Diecast #206: Another Funeral for Half-Life

By Shamus Posted Monday Apr 16, 2018

Filed under: Diecast 67 comments

Yes, SoldierHawk is back for another funeral for another doomed series with a bad ending. I swear we’ll talk about something happy / satisfying one of these days.

I wonder if she’s played KOTOR 2?



Hosts: Shamus with guest Brittany. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:00:06 Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and the non-ending

We both blanked out on the names of things in Half-Life. I said “Overseer” but the thing I was thinking of is Adviser. Also, we briefly confused Stalker with Strider.

The other thing-doer names are Hunter, Sniper, Kleiner, and Scanner.

18:48 Epistle 3

Here is the translated version of the intended Episode 3 / Half-Life 3 story.

33:40 Why can’t Valve count to 3?

53:20 The brilliant opening of HL2

Here is the first of my After Curfew strips, and here is the first time Metro is recognized by name.

And here is the EgoRaptor video Brittany brought up:


Link (YouTube)

 


From The Archives:
 

67 thoughts on “Diecast #206: Another Funeral for Half-Life

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Good news!You need only ~50k moneys in order to make your own episode 3.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If you wanted to do episode 3, you could just make a mod that does all the story with text boxes, or subtitles in the in-game cutscenes. Release it for free, and you probably wouldn’t get sued.

      1. Galacticplumber says:

        Release it FOR MONEY and you probably won’t get sued. Hunt Down the Freeman exists, and on steam no less.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          That one is licensed.Thats what Super Bunnyhop is talking about in that video I linked.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I swear we’ll talk about something happy / satisfying one of these days.

    So next time you two will talk when she finishes her spec ops lets play.

    1. Soldierhawk says:

      Hooray! I don’t see any way it could be ANYTHING but puppies and rainbows all the way down!

  3. Joe says:

    I played HL1 & 2, but not the episodes. I bought them in a sale once, but never got around to playing them. Last year I tried to play HL2 again, but didn’t enjoy it. The Borderlands series has spoiled me. Large open areas. Each gun a surprise. Just fun. While HL2 felt too enclosed and boring. Yes, I realise that that’s borderline blasphemy, but it’s just how I feel.

    Boy, that video may have a good point, but it’s annoying to watch. Maybe that’s deliberate.

    1. Eric says:

      The Borderlands gameplay experience is incomparable to Half-Life 2. The things you listed in favor of Borderlands (large open world and randomized equipment) are in direct opposition with Half-Life 2’s intentions of facilitating a flowing, finely crafted single-player experience. Being allowed to wander an open world would complicate the pacing of your progression through the narrative, and randomly acquiring more or less powerful guns invalidates the level of difficulty the designers intended for any particular section.

      Borderlands can’t ‘spoil’ Half-Life 2 for you because the qualities of one are vastly different from the other’s. They are effectively different genres of game.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Borderlands can’t ‘spoil’ Half-Life 2 for you because the qualities of one are vastly different from the other’s.

        Sure it can.No one is born knowing what they like and what thy dont.And once you find something that you like more than what you enjoyed previously,its entirely possible to stop enjoying that thing,effectively having the old thing spoiled for you because the new thing suits you better.

        1. Joe says:

          Thanks. That’s a good way of putting it.

        2. Eric says:

          If two things are so different as to be incomparable, then how you feel about one thing naturally has no effect on how you feel about the other. Finding out your new favorite food is avocado toast doesn’t lesson your enjoyment of mint ice cream by comparison, because there is no comparison to be made between two incomparable items. You might eat less mint ice cream to make way for your New Favorite Thing, but that isn’t ‘spoiling’ it, because your tastes for mint ice cream don’t compete with your tastes for avocado toast, unless you specifically enjoyed mint ice cream because of how green it was, in which case you were really missing the point.

          To step back from this awful analogy, if you enjoy HL2 less because of the open world and randomized gun stats in Borderlands, you were into HL2 for all the (subjective alert) wrong reasons.

