Diecast #176: Dishonored 2, Tyranny, N7 Day

By Shamus
on Nov 14, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

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Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:
0:01:50 Dishonored 2


Link (YouTube)

0:24:04 Tyranny


Link (YouTube)

0:36:39 N7 Day


Link (YouTube)

0:43:22 Mailbag: Fantasy Settings

Dear Diecast,

It’s been said before that video RPGs tend to use fantasy settings and themes. I’d like to discus how fantasy RPGs tend to specifically be epic fantasy.

There doesn’t tend to be video RPGs based on sword and sorcery like from Robert E. Howard, literary fantasy like from Mervyn Peake, nor humorous fantasy like from Terry Pratchett (full disclosure: some of these authors I haven’t actually read). I’d imagine that epic fantasy RPGs are common due to company forces like publishers and marketers, as well as game design considerations like a focus on combat excluding things like Peake. Though when Obsidian went independent with Pillars of Eternity they also made it epic fantasy.

This makes me curious about whether the popularity of epic fantasy in RPGs is due to customer demand or just plain tradition?

Cheers,
Aaron

0:49:48 Mailbag: Favorite Monsters

Dear Diecast

What is your favorite monster in a video game? No animals, humans or robots allowed. They can be game originals or adaptations of mythological creatures or other fictional beings.

Love, Christopher

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From the Archives:

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So,dishonored 2…How boring is the outsider this time?How evil do you get to be and have the game justify it because you did not kill someone?

    • Piflik says:

      Well, some of the non-lethal ways of eliminating targets are actually not evil, like curing some sort of psychosis or preventing someone from witnessing an event in the past, but some of the allegedly humane solutions are comparable to the first game…you can have people sent into mines, lock them into a small room with air and food/water, etc. The worst, I encountered so far was reducing some scientists intelect to that of a potato…or maybe an aubergine.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I dont know if that is worse than the mine thing or the sex slave thing from 1.Ignorance is bliss as they say,so not knowing what is happening to you is kind of better.Mind you,plain death is probably more humane,but on a scale from death to having to listen to Rutskarns puns for 100 years,Id put it around just 1 year.

        • IFS says:

          Worth noting that the guy who you reduce to an idiot invented the machine that does it, and has been using it on a number of people as well as planning to use it on an ally of yours, so it has a bit of an ironic punishment feel to it.

      • Artur CalDazar says:

        Wait…
        How do you prevent that guy from going insane?

    • Ringwraith says:

      The Outsider is voiced by Gotham’s Penguin this time though.

      (Though rather disgracefully they didn’t give the previous voice actor any warning on this, and they even used him to do the first trailer!)

      • Echo Tango says:

        I thought the problems with the Outsider in the first game were problems with writing and direction, not the voice actor specifically. I guess the (lack of) animation of the 3D model was a problem too. Is the new Outsider better in any of these areas?

        • potatoejenkins says:

          He is pretty much the new Penguin from the Batman: The Telltale series. Younger as well. Could be that they wanted him to be a reflection of the one he is talking to.

          The mantle of the old Outsider passed on to Emily. Emotions are for peasants and normal people. (And therefore my explanation for the new Outsider falls flat. She is the direct opposite of Cobblepot.)

        • Ringwraith says:

          It was very likely a direction thing last time, as he seemed bored to even be there recording, rather than the ‘seen it all’ kind of thing I think they were going for.

    • Jokerman says:

      He is certainly better, better voiced, more expressive and moves around a lot more while talking, including by teleport, it’s ok, adds to his weirdness.

      More on the weird start to the story, The big bad walks in and effectively freezes whoever you don’t pick in a sort of metal casing effectively taking them out the story while you rescue them later (i guess, not got there yet) which works when you play emily, they freeze the biggest threat in Corvo, considering he is the super assassin who killed/pacified everyone in the last game, and throw Emily in her bedroom, makes sense they underestimate her, don’t know she is well trained, she doesn’t even have any magic powers yet.

      But you pick Corvo… and it switches, they freeze… Emily? for some reason? and throw Corvo in Emily’s easily escapable room (out a window, few stories up, wouldn’t expect a civilian like Emily to escape, but Corvo?) Just makes the villains look real dumb

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The spectrum of morality in tyranny is interesting to me.Basically,I think it ranges from “honor” to “might makes right”.Which kind of makes it a gangster simulator in ancient rome,only with magic.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      You mean basically the ancient Rome simulator, what with how dependent the Roman society was on patronage.

      • Ringwraith says:

        I like calling it being a middle-manger of the evil empire (of extreme order).

        The devs themselves like calling it dark fantasy Judge Dredd though.

        • Leocruta says:

          Yeah, that irks me. I was really looking forward to playing Judge Dredd of an evil empire, but from what I understand, the empire isn’t really all that evil, and you are once again the chosen one of the setting, able to rival Kyros by the end.

          • MadHiro says:

            The conquering armies of the the Empire are pretty darn evil. The Chorus are basically the Tenescowri from the Malazan Book of the Fallen, a lurching and frothing cycle of torture, murder and rape. And the Disfavored are arguably as brutal; where the Chorus will expand their numbers by cruel methods, when the Disfavored win, they tend to just put everyone to the sword.

            I’m only in Act II, but Kyros’s World definitely seems to be not a good place to be.

            • 4th Dimension says:

              It’s more that the Chorus and Disfavoured are Chaotic and Lawfull Neutrals sliding towards Evil. On one hand the Disfavoured will stick to the leter of the law precisely, which means as long as you obey Kyros’s will you are fine and they will even protect you but if you break any of the sometimes cruel rules that Kyros imposes your ass is grass and you will be quickly executed. Chorus are on the other hand as you said a mob of murder and rape enthusiasts, but at the same time they value freedom to do what they want and will accept ANYONE into their ranks if he or she can handle a weapon and their lifestyle.

