This Dumb industry: This Game is Too Videogame-y

By Shamus
on May 3, 2016
Filed under:
Column

In the decade or so I’ve been doing this whole quasi-videogame journalistI’m actually not a journalist. I’m either a pundit or a critic. But these days everyone who writes about games gets called a “journalist”. thing, I’ve seen my share of pointless arguments that stem from simple misunderstandings. Again and again I see the same points, and counter-points, and counter-counter points, until I feel like I could jump into a random forum somewhere and single-handedly write both sides of a 50-person flame war.

This can be really irritating.

So in the interest of having one fewer endlessly looping debate in the mix, let’s try to put this one to rest:


I’m sure you’ve seen this one before. Someone protests that part of a game is “too videogame-y”, and someone else jumps in, horrified that “being like a videogame” is a bad thing for a videogame. Isn’t that like saying “This music is too musical” or “this sci-fi is too science-fictional”? Isn’t being a game a good thing for a videogame? As usual, the two sides are talking past each other and rarely does the conversation drill down and identify where the conversation (much less the game itself) went wrong.

For the last twenty years we’ve had this odd, awkward, sometimes cringe-worthy effort to mix games with movies. Far too many games feel the need to pause our fun, engaging, interactive gameplay so we can watch a static, linear, poorly-written, overblown cutscene that robs us of our agency and often contradicts the way the world is portrayed in gameplay. So for some people games exist on a spectrum, with “movie” on one extreme and “game” on the other. So when they see someone say something is “too much like a videogame” they imagine you mean “it should be more like a movie”.

But the actual problem has nothing to do with the longstanding games vs. movies debate. This isn’t about gameplay, it’s about someone failing to properly use their medium.

The Medium

I`m sorry, ma`am. In order to maintain the proper mystique my office doesn`t open until midnight. I`m much too sober for you to take me seriously as a hard-boiled detective right now. Please come back in a few hours.

I`m sorry, ma`am. In order to maintain the proper mystique my office doesn`t open until midnight. I`m much too sober for you to take me seriously as a hard-boiled detective right now. Please come back in a few hours.

Let’s imagine a procedural crime drama about Private Detective Sullen McHardcase. The whole show seems to take place in his office. Cops come to his office to discuss the case and even bring him evidence. Suspects stop by to be interrogated. When Sullen socializes with his friend, he does so at his office instead of at his home. If he needs to meet with a lawyer about his eternally ongoing divorce, the lawyer comes to the McHardcase office instead of Sullen going to theirs.

In the audience, we know why this is. The show probably has a small budget and location shooting is expensive. But after a while it becomes awkward and surreal. It’s a distraction from the story being told. It feels like the show takes place in some Twilight Zone universe where the entire world revolves around this little office.

Someone might say this show is “Too television-y”. They’re not saying it should be less like a TV show. They’re saying it too obviously suffers from the limitations of the medium and that the writers have done a bad job at concealing those limitations.

Something being “too videogame-y” means the developers are putting things in the game that make no sense, simply for the purposes of gameplay. They aren’t using their medium properly, and it’s distracting. Nobody is saying a game must have a story. But if you’re going to mix a story into gameplay, then the two should blend together to form a coherent whole.

I have two examples of this problem:

1) Perverting an otherwise serious story to accommodate silly gameplay tropes.

2) Treating gameplay abstractions as literally true.

I want to talk about an example of each of these. Both involve final boss fights, which seems to be where game developers usually fumble on this. Both are spoilers for their respective games, but only if you think that “you fight the bad guy at the end” is a spoiler.

Silly Gameplay Tropes

LAIR OF THE SHADOW BOWSER

LAIR OF THE SHADOW BOWSER

In the Mass Effect 2 DLC Lair of the Shadow Broker, hero Shepard gets to come face-to-face with the mysterious Shadow Broker character. He’s an information broker, and his identity has always been unknown. His specialty is in acquiring and selling secrets. Also (spoiler) he is introduced and killed in the same scene.

A careful writer will know that if you want to show how powerful someone is then it’s usually most effective to make them very small or physically unassumingAssuming their power doesn’t come from raw physical strength and aggression, obviously.. This is particularly true for someone important who will only get a couple of minutes of screen time between their reveal and their death. The writer needs to pack a lot of information into their character design, because they don’t have any exposition to spare. The exposition is already focused on resolving the plot.

Think about Yoda’s size. He’s not small because he’s a puppet, he’s small because the writer wanted to stress how powerful the force is. In Kill Bill, Pai Mei is a small old man. If he was played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it would actually make him less impressive and formidable. By making him physically unassuming, the writer is amplifying his power and mystery. When he casually punches through a wall, we know it’s not because of his muscles, but because his kung-fu is supernaturally good.

What would an information broker look like? You’d imagine someone who spends all their time reading would be small and bookish. You’d imagine someone with a secret identity would be quietly unassuming. Perhaps all those years of toiling over computer screens has made them hunched. Perhaps they’re fat from lack of exercise, or skinny because they become so engrossed in their work they forget to eat. In the Mass Effect universe, you might expect the Shadow Broker to be a quick-thinking and details-oriented Salarian. Or maybe an ancient and knowledgeable Asari matriarch. Or perhaps the Shadow broker is actually a small group of Volus, who excel at trade and commerce. Or maybe even an AI.

Personality-wise, you’d imagine an information broker would be a cruel gossip, a leering voyeur, or someone cold and clinically detached. Being the greatest information broker in the galaxy implies a level of focus and dedication far beyond common people. You’d imagine his social skills would trend to the extreme ends of the spectrum: Either he’s a gregarious manipulator skilled at tricking people into revealing secrets, or he’s socially inept because his life revolves around using a computer.

In any case, their purpose within the story should inform their character design, their personality, and their behavior.

See, the writer tells me you`re the Spy, but your character design says you`re the Heavy.

See, the writer tells me you`re the Spy, but your character design says you`re the Heavy.

But here the writer ignored all storytelling concerns and simply designed the boss fight in the most mindlessly gameplay-focused way possible. The Shadow Broker is apparently a hulking brute. Not only does he not look like an information nerd, it’s not even clear how he can use computers with his over-sized hands. He gets outsmarted in conversation by an archaeologist and then throws a Hulk-style temper tantrum and smashes up his own furniture. There is absolutely nothing impressive or formidable about him beyond his brutish form.

The audience has been wondering about the Shadow Broker since the first act of the first game. Who is he? What race? And here we find out he’s nobody we’ve ever heard of, from a race we’ve never heard of. It’s like getting to the end of a murder mystery where Inspector Poirot gathers everyone into the study to announce that the killer is someone we’ve never heard of and know nothing about and has never been mentioned before now. Sure, that’s a possible outcome, but it’s also kind of unsatisfying.

The brutish design satisfies all the needs of gameplay and neglects the needs of the story. This fight is “too videogame-y”Sometimes the designer goes too far the other way and the gameplay is brushed aside in service of the story. In those cases, people would call it too “railroad-y”.. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a boss fight or that all we wanted was a movie. It means the two parts of this game don’t work together. The writer could have made this brute the bodyguard of the real Shadow Broker, who could emerge from behind a metaphorical curtain like the Wizard of Oz. They could have satisfied the needs of both the story and the gameplay. They just needed to have respect for the world they’d created and put in the effort to sustain it.

Gameplay Abstractions

Stupid portals to demonic dimensions. Why do scientists keep making these things?

Stupid portals to demonic dimensions. Why do scientists keep making these things?

In Doom, the player is instantly healed whenever they come into contact with a medkit, even if all they do is step on it. This is nonsense when you try to picture it in your head, but that doesn’t matter. It would be ridiculous to have an animation where the Doom Marine stops, opens a box of medical supplies, cleanses his wound, wraps in gauze, and applies disinfectant. It would ruin the gameplay. Likewise, removing the medkits entirely would change the fundamental nature of the game. The player would abandon the frantic and brutal frontal assault the game developer intends, and instead play slowly and cautiously.

There’s no way to “fix” this tension. Anything you do to resolve this conflict between the world and the gameplay would hurt the game. So instead, medkits are an abstraction, and there’s an unspoken agreement between the designer and the player: I won’t bring it up if you don’t. The player can then file this inconsistency into the drawer where they keep all the other gameplay abstractions and compromises: Running speed, carry weight, bodily fatigue, fall damage, and even the basic concept of hitpoints. You can’t put everything into that drawer, but you can fit a lot, especially if the gameplay is fun.

But it would be ludicrous to treat these things as literally true. Imagine a cutscene where the doom guy is badly injured, crawling along the floor near death. Then he finds a medkit, pokes it with his foot, and suddenly his wounds magically close and he stands up, fit and hale. That would be… odd.

But this sort of oddball break between story and gameplay abstraction is basically what happens at the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Lara Croft carries an implausible number of weapons on her person. By the end of the game she has a bow, a handgun, an automatic weapon, a shotgun, and her axe. When she switches weapons, she puts her hand behind her back. The previous weapon vanishes into hammerspace and the new weapon appearsIt’s actually a little more complex than this and some weapons are still depicted even when not in use, but you get the idea..

Physical objects that exist in 3-dimensional euclidean space, HOW DO THEY WORK?

