on Mar 14, 2017
I know that the tone most videogames shoot for is “bombastic hyperslime,” but every now and again it’s nice to play games grounded in the sublime mundanity of everyday experiences. Let’s consider an example:
So I have to dress up as a nun and shoot a guy, and everything I said before was wrong, and let’s freaking do this.
Let me give the full recap:
There’s a pious merchant who’s got a crazy idea that somebody wants to kill him, which is going to make it really hard for me to kill him. My contact the Suspicious Man has reasonably suggested I dress up as a nun. Because if there’s one thing devout Catholics haven’t learned to instinctively fear, it’s nuns.
Once I’ve snuck up next to the mark, I’ll pull my pistol, pop his brains out, and abscond as adroitly as my peanut-brittle bones will carry me. It’s a plan as elegant as it is practical. It’s as practical as it is profitable. It’s not very profitable.
I accept, naturally. I get this narration. I’d like you to read it, please.
Got that? Great. So you’re my witnesses in “Rutskarn vs. Videogames,” and we’re moving on to Exhibit B, which is this screenshot from directly afterwards.
Unless my target is a fountain—and I think they’d have discussed that–the preceding narration had a few errors.
For example, when it said “Soon enough, you spot (your target) standing about in the company of a few bodyguards,” it meant, “Soon enough, nothing at all happens.” And when it says “Clenching the handle of your concealed pistol you head towards your target, trying to look inconspicuous,” that should really be, “You stand there.”Also, I’m pretty sure you clench your hand, not the thing that’s being held in your hand. So for the record, I take issue with the SPECIFIC words they lied to me with.
I’ve got to go hunt him down, don’t I.
Aw, god dammit. Give me storms. Give me man o’ wars. Give me the brassy farting horns of judgment and a contract of indenturement from Hell’s box factory. Just do not ask me to run around a Mount and Blade town on foot.
Ho–the layman balks! “But Rutskarn,” he blithers, “I have played several games in the Skyrim Theft Auto franchise, and I love running around towns! It’s such a delight to skip merrily from banister to balustrade to bollard, knocking signs with my trusty weapon and patronizing the local businesses! Have you no appreciation for the simpler things in virtual life?”
Sit back down, layboy, and let me lay some ambulation wisdom on you.
In Mount and Blade, the majority of your moving-character-around-with-WASD time is spent in combat, where a small increase in speed makes a huge difference in effectiveness. This means the developers have elected to make your base movement speed depend on character build. Since Mount and Blade is supposed to be realistic, the max movement speed for a buff high-level character is still realistically achievable for a human being.
Which apparently means that the default movement speed, for new or unathletic characters, has to be a wheezing brittle-kneed hobble.
Aagh. It’s like cruising through the city with your car in neutral.
Look at that huge, wide-open courtyard. Look at those wee dudes in the middle distance. Imagine how long it’s going to take me to laboriously haul my ass over to them, huffing and swinging my arms like I’m coming in on the final stretch of a man-killing marathon. Now imagine that when I get there they will have nothing to say to me, and there will be nothing in the building behind them, and there’s nothing to do anywhere in the entire town except stuff I could have clicked on in a menu. Taking a walk in these games is all the worst parts of exercise without the exercise.
Compare it to an urban center in Sykrim:
See how everything in this picture is within easy reach? See how you don’t have to tromp endlessly to get to the next point of reference for reasons that make sense in civic planning and not in videogame design? That, my friend, is how you make a fake city for pretending to walk around. I’d appreciate it if the cities in Skyrim had more people and points of interest, but I’m perfectly happy with the density.
Well, I can complain all day, but it’s not going to get this gent nunwhacked. Upwards and onwards, I guess.
Okay, is that him? I don’t know. Why don’t I weigh down the walk key, put on cryo-sleep, and when I get there you can thaw me out?
Right. He’s…a guard, I guess. He looks sort of like a bodyguard. And there’s some armored dudes hanging around there. Is this the right place? If not, it will be literally on the opposite side of town, which feels like it’s approximately several towns away.
Maybe he’s in this alley the guard’s standing in front of? Let’s take a peek into…
Oh, god, there’s a blind spot. Hold on. Wait for it. Little further. Okay.
…he’s not here. Great.
It’s been seven thousand years since I spawned into this zone, and I have explored one sixth of it. Okay–wait. There we go. That guy is definitely standing guard.
He absolutely reeks of guardsmanship. Look at his position relative to that door–that dude’s in the middle of some world-class safeguarding and won’t be flexed with by anybody. And he’s standing in front of a very important-looking arch, of the sort that might adorn a nobleman’s courtyard. Okay, then.
I hustle along as nonchalantly as possible. Look left, look right. He hasn’t turned towards me.
I duck through the door.
Okay, so that was the way out of town. So what just happened–by all accounts–is that I took a contract to assassinate a noble, dressed up as a nun, meandered towards the exit, and left. And then immediately afterwards, one of the dude’s bodyguards turned to the other and said, “You know something I just realized? Fuck nuns.“
Let’s try that again. Good thing I saved right before this.
A word on saving and loading in Mount and Blade. Games made with this engine don’t seem to be able to “save” when you’re walking around in-character. The option to save or reload won’t even appear unless you’re back in the overworld with your character’s retinue displayed as a little icon.
So to try this mission again I have to head back out to the main game, exit to the menu, reload my save, reload the town, reload the tavern, talk to the questgiver, accept the quest, load the town…
And we’re back to square one for any professional killer: figuring out where your target is supposed to be. Let’s explore the eastern side this time, shall we?
Not in the market. Not behind the church. Not along the customs area. Not–is that him?
That has got to be him. Okay, play it cool. Just stand up against this wall and wait for him to wander over.
Almost ready. Don’t blow your cover just yet.
Don’t blow yokay they’re running straight for me
I’d like to point out that there is zero hesitation here. They seemed to see me while they were on the docks, and what I had optimistically assumed was just their general hustle to keep up with their charge was the churning leg-pumping throes of bloodthirst. And then they ran over to kill me like kindergarteners racing to the swingset. My disguise seemed to buy me negative sixty seconds of lead-in time.
I’m starting to wonder if the Suspicious Man’s intel is reliable.
NEXT WEEK: DOES HE HAVE ANOTHER CLIENT WHO JUST WANTS TO WATCH A NUN GET BEAT UP OR SOMETHING
 Also, I’m pretty sure you clench your hand, not the thing that’s being held in your hand. So for the record, I take issue with the SPECIFIC words they lied to me with.