              So if you are a normal civie Disfavoured rolling into your town would be better for you than Chorus, but on the other hand if you are a defeated enemy the Disfavoured will in the best case enslave you to serve Kyros’s will if you are strong enough otherwise they will execute you. With Chorus on the othe hand you will be permitted to join and will be able to expirience freedoms that you could never hope for in your previous life. If you can stand that you will be hanging around with people that were given the charter to do whatever they please with the conquered population.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                In support of them not being pure evil,theres a kid you can meet early on,and if you stick up for him you find out that even the chorus has standards when it comes to kid slaves.The guy you are talking to is evil,but the organization he bows down to is leaning towards neutral.

              • MadHiro says:

                I’m not sure ‘sliding towards evil’ would be accurate. I mean, the leader of the Chorus -eats people’s minds-. This is one of those instances where the fantasy genre manages to unearth horrible concepts that are even worse than what we consider to be the ‘normal’ unforgivably evil acts; regularly doing something so horrible that goes beyond murder to a perpetual form of torture-rape-after-murder, to the point where it has become the shtick that he embodies as an ‘Archon’ doesn’t scream ‘neutral’ to me. And it’s not just their boss; they don’t just ‘let anyone join them’. Sure, they aren’t picky, but their usual modus operandi is to roll into a village of noncombatants, force them to engage in a bloodsport between friends, family and neighbors, and then recruit the survivors. The NPC who can join you from their faction tells a story (one of her many horrifying ones) about skinning people to make tents, for crying out loud (suffice to say, Verse hasn’t been in my party since I had a choice on the matter). I’m honestly not sure I’ll ever be able to do a Chorus playthrough of the game, they managed to make them feel so icky.

                The Disfavored, well, maybe neutral? Again, they’re incredibly comfortable murdering people. Some of those choices in the Conquest section of the game are gut-wrenching, and the one’s that involve giving civilians or non-combatants time to flee from Edicts? The Disfavored -do not like those-. The Disfavored favor (ah-ha) total war; Graven Ashe and General Sherman are cousins.

  3. As far as wikipedia goes Tyranny uses the unity engine.

    Also they are using zip archives as savegames
    https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/load-save-game-insanely-slow.959232/
    Literally zip files (with xml and png images), so to show save thumbnails I’m assuming they have to unpack all savegames.

    They did the same thing with Pillars of Eternity (Unity is the engine, and the savegames are zip files).

    Also Torment: Tides of Numenera will also use Unity and I assume zip savegames as well.

    Now a zip file as a savegame isn’t bad. But a tiny .ini file and a .png outside (named the same as the .zip file) would speed up the savegame thumbnail and info a lot.

    Edit: For more info on the savefiles look at https://www.reddit.com/r/projecteternity/comments/3b44yq/eternity_keeper_a_save_game_editor_for_pillars_of/
    scroll down to “What I learned about save files” where a guy explains what he’s learned.

    Here’s a nice comment ” Every single item ever sold to a vendor is stored. I think containers and items dropped on the ground are also stored but I haven’t looked into the area files yet. Speaking of area files, the fog of war for each area is saved and also probably a few other state variables. This means that, as the game progresses, you will add more and more area files to your save file.”

    Holy bloat Batman!

    • DrMcCoy says:

      The downside of an INI file to index them all is of course that you can’t easily interchange save files between installations, because you have to also update the index. Maybe a “smart” index that track of the changes would be useful…but then again, it might not be worth it, perfomance-wise.

      As for the contents, well, you have to keep track of all changes, basically. When certain areas are gated off, you might be able to throw away some data, yes, but otherwise… NWN, for example, is similar. It also stores all changes in areas (in Temporary User Resource Data (TURD, yes, really) structures in GFF files).

      NWN doesn’t compress them, though, just stores them together in an ERF archive, but then stores the screenshot as a normal file outside and puts this all inside a directory.

      ZIP for compression is a good compromise. The DEFLATE algorithm is pretty fast, compresses relatively well. The ZIP container is also pretty standard, which is a plus. Yes, it’s not ideal, you have to spend some time searching for the central directory record. You could probably get some speed out of it by using different/own container and going for the LZ4 algorithm, but again, it might not be worth it.

      To sum it up, it all seems like a pretty common compromise between save/load speed and convenience. Not terribly bad, but not terribly tuned either.

      • Not an ini file to index them all.

        savegame_12345.zip
        savegame_12345.ini
        savegame_12345.png

        For example. The ini would only hold the minimal info shown on the save and load screen and the png is also used.
        Now if the png and ini is also duplicated inside the zip depends. Storing them a duplicates would allow copying around a single save file and the game could re-create a missing .ini and .png as they basically act as a cache.

        • DrMcCoy says:

          Oh, yeah, that also works.

          Hmm, or you could store the PNG and INI uncompressed inside the ZIP. Compression methods in ZIP are usually either DEFLATE or “store”, i.e. uncompressed, common packers do that when, for example, the compressed data is bigger than the uncompressed data (which yes, can happen).

          Would need some profiling, I guess, on how long the indivual parts of each approach take. Enumerating over files in a directory, opening a file, locating the central directory record, decompressing, etc.

          The fun thing is, a lot of that depends on the machine in question. The CPU, of course, but also the file system (IIRC, NTFS is bad with lots of small files, I think that was a major problem with git on Windows), disk read speed, state of caches.

    • Eric says:

      Torment does use zip files to store saves, but the save format is different between both games.

    • Matt Downie says:

      You can’t exactly skip saving the fog-of-war in these games – would you want to have to re-un-cover every map every time you entered a screen? – and players hate it when they leave an item somewhere and then realise they need it back and it’s been deleted forever to save a few bytes.

      Save game systems are a real hassle for testing. For example, if you save the PNG and index info as separate files, and then a user deletes the associated ZIP file to save space, does that break everything? And then there’s backwards compatibility, etc. This makes programmers reluctant to mess with it once it’s working.

      • Considering that in this case the zip IS the save game. You’d kinda nuke the savegame erm… that was saved.
        As to “orphaned” .png and .ini for example, those can easily be cleaned. We’re only talking a few lines of code in the savegame check routine.
        Also if the user keeps deleting individual files from the savegame directory they got only themselves to blame.
        The game if coded correctly would have no issues with any of this. The programmer responsible should think of all these things.

