Dénouement 2016 Part 4: The Good Stuff

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 17, 2017

Filed under: Industry Events 69 comments

Okay we’re done complaining now. 2016 wasn’t all bad. In fact, it was a pretty good year in terms of released games. I guess it would have to be. In a year with this many games, some of them had to be good.

Let’s talk about some of my favorites…

8. Firewatch

Henry, your job is to climb up on Pride Rock at sunset and salute the title screen.
Henry, your job is to climb up on Pride Rock at sunset and salute the title screen.

This game used a very similar trick to Gone Home. I can’t discuss it without spoiling both games. If you’re looking to preserve your ignorance, skip this section.

In the real world, if you read a story about an axe murderer you don’t instantly expect that you’re going to meet the axe murderer in the next couple of days. But in the context of a story, the audience knows the ax-murderer backstory is there for a reason. As soon as Old Man Exposition begins jabbering about those ax-murders back in ’79, we know our protagonists are going to meet one.

Both Gone Home and Firewatch employ a trick where they drop certain genre-specific cues into the story. This sets up a Chekov’s Gun that is never fired. I liked this because it pulled me in and allowed me to experience the same emotional state as my character. I went through the story paranoid and wondering what sort of gruesome conclusion this was all leading up to.

When it turned out that it was much ado about nothing, it continued to work for me because my emotional state was still in step with my character. When Henry realizes that he’s been alone in the mountains for too long and his imagination has run wild, I felt the same strange blend of embarrassment and relief that he did.

But for some players, this kind of anticlimactic twist ruins not just the end, but everything that came before. If a story promises ax murderers, or space aliens, or government spooks, or ghosts, or occult magic, then by the end we damn well better see those things. Otherwise the story is making promises it doesn’t plan to keep and setting the player up for a letdown.

The interesting thing about this is that this conflict is unavoidable. If the developers telegraphs that the threatening element isn’t real, then it would kill the sense of mystery and resolution that enabled me to ride the emotional roller coaster with Henry. If they don’t telegraph it, then some players will be frustrated. No matter how you tell this story, you have to disappoint someone.

7. The Witness

Head canon: Witness Island, Monkey Island, Pony Island, Dead Island, Myst Island, and the Island of Dr. Brain are all part of the same archipelago.
Head canon: Witness Island, Monkey Island, Pony Island, Dead Island, Myst Island, and the Island of Dr. Brain are all part of the same archipelago.

I didn’t see The Witness through to the end, but I enjoyed the hours I spent with it. It was a throwback to those mid-90’s Myst-type games of exploration and quiet contemplation. It was a delight to look at and had some genuinely interesting ideas. If I have a quibble with the game, it starts with this sales blurb from the store page:

This game respects you as an intelligent player and it treats your time as precious. There’s no filler; each of those puzzles brings its own new idea into the mix. So, this is a game full of ideas.

(Emphasis mine.)

I would say the first claim is true. The game does respect you as an intelligent player and it never feels the need to ruin its own puzzles by explaining them to you. The second point, though? I have no idea where you would get the idea that this game respects your time as precious.

The game gives you no direction. That’s nice because it means you’re free to figure things out for yourself. But it’s also open world, which means you might spend an hour trying to solve a puzzle when the information you need is on the other side of the island. I spent more time holding down the W key to walk around the island than I spent working on the puzzles, because there is a “proper” order to some of these puzzles and the game doesn’t give you any way to know if you’re wasting your time on the current puzzle.

On top of this are slow elevators, slow machines, and an agonizingly slow boat ride that leave you with nothing to do but wait. There’s only one game I played in recent memory that was more careless with my time. Speaking of which…

6. Obduction

This is a really pretty game.
This is a really pretty game.

From the creators of Myst and Riven comes a new game that ditches the old pre-rendered stuff from the 90’s and instead gives us a spectacular 3D world filled with interesting devices to sort out.

This game started really strong. As with their previous games, you spend a lot of time trying to sort out machines that feel like alien devices made from familiar parts. Every puzzle seemed to hit that sweet spot where it felt just challenging enough to make me feel clever when I solved it, but never so hard that I got bored or frustrated. It’s a game filled with brilliant ideas and a few kinds of puzzles I’ve never seen before.

Which brings me to the puzzle that killed the game for me…

In Obduction, you do a lot of world-hopping. You use these fixed consoles to teleport between dimension / worlds / whatever. The trick is that the teleport works by swapping a volume of space between the origin and destination. So if you used this technology to go from Manhattan to Death Valley, then when you arrived you’d have a slab of Manhattan pavement under your feet and the folks in Manhattan would have a perfect circle of desert where you had been standing.

This is a fun science fantasy idea, but it gets to be really interesting when you start using it to solve puzzles. Sometimes you have to swap around bits of these alien worlds to remove obstacles, power machines, create walkways, or reveal important bits of visual information. It’s great.


You'll explore strange new worlds. Eventually, I mean. When they're finally done loading.
You'll explore strange new worlds. Eventually, I mean. When they're finally done loading.

Hopping from world to world takes an agonizing length of time. Often you sit there for half a minute or more, watching abstract particle effects while you wait for the destination world to load. Usually by the time I arrive I’ve lost my sense of direction or forgotten what I was doing.

