouldn’t seem so visually silly if there was some kind of cobbled-together armor available or something. This could complicate matters, since that would lead to another whole set of “stuff” to find, collect, craft and/or use.

        One other thing that might have made this more believable is to downgrade the weapons of the mooks. Crossbows would’ve worked, for example, reserving guns for more boss-like fights or later on for a greater challenge.

  11. Isy says:

    The tone of this Spoiler Warning has been overall positive so far – I’m curious to see if this game will hit the “so done with this” period before the end.

    • Thomas says:

      In combat terms I’m sure it will, there’s a lot of it and they don’t change it in any visually or conversationally interesting way. Especially since I suspect Josh is going to fight everything out instead of just stealthing all the way through some areas.

      This is actually a game that gets _better_ if you sometimes do the ‘run to the start of the next loading screen’ trick. It even feels better narratively

    • Tizzy says:

      From Josh’s comments, I’d wager it will involve swimming and floating pallets.

      • Thomas says:

        To be honest, those sections are actually kind of underrepresented. They make a big deal of those mechanics here, which made me think there was going to be a lot of increasingly complex puzzle sections. But actually there’s like 5 of them in the game and all of them are just ‘find the pallet, push Ellie to the other side’

  12. IFS says:

    I think the devs behind uncharted have said that Drake’s health (and the screen going grey as you take damage) is representative of his luck, and when it runs out he does finally get shot and dies. Not exactly what you proposed Shamus but it does show some awareness on their part of the status of how ridiculous some of shooter character’s antics are.

    I think that the sort of thing you propose might work best in conjunction with a Bulletstorm style point system, only with the points contributing to health (and maybe some sort of super move/form) instead of just being money.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Oh,about locking your comments on youtube:
    You know that you dont actually have to look at them,right?You can turn off notification about new comments and never look at what anyone says under your video.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @19:00
    Its no use the bullets are just going through the holes!

    Seriously,when will designers stop treating chain link fences as solid walls?You have a long pipe,the pipe on the other side has a curve,use one on the other and unjam it.No need to go over the fence.

  15. djshire says:

    Josh, I’m going to make you feel so much better right now. I am a fully grown, 30-year-old adult male…and I’m only 5 feet tall.

  16. Thomas says:

    I had that problem too, I couldn’t see why there’d be any zombies left around in this town. Once you clear them out they should basically be gone forever right? With the distances involved it should be incredible unlikely that more than a handful even walk in.

    Maybe its because as a human I struggle to deal with large numbers. I come from a small town and 15,000 people live there. If even only half got turned into zombies, would Bill even be able to get his hands of 7,500 bullets?

    But then again, that means the zombies should often be way more densely packed then they are right?

    • Isaac says:

      I don’t think that Bill was apart of the original town that got evacuated, I think that he’s just some guy who wandered into this infected but largely abandoned town (remember its been 20 years since the outbreak) and decided to set up shop there.

    • MrGuy says:

      While I don’t think Bill is believed to have cleaned out the town single-handedly, I actually really like that there’s a note (seen briefly in this episode) about them being really low on bullets, and conserving ammo until the next time Tess comes to bring them some.

  17. Isaac says:

    I think that you can rectify most of the problems with TLOU unrealistic combat by playing on Grounded mode

  18. Tychoxi says:

    What Shamus suggests is what The Walking Dead did. I think it felt OK.

  19. CrazyYarick says:

    Dammit there is another Alex on here. I guess I will use my common internet handle.

    First, how the hell does Joel use the gas mask under water? Wouldn’t that at best clog up the filter and at worst fill the mask up with water? I mean the filter limits airflow into the mask but it doesn’t create an air tight seal. Does it?

    About the faces I remember I saw this video explaining their facial rigs. link. Pretty cool stuff and it explains the range that they were able to achieve. All in all though I will point to Chris’ own realism video and say that video games work best when embracing their own abstraction. In the days of old we had the Fallout “tickle” animation and that worked while at the same time allowing for characters to have a certain level of “life.” This is not to say that we should go back to THAT level of fidelity, but I think that if we allow for an upfront acceptance that “This is not real” we can have a bit of cartoony exaggeration(ala Walking Dead) saddled up with a good script to produce the same level of emotional involvement with the player. Animation can do this. Why cant’t games?
    Naughty Dog, along with a handful of other studios, are just the only ones that can produce this kind of stuff. It is just too expensive and complicated for any one else. I mean how many games can take four plus years to complete at that level of production values, and of those games how many stay on track and don’t become giant garbled messes(Bioshock Infinite, LA Noir, Duke Nukem, and others).