        I.e. Never blindly assume nor trust user data. The save can be corrupted/damaged and you really do not want bufferoverflows or crashes to happen just because the savegame has it’s parameters messed up.

        And even if you apply a MD5 chercksum to the damn thing there is still the probability of a savegame editor existing that allows creating out of spec parameters, so your loading code needs to have minimum/maximum clipping of values.
        Which it should have anyway as MD5 does only guarantee that the savegame has been changed (but the MD5 not updated), MD5 (nor any other hash method) can guarantee that a file is unchanged (birthday paradox/collision) so you should always validate all input data (a savegame should be considered user input).

        When it comes to data in game memory you can be a bit more loose as usually if you got corrupt memory you probably got corrupt memory multiple places and the OS is about to go into mild panic at any moment anyway.

        And unless this is your first time making a game engine from scratch then a savegame API or middleware of some sort should exist for the engine you are using, so you shouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel from scratch (you may need to change the tires though, and the car).

      • Fog of war is a larger issue. But can’t one simply save a polygonal with erm smoothing (are they called splines?) this would approximate the fog of war pretty closely.

        And in the cases where the player has fully explored a region then the polygon can be dropped and a simple flag is set (I’ve noticed some games “snap” away the fog when you have explored like 99% or something).

        As to loot and NPCs you can reduce that footprint by doing the following.
        Store the x,y,z of the dead NPC and the NPC type, and a looted flag. If the NPC has not been fully looted then the looted flag is not set and a loot list is still kept. As soon as the body is fully looted the list is removed and a looted flag is set (or the inverse, a loot flag). The state of the looted flag can also double as a flag to check when highlighting bodies that still have loot on them.

        If the player continues a save the next day (or later in the day) they may not notice/remember that the NPC body is not positioned the same way nor that the clothes do not match what they had earlier, but te body is still in the same location.
        Heck if the body has not been looted (look at) by the player at all then a loot list is not needed simply a flag that tells the game to generate a lootlist the first time the player examines the body.

        Stuff like this is not difficult nor time-consuming to add codewise.

        And when it comes to NPC traders, there is no reason why they should still have all the stuff you sold them. What, nobody wanted to buy the stuff the hero just “wore” ? Wouldn’t that fetch a premium and sell instantly almost?
        So a few lines of code to let items be vanish (be sold) “randomly” would seem more realistic. Unless one goes for a super-realistic game no regular player would expect a random NPC to walk around with stuff they sold to a vendor the other day.

        Although… if a NPC is spawned/re-spawned it would be amusing if the items that get “sold” becomes the items of that NPC. This Would make for a amusing situation later when the player kills an NPC an then loot them “Hang on, this is MY OLD STUFF. The great Sword of Mr. Turboboner”

        But the point I’m making it’s relatively easy to do things like this to minimize savegame size, thus reduce savegame bloat and speed up load times especially if you got like a hundred savegames. (Don’t look so innocent, I’m sure many here has wound up with insane number of savegames in some games).

        In the long run this will also reduce memory bloat. Games should be “self cleaning”. Relying on the garbage collection of your object oriented game is not going to help as long as one or more references stick around forever.

  4. The last game to use the Infinity Engine was Icewind Dale.
    The successor Aurora Engine was used for The Witcher (2007).
    A successor called Electron Engine was crated by and used for Neverwinter Nights 2 (2006)
    A successor to the Aurora Engine called the Odyssey Engine was used for Jade Empire (2005), KoTOR (2003), KoTOR2 (2004).
    The next iteration of the “Infinity” Engine was called the Eclipse Engine and was used for Dragon Age: Origins (2009).
    And the last iteration of the Infinity engine was called the Lycium Engine and was used for Dragon Age 2 (2011).

    That old engine saw 13 years of use. Now under EA the engine BioWare uses for everything is Frostbite, for their Mass Effect trilogy they did use Unreal though.

    Now if by Infinity engine one means isometric 2.5d’ish games then I guess that the Odyssey Engine and KoTOR2 is it, although you could control the camera on those. A truly fixed isometric would be the really old (Infinity Engine?) games. So in that sense Tyranny looks like it’s back to form. But it’s certainly not anything related to the Infinity Engine, it’s just Unity.

    Bunch of info here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioWare#Infinity_Engine

    Edit: Oh BioWare used a out-of-house engine called the HeroEngine for The Old Republic (not surprising as they had no MMO engines themselves).

    • DrMcCoy says:

      However, conceptually, there is quite a “cut” with the Aurora engine (Neverwinter Nights). Comes with the territory, I guess, of moving to 3D.

      NWN brings in a new file format (GFF, hierarchical data similar in concept to XML, but in binary), a new scripting language (NWScript, used in all their later games) and really quite a new way to organize it all.

      NWN up to Dragon Age 2 (minus the Mass Effect games) seem to be all cut from the same cloth (with various bits and pieces changed, of course). Maybe not quite as close as Baldur’s Gate to Icewind Dale II (although, from what I remember Beamdog say, Icewind Dale II already changes quite a lot), though. But there is an obvious big change with NWN.

  5. I’m disappointed that the discussion about fantasy turned into a discussion about weird settings, because it seemed to me that the question was more about sub-genre rather than setting specifics.

    Conan the Barbarian and Discworld have a lot of elements in common (Wizards, mostly western fantasy, magic is unreliable and dangerous, vast city states brim with crime and corruption) but anyone who’s read these stories can tell you that the goals and presentation of these stories is totally different.

    I think in the context of a game, these sub-genres are described by what power fantasy you’re prodding the player to engage in.

    In a Terry Pratchett thing, players want to be the cleverest and most witty person in the room, though not necessarily the toughest. In Sword and Sorcery, you want to feel like the underdog who won because they had the most cunning or the most grit instead of being straight up More Powerful. Do you see what I mean?

