Diecast #102: Konami, GTA V, Degenerate Strategies

By Shamus
on May 4, 2015
Filed under:
Diecast

Direct link to this episode.
Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris, Rutskarn.

Show notes:

1:00 Konami is in trouble.

Maybe. Kind of. At least, the part of them that makes videogames is.

Sorry about the spot around the seven minute mark. Not sure why Rutskarn started cutting out there.

17:00 Chris is playing…

18:00 Nevermind! Rutkarn talks about becoming a PS4 owner.

Mostly we talk about GTA V. Very mild spoilers.

40:00 MAILTIME!

Dear Sisyphus,

How quickly does the mail bag fill up after emptying it?

Unapologetically,
Anthony

41:00 The Degenerate Strategist.

Hi Casters of the Die,

So I’m catching up on the diecast and was listening to 98 when you were discussing Bloodborne without Josh. Rutskarn made a comment that made me realise that degenerate is a word that means different things in slightly different contexts. If we’re using degenerate in a game theory context (slightly simplifying here) it actually means it’s a simple(ish) strategy that is always picked amongst many others. To me, having a degenerate strategy in game is probably the death of the game as there’s no real variety. But Rutskarn made the odd comment that he would like that in a game (to be fair, he somewhat specified a strategy that makes you think you exploited the game, taking the other definition of degenerate meaning corrupt).

So I’m curious, what kind of game would be degenerate (that is having one strategy only) that would be interesting in that sense?

Also, the fire team suggestion in Tomb of Horrors only works for Tomb of Horrors. I would find it a rather awesome challenge to have a DM have a second dungeon after the players have done this, that specifically counteracts this.

Probably going to be cut for length,
Adam

This question results in my new favorite Rutskarn Tabletop Story.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!


A Hundred!2020204Many comments. 164, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Adam huh?

    Makes me suspicious.

    • Adam says:

      This was actually me. I’m slightly internet famous!

      • Adam says:

        And having now listened to it. Yes this does answer my question. And that was awesome.

        From what I can tell it’s more about being creative in a way that the game didn’t expect but it still allows.

        The interesting part for me is that (and said down below) is that it’s incredibly hard to design something like that, because you come to the point where you need to test something enough so that you can get rid of the broken strategies (i.e. the boring, overpowered strategies), but the game needs to be deep enough that the testing doesn’t encounter everything.

        Some interesting stuff I read on this is about Magic: The Gathering on design (creating the game) and development (refining the game). The struggle to push the game in new directions but at the same time not break the current game.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          To me, Rutskarn’s stories are examples of playing the game right, given as he states that its what the other players want to do. But specifically stuff like this is why you play tabletop when you could otherwise play a CRPG or MMO.

        • Sorites says:

          I think part of Rutskarn’s point is that he doesn’t like games that polish out the boring, overpowering stuff. He’ll occasionally bring up creating game-breaking spells in Morrowind, for example.

          • Gaming the system or just “being clever” is part and parcel of fairy tales and legends, however.

            Figuring out the weakness of the monster so that even a farmhand can defeat them without any melee skill is tradition. RPGs allow for that cleverness to be rewarded by either impressing the DM or figuring out that the devs in a computer game didn’t count on their code ever being used by The Bootlord.

            • Wide And Nerdy says:

              Reminds me of one of my favorite stories from Knights of the Dinner Table. The Knights encountered a swack iron dragon (the mightiest of dragons). Rather than fight, Brian offered up a wager, knowing that this particular dragon was a wine afficionado (from records they found elsewhere), he proposed that if the dragon could correctly identify three different wines from Brian’s bag of holding, he and the other knights would be the dragon’s slaves.

              The group grew nervous as the dragon identified the first two correctly. The dragon took a swig of the third and Brian revealed that he had spiked it with a polymorph to bug potion. He promptly stepped on the dragon and they made off with the loot.

  2. Retsam says:

    This is one of those shameless “comments based on the summary, not having listened to the episode” but I always take a day or two to listen and usually miss the discussion, so there’s always the risk that I’m repeating something actually said in the diecast.

    If you’re a fan of degenerate strategies, or want to see a good example of them, the Disgaea Turn-based strategy games are a good example of a game where degenerate strategies are not only possible, but encouraged. Abusing the leveling mechanics is pretty necessary, since the max level for a character is 9999, and as I understand you’ll sometimes need characters that strong.

    And as another example, there’s a “comboing” mechanic where when one character attacks, adjacent characters can join in and attack as well… and since you can always undo a characters move until you have them perform an action you can do things like: “character A stands next to B, B attacks with A comboing, undo A’s move and move A next to C, C attacks with A comboing, undo A’s move again, and then do something else with A”.

    Personally, it’s actually one thing that turned me off those games: I’ve often found that abusing degenerate strategies makes the game less interesting, rather than more, so trying to play a game in which thats a primary part of the game was an odd experience.

    • IFS says:

      I think part of the problem with degenerate strategies is that they feel fun when you feel like you’re abusing the system and doing something unintended (at the very least it makes you feel clever sometimes) but if they’re actively encouraged then it just feels like the game intends you to do something weird and nonsensical in order to win, as opposed to it being something you figured out yourself to cheese a fight.

      (its possible this was brought up in the ep, I’ve only just started listening)

    • John says:

      The possibility space in Disgaea is indeed immense and there are many opportunities for cleverness, but I don’t think it has a lot of degenerate strategies in the Rutskarnian sense. For one thing , the various opportunities for cleverness are all pretty clearly intentional on the part of the developers. For another, there are a number of problems for which grinding levels is the only possible solution–although, to be fair, I’m speaking about the unlockable challenges here rather than the main campaign.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      There are a lot of strategies in Disgaea that double or triple your effectiveness, so that if you’re smart you can outskill vastly superior enemies, like being able to beat enemies that are more than five times your level through combos, doubling your own characters’ stats, halving your opponent’s, using throw chains or geo chains to get through the item world and power up items without having to fight all but the required monsters, weakening and monsters together to capture them at ridiculous levels, or even just have one of your mooks lift up a monster you can’t afford to allow to attack but can’t kill in one turn. Any sneaky bastard trick you can think of is almost certainly included and encouraged. This makes it great for the kind of people who like to exploit every possibility a game affords while still being challenging, it’s fun to explore a vastly larger possibility space than most games allow.

      Degenerate strategies in other games usually mean something more like “equipping this item and doing this super will recharge your super meter” that kill any challenge or interest because you just press one button for the rest of the game. The good ones are like Disgaea or Morrowind, there’s maths and strategy to work out and the game is keeping score with stats turning into phone numbers or you becoming able to fly at will. It’s basically hoarding power and appeals to that mind set.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I think there are two things here: On one hand you feel clever for having found a way of cheating the system, but if you realize that this is what you were expected to do, you don’t anymore. I’d also say that any system (game or not) which must be cheated in order to work as intended is fundamentally flawed — except if that’s the point of the game, in which case it works as intended by not working as intended… or somesuch. This might actually be awesome.
      In any case: I cannot imagine a roleplaying system that expects the players to abuse the rules where immersion in the game world is still working, so I don’t think I’d enjoy that type of thing (except, as stated above, if that was somehow worked into the game itself in an intentional manner).

  3. Joe says:

    Chris, thanks for the Fate of Atlantis reference at roughly 16:30!

  4. Sagretti says:

    A short story in response to Rutskarn’s estimation of his gaming skills:

    Last Friday, I covered the grand opening of a new Marvel Super Hero that opened at Disney World’s shopping/dining district. While in line, I chatted a bit with an elderly couple also waiting for the opening. They must have been at least in their 60s, if not older.

    The wife bemoaned the fact that her husband cared so much about Marvel, and wished that they had Grand Theft Auto merchandise available. She also wished she had sticky bombs in real life to deal with all the theme park crowds. I barely stopped myself from asking her to adopt me.

    Anyways, my point is that Rutskarn’s caveat is correct, there are grandmothers better at games than him. Although, I’m pretty sure she’s better than me, too.

  5. Benjamin Hilton says:

    Fun fact:
    When I was very young Bugs Bunny taught me that Therapists Only treat rich people by saying nonsense things and then kicking them out the door as soon as they get paid.

    It took me till senior year of college to realize that was wrong.

    so yeah, the media does not accurately portray that line of work.

    • Groboclown says:

      I also think that one big reason that psychotherapy is portrayed as being ineffective (or worse) is that it makes good drama. Seeing a character slowly heal and become a healthy individual through talking it out with a paid professional doesn’t make for good story. Well, maybe Good Will Hunting is an exception.