          1. Eric says:

            lessen*

            im not an idiot i swear

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Or you just didnt know what type of shooter you enjoyed.

    2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Preferring Borderlands to Half-Life campaign is like preferring eating random food out of somebody’s fridge versus a five star restaurant. Sure, maybe you’ll find a delicious piece of pizza in there. You could also find some moldy cheese or 5 week old Chinese food because there’s no curation.

      Borderlands is a fun multiplayer game, but as a single player it’s complete trash imo.

      1. Joe says:

        I’m not saying my opinions are for everyone, or that a theoretical HL3 should be designed to my specifications, I just like what I like.

      2. ExGameDesigner says:

        Borderlands in general is just not a very good game.

        Almost any game is fun “when you play it with friends.”
        Half Life 2 isn’t even designed for coop, and playing it with the coop mod (Synergy) was as good or better than Borderlands (which is largely just boring trekking, bad cars, and grinding for XP/Loot).

    3. Echo Tango says:

      Blasphemy! How dare you disparage the Holy Nuclear Decay Franchise! :P

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Eoin Colfer did manage to imitate Douglas Adams ,so its still theoretically possible for someone to successfully imitate Laidlaw.

    1. Soldierhawk says:

      Oh I know. Anyone can imitate anyone if they’re good enough and know their source material enough. I’m just a biased fangirl and insist that NO ONE will EVER be him. EVER!

      Same way I feel about Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Shakespeare, honestly.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Stephen King

        Anyone can imitate him.You just need to eat all of the drugs.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          I’m pretty sure all famous authors have been on the drugs at one point or another. Hallucinations of surreal, unreal, and scary imagery is certainly one way to come up with source material. :)

      2. BlueHorus says:

        …NO ONE will EVER be him. EVER!

        Yeah, I’m kind of happy that Terry Pratchett put in his Will that his laptop was to be run over by a steamroller for this reason.

        I’m sure someone theoretically could emulate his style. Thing is, if they’re good enough to do thatwell, then they could probably be writing their own stuff which is as good in a different way?

        1. Viktor says:

          I suspect Pratchett would be one of the harder ones for someone to “finish up”. It’s not just the writing style, the polish on his books is really incredible. Small jokes early on tie into the overall plot in ways you don’t catch until the third reread, character traits are hammered in in a dozen tiny ways over the course of the novel…even if Terry had a first or second draft entirely written, I doubt it would be anywhere near as good as a Pratchett book that he’s given the whole suite of rewrites and editing passes to.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            On the other hand, I’m happy that I got to enjoy the Silmarillion, even if it wasn’t as polished as LOTR.

    2. Lisa says:

      I’d dispute that he imitated Douglas Adams. He did a fan-fiction imitation of DNA, in my opinion. It wasn’t horrible (though I still couldn’t finish reading that book), but it was … not right.

  5. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    KOTOR 2 as an unsatisfying ending? It’s… not the ending of that series? TOR is still a game receiving updates, and it’s a direct sequel to the first two.

    1. Nessus says:

      The KOTOR games are also self-contained stories, so there’s no sting of an unfulfilled series to be had. The series could have ended after either 1 or 2 and it wouldn’t reflect on what came before. Conversely, you could play 2 without ever having played 1, and you wouldn’t feel like you were missing anything (originating from the previous game, I mean. KOTOR 2 is well known for being marbled with hastily stitched gaps, but that’s internal to that game, not the series).

      …So I’m guessing he’s referring to how KOTOR 2 ends its own story, rather than the “story” of the series.

      1. Shamus says:

        “So I’m guessing he’s referring to how KOTOR 2 ends its own story, rather than the “story” of the series.”

        Correct.

        1. Mako says:

          Shamus! I’m really curious. Have you played KotOR II with the Restored Content Mod?

          IMO it’s really worth the time if you haven’t. It actually makes the game pretty much complete. The story concludes properly, and there are a ton of plot threads that get fleshed out, including HK-47’s subplot with the droid factory.

      2. John says:

        Conversely, you could play 2 without ever having played 1, and you wouldn’t feel like you were missing anything (originating from the previous game, I mean).