Physical objects that exist in 3-dimensional euclidean space, HOW DO THEY WORK?

When you get to the final boss, he shoves Lara down, and pulls the bow off her back as if it was stuck there with velcro. This one motion somehow takes away all of the player’s guns.

Having an unarmed fight against the boss is, I suppose, more or less fine. But this set-up is beyond ludicrous. Developer Crystal Dynamics spent all this moneyActually, I’m pretty sure publisher Square Enix is the one who wrote the check, but you know what I mean. to make this fancy mocap stage, hired all these actors, and poured a bunch of money into full performance capture. Which… fine. If you want to try to run with Naughty Dog and make your game half-movie, that’s your business. That’s how the Uncharted franchise does it, and that series isn’t short on fans. But here they’re trying so hard to make a movie, and then at the very climax of the movie they abandon all pretense at storytelling and adopt Super Mario-style world logic.

It’s not like movies have never figured out how to get our leads to give up their weapons and go hand-to-hand. It happens all the time. Here:

  1. Have the bad guy take a hostage and use them as leverage to get Lara to drop her weapons.
  2. Have a running rivalry that requires our two adversaries to put their weapons aside at the end to settle things “honorably”.
  3. Have Lara give her weapons to some injured allies she’s rescued, so they can fight to safety while she deals with the Big Bad.
  4. Have the fight take place in a location where a you can’t use firearms because it might cause an avalanche / explosion / cave-in.
  5. The Big Bad attacks during a moment where Lara is unprepared.
  6. The player’s ammunition pouch catches fire and Lara is forced to drop itActually, this one is still pretty crappy because ammo storage is also a hammerspace-based abstraction. But it’s less visually silly than the idea that she keeps all her firearms INSIDE HER BOW..
  7. Heck, the moments in Alan Wake where the main character would somehow “drop” all of his guns at the same time were silly and lame, but at least they were less nonsensical than this.

The writer spent all this effort and made us sit through that hour of angst-y, melodramatic cutscenes, and then at the end they just shrugged and said, “Meh. It’s just a game. Don’t think about it too hard. It doesn’t really matter.”

Wrapping Up

Sometimes this is just the right amount of vidogame-ness.

Sometimes this is just the right amount of vidogame-ness.

Nobody complains that Mario is “too videogamey”. Same goes for Minecraft, Team Fortress 2, Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Guitar Hero, or a hundred other gameplay-focused titles. The complaint of excess videogame-ness comes when the writer tells us to take the story seriously, and then they fail to do the same.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] I’m actually not a journalist. I’m either a pundit or a critic. But these days everyone who writes about games gets called a “journalist”.

[2] Assuming their power doesn’t come from raw physical strength and aggression, obviously.

[3] Sometimes the designer goes too far the other way and the gameplay is brushed aside in service of the story. In those cases, people would call it too “railroad-y”.

[4] It’s actually a little more complex than this and some weapons are still depicted even when not in use, but you get the idea.

[5] Actually, I’m pretty sure publisher Square Enix is the one who wrote the check, but you know what I mean.

[6] Actually, this one is still pretty crappy because ammo storage is also a hammerspace-based abstraction. But it’s less visually silly than the idea that she keeps all her firearms INSIDE HER BOW.


A Hundred!20202012Many comments. 172, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. sofawall says:

    First paragraph, near the end. Do you mean both *sides* of a flame war?

      • MichaelG says:

        “has never been mentioned before not.” Should be “now.”?

        • TMC_Sherpa says:

          I assumed it was a punctuation error.

          “has never been mentioned before, not!”

          Was that an 80’s thing? I know it was a while ago but I’m not sure how I would formulate a search to figure it out.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Nope,twas a 90s thing.Heres a handy way to figure out if something was from the 80s or 90s:Is it funny or awesome or weird?Then its 80s.Is it lame or grimdark for no reason?Then its 90s.

            • Kylroy says:

              I assure you, there was no shortage of lame in the 80s.

            • TMC_Sherpa says:

              Could be. I’m about the same vintage as Shamus and I don’t remember anything from..what is today, Tuesday?

            • Mike S. says:

              It’s more or less both late 80s and early 90s. A major pop culture vector was “Wayne’s World”, which was an SNL sketch during the former period and a couple of movies during the latter and used it regularly.

              Though it was prefigured in earlier periods. E.g., “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” (1920) by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

              “Heavens, yes! What modern girl could live like those inane females?”

              “They were the models for our mothers.”

              Marjorie laughed. “Yes, they were–not! Besides, our mothers were all very well in their way, but they know very little about their daughters’ problems.”

  2. Mephane says:

    Gameplay abstractions, taken literally. The worst.

    Reminds me of roleplaying in various MMORPGs; every now and then there would be some genius who could take any gameplay element subject to the willing suspension of disbelief… and make it the core of their character. And then they would insist that all other roleplayers are stupid and stubborn for not accepting their “brilliant” idea at face value.

    All swords in the entire world are magically enchanted to float behind the owners back when not needed. They will argue, in-character, how your character clearly should know that. (Few MMOs have scabbards for weapons.)

    They have personally killed the Evil Demon King Of Evilness. Several dozen times. (Bosses respawn so you can farm them repeatedly for loot.)

    While not literally illegal, demon summoning is considered mostly evil, and practioners of this magic do so in secrecy. Except for Mr Munchkin. He summons the greatest fire demon from hell in the middle of town square, and refuses to accept that the town guard would quickly intervene to vanquish the beast. (NPC ignore you unless you attack them.)

    Their character is immortal. When they die, they magically conjure a new body out of thin air. Accordingly, their character acts as selfish and reckless as possible, because nothing could permanently harm them. (PCs merely respawn upon death.)

    They will insist, in-character, with a straight face, that horses can turn invisible naturally, on command. (Mounting and dismounting your horse is animated as a simple puff of smoke.)

    • Tever says:

      How about lack of PvP means you’re too chicken to attack me?

      I was playing City of Villains about a month or so after it came out. I was at the big RP hub in Mercy, and this one guy was trying really hard to convince us all that his character was a brilliant philosopher. He kept baiting the other characters with troll philosophy (I firmly believe this guy didn’t realize he was trolling), and his big central argument was that no one was attacking him.

      Well, there were two reasons for this. 1) PvP was impossible. And 2) we were surrounded by machines that could, in character, knock us out and send us straight to the hospital in less than a second, no chance at fighting back.

      But no, clearly, we’re not trying to kill him because we secretly know he’s right and just don’t want to admit it.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        My biggest peeve is when someone argues how turn based combat is unrealistic and therefore shouldnt exist.

      • Scourge says:

        Or the alternative, where you not causing damage, means that you obviously didn’t hit/attack them.

        Had something similiar happen in Guild Wars 2. Big Bad Char Warrior is THE Epitome of a warrior. Supposedly. Couldn’t hold an argument and had stupid ideas of tactics, but that is fine. He also got very defensive when it came to questioning his honor (Which admittedly is a Char trait).

        10 minutes later when my character elft the tavern she saw him getting bellyscratches from two femalecharacters and he was purring like a cat.

        So of course there was a snarky response, which he seemed to have taken personal and challenged my character to a fight.

        A Norn never says no to a fight, so, a fight broke out. Lots of posing and posting because there is no PVP mode, my norn turns into a bear (Its an ability) and Punches the Char.

        Char: Hmph. Weak, as I thought.

        Wasn’t even admitting that he was hit just a… no sell.

        Admittedly, I think he was a bad RP’er but still.

        • Mephane says:

          That’s a slightly different issue, one which where I come from is called “power RP” – it has no correlation with game mechanics, the player simply plays out their power fantasy of an invincible and usually quite arrogant Mary Sue.
          The only way to deal with this type of roleplayer is to ignore them, not even acknowledge them in-character, and where necessary make it clear out-of-character that you don’t want to play with them. Some may not comply and just try to impose their RP on you anyway, so this usually ends up with you putting them on the ignore list and waiting until they get bored and stomp off to annoy someone else.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      That sounds like how I’d play it.

  3. Silfir says:

    “Likewise, removing the medkits entirely would change the fundamental nature of the game. The player would abandon the frantic and brutal frontal assault the game developer intends, and instead play slowly and cautiously.”

    This, unfortunately, is Good Robot right now.

    • I…. slightly agree. Being upfront, I’m not good at Good Robot. And mostly I’m not minding being not good at Good Robot because the procgen levels are keeping me entertained. But I sure am wishing that every so often Bad Robots would drop a shred of shielding that I could pick up…

      • Ninety-Three says:

        To weigh in with an opinion from the other side, I’m really good at it (beat the game on my first play, got Elite Hat eventually), and I cannot imagine playing it as some kind of fast-paced bullet hell. It’s all about using bouncing weapons to kill things around corners, and bosses dying before they’re on screen. And I’m not talking “max out visual radius” sniper play, I go for pure fire rate/DPS, why bother seeing enemies?

        Once you’re not taking a lot of damage, the one-per-level hat machines do turn into a source of regenerating health, but it’s so slight that it’s more like a margin for error than an incentive to play recklessly.