      • Ivan says:

        I disagree, I think it has potential. I imagine the show would start in medias res and follow the struggles of the main character as they try to rebuild their life. Think of all the dark secretes and drama that would be recounted in the chair and then imagine the tension when the main character has to put all they learned about themselves to work and succeed in situations where they failed before.

        A show dedicated to the concept could succeed but as was pointed out in the diecast, if you don’t want to commit to the idea then using a shrink as an antagonist is the easiest thing to do.

      • Thomas says:

        Even Good Will Hunting is all about one man rebelling from the broken system kind of deal. Maybe “this should work and it does” isn’t a great story? Or maybe people distrust therapists so they won’t except films with competent therapists which is why people distrust therapists…

      • Octapode says:

        I think there’d absolutely be a place for that happening if you mix it in with the character suffering your usual series of terrible, terrible things (Dresden Files comes to mind as an example of the sort of terrible things happening to a character I’m thinking of, if only because I’ve been rereading the series recently), so it serves as another part of the character development (and another thing to crop up with perfectly bad timing, as is traditional for any sort of appointment). It’d be really cool to see a series that includes the idea that actually people could do with going to see a proffessional after watching their best friend get torn apart by ravenous dire squirrels or getting possessed by the eldritch gods of breakfast cereal or whatever the problem of the week is.

    • IFS says:

      I think I’ve watched exactly one movie that portrayed the psychiatrist as genuinely helpful. I watched it for a class and sadly cannot remember the name of the movie, though I remember the plot was centered around the main character struggling with ptsd over his brother’s drowning, and the effects that incident had not only on him but his family.

      • Mike S. says:

        My recollection is that Dr. Sydney Friedman, a recurring guest character in M*A*S*H, was generally portrayed as helpful. (Particularly in the finale, where he helped Hawkeye work through some major trauma.)

    • Cinebeast says:

      What about Monk, the detective show starring Tony Shalhoub? He had two psychiatrists over the course of the show, and while neither were especially effective, they were never ineffective either.

      That’s the only positive example off the top of my head.

      • venatus says:

        in monk you at least got the idea that his therapist was helping keep monk from getting much worse, something which did seem a possibility.

        as for positive media portrayals, the only thing that comes to my mind is Frasier. you don’t see much of the therapy itself, but both the title character and his brother are therapists, and they poke a little fun at it sometimes (especially the brothers poking fun at each other) but overall it’s portrayed as a helpful to their clients/listeners.

  6. Robyrt says:

    Most players of Souls games actually enjoy cheesy tactics, since that’s pretty much the only way to lower the difficulty level. For example, most of the bosses in Demon’s Souls can be killed by arrows or magic missiles from complete safety, although your sanity might be endangered by firing 200 arrows in a row. The infamous cathedral archers in Dark Souls, considered by many to be the hardest non-boss encounter in the game, can be dispatched with a couple poison arrows and a ten-minute coffee break.

    From a game-theory perspective, these are not “degenerate”, because they’re way less efficient than doing the fight properly. They are, however, very satisfying. You feel like you’re taking revenge on the game for all the cheap deaths you suffered at the hands of the camera. (Demon’s Souls had a terrible lock-on system, where casting spells would often send you straight off a cliff.)

    • IFS says:

      I think my favorite degenerate strategy from Demon’s Souls has to be the fact that you can poison King Allant. He is normally a very fun fight, but after he drained two levels from me (which admittedly he does with an attack that gives you a ton of time to dodge it, so kinda my own fault) I decided I wasn’t going to play by his rules. Essentially you wear a ring that makes you harder to detect, and don’t move very far once you enter the boss arena, he doesn’t realize you’ve entered and doesn’t attack you so you can sit back and slowly poison him to death with poison arrows, poison throwing knives (I forget what they were called in Demon’s Souls), or the poison cloud spell.

      Demon’s Souls is probably the best Souls game in terms of cheesing bosses as well, Astraea can be bypassed by sniping her with arrows (she doesn’t have much health either, its just her bodyguard that makes for a tough fight), Allant can be poisoned, you can get a guy to help you fight the Penetrator (making the fight much easier), you can use the aforementioned ring against the Old Hero (who is blind) to make the fight a tense game of cat and mouse rather than a straight up fight (though admittedly that one seems to be the intended way to fight him), etc. Dark Souls 1 and 2 both have a number of places where if you know what you’re doing you can get the boss to fall to his death, as well as a couple bosses that can be sniped to death from outside their boss arenas. Dark Souls 1 in particular has at least one boss that can be avoided entirely if you know how.

        • IFS says:

          Ah right, I forgot about the Master Key, I was thinking about Ceaseless who can be skipped by running across the lava.

          • Starker says:

            Actually, you can avoid 13 of the 26 bosses in the game even without the
            master key, as you can just go to the Valley of the Drakes through Darkroot Garden.

            You don’t need to kill all that many bosses to advance either — just by killing 2 relatively easy bosses (the Asylum Demon and the Taurus Demon (whom you can avoid with the key)) you get access to about 10 areas and then 5 more bosses open up 8 more areas or so, most of the game at this point. Then it’s just a matter of killing 5 more bosses to get to the final area and the final boss.

            And, if you want, you can kill 3 more optional bosses that block access to the 5 leftover areas, mostly DLC content.

    • Cilvre says:

      i found the soul’s games became much easier when you learned your weapon set and just rushed most enemies, they were scripted to do a certain first attack and most of the time it just always did the same thing and would mess up the ai due to the distance. im currently recording a walk through of the new dark souls 2 dx11 version to show the most efficient way to get all the items and make it through the new areas and enemies.

    • Ivan says:

      You mean the two silver nights with dragon bows? Honestly, all you need is like 14 inelegance and the Hidden Body spell. It was a stroke of luck that I stumbled across it during my first playthough but when using this spell it’s never taken me more than 2 or 3 attempts to pass that buttress. The only reason it takes me more than one attempt is because the AI usually does something janky. That area is treacherous even without two silver nights shooting at you.

    • Jokerman says:

      When i was younger i would use any tactic that work… if it broke the game and made it easy, i was all for it and felt like i was superior. I have fallen out of that these days, but the souls games really brought it back, i am a real cheating bastard when it comes to them.

  7. wswordsmen says:

    My two cents on paid mods it should happen if and only if either:

    1) A person unfamiliar with the game can’t tell the mod is a mod in a side by side comparison (the game looks different enough and doesn’t have out of place mechanics that signal it was derived from the original). (Think CS or TFC)

    or

    2) It plays differently enough that a person familiar with both would consider them different sorts of games. (Think DotA)

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      My thinking is similar. I would calibrate my expectations on the value of a mod based on comparisons to the official DLC.

      Dragonborn added an island, two settlements, a new major questline, an alternate dimension, three or four dragon shouts, at least a few dozen fully voiced characters, four new types of armor (heavy and light versions of each) some weapons with unique special abilities, a guild contact, 4 or 5 decent unique dungeons, several significant side quests with multiple parts (not even counting radiant quests and fetch quests) an excavation venture, the black books, the ability to ride dragons, new ingredients/plants (from Morrowind granted) and a bunch of other little things I can’t remember as well as some integration to the rest of Skyrim.

      This was 20 bucks at release and that sets my standards for what a mod is worth. If the mod is 5 bucks, it had better provide a quarter of a Dragonborns worth of stuff.

    • There’s several “under the hood” mods that would deserve payment for existing, as so many other mods won’t work without them.

      I have never completed Oblivion, so I thought I’d install and mod it so it’d be ready if I ever had some free time. I thought the interdependencies in Fallout New Vegas were complicated, but Oblivion…. There’s the Oblivion Script Extender, the Oblivion Graphics Extender, the Unofficial Patch, the Unofficial DLC Patch, the stutter remover, etc. and that’s just the ones that govern the game’s nuts and bolts, not the visuals.

      It adds to the complicated and unrealistic idea that paid mods for Bethsoft games could work in their current form. Steam or Bethsoft would have to provide the stability code and modding extensions themselves if they couldn’t convince the authors of the aforementioned mods to sign up.

      • AR+ says:

        Something that I kept expecting somebody to jump in with last time that nobody did, was, “or what if SkyUI is free, but is released under a license that prohibits commercial use?”

        It probably already is, if it has a license at all.

        • That brings up another thorny issue: Can you claim that code as yours if it modifies existing code? On the Nexus, I’ve only seen a kind of honor code to credit people, ask permission if you use assets, etc. unless the coder has said “go nuts, give credit if you want, I don’t care.”

          I’ve not seen any Creative Commons licenses, which I’m not sure could be invoked. The closest I’ve seen to a “protected” mod that you have to do something to get were a few world conversions that required you to be a member of a forum, which also required a donation to join, I believe.