    What springs to mind in explanation, probably a bad one, is that these subgenres are the games that call for certain attributes.

    Epic fantasy calls for strength,
    Comedic fantasy calls for charisma,
    Sword and Sorcery calls for intelligence,
    Literary fantasy calls for wisdom,

    A certain amount of these are bound up in setting, it’s true, but it has more to do with presentation.

    Dark Souls has a backdrop one could call epic fantasy, but the presentation is more literary – strength is greeted with apathy rather than praise, and the game is at its most affecting when you feel like Dante touring the inferno.

    Unrest has low/no magic setting, but what really set it aside for me is the presentation as an insoluble problem for the intellect, marking it twice as closer to Sword and Sorcery.

    I think the biggest reason that epic fantasy is so much more common is because strength and power are the easiest fantasies to design toward, because violence is the number one mechanic, and even though Sword and Sorcery and Literary fantasy can use violence to convey their particular thing, cunning violence and wise violence take a much defter hand to design than BIG violence.

    • ehlijen says:

      I think the biggest reason epic fantasy is the default for RPGs is that they most easily facilitate zero-to-hero leveling mechanics.
      You start as a gardener in the shire, and you end up storming Mt Doom by the end. That growth in power and prowess almost requires an epic scale story to show off the growth in power.

      Sword and Sorcery on the other hand is intended to always stay at the personal level. Conan wasn’t all that much stronger by the end of any of his stories than he was in the beginning. But he vanquished his foes nonetheless, and he did so because they opposed him and his desires personally. He didn’t defeat the armies of darkness to save the world, he slew dark sorcerers to get revenge, rescue princesses and get paid.
      Conan doesn’t start at level 1 and finish at 50, but that is one definition of CRPG these days. So Conan CRPGs don’t happen.

      And the personal aspect is another reason I think epic fantasy is easier for CRPGs: It’s easier to get the player to care about the world in general than any given character in particular, as that requires at least half decent writing. Last of Us was almost a sword and sorcery story, apart from the trappings. Compare the connection the average player builds towards the girl in that to ME’s ‘some kid died’.

      Sword and Sorcery can absolutely be about violence. Take the Arkahm Batman games, or the Tomb Raider reboots. Not fantasy, again, but closer in feeling to Conan than any of the Dragon Ages.

      • Ooh, yeah, Arkham and the new Tomb Raiders are some good calls as games that “feel” like sword and sorcery, if they had wizards and swords.

        The Witcher games also do a good job of keeping it personal and using the mechanics to reinforce the idea that the hero isn’t just strong, but clever. At least 2 and 3. Geralt’s motivations in 1 never totally gelled for me.

        Man. Now I want an action adventure game in the vein of Tomb Raider with a grounded fantasy setting. Expand the melee combat a little to make up for the lack of guns, maybe some alchemy for spice. Frame the ancient ruins and treasure hunts as just as wondrous to a fantasy adventurer as to an Indiana Jones-ey treasure hunter. Throw in an evil wizard or two, a cracking supporting cast, and keep it believable in terms of architecture and physics.

      • Vermander says:

        There’s also the fact that epic fantasy usually makes for much longer stories, where the heroes travel to many different exotic locations, interact with all sorts of different characters, and face a wide variety of enemies. Many of them emphasize travel and exploration and are as much about the world as the characters.

        A lot of other sub-genres of fantasy tend to tell shorter, more self-contained stories, which might work well for something like the Tell Tales games, but would be hard to get +80 hours of AAA gameplay out of.

        Dragon Age 2 tried to do something a bit different. The story mostly took place in one city and occurred in three “Chapters” that took place several years apart. It also featured a protagonist who wasn’t a “chosen one” or destined to be the savior of the world. Hawke was initially drawn into the main storylines by accident and was often motivated by self interest or desire for self preservation rather than destiny.

        • ehlijen says:

          Yes! Arguably it wasn’t the best idea, but DA2 gave setting a Sword and Sorcery story in an epic fantasy setting a good effort.

          • Or would have, without the gigantic hordes of dudes falling on you from the ceiling. Another aspect of Sword and Sorcery is that you don’t usually fight 50 dudes at once. It’s smaller fights.

            Dungeons and Dragons Online actually has quite a lot of the “sword and sorcery” feel to it, interestingly enough.

        • Felblood says:

          “Once you’ve spent a million dollars, you basically cannot end the story without saving the world.” – Some guy who worked on World War Z

          That said, outside the world of big budget games, with powerful publishers fretting over their investment, you can get some crazy mold breakers. Anything starts to look stagnant if you only look at what attracts big money risks.

  6. Hal says:

    Do you think Dishonored 2 would have worked if the protagonists could tag team the levels? That is, you could either co-op them or swap back and forth between characters? Or does that mechanic not lend itself well to a FPS game?

    • Nick says:

      I’m not sure mid-mission swapping would work for a stealth game as it would make the other character an instant ninja god if they could just turn up wherever the player is to swap, and the last thing you need in a rapid movement stealth game is a second character following the path of the player.

      What might have been interesting is if you constantly threw two goals at your protagonists and you could choose which character goes where. This solves the other character just staying on the ship for no reason throughout the story. You could even make it actually coop and have both players trying to accomplish the two goals in two parts of the same space.

      Ultimately though I think that would be hard in a stealth game, as reloads of quicksaves are not uncommon (at least if you play like I do) and I can see that getting frustrating quickly

      • Henson says:

        Well, I suppose you could swap them by having one character in the Outsider’s realm and the other in the real world, and swapping would change who is where, Trine-style. How this would be justified by the story, of course, is another problem, but not an unsolvable one.

    • IFS says:

      I think that mechanically it would work fine but compared to the game’s current state you’d have to rework quite a bit to get there. You would definitely need to change the story in a few ways and possibly rework the leveling system (simplest way would just to be to have characters share upgrade materials). You could definitely make a strong argument for a coop Dishonored game but I think it would have to be built as such from the beginning.

