Diecast #276: Apologies, Manifold Garden, Mailbag

By Shamus Posted Monday Oct 21, 2019

Filed under: Diecast 115 comments



Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.
Diecast276

Show notes:
00:00 Shamus is too busy!

Between the music class, some family difficulties, and some health issues, I’m really running out of hours. This is all temporary. I expect this is going to blow over in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully we don’t end up with another blank spot on the blog like last week.

03:44 Games where you can’t pick up enemy weapons / armor

Issac and I are making an article / video. In this video, I want to have an aside about how funny it is when a game won’t let you pick up weapons and armor from defeated foes. I’d like to have a visual to go along with this.

Here is the question I have for you: Can you think of a game where defeated foes are depicted with clearly visible items that you can’t pick up, even though they would be immediately useful to your character? Like, “Look! There’s a sword on the ground! It’s right next to this guy I just killed, but I’m still using this dagger.”

I know I’ve played games with this problem in the past, but I’ve been thinking about it for days and I still can’t recall any concrete examples.

05:27 Manifold Garden


Link (YouTube)

13:27 Why talking about Hong Kong is bad for Shamus

Yeah, that’s ANOTHER reason this blog fell silent last week. After seeing too many pictures of violence and protests, I was kinda having a bit of a freak-out. I think I’m over it now, but we’re probably going to route around this topic for the next couple of weeks. I realize it’s important, but being it’s not worth being anxious, angry, and uncreative for a couple of days. I think the rest of the gaming press can pick up the slack just fine.

23:01 Mailbag: Gaming literacy

Dear Drs. The Diecast,

An interesting youtube video came across my feed recently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax7f3JZJHSw) and it reminded me of Shamus’ old video back from 2008 about game literacy and how to introduce people to video games and how to play them, highlighting Prince of Persia as a good example.

Over a decade later how do you (plural) feel about the current state of video games and game literacy, and the barriers to entry? Do you think we’ve gotten any more games that can teach game literacy for people who’ve never played them before?

Sincerely,
Gabriel Mobius

Here is the video in question:


Link (YouTube)

And here is the super-old, janky, and slightly cringe-worthy video Gabriel was referring to. Also, I’ve never revisited Prince of Persia 2008. It was pretty, but it was also sort of shallow and not terribly interesting.

31:13 Sky Islands Minecraft

This is my first time playing a “floating islands” style modpack. It really is a very different experience. For the record, I’m playing Sky Odyssey.

33:34 Mailbag: Choose-once difficulty

Dear Diecast,

Why do so many games let you choose your difficulty at the start, but not allow you to change it partway through the game? It’s an obviously unfriendly design choice that keeps coming up and seems like it should be easy to fix. It feels like there has to be some technical restriction or UI reason for it, like how we keep getting two-gun-only FPSs so that console players don’t need a clunky weapon wheel to switch guns.

Ninety-Three

40:07 Mailbag: This Dumb Video Edit

Dear diecast,

I’m wondering how Shamus makes his “This Dumb Industry” videos. I remember talking about Adobe Premier years ago on Diecast. Is it still the best for the job?

Yours,
Chris

Like I said on the show, Issac and I use CYBERLINK POWER DIRECTOR for editing. That name is a ridiculous mouthfull, so around here it gets shortened to “Cyberdoof”.

44:35 Mailbag: Development platform for small games?

Dear DieCast,
Been an avid reader of the blog since… I don’t know, a few years at least. Love the long-form analysis and all the past articles about programming. Here’s my question that you probably never heard !, and a little background information after, if you think that’s relevant (let’s keep it short…) :
For a guy that has a little bit of time each week (long commute), eager to learn, good at picking up software rapidly, and an interest in light programming currently (lots of VBA, dipped my toes in Python, could see myself trying something more elaborate), what software/language/combination would you recommend to try to developp small-ish games, and eventually the relevant ressources to get started ?
FYI, I tried Unity which ticked a lot of boxes, on paper. I followed a paying online course but gave up after I tried to complete a basic tutorial where I was arranging objects and ran into a weird bug where the « Snap » tool wouldn’t work, tried to find the solution and all I could find after hours was a trail of people having the same problem since 2015 and no solution. Should I persevere ?
I also tried Defold and I’ve been able to complete a few tutorials, it’s pretty good and might be enough in terms of features (3D is cool but not a prerequisite for me).
I even thought about learning VB.Net because there are a few similarities with VBA (the horror ! the heresy !).
Regards,
Lack

 


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115 thoughts on “Diecast #276: Apologies, Manifold Garden, Mailbag

  1. DeadlyDark says:

    The one example, for me, is always the first Splinter Cell. I know AK is loud and Sam is a sneaky guy, but I wanna pick it! Instead, it’s glued to the enemy’s hand, even if he’s unconscious or dead, it’s very comical

    1. Stuff like that always truly annoy me. You loot the dead NPC and there’s no weapon, but you CAN see it right there (on the ground or in their hand).

      Sure I don’t expect to be able to loot the clothes off their backs (or at least not more than down to their underwear), but weapons, armor, gear and ammo I kinda expect to be able to loot.

      Then there is the other end of the spectrum where for some weird illogical reasons a chicken walks around with a purse that contains a few gold coins and maybe a ring or something else.

      Surely proper loot tables can’t be that hard to make?

      1. Chris says:

        I dont think its difficulty to make loot tables that’s preventing designers from doing it. It’s balance (flooding the system with money by selling guns, getting a good weapon too early). For example in gothic you get the best stuff from defeating powerful warrior NPCs, not from an ancient cave. But some people dislike that since they don’t feel rewarded.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Shamus has discussed this very problem before; If it wasn’t a full article, it was a long comment in a thread somewhere else. His thoughts on the subject pretty much match what you wrote – if the player can loot everything, then the economy of the game gets messed up very quickly.

          1. This depends on how the economy is designed. Gothic, as Chris mentioned, was actually a game where you CAN loot everything (except armor), and money is still relevant until the end of the game. In fact, Gothic has an interesting quirk where you have to learn to take trophies from animals so that you can get MORE loot from critters that get in your way but (normally) don’t drop anything.