    • Humanoid says:

      XCOM Long War is easily worth a full price game. So much so that I feel bad only donating $10 to it, I’ll probably throw in some more once it goes to final release.

      Then again, I donated a couple bucks to a mod around the time of the game’s original release, for the sole function of removing the overwatch delay. Game was borderline unplayable for me without it.

      • Ivan says:

        Overwatch delay? Has that been removed in vanilla since then because it’s not ringing any bells. I’ve only been on the XCOM train since this year.

        • Humanoid says:

          I haven’t played vanilla since 2013 (well, EW), so I don’t know.

          Just to be clear, what I’m talking about is the key lockout after hitting the overwatch key (O) and your trooper says “overwatch, aye aye” or somesuch, then the camera pans to the next trooper in sequence, taking a second or more to process each individual soldier. The ‘fixed’ version meant I could tap the key as fast as physically possible, to put all 6 units into overwatch in less than a second.

          This is critical because one of the key strategies for higher level play (anything above normal really) is the overwatch crawl, in which you form a rolling conga line. One point man moves first every turn, performing a short (blue) move. If no aliens are encountered, you move up the rest of the squad behind him, literally adjacent and usually with no cover, taking care none of them reveal any more of the fog of war. I’d call this a degenerate strategy, but really, it feels like the only strategy to deal with the odd way engagements begin.

          Anyway, the original mod I used to get rid of the delay was the Toolboks, which has since been discontinued, but the feature was integrated into Long War which I came to play exclusively anyway.

          • Ivan says:

            Ah, yeah, it’s still there from what I can tell. I mean I would normally tap the number keys but as you’re probably aware, overwatch isn’t in a fixed position for every soldier. I never discovered a specific key that activated it before moving onto the Long War so spamming it was always out of the question for me.

            I’m not convinced I’d call the conga line degenerate though. There’s a lot more you need to do to win an engagement than luring the enemy into an overwatch trap. Like Snipers and rocketeers need to be in position rather than in the line (unless you give everyone snapshot) and possibly your LMG as well. Your approach and positioning is relevant as well, and if I remember correctly, certain enemies like mectoids like to enter overwatch on the turn they’re activated, which could potentially pin your squad in the open.

            Also long war is teaching me that squad composition is very important for getting through a mission as well.

            It’s not so much “conga line to win” as it is “do this if you don’t want to get completely boned”.

  8. Adam says:

    Hearing you guys talk about fighting games and their challenging nature (esp Shamus talking about players who are LITERALLY ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE BETTER) reminded me of how much I HATE that Destiny locked several of its top-tier weapons behind quests that require (REQUIRE) you to be a significantly above-average performer in competitive multiplayer. Because my reflexes are crap and I can’t afford to put in the time to make up for it, I’ll likely NEVER get an exotic gun that doesn’t randomly drop. Sad, considering how COOL they all are.

    • IFS says:

      Doesn’t help that with the recent ammo changes in the crucible (which are awful changes and I hate them) that it gets even harder to complete the Thorn bounty, since it requires above average performance with a specific damage type that only special and heavy weapons do (with one exception, though that exception is a pain to get). Fortunately not all of the exotic bounties require playing the crucible, but it still is annoying that those bounties are the only way to get the guns associated with them.

      • Adam says:

        GYAAAAH!

        That’s it! That’s the one I’m stuck on now! (I’m playing a Warlock, do you know if Energy Drain, Nova Bomb, and grenade kills count? They all do Void damage.)

        • IFS says:

          Abilities do count which is good, and the ratio is fairly lenient though I guess if your main character is a hunter you’re out of luck since they don’t have a void subclass. Warlock is probably the easiest class to get it with, since their void subclass has a super that can get kills unlike the defender titan (this is conjecture on my part, I mainly play as a titan though I have a hunter I’ve been working on leveling). The other bounties requiring crucible performance aren’t that bad in my opinion and while if you don’t like PVP then of course they’ll be awful but can still be attained if you keep at it, but the Thorn bounty is just aggressively bad, as it restricts your weaponry and playstyle, and penalizes you for failing.

      • modus0 says:

        For the Thorn bounty, both Atheon’s Epilogue (Vault of Glass autorifle) and Word of Crota (Crota’s End hand cannon) are primaries that do Void damage.

        My advice for that bounty is to do Clash (6v6, no objectives) and stay close to at least one team mate and try to get the killing shot on opponents (if you can get a fireteam together or coordinate with a PuG, it would certainly help). If you find yourself alone, run away and find a team mate.

        • IFS says:

          I had forgotten Word of Crota did void, though honestly it is super annoying to get either weapon. I’ve done VoG on hard like a half dozen times and never gotten anything worthwhile out of it (I’ve gotten the ship once and the shader like three times). The guys I run with haven’t fared much better, one of them has the Mythoclast but the other has as bad if not worse luck than I do. It really is borderline insulting that the game drops shaders and ships that you already have, especially when it could have dropped a gun which even if it drops a poor gun you can at least get something out of it by scrapping it.

          • modus0 says:

            Yeah, the RNG system they’re using is utter crap.

            I’ve only completed 5 raids (all VoG); got the shader 3x, Vision of Confluence 2x, Atheon’s Epilogue 1x, Glass Minuet 1x, XV0 Timebreaker 1x, Praedyth’s Revenge 1x, and the “Exotic Chest” has only given me an exotic once.

            I think part of the problem is they thought people would buy most of their gear from the vendors, and drops would be the proverbial “icing on the cake”. But then they made it so that some things (some Shaders, some Ships, Raid Gear) can only be obtained through drops, making them rather rare.

            It also doesn’t help when the loot system doesn’t reward effort equally, I did the VoG this last Saturday, and one guy got Shards for a reward that the rest of us got raid gear. And then you’ve got people doing Crucible and going .2 K/D getting an exotic while the guy with a 5 K/D gets a rare (or nothing).

            But Bungie doesn’t seem to be willing to properly fix it, instead applying piss-poor band-aids to it. Like when people complained about not being able to get the VoG boots, Bungie made Iron Banner give boots (and later other gear) to compensate, instead of making VoG raid gear easier to get.

            • IFS says:

              Supposedly they are going to try to fix the crucible drop system with House of Wolves, but we’ll have to wait and see for that. The Dark Below raid does seem to give armor fairly regularly at least, though one of my friends has received the gauntlets and only the gauntlets for equipment from it every time we’ve run it.

              • modus0 says:

                Yeah, we’ll have to see.

                I know Crota’s End does good raid armor drops, as I’ve managed to get everything but the helmet on my Titan soloing the first two parts. I believe they set up the first part to give mostly gauntlets, with very low chances for anything else, and the bridge has higher rates for the chest piece and boots.

    • modus0 says:

      Fortunately, only the Thorn bounty really requires any measure of skill.

      If you can’t “git gud”:

      Invective is best done by sticking with other people (flee if the enemy is numerous and your “buddy” goes down) and getting assists, as those very much do count, and that strategy should limit the number of times you die.

      Bad Juju is best done in Control (or any other objective-based game type), and simply takes time to do, being a straight “get X number of points” without any penalty.

      And frankly, I think the penalty bits of the Thorn and Invective bounties is garbage myself.

      Though I suppose it makes actually getting Thorn feel more impressive…

  9. Andy says:

    Excpt that having your Int drained to 0 won’t kill you. Comatose, yes, dead, no.

  10. Re: Japan’s slot machines.

    There’s a video of two (very sweary, so keep that in mind) Australian tourists playing one of these games, but it’s a doozy. This machine looks like it has more moving parts than a space shuttle, and whoever has to service these things must hate life and themselves if they’re not paid well.

    So you can watch those guys hit some kind of jackpot by doing random things and not quite getting what’s going on. It’s kind of like the opening scene to 2001, in a way. And they seem to like getting their trove of small metal… shfeeres. “Balls,” indeed.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Rutskarn should definitely make something like Spoonys counter monkey thing.Those stories are really fun to listen to as podcasts.

    • AileTheAlien says:

      Yeah, Rutz could be the hipper, edgier Spoon that our modern age requires. :P

      Seriously though, I loved hearing about the doobed-up mind flayers. I’m actually making* a one-night adventure with this kind of wacky, lateral-thinking built in. Basically a deathtrap labyrinth commissioned by a bored king, which is used as the city jail. Escape alive and win your freedom!

      * Slowly. So hard to find time for this with a full time job, and always being sick on my days off. :S

    • Sorites says:

      Yes!

      When he brought up “drug warfare”, I instantly thought of the Squirt Gun Wars.

