The Last of Us EP14: White Gold

By Shamus Posted Thursday Oct 30, 2014

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 45 comments

Link (YouTube)

I feel pretty silly after praising the game for the little moment where Ellie shielded her eyes from the sun. In this episode she does that calm walk down the steps, right through the crossfire… twice. It’s the most ridiculous, derpy, immersion-breaking moment in the game for me so far.

But Chris is right: AI is hard, and companion AI is harder. You could tweak Ellie’s behavior for ages and still find edge-cases where the AI just isn’t equipped to deal with the current world state in a believable way. And the smarter the AI is – the more convincing her actions are – the more ridiculous it seems when the system fails. It’s a tough problem. I’m glad it’s not my job to fix it.


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45 thoughts on “The Last of Us EP14: White Gold

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Oh god,I finally get it.This episode provides the answer to why people like ellie so much:
    She is a nerd.

  2. Jake Taylor says:

    Disconnects like that have just never bothered me for some reason. The only disconnect between gameplay and story that tends to really bother me is when a character loses all knowledge and skill during a cutscene; getting knocked out in an obvious trap it wouldn’t let you avoid (thanks, Fallout 3 and FarCry 3), getting captured by three soldiers when you’ve killed thousands of them with no issues so far, things like that.

    When the AI does a doofy thing like walk through gunfire, I usually chuckle at it and forget it five seconds later, so it doesn’t ruin anything like the bigger stuff does. My immersion can only be broken through anger and frustration.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Same.If the story/movie/game is internally consistent,I dont care for goofs,frame errors,minor bugs and ai shenanigans.

    2. ET says:

      Ditto. It’s the scripted things which anger me far more than the emergent ones. :)

    3. Humanoid says:

      But even so, it does mean you want to hire developers who are sensitive to that stuff so that everyone is happy. Which means I’d hire Shamus but not you three guys. :P

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        No,you want developers that notice those stuff,but arent so perfectionist that theyll get stuck in refining one behavior for weeks while doing nothing else.Its nice to make the companion perfectly interpret your movement and move out of the way 100% of the time,but its nicer to have the game come out than remain in developer limbo for decades.

    4. Bourne Endeavor says:

      Same. Companion goofs like that are in my list of things I just accept happen, thus they never break immersion. The only exception is if I’m in a particular level that is either too long or boring. Then those AI hiccups stand out more.

  3. Tintenseher says:

    “They don’t care. They’re still free.” I momentarily forgot the context and was wondering if that was an intentional Firefly reference or just a non-sequitur (either one being equally possible from Rutskarn), but then I realized the discussion was about the Fireflies. And I laughed. And cried a little bit. And cursed the name Rutskarn.

    1. Nelly says:

      This. Very much this

    2. Jake Taylor says:

      Laughing and crying is the eternal cycle of Firefly fans. We must carry the weight forever.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I would love to hear a good pun.But thats an oxymoron.

    1. Groboclown says:

      On this note, I thought the right answer to Rut’s pun was, “P, because it’s an R with one leg.”

      Although, that version is not really a pun.

  5. Re: The durability of paper.

    It’s an odd thing. Paper can last longer than metals or other artifacts, depending on the environmental conditions. Yes, a waterlogged hotel is hardly idea, but excavations into landfills have unearthed newspapers in nearly the same condition as they were when they were originally tossed out as trash.

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      It depends on the paper. Paper before the early 19th century was generally either animal skin (parchment or vellum) or actually fine linen spun from cotton or flax. That tends to endure very well, especially if it’s been well-preserved. The earliest wood pulp paper contained a lot of acid from its manufacturing process, and in the 1930s they realized a lot of it was disintegrating. This especially affected written materials published from about 1850 – 1950, when acid-free paper was introduced. Also, lignin, the alcoholic chemical in wood that facilitates biodegradation, is removed in archival-quality paper these days.

      Newsprint, not being printed with preservation in mind, is still printed on acidic, non-archival-quality paper. However, lignin is activated by exposure to sunlight and air. It stands to reason that newsprint buried in a landfill, shielded from sun and air, wouldn’t biodegrade very quickly.