        • Mmmm. If at all possible, I prefer to kill bosses from off-screen! My best runs tend to be ones where I’ve got hold of the “bouncy balls of DEATH” primary plus the “fireball of DOOM” secondary and started upgrading damage, but I very much haven’t mastered the “don’t get hit” part. I usually end up upgrading shields in parallel because of that. If I hang onto my hat for more than two zones, I’m doing very, very well by my standards! I’m not getting much play time to practice, though – just a few mins here and there when I can get away with it. In fairness, it’s testament to how well-designed Good Robot is that I’ve seen the starting level I don’t know how many times and I still want to keep playing it.

          • TMC_Sherpa says:

            The question is, is that intentional? I mean in the promo vids you have the Good Robot dancing around missile spam and one of the upgrade trees is for a speed boost. It looks like it should be a fast run and gun type of game.

            I’m not saying sniping isn’t the most effective way to play but it makes half the upgrades and most of the weapons useless. I also find it kinda boring to play that way? I was playing with the files and made the shotgun the starting weapon and upped the damage to 200. It makes being up close and personal a lot of fun but I think I need to edit the level file so:
            Boss levels give you both machines (like it does now)
            Mini-Boss levels (and the starting level?) give you an upgrade machine
            Every other level gives you a vending machine

            If someone could remind me to try it when I get home from work, that would be great.

            • Remember to try that when you get home from work. :)

              That’s a good point re the trailers. Any time I do get caught in multiple cross-fire like that I’m almost guaranteed to take damage from *some*thing, several somethings if I’m not paying attention. It definitely pushes me towards long-range and fairly precise weapons rather than anything close-range and/or with spread, although I tend to run to the sneaky sniper end of the spectrum anyway, so I can’t tell how much of that is just my play style. In any case, if I found myself in a scenario like the ones in the vids, I would feel like I’d done something badly wrong and would be running and hiding from that shit. It does feel like there’s a disconnect there, but I can’t tell how much is just me not being great at shmups and my general play preferences…

              • I generally just try to see how far I can get with whatever goofy weapon loadout I happen to find.

                Best run so far is like halfway through level 3. I am the grandmaster of dodging DIRECTLY into oncoming fire.

                • Oh, me too! I dunno WTF is with my reflexes sometimes. :rollseyes: Level 3 is about as far as I’m getting, too. Those spiky bastards are… bastards. :s

                  • Jonathan says:

                    I’ve gotten to the Aqueous whatever a couple of times. Weapon drops are terrible… I get the weapon I already have about 30% of the time, and I have never seen some of the “good” ones like the Electron Repeater. New weapons are still a risk since there isn’t even a D: ROF: Range: Bounce: AOE: summary available unless I go to the Wiki.

                    I got the bouncy exploding disk for the first time on my last playthrough. I’ve killed myself with it twice. I’ll end up just sticking to the level 1 plasma fireball until I find something better. The rockets are usually too slow.

                    • Oooo, don’t talk to me about bouncy asploding disks (almost typed “dicks” – very Freudian!). I first got one from a boss drop, picked it up and fired it experimentally at a wall, only to have it ricochet perfectly back at me and *BOOM*. Warranty? GONE. I was quite upset – was there a way I was supposed to know that *this* bouncy weapon was going to kill me on the rebound, as opposed to the ion(?) repeater, which doesn’t? (Saying “look at the wiki!” isn’t an answer.) There’s no in-game way (other than raw experience) to know how any given weapon is going to behave, and what you don’t know may very well kill you.

              • TMC_Sherpa says:

                http://ksp.interrutt.com/GRTest1.zip

                You start with the (OP) shotgun, I did the machine/level thing I wrote above and I removed the price bump for repairs. Oh, and I set the chevo flag to false.

                Unzip it in your Good Robot\core\data directory and lemme know what y’all think.

                I should probably look at lowering the number of upgrade levels and making the individual bonii higher ‘cus you will run into them less frequently.

                Also I think there is a bug in ui_upgrade.xml.
                target_laser cost=”500″ caption=”Cash Magnet”
                is probably wrong? I mean the Cash Magnet shows up after you buy the Targeting Laser but none of the other lines cross the item with the name.

            • Syal says:

              The speed boost is still useful; it makes you faster than the enemy bullets so you can run away with less warning.

    • Confanity says:

      I don’t see the problem, to be honest. I enjoy maxing out my visual radius, getting the enemy radar, and sniping from long range or even around corners with rebounding shots. It may not get me a high score in points, but it sure is satisfying to clear a level without most enemies even taking a shot, much less getting a hit in.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Its not a problem,its just a different style of gameplay.

      • Silfir says:

        It’s no problem at all that you enjoy that way of playing. *I* enjoy that way of playing. But you’ve set up a false dichotomy.

        Imagine if healing was affordable in the game. If, say, the price of shield recharges was proportional to your missing shield percentage and wouldn’t get more expensive every time. Would that at all affect the long-range sniping way of playing the game? No. That style of play would be just as viable as before. It’d probably *still* be the best way to play, because even affordable healing is more expensive than not having to heal at all. But for any player who enjoys the bullet hell twitchy kind of gameplay shown in the trailer, it would be massive godsend.

        Take the Doom example again. Does the presence of medkits make it impossible to play Doom slowly and carefully? Of course not. You can do either, depending on which of the two is your thing.

        That’s not true for Good Robot right now.

        • guy says:

          It’s not a proper bullet hell if you can survive getting hit even once :crosses arms:

          • Jonathan says:

            The high-ROF cloud spewers and the enemies that get launched from factories at extreme rates of speed can pretty much one-shot me even with 3-4 shield upgrades. There should be a .3 second immunity period before you can take damage again (like Mega Man has).

        • Noumenon72 says:

          I never even realized it was possible to play Doom fast until I got onto the Internet and saw videos. Obviously those scary monsters will kill you if you don’t lure them out one at a time! After that I turned the difficulty down to “Not too rough” and started playing like I was the scary one.

  4. Tever says:

    I really like this new column. I can’t quite articulate why, but so far, I find it more satisfying than Experienced Points was.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      I’ve been seeing that too. I don’t know if Experienced Points was being too limited by wordcount or the Escapist was picking topics or whatever, but the post-EP columns read a lot more like things that Shamus really wanted to talk about.

    • Zekiel says:

      Well it’s really nice to not have to suffer a bunch of ads taking up half the screen. But I suspect that’s rather cold comfort for Shamus.

      • Confanity says:

        1. I hear that some people use AdBlock.
        2. At least there’s Patreon. We can support him without any ads being necessary at all.

        • Zekiel says:

          I’ve got AdBlock and The Escapist still has a bunch of distracting visual links to other bits of its own site scattered liberally around in a very irritating way!

          • PeterVO says:

            Back when I used to visit the escapist, this annoyed me too. Fortunately, pretty much any adblocker allows you to to add stuff to the blocklist. I just blocked those that annoyed me (read: pretty much everything except the core content), solved this problem handily.

    • Mephane says:

      Yepp, I can’t exactly say what it is, but it feels like a tremendous upgrade.

    • Falterfire says:

      If I had to guess, it’s that Shamus is being slightly less careful about making sure he explains things at the most entry level while also not holding himself back from somewhat petty issues (Like this one, which is basically “People in forums make the same dumb argument and it is SO FRUSTRATING”) because he knows that since he’s posting it to his site where it will be read and discussed by his fans, he doesn’t have to worry about either of those things.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        I agree: almost every Experienced Points column opened with a paragraph or two preamble trying to get ahead of, well, the kind of people who just read headlines and then dive into the comment section. I knew why he was doing that and it was probably necessary, but it didn’t stop me from rolling my eyes every time (e.g. “Can you people try and engage with the main argument before you start nitpicking hyperbole and rhetorical flourish?”).

        (That said, as someone not as technically-inclined as much of the readership here, I really appreciate Shamus’ gift for metaphor.)

    • PeterVO says:

      Very much agreed. The content is fresher; while always a good read, the posts in the escapist rarely had anything I hand’t considered as deeply before, these new posts all gave me new insight. The style seems slightly different, the above comment about having to explain less entry level stuff might be the cause. All in all, I enjoyed the escapist stuff, but vastly prefer these new columns.

  5. Mattias42 says:

    Given the far future setting where some mad mega-corp has been mixing demonology, precursor tech and their own futuristic inventions all in the name of profit, I’d argue that the instant healing health in Doom is a poor example of game-mechanics not making sense if taken at face value.

    I mean, you’re a marine beating up hell on Mars one demon at a time in the year… 2242 I think it was? That’s exactly the sort of high-tech, high-magic setting where you barely need more of a justification then ‘healing nano-goop goes in armor-slot A, armor-repair nano-goop in slot B, and that’s all your jar-head protagonist needs to know about how it works.’

    Still, I got what you meant, and I get that Doom is one of those games that everybody knows the basic premise off. Still, personally I would have gone for the wall-chickens in Castlevania or the bowls of dog-food in Castle Wolfenstein as the example since they’re infamously absurd and makes no sense even in-universe.

  6. Zekiel says:

    “It would be ridiculous to have an animation where the Doom Marine stops, opens a box of medical supplies, cleanses his wound, wraps in gauze, and applies disinfectant.”