            One thing they could do would be to stop shooting themselves in the foot, at least, by spending the early game teaching you to hoard and strain after every +1 until you practically become unhinged about it. A couple of trips lugging piles of worthless junk you can’t sell clears that up pretty quickly.

  2. That video by Razbuten should be required viewing for any game developer IMO at any game school or game company (at the start of making a new game).

    1. One thing at the end of this video I think he should have mentioned is that you do not need to “beat” a game (to get a feeling of accomplishment).

      Beating a game feels to me like someone is trying to do achievement hunting or similar. They proudly exclaim “I beat the game” and I want to ask so you finished the story? And it turns out they where more interested in just seeing the credits scroll. Now it’s cool that a game can be two different things for two different players. But having to struggle and then to overcome and beat something to feel accomplishment should not be the only way to “game”.

      I like games that actually are coded to allow you to fail and instead let you choose a different way or handle the failure as part of the story. You get a lot more replay-ability that way.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Look, I can’t keep bringing up the original Fallout – people will be completely trashed from all the mandatory alcohol!

        Seriously though, when the video brought up the fact that games can’t be built to have never-ending simulation, or as many choices/outcomes as a real world, I immediately thought that they can…sort of. The biggest think would be to shift around the budget, to have more programmers, level-scripters, etc, rather than just “artists” or people who just make “stories” but don’t actually script any cool outcomes into levels / scenarios. Even in the example in the video, of the explosive barrel not destroying the alien nest-thing, it could have allowed for more ways for the player to kill it. Really, it should have been a stationary enemy with normal hitpoints, where the scripted button simply set its hitpoints to zero – an explosive barrel would then also work, as would sitting back and shooting the nest with a gun!

        1. Thomas says:

          As a counterweight though, the art style are often key points to hold onto for people unfamiliar with games.

          It’s not a scientific experience but I’ve found non-gamers looking at what I’m playing are more likely to be put off by bad graphics – they haven’t developed the visual literacy to understand why old isometric RPGs look like they do, or why weird walking animations are totally normal and fine.

          Even with highly stylised things it takes time to appreciate it – I had someone ask why I was playing a game with such ‘bad graphics’ when I was playing Okami!

          1. shoeboxjeddy says:

            “I had someone ask why I was playing a game with such ‘bad graphics’ when I was playing Okami!” And did you avoid spitting in that person’s eyes after that question? It would have been justified, if a bit rash.

        2. Chris says:

          the problem is that often you have to manually think of all the options a player could take. In deus ex there are a lot of flags. Like you running into the lady’s restroom, shooting the guard at the top of the statue after you got to the NSF leader (and different dialogue depending on whether you killed him or knocked him out), whether you saved gunter or not. But in the end, thats just all they can do. if they would make triggers for every other thing (like carrying an NSF body into the HQ) they would be working on the game forever. Its a race between developer and gamer, and there are a million gamers trying every possibility

          1. Echo Tango says:

            I agree that you can’t simulate the game world enough to account for all player actions; You’ll run out of budget no matter what you do. However, the point I was trying to get at (with a poor / insufficient explanation), was that if a game is already simulating game-world objects to some level of fidelity, the level-makers should be making use of that existing simulation instead of just hard-coding things. The alien-hive example, as previously noted, was hard-coded with a dumb level-script-button, but could have just used the game’s existing hitpoints mechanics, which would have allowed for the same level of player engagement as other normal enemies.

        3. Echo Tango says:

          I didn’t explain well enough (this is what I get for commenting before morning caffeine) but I was referring to Fallout’s ability to allow multiple outcomes. /facepalm

  3. Shamus, for the love of all that is holy please get https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve/

    It’s free, it’s not limited or gimped (the paid studio version has a bunch of erm “studio” stuff only bigger pros would need).
    Davinci Resolve has been used in a bunch of AAA movies ranging from color grading stuff to 3D/VFX effects and audio stuff to just plain video editing.

    I mean, Davinci Resolved was used by the production teams behind Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Solo: A Star Wars Story, etc.

    I tried a bunch of open source/free/freemium and commercial products over the years. DaVinci Resolve is fairly intuitive and easy to use, with v16 they redid stuff to be even more newcomer friendly (they added a sort of easy mode that you can use).

    1. The brag list for DaVinci Resolve is huge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DaVinci_Resolve#Film
      Bohemian Rhapsody, Alien: Covenant, Avatar, Jason Bourne, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, La La Land, Pirates of the Caribbean, Prometheus, Robin Hood, Spectre, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and X-Men: Apocalypse. American Horror Story, Arrow, Ash vs Evil Dead, The Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds, Daredevil, The Flash, Gotham, The Mentalist, The Muppets, Supernatural, The Walking Dead, Westworld, Game of Thrones.

    2. Duoae says:

      Well, except for the fact they want all your personal details just to download and trial the thing…. I’d be happy to have a restricted software but how do I know if I even want to use it?

      WTF do they need my location and phone number for? Sorry, but at that point in the “customer/provider” relationship, email should be enough.

      Oh, yeah, I can see many people just saying “lie”… well what’s the point of asking in the first place?!!!

      1. Fair point, but I’m sure you can find download locations elsewhere for the installer. And it’s not a trial, it’s the full version, you can use it for commercial productions/whatever.

        As to providing details, well even if it cost like 1 buck you’d still have to provide details. I’m paying 0 and they get my contact info and some demographics (country/region) etc. To me that is a fair tradeoff but I understand if others don’t like it. But as I said, if you got a torrent site/location you trust you can probably get the installer executable from there.

        There is no registration or details to enter in the installer itself, just install and run.

    3. ydant says:

      Seconding this. It’s really easy to use (I picked it up enough to make some simple videos in a couple of hours with absolutely no video editing experience) and super-powerful. I struggled to find a good video editing package that gave you control over the editing experience and not just canned “home movie” effects – and I was willing to pay money. When Davinci Resolve showed up in my searches I was blown away. It feels like a professional-capable product – and it’s free.

  4. Mephane says:

    Here is the question I have for you: Can you think of a game where defeated foes are depicted with clearly visible items that you can’t pick up, even though they would be immediately useful to your character? Like, “Look! There’s a sword on the ground! It’s right next to this guy I just killed, but I’m still using this dagger.”