What kills it is the point in the game when you need to do several teleports in a row, playing a sort of shell game with spherical slices of the world to arrange them into place. Just figuring out what you need to do and how all the bits connect will require several painful loading screens, and that’s before you can begin the long work of moving the pieces into place.

It’s tough to convey just how much of a killjoy these moments were for me. Thirty seconds probably doesn’t sound all that long. I can remember games that were far worsePre-patch Witcher 1 comes to mind.. But it’s just long enough to break my train of thought. In theory, these puzzles are quite simple. The challenge isn’t figuring out what to do, it’s keeping your mind on the job with so much time between moves. It’s like a game of tic-tac-toe where the board vanishes for 30 seconds after every move. When it reappears it’s in a new position and you can’t even remember if you were playing X’s or O’s. The thing that makes the puzzle “hard” is how monumentally frustrating and tedious it is.

At this point I turned to a hint guide, hoping to push through these loading screens as fast as possible because they were killing the fun for me. Then I read that even if you’re following a guide and know exactly what to do, the solution still takes seven teleports. When the ordeal was over, I realized I was done with the game. Technically the process took less than ten minutes, but I spent most of that time thinking about what other games I had that I could be playing instead of staring at several consecutive minutes of loading screens. I don’t know how many more of those kinds of puzzles there were in the game, but I didn’t care to hang around and find out.

It’s a shame. If not for this one really obnoxious flawActually, the alien number system was pretty un-fun too., this would be the best game in the genre. The first couple of hours with the game were a delight and I’m glad I got to play them.



[1] Pre-patch Witcher 1 comes to mind.

[2] Actually, the alien number system was pretty un-fun too.

From The Archives:

69 thoughts on “Dénouement 2016 Part 4: The Good Stuff

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And #1 factorio,right?

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    it treats your time as precious.

    Does this also apply to that one puzzle that requires you to hold down a mouse button for an hour?

    And with that in mind,what do people think about the time sink “puzzles” like that in braid,the stanley parable and the witness?

    For those that dont know the “puzzles” I am talking about:
    In braid there are 6 hidden stars that you need to collect in order to get the real ending.One of those stars requires you to leave the game on for 2 hours in one level,until one very slow cloud reaches you.

    In the stanley parable,one of the endings requires you to keep pushing one button every 10 seconds or so for an hour,then to alternate pushing that button and another button every 10 seconds or so for another three hours.

    The witness has one secret ending where you need to watch an hour(more or less)long video,at the start of which you need to begin a maze which you can finish only at the end of it,which means youll have to hold down the mouse button pressed for an hour or so.

    1. Nick-B says:

      I remember Braid’s puzzle, which I don’t recall it taking hours (10 minutes?). Stanley’s was annoying, and certainly a time waster, but not necessary to do for any objective (missing a joke is all).

      But the Witness’ wasn’t too bad. There is a video to listen to while it is going on (I can’t remember what it was right now). And I think by default the control for the mouse doesn’t require you to hold the button down. Click once to start the puzzle, then sit back for half an hour, tops.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Nope,the cloud puzzle definitely takes 2 hours(unless that was patched or modded recently).And the game stops if you alt tab(or slows down,I cant remember which).The stanley and witness one I didnt even bother with.One of these was more than enough for me.

        1. Matt Downie says:

          The ‘Click A Button For 4 Hours’ ending isn’t for doing, it’s for watching on YouTube.

    2. DTor214 says:

      The witness has one secret ending where you need to watch an hour(more or less)long video

      Actually, this does not gate off a secret ending. It is definitely a thing you can do, and the game will recognize that you’ve done it, but there’s no pay-off beyond the lecture. So, yeah, this part of the game is definitely not respecting the value of your time.

      With regard to the slow elevators, machines, and boat, and the general problem of having to traverse the island at jogging speed, I think these are in the game partly to break up the monotony of staring at grids and partly as a platform for the secret/environmental puzzles. If there was no downtime between puzzles, you might get through the game without ever noticing them. If the machines moved faster, many of the puzzles would be too fiddly to solve, even after you figure them out.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      You don’t have to hold down the mouse button. You click to start, and click again to stop.
      That said, one does need to wait an hour to complete the challenge (along with waiting for some clouds to align IIRC). Blow would state that listening to that talk is one of the best things you can do with your time, so it isn’t merely waiting. Obviously, people will differ as to what is a good use of time.

      1. burningdragoon says:

        Or you could take the opportunity to make and eat dinner in the interim, which is how I chose to solve that particular puzzle.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Yep. I watched the whole video through first, and afterward figured out that there was a puzzle in it. So, in my case, you can do both!

    4. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      I would strongly disagree that the hidden stars in Braid lead to the “real ending”. The Real Ending is the one everyone saw with the point of the game in there. The secret ending doesn’t have nearly as much to say and is mainly there so that there’s something you get for going through the extreme hoops you had to to get all the stars.

      1. Starker says:

        Indeed, and the “video” in Witness is actually about about easter eggs and talks about the lengths people go to find them.