  7. Christopher says:

    N7 day had this video, too. Freddie Prinze Jr is hopefully sneaking the Iron Bull onto the Andromeda ships.

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    I love how much disdain you can hear in Rutskarn’s voice when he talks about ME4 doing the ancient evil plot. Quality gurgling when it turned out the game was shaping up like Inqusition.

    Since I predicted that ME4 would follow from Inqusition, I’d like to make another prediction: No review copies for ME4. It would fit with how tightlipped they’ve been, and they can look at Bethesda as a company that seems to be doing the no-review thing successfully.

  9. Christopher says:

    Dragon’s Crown always read to me as sword and sorcery. I guess I don’t really know the genre conventions that well(Graham Gordon called them intelligent, when what I think of with Conan is fun, trashy, dumb, sexy and fighty adventures), but it’s a traditional D&D campaign-like action RPG. Vanillaware employees used to make Dungeons and Dragons beat ’em ups under Capcom(these are on steam and XBLA), and it’s a spiritual successor to those. A beat ’em up with stats, some loot, and leveling, where the characters take on various odd jobs and eventually a conspiracy by an enemy nation(but only really as an excuse to enter dungeons and kill monsters). You still fight dragons and save the world, but it feels nothing like Lord of the Rings(Or Dragon Age), that’s for sure.

    I wonder if it’s just that epic fantasy has the widest appeal. Vanillaware isn’t some colossal company or success, it’s basically one artist doing exactly what he wants along with a number of other great artists. Odin Sphere probably captured most hearts, being a Scandinavian folklore and European fairy tale-inspired game with mostly cutesy art. Muramasa’s setting was japanese myths and fairy tales, which I wouldn’t think is that big with most people outside of Japan, but according to VGCHARTZ it did only a little worse than Odin Sphere. Dragon’s Crown, despite playing better than all of them, sold much worse. Some of that’s got to be exclusivity related, but all of it? There’s lots of reasons it could be, but I’m wondering if most of it is the new art design and sword and sorcery stuff, where some of the protagonists in particular are famous(or infamous) for their titillating designs. The conversation around its release was all about that stuff.

    Either way, I guess it’s because Vanilaware is such a small and specialized company(21 people, all pretty much artists, by the time of Muramasa) that they can do stuff like this. They’re making a mecha game next. Even then, George Kamitami spent 13 years pitching Dragon’s Crown to publishers before someone would pick it up.

    Still, there are lots of diverse settings and types of fantasy and RPGs. The super Mario RPGs are often stellar, and funny, and in an odd setting. Traditional JRPGs have their tropes, but they are a world apart from playing a traditional western one. The most recent Final Fantasy involves driving a car with your modern, boyband-looking friends through a countryside filled with fantasy monsters. There’s modern stuff like Persona and Earthbound, and there’s stuff like Undertale. The Souls series is its own beast, and even did a game with Gothic and Cosmic Horror. And if you’re just looking for “fantasy” without regard for the RPG part, you can be a witch fighting angels in Bayonetta, a lone wanderer fighting impossible odds in Shadow of the Colossus or a bumbling wizard in Magicka fighting his own incompetence with the magic system. Zelda is a wonderful kind of fantasy action/puzzle/adventure game that’s not at all a traditional RPG.

    • A lot of sword and sorcery stories aren’t all that smart, but they tend to value guile, cunning, and forethought. Conan in the stories is very different from movie Conan – a lot of his adventures have him as a thief, or else a mercenary forced to navigate court politics with the weary disdain of an outlander. Yeah, it mostly ends up coming down to him cleaving some beast in twain, but the original stories make it clear that he’s not a dumb brute.

      • Christopher says:

        It’s probably easier to notice in some stories than others. I never saw the movie, I just read some of the comics growing up. The one I remember the best, is that beautifully drawn one where he’s a thief and gets some intel in a bar or brothel at the beginning. He breaks into a wizard’s tower in the same city to steal a jewel, and then fights monsters and encounters a sad character with an elephant head on the inside, and helps him take revenge on the wizard. He then leaves with nothing as the tower crumbles. I didn’t get the impression it was particularly smart, but it was very fun, Conan said very little and there were scantily clad women and scary monsters in it. And he did use both cunning and strength to win, being able to deal with the monsters and climbing by himself but getting help from the elephant head for the wizard.

        The mission structure and the missions themselves in Dragon’s Crown are like that story. You start out in town to do your business in the bar and with the guild, you leave for monster-filled dungeons, you encounter an NPC(usually in duress) and then you fight a boss and leave. You don’t really say anything, it’s just your livelihood, but it’s an exciting job.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          Think along the lines ehlijen did above when he suggested the Arkham games and new Tomb Raider games could be sword & sorcery with some reskinning. S&S often shares setting elements with epic fantasy (pseudo-medieval Europe, magic, etc.) but narratively and thematically has more in common with heist films or crime fiction or hard-boiled pulp stories. The protagonists are usually lower class, anti-heroes, outlaws; they often live hand-to-mouth and are more interested in the next payday than saving the world or overthrowing the tyrant. And they’re usually really good at their jobs (fighting, thieving, and/or assassinating, usually) but can’t thrive or survive (mostly the latter) by being the Chosen One, inheriting a throne, finding/using some magic MacGuffin, or learning godlike magic powers–they have to use their wits and maybe a bit of luck.

          • ehlijen says:

            “but narratively and thematically has more in common with heist films or crime fiction or hard-boiled pulp stories. ”

            This is exactly true. Sword and Sorcery, as we know it today, came from the same early 20th century pulp magazines and penny dreadfulls as noir detective stories and much of the early popular scifi.

            These stories required succinct arcs, reset buttons at the end and clear, iconic characters, as you couldn’t take for granted that any given reader has read the previous stories, in the right order, or remembered anything from them. (TV adopted many of these elements later.)

            Episodic gaming would be great for Sword and Sorcery, I think.

        • GloatingSwine says:

          Dragon’s Crown deliberately leaves basically everything to do with the character down to the player. The various selectable avatars are just that, avatars not characters. That’s also why the narration is consistently in the second person, talking directly to the player.