  20. Brian York says:

    Your suggestion reminds me of an old magazine board game, Return of the Stainless Steel Rat. The conceit of the game is that you’re playing out one of Harry Harrison’s novels, and your Hero track is named the “Suspension of Disbelief” track — if it goes too high, the reader loses faith in the story and stops reading.

  21. Band of Brothers used that mechanic. The screen would get redder and redder not unlike Call of Duty, but it wasn’t you getting shot, but getting shot at. Once it got red enough, a bullet would take ya out, but until that point, it was just the game pointing that you were out in the open.

  22. I think the key to this problem of the graphics looking too real vs. the gameplay not being real enough is to go the route of Pixar, kind of. Their stuff still looks cartoony, but they put craploads of raw computing power into making hair and cloth behave realistically, making the frameworks of characters be more natural/dynamic and so on.

    Games like this might try developing a more stylized look. From cel-shading to just subtly emphasizing certain features, they might be able to make use of the high-end rendering capabilities these platforms offer without making it look like real people are doing things using cartoon physics.

    On the flip side, a similar problem seems to happen when cartoons make the leap to CGI and the animators make them look TOO real. Most jarring is when they give cartoon creatures (most notably the Smurfs and Yogi Bear) human-looking eyes. It makes them look like unnatural clay-beasts that found some hapless human and scooped out a set of peepers because they liked the color.

    • Thomas says:

      It’s kind of a crutch if you _have_ to make games with pretty stylised art styles though. It means you have to paint all your games with a similar type of brush instead of choosing the appropriate one.

      I’m not convinced this game would have felt the same way to the player if the art style was more stylised. They could tell a different story, but not this exact one

      (Although to be fair, it’s only pretty recently that it feels like games have stopped using ‘realistic’ art styles as a crutch)

      • I’m not saying it has to be done, just that it could help, depending on the game. Perhaps a generic rule of thumb* could be something along the lines of, “The more-real-world your mechanics or needed suspension of disbelief, the more realistic your presentation should be.”

        If the game is supposed to be a police procedural, real-world images, physics, etc. should probably be in play. Death should probably be instantaneous if not crippling when it comes to firearms and so on, but combat wouldn’t likely be the focus of the whole game. For a blood-n-guts shooter, realism takes a back seat to spectacle. For an FPS RPG, depending on genre and tone, it’s a sliding scale with even more variables depending on what the goals are and mechanics needed to build the game.

        Even then this idea of “realism” is somewhat belied by movie techniques where you use camera view, color palette, clothing, etc. that aren’t present in the real world to convey how the viewer is nudged to interpret what’s going on. You can have a stage play (with fully realistic actors) using completely cartoony sets, and it could work. Said sets might be an impediment if the production is supposed to be a drama taking place somewhere not in Toontown, but you get the idea.

        * That’s “rule of thumb” as in, “generic guide that, like all guidelines, can be broken by clever people.”

  23. Majromax says:

    I don’t think that an “Awesome Bar” mechanic would work at all for a game like TLoU.

    The problem isn’t just that combat is implausible, the problem is that the combat and the narrative are inherently at odds with each other.

    TLoU-style combat and puzzle mechanics are gameplay in their purest sense: they establish a system of rules, then they ask the players to demonstrate mastery of that system. This is accomplished through repetition, where substantially the same elements appear throughout the game, with slow elaboration or increases of complexity or difficulty (tolerance for imperfect mastery).

    Those elements can be grimdark realism (TLoU, Arma shooters), or they can be fantastical and “wacky” (Saint’s Row, Marlow Briggs), or they can be purely abstract (Civilization, Pac Man’s rapid pathfinding), but the process is the same.

    Narrative, however, is about defying expectations. Following an established pattern is boring, so narratives that set up a pattern give the reader or viewer an expectation that it will be broken in an interesting way later on. This is Chekhov’s Gun. Unfortunately, this narration tends to lend itself poorly to game mechanics, since there’s no approximately-steady set of tools to give the player to slowly master.

    When’s the last time we saw a movie protagonist stop and, on-screen, balance their chequebook? Movies fail when their solution to action intensity is to give the protagonist an increasing sequence of mooks to dispatch in identical manner; games thrive on that very scenario.