  12. Joseph P. Tallylicker says:

    Speaking of anxiety, when I get into (computer) rpgs I tend to restart the game about half a dozen times at first, simply due to some form of anxiety that my “build” will not be able to do what I need it to – Once I manage to push through that initial hurdle (usually by getting familiar enough with the system that I know what I can expect and prepare for it), that anxiety disappears. However it’s a very time-inefficient way to familiarize myself with the game and it’s not particularly fun.

    I have no idea when this behaviour arrived or why. It’s kind of scary, tbh.

    • Did you play RPG’s back in the days of Oblivion or Deus Ex 1? It was quite easy to accidentally make a “hopeless character” that couldn’t make it through the game easily, if at all. Not to mention games would often lock off areas without warning, making trying to find every secret stash of stuff that could help in the endgame a bit of an anxious chore.

    • Ivan says:

      Honestly that happens with me fairly often as well. I really value games where you can pretty much rebuild your character at any time. This is why I’ve gotten almost nowhere in Path of Exile. Though in my defense, PoE’s skill tree almost demands that you know what build you want to end with before you even start playing the character. The traits are almost all % bonuses to *specific weapon or damage type* and the fact that skills are dropped randomly as gems means that you won’t even know what abilities are in the game until you find them all, and if you want to try out a cool new one you just discovered then you probably need to roll a new toon, sometimes of the same class.

      It’s very anti-experimental, I really don’t think it’s a great system.

      • Evilmrhenry says:

        Hint on Path of Exile’s system:
        Just go for as many health increases/defense increases/survival abilities as you can. Grab damage increasing passives when they’re convenient, but don’t go out of your way.

    • Humanoid says:

      That’s what the cheat console is for. :P

      With ‘modern’ RPGs the problem switches from having suboptimal stats to having a suboptimal appearance. At least Skyrim allows the console command to edit your appearance midgame, but support for things like moving your nose down a half-a-centimetre would tend to be rarer than for people just wanting to move a point from Unarmed to Energy Weapons.

  13. krellen says:

    Dismaying news: apparently, as I discovered over Twitter, the Spearmint Rhino is a chain. An international chain.

    • According to Wikipedia, the name doesn’t mean anything beyond one they came up with that they wanted to be catchy and memorable. I guess it worked, though it sounds like the name of an anime series to me.

      Also, it’s been name-dropped in Supernatural, and South Park had it’s own parody version (“Peppermint Hippo”) appear in a few episodes. This is the first I ever heard of it. Of course, I once lived in Houston, TX which seemed to have more strip clubs per capita than any city I ever lived in. I had a 10 minute commute to work and I passed five of the things (this was going via 210 to just onto and off of the 610 loop). I think the closest (and shabbiest-looking) was called “The Tool Box,” and closer to the office was “Diamond Lil’s” and one I think was called “Platinum III.” There seemed to be a naming convention that putting roman numerals in the name of your club made it somehow classier.

    • Gnashmer says:

      Yeah it originated in the UK. I found it kinda weird hearing them speculate over the oddity of the name when here it’s just kind of accepted and no one questions it.

      I imagine someone in the US would get a similar feeling if some Brits discussed Chuck E. Cheese.

      I still have no idea what that place is.

    • Blake says:

      Yep, there’s a Spearmint Rhino and a Gentlemen’s Club in Melbourne too.

  14. Re: Rutskarn’s radio station.

    “There’s a station out here called Jack FM…”

    That’s a format. It’s up for whoever wants to license it. We have it here in KC. They’re pretty much a pop music iPod set on shuffle with automated one-liners between song blocks. I think the only times they use actual DJs is for remote broadcasts (from sponsor businesses), special events, and maybe an actual show or two, but I don’t listen enough to confirm that.

    Your point still stand completely that it’s got more wit than any GTA radio station I’ve ever heard. You’d think with all the “always online” garbage these games are pushing, having the option for an actual streaming “radio broadcast” would be a no-brainer.

    • Humanoid says:

      Euro Truck Simulator 2 has them, in that it just hooks up to whatever streaming radio stations are available. Even better when you set the radio station to whichever one is appropriate for the country you’re currently driving in, now that’s realism.

      • That’d be kind of trippy if a DJ announced a request to someone who was virtually driving on a virtual highway while listening to their virtual truck radio.

        It’s like Inception, but with some very niche DLC… :)

  15. Joseph P. Tallylicker says:

    I really wish I had rutskarn’s ability to think outside the box. I really do.

    • AileTheAlien says:

      Develop it! Buy some logic books. Puzzle books. Physical puzzles. Buy a cheap lawn-mower at a garage sale and take it apart! Watch internet videos from Hackaday! :D

  16. Warclam says:

    Must not be That Guy. Must not nitpick. Must not– screw it!

    In Pathfinder, the only ability score that kills when you go down to zero is constitution; zero intelligence means you’re comatose. Also the poison should have diluted and diluted each time the corpse was shared, so you would need to do it several times to wipe out the colony.

    That said, it’s still a fantastic story, and the drug warfare tale is the best anything that has ever anywhered.

  17. Henson says:

    So as long as people have played GTA V, here’s a question that’s been on my mind for a while:

    One of the most familiar anecdotes in GTA games, even for people like myself who have never played GTA, is the ‘kill the prostitute to get your money back’ action that players take. But I wonder, is this something that the games themselves encourage through their systems, or is this something that players have enshrined in the series on their own? Are you really getting your money back, or have we just assumed this is the case?

    To be more specific, there are two sub-questions that I’m curious about. 1) Is the amount of money a prostitute drops when killed greater if you first hired her for sex as opposed to if you didn’t? 2) Do prostitutes drop more money when killed than ordinary NPCs do?

    (I’ve heard that money drops in GTA are not always consistent, so this could be a difficult question to answer.)

    • Humanoid says:

      And do they drop Praxis kits too?

    • krellen says:

      As I understand it, killing the prostitute after hiring her has never resulted in any more cash than if you had just killed her outright (or killed any other random person.)

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      Not relevant to GTA, but I know that in Assassin’s Creed 2 and the other games with Ezio, you could bribe a town crier to lower your notoriety and then pickpocket the bribe straight back out of his pocket. The pickpocketing would get you a tiny amount of notoriety, but it still got rid of ~45% of the notoriety gauge, and you broke even on the trade.

      Haven’t tried this trick with the newspaper salesmen in 3 or the customs officials in 4, but you can’t pickpocket absolutely everybody in those games so it probably won’t work.

    • Deadpool says:

      Killing civilians in general is not encouraged. They drop VERY little cash (if any) and police pursuit prevents game progress (You have to lose the cops before you can do pretty much ANY thing). Getting killed by the cops (admittedly rare) causes more loss of cash than you’d gain from killing a dozen civilians.

      As far as I can tell (neither prostitute killing nor patronizing is something I ever wasted time doing) a prostitute is treated like any other NPC, whether you paid her or not.

      Although it HAS happened in games. They just weren’t famous enough for anyone to care. For example, anyone you paid in Fallout would have caps on their person for you to murder and regain the money, including prostitutes. This was changed in 2 to prevent players from getting things for free.

  18. ChristopherT says:

    I’m not trying to prove you wrong, or anything, but while there certainly have been “useless” or “evil” therapists in media, there also has been portrayals of “useful” or “good” therapists in media. I hate to say that I think y’all are under thinking a subject, but I just want to point out that while Ruts brings up Bones as an example of another field of doctor portrayed well, Bones also has Sweets, who IS a therapist, and not portrayed as useless or evil.

    Some other examples in media of useful or at least well meaning therapists…

    Ghostbusters – while not mainly therapists I KNOW Venkman has a PhD is psychology and I believe the others might have something along the lines as well

    Necessary Roughness – TV show where main character is a therapist for pro football players

    Analyze This/That – Movie

    Metal Gear Solid 2 – Rose?

    Legit – tv show

    Office Space – movie

    In Plain Sight -tv show

    What about Bob? – would argue he’s not a bad therapist, it’s a mix of being introduced to the character at a bad time, and having Bob for a patient

    Many Sitcoms have had couples going to a therapist and the therapist being a middle ground, sometimes “siding” with one, and then the other, but not “bad” or “useless”

    That’s the few I can come up with after a few minutes of thinking about it. One or two may be disqualified but I think those are some okay examples. Though, my list is short, I think it helps show that therapists aren’t always shown in a negative light.

    • You’re forgetting that Law & Order had Cave Johnson as their go-to shrink for a lot of their run.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I’ll add: The Voices. Main character’s psychiatrist sincerely wants to help him. She insists he take his pills for his schizophrenia. He stops taking the pills. Things go badly. (BTW, this is a comedy, but a dark one.)

      Also, in any procedural, the criminal profiler is usually held in high esteem, but probably because they’re using their skills on “the bad guys”.