    I don’t have a particularly quotable example at hand, but I know the feeling. However, my beef is often the other way round, and for this I have a very concrete example in the form of an otherwise really fine game. In Star Wars Republic Commando, you play as the leader of a squad of elite clone troopers, equipped with the finest the Grand Army of the Republic could muster… and yet you are scavenging for ammo and weapons dropped by enemies all the friggin’ time, even when official canon says that your typical military grade blaster rifle could hold hundred shots worth of ammo in a single magazine (iirc the quoted number for the clone troopers’ rifle is 800). And with the way ammo types are weapon specific, you end up using the enemy’s weapons more than your own.

    I don’t mind this as a gameplay element per se, but so often it is done in an absolutely tone-deaf way just because “all shooters do it like this”.

    1. I did not mention this in the other comment to the comment, so I’ll say it here instead.

      It sometimes feels like loot or stuff you can loot are placed not based on logic or realism but for “game mechanic” purposes. Thus it becomes just like the health bar of an enemy a way to regulate player progress/difficulty.

      It really irks me when say a enemy seems to have a endless supply of bullets but when you try to loot there are none or it’s like just half a mag or similar. Making it obvious that it was spawned using some sort of dodgy semi-random loot table lookup.

      I would except to find whatever ammo they happen to have left of a limited initial amount, I expect a armor to be at 50% (or lowered quality), if I shot them I’d expect the description to say it’s a vest full of bulletholes for example.

      Stuff like that could add more game mechanic depths in that head shots or shots to non-armored parts may be smart as you then can loot a undamaged armor. Or taking out a enemy quickly means you’ll have more ammo you can loot from them.

      1. Geebs says:

        Far Cry 2 is the Ur-example of this sort of shenanigans.

    2. tmtvl says:

      Metal Gear Solid and Dark Souls immediately spring to mind for me, although in DS enemies drop their weapons sometimes. That said, if I one-shot a Balder Knight by backstabbing him there’s no reason why I have to do that twenty times to get the Side Sword.

      Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t do weapon drops from enemies, but because of the vocation system it wouldn’t be that helpful anyways.

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        I like to think that just before the death, all the enemies eat their guns and ammo, just to spite the player

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Really impressive how many of them manage to swallow an entire suit of armour in their death throes.

        2. Mephane says:

          That would just shift the problem – why can’t we cut them open to retrieve the stuff?

          1. DeadlyDark says:

            Loot is chewed and half digested, obviously

          2. baud says:

            Well, in Dragon Dogma, most of the loot is body part from the monstrous enemies, which is then used to improve your equipment.

      2. Lars says:

        MGS IV had a shenanigan, why you could not use enemy weapons. It was something, something, genetic imprinted triggers. Same thing in Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. In MGS it was stupid nonsense, in Riddick its actually believable that only the guards should be allowed to use firearms.

        1. Karma The Alligator says:

          Yeah, in MGS 4, most guns were ID locked to the user by nanomachines, so no-one else could use their stuff.

        2. shoeboxjeddy says:

          MGS 1 had the “enemy guns are fingerprinted to each individual person” which seems inconvenient for their own side. So if somebody’s weapon is damaged or lost, that guy just doesn’t get a gun to guard with until they get an expensive new gun order completed?

    3. droid says:

      Mass Effect 2: let’s make lore excuses about how running out of ammo is superior to infinite ammo so we can make a shooter that’s like every other shooter.

  5. Joe says:

    The Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun games don’t have a lot of drops. Only a few at certain points. But given your dislike of oppressive police-state dystopias, I’d be surprised if you played them enough to stick in the brain, if at all. I’m sure there’s a reason in the tabletop version that you can’t loot the goons you just iced, but I can’t remember it right now.

    I’m glad it’s just being busy kept you away from the blog. I was a bit concerned and wondered if everything was all right.

    1. Moridin says:

      It’s a tabletop game, so of course you can loot the goons(including their bodies, if they happen to have some high-end cyberware that might be salvageable). You just can’t necessarily pick up the guns and start shooting with them because of fingerprint scanners and various other security measures(as I recall, many weapons actually link to your cybernetics either wirelessly or through your palms so if you have the right augments, you can do things like see how much ammo your gun has left through your cybernetic eyes. Naturally such guns can’t be fired unless you have the right key.)

      1. Joe says:

        “You just can’t necessarily pick up the guns and start shooting with them because of fingerprint scanners and various other security measures” Ah, that’s it, thanks! I could have gone through my books, true, but I’m lazy. :)

      2. RFS-81 says:

        I’m really curious how a tabletop RPG models your character having an ammo count in his eye. Care to explain, if it’s not too involved?

        1. Moridin says:

          I’m pretty sure it isn’t actually modeled in a way that has mechanical effects(a player, after all, is/should be keeping track of ammo ANYWAY, and as such their character will know it as well), but it’s at least mentioned in one of the novels.

    2. John says:

      Another advantage of the Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun games is that enemies usually vanish from the map when they die. I think. I can remember a few counter-examples, but my impression is that enemies fall down dead then promptly disappear. You can’t loot a corpse if there are no corpses to loot. At any rate, I’ve never been bitter that I can’t loot some Knight Errant goon’s shotgun.

      Would’ve liked to have looted Audran’s minigun though. Not that there’s any gameplay left to use it in by that point.

      1. Hector says:

        I am – that stuff is valuable and the games give you a ridiculously tiny amount of cash. You end up doing legendary adventures for, basically, pocket change. I need to sell that stuff!

        1. John says:

          Dragonfall is very generous with money. I’ve never not been able to buy all the things I wanted in that game. Hong Kong, admittedly, is less generous, but even so I’ve never felt cash-constrained except when going for an extremely cyber-heavy build.

    3. Chad Miller says:

      I don’t think the SRR trilogy explicitly explains it but I think in the Shadowrun universe in general the usual handwave is that you’re a criminal and want to be careful about what can be traced back to you. Even if we’re just talking about selling the gear, your local arms dealer doesn’t want some Aztechnology agent asking where he got his guns and you don’t want the dealer to answer that question. In the SNES game there’s even a merchant who is “out of stock” on certain gear before a certain point in the plot, and his dialogue includes something along the lines of “I have more stuff in the back but I’m not selling it until the heat dies down.”