    The closet we get to movie-style game mechanics (in traditional genres) are spectacle fighters like God of War, which work similarly to Michael Bay explosion fests. Even then, however, this genre receives criticism for QTE-heavy “one-off” gameplay.

    • ehlijen says:

      I agree.

      There is an inherent divide between story, where the audience wants new and unexpected or cathartic content in every new scene, and gameplay, where, if you did a good job, the audience does want more of the same because it’s fun.

      The combat in Tom Braider was pretty fun, partially because it was fast paced, vicious and decisive. You felt in danger if you got hit and powerful if you hit back. But fast paced combat means fights are over quickly unless there are a lot of fights.

      No real person fights as often (not even talking about surviving) in a given amount of time as game characters, not even soldiers in a prolonged war. So you can’t make a realistic story about Mr/Mrs Shootperson fighting hundreds of dudes over the course of a 60 hour game.

      The solutions that I see are:
      -Make the game anyway (and that can work as seen in tomb raider and last of us for example), and accept that some players will be put off
      -separate story from gameplay sufficiently (common in most strategy games, harder in 1st/3rd person games)
      -stick to stories that match repetitive game play in tone (silliness like marlo briggs)
      -make very short or gameplay light games (walking dead)
      -make non combat games about activities that people do commonly repeat a lot (maybe conversation only games?)

  24. syal says:

    Okay, after the floating pallet raft and the scissor mace, I’m convinced these guys are deliberatly mocking their own physics.

  25. ehlijen says:

    Exalted 2nd ed has a combat system that’s very much like you describe, Shamus.

    The setting is over the top ridiculous by default, of course, and more anime/xena than modern action movie.

    But the way combat works is that you have loads of magical powers, each costing X mana points (the game uses fancy names, but that’s basically it). The most important magical powers are called ‘perfects’ and they work like this:
    ‘That attack? yeah, does nothing. For a flat mana cost.’

    The main (for most characters only) way to get mana points back in a fight is by what’s called stunting: describing your action is as over the top and exciting a manner as you can.

    Unfortunately the game doesn’t really work that well. Because the perfects have a flat cost and don’t scale with what they’re trying to stop, there is little point in using any powers but perfects and maybe the barest attack boosters needed to reliably score hits in the first place, meaning a good 70-90% of the combat powers aren’t needed by most players. This in turn means that mana points are basically extra hit points you need to grind through before you can deal actual damage.

    Because mana points are so important and hitpoints are very limited (and there’s a death spiral wound penalty system), stunting often stops being a fun mechanic and becomes a chore. As in ‘come up with a new stunt or you die’ 10 rounds into a fight (which can easily be more than an hour in as well…).

    Good ideas in concept (and fun setting) but poor rules execution.

  26. Aruges says:

    When I worked at Midway on Stranglehold, we did something very much like what you mentioned. We reward the player with “Style Points” for doing cool things (sliding over tables and shooting dudes in the face, sliding down bannisters in slow mo shooting dudes, crotch shots, etc.) which were used as fuel for the special attacks. I remember some one batting the idea of limited bullet immunity based on how “cool” you were at the moment, but we didn’t go that route.

  27. Lachlan the Mad says:

    Dammit, now I’m designing a “Blockbuster” tabletop game in my head, which works off that “credibility” rule. I’m thinking rules-light, based on a stack of skills which are essential to action movie protagonists (gunshooting, kung-fu, driving cars in a ridiculous way, dodging bullets, hacking computers by stabbing randomly at a keyboard, figuring out weird ancient riddles and traps). You have a reserve of credibility points which you can burn to add to your rolls, so if you have a lot of points in a skill then you can do almost anything without straining credibility, but it takes a lot of credibility to perform a skill which you haven’t used much of. You regenerate credibility by doing cool things — cool things might require a roll for themselves, so credibility is always going in and out. Enemies come in a couple of classes — mooks can’t use skills and can only hit the heroes if the heroes do something stupid, but elite enemies have their own reserves of credibility which they can use to lower their rolls.