    Far Cry 3 (and I think Far Cries 2 and 4 as far as I understand) does this slightly odd half-way house where (if you are out of health packs) you dig bullets out of yourself in order to heal a bit. Its not realistic, but its less unrealistic than just running over a health pack to heal. It also serves the helpful (and deliberately frustrating) purpose of penalizing you for healing in combat.

    CRPGs are the most amusing – for all the relative complexities of their systems, we just tend to accept that “drinking a potion” is a perfectly acceptable action during combat. I think 3rd edition D&D models this as an action that provokes an attack of opportunity, which seems sensible. By contrast, some CRPGs don’t even have a time cost for drinking a potion!

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Far Cry 2 also does it. The weirdest thing is that there’s a bunch of different bullet extraction animations, and some are downright cartoonish. Sort of like that one execution move in The Witcher 1 where he picks up his sword by the blade to swing it, they feel like they were made up by a room full of twelve year olds saying “Yeah, it’ll be totally badass!”

      A few of them are vaguely reasonable, like taking a bullet out with pliers, but from there they escalate to pulling it out with your teeth, and even pushing the bullet out by making a hole through the other side of the limb it’s lodged in.

    • PeterVO says:

      Far Cry also doesn’t seem to really check the cause of damage when healing. Couple times I had full health, got damage from falling or whatever, and then removed bullets to heal.

    • Ivan says:

      I actually find the far cry method far more distracting than health packs. It definitely looks more realistic the first time you do it, but after you see the animation for the 10th during a firefight it is really immersion breaking. If I remember correctly it also plays them fairly randomly and you can end up healing bullet wounds by relocating your arm (or digging a bullet outa your arm to heal fall damage).

      • Robyrt says:

        In Far Cry 2, the systems punished you for looking at that animation more than once to solve that problem. It triggers only when you are bleeding out at below 20% health, and only restores you to the point where you can pop a normal health pack. The animations are random, but most non-bullet damage (vehicles, rockets, falls) will just kill you outright, so the bullet- and fire-themed animations are almost always appropriate.

        In 3 and 4, to empower the player, you can just spam that “gruesome bullet dislodge #3” animation until you’re at full health, which makes it look pretty ridiculous. They also toned up the fire system, so it could easily be your major source of incoming damage instead of bullets, disassociating the animations.

  7. Richard says:

    I disagree with your assessment of the Shadow Broker’s flaw as being a “hulking brute.” There are plenty of examples of brutish geniuses/masterminds in other media. Ben from Fantastic 4; Kingpin from Daredevil; even Superman from… Superman. All of them have brute strength but, according to canon, are still very intelligent. In fact, removing either their strength or intelligence would make all of those characters less interesting.

    So no, the Shadow Broker isn’t a terrible character because they’re strong. They’re a terrible character because they exist for just a few minutes during a boss fight. That character would have been greatly improved by more screentime and more emphasis on their dual nature, not by just being reduced to a cliched “nerd” archetype.

    • Shamus says:

      Right, but that was my point. If you’ve only got a couple of minutes of screen time, then you need to stick to basics.

      • Dev Null says:

        Well, I’d argue that you could still make him a hulking brute in shape, but then you have to go way out the other side with every other aspect of his character; have him talk in a cultured accent, clearly outwit the character by their superior information, express disdain for anyone stupid enough to be reduced to physical force for their arguments, and then sit back and watch while his bodyguards do the actual fight scene.

        So in other words, I really agree with you. If they’re on the screen for such a short time you need to make them easy to understand. I just like characters whose physical depiction gives the lie to their personality. Yes, I was always that dork playing the half-ogre mage.

        • Jabrwock says:

          It’s absolutely doable, I agree. Shamus’ point from what I gather was that they were relying on tropes to tell the story in the short time span and didn’t think through how to mesh the two.

          His keyboard could have been obviously oversized to accommodate his large hands.

          When we walk in he could have been instructing an AI in a British accent (if we’re sticking with trope shorthand).

          He could have had some kind of obvious mind-enhancing cybergear.

          Shep could make a comment about his size, and the retort could be some kind of “people always assume I’m the muscle when they meet me. as if body size denotes intelligence. such simpletons.”

          I’m sure there are a number of other trope-friendly ways to turn the assumption on its head to justify a hulking brute boss. Although none would mesh with the idea that this guy is a master of information. Kingpin resorted to violence when he lost his temper, when his brilliant plan backfired, or someone insulted him to his face. So you can have a brilliant brute, but you need to explain it otherwise it comes off as a disconnect.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        If we’re trying to be nice to Bioware, maybe they tried for the “Yoda” thing where the physical appearance belies the specialty of the character — but Yoda only works because a few minutes into his part he casually lifts an X-Wing out of a bog. So the equivalent here would be the shadow broker demonstrating his non-physical abilities in some way. Maybe that’s how he started: Intimidating people into giving up information? Then found his real talent was to make the most out of that information. But that’s not in the game, of course, and so the natural assumption is that he’s a brute because we needed a boss fight.

        Actually, wouldn’t it be cool if he started dropping facts which might turn the player’s crew against each other? Using information rather than violence to thwart the player. That would have been ridiculously easy, what with the Cerberus gig and all … but it would have pointed out the weakness of the main plot even clearer than it already is, so maybe they should’ve fixed the main plot first…

        • Taellosse says:

          There actually is an explanation for how he became the Shadow Broker in the game, but not until after you’ve fought him. Once Liara has control of the station, you get to wander around and access all sorts of text files from computer terminals, and one of them is a log of how this guy was found on his homeworld, and through a combination of cleverness and his brute strength got the explorers that found him there to take him with them. The previous Shadow Broker acquired him (I forget the details now, since it’s been a while), he became a trusted aid, then betrayed and killed the old Shadow Broker, taking his place. It becomes clear that this is how the role has existed so long – it’s not one person across generations, it’s basically the Dread Pirate Roberts, but without the retiring.

      • natureguy85 says:

        It could have worked as the Broker relying on information first, and then resorting to his brute strength when he lost the intellectual battle with Liara. But that didn’t happen. He seemed to react just to her knowing/figuring out what he was and insulting him.

    • Humanoid says:

      The assumed necessity of having the Shadow Broker as a boss at all is the classical (and titular) flaw at work here. It’s Hitler-in-a-mech-suit levels of game design here, from a company that supposedly sells itself on at least somewhat-intelligent storytelling.

      The scene was set up perfectly for an encounter reminiscent of the ending of VtM:Bloodlines, which, as crappy as the gameplay in the latter half of it got, still managed to provide a wonderfully cathartic conclusion as you coolly stride to the Prince’s desk, grab his own letter-opener and eviscerate him with it, then having the choice of how you want to proceed from there. At the very least, the DLC would probably have been served best if the core goal was simply to reach the Shadow Broker, and have your key decision branch occur there.

      • Christopher says:

        But it’s not just an intelligent storytelling game, it’s also a cover-based third person shoooter. Going from Nintendo consoles to a PS2 and then a 360, one of my biggest frustrations were that big western games don’t really do boss fights anymore even if they are still 90% action levels. It’s annoying because it leaves the stages without any climax, it’s just shooting the same dudes as always with a new backdrop, and if I’m very lucky, a unique name.

        I thought the Shadow Broker was amazing, just because he’s the only thing in the ME series that even approaches a good boss fight. I appreciate that for people who care about the cohesion of the game and story that much it’s the opposite feeling though. It’s only been a week since Shamus wrote about the physics involved in the aerial bombardment during a reaper boss fight.

        Bioware games are a good example of this, anyway. Most games lean one way or the other, but these games do a bit of everything, which is why lots of different people like them for all sorts of reasons and why those bits are in conflict all the time. It’s also why I’m not a huge fan of them, but love specific little parts.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          But this is why, for example, the James Bond films often have at least two main villains: the mastermind (Goldfinger, Largo, Drax) and the muscle (Oddjob, Fiona Volpe, Jaws). The latter is the physical threat Bond needs to overcome before he can deal with the former, who usually goes down pretty easily in comparison. They could have kept the yahg as the Broker’s muscle, kept the boss fight as is, and then have Shepard & crew deal with the Broker in a cutscene.

          Or if they wanted to do a subversion and have the Broker be a badass, follow the suggestions others on this thread already made (have him actually sound and act intelligent and cultured), but make him a member of an established badass species, like a Krogan. We know there are Krogans with half a brain out there, why not make this guy one that’s just a little bit smarter?

          Like, what if the Broker was another one of Warlord Okeer’s experiments, but instead of being bred to be the perfect soldier like Grunt, he was bred to be the perfect strategist or intelligence operative? I’m not usually a fan of making galaxy-spanning settings feel small, but At least there’d be a bit more investment in that instead of some species we’ve never seen before and never will again. At least there’s precedent.

          • Christopher says:

            Considering the explanation for this guy being the Shadow Broker was that he was a newly discovered kind of species that was kept as a sort of pet by the real Shadow broker and killed him not long ago, they already justified it for me. I wouldn’t mind if the real shadow broker was this cowardly, tiny asari hiding in a small office while the Yahg was his bodyguard, but I also don’t see what it would add to the proceedings.