        Well, I suppose that’s largely true. But there are several characters from the first game who reappear in the second. I think that anyone who has played the first game is probably going to have more interest in and appreciation for those characters than someone who hasn’t.

        On the other hand, someone who hasn’t played the first game might well be much less confused by the way that the second game tries to be a sequel to both of the first game’s very different endings.

    2. Mako says:

      KOTOR 2 (…) It’s… not the ending of that series?

      Whether or not this statement is true depends heavily on whether you prefer the KotOR II Revan or the KotOR I Revan (because the sequel has retconned a great number of key plot and backstory elements about him/her) and on whether you trust BioWare as a storyteller or not (many people don’t for a while now).

      And for the record, KotOR II is absolutely a self-contained story, it has an ending, and with the Restored Content Mod http://www.moddb.com/mods/the-sith-lords-restored-content-mod-tslrcm it is very satisfying and conclusive for most of the game’s plots, all the while leading up to a sequel that was actually never written, because BioWare’s TOR is not a thematic sequel to Obsidian’s story.

      A lot of people love Obsidian’s deconstructionist take on the Star Wars universe seen in KotOR II, and prefer it over the more standard Star Wars story KotOR I was. Don’t get me wrong, I love KotOR I, but the sequel is much better IMO, thanks in no small part to that unique approach.

      1. John says:

        I think that the only really significant difference between the restored content mod and the base game is in the ending. In the base game, all the NPC party members more or less disappear once the Ebon Hawk crashes on Malachor V. In the restored content mod, we’re treated to little cutscenes and one or two short playable sequences that show what they’re doing while they’re separated from the player.

        I was really disappointed when I finally played the restored content mod because it confirmed that my problems with KoTOR II weren’t due solely to the obviously unfinished ending.

        1. ObsidianFanboy says:

          I was really disappointed when I finally played the restored content mod because it confirmed that my problems with KoTOR II weren’t due solely to the obviously unfinished ending.

          Rather due to you having no taste?

          /jk

        2. Mako says:

          Respectfully, you are entitled to your opinion.

          It has nothing to do with taste; it’s perfectly fine not to enjoy KotOR 2 or even to think it’s hot garbage. However, the changes introduced by TSLRCM are far more substantial than just “some extra scenes during the ending sequence”. Whether they feel substantial to you is another matter, but they are there.

          If anyone’s interested, here’s a list: http://deadlystream.com/forum/topic/139-whats-restored-in-tslrcm/ . Obviusly, the link contains massive KotOR II spoilers.

          1. John says:

            I agree that it’s a long list of changes, but almost all of the changes are very slight in that they generally consist of small bits of new dialogue or small changes to existing dialogue. They don’t change the way the game is played and mostly don’t have any real impact on the story. The exceptions are the ending, as I mentioned earlier, and apparently the HK-50 factory. I didn’t find the factory in my playthrough and I was under the impression that it hadn’t been restored.

            I think that the most important thing about the restored content mod is that it’s basically just a little more KoTOR II. That means that your reaction to the mod will depend on your opinion of the base game. If you loved KoTOR II, you will definitely love the mod. If you liked KoTOR II but thought that the ending sucked, you will probably like the mod. If you didn’t like KoTOR II, the mod is probably not going to change your mind. But if you have never played KoTOR II before, then you should definitely play the modded version.

            1. Mako says:

              …your reaction to the mod will depend on your opinion of the base game. If you loved KoTOR II, you will definitely love the mod. If you liked KoTOR II but thought that the ending sucked, you will probably like the mod. If you didn’t like KoTOR II, the mod is probably not going to change your mind. But if you have never played KoTOR II before, then you should definitely play the modded version.

              That is a fair and balanced assessment. *tips hat* Me personally, I loved the game, even though I was bothered by plot threads that clearly went nowhere. The mod addressed that, so naturally I loved it as well.

  6. Nick Powell says:

    If you’d asked me the name of the Advisers without letting me look it up I would have guessed it was Overseer too.