    I’ll be taking this one to the forums once the one-week limit on swiping blog threads is past…

  28. Sombersome says:

    Since the very beginning you’ve been droning on about how the game falls short on the gameplay side because it doesn’t live up to the verisimilitude of the story and characters.
    My answer to that is that you’re asking for a drastically diffrent game from what The Last Of Us is:

    – We would not have the spore contagion, and the disease would not behave as spectacularily as it does in the actual game, meaning only humans as enemies.
    – We would not have path puzzles, because humans don’t tend to make labyrinths out of their urban centers, or building interiors.
    – We would have a bunch of mechanics related to the minutae of everyday life, such as hygiene, defecation,finding shelter,
    keeping warm, gathering food, eating, maintenenance, sleeping/resting, etc. What the rest of the game would be filled with is endless walks
    in near silence becuase there is only so much you can talk about to a single person you share space with before you prefer the quiet, especially when all you do is walk.
    – That single person would not be half as witty or likeable, because Ellie is engineered from start to finish to engender empathy and attachment. Imagine your companion
    being a random person from the street.
    – We would not have the breathtaking outdoor sequence right before you reach the fireflies for obvious reasons
    (don’t wish to spoil, you know what I’m talking about). Instead, we would have another empty city backdrop.
    – We would have instant incapacitation followed by a quick killing blow in gun fights, ending with a save wipe and boot to desktop.
    – Sneaking would consist of giving cities a wide berth. Trying to remain hidden to animals or humans while being in proximity would consist of hours on hours of just waiting.
    – The AI would be “unfair”:
    – They would have a human field of view, and spotters, allowing them to prepare by hiding from view untill they have you blindsided.
    – They would react appropriately to the noise of your footsteps, grappling, breathing, and looting.
    – They would overwhelm you in groups, piling on you as soon as you grapple with one of them.
    – They would hide and protect their supplies.
    – They would clear any convenient chest high container to better survey their territory, and block paths they don’t use to funnel trespassers into the open.

    Does this sound like a fun game to you? If so, then what the actual FUCK are you doing playing video games? You should be hiking through the forests, hunting herbivores with a bow
    and arrow, with your cousin in tow.

    If not, then why are you complaining about these things? Do you think that the developers aren’t aware that a combat helmet protects against blunt trauma, or that a lead pipe doesn’t break
    on contact with the human skull? Just try coming up with concepts that are at once more realistic, still fulfill their function, and don’t increase the budget or delay the deadline.
    You can’t, and I can say that with confidence because this game was made by dozens of people (not even counting QA) that spent years pouring their efforts into this, that are at least,
    if not more than, as smart as you.

    Before you come in saying that just because they’re humans with actual lives, and a budget to grapple with it doesn’t exempt them from criticism: That criticism is WORTHLESS when you’re
    holding them to an impossible standard. I’m reminded of the alleged response from Marie antoinette when she was told there wasn’t enough bread for the commoners: “Let them eat cake, then”.
    It’s so idiotic that it boggles the mind that someone would even think to say it.

    Perhaps you think that you’re being observant and helpful, imparting knowledge on people who didn’t enjoy the game, but still struggle to understand why? Don’t delude yourselves, these things are
    obvious, as you like to repeatedly point out. Anyone with the brains to complete the game could have made those remarks.

    Do you think you’re funny when you whine about these things? This post is evidence to the contrary. To me you sound petty, and unappreciative: If you were silent during the times you would bring up
    these inconsequential grievances, it would be a vast improvement. What would be better still, would be focusing on what the game does RIGHT, something only Chris seems to ever remember these days.

    What you have currently is a circlejerk, each one(Chris to a lesser degree, and I’m not about to judge Arvind) taking turns on making fun of every abstraction the game makes in order to be more enjoyable,
    then patting eachother on the back “hurr durr how can teen grill jump pallet herpaderp me funny and absreant *gurgle*. Mi agri, geim stupid adn leisi”

    I guess you get off on that. I can see no other explanation than that you get satisfaction from disparaging what you perceive as a game’s flaws that you don’t get from talking about any of its other
    aspects, regardless of whether or not they are actually flaws at all, as opposed to game abstractions, compromises between ideas and limitations, or matters of personal taste.

    So I guess that’s it for me, I’m done with Spoiler Warning. Feel free to go back to your pretensious meanderings thinly veiled behind false modesty.

  29. newdarkcloud says:

    Canonically, that system is how Uncharted handles its health. As the developers explain it, all the times you get hit are actually just near misses that deplete your “luck”. When you enter cover, you can gradually restore your “luck”. When you die, you ran out of “luck” and that single bullet finally got to you.

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