    5. Tom says:

      Absolute and total spoilers for Braid ahead:

      I think you may be slightly missing the point of those games. That hard-to-get ending in Braid, for example? That’s not the “real” ending. The real ending is the one that’s easy to get and teaches Tim a very hard lesson about himself. The ending that’s really, really hard to get is the one where Tim doesn’t learn anything and actually catches the woman he’s stalking instead of realizing that he’s an obsessive creep and finally doing something about that (and, depending on how much allegory you want to read into the game’s story, possibly causes nuclear Armageddon).

      What’s interesting is that while it is not unknown in even mainstream games for the protagonist to make a hard sacrifice or give up on a quest or otherwise experience painful but meaningful character growth, the player usually does not experience this except in a narrative sense. Braid, on the other hand, actually faces the player with the same experience the protagonist does via both narrative and also the gameplay itself, in the form of the secret ending. Tim is obsessed, pursuing an incredibly challenging goal to the point that he loses touch with the reality of what he’s doing, both literally and metaphorically – and just giving up and doing something else with his life would be the easiest thing in the world. Nothing external forces him to pursue the princess; he is motivated only by his own desire. Similarly, nothing external forces a player to get the other ending. The game doesn’t even tell you it exists. One has to act obsessively to get it – I mean, you have to wait for a freaking cloud for two hours without any indication that it’ll even get you anywhere useful, and that’s just one step of many – and just like the story of the alternative ending itself, it’s not a “good” ending and not worth the effort. If this is intentional, then it’s one more reason to put Braid in the small but significant “Proof That Games Can Be Art” category.

    6. bionicOnion says:

      I think that there’s an argument to be made for The Witness considering the player’s time as precious precisely because it can take so long to play or make progress.

      In most other games (and in most media that’s attained mainstream popularity, for that matter), progression through the piece is rapid; it becomes easy to flow through the entire work–and from one work to another–without necessarily spending any time with it, without stopping to dig into or understand it on any particularly deep level. Even lengthier films that we might call “deliberately paced” or “mood pieces” still only have somewhere in the range of two to three hours to introduce characters and setting, present some sort of plot hook (however slight), and explore whatever portions of the newly-established world the creator’s find to be worth sharing. There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule, but I’d posit that most popular films move at a faster pace than that (which is a bit of a tautological “no true Scotsman” sort of definition, but this is one of the preconditions of my argument, so I’m just kind of taken it as a given).

      The Witness, conversely, demands a significant investment of time and energy from the player, refusing to allow the player to make significant progress through the challenges that it presents without first taking the time to stop and truly think about the game, the puzzles, the rules, the environment, and the ways that all of those elements interact with one another. To my mind, the fact that the game takes so long to deliver its content doesn’t mean that it doesn’t treat the player’s time as precious; I read it as a way of showing the player just how precious their time can be if they spend it well. I don’t think that respect for the audience’s time necessarily has to imply that content will be served up quickly, but rather that the time that the audience chooses to invest will be rewarded appropriately.

      Of course, that’s a lot to read into an advertising tagline, and it’s certainly not the way that a player that hasn’t yet experienced the game could reasonably be expected to interpret the Steam page; from that perspective, it could certainly be read as a fairly misleading statement.

      I feel like I’m kind of falling into off-topic (and arguably pretentious) rambling at this point, though. Ultimately, I guess that I just don’t quite accept the idea that The Witness is frivolously wasting any of the time that the player chooses to give to it. Do with this quibble as you see fit.

    7. MrGuy says:

      I don’t think you can put the Stanley Parable puzzle in the same category with the Braid secret stars puzzle.

      In The Stanley Parable, doing arbitrary stuff just to get a different ending is the precise kind of metagaming activity that the game is explicitly a commentary on – what’s the relationship between the player and the player character? What really constitutes gameplay? Choice? It has a secret ending for spending hours mashing specific buttons for the same reason it has a specific achievement that triggers for NOT playing the game for 5 years straight. Why is mashing buttons to kill zombies gameplay, but mashing buttons purely to push buttons NOT gameplay? Why do games feel driven to “complete” the game, even past the point where the work to get that 100% is largely pointless? It’s metagame commentary and satire all the way down.

      Braid’s Secret Stars thing isn’t a commentary. It’s a ridiculously hard 100% completer bait that doesn’t serve a terribly interesting purpose. Sure, there’s a different ending, and it’s sort of interesting, but I’d argue it’s not really the “good” ending – just a different one. To me, it’s not even as interesting as listening the cops bust Riddler in Arkham Asylum. It’s straight-up GameFAQs bait. And that’s fine – there’s a certain audience for whom the thrill is in the quest for the mystical 100%. But it’s not most people, and certainly isn’t me.

      Haven’t played The Witness, but it sounds a lot more like Braid than Stanley Parable.

      Disclaimer – I’ve done the Braid secret stars achievement (with GameFAQs). I tried to do the Stanley Parable one, but missed a button about 45 minutes in, felt I’d gotten the jist of it and just watched it on YouTube. YMMV.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Hmph. I’ve not played The Stanley Parable for five years straight, and I haven’t got that achievement! Of course, I’ve never played it at all, but now you’re just splittin’ hairs.