      Some additional theories as to the negative portrayal of therapy in fiction:
      -Many of the earliest and most vivid portrayals of the mental health discipline in visual media were negative: the asylums in Gothic and Victorian horror stories, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to an extent the brainwashing in movies like A Clockwork Orange and The Manchurian Candidate. These still seem to inform modern takes on psychiatry and psychology regardless of accuracy, because they’re more dramatic and vivid.
      -Related to these, the fear of mental manipulation.
      -There’s still a big stigma against mental illness, or the implication of being mentally ill. It might be even more pronounced in some cultures outside of the US. So rather than imply a protagonist is damaged or weak in some manner, they’ll suggest that the mental health professionals are misguided, in error, or just corrupt.
      -In ongoing ensemble works (TV series), it’s probably easier and cheaper to have existing characters the audience is already invested in talking out their problems, instead of bringing in guest stars.
      –The Star Trek: TNG caveat to this: this often worked if anyone other than Counsellor Troi did it. Picard’s brother helped him with his trauma after the Borg violated him, Picard and Riker often helped Worf through his culture clash issues, Guinan helped a lot of people with their problems–basically 90% of the time, anyone was better at Troi’s job than Troi. Which is a shame, because if any scenario called for a full-time therapist character, it’s a starship on the fringes of known space that frequently encountered weird, alien phenomenon that occasionally killed crewmembers.
      -The pervasive influence on many working in the entertainment industry of a quasi-religious organization that is openly hostile to the psychiatric discipline as a whole.

      • Syal says:

        The guy from Monk wasn’t too bad if I recall. And Frasier had their moments.

        Also a lot of the shows with psychiatrists have “mandatory sessions” where the person doesn’t actually want to improve, and it’s used more as a way to highlight how standoffish they are, or how good they are at manipulating conversations or whatnot.

        Of course now you have to ask how well anybody giving advice is portrayed. Do the non-psychiatrists have any better luck at giving advice (Councillor Troi notwithstanding?)

    • ehlijen says:

      Venkman was a psychology researcher, yes, but he was also shown as having absolutely no ethics in the movie (basically sabotaging his own research and abusing the funding to get a shot at dating a student ~half his age).

      • Thankfully for the mental health of others, Venkman was an academic psychologist, who only teaches. A clinical psychologist is one that provides treatment. He was also a parapsychologist, which might also skew things a tad…

    • Tizzy says:

      I think the discussion should have included why representations of therapists in fiction are so overwhelmingly negative. It is very damaging, but, as usual, I think laziness and lack of awareness is to blame, rather than a specific agenda.

      I can think of two flavors of unhelpful therapist, and both can be tied back to narrative convenience.

      The first one is the mandated therapist: some authority figure forces a character to visit a therapist. In this case, the therapist is yet another obstacle to be overcome. They cannot be too helpful, or they wouldn’t be an obstacle.

      The other popular use of therapists is for exposition dump. Your character can explain the challenges they face and how they feel about them. A little bit lazy, possibly, but efficient. Once again, they cannot be too helpful, or you take away from your characters struggles by making them look too easy, or look like they didn’t really solve the challenges themselves.

      Of course, you can combine both flavors into one.

      • ehlijen says:

        I think the main use of obstacle therapists is when the story wants to show how alone the protagonist is. A therapist trying to tell them they’re wrong is the ultimate way to show that no one believes them. Often followed by being locked up/drugged for their own good and trying to escape the police.

    • Andy says:

      Nobody’s mentioned Good Will Hunting yet? I mean, I know Ruts was negative 10 when it came out, but, still.

  19. Kian says:

    Regarding Rutskarnesque strategies, I think they’re more likely to arise in tabletop when you are low level, precisely because you have limited resources. When you are high level, you probably have some ability or item that fits your problem well. When you are low level, however, you need to get inventive.

    In a game I play, I have a character that is a beguiler. Basically a spell caster that focuses on illusion and enchantment. There are a lot of things that are immune to those particular schools, but with some creative thinking you can play an important role even in encounters that would normally have you on the sidelines.

    For example, we were once in a cave, fighting some dudes while more of their friends were about to come from side passages. We were already about outnumbered, and it would have really hurt to have them effectively double up on us. I was pretty low level, 2 or 3, so I didn’t have any actual crow control spells. What I did have was silent image. A spell that basically lets you project an image in a limited area, with no sound or heat or anything to back it up. So I created an image of blue fire covering the passages, and helpfully told my friends to “stay away from the magefire”. With a bit of help from a bluff roll. Rules-wise, there was no reason for the bad guys not to cross the illusion. If they interacted with it, it would have poofed out. But the DM conceded the enemies were not intent on learning what effect magefire had on them, so they didn’t cross the illusion. Which bought us enough time to clear out the ones we were already facing and made the next fight much easier for us.

    Another time, we were fighting some necromancer dude. I couldn’t affect the guy himself too much, and his minions were all immune. However, he was screaming orders at them. So I figured I could copy his voice and give contradictory commands, since clearly he’s not using some telepathic bond to direct them, whatever the magic that forces them to obey was. So for a few rounds, he would command them to do one thing, and I would give the opposite order. It wasn’t terribly effective, but it produced enough chaos to give us an advantage.

    However, as we grow in level there are fewer situations to abuse the system that way. When you have a spell or item that perfectly fits the situation at hand, there’s less of a need to find clever ways to abuse less useful resources. Kind of how computer programming used to be a lot more hackish back when computers were a lot less powerful. Nowadays, you have performance to spare, and you can focus on code that is readable, as opposed to exploiting arcane lore about a certain architecture to wring every last bit of computing power from a machine.

    The problem with making a game that encourages rutskarnesque strategies, though, is that you need to give the player tools and environments that can be used creatively, and games really struggle with that. Emergent gameplay is hard to design, because if it’s designed it’s not emergent. There’s too much of a desire to control the experience once you realize something is possible. What I mean is, if the designer realizes that there’s a spot where you can snipe a boss from absolute safety, then whether to leave that spot available or close it off becomes a design decision.

    • Tulgey Logger says:

      I really hope “Rutskarnesque” doesn’t stick as a term for degenerate strategies. As a word, it really deserves a meaning similar to “arabesque,” specifically with reference to elaborate and sickening psychedelic pun structures.

    • Syal says:

      “then whether to leave that spot available or close it off becomes a design decision.”

      And the correct answer is to leave it available, but have some mooks spawn there at regular intervals so it’s not completely safe.

      But encouraging emergent gameplay usually requires a lot of low-level complexity. You can’t make a colony of ants too stupid to live unless the game is designed around something happening when intelligence reaches zero, and gives the player a way to change it.

    • “Rutskarnesque?”

      Remember your video game heritage! Surely the term would be “Rutslike.”

  20. AR+ says:

    Shamus, why is it a problem to have players orders of magnitude better than you? You yourself wrote the best essay I’ve seen on how FPSs like Unreal Tournament have the same spread, and you got decent at that.

    Is there just not good enough matchmaking with a large enough spread of existing players, so that entering on the bottom still puts you against players way better than you?

    • Shamus says:

      Sure, some good matchmaking could make it work. It’s just that matchmaking (and Multiplayer in general) has been getting WORSE lately, to the point where I’d been genuinely surprised if they came up with matchmaking that could pair you up with appropriate foes, with low ping, that detects and responds to disconnectors, bots, and smurfs. And that doesn’t take more than a few seconds to jump into a game.

      And even if they did all that, there’s the problem that new players will likely be a very small percent of the player base.

      It’s not that the idea is without merit, it’s that doing it right is hard and almost nobody wants to spend the money to do it right.

      • AileTheAlien says:

        If one company did it right, they could sell it as a library, like how 3D engines are sold. Might be too much of a gamble on making the R&D money back, though.

  21. V8_Ninja says:

    When Rutskarn first mentioned, “The Drug Wars,” I thought he was going to discuss how DMSO turned most Shadowrun campaigns into highly lethal squirt gun fights.

    A few years after the first edition of Shadowrun was released, it got an expansion called Shadowtech which offered players the ability to buy the chemical DMSO alongside tons of additional cyborg augmentations. In a nutshell, any skin that was splashed with DMSO would instantly absorb any other chemical compound, whether it be hand soap or instantly-lethal poison. The intent was for the chemical to make an assassin’s job easier, but players instantly realized that if they mixed it with their poison of choice they would have easily-carried liquid that could kill you in seconds. This lead to tons of players infiltrating high security corporate headquarters with squirt guns and spray bottles. Smart GMs instantly banned the chemical while the more persistent GMs added sprinkler systems with deadly DMSO combinations and security guards hosing players down while wearing hazmat suits equipped with DMSO tanks. For a setting that has somehow avoided feeling post-apocalyptic, DMSO got close to giving off that post-apocalyptic vibe.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      Its a good thing that it was in a splat book ‘cus if it was in the main rules no one would have figured it out. Man first edition was a mess. The story they told in Virtual Light (second edition maybe? I’d have to check) was really good though.