  6. Platypus says:

    About the unlootable weapons thing I think it really depends on how useful the weapon would be if it annoys me or not. Bioshock 2 I think did it right by making the weapons you are able to carry visibly much cooler than the shitty machine guns pistols and shotties the sploicers use. Also its a good way of differentiating the random Jack ass you play as in game one versus the big Badarse Daddy you play as in game two

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      I mean… you’re not a random guy AT ALL in 1, but I’m sure you knew that.

  7. Daimbert says:

    For small adventure or RPG-type games, I’ve been playing around with Twine a bit. It’s pretty easy to build things like states and branching passages into it without having to do any code at all, but you can also use it to do some Javascript things behind the scenes if you want to do something more complicated, which I’ve been trying to avoid. You aren’t going to make action games with it though, obviously. And you can publish it to html which makes it easy to distribute, if perhaps a bit easy for people to steal and change.

    I’ve also done a few things with Python itself, but have yet to do anything with the graphical interfaces or compiled it into an EXE. Although, again, for visual novel type games Ren’Py seems to work and implies that you can do your own Python scripting for the things it doesn’t do out of the box, although I’ve never tried it myself.

  8. John says:

    I think I prefer games with non-lootable foes. In games with the lootable kind, I have a terrible compulsion to loot constantly, shlepping back and forth between the bodies of my slain enemies and the nearest store. It’s a lot of time spent for dubious gain, and I always end up feeling like a garbage collector rather than a heroic adventurer (or whatever). In that sense, lootable foes are actually harmful to my sense of immersion.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      That’s just the Uncanney Valley for loot – if you play games that have pushed past it, they’re even better. For example, Nethack has immense amounts of loot, most of which you outgrow as you find some Holy Lance Of Awesome. The rest gets sold to shopkeepers, in trade for scrolls and other consumables! :)

      1. John says:

        That sounds awful! I don’t like hoovering up anything and everything dropped by enemies and taking it to stores to sell. I just can’t stop. I’ve played too many games where that kind of thing is incentivized and encouraged. Even when I get to one where it isn’t necessary, I keep doing it. All my characters in KotOR 2, for example, are obsessive scrap-mongers. The Force trumps everything in that game. Equipment, especially by the end-game, is almost irrelevant. Whatever you’ve got is probably fine, and if it isn’t some random Sith trooper is probably going to drop some implausibly good thing in the next room anyway. But still I spend all my time looting corpses, taking the loot back to workbenches, converting the loot into components, and crafting the components into weapons and armor parts order to eke out marginal, negligible improvements in my gear. It’s horrible.

  9. Chris says:

    I saw the video as well and I thought that the guy not telling his wife anything just ruined the experiment. As a kid I played a lot of english games without knowing english, we would figure out stuff with brute force and then sharing that information with others. My older brother taught me gaming as well, telling me how to control the game. Later as a teen i would use gamefaqs once in a while if i got stuck, heck i did it recently when i played an old game and couldnt figure it out.

    Another thing is that he couldn’t teach his wife the logic in games. For example normally you could shake off a zombie in the start of the last of us, but if she tried to slip through the gap it would kill her instantly. For me it’s obvious the game doesn’t want you to go there and instantly kills you with no way to avoid it. For her she thought she wasn’t fast enough. So it would be nice if you don’t just tell her “you have to go somewhere else” but instead point out how the game breaks its own rules to guide you. It would be interesting if someone repeated the experiment but then help out his wife/gf rather than just recording it.

    1. “not telling his wife anything just ruined the experiment”

      The point of the experiment was to see how a non-gamer going in blind would experience the game. Any coaching would have ruined that.

      AFAIK he did push her to try a little longer or experiment more (he said so that if he had not she would most likely have given up earlier), I’m also guessing he did explain stuff afterwards to her.

      “Helping some one out” aka backseat driver can get annoying for the person playing.

      BTW! Some game companies record solo plays by QA staff (where the players get no help or encouragement), this usually reveals newcomer traps, but “fresh QA staff” is difficult to come by, most have usually played quite a few games.

      1. Chris says:

        Yes, i get he wanted to get a fresh feeling, but as shamus and paul already pointed out, it isnt really a believable situation since usually you get pulled into gaming by someone else that coaches you. I would find that a lot more interesting how fast she could get confident at gaming with a little bit of help, rather than the current experiment.

        1. Steve C says:

          I agree that most people are taught how to game. However I wasn’t. I had to learn entirely on my own. In fact I remember how I learned that dash existed in Super Mario. It was the flag. It was impossible to jump to the top of of the flag without dashing. So I kept at it until I learned how.

          Even though I was a self taught gamer, I was still put off by the dual shock controller. Even now, I still don’t find those kinds of controllers aesthetically pleasing.

    2. Christopher says:

      I watched that video too. Just the same weekend I watched it I had my kid cousin over for a visit, and playing games with her was pretty much the same experience as the video described. Struggling with the controls, moving the camera, not being familiar with the cues of game designers like big fat arrows or lighting, “Where do I go?? What do I do???”. In some cases I could help her by just telling her what to do or what different things did or meant, but often she had me take the controller and do it for her – especially after a death. It reminded me a lot of when I had her father, my uncle, play through Super Mario Bros. for me when I wasn’t able to get further on my own. Passing it along I suppose. Tutorials didn’t help her, but keep in mind, she doesn’t speak english yet. So of course not. It’s just noise.

      Anyway I don’t think this is unique to that dude and his wife, I feel like just about everyone who tries to coach a newcomer through games have this experience. Starting to play games can be difficult. I was lucky to start out with the 2d Mario games, which are pretty straightforward. Mario 64 was a really amazing introduction to 3d gaming too. Still took me a long time to get into it.

      On a personal note I hate those kind of Naughty Dog game overs even as an adult. They’re so hung up on being cinematic that their communication doesn’t reach me. There is one part of Uncharted 2 where, if you decide to take cover behind a train car on its side, sniper just show up and murder you. Another time you fight a dude who is completely immune to bullets, but goes down in a few melee hits. Right after you’re in this sneaky snow arena, and if you try to get out before killing every single wave of dude coming to get you, even if you’ve killed one wave entirely, a dude spawns in behind you and gets you as you climb out. It’s counter-intuitive, obtuse and frustrating.