  3. CoyoteSans says:

    I take issue with the suggestion The Witness values your intelligence: every single audio log and movie clip seems to have been chosen to maximally exude pretension and condescension towards the player. Listening to that ten minute long log of a reading of the Pale Blue Dot speech just ended up sounding to me “I’m Johnathan Blow, and I’m much more smart and cultured than you, stupid video game player who paid $40 for this game.”

    Then, seeing the secret ending being basically a joke at the player’s expense for spending so much of their time solving pointless puzzles basically killed any interest I had in that game. At least when Portal 1 did that plot twist they were laughing with the player, not at them.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I can’t find it now[1], but I saw a great YouTube video analysis of The Witness, where the narrator surmizes that the entire point is that The Witness is a joke. i.e. Johnathan Blow got sick of people praising him for / typecasting him into a specific genre, so he made this game, as a giant middle finger / joke, making fun of the people who were so fascinated and mystified by a the amazing man…who actually just wanted to make video games. Funnily enough, that would imply that this Extra Credits video is 1) made by the same type of person who John was making fun of, 2) exemplifies the pseudo-mysticism and over-hype that John was sick of, and 3) that they totally didn’t get the joke / insult and instead had it sail straight over theirs heads. I wish I could find that first video; It’s a really great watch. :)

      [1] I thought it might be a MrBTongue video, but it wasn’t him. Somebody with a similar style, though.

      1. lucky7 says:

        Joseph Anderson’s Witness video is what you’re talking about.

      2. pragmacube says:

        I think you are referring the analysis of Joseph Anderson : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZokQov_aH0

        (I recommend his other videos too, they are quite interesting!)

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          +1 this.His witness video was my introduction,even though I havent played that game.After that,I watched all of them(there arent many).

          1. MichaelGC says:

            +another. I watched all seven hours plus of his Dark Souls/Bloodborne content despite having played zero minutes of either and without the slightest intention to do so, and I’d happily watch another seven hours more. (Actually, same goes for the Naughty Dog videos – well, those were just under seven hours rather than just over if we’re being pedantic, which of course we are.)

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Speaking of Joseph Anderson,he made a new video about fallout 4.Two and a half hours one:


  4. Rack says:

    Respecting the players time is probably the number one criteria for a good videogame for me. I ideally like walkthrough games that have the movement speed from Doom.

    1. Tom says:

      Eh, in so-called walking simulators, I’d prefer it default to a leisurely stroll that lets me take in the detail and ambience – but just like in real life, for the love of Pete, give me “run” and “sprint” options for when I’m on a time budget, and vehicles with more than one speed. Sometimes you want to stroll lazily through the park all day; sometimes you only have time to jog through on your way somewhere else.

      1. Starker says:

        Obviously this is very subjective, but I never found the movement speed an issue in The Witness. The island is fairly small, there’s a sprint button, and the boat is pretty fast when you switch it to the highest speed. Even too fast for some of the things you want to do.

  5. Blakeyrat says:

    My problem with Firewatch isn’t that it set up plot points that it never resolved, it was that the plot points it did “resolve” didn’t make any sense and the plot points it ignored would have been compelling had they been resolved. (The mystery of the fenced-off area both doesn’t make sense and wasn’t resolved in a compelling manner. The person who uses the radio from there couldn’t have had access to it unless something really interesting happened, but we never find out what that interesting thing is.) It also had some really dumb lines, like talking about radio security as if 1986 radios were digitally encrypted or something.

    Making it worse, the main plot point of the game is resolved by just finding an item that spills all the beans in a long monologue with no interactivity. Then making it worse-worse, the trailer (the original one at least) contains something like 20 lines of dialog that never occur in the game and is very misleading.

    Basically, I thought Firewatch was a huge let-down. Similar games like Gone Home or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter were far better.

    1. Duoae says:

      My experience of firewatch was closer to Shamus’. I don’t quite get what you mean for most of your quibbles but I can see how the ‘item’ and monologue you speak about could be annoying for some.

      In that aspect I felt the game rushed it’s ending and that contributed to the potential for players to feel cheated.

      I would really recommend Chris’ Errant Signal episode about Firewatch as I think it complements the game wonderfully. He did a really good job of elucidating what the game does well and not so well, IMO.

      Incidentally, I’m playing through Ethan Carter now and don’t really see the similarities between the two games. If anything, TVoEC is closer to The Witness…

      1. Blakeyrat says:

        Here’s a spoiler-filled review I wrote on another site after I’d finished playing it: https://what.thedailywtf.com/topic/18874/firewatch-i-love-narrative-games-but-this-one-is-annoying-as-shit-caution-spoilers/26

        It might give a better idea what my complaints are. I’m trying not to spoil anything, which makes it hard to talk about the game at all.

        The problem isn’t that the ending is rushed (although it *is*), but that the resolution of the plot doesn’t make sense in several different ways.

        1. Duoae says:

          I’ll take a look later, thanks for the link!

      2. Nimas says:

        My problem with Firewatch I think is one of more simple disliking the genre.

        When the game was going, I found myself *perfectly* in Henry’s shoes. I was actually asking questions of the game and was really, really happy when a few seconds after I was asking the question, Henry gets the dialogue option to ask that same question. I remember a few times where I had to get up and walk around my house just to get my head right to play the next part of the game.

