Until Dawn EP20: Wendigozer

By Shamus
on Feb 2, 2017
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Rutskarn brings up the fact that on your first play-though, it usually feels like EVERYTHING matters and you have a lot of control over how the story unfolds. But then you play again, make different choices, and end up with a similar outcome. Again, it’s like having someone show you how a magic trick was done. Some people are fine because they were still able to enjoy that first play-through, even if subsequent trips through the game reveal the artifice. Other people feel sort of cheated.

The Telltale Walking Dead game had the same problem. “So-and-so will remember that” sounded profound and ominous, but then you realized later that this was usually a lie and each episode had a small handful of important decisions and many meaningless ones.

I’m fine with a “magic trick” game that only works once. The problem you run into is when you try to make a franchise of recurring threats and characters built around that idea. I know if I ever played TWD: Season 2 I’d spend the whole time thinking, “This decision probably doesn’t matter.”

I think Until Dawn makes for a better formula than Walking Dead. They could make another Until Dawn game about a different group of teens in a different location with a new threat and it ought to work as well as this one, because you won’t know what the threat is. You won’t know which teens have plot armor and which ones are just one late button-press from death at all times.

We know Clementine is going to face zombies and crazy assholes in her struggle to survive, and we know she’ll make it.

I think if we’re working our way through the slasher tropes, then “camping trip gone wrong” or “haunted summer camp” should be the next destination for the Until Dawn franchise.

Next episode will wrap this series up.

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2020209Sixty-nine comments, dude! Excellent!

From the Archives:

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Chris,the two of them have been together in dancer in the dark.

    Rutskarn,he was the führer in iron sky:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvILLJe81h0

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The thing about “when you know theres no choice its less engaging” is not true.At least,not for some people.I knew it wasnt true for both wolf amongst us and walking dead season 2.But while I didnt really care for the wolf,I cared for the dead.So the linearity of the story is not as important as the story itself.

    • Tizzy says:

      One of the key things is: what do you consider to be similar outcomes? Even if you’re just talking about who dies and who survives, you already have 256 different outcomes or so (individual deaths can happen independently).

      But a lot of your choices have to do with steering the various relationships between characters. And those can have an impact on who is in danger, or so it seems.

      That being said, once I finished the game, i didn’t feel the urge to play it again. I was fine with reading up and watching whatever I’d missed. (People who have only been watching this LP will want to watch a grisly deaths montage to get the full experience. )

    • Jokerman says:

      I have also enjoyed a few repeat playthroughs of Until Dawn after reading wiki and knowing when and where people can die.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Rutskarn,the reason why this thing worked for you when Shamus hated it is that you are still young and naive.But dont worry,one day,infinity years from now,youll reach Shamus’s age,look back at this story and say “Man,that first half was frustrating as hell!”

    • MichaelGC says:

      Might just be an order of operations thing than anything age- or wisdom-related! One mindset asks what the rules are and, if these pass muster, will allow a tale to entertain. The other mindset looks first for entertainment and, if found, will proceed to ask if a tale plans on sense-making and self-consistency.

      And of course that all necessarily sounds vastly more concrete and definite written down than it has any right to! Just a vague sense I have, is all. But I feel like the two approaches are more similar than they are different.

      • MichaelGC says:

        Actually, is wisdom the opposite of naïveté? Dunno – but anyway, whatever the actual opposite is, Rutskarn has a fairly scary amount of it if y’ask me.

        Starting to run low on youth, though! :p

      • Jokerman says:

        There is also the fact that playing the game over… say 8-10 hours feels a lot different than watching it over weeks, when you are in the moment, with the controller in your hand…. you don’t really have so much time to think.

        Like chasing down Jessica, you can watch… and see it’s silly, but in the moment, while playing, when you think she can die (she can) while you are watching for where to go next and doing lots of quick time events.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    We know Clementine is going to face zombies and crazy assholes in her struggle to survive, and we know she’ll make it.

    Its the journey that matters,not the destination.

    Also,those choices still matter because they have an impact on you,the player.Yes,who survives the encounter to die off later doesnt matter to them,but it matters to you.Thats why I hate the “it doesnt matter” narrative that people are spinning around.Just because the story doesnt change because of your choice does not mean you did not make that choice.

    • Echo Tango says:

      I’d further add that, in the Telltale games, the story does indeed change; It just doesn’t change drastically for the player avatar character. Yes, Lee, Bigby, and Clementine end up in largely the same endings in their respective games, but the circumstances to those endings are different. Certain people died, lived, or had their lives shaken up by you. Their stories just happen to not matter to your final scenes, and the stories continue with you off doing something without them.