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    The “unadjustable difficulty is because of achievements” thing doesn’t make sense because there’s a really easy fix: “Beat the Chaos Dragon on Hard without ever adjusting difficulty” I’ve seen one or two games do this, though I can’t remember which.

    I wonder if it’s about cutting down on test cases. Without switchable difficulty, you get to remove the “play through to this point on [every permutation of Easy/Medium/Hard/Nightmare] then switch to [every permutation of Easy/Medium/Hard/Nightmare] and make sure nothing breaks” cases from QA’s to-do list.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Too late to edit: Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of games that simply disable achievements if you turn on cheats. I think the death of cheats has more to do with development shifting to a “console-focused plus PC port” model where of course you’re not going to have a cheat console, how would anyone use it? My evidence for this is the fact that of the modern-ish games I can name with cheats, 100% are PC-only.

      1. Chris says:

        GTA SA had cheats by a very specific controller input. Or the famous konami code. They dont put it in now because they can sell it as DLC.

        1. And GTA V has the in-game phone. I think less single player cheats on consoles has to do with the lack of keyboards. But I believe XBox One and PS4 support keyboards now.

      2. tmtvl says:

        how would anyone use it?

        Start to open the menu, up up down down left right left right A B.

    2. Mephane says:

      Most games with switchable difficulty simply treat a savegame as the lowest difficulty that was ever enabled on it for the purposes of achievements etc. I.e. if you switch from hard to normal for a annoying boss fight, then back to hard, you’d get the achievement for killing that boss on normal, and anything after that in the play-through would also only grant the respective achievements as if you were still on normal difficulty.

    3. Chad Miller says:

      I wonder if it’s about cutting down on test cases. Without switchable difficulty, you get to remove the “play through to this point on [every permutation of Easy/Medium/Hard/Nightmare] then switch to [every permutation of Easy/Medium/Hard/Nightmare] and make sure nothing breaks” cases from QA’s to-do list.

      Along similar lines, I never particularly want an in-game difficulty slider because if I’m deep enough in a game to be upset that I’d have to start over to change the difficulty, I’m also probably upset that it apparently took me this long to find out there’s a problem with the difficulty. Much like anything that tempts me to look at a strategy guide in a single-player game, anything that makes me look for a difficulty slider or a grinding spot means the game is already ruined for me or close to it. If a game is intended to be played that way, then I probably just don’t want to play it.

      1. Syal says:

        I like difficulty sliders. I barely ever use them but man they’re nice when it comes up. Tales of Berseria locked its highest difficulty behind a (sidequest) gimmick boss that could only be damaged by… parries, I guess? If the game ever explained parries it was 50 hours earlier in a one-time prompt. I Googled it and still couldn’t figure it out. But the lowest difficulty just removed the gimmick so I bumped it down for that one fight and then bumped it back up.

        The moral of the story is damage reflection gimmicks suck.

  11. Joshua says:

    As far as equipment goes, I don’t recall ever having an issue with dead enemies having obvious better gear that I couldn’t equip. If there was, I just probably chalked it up to one of those weird game loot/equipment rules like Chad Miller linked above. For me, there’s weirder tropes with worse excuses like games where the starting equipment is laughably bad for no real reason. In Dragon Warrior, you are the prophesied savior of the land, have personally met with the King, and start off your adventure with a club (at best) or a bamboo stick. In the Icewind Dale series, you’re not so special, but you are still a group of mercenaries who decided to venture to the dangerous north equipped only with quarterstaves and regular clothes.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Icewind Dale isn’t so bad, as you are a group starting out and one of the first things you’re supposed to do is go to the equipment shop and gear up, so it’s not unreasonable that you planned on doing that there. After all, the expedition isn’t supposed to be that dangerous and you’re supposed to be with a huge group of more experienced adventurers. Coming to an actual war zone in Icewind Dale 2, however, as Level 1 adventurers doesn’t make sense, on the other hand.

  12. Steve C says:

    Re: when a game won’t let you pick up weapons and armor from defeated foes.

    I think WoW is pretty bad for this. Like Ragnaros’s weapon Sulfuras is right there. You can get it too. It is just a lot more involved than it looks. Which it would have to be because it’s right there. Pretty much all MMOs do the same thing. They even invented the idea of “soulbinding” to explain it.

    Another one I thought of was Secret of Monkey Island. The joke when underwater and surrounded by sharp things that you can’t reach.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      To be fair, what are you going to do with Sulfuras, pick it up?

      I’m imagining a full fifty-man raid team collectively lifting that thing like a swarm of ants, to carry it into their next bossfight.

      1. Steve C says:

        But you CAN pick it up. Like I said, you can get it. It is a random drop. I had one.

        It is boss death animation that makes it weird. There is an extreme focus on the weapon. The weapon is what you loot in order to get what the boss dropped. There is a 100% chance of the weapon being dramatically thrown into the air. There is only a 2% chance of looting the parts that eventually allow you to have that weapon.

  13. Dreadjaws says:

    Here is the question I have for you: Can you think of a game where defeated foes are depicted with clearly visible items that you can’t pick up, even though they would be immediately useful to your character?

    An interesting case is the Arkham series. There’s a very obvious explanation for why Batman won’t pick up his enemies’ fireguns (he doesn’t like lethal force), but there’s absolutely no reason for why he doesn’t pick up stuff like shields or stun batons.

    1. Daimbert says:

      He carries a massive amount of his own weaponry that he’s trained extensively with. There’s generally no reason for him to pick up those weapons as he isn’t going to be more effective using them than he is with the stuff he’s trained with.

      1. RFS-81 says:

        To be more precise: bat gloves are better at delivering bat facepunching than other weapons, unless they are used as part of bat counters.

    2. GoStu says:

      Would the various bats and clubs the mooks carry actually qualify as useful to Batman? The shields probably wouldn’t be useful to Batman because they’re heavy and defensive, while in the game Batman is at his best when he’s fast-moving and offensive. Even to the mooks the shields are only really useful because they block attacks (breaking your combo) and give the mook an un-counterable (but slow) melee attack. Batman can already block mook attacks with counters and his own punches can’t be blocked by the typical enemy. I’d say the shield really is of little use to him.