        Then when the reveal happened, I remember a feeling of almost deflation. Sinking into the realisation that I was playing a game that if I knew what genre it was to start, I likely would not have played.

        I understand and even respect what they were trying to do (better after Chris’ video) but the fact that the story changed from a thriller/mystery/possible sci-fi to a simple drama just meant I couldn’t accept it overall. That’s not to say that it’s any lesser for doing so, or the artists behind it any less skilled. It’s simply to say that what Firewatch became was simply a genre of fiction that I don’t currently particularly enjoy.

        What made it hurt so much was that it was initially something that was in a genre I enjoy, and was an almost transcendent version of that genre. I honestly can’t think of any game (or honestly any novel/movie) that truly had me in that perfect immersion and was reacting how I’d like to react. Unfortunately (for me), that game was simply not the one the designers had intended to make. I respect them for that decision, but it doesn’t make the game overall any less disappointing for me.

    2. Daimbert says:

      While looking at some other things — mostly books — I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re going to do something non-standard — like set up things to look like Chekov’s Gun and not fire them — then at the end of that day it had better pay off. In short, for any expectation you subvert or any non-standard style or plot element you use, at the end of the work we have to understand why that was chosen, what it brought to the work, and feel that it was worth doing to get that end. I think that for Shamus, the idea is that you couldn’t have set up the idea that Harry was a victim of his own overactive imagination without setting up the odd things and then subverting them, and that feeling in and of itself was worth it for him. For others, however, that’s not going to be the case; they won’t find that compelling enough to be worth setting up something that they might have liked better only to subvert it into something much less interesting.

      There’s also always a risk that people will come up with resolutions to your plots that they like better than yours, meaning that their reaction to the resolution is more disappointment than excitement. In this case, if it’s set up as something far more interesting and then reduced to something much more mundane, then the player had better feel attached enough to the character and the character element had better be strong enough, or else it’ll be a huge downer and impact their feelings towards the work.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The thing about gone home and firewatch is that they are made to resemble real life,not stories.And in real life,you will often stumble upon a story midway,and leave it before you find out what happened.Frankly,I dont mind fiction that does this.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Real life is, in fact, made up of sets of stories. Even dropping one in the middle and picking up another one is, or at least can be, a story in and of itself [grin].

          Essentially, even if it’s aimed at emulating real life, what we’d have in any work of fiction is a narrative. We have some kind of “storyteller” walking us through a narrative. But that narrative has to have a point, because if it doesn’t, then we wonder why it is we should be listening to or following that narrative instead of another one or living our own narratives, where there’s of course always a point to following our own narrative (we actually can’t help doing that [grin]). Thus, the risk of creating an expectation and then subverting it; if it doesn’t pay off, we wonder why we bothered following it in the first place.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            (we actually can't help doing that [grin])

            Sure we can.Sudoku is always an option.

            Also,”what is the point of life” is one of the oldest philosophical questions,and it has been incorporated into many works of art.So why not into games as well?

            1. Daimbert says:

              And thus you follow a narrative of you playing Sudoku [grin].

              And yes, that’s a theme that’s been done and could work. My entire point was that if you want to do something like that and want a more “real life” style, then that style has to support that so that at the end we can all see how that style worked to make that point. If we don’t, then we’ll be disappointed.

        2. Blakeyrat says:

          In Gone Home, we don’t find what we expected to find at the beginning of the game, but what we *do* find is beautiful and amazing and lovely and well-worth the effort.

          In Firewatch, we don’t find what we expected to find at the beginning of the game, but what we *do* find is plot holes, terrible railroading, stuff that simply makes no sense, characters who are basically sociopaths but the game treats like heroes, etc.

          To me that’s the crucial difference.

          Also Gone Home’s trailer doesn’t blatantly lie about what the game is.

      2. Christopher says:

        How long after the reveal does Firewatch’s plot last? I haven’t played it because it’s the kinda game I’d rather get “free” with PS+ in two months, but even though it sets up something cool and then makes it a mundane reveal, I think I could have gotten into it if that leads to the story going to different interesting places. Like if after the reveal, you do return back home and have extended scenes with your family, and possibly with the other firewatcher. The impression I’ve got is that it kinda pulls the rug out from under you and then just ends.

        1. Blakeyrat says:

          According to Steam, my Firewatch time is 4 hours. It can probably be completed quicker, as I got confused and did a lot of “wrong” things. (FYI: if you’re holding a candy bar, the game won’t let you do other interactions like picking up fireworks, but it also won’t tell you *why* you’re failing at picking up fireworks. That bug cost me at least 15 minutes.)

          If you get an opportunity to play for free or cheap, it might be worth your time. You might enjoy it like Shamus did. I didn’t, but who knows, maybe I’m the freak. :)

          1. Christopher says:

            No man, I was asking how long the plot(game) went on after the reveal of the twist!

            1. Syal says:

              There’s a few points that could be considered twists; the main one happens one area before endgame. The only thing after it is the other characters’ reaction to it.

              (I guess that can be a spoiler, if I treat it like one.)