    I wonder if there’s some other fictional thing that’s polluting the namespace and making it harder to remember…

    1. Echo Tango says:

      It actually seems like the wrong name. If they’re the brain-slugs who rule the Combine empire, then Overseer is a much better name than Advisor. Are they advising the humans? It can’t be a white-washing sort of thing, where they try to make themselves seem more palatable to the humans, because they’re hidden from the vast majority of humanity.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well,they are our benefactors.So yeah,all of the names we have for the combine forces are just local.I forget if theres anything other than antlions that vortigaunts name.

      2. Tektotherriggen says:

        I assumed that they were just advisers. That the Combine empire was so vast, and Earth so insignificant, that we didn’t even merit a real overlord. They just dumped a few civil servants on us and trusted that they would advise the Combine command if anything interesting happened.

  7. Distec says:

    In addition to the Combine Overwatch’s appearance (and Overwatch is the name I believe you two were grasping for!), what sells them for me is their radio chatter. Their associated audio always gives them a “presence” in any map they’re on. And like most things Half-Life, further digging rewards you with additional cool context. I first though the Overwatch just sounded cool the same way the HL1 grunts did. But when you dig into the sound files they’re employing vaguely medical terminology like “area sterilization”, “full biotic overruns”, or “necrotics”. When paired with the Overwatch Announcer’s broadcasts – a disembodied voice broadcasting commands to and coordinating the entire city’s transhuman military – they have the air of surgical/chemical instruments to be used on a patient; City 17 itself.

    Faceless gas-mask baddies should be beyond generic. Valve has a knack for a clean and distinct aesthetic that can make even a standard Alien Invasion/Dystopia story and its attendant tropes seem fresh. But like a lot of individual elements, the Combine soldiers are made even more compelling by their place in the world’s structure. I’d wager that a lot of this stuff probably works subconsciously on a first playthrough, even if you’re not fully paying attention to the Broadcast Lady or analyzing enemy barks.

    I really think enemy barks and radio chatter are sorely undervalued or done poorly in a lot of cases. Even when devs put a lot of work into them, they typically fall into the trope of having them be fearless assholes who won’t stop insulting the protagonist that slaughtered all of their friends and peers within the last 30 seconds. I know this is supposed to make me feel good or at least justify me caving their skulls in, but it gets to be ridiculous.

    HECU grunts, Combine Overwatch forces, and the Replica Forces from FEAR are excellent designs that are fun to fight, and it’s no accident they’re so similar: clean, efficient, professional, and only seem to display any “humanity” when they’re truly caught off guard or surprised.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      There’s a Penny Arcade comic about the Splinter Cell Conviction guards’ NEVER ENDING rambling taunts and threats becoming philosophical and oddly personal if you wait long enough.

      1. Distec says:

        That was flashing repeatedly in my brain while I typed my post. :D

    2. GoStu says:

      Radio chatter & dialogue really helps characterize the NPCs of shooters. While “mid-fight in a first person shooter” is never where you’re going to find a ton of exposition, it still helps you appreciate the other side; e.g. “what are they thinking about” and “what scares them?” and what “motivates them?”

      A lumbering zombie growling out “braiiiinssss” is a different enemy than a guard/cop yelling “halt”, which in turn is different than someone screaming “DIE!”. (Aside: it’s always annoying when police in something like GTA tell you to freeze. Even if you do, they’ll just shoot you dead. The dialogue is inane.)

      It can help suit the mood too; if you’re trying to empower the player, the enemy’s combat dialogue being scared helps. Maybe they’re terrified of a power weapon you’re holding. If it’s a different sort of game and stealth-focused, maybe their cocky shouts lead them to think they’re closing in on you.

      Half-Life isn’t the only game to have done this sort of thing well. The NPCs in the Arkham series do this well, as they grow gradually more scared as Batman whittles their numbers down one-by-one. Also memorable was Bioshock, specifically Sander Cohen’s statue-splicers. Most of the NPCs loved to blather away in battle, but the statue ones were completely silent. Their absence of dialogue was even spookier than the madman-chatter of the other splicers.