      The stun batons probably aren’t useful when he’s got that electric gun thing that can zap mooks at a distance. Quick-firing that thing can be a pretty handy trick – why bother with a melee-range-only version of something that’s already on his belt?

      The one enemy gadget that IS useful is the Freeze bombs… which Batman takes in City and has in the Batcave in Knight. (Although in Arkham Knight these are annoyingly just sitting on a table and are VERY easy to miss. So you may never realize they’re available.)

  14. John says:

    For a guy that has a little bit of time each week (long commute), eager to learn, good at picking up software rapidly, and an interest in light programming currently (lots of VBA, dipped my toes in Python, could see myself trying something more elaborate), what software/language/combination would you recommend to try to develop small-ish games, and eventually the relevant resources to get started ?

    I think that for small-ish games you can use just about anything. My suggestion would be to use something that builds on your existing knowledge. I know Java, so I got started with libGDX, a Java library designed primarily for making 2D games. (If I’d wanted 3D, I’d have gone with jMonkey.) If you’re familiar with Python, a quick trip to the Python wiki suggests that there are multiple Python game libraries, inluding pygame and pyglet, that might work for you.

    Otherwise, there are a lot of game engines out there, many of them free. Unity is the big one–and I think that Shamus is probably right that it’s the one you should try first–but there’s also GameMaker, Godot, and a whole host of others. You can get overviews and tutorials for some of them at gamefromscratch.com, a blog and associated Youtube channel.

    Finally, for you and for anyone else who may be interested, I have just discovered that there’s a Developing Your Own Games book bundle currently available from Humble Bundle. It includes various books related to Python and Unity, depending on how much you’re willing to spend; there’s a $1 tier, an $8 tier, and a $15 tier. These are e-books rather than actual, physical books, but programming books are normally very expensive. It looks like a good deal to me.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I was interested in the Humble Bundle RIGHT up until you mentioned they were e-books. While I’m not a Buffy-Era-Giles person attached to the smell, I can’t really read e-books, as it strains my eyes more and, in general, can’t really be done where I’m most comfortable reading.

      1. John says:

        I absolutely don’t blame you for preferring physical books to e-books. I don’t mind e-books so much for fiction, but for reference materials like programming books, I would very much prefer a physical book to an e-book. Still, Java Game Development with LibGDX costs over $20 for a new copy at Amazon. The Kindle version–not that I have a Kindle or would want to read a reference book on one of those either–is over $30. $1 for a DRM-free PDF version is starting to look pretty good. I wasn’t kidding when I said that programming books were normally very expensive. I’ve got a much older Java game-programming book in paperback, which I picked up at a used book store. I paid under $10 for it, but the MSRP on the back is $62.95.

        1. Daimbert says:

          I believe it. I think part of the issue might be that some of these fall into or are seen to fall into the “textbook” category, and those are always expensive.

      2. shoeboxjeddy says:

        Question for you, can you not read e-books because you don’t think you’d like using the reader or just because you don’t currently own one? If you have one of the more recent readers (with the digital paper design), it really should not strain your eyes at all and it should be readable in all lighting conditions or what have you.

    2. Bitmap says:

      @Lack:

      If you can easily switch to a different programming language, then it’s less important what language the framework of your choice has. I think that learning a new framework usually takes more time than learning a new language.

      There are several other factors that I think are more important in this case:

      1. Are you OK with using a text editor, a scripting language with dynamic typing (Python, Lua, …), and having to run the program to check for errors? Or do you prefer an IDE and a compiled language with static typing (C#), where the compiler will tell you about most trivial errors without having to run the program?

      2. Do you want a lean *framework* where you are free to structure your code your own way or do you want a complete *engine* that has a predefined code structure, workflows, and best practices that you’re supposed to follow?

      A very lean framework simply gives you functions to query the input (keyboard, mouse/touch, gamepad) and functions for output (drawing graphics on the screen, playing sounds). This means that there’s not a lot of documentation you need to read. You write the game logic completely by yourself. This also means that you understand what you are doing, and almost every error has an obvious cause in your code. There are no hurdles the framework can put between you and any game logic task you want to do (like creating procedural levels).

      A big engine requires you to read/watch a lot more documentation to understand how you are supposed to use its features. You need to dance the way the engine wants you to dance. You use predefined classes for game logic, like game objects and levels, and extend them according to the engine’s intended structure. Errors can sometimes be difficult to pin down and you can sometimes get the feeling that you don’t really understand the stack you’re building on. In the worst case you can’t find any way out of your problems. The engine might put up huge hurdles for certain tasks (like finding the “secret incantations” to create procedural levels). But if you master a big engine like Unity and your game fits, you probably can implement large features with high speed.

      3. Do you want an editor to configure game objects or to build scenes, or do you prefer to work with code?

      4. Would you like to integrate lots of ready-made libraries from a large community, for example for an RPG inventory with drag’n’drop functionality?

      5. For which platforms do you want to develop your game?

      6. Should the framework be free and/or Open Source?

      7. How smooth is it to work with the framework? Is the tool slow and requires you to wait several seconds every time you want to start the game, or is the launch time practically immediate?

      8. 2D, 2D and 3D, or 3D? Note that making a 3D game is a lot more difficult and usually not the best starting point.

      9. Problably most important: how much *fun* do you have working with the tool? Is it frustrating because you run into problems and need to crawl into forums to debug strange stuff, or do you quickly get into the Flow of coding-testing-coding?

      Here are some possible choices:

      A. Löve, or Love2D. Language: Lua. Very lean 2D framework, gives you input and output functions and leaves the rest to you. No editor. Desktop focused, but also for mobile. Free, Open Source. Made by hobbyists, documentation is a bit scant. Here’s a beginner tutorial where you move an image around the screen with the arrow keys : http://love2d.org/wiki/Tutorial:Hamster_Ball

      B. Defold. Language: Lua. 2D-focused Engine, plus some 3D support. Desktop/mobile/HTML5. Comes with an editor. Documentation seems excellent. Seems to provide a code structure for game logic. I would guess that you can make every possible 2D game with Defold, including RTS games for example.