      I’d rather have games with choices that affect both major and minor characters, rather than only having The Amazing Choices that affect The Important People Groups And Places In The World. Those games usually grow tiresome for me, since they can only ever escalate any given scene, plot, or game series overall. :)

    • Christopher says:

      I think choices that ultimately are meaningless can be very frustrating in these games. If I get to choose between who lives and who dies and the other person then dies in a predetermined spot later, that’s annoying. It’s the same for if you save a person that could have died, and that character is shipped out of the party/proceedings because making additional content for them is tiresome(Kaiden/Ashley in ME, most of the ME2 original squad members, Kate in Life is Strange). It’s not an artistic decision, made to illustrate a point about futility or something. It’s a limitation of resources that means decicions, which these games sell themselves on big time, with huge “I will remember this” warnings, ring hollow.

      I wrote last episode that the reason Until Dawn’s choices feel good is because there really aren’t a lot of them, directly. You don’t directly choose one life over another(the one time you do it’s a complete lie), it’s explicitly possible to save basically everyone, and you don’t make decisions that would branch the plot in real life. You control every character, and your performance(and in some cases, some odd little choices that are hard to gauge on your own) decide if you survive or not. Until Dawn doesn’t give you anything more than most of these games, but it also doesn’t promise the world, and it occurs during a single night. It’s not episodic despite having… episodes, and I think that works in its favor.

      You can say the choices matter to me personally all you want, but when I know they’re pointless(And I’ve known since I played Mass Effect 2 after Mass Effect 1) the impact is lessened. I’m surprised when they do have an impact.

      It’s especially grueling if one set of choices make sense for the plot you have to play a part in while the other one doesn’t. It makes sense for Max to be into Chloe in Life is Strange, for instance. She has nightmare sequences at one point where Chloe is slutting around with everyone she knows, and she’s being hunted by all the men she knows. But it’s entirely possible to play that game only checking out Warren and giving Chloe the cold shoulder. Even in Until Dawn, if you’re good enough to save Jess, she appears alive when she falls down the shaft, and it gives the impression that Mike is stupid when he climbs up instead of down after her.

      I appreciate choices as a way of customizing the experience, but ultimately I don’t need them. Story based games are fine without choices, like your Phoenix Wrights or your Personas. And I’m not sure if the dramatic choices(Quarians/Geth, Mordin/Genophage) are worth the hassle of the bothersome ones. Here’s an idea, have the choices you have the resources as a developer to flesh out. Undertale is a great example of a branching story(within the same environments, with the same characters) that changes massively based on whether or not you kill monsters. Toby Fox could do that because it’s a small game, and the path of killing everyone is much shorter than the good path. But while I wouldn’t kill monsters in that game, the fact that the option is there and would have an impact on the story makes the pacifism feel worthwhile. When there are actual consequences, choices are super cool.

    • Jokerman says:

      and knowing it’s the Walking dead, you can’t be that sure she will always make it.

    • Pyrrhic Gades says:

      This comment was originally less blocky and “punchier”, but I ended up losing it all in post, with the site going temporarilly down.

      Its the journey that matters,not the destination.

      Also,those choices still matter because they have an impact on you,the player.Yes,who survives

      When taken completely out of context, this is kinda profound in a different way. Sure there are plenty of games that kill off the player’s character. But there aren’t very many games that are willing to kill the player himself. Such a game would surely be the talk of the year amoungst journo’s… if any were to live to tell about it.

      If any permenant effects were to be had on a player, then I guess they could put a safety warning on it. Just so long as they put that safety warning under a spoiler warning.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Being impacted by something does not mean you are physically impacted.Many a work of art impacted many a people in various emotional and thought provoking ways.

  5. aunshi says:

    I am disappointed in Mike for not hitting on Sam at any point, Where’s the man we used to know?

  6. RCN says:

    The next terror trope should be haunted ship.

    Then they can call it Until Drown.

    I’ll see myself out…

  7. Benjamin Hilton says:

    The Scout? Chris? C’mon, everyone knows Rutskarn is really Guybrush Threepwood.

  8. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I agree with Rutskarn about Josh not getting a resolution. A lot of stories in this vein do have a secondary human antagonist that gets his comeuppance at the end which seems to be what the game is going for here. The problem is that Josh is too sympathetic. He never physically hurts anyone on purpose, and between the imaginary therapy sessions and the sequence in this episode we understand that he isn’t a bad guy, he’s just really sick and really sad, which just makes his fate seem undeserved. Granted anyone of the others dying here would be undeserved as well, but you as the player can get them out in one piece, unlike Josh.