      1. Olivier FAURE says:

        Conversely, it’s great that the guards in Oddworld always shout “Freeze!” before shooting, even though they shoot you even if you stop moving. It’s almost part of the humor and the socialist tone of the game: the guards only tell you to stop moving because then you’ll be an easier target.

        It makes you feel much better about killing dozens of them in horrible ways as you go through the game.

    3. Miguk says:

      fearless assholes

      This. I’d like to fight someone who actually wants to survive for once.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        That was the concept for the anti paladin introduced in ad&d way back.Because they are the opposite of a paladin,the symbol of courage,anti paladins are the symbol of cowardice,and would not choose to fight unless they vastly outclass the opponent.And even then,theyd send mooks,use poisons,traps,attacks from the back,etc.But despite this,they are comparable to paladins in skills and abilities.Its a really good concept that should be more prominent in video games.

      2. Olivier FAURE says:

        I’ve given some thought to the problem, and it’s pretty hard to implement satisfyingly, like many similar AI realism problems.

        You either need to program some sort of invisible wall the enemies can run away through where you can’t chase them, or implement surrender mechanics. You have to build these mechanics in such a way that the player doesn’t spend 10 minutes after each fight tying everyone up and escorting them to a prison van. You have to implement some sort of morality system that accounts for the fact that the player may shoot surrendering enemies, voluntarily or on accident.

        In a stealth game, that can be an interesting mechanic, but in a Half-Life 2 style game where you’re always moving forward and enemies are meant as speed bump, you have to worry that having the enemies always surrender may make the fights more repetitive or less interesting.

      3. Viktor says:

        Halo had enemies that would break and run back in 2001. If you killed an Elite, the Grunts associated with that Elite would panic, stop shooting, and run uselessly in circles. If you leave them alone, they’ll recover and come after you. There were even combat barks like “It’s the Demon! Run!” when you showed up. A really great touch that I’m annoyed so few games learned from.

        (And it makes the enemies panicking and running towards you later on a really worrying sight)

        Edit: There’s also an enemy mook who just lets you past in the latest Pokemon game. He watches you beat his friends and just goes “Yep, I’m not beating you. See ya.” and walks off.

        (Aside: it’s always annoying when police in something like GTA tell you to freeze. Even if you do, they’ll just shoot you dead. The dialogue is inane.)

        Or realistic.

  8. Eric says:

    When you two were imagining the hypothetical EA-produced version of Half-Life, what exactly informed those qualities?

    I don’t know if the games developed by EA’s in-house studios really fit your descriptions. It doesn’t seem to describe the handful of recognizable, story-based franchises like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Dead Space, or Mirror’s Edge.

    Are we just using EA as a shorthand for “AAA gaming tropes?” Because I don’t really know if that’s fair or accurate.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I think Shamus was mostly referring to the shift mass effect had once bought by ea.That fits rather well.But there are also crysis and battlefield series.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      I think it exaclty fits the games made by EA. All the games you listed started out as, more or less, games which had artistic meric, or which were just very new and fun. After the first one in each series, they all went downhill fast.

      1. Eric says:

        But that wasn’t what they supposed about EA’s HL2.

        The ideas they presented were about specific story and character tropes, such as the ridiculous Marcus Fenix appearance, Last of Us/”Dad Game”-type companion, Wolfenstein-esque over-the-top love interest, and voice acting by Nolan North. These were the examples where a specific franchise/person was mentioned (not Last of Us, but I think that’s by far the biggest source of the “Dad Game” movement).

        You’ll notice that none of these games were from EA, and Nolan North hasn’t done a role for an EA game that I’m aware of, so he doesn’t count either. None of these attributes really describe an EA game. Some of the other elements they mentioned (e.g. more human enemies) might fit some EA games, but I don’t see them as specifically a part of EA games, but as a part of AAA trends as a whole.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Couldnt portal 3 feature just robots?Like that multiplayer component they had of 2.