      C. Unity. Language: C#. 3D engine. Workflows for 2D provided. Very powerful. Editor-centric. Documentation reportedly is hit-and-miss and video-centric. Huge community marketplace with libraries and plugins. That problem you ran into is a typical example of the disadvantages of using big engines. IIRC Shamus ran into a similar problem. For this reason I don’t unreservedly recommend Unity if you want to do some light programming to create small-ish games.

      I enjoy working with Löve (it stays out of the way), but Defold seems like a really cool engine and you already successfully used it, so why not keep at it?

      1. Echo Tango says:

        +1 for starting with a 2D game, although you might get better results with a 3D engine instead of a 2D one, just because most games are 3D, and the specifically-2D engines might all be out of date / abandoned, for your programming language of choice. 2D is just 3D with a fixed camera, and your sprites pasted onto rectangles, so it’s not too bad to set up. :)

        1. John says:

          This is how contemporary 2D frameworks and engines are implemented. In their guts, they’re 3D. They’re just designed with making 2D games in mind. There’s really no need to implement your own unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Are you OK with using a text editor, a scripting language with dynamic typing (Python, Lua, …), and having to run the program to check for errors? Or do you prefer an IDE and a compiled language with static typing (C#), where the compiler will tell you about most trivial errors without having to run the program?

        These things aren’t entirely mutually exclusive, either. ;)
        There are various IDEs for Python, for instance (I use one called Spyder but there are plenty of others), which will automatically catch syntax errors without having to run the script.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      I feel like Shamus’ and Paul’s discussion after suggesting Unity, is a pretty big reason not to continue with Unity, especially given Lack’s previous experience. Namely, they got stuck on some un-resolved bug, with poor documentation for a work-around. Given that they said they’ve got some experience with software-development, I don’t think they should continue with a tool-chain made for non-devs (i.e. Unity).

      Godot’s pretty much Unity but open-source, but might also lean too heavily into the “tools made for non-devs” world, so I don’t know if it’s that much better of a choice. Maybe just pick a not-abandoned 2D engine, for whatever language you want? I’m using Golang with the faiface/pixel library for images, sound, and inputs, and it seems to be going well. I made that choice because Golang’s a statically-typed language, which means I know for sure what data I’m passing into/out of the library, unlike Python or Godot.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Yes! Wanted to mention Godot in the show, but got distracted talking about Blender.

        1. Hector says:

          I was waiting for it, but it never came…

          1. Moss says:

            Godot-blocked ;(

      2. Chad Miller says:

        The whole discussion in the podcast about it being hard to write proc-gen stuff made me think of getting started with Godot and thinking “okay, these nodes are cool and all but, what if, like, I just want to write code? Where do I put it?”

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          That was my experience with Unity. “This is a cool interface for attaching scripts to objects, but I just want to write one block of code and have it push values to the UI, where do I put it?” Maybe there’s a way to do that, but 100% of Unity tutorials are written for people who don’t know what “Hello world” is and seem to be trying very hard to minimize the amount of writing code that you do.

  15. TLN says:

    I know a lot of RPGs does that loot thing, where for the most part enemies don’t drop the swords they’re using. Presumably this is because everyone realized what a pain in the ass it was in say, Baldurs Gate, when you would leave hundreds and hundreds of non-magical swords and clubs lying around since carrying them all around to sell later was not at all reasonable.

    1. galacticplumber says:

      And the obvious solution to having equipment of vastly different utility in drops is to just color code the names based on projected usefulness. Then the player that doesn’t want vendar trash casually passes it over.

      You just have to stick to making the system accurate.

      1. TLN says:

        This would be nice but also probably just remove “trash” loot entirely from the game. I can hardly think of a single game where the equivalent of “white” loot is relevant for more than an couple of hours at most (in older wrpgs). Instead you’re just either leaving a ton of bad loot behind or carrying it all around over-encumbered to sell to a vendor for a pittance. It’s always just pointless either way, and those kind of items should be something the player starts out with and/or can buy from vendors at the start, but don’t give me enemies that drop items that no player would ever want to use.

  16. Benden says:

    I’m playing Thief (2014) and Garrett has a bow and a bludgeon. Enemies regularly have weapons that look very useful, but even more so they look valuable and I’m very annoyed he never picks anything up after knocking someone out.

    I remember this site has quite a few words about Thief on it and it seems possible this may be one of the ones you’re remembering.

  17. Fulbert says:

    It’s probably ancient history but the old Jagged Alliance 2 drove me up the wall with how enemies would leave no weapons or armor when killed. Especially in the early game when equipment is still scarce, they’d often drop a couple of pistol clips at best, even if they had been using better weapons than you did. That was probably done for balance reasons so that you had a reason to use the gun store and wouldn’t ruin the in-game economy by selling dozens of trash guns but still, it was frustrating as hell.
    The older Fallout games were similar in that while the enemies would ususally drop their guns, armor was something you had buy or otherwise obtain in the world. Murdering an Enclave soldier or just some caravan guard didn’t entitle you to their armor.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      Brigade E5 allowed for full loot system. By the end of the game you own a truck, and after a battle you just one click in menu to move all loot on the ground to truck, and then sell it in the city (when you arrive there). Kinda absurd, in a way

      ….

      And now I want a spiritual successor to E5/7.62

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Torchlight just has your dog run all your vendor-trash back to town to sell, so the one-click truck doesn’t seem to absurd to me. ;)

    2. Chad Miller says:

      The older Fallout games were similar

      This was actually just Fallout 2. And this was partly because Fallout 1’s economy was broken in half and selling enemy armor was one of the most straightforward ways to break it.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I think you might be playing a modded Fallout; None of the armors on the NMA wiki show the armors as being loot-able. Fallout 3 and onwards definitely had lootable armor, but I don’t think even Fallout Tactics (the latest 2D game) had lootable armor.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          Never modded any Fallout game before 4. Maybe it’s that regular enemies have lootable armor but townspeople don’t, and you don’t really fight human enemies in the endgame. In the early game where it matters it’s really easy to gather and sell cheap armor.

        2. Syal says:

          You can definitely loot the bandits in the bandit section, killing the leader is the easiest way to get metal armor.