  22. Alchemist64 says:

    Regarding the pyschiatrist bit, there was a USA Network show a while back about a female sports psychiatrist that was called “Necessary Roughness,” where the protagonist actually helped people. So there’s one piece of media with a semi-positive portrayal of psychology (Though said protagonist had problems of their own, and there was the usual USA show quirks, etc.).

  23. John says:

    Shamus, Rutskarn, if you want to get into fighting games, I suggest trying really old ones–like Street Fighter II old. Games from the dawn of the genre don’t have nearly as many layers of impenetrable mechanics.

    I was a teenager at the dawn of the fighting game. Street Fighter II looked so cool and I wanted very badly to be good at it. Alas I never had the quarters to waste in an arcade or the cash to buy the Sega Genesis port when that finally came out. I rented the game a few times, but never for long enough to feel either accomplished or satisfied. For about a decade, I felt like the Dragon Punch was basically impossible–a cruel joke at my expense. Then I got a Gameboy Advance. Turns out I can do the Dragon Punch. (Some of the time.) It just takes practice. And I can beat the game–with the right characters and enough continues. It’s a nice feeling.

    I’ve done some cursory searching for Street Fighter II on PC. There’s a port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 available on GOG, but that’s not quite the same thing. (Alpha 2 is a very good game and had a surprisingly good Gameboy Advance port. It’s a little more complicated than the original Street Fighter II, but, hey, it’s also prettier. Unfortunately, the reviews for the PC port are kind of mixed.) I think there are various Street Fighter II and related downloads for consoles, but I don’t know the details.

    You know, in a way, fighting games are like Dark Souls. A Dark Souls without mooks and with a checkpoint (or campfire or whatever) right before each boss. Make of that what you will.

    • Syal says:

      The best way to learn to play fighting games is to play in realspace with people who also don’t know how to play fighting games. Preferably the other people are willing to say “what if I do this?” a lot.

      • Humanoid says:

        Smash Bros is basically a bunch of people who don’t know how to play fighting games, and is consequently the only one I (make an effort to) play. I know it has a highly competitive 1v1 scene, but I don’t remember ever playing it in 1v1 mode (aside from the perfunctory story mode).

      • Christopher says:

        Yeah, it’s not gonna be that great as a single player experience. My best experience with them in recent years was during college, just because there was a flatmate around. I roped him into playing fighting games with me until we found two that had at least one character that each of us really liked and then we’d play them almost every week until we were done with school(We played Skullgirls and Street Fighter 3, which have easier button combinations for attacks and a very good game feel respectively). Usually we stuck to only the few characters we liked. We forgot special moves for whole fights, and when we had the choice of playing three, two or one character teams in Skullgirls it took us a year to work up the courage to use more than one. So we hardly got any better, but because there was such a depth of things to discover, the games felt good and it’s fun to compete against a friend it was a pleasant routine to have. All of my fun fighting game experiences are like that. I still play Smash Bros. Melee with my brother when we’re both at our parents’ house.

        I do think this is the absolute worst sort of genre for Rutskarn and Shamus, mind. Both considering the (amazing, by the way) drug warfare story and the lack of competitive instinct. Not many opportunities to trick your way out of a match unless you’re playing locally and don’t mind bothering the person next to you until they get frustrated and leave.

        The only kind of stories I could tell would be stuff like, say, me and this guy online. We were complete amateurs and he would spam his jump-and-dive-diagonally-attack while I would spam my dive-horizontally-attack, so we would pass one another for half the match until one of us stood still and smacked the other one on the head while he flew past. That’s a different kind of degenerate.

        • John says:

          I prefer to play fighting games single-player, unless playing with friends.

          The joy doesn’t come from story, but from challenge. Fighting games offer a lot of learning opportunities. I like learning how to do a new move. I like learning how to use a new character. I like that I can see how to use Guy’s moves to counter all of Ryu’s, even if I’ve never had the manual dexterity or the reflexes to pull it off in practice. And if I’m getting my butt kicked, I can always turn the difficulty down a few notches. ‘Cause I’ll learn, I’ll get better, and I will be back.

          I think it’s kind of funny that the new Mortal Kombat appears to have an elaborate story mode. I have never particularly cared why the characters in fighting games were fighting. Story seems about as relevant to fighting games as it does to Tetris.

      • IFS says:

        I’d like to second this, especially the bit about playing with another inexperienced player. I’ve had a few experiences with fighting games, one being a few years back where a friend got me to play Street Fighter 4 with him, and proceeded to just wipe the floor with me until I was completely sick of the game. The other was me and a friend picking up Soul Caliber (I forget the number, 5 maybe?) on a whim out of a bargain bin to have something we could play together (they had mainly single player games) and having a blast with it. I suppose I could also count Smash Bros among my experiences with fighting games, but that has a very different feel to it in my opinion (still a really fun game though).

      • John says:

        That’s probably not wrong. But I don’t see why you can’t have a perfectly nice single-player experience with a fighting game. If you’re worried about learning the moves, a good fighting game will generally have a training mode that lets you practice attacks in a no-pressure environment. The GBA Street Fighter II, for example, had a mode in which you could “fight” a computer-controlled opponent who had infinite health but who would never move or attack.

  24. Deven says:

    i’ve been hearing alot of good things and i’d like some critical opinions before i shell out money. what do you guys think of dungeons and dragons 5th edition.

    • Rutskarn says:

      It’s okay.

      Okay, more seriously, here’s my five-minute battery-is-running-out guide to “Should I Buy D&D and What Edition?” Keeping in mind that the cheapest edition to play is 3/3.5 (used), probably followed by 4, and moving on to simply mechanical concerns.

      If you want a more complex to learn but easy to play game with an old-school classic fantasy feel, a lot of leeway to work outside the rules/guidelines, and classes that are very different from one another in terms of power level, progression, and role, play 2nd Edition.

      If you want tactical board game style combat, a recombinant fantasy feel (that is, fantasy that’s not based on myth, like Tolkien, or history, but is aesthetically and storywise grounded in existing fantasy stuff), and smooth balance, play 4.

      If you want a slightly rougher, grittier, and more complex version of the above that attempts balance and doesn’t quite succeed, play 3.5.

      If you want a modern, streamlined version of 2 with some of the feel of 3, play 5th Edition.

      • Tizzy says:

        We should note here as well that, for the budget-minded, some of the really old editions appear to be essentially available for free through the old school movement. Don’t quote me on the exact details because I didn’t research this thoroughly, but leafing through Labyrinth Lord, for instance, looked very much like my basic and expert sets from the early 80’s, warts and all.

        • Check out your local 1/2 Price Books, too. Mine usually has LOADS of RPG stuff for whatever system you play, and even things from other systems/versions can be adapted with a little stat substitution.

    • Merlin says:

      I give it a solid “Ehhhhhn….”

      Basically, D&D edition changes are usually pretty major deals. 2E to 3E was a huge structural change in unifying mechanics and creating (somewhat) coherent systems for everything. 3E to 4E wasn’t a huge leap in minute-to-minute game rules, but the presentation changed majorly and the systems interact with each other very differently. On the other hand, 5E is kind of Do It Again, Stupid: Game Design Edition. It’s not so much a new D&D as it is 3E getting a much-needed peer review. So if you like what D&D has historically been, it’s a pretty good way to get your fix. But it’s very much a fine-tuning of the old model, so if you have significant bones to pick with D&D, absolutely none of them have gone away.

      Personally, I jumped ship to Dungeon World and haven’t looked back. Easier to run, easier to prep, more room for the dickery that makes RPGs so fun to play. If I had to play D&D again, I’d probably lean towards 4E or pick up 13th Age, since they more honestly engage with (and embrace) D&D’s roots & history of being a turn-based strategy game.

      • I thought 4E was a pretty big change because it turned an RPG into a board game. Character optimization became crucial, miniatures and battlemats were required equipment, and every bloody thing you did was a named “power.” You couldn’t just “swing your sword” anymore, you had to use your “Eagle’s Mithril Katana” attack or some other Dragonball-sounding fluff.

        Then there’s the broken economy that meant you could only sell items for 1/4 retail no matter what they were or how powerful they were. This was a big PITA when you’d get through an adventure only to find your big reward loot drop magic weapon only worked for a specific race/class and nobody in your party fit the bill. There was no rational reason for anyone to craft anything unless they were really into charity work.

        They wanted a D&D system that would “compete” with MMOs, and it didn’t really work for a lot of people. It’s one of the reasons Pathfinder did so well.