  10. Christopher says:

    I will never tell anyone when I’m sending these emails.

  11. Vermander says:

    On the topic of epic fantasy, I generally prefer a “low magic” setting, where supernatural elements tend to occur off-screen or beyond the understanding of the protagonists. Magic always seems cooler to me when it’s used sparingly.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read any of them, but I remember most of the Conan stories being like this. Magicians are usually villains and their powers are largely unexplained and poorly understood by the hero. Magic is depicted as inherently dangerous and wildly unpredictable. The hero usually overcomes mystical forces through cunning or brute force rather than using magic himself.

    I feel like Far Cry 4 did this pretty well in a contemporary setting. There are supernatural events that occur in the game, but the hero doesn’t really understand them and actually finds them quite terrifying. It’s possible to interpret them all as drug induced hallucinations rather than genuine magic.

    • Christopher says:

      I think contemporary settings are overall good for this sort of stuff. It’s at least part of the appeal for me with the Metal Gear Solid games, where you’re playing the peak human, mundane soldier fighting all of these maniacs with superhuman abilities. Sometimes the abilities make sense or are explained with science fiction, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes you’re outwitting the 100 year old plant sniper with stealth and sometimes you’re fighting an electric superman with martial arts moves and guns. But the point is the visual of a “regular” person trying their best to deal with someone extraordinary.

    • Leocruta says:

      I like high magic settings where the magic is inherently dangerous, wildly unpredictable, impossible to comprehend, or any combination thereof. I think an RPG set entirely in a fae setting would be amazing. As this has never been done to my knowledge, I can only assume it would be extremely difficult to make.

    • Gordon says:

      You know, it’s interesting. I generally agree, but I’ve been re-reading “A Wizard of Earthsea” for the first time since I was five, and I’m pretty startled at how cool and strange the magic seems, despite being fairly common in the setting. And early passage describes how you can look up at a raincloud and watch it get shunted from place to place as it passes near sorcerers who don’t want to get rained on, until it finally gets pushed out to sea.

      I’m starting to suspect that the presentation of magic is more important that how common magic is for the right tone. In Earthsea, magic isn’t science. It’s not based in energy, or power, and I have yet to see it used for offensive purposes. Wizards aren’t academics. They don’t write treatises or do experiments.

      I guess the biggest difference is that, in Earthsea, magic isn’t analogous to anything in our world, and that’s surprisingly rate in fiction.

  12. Peter H Coffin says:

    Though honestly, it’s not hard for me to stretch to hearing some suit in a meeting say “If we leave it as planned, you know some dick-butt is going to go on a tear about being ‘forced to play as a chick’. Let’s just bring back Corvo or someone like him anyway and save ourselves some hassle.”

  13. Joey245 says:

    My favorite monsters from video games are definitely the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts. I’m surprised Shamus didn’t mention a Minecraft monster for his answer.

    Also, the more I hear about Mass Effect Andromeda, the less interested I get. Considering that I was once a staunch defender of Mass Effect 2 (on this very site even!) this is an odd experience.

    Another excellent Diecast! Keep them coming!

    • Christopher says:

      My favorite monsters are probably the angels from Bayonetta. They are such cool-looking and unusual things, fleshy birdlike creatures covered in and white marble and gold and little human faces. Beloved is the easiest to remember since he shows up a lot.

      I also want to give a shout-out to Gaping Dragon. It’s just such a great design, from the lore perspective of a dragon so consumed with hunger it basically morphed into one big mouth, to how it can look like a rat, a dragon, a crocodile or even a centaur kind of thing depending on how you look at its body. It’s also got the cutest intro.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjEb646Bjsc

    • GnollQueen says:

      The Nobodies in Kingdom Hearts are also really good. mostly in the way they move look up the Twilight Thorn boss fight and Creeper low level foe for good examples. Acutely add the Dream eaters onto this list too. Because they made things that look like they were designed by lisa frank look intimidating.

      In games i have never played that look nice: Soul Sacrifice Delta. Like ok here are some monsters from this game: Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Dwarves. I’m not putting descriptions because they must be seen to be believed. Also for some real fun look at the lore for all of these guys.

    • Echo Tango says:

      One monster I liked, was the Visceroids from Tiberian Sun.* Basically crystal blob monsters that formed when an organic unit died from Tiberium exposure. Reminded me of monsters out of old sci-fi movies. :)

      * The laters games’ versions were kinda lame, IMO. :S

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      My favourite monster in any video game ever is the Clockwork Beast from the Neverhood, mostly because its visual design is amazing.

      Also, it has a pair of pterodactyls in a moon buggy that ride on its back so that it can identify and strategically neutralise bears.

      No, seriously. The Neverhood is so weird and I love it.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Does a boss monster count?Because I liked the dahaka fight in warrior within.

    The brain rats from planescape torment were also rather fun.And tough.

  15. Echo Tango says:

    I actually enjoyed the Josh-fixes-his-sink Diecast episode. (It was a refreshing change of pace.) More tales of home repair please! :)

  16. IFS says:

    On the topic of weird fantasy worlds in games I think Torment: Tides of Numenera is very much worth paying attention to. The world of Numenera from Monte Cook’s tabletop fantasy/scifi RPG is very strange (the core book even states that weirdness should be a goal when describing things) and aims for a fantasy by way of scifi sort of setting (leaning very heavily on Clarke’s third law) that I haven’t seen much. Its one of the weirdest and more interesting fantasy settings I’ve encountered recently so I’m looking forward to seeing how its adapted into a video game.

  17. Kelerak says:

    I can’t think of any monsters that particularly stand out, aside from The Flood in the Halo games, but those are pretty generic parasite monsters that take over the host. I only like those because I love parasite creatures in fiction generally (actual parasites creep me the hell out).

    Endermen in Minecraft are also pretty cool, but those are really just creatures built to reference Slenderman. Boomers from Gears of War only really stand out because they yell “BOOM!” every time they fire a grenade.