    Also,I wouldnt consider anyone incapable of continuing portal or left 4 dead.Valve sure is capable.Just unwilling.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Regardless of what characters might work for another Portal game, I think Valve might want to make something new. They’ve already got Steam, hats, and DotA pulling in large amounts of money. The mainline Valve properties are ones that I think they want to keep somewhat artistic and original. If they just wanted to dump out sequels, as pointed out on the podcast, they could have had numerous sequels and spinoffs already. My hunch is that the people in Valve who want to work on the main Valve games want to keep them cool and interesting.

  10. Paul Spooner says:

    I loved MMX as a kid when it came out for PC in ’96, and loved that EgoRaptor video when it came out years later. Good times.
    Man, wouldn’t it be amazing to make a procedurally generated MegaMan-like game?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If you count games that are more like Metroid or Castlevania, it’s already been done. See Vagante, Flinthook, Rogue Legacy, A Robot Named Fight!, and Riptale. I haven’t played the last two, but they look pretty cool. There’s also another one that’s closer to Megaman in weapons and bosses and is 3D, but the name escapes me at the moment. :)

      EDIT:
      There’s also apparently a proper Megaman X game in development, that’s got procedural content.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Dangit; Edit window expired. It’s actually been released on Steam last year already. Too bad it’s only for Windows. :C

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          20XX doesn’t FEEL like a proper MMX spiritual successor. It’s too super-meat-boy controls meets Terraria combat. Which, if that’s what you’re looking for, great. But I’m more looking for MMX controls and MMX combat in a procedurally generated setting.

  11. Thore says:

    Actually i always get a silly feeling when playing a mute character.

    You are supposed to be a Dr. in Physics, but apparently you are unable to speak. Not that that is impossible in itself, but his surrounding always acts like its a conscious choice of gordon to simply dont say a word. That often feels strange. The only interaction you get for 99% of half life is to shoot at stuff. Good thing you have that dr. when you never use it for… anything (so why have it?). Half Life is of course still a great and industry defining game, but that aspect doesnt fit really (imho).

    I dont like the decision to mute the player character and to me it never feels natural. far cry 5 also feels dumb in that regard. Good thing you are that beacon of hope and folks in that valley call you the leader of the resistance. But apparently its too much to ask to say something, its enough to blow stuff up.

    In my opinion Titanfall 2 was pretty good at that, where the player was allowed to choose between 2 answers. So you could set the tone of how “your” player character was ticking.

    (english = not my native language, sry for mistakes)

    1. Viktor says:

      In Legend of Zelda:BotW you can find diary entries written by Zelda. She mentions that Link can talk, but doesn’t do so often, with a distinct implication that he has some variety of stress-induced mutism. My impression was that Link is a non-verbal autistic kid, which fits with the rest of his characterization.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I always look at mute characters not as actual mutes,but as projections of myself where I get to fill in the blanks.If I am immersed enough,sometimes I even actually verbally respond to the game.However,its when there is a cutscene where Im thrown out of the protagonists head that ruins the immersion for me in those instances.Which is why I enjoyed all of the half lives so much,because they allowed me to experience everything from inside freemans head.

      In a third person game,having a mute protagonist while everyone else speaks is kind of weird.

  12. RCN says:

    I’m afraid that there won’t be an episode 3 while Valve doesn’t figure a way to sell hats in it. And we all know Gordon Freeman is just not a hat person.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      You’re missing the potential for different paint patterns on the HEV suit, of course. And different colour crowbars.
      Different glasses.
      Collectable beards.
      Pets that follow you around.
      A new type of garden gnome to carry around.*
      Tradeble designs for the Gravity Gun.

      …you know what? I’ve convinced myself that it’s a good thin Episode 3 isn’t happening.

      *’IT’S ANNOYING TO CARRY AND GETS IN THE WAY OF THE GAMEPLAY BUT IT’S ONE-OF-A-KIND SO I HAVE TO HAVE IT!!!!!’