            I’m opposed to the krogan idea, though. That’s how you get a Named normal enemy boss fight. The way I see it, the goal is to have the confrontation be a cool and unique fight. Using a new alien for that in a space opera setting is a good thing. If you can’t use your fantastical space opera setting to use aliens from far-off planets as one-off boss fights because they don’t fit, what’s even the point? That kind of world building is my favorite, too. Not “Here is a planet, here is a species, here are some people from that species, here is their place on the citadel, go talk to them for hours”. But rather that someone shows up from somewhere previously unestablished and their backstory is relayed when it is relevant, like Thane. It’s one thing for “realistic” military shooters to want to avoid boss battles with unique superweapons, but what kind of excuse do you have when your setting is an endless galaxy full of amazing and diverse fantastical species, all intelligent?

            • Syal says:

              You know what would have worked well, would be a shapeshifter alien, with the Yahg being its desperation form. You got your “shadow” angle, you’ve got your “enormous truck punching you in the face” angle, and you’ve avoided your “how come this freakishly large, totally unique alien has never been identified, no one would ever forget seeing it” angle.

              I don’t like the replacement explanation we got, because it’s really annoying to build up to a fight only to be told the villain you’re looking for died before you found them. That’s the stuff of comedies.

          • Vect says:

            Alternatively, just have it so that rather than fighting the Shadow Broker himself, make Tela Vasir the final boss fight (since she is his “Brute”) or perhaps he has a really tough bodyguard character you have to deal with in order to get to him. If you want, you could even put in a Paragon/Renegade option to talk the character into walking away.

    • Matt Downie says:

      So, just as Yoda is all the more impressive as a warrior for being physically weak, a hacker is a more impressive hacker when they look like they spend half their life at the gym pumping iron. He’s not just good at hacking, he’s supernaturally good, so he doesn’t have to work hard at it.

      • Echo Tango says:

        Yoda wasn’t a formidable physical warrior, though. He was formidable in his use of this mysterious, invisible force. For another example, in The Matrix, the physically large or intimidating characters were the ones who were less skilled at hacking; e.g. Tank and Cypher. Meanwhile, the less physically strong characters like Neo and Mouse, were the best hackers.

        You *can* have characters that are both physically strong, and technically skilled, like Batman. However, setting them up properly, so that they don’t strain the reader’s suspension of disbelief, requires a lot of time, skill, and effort. In both The Matrix, and in Star Wars, they chose to go for the easier characters.

    • Syal says:

      I feel I should mention that those are all comic book heroes and villains, which are pretty much always exponentially better than the regular folk.

    • Taellosse says:

      I think you’re overselling some of those specific examples (though your larger point is fairly made) – Ben Grimm and Superman are generally depicted as “reasonably clever” maybe, in that they outsmart the villain during a fight or figure out how to stop the bad guy or something, but they’re not usually characterized as “smart” per se – just as the heroes. Superman is always depicted as less intelligent than Batman, for example, even if he’s capable of “outwitting” a villain like Lex Luthor (who is often depicted as a genius) – this is typically done by leveraging his enemy’s arrogance against them.

      Ben Grimm is certainly smarter than he pretends – he talks like a thug in part to irritate his opponents (Dr. Doom in particular finds it annoying) and make them underestimate him, but he’s nowhere close to as smart as Mister Fantastic (even if he is more sensible), or a lot of the FF’s major foes like Doom or Kang.

      Kingpin is a good example of what you’re saying, though – he’s “fat” and ALMOST superhumanly strong and fast, but ruthless and intelligent enough to run the criminal underworld of the largest city in the country, and to have done so mostly undisputed for a very long time.

      But, as others have said, “subverting the trope” like you’re talking about is something you can only do well when you’ve got the time to explore it in the story. Or at least – if you TAKE the time to explore it in your story. It doesn’t have to take a very long time, but just doing it, with no exposition or display, ends up just feeling jarring.

      • Mike S. says:

        Superman’s intelligence is deemphasized in teamups with Batman for the same reason his speed is in teamups with the Flash: to give the other hero a role in the story. But in his solo career, Superman has always ranged from “top investigative reporter who inherited his brains from the best scientist of a more advanced species” to explicitly “super-intelligent”.

        In the Silver/Bronze Age, he officially had a “10th level effector brain” on a scale where ordinary humans are 6 and Brainiac is 12, and was inventing robots and new alloys all over the place when he wasn’t outwitting fifth dimensional sorcerers. The more human Superman of later decades is still able to keep up intellectually with an opponent who’s defined as one of the smartest men in the world. (A typical Luthor story requires that, because Luthor has always arranged things so that simply punching through to him doesn’t solve the problem.)

  8. Abnaxis says:

    As soon as I saw the title of your article, it made me think of this.

    UT3 is the undisputed king of the second type of “too videogame-y” in my book

  9. psivamp says:

    I loved all of the alternate ideas about what/who the Shadow Broker could be.

    My personal addition is: bugged out group of Geth or another hive-mind AI that someone cooked up by experimenting on Geth. The hive-mind is the Shadow Broker and all of the units provide intelligence and occasionally muscle.

    If you absolutely have to find the Shadow Broker and boss fight it, then you fight shells that it animates while you either hack terminals or destroy parts of the hive-mind’s server or power supply systems.

    • Abnaxis says:

      Going only by the retrospective (haven’t played ME2 or 3), wouldn’t that be really similar to Harbinger and the Collectors?

      • psivamp says:

        Yeah.

        Shamus outlined some ways that they could have characterized the Shadow Broker better; but, the more that I think about it, I don’t think that taking down the Shadow Broker fits the structure they’ve forced it into. The Shadow Broker is supposed to be powerful, not physically, but mentally and through connections. You shouldn’t be able to find the Shadow Broker — whatever it is — and kick down the door, guns blazing. A move like that should find an abandoned base, one of the Shadow Broker’s rivals who you’ve been duped into taking out or, in the extreme case that you’ve actually become a real nuisance to the Shadow Broker, a dummy for you to take out instead of the actual Shadow Broker. In this last case, it is still important for the characterization of the Shadow Broker that the dummy align with expectations. The dummy shouldn’t be a hulking brute. How inept would the Shadow Broker be to have a dummy for you to take down that is just a big dumb mook with a “ShaDo BroocR” sign hanging around his neck. Shepard should believe that the dummy is smart enough, connected enough or whatever that it could actually be the Shadow Broker.

        The first two can be used in the first and second acts, but clearly aren’t fitting ends to an arc. The last can end an arc, but would do so in a way that doesn’t satisfy a player power fantasy. It preserves the legendarily illusive status of the Shadow Broker. An entity that threatens you through impenetrable layers of intermediaries and seems to know everything shouldn’t be found easily.

  10. Da Mage says:

    dunna dun de dun de dun de durrrrrrr …… dunna dun de dun de dun de durrrrrrr

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It doesnt even have to be a break in the story for something to be too video gamey.Imagine if at the end of portal,when we enter the lair of glados,we found a rocket launcher,dropped the portal gun and used the rocket launcher to shoot at glados.This break in gameplay from a puzzler to a shooter in the last act would be just as nonsensical and contrived,ergo video gamey.

    Any time something well established,whether its the story,or gameplay,or visuals,or characters,whatever,gets abruptly changed for no reason other than to fit in one of the video game tropes(usually a boss fight),its video gamey.

  12. Hal says:

    Human Revolution really suffered from this, especially with the boss fights.

  13. Durican says:

    Having the Illusive Man as the final boss of ME3 would have been considerably more absurd than the Shadow Broker being an ultra-Krogan. I commend EA-ware for abandoning that idea. But then taking it a step further and deciding that the game shouldn’t have a final boss period, because the notion was too “video gamey” was so not cool.

    If you’re at the third and final game of a trilogy and the first two installments had climactic final boss fights, then neglecting a final boss for the finale will certainly catch your player off guard, but it won’t satisfy them. And ending the game with a dissatisfied player is going to hurt your game. Certainly if the actual ending doesn’t provide any kind of satisfying payoff either.

    • Humanoid says:

      As awful as Kai Leng is, the game probably would have benefited from moving his final fight to the point just prior to finishing things with Tim.

    • Chauzuvoy says:

      Ironically, I felt like the ending sequence to ME3 was too video-gamey already. The way the game uses EMS as a high-score system to determine what endings are available is like something out of a far more arcade-ey game, where getting the “good ending” relied on never getting hit or getting through the game with a low time.

    • Trix2000 says:

      Didn’t you know? The final boss was Marauder Shields. Clearly he was the mastermind of EVERYTHING.

    • Khizan says:

      ME 2 and 3 are not good games for boss fights. The mechanics just don’t support it. The gameplay is all about Shepard going through massive amounts of foot soldiers and big boss fights don’t work well with that.

  14. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    Undertale had an interesting approach. The things in the game were a part of the game. So those menus, the bullet interaction system, saves, that was all in some way part of the world. The more powerful characters could in some way interact more directly with the game abstractions and the savvier characters could exploit the game abstractions to their advantage (though none of them really know they’re in an rpg, its not actually fourth wall breaking. They just know their world has menus and a combat system.)