    3. Allen says:

      It also had some really dumb lines, like talking about radio security as if 1986 radios were digitally encrypted or something.

      That line threw me as well, and then I realized – that’s part of the point. Neither of these characters are tech savvy types. It just… never occurs to them that they’re broadcasting on what is effectively an open channel. They literally don’t know any better. (Just think on how many people use a computer without really understanding any of the details of *why* it works.)

  6. Ninety-Three says:

    But for some players, this kind of anticlimactic twist ruins not just the end, but everything that came before. If a story promises ax murderers, or space aliens, or government spooks, or ghosts, or occult magic, then by the end we damn well better see those things. Otherwise the story is making promises it doesn't plan to keep and setting the player up for a letdown.

    This was sort of my problem with Firewatch but not really. If Firewatch had set up a plot about government spooks, but actually it turned out to be axe murderers, then that’s a promise it didn’t deliver on but I probably would’ve been fine with it, because it’s still delivering something. My problem isn’t that Firewatch broke its explicit promise of spooks, but rather that it broke its implicit promise of having an interesting plot. The “twist” of Firewatch is that nothing interesting is happening, and almost by definition, that’s not interesting.

    Firewatch is like the Nancy Drew book where she spends the whole thing investigating the ghost haunting the attic, and it turns out to be a squirrel. It’s not that I wanted a ghost, it’s that an entire plot about a detective finding a squirrel is a stupid boring plot and I feel like the author just wasted my time. And if the real point wasn’t the plot, but the character banter that occurs in between plot stuff, why is there so much pointless plot stuff?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not a fan of Beckett,I see.

      1. Cybron says:

        I love Waiting For Godot and can’t stand this sort of anti-climax twist (I’ve encountered it in Gone Home, have not played and will most likely not play Firewatch). I cannot speak for the larger body of Beckett’s work, but for Waiting For Godot in particular, I think drawing a connection between the two is extremely misleading.

        Waiting For Godot is neither realistic not particularly literal. It never feels like navigating the mundane, because a literal reading of it feels like absurd nonsense. The viewer is less interested in the character’s own situation and more in what the play is “saying” about the viewer’s own situation, about the human experience. It’s not a setup for a bait and switch like these games are. That’s how I feel about it, anyways. Maybe I’m being unfair and discriminating against the games on the basis of their medium and their context (how many people are going to go into Godot with “wrong” expectations?). Either way I don’t fell they’re similar experiences.

    2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      In Firewatch, it’s not that NOTHING happened. It’s that something sad happened and then there was a bunch of fluff to cover up the true thing that happened.

      1. Geebs says:

        Unfortunately, the thing was implausible, and the consequences didn’t make any sense in terms of things human beings might actually do.

        Firewatch had visual style and the not-a-romance story was engaging, but the underlying plot was a complete mess.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Firewatch spoilers in the brackets:

          It was implausible that someone unenthusiastic about an extreme outdoor activity would have a serious accident while being forced to do that activity? How so?

          The response
          Regarding the father’s response, he felt guilty and angry and paranoid, and declined to clean up the mess because a part of him felt like he SHOULD be caught. Hence the “you caught me, here’s exactly what I did” tape he recorded for you at the end. But also he felt like he didn’t deserve to be punished and this would finally be his chance to be the total outdoorsman he apparently considered himself, without any distractions or ties to hold him back. Aka, what if Walden was trying to cover up an accidental death.

          1. Blakeyrat says:

            More spoilers:

            Keep in mind Delilah covers up his disappearance (in a completely implausible fashion– when they did the debrief that year, her boss didn’t do something as basic as a headcount? Nobody started asking questions when the paychecks went uncashed?) She also lies to the police about a crime scene in the game. Then at the end, this person who’s just this side of sociopath, we encourage her to become a councilor? Seriously? The game completely glosses over the fact that she’s a *criminal*.

            I simply could not get in my character’s shoes, because he didn’t react in a realistic way any human being would act.

            That’s ignoring that the whole plot about Ned being able to track your radio makes no sense. Why does he have access to the fenced-in government area? What happened to the government people? Did Ned murder them or something? Who instructed the fire fighters to make a break to protect the fenced-in area *after* Ned had disposed (somehow) of the government men and had been using their equipment?

            1. Duoae says:

              Erm she states that people often go AWOL from these jobs so no one would do a headcount. I doubt they were paid either.

              She lied about a crime scene but then many people do. You act as if everybody tells the police the absolute truth all the time – that doesn’t happen in real life because people want to protect those they know…

              The government people were never in the fenced in area. It was an unmanned experiment left running. Ned had access from some way that we as the player didn’t. There’s lots of fence for him to be able to climb over that we don’t inspect or have access to because of the collision detection.

              The fire break was there because it was inbetween the two forest fires. Both of which were reported by Henry and Delilah.

              1. Ninety-Three says:

                The opening of the game says “Summer is coming and you see an ad in the paper for a job”, it’s clearly not a volunteer position. Alternatively, sixty seconds on Google tells me that Fire Lookout is absolutely a paid position. How does a salaried employee drop off the grid and no one notices?

                1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                  They noticed, but it’s expected behavior, based on the type of job it is. Check out some of the comments near yours.