    Edit: It reminds me of a pet peeve of mine where a character is a mild jerk in a social context. And this makes it somehow easier to stomach when he gets horribly murdered 5 seconds later. Except that’s even better than this, because in this game it’s doing the same thing with someone who’s main problem is being ill.

    • Cinebeast says:

      Yeah, Josh’s resolution rubs me the wrong way too.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Josh’s own mind accuses him of being a psychopath for what he did, which says to me he DOES have a sense of right and wrong which he chose to ignore. What ultimately happens to him is unfortunate, but thematically appropriate I would think. Especially considering the fates of his sisters, who did NOTHING wrong.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Josh’s own mind accuses him of being a psychopath for what he did, which says to me he DOES have a sense of right and wrong which he chose to ignore.

        Not necessarily.His hallucination accuses him of being a psychopath,so while a part of his brain knows that his actions were wrong,whether he ignores it voluntarily or not is a completely different thing.With hallucinations its really hard to say what is actually going on,what is conscious and what is subconscious.

    • Grudgeal says:

      As someone with a mental issue that went misdiagnosed for too long, which ended me up in various unfortunate situations before the issue could be properly identified, I sympathise very deeply with Josh.

      He seems to be outright psychotic and not entirely aware of what’s real and what’s not, and if the Wendigo had never shown up, the inevitable criminal charges the prank would have resulted in would probably show that Josh was, if not legally insane, probably in possession of so-called “diminished capacity” thanks to his illness.

  9. Bloodsquirrel says:

    Blade III was the genuinely awful one.

    • RCN says:

      Isn’t that the one where Wesley Snipes absolutely refused to comply with his contract… possibly because he was trying to escape in order to evade his tax evasion investigation… or something?

      I heard he even refused to open his eyes for a take of a close-up of his face where the only thing he was supposed to do was open his eyes. So they had to CGI him opening his eyes.

      Sure, the movie had other problems. But the clear aura of uncooperation from the lead is palpable.

  10. @Rutskarn YOu mentioned somebody reaching out to Josh wit some tenderness.
    Sam does (on the way down to the basement at the start she says they are there for him).

    Also during the end credits she says she thought she and Josh had a connection, it’s no far fetched to think she had a thing for him more than just being a close friend.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      I could see Sam being into Josh a bit, considering how she’s willing to say the totally ridiculous “robed attacker” prank in the basement was “kind of funny… I guess” to appease him.

  11. @Rutskarn Your point on the tragedy of Josh is well, on point. In many ways Until Dawn is about the tragedy of Josh but that probably would not make for a great selling title (and slightly spoilerish too I guess).

    Josh loosing his sisters, never finding them or what happen to them, going to a shrink, getting the wrong meds (!), no meds. Having a (I guess) crush on Sam that seems one way or so he thinks, it’s certainly not a happy story as far as Josh is concerned.
    Which I kinda like, as you do feel empathy for him at the end whereas in the middle (mask reveal) some may dislike him for the prank.

  12. Christopher says:

    So, when Chris described the “Wendigozer“, clearly someone had to do something about it.

  13. SpammyV says:

    I wonder if part of the reason that Shamus got caught up on trying to figure out what the threat of the game is that the game starts to show the different sides early, but there’s no real interaction between them. Until Josh reacts with confusion when Mike says that Jessica is dead, you don’t really get a sense that the wendigos have been interfering with anything in a way that Josh notices. So what happens is that we see the wendigos and Stranger doing things in one part of the plot and Josh doing things in the other part of the plot, with no sign to the audience that there are two separate threats at work. I’m sure you could pull it off to hint to the audience (not the characters) that we’re seeing a supernatural force interfering with a crazy guy’s plans, but I don’t how you would pull it off without losing the big surprise I think they were going for with the wendigos.

    • King Marth says:

      As I recall, Shamus did call it – when Jess was first kidnapped by a Wendigo, he called out that no human would be capable of snatching an unwilling adult through a broken window and dragging them off faster than John McClane running at breakneck pace without dragging an unwilling adult.

      Now, what does this mean: That the storyteller has no idea what is reasonable for a human to accomplish, or that a superhuman is involved? If the storyteller has until that point kept strictly to a mundane world, then this one exception is a mistake. You need a lot of trust in a storyteller before you can start interpreting nonsensical events as foreshadowing, and more often than not that trust is misplaced even when earned (ref: TvTropes/EpilepticTrees).