  18. C.J.Geringer says:

    “Can you think of a game where defeated foes are depicted with clearly visible items that you can’t pick up, even though they would be immediately useful to your character? ”

    Chivalry an Dragon age Origins, were the worst for this in my experience.

  19. The Rocketeer says:

    I’ve just finished a game where you can’t pick up enemy weapons you desperately need: Rise of the Tomb Raider. The previous title, Tomb Raider 2013, was the same. I’m actually not sure you can see enemies’ dropped weapons when they’re killed; I think they might just blink out of existence. But we know they must be there, and these games make a big deal about weapon scarcity, and slowly gathering parts and pieces to earn new weapons or upgrade the ones you have. It’s a bizarre inconsistency.

    On the other hand, if you want THE EXACT OPPOSITE EXPERIENCE, I’ve also recently finished playing The Surge 2, and I greatly enjoyed it! If you want an enemy’s weapon or armor in the Surge games, you just cut it right off of their body, and voila! You’ve got it. Well, you get the weapon automatically, and you get a blueprint for the armor pieces that you can then craft fairly easily, but the concept is the same: if an enemy has cool stuff, and you want it, you can have it if you defeat them.

  20. Canthros says:

    It’s good to hear that Blender is both a floor wax and a dessert topping.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      And the spoon, and the bowl! All you need to bring is your own mouth/hardwood.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Look. Not all of us “Paul”s can be Paul Haeberli.

  21. baud says:

    Regarding the Choose-once difficulty, I like how nuXCOM solves this issue: achievement are tied to playing most/all of the game on that difficulty and using cheat codes (well, the overpowered soldiers you can get by giving particular names to your soldiers) will deactivate achievements. I think that most games that allow for a difficulty change do the same.

  22. Olivier FAURE says:

    Re: picking up enemy weapons, one game I haven’t seen mentioned yet is Way of the Samurai which I played on the PS2.

    All enemies had a weapon (mostly katanas) which they dropped when you killed them. You could carry up to three weapons with you in your inventory, though you usually picked one and used it in every fight.

    Weapons not only had characteristics (damage, durability, etc), but they also granted you the moveset of the enemy that dropped it. Now, most enemies were mooks with shitty weapons and a shitty moveset, but that mechanic meant you could kill a mob boss, and then use their own moves against their nephew.

    The most interesting was the blacksmith, the only NPC in the game who could upgrade your weapons. If you asked him to do a job that you didn’t have the money for, he’d do it, then get mad when you told him you didn’t have any money and try to kill you. You couldn’t run away without killing him. Doing so deprived you of the only shop in the game for the length of your run, but you got to use his kickass hammer. (also, I think you kept your weapons between runs, so on your next playthrough you could ask him to upgrade his own hammer)

    That game kicked ass.

  23. Drathnoxis says:

    I thought you weren’t posting because the Chinese government was putting pressure on you to keep quiet.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      It’s true. He’s just not allowed to say that. ;-D

  24. NPC says:

    Games where you can’t pick up enemy weapons / armor

    Spiders tends to do this. I haven’t played all of their games but can attest to it in Bound by Flame and Greedfall.
    Would be interested to know If this is a trend for budget RPGs generally or if it’s limited to what is fondly referred to as “Eurojank”.

    Dragon Quest and other JRPGs also do this a lot, or if enemies do drop gear it is a very low drop chance, not sure if that counts.

  25. Laser Hawk says:

    One of the best examples of not being able to pick up weapons I can think of is Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth. In that game , you are being hunted by Innsmouth fishmen, are literally running them over with a truck and bludgeoning them with crowbars, but you cannot pick up a shotgun off the ground from any of them. Instead you get a shotgun from a gun cabinet later. But even them you can’t take fallen enemies ammo.

  26. Tuck says:

    @Lack

    I highly recommend GameMaker Studio 2. Very easy to make a simple 2D game and get it to a playable state, while still having the capability to create much more complex games (e.g. Heat Signature, Undertale). It’s not free, though.

  27. Blake says:

    For the last question, I wonder if something like TIC-80 would be good?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      TIC-80 is such a lovely little ecosystem.

  28. Mousazz says:

    Games where you can’t pick up enemy weapons / armor

    Now, I’m not sure if this fits exactly, but I’m reminded of Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. It has a dual-wielding system, where your primary weapon is fixed, but your secondary is variable and short-lasting – secondary weapons break very quickly, and have to be looted off of dead enemies. The game’s predecessor, Warrior Within, had the same system – however, in WW, the primary weapon was one of a variety of swords (ignoring the beginning stick that the Prince doesn’t keep around for long) that were gained based on progression throughout the game, and were increasingly more and more powerful. In comparison, in The Two Thrones, your main weapon is initially a butcher’s knife, and, later on, the Dagger of Time – an iconic weapon, sure, but comparatively really weak. I guess the reason for it being this way was to encourage the players to use the stealth kill system more, but they went about it really poorly, by just gimping the main combat. That’s not cool. It’s also frustrating to see the Prince slashing and parrying with a tiny knife as his main weapon instead of a proper sword.

    The dagger also made an appearance in the first game of the trilogy, Sands of Time, where it was a permanent secondary weapon, but it was used as a utility tool, to finish off enemies, and to consume the time-mana sand to freeze enemies into sand statues for easy disposal. That game didn’t have dual-wielding as the Prince’s fighting style.

  29. BlaezeL says:

    Games where you can’t pick up enemy weapons / armor:

    System Shock 2 shotgun hybrids annoyed me to no end: even though their shotgun was in their inventory when looting their corpse it was invariably broken. But they were just using it on me a moment ago!

    I understand how it would have broken the game if they dropped guns in good shape but some variability would have been nice (e.g. if i could use their gun for a couple of shots before it breaking or something like that).

  30. Ninety-Three says:

    Now that The Outer Worlds is out, it’s a good example of a game where enemies don’t drop their weapons or armour, most of the time. There seems to be a ~10% chance for gear drops, otherwise you get nothing. This makes the looting particularly wonky: why can I take this bandit’s helmet but not his gun, that bandit’s gun but not his helmet, and nothing from the third guy when they’ve all got the same gear? It’s one of those games where most of the good equipment comes from shops/treasure chests, but enemy weapons still matter because scrapping them is your primary source of precious Weapon Parts to use the game’s repair system.

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