    I guess there’s something to be said when most video game monsters are so derivative of already established creature tropes.

    • Bloodsqurriel says:

      The Flood is more eldritch abomination than parasite monster. I am a monument to all your sins.

      • Kelerak says:

        I suppose, but the basic form of the Flood acts as parasites, latching onto and taking over other life forms. Pretty sure the only exception to that is the Gravemind itself.

        Hell, they’re even called Parasites by the Covenant.

        • Bloodsqurriel says:

          The Covenant doesn’t really know anything about them. By Halo 3 some of the pure combat forms start popping up, along with the terminals talking about Medicant Bias, keyminds, etc. You have to read the books to get the full details (there’s a prequel trilogy about the forerumners), but that flavor to them has always been there (which is why the series has so many biblical allusions).

    • Echo Tango says:

      Ooh! Your comment about parasites actually reminded me – the Thorian from Mass Effect was really cool. It’s a giant fungus that mind-controls all the people on its planet. :)

  18. Gruhunchously says:

    Now that I think about it, maybe a stealth game with non-lethal options should allow the possibility for unconscious enemies to wake up again, or at the very least, grunt and shuffle in a way that alerts other guards. That would force you to be more considerate when hiding the bodies, as putting them in places where they could conceivably reach other guards and raise the alarm wouldn’t be enough to remain stealthy. You’d have to stuff them in a locked room or on a small rooftop with no way down. It certainly would be compatible with Dishonored’s move set.

    I just like the idea of non-lethal tactics being more annoying to deal with, it makes the whole thing more of a test of skill and morals.

    I think one of the Metal Gear Solid games did something like that, but I’m not sure.

    • Kelerak says:

      Pretty much every game from 2 onward had that as a mechanic. Not sure if 5 retains that, however.

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      I’ve found it to be reasonably common that unconscious guards can be woken up if a living guard finds them. That said, this doesn’t really make a big difference to the game system, because living guards will only find unconscious guards if you haven’t been hiding them properly in the first place.

  19. King Calamity says:

    I haven’t gotten far in Tyranny, but what I’ve played so far has been really cool. I never was able to get into Pillars of Eternity, but that hasn’t been a problem with Tyranny. The dialogue is really fun, but I think the main thing is the setting, which is really cool and unique in a way that reminds me of Dune or Morrowind.

  20. Gruhunchously says:

    If I were to contest Shamus for a moment, random world-building conversations that didn’t involve the player were still very much a part of the Mass Effect series right up until the end. In fact, I’d say Mass Effect 3 had more of such conversations than Mass Effect one did, and some of them were very affecting. It might be the one thing that Bioware consistently keeps getting right. Granted, a lot of these conversations were more personal anecdotes and less solid world-building, but that seemed appropriate given the setting.

    It doesn’t really negate all the blistering stupidity of the main plot, but it was there…

  21. evilmrhenry says:

    I just imagined a headcrab with googly eyes, and I think this is your fault.

  22. Not related to the podcast but did this tickle anybody else’s statistician bone? I saw the snail race retween SHamus did and here are the results:

    Snail race vote then retweet
    22%🐌
    28%🐌
    31%🐌
    19%🐌
    229,602 votes

    …wow, really? The logical thing here would be fore one of the snails (the first) to have 100% or for all to have 25%. (because they are all the same they do not matter). Id’ have no issue with that.

    But this is just weird.

    A few things to note:
    The two first combined are 50%, and the two last combined are 50%, statistically speaking this seems normal. (they are all the same snails)

    But then i gets weird.
    Nr.2 is more popular than Nr.1, and Nr.3 is more popular than both Nr.1 and Nr.2, and then there is Nr.4 that is less popular than all the other three.

    If I where a betting man I’d bet on Nr.3 and stay the hell away from Nr.4.

    It would have been interesting to see if a 5 snail race would exhibit a “bell” curve where Nr.1 and Nr.5 is the lowest and Nr.4 (the middle) is the highest.

    I can only guess that this is all psychologically based.

    In this 4 snail race people choose 1 because A. it doesn’t matter or B. they like the number 1 or C. they don’t think a lot of people will pick Nr. 1 or D. that many others will also pick Nr. 1.

    Those picking Nr.2 are similar to the people thinking Nr.1 is the choice, but they try to be a little “clever” about it.

    Those picking Nr.3 are similar to the people thinking Nr.2 is the choice, but they try to be a really “clever” about it, or they remember that “2” is a lucky number for som reason.

    Those picking Nr.4 are similar to the people thinking Nr.1 is the choice, but they are more contrarian in nature, or maybe they feel it’s the underdog.

    It would be interesting to world demographic stats from this (which region of the world leans towards which “snail”).
    But despite that. Over 220 thousand people took part in that poll. That’s a huge (global) sample pool.

    This made me think that (please keep actual politics out of this) certain voting ballots that lists candidates for certain positions may actually get chosen just because of the order they are listed.
    Example: In elections here you sometimes have a list of whom you’d like to see (in the party you vote for) for certain positions. You got this list of names. You know nothing about them, so your choice is basically leave them blank or pick one randomly.

    But as the snail race shows, humans overall can’t pick randomly.

    So my idea is that every single such ballot should have the order of candidates randomized by a computer. This means that if you took a pile of 10 ballots with a list of 10 candidates on them then they should all (ideally) be in unique (and random) order.
    That way the human bias towards the order 3, 2, 1, 4. Would be evened out.

    Now, such ballots have other biases (and issues). usually they are listed alphabetically. Then there is the issue of people “liking the name” they see.
    If such a ballot has few names on it then having them in a random order for each printed ballot is not a issue, if the list is log it’ll be a pain for the voter. Now “liking the name” is a issue that can’t be fixed.

    Then there is the question of, how widespread is “random” voting? Usually when people vote on something it’s because they know what they are doing. But as the twitter snail race showed…random voting (without knowing the difference or if there is a difference at all) is actually a thing; and it has a bias in the results.