      As an aside, I really disliked the anime A Certain Magical Index for a very similar reason. In an explicitly supernatural world, its storytelling schtick is giving really bad and nonsensical explanations for how the magic works, only to reveal that the reason why their explanation was bad and nonsensical was because the explanation was an intentional falsehood to trick the characters. It’s clever in retrospect, but that doesn’t keep it from being intensely frustrating that the author abuses your suspension of disbelief and then laughs at you for letting him do so… and good luck telling the intentionally false explanations from the “real”, magic-is-weird explanations. (Maybe later arcs got over this crutch, and I’ve heard the sci-fi spinoff is much better, but they lost the chance to convince me.)

      • Jay Allman says:

        “If the storyteller has until that point kept strictly to a mundane world … ”

        And I think that’s the key insight: Once you show a “psycho” operating in the world, then the viewers are likely to interpret everything that happens in terms of what a crazy person could do, and they’re going to question stuff like Jess’s kidnapping. And there are a lot of places early in the game — like those scenes with Peter Stormare, for a start — which are pretty blatant about hinting that the threat is mundane.

        If a story is going to mix mundane and supernatural threats, then it needs to be pretty circumspect about what it reveals. William Hope Hodgson’s “Carnacki” stories feature a detective who investigates hauntings. Half the time the threats turn out to be genuine ghosts; the other half of the time they turn out to be hoaxes (like in “Scooby Doo”). But Hodgson always plays fair. He shows the spooky phenomena, and scrupulously avoids all hints that it could be trickery until he’s ready to spring the solution. If “Until Dawn” had been similarly scrupulous, by simply showing lots of spooky effects without showing them up as obviously fake, or by showing a guy in a clown mask stomping around, then we’d be much more cautious about interpreting what we’re seeing.

        I think there’s only one way the game could have telegraphed its “crazy guy” solution while hinting that maybe there was something else going on: By showing Josh himself (while his identity was still obscured) witnessing and being a little rattled by wendigo activity. Then maybe — maybe! — viewers like Shamus (and me, I confess) wouldn’t have been so quick to call BS on things like Jess’s kidnapping.

  14. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    27:20 A gameshark?

  15. @Rutskarn & Shamus: In regards to explaining/revealing the genre and the effect that has on the horror, I find there’s one thing that trumps genre when it comes to a scary story:

    Do we care about what happens to the characters?

    Stephen King’s stories may have lots of faults, but what he does well is create characters that you at least care about seeing through to the end. This is what filmmakers that try to adapt his tales often get wrong, concentrating on the monster. Frank Darabont is about the only one that’s realized this, but that’s most horror films, really.

    One movie you might like if you enjoy trying to figure out if what’s happening is mundane or not is “Frailty.” If you’ve never seen it and you don’t mind a little brutality (it is horror, after all), you might give it a watch.

    As for video games, I know it’d take a lot more work, but perhaps we’ll one day get a horror game of some depth that allows choices to determine, in the end, if you were fighting against a clever murderous human or some kind of demon in a hockey mask, rather than the outcome of the story being pre-set as one or the other.

  16. Tizzy says:

    Another good thing about the game: it throws a lot of decisions and QTEs at you, which clearly means they can’t all have a big impact. But it’s pretty good at keeping you guessing which ones are the important ones.

    Even if sometimes it feels a little unfair in retrospect: I let Em walk all over my version of Matt, and for his troubles he got hung on a butcher’s hook.

    But it also felt pretty awesome and well planned to use the baseball bat as Sam, or the scissors as Ash, even though neither matter in the longer run.

    • The odd thing for me is how jarring the difference is between how the QTE’s are animated vs. when you control the characters. The QTE’s are decent to excellent in portraying “real world” movement, and then when you take over, it’s like the game has switched to stop-motion animation or animatronic robots.

  17. Games like this have low replay value because despite their choices, there’s just not enough of them. Telltale Games always appear to have an overarching narrative, and while this works great for one play through, it doesn’t work for future play throughs because the game loses its luster in replayability.

  18. Zak McKracken says:

    Whaa… at around 17:00, Mike just leaves the Gun behind? That gun saved is life a few times, and would probably continue to do so if he kept it cos it’s got, like, infinite bullets.

    Or is this implying that he ran out?

    Also, as a role-player, it freaks me out if people just split the group, especially if there’s a danger lurking. So Sam having no option but to take off alone kind of freaked me out.

    Also also: Wendigo Sharks. That’s the kind that would live there.

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