                2. Duoae says:

                  Yeah, my comment about them not being paid is that if you leave a job without notice you won’t get paid! :)

                  Think of it more like a temp position through an agency than a salaried position (the two are different in the countries I’ve lived in thus far in my life and have different protections, requirements and expectations)…

                  Plus, the game explicitly tells you about this stuff so I guess google isn’t the be-all and end-all of knowledge if you’re asking it the wrong question. Plus, did you confine your query to the 1970s? Or just look at what the National Park Service is doing today?

                  1. Blakeyrat says:

                    if you leave a job without notice you won't get paid! :)

                    That is 100% not true. (And also wasn’t true in 1988.) You have the legal right to get paid at the negotiated rate for your work regardless of how long you worked or why you left.

                    A company might try to skirt the law, but the Forest Service certainly wouldn’t.

                3. Blakeyrat says:

                  The people who walked out *still got paid for the time they worked*. That’s the thing. It’s not just a job, it’s a government job, and they’re not going to violate federal law by not paying employees, or at least making a best-effort.

                  I just didn’t find that plot point plausible whatsoever. It only works if Delilah goes out of her way to fake paperwork, etc, and actively covers it up like I originally posted. And if she did that that makes her not a person I want to be all friendly-happy with, that makes her a criminal. If the player had some agency to say “what the hell is wrong with you?” then I might have been ok with it, but there’s basically zero player agency.

            2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              Blakey, I feel like you’re responding to something that wasn’t there in the game at all.

              Delilah didn’t have to cover anything up. Weirdos take the Firewatch jobs and it’s expected that people will go off the reservation and just leave without formally quitting. It’s a boring, lonely job and some people just can’t hack it. So when Ned doesn’t show up at the end of his term they just go “meh” and move on, as it happens ALL THE TIME. Delilah herself is a bit concerned, because she had a casual relationship with the kid.

              Sociopath, really?? This is such a leap of logic and poor use of vocabulary, it’s a very strange comment. It reminds me of how any person who likes math but is awkward in an unfamiliar social setting is “Asbergers” in the too casual internet world. She cares about the fate of this kid. She cares about you (constantly asking after your safety, etc). She cares somewhat about the safety of the park you’re watching over. What part of this is sociopathic? That she didn’t report an incident to the police that she thought would get a friend in trouble? She knew that it looked bad and there was no evidence that Henry HADN’T done something bad, but believed him when he said he had not done anything bad. Finally, you don’t need to encourage her to do anything. It’s a dialogue option like any other. If you don’t feel she would fit that job… then don’t say that.

              The mystery in Firewatch
              Ned tracks the radios with equipment he found at the project site. They were doing radio tracking of tags implanted in wild animals you find out, so their equipment makes this kind of easy to do. How does he access the fenced in area? He climbs the fence. This is a guy who climbs mountains as a hobby, our character on the other hand is just getting into shape as the game starts and doesn’t want to flagrantly break into a sealed area until he feels pressured to do so by the made up conspiracy. Ned is long past caring about rules like that once his kid is dead. The government people left, it’s implied by in game lore eventually that they were done for the season or perhaps just done overall, and hadn’t taken their equipment with them right away. The same way the fire fighters left before you found their setup. The firebreak is based on the ongoing wildfire, as detailed in conversations between Henry and Delilah. The park service would have been the one to instruct them to do that, it is completely sensible.

              1. Blakeyrat says:

                I probably would have been more generous towards the game’s story at that point if it hadn’t pissed me off earlier on:

                * That horrible railroading intro (go to Connecticut, you moron! Why can’t I make this character I ostensibly control do the logical thing!)
                * Wrong tool tips
                * That bug with the damned candy bar which I actually had to go to a walkthrough to get past


                Well, whatever. I didn’t enjoy the game but at least it was short.

                BTW, I’m noticing that the game’s fans seem to just be glossing over the fact that the trailer for this game was INCREDIBLY misleading. It’s spittle-rant worthy when No Man’s Sky does it, but when Firewatch does it people are just ok with it? I guess?

          2. Duoae says:

            I’m beginning to think that some people missed what actually happened in the game! I agree with this reply wholeheartedly.

            There were quite a few ‘points’ to the game and a good couple of personal stories that were interesting to follow. Mostly though, Henry’s working through his issues was a good enough plot driver for me and, IMO, the spook story delivered like it was meant to.

            I can’t really think of any plot holes except the stupid-fast travel time of the antagonist. Everything else made sense to me…

  7. Starker says:

    Hmm… if the Witness boat was really slow for you, does this mean that you never found the speed controls on the boat? Cause it’s pretty fast at full speed.

  8. karln says:

    It seemed to be that TW did indeed give clear signals that a puzzle can’t be (or are not by default “supposed to be”) solved yet, by including new elements in a non-trivial setting. But maybe I’ve just watched too many Blow talks so that I knew going in he would very carefully introduce every new element using the simplest possible puzzles to do so.