      1. RCN says:

        You just made me think of a Gordon Freeman with a toilet seat HEV suit (where the collar of the suit is a toilet seat), holding a crowbar that’s a stick inside an actual crow, with eye-popping gag glasses, a soul patch, a gravity gun in the shape of a hand flipping the bird, with a gnome pet following him around and a antlion “gnome” to carry around.

        So…. thanks a lot for that mental image. I only share because misery ought to be shared.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          As long as the crow-bar goes “AWK!” everytime you hit something with it, i’m in ;).

          But on that note…
          Shamus, if you’re still planning to stream games, and those games are either Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2 – did you know both games have (at least did have) a mod that replaces all the common infected with Teletubbies?
          It even replaces the infected’s growls with noises from the TV show.

          Now THAT would be a stream.

  13. ccesarano says:

    In regards to “Half-Life 2 is the best opening”, I have mixed feelings because, as a console gamer, I’ve never been as in love with Valve as everyone else. I find they’ve got a lot of great polish and did a lot of wonderful world building, but they’ve never been my first place to go regarding raw gaming mechanics. But that’s also because my foundation in gaming was 90% Japanese games, and boy howdy did Western and Eastern gaming evolve differently during and after the 80’s.

    What I think Valve did that no one else quite grasps – and bare with me because it’s been years since I last played HL2 – is use its opening moments to prioritize world-building over tutorial and gameplay. Yes, picking up the can is teaching the player how to press the Use key/button, but it’s only there as it is because they figured out a way for it to thematically fit. Most other games focus on how they’re going to have a tutorial level with an emphasis on getting you into combat as soon as you can.

    Sometimes this can work decently well given the game you’re working with. While there are aspects of Dead Space 2’s opening I dislike, they do a phenomenal job of pumping the player with adrenaline. Unfortunately it relies on jump-scare horror, and the entire game after struggles to understand building tension (that is, until you return to the Ishimura, and even then you begin to realize that any location something bad happened in the first game ISN’T going to happen this time). So while I love how the game manages to use enemy placement to steer the player on a linear path while panic floods their mind, it’s not giving you any time to realize something is wrong. It grosses you out with a really violent death and then shoves you into the chaos.

    Another example is the new Prey. Now, I’ve only played the demo, and on console at least the controls just feel too jank for me. Maybe one day if I have a solid enough PC. The opening of Prey is still a big tutorial section, but they allow some meta-narrative by pointing out your character isn’t using all the powers intended for them. It’s a really strong opening, but the game has to wink at you in acknowledgment of the fact that you’re in a tutorial. Dishonored 2 was much the same.

    The question is: what’s the sweet spot? I don’t mind that a game like, say, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess or Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword take their time before you get to the real meat of the gameplay, because they’re establishing what Link’s home life is like and who these characters are. They still fail to disguise the tutorials, but they at least use them to also help establish who the other characters are. These games emphasize the importance of establishing a setting so that the player cares about the quest they’re about to embark on. At the same time, people then complain that it can take upwards of an hour or two before you even access the first dungeon. I myself don’t view that as a problem as long as the world you’re introducing me to is interesting and you’re using gameplay to establish the characters skillfully and provide reasonable impetus to be involved in the story (and just talking about this has me wanting to do a replay of Twilight Princess).

    Not all games need this, especially if you’re more of a Mario type game. Some games the narrative is there as aesthetic and excuse for the mechanics to exist (see: Mega Man X). However, as you note several times, Shamus, if you’re going to stop me from playing for your five or ten minute cut-scene, then you better not make basic novice mistakes… which, sadly, happens all the time. Right now, AAA gaming seems to have established a formula of the tutorial section being how you introduce characters, and then that’s how you get the first Dishonored…. where I’m more angry about Corvo in the prison than I do about the death of the Empress.

    Oh, one final note: The X in Mega Man X doesn’t stand for 10. In fact, Mega Man 10 was released in 8-bit style some time ago in the last generation. They named it as such in order to differentiate it from the regular Mega Man games, and because X is the name of the new Mega Man you control.

    Mega Man X is also the best Mega Man to ever Mega Man. I don’t care what anyone else says.

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