        • Merlin says:

          Well yeah, I’m suggesting that it was a major change. But I’d also argue that it was a logical outgrowth of 3E, both as a system and how the community treated it.

          The combat engine itself is very nearly a straight copy of 3.5E. There are minor tweaks – the handling of diagonals (aka The Firecube Effect), Opportunity Attacks got a little less fiddly, and Interrupts and Reactions got codified in the base game instead of weirdly bolted on to the already-bolted-on-Swift Actions. But if you want to point to a breakpoint towards board-gaminess, 3E to 3.5E is probably the bigger offender; that’s when horses (among other things) became 10′ x 10′ squares to better suit battlemats, miniatures, and a combat engine that doesn’t recognize facing. And even that’s a logical outgrowth of the grid focus that was introduced from 2E to 3E.

          The Powers system was a big paradigm shift in terms of how combat actually shakes out, but it’s more overdue than outlandish. D&D’s traditionally treated martial combat as astoundingly vague while allowing magic to be incredibly specific. This was a valuable course correction to an archaic system, and even Pathfinder took major steps in this direction. RPG players have a weird vendetta against WOW on this front, but it’s a similar shift that happened from Diablo to Diablo 2, Final Fantasy 1 to Final Fantasy all-of-the-others, Baldurs Gate to Dragon Age, and so on. Old timey D&D is an outlier that has pretty intentionally been left on the side of the road in that respect.

          On some of your other complaints:
          – CharOp is way less crucial in 4E than it was in 3E. 4E’s constrained class design makes it much harder to build a character that’s awful or an instant-win button.
          – Power names, while rarely perfect, varied by class to avoid the exact silliness you’re complaining about. Low level Fighter specials: Brute Strike. Comeback Strike. Rain of Steel. It gets more esoteric by the time that you’re planehopping and punching demons in the nuts, but I’d argue you’ve earned it by then.
          – I thought loot sold for 1/2 price (just like in 3E), but that exact problem is no different from any other edition. DMs who aren’t giving out useful treasure are not giving out treasure at all, and D&D is a terrible SimCity game. News at 11.

          Pathfinder’s biggest strength was 4E’s terrible presentation. My opinion is that 3E actually does suck balls, and even I wouldn’t use that as the crux of my marketing push. And little aspects like measuring in squares rather than feet torpedoed them too. Sure, it’s how D&D actually does play, but not how people want to think of it playing.

          5E is actually a really good counterpoint for that. It’s still a heavily grid-based system, but players & DMs have accepted that it’s good gridless simply because the publishers have pushed that angle. (I don’t mean to denigrate anyone by saying that – it’s undeniably good that simple combats don’t need a fancy map.) The rules dictate precision, while the greater context suggests that it’s okay if you don’t always track movement foot-by-foot. That’s still a far cry from games that actually avoid the issue in the first place.

    • Ivellius says:

      As a semi-contrary opinion, I really like what 5E has done. This is coming from the perspective of someone who learned on 3E and did no more than dabble in 4E, but it combines some of the best features of previous editions as I understand them: some acknowledged flexibility and “looseness” of 2E, a lot of the terminology and mechanics of 3E, and 4E’s effort to provide flavorful, class-specific options for characters as well as reducing some of the complexity of especially 3E. I do have some complaints (I’d love to see more strict specialization placed on Clerics / Wizards / Druids, given they’re awfully strong, and I’m not a fan of Bards as “full casters”), but I really like what they’ve done with the game. The DM’s Guide also has a lot of advice for optional rule systems / tweaks, and I’ve implemented a couple so far.

      What’s better, though, is that you don’t actually have to spend any money to run 5E things (and not pirate, either): WotC has provided a very stripped down version of the “basic rules” for free download. The player’s section includes basic Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard options and the mechanical information to run characters appropriately, while the DM’s section is really just stat blocks of generic monsters. But it’s enough if you want a taste for the game.

      Now you may say, “But I need some content if I’m going to run adventures.” You’re correct! ENWorld did a contest soliciting adventure designs in advance of the game’s release last year, and a couple of the submissions were for low-level adventures. (Here’s the link.) You could also use Frog God Games’ perpetually updated “The Wizard’s Amulet” or for something with a bit less backstory the “Bandit’s Nest” adventure linked from this GiantitP post.

      As a full disclosure, I don’t have a lot of non-d20 RPG experience, but I’d probably run D&D 5E in preference to anything else I’ve experienced.

    • Blake says:

      When my group tried out 5th ed our assessment was a resounding “Well it certainly is DnD!”.
      I haven’t played enough of it to have super strong opinions, but it seemed fine, no major flaws in any way. Would happily play again.
      I have memories of all kinds of brokenness in 3.5 (as well as all of the awfulness that was trying to decypher all the pushes/shoves/grapple stuff every time someone wanted to do it), had loads of fun with 3.5, but it never felt balanced to me.

      4th ed I played a lot of, the combat in that was certainly balanced (which my DM really liked as it let him easily make encounters knowing their difficulty), but it felt very bare in the role playing department. If combat is your main focus 4th is a winner, but otherwise I’d give it a thumbs down.

      Pathfinder is pretty great, it’s pretty much 3.75. The rules are very close to 3.5, but everything has been worked on and improved.

      5th ed is just sort of in there somewhere. It’s got the role playing, it’s got reasonably fair combat, it works, and I haven’t had any problems with it.
      5th is fine, you can have fun with.

  25. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Well,since we are talking about gtav:

    Tried to create a crew in GTA V Online. REQUIRES motto. Fine. Whatever. “We do crime and shenanigans”. SHENANIGANS IS A BANNED WORD.

    While that is stupid on many levels,I had an even dumber experience.Some years back I was on a forum where you couldnt write about m****ity,**** hygiene or **** exams,because whoever was the genius that designed the filter decided that ORAL is a dirty word.

    • Humanoid says:

      The Football Manager games have a press conference feature where you normally just choose from several canned responses to journalist questions, typically boring cliches like “(Future opponent) are a good side and we’ll have to play our best to win.” Then in your inbox you get a summary of the news headlines and it’ll have equally boring rubbish like “(Manager name) confident of victory in upcoming match.”

      However in recent iterations they’ve added a custom textbox in which you can put in anything you like, and they’ll just be repeated verbatim in the news article summary. It does have a language filter in that if you trigger it, the news headline will instead be something like “(Team) manager launches extraordinary expletive-ridden rant after match against (opponent)!”

    • Alex says:

      “Oral?” Try “script”. So for quite a while you could only refer to a certain card as “Eldrazi Con******ion.”

    • Thomas says:

      When I was young I used to try and play MSN chess. MSN chess chat filters the words “kid” “child” “adult” etc (which isn’t necessarily a bad idea), but it did mean when I first tried to explain to an older opponent (with a job) that I was young and hadn’t played chess before, the guy on the other end thought I was flipping him off. And every synonym was also filtered so when I tried to explain that I wasn’t swearing at him it went like

      “No I wasn’t swearing at you. I was just saying that you are a ***** ”
      “Huh, they filtered ****** . Why is ****** a bad word?”
      “All I’m trying to say is that I’m a *****, unlike you.
      You’re a non-*******”
      “They’re filtered ***** too?”

    • Ivan says:

      Apparently Dark Souls 2 filters out EAD, which is apparently slang for Eat A Dick. I learned this from watching a video where the dude’s friends name showed up as D***pan Dave.

      That said, my favorite minigame in Monster Hunter 4 is subverting its filter in any way I can when I find a new kitty-cat friend.

      So far I’ve named them…
      (I guess for the sake of politeness i’ll throw up a spoiler tag.)
      Butts
      Crapper
      AssButt
      Pussass
      Titface
      Nignig
      Dumb bich
      Izan
      Jewfro

    • AileTheAlien says:

      I want to say that explitive-filters should check for spaces, but that would make it too easy to just type something like:
      you[explitive]goto[explitive]you[explitive]

      Really, the filters need to have a whitelist that overrides the filter, for valid words.

      Honestly though, I think just filtering out links, email/contact info would be good enough for most games, if the logs were always available for banning or police purposes. I guess I’m biased, since I always shut off the filters on my end, e.g. in League of Legends, and other games I’ve played recently.

    • Cybron says:

      My favorite is when filters replace words with less profane variants. Remember, kids, when coding profanity filters, be careful with buttumptions.

      • Fark.com does that, and for April 1st, they put some really hilarious randomly-assigned filters on various posts.

        City of Heroes had a great profanity filter, mostly because it wasn’t too onerous and because it fit with the comic book venue. Swears became $#*% symbols, like in comic books. Also, I believe you could disable it if you just wanted to read whatever was being “said.”