    Some of the door-to-before puzzles were maybe a bit too simple to really cry out “I am for later” (contrast with the puzzles in town which are comically overcomplicated and use multiple new elements at once) so maybe those are the ones Shamus had trouble with. I suspect that’s the result of wanting some of those to be guessable early as a reward for players who like to skip ahead a bit and feel smug about figuring it out (for the record I did not manage this but I tried).

  9. Geebs says:

    I didn’t really mind the load times in Obduction, because the transition effect was so clever and the results were so beautiful.

    It is a very Myst-y game, even more so than anything after Riven. That final puzzle, though, was a terrible mistake.

    1. Aquin says:

      I’m fairly sure the load times are unintentional. I say this because the load times are relatively quick on my computer (maybe 5 seconds?), but I have a great machine.

      There were a lot of technical issues with the game when I first played it, but I think it’s been patched quite a bit now. I have no idea if it’s any better, to be honest.

      I did enjoy it though. :)

      1. Aspeon says:

        I moved the game to my SSD once I got to the first puzzle that required several load screens, and was very happy for it. It wasn’t perfect in the endgame, but I’d strongly recommend anyone that has one do so.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        I wonder if they created/tested the game on an SSD and didn’t realize how slow loading would be on all the HDDs still floating around.

  10. MelTorefas says:

    Which brings me to the puzzle that killed the game for me…

    As soon as I read this I knew EXACTLY which puzzle you were talking about.

    As far as I can remember this was the only puzzle that required so many world swaps. That said I don’t know that you missed all that much. The gameplay seemed interesting but like most of these puzzle games I found the story part pretty lackluster.

    The way I see it, you can either have a mystery or you can have people who explain things to you, but not both. Obduction was the worst example of violating this, giving you regular access to a fellow human being who preserves the “mystery” of the setting by never once completing a sentence.

    *long sigh* Those karfin’ Mofang…

    1. Pinkhair says:

      Well, he was played by Mr. ‘BRING ME RED PAGES’ himself. I really didn’t like that the only thing stopping him from carrying on a proper conversation was… the fact that he knew you couldn’t punch him?

  11. MrGuy says:

    I can’t help compare Firewatch to one of the vignettes the novel of World War Z (disclaimer – I love the book, particularly if you’ve also read the Zombie Survival Guide. Did not care at all for the movie).

    In the book (no idea if it’s not in the film), a supply pilot crashes into zombie infested territory and has to survive long enough to be rescued. Spoilers: She’s guided out of hostile territory by a survivalist radio operator she manages to contact, who gives her advice, encouragement, and directions to a pickup point. The twist is that, after the fact, she tells the story, but the radio operator’s call sign is unrecognized, there’s no record of the operator anywhere or anyone else who can recall contacting her, and some of the personal details are psychologically similar enough to the pilot that even she knows it’s exactly the kind of person she would have made up.

    What I love about the WWZ story is that they don’t give you closure – we never know FOR SURE if the radio operator existed or not. There are reasons to think the pilot made her up. On the other hand, if she did, how did she get to the rescue successfully? They deliberately leave it open. The “author” of the book agrees she “probably” made it up, but can’t help but wonder. I find that way more interesting than a “hard” reveal that “it was all in your head!”

  12. Dragmire says:

    I honestly don’t care about the environmental puzzles in The Witness. I bought that game 100% for line puzzles. I enjoyed the puzzles themselves but the game did 2 things I hate for puzzle games to do.

    First, rules for the puzzles were not explicit. Trying to solve a puzzle without knowing the rules is a maddening experience for me. I know there are simplified puzzles to teach the rules but you have to bloody find them! So, instead of trying to solve puzzles I came across, I had to devote a good amount of time to blindly walking(holding down the walk at a brisk pace button) around hoping I find the tutorial puzzles. This was likely on purpose to give players time to look around possibly notice the environmental puzzles but again, I don’t care about those. After several hours of trying to find the tutorial puzzle for a puzzle type that looked interesting I gave up and looked up a written rule list on the internet.

    Second I actually covered in the first, quantity of time playing a puzzle game in which you are not solving puzzles. The fact you have to hunt for puzzles combined with the slow movement speed created looong stretches of busywork to get to the next bit of content. It’s felt as if there was, at times, a 20 minute loading screen as I traveled completely unengaged searching for the next puzzle I could attempt. Or to put it another way, imagine playing Bejeweled where upon completing a level, you were loaded into a virtual forest where you had to search for the next level.

    I would have been happy with a virtual museum where the line puzzles are along the wall(with a puzzle rule list as part of a menu). That’s all I wanted.

    Side note, once I understood the rules, solving the line puzzles was quite fun.

  13. Smejki says:

    “No matter how you tell this story, you have to disappoint someone.”
    I disagree. Well, I haven’t played Firewatch, but given they deliberately used the trick to sync protagonist (Henry) with the player (which happened to you) maybe they failed at emphasizing the fact so while the disappointed players were in fact at the same state as Henry was they just didn’t realize that.

    Similar thing happened in Spec Ops: The Line where you are supposed to grow on your hate towards the protagonist. Subsequently the game didn’t work well for players who didn’t desync with the protagonist. Signalling of the creator’s intentions was often very subtle.

    I did play Gone Home however and there the trick was really only used to subvert expectations and nothing else. This was the case of making somebody inevitably disappointed.

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