  15. Neil D says:

    To phrase it another way, it’s about immersion. Anything that reminds you that you’re playing a video game (“too video gamey”) is distracting you from playing the video game.

    I find the same thing with 3-D in movies – either I don’t really notice it (in which case, what’s the point?), or I’m thinking “wow, look at these effects”, which is taking me out of the movie’s story.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Give it more time. It’s like color, stereo sound, or surround sound. These things used to be novelties, and by themselves can’t make bad things good, but good film-makers / game-makers / whatever, can and do use them to make better films / games / whatever. :)

      • Mike S. says:

        Though 3D has been an every-couple-decades craze in film since the 50s (plus experiments for decades before that). While it’s lasted longer this time around, I’d say it’s still too soon to tell whether it’s finally made it past the gimmick stage. (The failure of the 3D TV push isn’t a great sign.)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Funny thing,but it has actually gotten worse with time.If you watch one of the old 3d movies,things would pop up really far out of the screen.But with newer ones,no matter how hard you look,youll rarely find something that pops out only slightly.Its like the film makers are afraid that the picture will poke our eyes out.Its somewhat better in the cartoons though.

  16. King Marth says:

    People are good at knowing *that* something is wrong. People are terrible at knowing *what* is wrong, or how to fix it. [Citation: MaRo’s GDC keynote.] This does not change their certainty that their solution will solve all the problems and that the dev team/director/other professional who is paid large amounts of money to apply their years of training and experience to solving problems like this, frequently in a large team with other such professionals, must be stupid for not seeing the obvious fix.

    Arguing that something is “too videogamey” is code for “I don’t like what is happening here and can’t vocalize specifics”. Being a good critic involves unpacking exactly what is going wrong when this happens, which is a skill that needs practice.

    • Abnaxis says:

      While “this is too videogame-y” is a vague criticism that does not fully articulate precisely where the designers messed up or how they could have fixed their mistake, it is certainly more specific than “I don’t like this video game.”

      What you’re describing is like saying that a complaint of “it’s too hot outside” is code for “I don’t like the weather” because the complainant doesn’t understand the role humidity plays in how they perceive temperature. Just because they don’t understand the physics doesn’t make their complaint less specific or less valid.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      As Shamus has just demonstrated,and as Ive said a bunch of times earlier,just because we say something is too videogamey does not mean we dont know what the problem is,nor how to fix it.

      Furthermore,just because someone has been doing it for years and gets paid for it does not mean they are good at it,as has been shown by developers,and filmmakers,and other artists,numerous times before.

  17. Cat Skyfire says:

    I love that you’re writing cool things again. I know a lot of people love videos and podcasts, but I’m a fan of your written work. You have a great style.

  18. Fade2Gray says:

    8. Set up a situation where the bad guy can disarm Lara off screen and add a line informing the player of what happened.

    • I thought DX:HR’s Missing Link DLC was pretty good for this. Waking up naked in an electric throne and being punched by a girl was a pretty strong hint that things had gone south, and if you go for a wander you can get a rough outline of Jensen’s capture that is careful about not being specific about weaponry etc. that the player may have chosen.

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        I loved Missing Link. If it didn’t come out (Even with the improvements in directors cut of the base game) I’m not sure I would be at all interested in the new one. I’m still gonna wait for reviews but I hope the boss fights are little b boss rather than BOSS fights this time.

        • Definitely agree! If DX:MD is likely to be more like Missing Link, then I’m interested in a second helping, please and thank you. :) (Although whether my aging system is ready for it is another matter…)

          • TMC_Sherpa says:

            Well now I just feel like I’m chasing you around the page :)

            Yeah, I dunno what the specs are but CPUs are “only” getting 10-15% “better” every refresh so who knows? Team Red and Team Green are talking up their new cards so I may have to get a new one sooner or later but I’m not even sure when MD is coming out so I’m not going to worry about it for now.

            • No objections here! I very seldom get a chance to talk gaming to anyone IRL, so chatting to people online about games is always a pleasure. :)

              True @ CPUs (at least, as far as I’m aware). I’m still running the Core i7-920 system I built almost 7 years ago! It’s had a GPU upgrade (currently a HD5450) and an SSD added since, but that’s about it. I love it to bits, even now it’s still a good system. But it’ll almost certainly need a new GPU to run anything recent or up-coming, and I recently determined that the monitor I bought at the same time as I built the system is dying, so I’m currently doing mental juggling of monitor/GPU/CPU specs, since I think I’ve reached the point where a sufficiently high-powered GPU may be throttled by the CPU. I know broadly what I’d like in an ideal world, it’s now a question of justifying dropping a bunch of cash on a monitor/GPU combo, which is by far the trickiest bit for me.

              • TMC_Sherpa says:

                I just spent way to much time looking up what processor family that chip was from. Yay for free time at work. It’s a Nehalem based chip which is still pretty darn good. PCI-E 2.0 might be a limiting factor but if you stay away from Titans or Furys you should be fine. I’ve seen some interesting tests where someone covers up the pins to simulate a 4X slot vs X16 and the performance is pretty close.
                It looks like your video card is in legacy driver zombie hell so yeah, it’s probably due for an upgrade. Personally I would wait and see what Polaris/Pascal look like. If nothing else they should make the previous gen slightly cheaper. Looking at the next gen is a fools errand because the next one should be better and you can extrapolate it forever but the new cards are (finally!) off of 28nm which means they could be very good indeed. Or one of them could be horribly broken at launch, it’s happened almost every die shrink.

                • Nehalem – yep, that’s the badger. ‘Tis mah babeh. :D It’s very unlikely to be fed anything resembling Furious Titans, though! Didn’t know that about covering the pins, might be something to look into. I’ve been squinting pensively at the R9 390, and your point about the next-gen effect is well taken. I reckon I can hang on a bit longer for the New Hotness to come out and make everything else affordable for us mere mortals. :) I’m quite looking forward to seeing how the new chips are going to fare, it feels like something interesting is finally happening in the GPU world, even though I *SO* don’t miss the endless pursuit of upgrades that characterised my experience of computer ownership at uni. If you’d told me back then that I would someday own a computer that was still a powerhouse more than one year after building it, I would have laughed in your face. Or asked what those winning lottery numbers were, again!

                  • TMC_Sherpa says:

                    Well, they covered the pins because they were testing how much bandwidth a video card needed at the time. Motherboard manufacturers tend to put 16X sockets in places that are electrically only 8X or 4X because it saves on parts inventory. Also there used to be questions about SLI/Crossfire working over a mix of slot types so rather than swap out the motherboards they put nail polish or something over the pins to keep all the other components the same while the tests ran. It turns out 4X PCI-E worked fine but I honestly don’t remember how long ago this was done or where on the internet I read about it.

                    In short, I don’t recommend covering up the pins rather I was trying to say that 16X 2.0 should be about the same bandwidth as 8X 3.0 which should be plenty to keep a mid range card fed and happy.

  19. arron says:

    Nice article Shamus. I like how you even managed to get an orbital nuclear strike against Mass Effect Lair of the Shadow Broker without a pause in the presentation. You just wandered along in a slow panning shot like a games critic version of Dr Carl Sagan talking about detective television, sat down and nonchalantly pressed a button on the missile firing console causing a sequence of lights as the warheads launched..and then calmly carried on into Doom whilst Mass Effect was covered in the flashes of atomic bombardment. Ever the consummate professional.

    You couldn’t come across any smoother if you’d wandered from pertinent topic to pertinent topic in a velvet smoking jacket and holding a half-full Martini glass..

  20. Coming_Second says:

    I don’t think you’re being entirely fair. In the fluff, the Heavy is considerably more thoughtful and controlled than Yaargh the Borker.

  21. Retsam says:

    Do the footnotes start at [2] for anyone else?

  22. Decus says:

    Game-y systems becoming part of the plot or story can work, but they cannot be done in half-measure. It needs to be something like Majora’s Mask where the game-y time-limit IS the plot and the game-y time manipulation songs make thematic sense with the original time manipulation song. And the game-y masks are also part of the world. The world itself is just super game-y, which is okay. Undertale is another example of “it’s fine if you go all-in on it”.

    As well, I’d say the detective tv show example, while being very tv show, is something most people would accept entirely even if they’d have a good laugh about it every now and again. On the other hand, I’d be less likely to accept the competing detective show where they USUALLY go to different locations as would be sensible but then all of a sudden, for just 3 episodes, they do not. That would be jarring and I’d start calling it out as a bad thing.

    In the game Trails of Cold Steel the characters, like those in most jRPGs, apparently haul around weapons larger than they are wherever they go. If the first time they were shown pulling them out of ass-space was during a real tense moment that would be problems! But, instead, the game made sure to show them pulling their weapons out of ass-space consistently, from the beginning and during lighter scenes. So when the game does get to tense scenes the ass-space pulling is already a familiar thing that you know happens and generally doesn’t “ruin the moment”. I’ve never really heard anybody complain about it ruining scenes, at least. On the other hand, in Trails in the Sky:SC everything was 2D sprites so most players probably never gave “weapons out of nowhere” any thought–you can only put so much detail into the sprites–until suddenly a character pulled out a giant mini-gun from what I would call “the special attack zone” given it was a weapon she only used during her special attack. It happened during a rather tense scene (hostages at a school, terrorists) and was jarring to at least the extent that some people complained about the game-yness even if technically the 2D sprites had been pulling out staffs and swords all along. If they had shown the mini-gun as a thing that could be pulled out at any time way earlier during a less tense moment everything probably would have been okay (to anybody okay with stuff like that in the first place at least).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      But when you go all the way,it no longer is gamey.Its integrated with the story in order to make for a more satisfying whole.What Shamus describes is a departure from the established rules in order to cram in a trope or two,meaning its not integrated well with the rest.