  26. Ardis Meade says:

    Hey Rutskarn, would the campiagn with ‘The Drug War’ be the same one that inspired the webcomic ‘Minebreakers!’?

  27. ehlijen says:

    I think Psychiatrists have been saddled with the role of being the establishment’s face in too many cases. Their primary function in stories that aren’t about mental healing appears to be to clamp down on the protagonist’s diverging views and beliefs, to represent humanity collectively sticking their head in the sand. They’re the Citadel Council of most stories they appear in, basically.

    The police has fallen into a similar role in many stories, I would say, though they the establishment’s fist, not the face, so to speak.

    All in all, pretty unhealthy, and I think that’s why I like Hot Fuzz so much.

  28. Steve C says:

    Regarding degenerate strategies- The term you are looking for is “cheese”. Shamus even used it during the diecast. “Cheese” is a short form of “cheater’s strategy.” Personally I prefer Rutskarns’ use of “degenerate” to describe what he does and enjoys. A shame those damn degenerate mathematicians got there first. I wonder if there is a ‘proper’ term not rooted in slang?

    As a DM I would love Rutskarn in my games. Creative solutions that bend the adventure over and have it’s way with it are a joy. They keep things interesting for me when I’m DMing. I know a lot of DMs hate it. They really shouldn’t. When players pull some weird solution out of their ass it always puts a huge grin on my face.

    • Tizzy says:

      I used to DM a lot, and, after a while, I stopped planning adventures. I would just put players in tricky situations, sit back, and enjoy watching them solve them. It was never what I expected, too, so I stopped even trying to predict their moves.

  29. Chamomile says:

    The term you are looking for is “knot-cutting.”

  30. Flailmorpho says:

    my strategy is always min-maxing whatever seems like it will be the best thing to min-max

  31. Tizzy says:

    If Campster is going to talk about highfalutin math games, I want to address some misconceptions about Game Theory (though I am in no way a specialist).

    Like many things in math (imaginary numbers, chaos theory), game theory has a catchy title that everyone can understand, which means of course that it’s too easy to miss the point.

    Game theory offers a very abstract framework to analyze things that are called games. But really, it is not designed to help you with any of the games that you play for fun. (There’s other math for that. There is always math for that.)

    The abstract framework is not to blame, by the way. The framework is abstract, true, but it was motivated by extremely concrete “games”. But games it was designed for are more along the line of Let’s not set off nuclear Armageddon and its popular cousin, Don’t let the World’s economy plunge into chaos.

    • John says:

      As a sometime student of non-cooperative game theory, I second this post. I’ve heard of dominant strategies, dominated strategies, weakly dominant strategies and weakly dominated strategies, but I have only ever heard the term “degenerate strategy” on this podcast.

      We can (loosely) model Left for Dead as a non-cooperative game between the player and the AI Director. If Shamus is correct and melee is always the best thing for the player to do–no matter what the AI Director does–then melee is the dominant strategy for the player.

      I have absolutely no idea how to model anything Rutskarn said.

      • Thomas says:

        Degenerate in maths is used a lot and tends to mean “reduces in complexity” . If you had a game theory problem where outcomes were being generated by multiplying policies against a matrix but the matrix could be reduced to something none nxn, then calling that a ‘degenerate game’ would be in line with normal maths.

        Googling “game theory degenerate” comes up with some game theory text books that do use the term and in contexts like that. It’s got a specific formal definition for bimatrix games which is pretty much as Chris describes

    • Zukhramm says:

      Eh, I don’t know. What is this other math? Game theory, as little as I know of it, seems a great ft for games.

  32. Zachary Smith says:

    How does one send an question/reader mail for Diecast’s mailbag? I’ve searched this website for an hour and I can’t find and email address or anything :(

  33. Cybron says:

    With regards to Japanese auteurs, what about Hideki Kamiya? I guess it’s a little debatable if he’s big budget/triple AAA/whatever, but Bayonetta 2 was a bit of a headliner. And he has a pretty distinctive style, especially with regards to gameplay.

    Also I think every D&D player has at least one or two stories like that, though perhaps not as amazing as Rutskarn’s. I remember a time when our DM thought he was being clever by putting us up against a door that supposedly had a password, but in reality just shot you with lasers whenever you said anything. We knocked the door off its hinges and brought it with us. We’d throw it into room ahead of us, and the surprised yells of our enemies would get them lasered. Which would provoke more yelling, and more lasers…

    • IFS says:

      Kamiya wasn’t in charge of Bayonetta 2 (though I believe he had a supervisor role of some sort, I forget the exact title), though I wouldn’t hesitate to call him an auteur of sorts. He was the mastermind behind Bayonetta 1, Wonderful 101, resident evil and the first DMC. Honestly though while I think he’s done great work and created some wonderful games most of them have been improved on by other directors in sequels (DMC was a landmark among action games, but DMC3 was a huge improvement over it, and similarly I’d say Bayonetta 2 is much better than 1, if only because it cut out some of the weird sudden gameplay shifts that you got in certain chapters, which Kamiya seems to like but can seem very strange and out of place at times).

      Also I’m pretty sure that trap from your D&D story was in Drmcninja at one point, though sadly not utilized like your group did.

  34. Call it Rutskonarrative Joshinance.

  35. Christopher says:

    I just wanted to say regarding GTA V, a lot of people are giving it a bit of crap right now, but I brought it up in my African American History Course 2 regarding the Franklin/Lamar dynamic and it’s portrayal to my professor and he thought it was interesting and inquired into how he could obtain footage for a different semester.

    So kudos to rockstar for that.

    Stupid censor thing though.

  36. Tse says:

    The ant killing reminds me of how I got rid of real-life cockroaches. So I used a insecticide that is neurotoxic to insects and arachnids and I spread a diluted solution in the corners of the kitchen. The cockroaches took a day or two before any started exhibiting symptoms, but by then all of them were poisoned. It was gruesome seeing one writhing in the morning and still doing so in the same place 12 hours later.

    P.S. The insecticide I used was from a flea shampoo for dogs.

  37. Thomas says:

    If they let Hideo Kojima make a Final Fantasy game…

    Wow, that would be a moment in gaming history.

  38. crossbrainedfool says:

    On the psychiatrist topic, Worm has a really good potrayal. Dr Yamada isn’t magical, or superhuman (in a setting full of that) she’s just a damn good therapist.

    She helps not just the protagonist, but also quite a few side characters deal with their own demons, with some success. The fan exaggeration is that Yamada is the opposite of a Lovecraftian monster – being around her makes you saner.

    Interestingly, the story also ties to Rutskarn’s stories/game style. What makes Taylor/Skitter (the main protagonist) dangerous isn’t her powers (although that’s frightening enough) but rather her mind. Fumigating enemies, sending gas-proof mooks in to clean up, and then keeping the heads a psychological weapon is something Skitter would actually do if necessary. Creative, horrifying strategies are a talent of hers.

    Warning: Worm is dark. Torment, trauma, endurance and the pressure cooker of responsibility are all main themes of the story. Not for the faint of heart.

  39. Zak McKracken says:

    Shamus, are you eating during the Diecast?

  40. Zak McKracken says:

    Degenerate strategies in roleplaying: I once DM’ed a game where the party would search for an abducted person and happen upon the preparations for some pagan ritual where the abducted person was supposed to be sacrificed. The cultists were hugely outnumbering the players and well-armed, so the game expected the players to eavesdrop on the whole ceremony until the conjured demon showed up which would create an opportunity for them. They took no chances and just slaughtered their way (rather cunningly) through to their goal. Of course the way out was then blocked by an army of cultists but then they realised that the second intended victim was actually the cult leader’s son, without whom the ritual would not work, so they just took him hostage and negotiated their way out of the situation — well done, and I wasn’t even angry.
    I actually booked that as a DMing success because those same players had become used to metagaming under the previous DM (figure out what the DM wants you to do, then do exactly that, and all will be fine), so I felt good for getting them to a point where they started making decisions themselves.

    … On the other hand, if people find loopholes in the rules and start abusing them, I think it’s completely fair if the DM spontaneously re-interprets those rules. AD&D should not turn into rules-lawyering your way through an adventure. Also, if players do out-of character things based on very pragmatic decisions and out-of-character knowledge — that pretty much kills a game, and while technically not a degenerate strategy, I find it completely OK for the DM to punish such behaviour.

  41. Axion741 says:

    Rutskarn,

    Listening to you talk about how sick you are of Roll 20 combat, and given your larger knowledge of RPGs than me in general, I’d be interested in your opinion on the King Arthur Pendragon system from Greg Stafford? I’ve been playing around with it recently and found it to be a very refreshing system.
    Good for long narratives too with family lines, permadeath/succession etc too.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>