      1. Thomas says:

        I’m going to know so much about the degradability of pretty much everything by the end of this series =D

    2. ET says:

      Incidentally, there is a type of paper which is basically indestructible. It’s not made out of wood, though; It’s basically plastic. It’s impossible to write on, though. Their other versions are to lesser degrees indestructible, but actually possible to write on with pens, not just a laser printer. :)

      1. I wonder if its similar to TyVek. That stuff’s heavy duty enough to use as both shipping envelopes and moisture barriers in homes.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Whats funny is that in days when everyone attempts to make biodegradable plastic,people are still producing one that is deliberately not.I know what purpose it can have,but still 90% of the time its going to end up in the trash heap somewhere.

        1. I think you can still have non-biodegradable be recyclable. And if it’s a specialty product for things you WANT to last, then I don’t think it’ll be too big a deal.

          Since plastics are now being developed from plant-based resources, it won’t be as humorously ridiculous to refuse a plastic bag at the store so they can “save a plastic tree.”

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Of course it will.”To save a XYZ” is always humorously ridiculous.It will just be a non ironic statement this time.

  6. silver Harloe says:

    I’m reminded of attempts to make AI “better” by making it more genericly about fulfilling needs and wants rather than being situationally scripted – specifically, Radiant AI where you end up with like the person beating their dog to death for the meat.

    1. Felblood says:

      The trouble with radiant is twofold.

      Firstly, it is bound to engines where the primary modes of interaction are kill and loot. People will forgive trash-mob bandits and player characters for this sort of behavior but it feels more wrong from random townsfolk.

      Secondly, it is preoccupied with the superficial, which makes all your characters disturbingly shallow, and tediously same-ey. We live in a world where some people would eat their own children to survive, and others would starve before harming their dog. Radiant presents a world where everyone lives on the far, far, fa~r left side of the scale– the very end where killing your friends for food is seen as a superior option to walking all the way across the room, to gobble all the cheese wheels.

      1. Thomas says:

        I’m with DL and Jake above in that the AI bugging out really doesn’t annoy me much (as long as it doesn’t hinder progress), it can even raise a smile of curiousity.

        So I would much rather developers spent their time making their AI feel _interesting_ first before trying to make it perfect. Adding character is more important than the things you lose. I know The Elder Scrolls series in general is a complete mess in terms of production lines and tech, but the Radiant AI just doesn’t seem focused in quite the right areas. Creating some different personality types with obvious quirks and distributing them randomly to NPCs would be a great start.

        The Nemesis system in Mordor really is a shining example of what you can do with very simple systems and tools if you start with character as your main objective (after required functionality)

      2. To your second point, you have to remember that for most games, NPCs you have to interact with need to be findable (unless that’s part of the challenge they pose). Bob the Irondenter is going to need to be near his forge and home all the time, or the player will get frustrated trying to locate them.

        What seems to be one of the biggest flaws with AI is pathfinding. It looks bad when characters walk against a wall or can’t manage to bypass a chair without getting stuck. This is often the problem of objects not being properly “navmeshed.” As I understand it, one has to imagine a kind of invisible force field extending a smidge beyond the surfaces of an object. Some of these surfaces are designated as ones where NPCs (and PCs, but you have a brain) cannot go. A while back, I asked Shamus why making DLC with new areas seemed to be so hard, since I thought, as a non-coder layman, that once you had your object library, you could just build the world and drop the NPCs into it, expecting it to work like a train set. Apparently, even with pre-made and meshed objects, there’s a LOT of hand-tweaking that has to go into making sure NPC #4225 doesn’t keep getting hung up on a table corner for some stupid reason, like it being too close to a potted plant.

        So if AI is just the “brain” of an NPC, sometimes it works perfectly well, but errors or bad arrangements in the environment result in apparently “stupid” behavior.

  7. Alex says:

    RE: Crotch Itch Simulator 2015

    It’s not quite the same thing, but I should take this opportunity to remind your readers how much better Skyrim is with Frostfall. I’m sure you could add some penalties to stealth when you’re wet, and (if they don’t already exist) penalties to stealth, lockpicking, pickpocketing and the like when cold.

  8. Groboclown says:

    Watching the main character walk into that nasty water just makes my skin crawl. It looks so nasty. Crotch itch indeed.

    1. Groboclown says:

      Further thinking on it, I wonder how much zombie juice is mixed in with that stagnant water.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Indeed.If at any point in time you decide to include water in your post apocalyptic setting,you should go to a swamp somewhere and dunk yourself into the first pond you find.Just a quick 2 second dunk,nothing fancy.Then go straight to a doctor to give you varying booster shoots and check you for leeches and other parasites.

        My fannon is that ellie knows how to swim,but being the only smart one in this world,refuses to get exposed to that (often literal) crap.