  23. Bioware did this sort of thing again, apparently largely by accident, in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 because they:

    1.) claimed that blood magic was risky and dangerous and had (unspecified) consequences
    2.) let you play a blood mage with zero consequences whatsoever. Heck, people didn’t even NOTICE you were using blood magic.

    The only logical conclusion you could come to was that the dangers of blood magic were WILDLY exaggerated and the Templars and Chantry were ENORMOUS assholes. I mean, okay, obviously using blood magic to summon a demon and then saying “hey, why don’t you possess me!” was clearly a bad idea, but it was also clear that this was something that mages were doing ON PURPOSE either through stupidity or malice. It wasn’t something that ever just spontaneously happened. If it had been like the latter half of BG2 where you could turn into a demon but then LOST CONTROL OF YOUR CHARACTER, right, bring it on! But that’s not what they did and it completely undermined a large section of the worldbuilding they were attempting to do.

    I yelled about the on the Dragon Age forums for THREE SOLID YEARS and they finally said “you know what, she’s right” and you can’t play as a blood mage in Inquisition. :P Of course, in Inquisition they still didn’t make much of a pitch for “magic be inherently dangerous, yo”. It’s still more like “magic in the hands of bad dudes be dangerous, yo”. Which is true for ANYTHING.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      I still can’t DA:O cutscenes seriously when your character is trying to have a normal conversation with someone while still covered in blood from the latest thing you killed.

      Dude, wipe your face off at least, then we can talk about Andraste or whatever.

      • There’s always time for a tongue-bath from Dog! :D

        ETA: Also, I’m no forensic scientist, but the blood splatters always looked incredibly unconvincing to me – more like the characters had engaged in a paint-spitting fight than a battle wi’ swords ‘n’ such.

      • Ronixis says:

        A confrontation in the City Elf origin actually does remark on it. I’m glad I turned it off after that point, though (and turning it off is one of the first things I do every time I start a new character in a DA game now).

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Blood magic had that problem especially bad, but the same basic problem is present for all of magic. Supposedly the whole reason for the Chantry is that (by unspecified means) even well-intentioned, non-demon-summoning mages can become possessed by demons, and that’s super dangerous. The gameplay then completely fails to bear this out: you run into a bunch of demons throughout your adventures, and a mage player character is never at any special risk of possession. Furthermore, demons are separated into the same basic “minion – lieutenant – boss” distribution as every other enemy type, which undermines the notion that they are a special danger instead of just another of many monsters running around.

    • djw says:

      In DA:O they at least hand waived blood magic by noting that wardens were allowed to use any tactic necessary to end a blight.

      In DA 2 the cinematics and the story were absolutely at odds with each other. Even without blood magic in the mix the spell effects hurled by Mage-Hawke, Anders, and Meril are usually spectacular and highly noticeable. This in the middle of a city on mage lockdown by the worst group of templar oppressors in Thedas.

    • lurkey says:

      The disconnection between DA2’s story and gameplay was so bad I think the writer team never even met the gameplay designer team, let alone, you know, talked, shared their visions, et cetera. And yet, when I look back, I prefer the too-videogamey version of DA2, where you could run a party made of blood mage (canonically, everyone was supposed to piss their pants upon encountering one), abomination (canonically, everyone was supposed to fetch their brown pants upon encountering one) and supposedly lawful and incorruptible city’s Chief Police, to Inquisition’s too-videogamey in-your-face player’s ego massage, MMO-style respawning mooks and general feeling of being in Bethesda’s theme park world. In DA2, you could at least see what writers meant through the veil of idiocy of what was going on; Inquisition is too-videogamey on purpose.

      • djw says:

        I kind of agree with you. I was outraged by some of the design decisions in DA2, but I also spent enough time with the game to finish it twice, so they must have done something right. (I do like the story, even though its too rail-roady).

        Inquisition I burned out on before I finished the second act.

        • There is way too much side stuff in Inquisition for the amount of story it had. I think it’s pretty good in the sense that it’s at least a largely coherent story that actually holds together. It’s not perfect either in formulation or execution, but I think it’s the best game they’ve put out in a long time.

          There’s substantial indication that it suffered BADLY by the requirement that it be functional on the 360 and PS3 (especially the PS3, with its wonkus architecture). The DLC they put out after they decided to drop the old platforms is a HUGE improvement.

          Not that I think it’s necessarily worth your time if you didn’t enjoy the main game enough to finish it.

          • djw says:

            Actually, now that I have paused to think, it is almost entirely due to the horrible tactical camera that I stopped playing Inquisition. It actively opposes any and all attempts to use tactics. The story was fine, but the combat makes me rage.

            • OMG YES. I don’t know what it was like on consoles but on the PC the tactical camera was HORRIBLE. It was so bad that there was actually an official “tell us how to fix the PC interface” forum thread and I went in there and said “TAC CAM IS WORST THING SINCE GENOCIDE WAS INVENTED”

              They actually implemented my suggestion that there be an option to set it so that you don’t wind up accidentally activating the tac cam EVERY TIME YOU ZOOM OUT. (and they added a slider so you can change the max zoom level too). I play the entire game and the ONLY time I EVER use the damn thing is when you pretty much HAVE to in that goddamn elven bow and pillars puzzle. If you’re going to make a puzzle where I need to scatter my party around and have them hold position (which they WILL NOT DO outside of tactical mode) then WHY OH WHY did they put it in a room with a VERY LOW CEILING so you cannot see what the F*CK YOU ARE DOING?!?!

              RAWR!

      • Inquisition is definitely much more standard-fare hero schlock, but it had a lot of aspects to it that I liked better than Origins. I think it’s definitely a better GAME than Origins (gameplay-wise, anyway), but it was also clearly held back by the older console generation.

        To be honest, I think one of the biggest downfalls of this style of game is that they keep letting you decide which companions to take with you when. I know that people like that as a feature, but from a story perspective it is a HORRIBLE DOWNFALL because the amount of resources they need to make your RANDOM companions react intelligently to what’s going on are STAGGERING and it keeps getting MORE EXPENSIVE. That’s not a good formula. That’s worse than Graphics Creep.

        Way back when Inquisition was in early development I had a chat with David Gaider and one or two of the other devs on the forums about ditching the cinematic-style animation sequences for some conversations so there could be a lot more of them–and they actually wound up putting a system for this into the game. If they hadn’t, good gravy, how thin would that game have been?! It already felt thin!

        They keep trying to broaden their audience but I haven’t seen much evidence that Inquisition sold substantially more copies than Origins did: 4.6 million (an estimate, couldn’t find hard numbers) vs. 3.2. And Inquisition was BOUND to be MUCH more expensive to make.

        We’ll see. I like Patrick Weekes’s writing a lot better than David Gaider’s and he’s Lead Writer now. The next one (which Mark Darrah seems to have teased recently) might be spectacular. Or it might collapse into a black hole of awfulness from which no light can escape.

        It seems likely that it’ll be pretty extreme either way, tho.

        • djw says:

          I’ll buy it if they axe the horrid camera. Give me a true 3/4 perspective for tactical planning, or ditch the party control entirely like Mass Effect 2 and 3.

          • Well, they added some settings in a patch that do actually let you play without the tac cam pretty effectively. I always do, I forget it exists half the time.

            • guy says:

              I invoked the godlike might of Knight Enchanter and played through at release without using that abomination against all that is good.

              • djw says:

                I should have done that. I choose the more interesting necromancer specialization, and as a consequence need team mates.

              • lurkey says:

                You probably played with a controller, eh? Because I tried Knight Enchanter on M+KMB, and after brief exercise of trying to hit what I wanted to hit and instead hitting everything in a coupla metres radius around the intended target, pronto respecced to Rift. I cannot imagine how people play melee types in DA:I with mouse/keyboard setup…ah, and now memories return. Ugh. How comes I wasted almost hundred hours on that thing? :-/

                • guy says:

                  No, I did KB+M. It was slightly irritating how it didn’t just auto-move on a click, but I didn’t find it that difficult. The mindblade had a nice reach on it and I could just run at someone and continually pound the button.

    • Abnaxis says:

      As I remember it, blood magic was taboo in DA:O not because it posed risk to the mage, but rather because the blood mage posed a risk to everyone else. Because such a mage could forcefully control the actions of others–including world leaders–and no one would know that their beloved monarch was a blood-mage puppet. The Warden thus got away with it because when darkspawn are everywhere the Ends Justify the Means (and it’s not like the game is going to let you possess a leader anyway…)

      It’s been a while since I played DA:O though, and I never played the later entries, so I might be confusing my head cannon with the actual lore.