    That whole tweet made me re-think the way I’ll present choices in software and games where the user or player may not be sure of the outcome of any choice or may not be sure why the choices are different. Having the program randomly order those should ensure that the selected choice is more evened out statistically speaking.

    How would that make a difference? Imagine this (silly example I know, but I’m making this shit up on the spot):
    “Player1: So what did you choose?”
    “Player2: I had no clue what to choose so I just picked the 3rd option and asked for the spoon”
    “Player1: Yeah I choose the 3rd option too and, wait what? You got a spoon? I got a knife!”
    “Player2: Whaaaaaa?!”

    Both picked the 3rd option, but neither was given the same option as the order was random, for Player2 the knife could have been option 4 as an example.

    It may seem silly. But it’s also very easy to implement, you basically just need to plop a random number generator in before you display the options/choices.

    I wonder if any games do this. (surely the twitter snail race can’t be the first time this “pattern” has been revealed?)

    • tmtvl says:

      In a multiple choice test, the answer is always ‘c’. There’s no basis to that claim, but I’m sure more than a few people would come up with that themselves.

      Relevant: List of cognitive biases – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    • Syal says:

      When told to randomly pick from a pool of numbers, people tend to avoid the extreme edges, in this case 1 and 4. Then some numbers like 3 or 7 have extra implications and gain votes just for that. So in a “which of these four” test (and it’s usually 4, I don’t know why), 3 pretty much always wins, followed by 2. I think 1 has ‘winner’ connotations and will beat a common boundary number like 4 but lose to a special one like 7 or 69.

      I’d think people would get bored and pick something early just to be done with it if there’s more than a few dozen options, but will pick somewhere in the bottom of the range to justify the size of it as long as most of the numbers are single digits.

      … hopefully people aren’t voting for politicians at random.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Some are.But then,people have to be coerced into voting first,and thats the biggest hurdle.

        As for the snail thing,aside from what you and tmtvl wrote,theres also a thing about this being a list from top to bottom.If they were arranged differently,say left to right,or better in a square,the results would differ again.Humans are fickle beasts.

  23. SoranMBane says:

    I’m glad headcrabs got mentioned for that final question; they were always one of my favourite monsters. They just look so dang cuddly, even as much as it would probably be a terrible idea to actually try cuddling with one (except for Lamarr, who is safe and adorable). Plus I appreciate all the thought that seemed to be put into their biology and ecology.

    Nowadays, I would probably have to go with some monster from from Undertale. Probably any one the Dreemurrs (all of whom I love as characters), or Muffet (my favourite Undertale monster in terms of visual design; I would totally go lesbian for that spider). Outside of major characters and bosses, I’d also name Snowdrake as my favourite random encounter monster in the game; he’s got a neat design, and I like the little sub-plot about his family that runs through the whole game.

  24. AdamS says:

    So, did anyone else see Tyranny in the title line and think “Oh shit, are they going to start arguing about the presidential election?”

    No?

    Just me?

  25. I’ve played Tyranny a bit more than Josh, although not much, they REALLY infodump on you at the beginning. Like, BAD. It’s very hard to follow all the names they dump on you and figure out what’s going on and why you’re supposed to care.

    As far as I can tell at this point you’re supposed to pick between the Dishonored and The Scarlet Chorus as to who you support, but they don’t really give you any INFORMATION to base that CHOICE on at the beginning. Nor do they indicate whether it’s going to be the kind of situation where not picking one or the other will lead to a disaster, or if you can finesse them into working together or WHAT. So the beginning feels like:

    OMG NAMES
    I’M PICKING THINGS AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M PICKING OR WHAT I EXPECT TO HAPPEN
    WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE

    And that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far.

    • Ringwraith says:

      I like the encyclopedia-style lookup for certain names though, played another game before dense on terminology and it was fine, especially for reminding yourself.
      The green text is even better as it shows stuff your character would know, so it tends to draw your eye as it’s often stuff that directly relates to something you did.

      • I consider this to be indicative of horrible writing. It’s a complete violation of “show, don’t tell”, in fact, it’s rather the opposite of that principle. You can’t retain a bunch of disintegrated codex/encyclopedia entries. They need to DRAMATIZE the information.

      • Sannom says:

        My favorite bit about the green text would have to be how they use it when the Voices of Nerat is included in the conversation. I wonder if that’s what Graven Ashe meant when he said that he could finally hear himself think?

    • Josh says:

      Yeah that initial cinematic is complete nonsense with how many names and events it drops on you all at once. The prologue section of character creation is somewhat better; by the end, you should have a pretty good idea of who the two main legions are and what they favor. But it’s still a very rough way to introduce the player to the world. Nobody’s going to remember your massive lore dump for more than a few minutes. Better to make the opening cinematic focus instead on the player character’s initial place in the world, and leave all of that world-building to the subsequent prologue segments.

  26. ehlijen says:

    Something similar to the HL headcrabs, in terms of use as biological weapons, were the brain suckers in X:COM apocalypse. They had some really interesting emergent behaviours and tactics revolving around them.

    Alien soldiers would carry launchers specifically built to fire brain sucker eggs at your guys, and the egg would hatch after being fired, or after a short delay once a dead alien soldier drops them. So you’d have the choice of:
    -throw a grenade to blow up all the eggs once you see an alien drop some (destroys all other loot, too)
    -run up and pick up all the eggs before they hatch (can leave you exposed, especially if you’re not quick enough to get all the eggs)
    -deal with the fact that you’ll have a few more really dangerous enemies to deal with soon

    Would the brainsuckers would do is run up to your men, jump on their heads and turn them into permanently mind controlled drones. But they couldn’t jump on your head if there was no space above you, so standing upright in low ceiling hallways or doorways meant you were safe from them (but exposed to shooting aliens).

    The game, while laughable in art design for large parts, had some really interesting tactical dilemmas.

  27. Sector47 says:

    I’m having a bug happen with the media player. If I pause it with the space bar, instead of just pausing it’s like it creates a second instance of the audio stream and repressing the space bar switches between the two.

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