        1. guy says:

          I had been wondering why swimming wasn’t on the list of skills she is inexplicably well-qualified in, but that would explain it.

  9. AR+ says:

    Given that failures are inevitable and the better you are the more ridiculous they look, would you say it might be a good idea to deliberately keep things at a low enough level that failures of this type do not seem incongruous?

    1. Thomas says:

      That kind of sounds like pursuing mediocrity because great is hard.

      I’d prefer to play a game with a believable character like Ellie who screws up than one where the companion is ‘door-pusher A’ who never actually interacts with you in the levels

      1. AR+ says:

        I meant in terms of animation. Deus Ex NPCs had lots of character despite being animated the way they were, or indeed even though some of them were simply depicted as a portrait and the helicopter they piloted.

        And they were probably able to afford several more levels than they would have if they needed to pay for hundreds of actor-hours of motion capture.

        1. Thomas says:

          The Last of Us already has too many levels :P I’m sure Chris would have been happy if they chopped off the second chunk of this level, and there’s another one much later in the game that goes on way to long (the one where you sometimes control Ellie).

          Deus Ex was a masterpiece, but there were plenty of things they couldn’t do and the animations was a reason for that. Think of the number of times so far that we’ve praised The Last of Us for managing to convey a really subtle character trait with a clever little piece of animation.

          Deus Ex tended to have much broader characters and they got over the personalities through longer periods of dialogue, or through their long term plans. We couldn’t have had Joel in a world with Deus Ex animation, because him talking enough to describe his own character is something that Joel wouldn’t do

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I say if you have the option,pick a good artist over more pixels all the time.Walking dead looks great,and its characters act believable,but because its cartoony,people are more forgivable when ai goofs,or a bug occurs,or someone does something stupid.

  10. Thomas says:

    One of the things I don’t understand is why they designed it so that Ellie will take cover crouched underneath Joel.

    Sure it conveys a lot of Joel’s protective nature and looks sweet when it’s happened… but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the game enter into that state smoothly. The default method seems to have Ellie awkwardly clipping through Joel.

    I’d prefer them to aim high and make mistakes, but if you know your idea literally won’t work, why are you keeping it in the game? Taking that one animation out to make the AI easier doesn’t seem that great a loss
    Whenever they use the Uncharted ‘ting’ sound effect for the look-here prompt it completely takes me out of the game. It feels so wrong :P (Even if Joel is just Dandruff’d Nathan Drake)
    Josh stealths so weirdly sometimes :P There was a guy standing staring at a wall with his back exposed, you know loosening up his neck in case anyone wants to snap it.

    So Josh throws a brick in order to get the guy to turn towards him and get closer. Then he throws a bottle where the guy is originally standing so that he’ll turn around again and expose his back.

    …and yet he gets through these levels so much quicker than I do =D

  11. Andrew says:

    Pro tip for the future: You can save your shivs by killing Clickers with Bricks. All you need to do is walk up to the Clicker so you’re close enough to breathe on it then mash the melee button 3 times, obviously with the Brick in hand.

  12. BeardedDork says:

    Campster I think you meant, up up down down left right left right b a b a

    1. syal says:

      The one he mentioned starts the secret Abba soundtrack.

  13. Phantos says:

    …I don’t get the “pirates/mountain” pun. D:

    1. Alex says:

      You’re not supposed to. It and the next one are two halves of the same joke.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I didnt hear anyone say it,but the answer to that one is:

      Read spoilers to ruin the joke:
      Scurvy sounds almost like “its curvy”.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Oh god damn it,I screwed the spoiler tag!And just now do I see it.

        Shamus,little help?

  14. Chris, then you’d just end up with a shitty gun. HEY-OH!

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So the reason why guns in games(and movies)have a huge knockback is:Because reality is unrealistic.I mean not many people have seen what a real shotgun hitting a human looks like,so all we have to go by are the dozens of fake shootings,so we expect for it to pack a lot of punch.And while it sure does,it has nowhere near the punch needed to hurl a grown man backwards,not even at point blank.

    Also,reality is pretty lame.Thats why wrastling is so much more popular than real fighting.

  16. VgTam says:

    So when Chris mentioned he’d wipe with the gun in spite of Josh, the first thing that popped into my head was the gun going off while cleaning yourself and that would have to be one of the crappiest ways to go in a zombie apocalypse. Even if you don’t die you would have an awkward conversation ahead of you with anyone on hand who could help you out.

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