      • This is largely accurate, but one of the major uses of blood magic–summoning demons–is very dangerous to the mage. But that’s another flaw with the game–demons aren’t supposed to be corporeal monsters you fight. They’re supposed to affect your emotions or act as Faustian style tempters to get the mage to allow them to take over the mage’s body. In the codex entries they’re *not supposed to be able to enter the real world without possessing something*. Also, it’s rare but not unheard-of for NON-MAGES to summon demons and make deals with them.

        Origins actually did this fairly well–the demons you encounter in that game are (largely) possessing someone or something or directly next to a fade portal. In DA2 they completely ditched the notion but didn’t correct the lore.

        Inquisition actually did a lot to repair the lore-goofiness. It wasn’t perfect, but it was somewhat of an improvement.

        • guy says:

          Technically every demon you meet before the Breach except the Shades is possessing something; Fade portals like the rifts are believed effectively impossible with the singular known exception of the Golden City expedition.

  24. djw says:

    “Pundit” is what I call somebody when I think they are an idiot, so I’ll call you a critic.

  25. Armagrodden says:

    Clearly, the best way for the author to have gotten rid of Lara’s weapons would be for the bad guy to touch her, causing her guns to scatter Sonic the Hedgehog-style.

  26. MrGuy says:

    Nobody complains that Mario is “too videogamey”. Same goes for Minecraft, Team Fortress 2, Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Guitar Hero, or a hundred other gameplay-focused titles.

    I’d take this a step further. It’s impossible for a game, taken as a whole, to be “too videogamey.” You can use more or less tropes, abstractions, conventions, etc. If the entire game is consistent in its approach, then the Reasonable Suspension of Disbelief takes over and it feels OK.

    It’s only moments WITHIN a videogame can feel “videogamey.” And those moments happen when something that’s unusual in this world takes place for what appear to be pure gameplay reasons divorced from setting, story, mission, etc. Nobody would complain that “ZOMG the bad guy we were chasing turns out to be a massive knuckle dragging brute!” in God of War, because we basically EXPECT every enemy to be that. It’s only in a game like Mass Effect that in MOST moments take themselves seriously as carefully crafted, detailed worlds when we notice “hey, wait a minute – this doesn’t fit at all!”

    A game that’s critiqued for being “too videogamey” is so critiqued because it has too many moments like this – moments that are out of place EVEN WITHIN the highly stylized world of the game they are part of.

    • Robyrt says:

      Quite right. In fact, Guitar Hero even definitely had moments where it felt “too videogamey” because they stuck out from the surrounding gaminess.

      For instance, playing the drums in World Tour, you trigger your super mode by hitting both cymbals, but you can’t replace an existing note to do so, so you have to sneak in an extra, off-beat cymbal crash whenever you want to trigger the ability. This usually sounds ugly, and is likely to throw your bandmates off unless you’re good enough to smoothly work it in. It breaks you and the other players out of the experience for the sake of giving you slightly more control over when you press the super button, so the top 1% of score min-maxers can have more interesting high scores.

      On top of that, many songs will ask you to hit both cymbals as a regular note. That doesn’t count as activating your super, even though it’s the same command. Good luck sneaking in an extra cymbal crash between the real ones, without the game getting confused about whether you were trying to super, hit the next note early, or just flub the note altogether.

  27. Shamus, could a triangle be used to visualize the movie/game balance?

    Imagine triangle pointing down and in each corners is the following: (couldn’t do any ascii art in the comment)
    Movie Game
    Roleplaying

    A game like Tetris would purely reside in the game corner.
    And a movie like Deadpool in the Movie corner.
    But Fallout 4 might be in the middle, equidistant to all corners.
    I can’t think of anything that would be purely rolepaying, except maybe LARPs?

    “Movie” brings the story and narrative, “Game” brings the mechanics the numbers, and “Roleplaying” the player creative/created parts.

  28. TMC_Sherpa says:

    It isn’t a problem limited to video games.
    My exhibit A would be the original Dragon Lance trilogy and the modules they are based on.
    This is a world with no dragons. You’re first encounter is with draconians. You will have fought and killed a black dragon by the end of DL1. There are no clerics on Krynn. Other than Goldmoon (sorta) whom you meet right away. Oh, and there will be clerics at the end of DL1.

    These might have been spoilers.

    • Syal says:

      You will know they were spoilers by the end of DL1.

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        That’s the thing though right? They really needed a DL0 where you got to wander around for a while before the reveal.And don’t even get me started on Kitiara. There are some really interesting concepts and ideas but almost none of them have enough space to let you relax and take them in.

        I completely give them mad props for saying, yeah we’re going to write 16 modules and three books all at the same time. I guess it was still AD&D so TSR still had some money to take risks like that. GDQ did alright for them but if it failed and we only got G1-3 who would know?

        Sorry, I should stop. This it turning into a rant rather than being useful.

  29. Decius says:

    That bow clearly isn’t held on by velcro. It’s magnets. How else can the big bad just move it to a spot near his own magnets implanted in his spine and have it snap into place like that?

  30. Mephane says:

    On a completely unrelated note, Shamus, you mentioned recently you that you tried out Black Desert. Any chance you are going to write about that? I am really curious what you’d have to say about the game.

  31. Zaxares says:

    I truly felt they should have made the Shadow Broker an AI. It would explain why the Shadow Broker is miraculously able to gather, sort and sell/buy so much of the galaxy’s information at once, as alluded to a few times by NPCs in the game. Unfortunately I think this would have been horning in on the Geth/Quarian plot arc, which is probably why it got dumped.

    I don’t mind the fact that the Shadow Broker turned out to be a Yahg, to be honest. It kind of plays into the mindset that “you shouldn’t take people/aliens at face value” that Mass Effect has always been pushing. Sure, he looks like (and is) a big brute, but the Yahg are clearly an incredibly intelligent and cunning species as well. (Where this falls short is the actual boss fight, where for someone who’s supposedly so intelligent, they utilize very primitive and almost laughable combat tactics.)

  32. Vermander says:

    I actually really enjoyed the reveal that the Shadow Broker was a huge hulking monster, especially the fact that he used to be the “pet” of the previous Shadow Broker who greatly underestimated his intelligence. I also don’t mind that he died not long after that. The reveal itself was cool, but I think it would have lost it’s impact if he got several more hours of screen time once we knew his secret.

    On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of “Dragon” type characters in genre fiction. I hate it when a villain’s henchman are all generic mooks, especially when the villain is less physically formidable than the hero.

  33. David says:

    I like how Gearbox Software solved Hammerspace in Borderlands. Digistruct was the method for conjuring vehicles and they even had you gather parts to augment a vehicle you could actually use.

    However, the best part for me, was when playing Co-op you saw the other characters reach down and the fuzzy bits that indicate a Digistruct in progress happened. Voila, different gun. Fits completely within the lore, requires very little explanation and they showed how it worked.

    I didn’t buy the latest Lara Croft because I came up against a QTE that just broke the game for me. Well, besides the only way forward is to get captured BS.

  34. Dt3r says:

    Hmm, this is an interesting topic that I hadn’t thought much about. What about situations like the random Tower of Hanoi puzzle in Bioware games? Does that fall under category 1?

  35. Sunshine says:

    Because this is the substitute for Experienced Points, I think it’s the place to note that I was surprised that The Escapist’s release schedule is now half-empty (or at best, nearly half-full), and about half of that is Yahtzee’s content and two Cory and Rydell comics so they seem to be putting their eggs in fewer baskets.

    You might wonder if Yahtzee wrote a column titled “Are Games Losing My Interest, or Is it Just Me?” to say “It would be a shame if I thought this gig wasn’t worth my while, wouldn’t it?”

    • guy says:

      The Escapist seems to be going out of business, from the looks of things.

      • Phantos says:

        They have only themselves to blame for that shit.

        Threatening to take charity money intended to save an artist they weren’t paying from having to get her arms amputated… I don’t think they ever fully recovered from that one. I’m amazed at the selfishness of people who knew they did that, and still gave them ad revenue because Yahtzee.

        And everyone who wasn’t fired abandoned that ship of their own designs.

  36. Phantos says:

    I like the idea of the big, hulk monster being the Shadow Broker, I just think they introduced it poorly.

    They should have had a kind of wirey, cold-stare, intensely focused, sharply-dressed dude talk to Shepard and co as they come in. Make the audience think he’s the shadow broker, because he seems to fit the visual idea of what we expect.

    And THEN they should have pulled the: “I’m not the Shadow Broker… I’m his assistant.”

    And THEN pan up to the brute.

    (it would explain the “how do you type with boxing gloves” on problem the actual SB has. His actions could be delegated to the tiny guy. “Dictated, not read”)

    • natureguy85 says:

      There’s one problem with that idea; it’s already in the main game or at least something too similar is. While the characters don’t believe him, and you’re not meant to either, they do that with the Volus as “Fade” in Garrus’ loyalty mission. I could totally buy a Volus as Fade, but he’d need a voice like Din Korlac or Barla Von, not the goofy voice like Fake Fade or the “Biotic God.”

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