Rage 2 Part 2: Shut Up and Let Me Shoot Stuff

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jan 30, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 106 comments

Like I said in the introduction, this series is going to focus on advice more than straight critique. This is basically an expansion on the How I’d Have Done it sections in my Mass Effect Andromeda series. Also, I’m going to be focusing on a minimalist approach. The goal here isn’t to create a massive story-world full of complex intrigue and fill the game with hours of cutscenes. The goal is to create a story of surgical efficiency where we can create tension, stakes, and emotional investment in the shortest possible time. This is an action shooter, and the fanbase is not going to be filled with people hungry for ambitious worldbuilding and miles of backstory. Statistically, these players are not fans of classic BioWare, and we need to respect their expectations.

Which means these first few entries are going to be rough. The opening scenes of Rage 2 are easily the worst part of the game. As I said in my Escapist column back in May: There are about 3.5 minutes of gameplay in the first 23 minutes of the game. Having bad cutscenes is one thing, but having overlong bad cutscenes is worse and having them at the start of an action title is suicidal. Players are going to start skipping cutscenes, and if they skip the intro then they’ll probably skip everything else and all our expensive animation and voice acting will go to waste.

Who is Walker, and Who is Dead?

Whoever you choose will be named Walker, and the other person will die. This is the most unusual version of the Trolley Problem I've ever encountered.
Whoever you choose will be named Walker, and the other person will die. This is the most unusual version of the Trolley Problem I've ever encountered.

The game starts off with an excruciating two and a half minutes of cutscene where our main bad guy General Cross gives a very shouty speech to his troops. For reasons that will become clear later, I want to put off talking about this until the next entry. For now let’s just mash the “Skip Cutscene” button and jump right to the action…

You start out in some sort of bunker that’s currently under attack. You’re offered the choice to play as either a male or female character. Once you’ve made your choice, the other character is immediately killed. Then we learn your character is named Walker. That’s kind of funny.

In Mass Effect, you choose if Shepard is male or female. If you choose male, then there isn’t a female Shepard, and vice versa. In Mass Effect Andromeda and Dishonored 2, you choose to play as one of two distinct characters. The other character is sidelined for the remainder of the story. Here in Rage 2, we have two distinct people but only the one you choose is named Walker.

This is a smart way of handling player gender choice in the context of an action shooter: Get it over with quickly and don’t create extraneous characters. I guess you could just do it in  a menu, but the death of not-Walker sets up a semi-humorous slapstick death as the door is blown out of its frame and squishes them. I also find some meta-humor in the notion that you have to collapse the waveform to determine who is Walker and who is dead.

For the purposes of pronouns, I’m going to pick female Walker for this series. It really doesn’t matter. As far as I can tell, the two characters have the same dialogThey also have a lot of the same dialog spoken TO them, which means female Walker is called “dashing” and “handsome” at a couple of points. That’s fine. Whatever. I’d get annoyed if an RPG did this sort of thing, but in the context of a shooter where your character is basically a very smug gun I just can’t bring myself to care..

Gameplay Begins

She's 23 and has 7 years of service? Man, that's some interesting info about their society that would make for some great DIALOG, instead of appearing on a title card.
She's 23 and has 7 years of service? Man, that's some interesting info about their society that would make for some great DIALOG, instead of appearing on a title card.

Lily enters the scene. She’s Walker’s sister. (Walker is actually an orphan adopted by Lily’s mother.) They share some banter and show no empathy whatsoever for the not-Walker who just got squished by the doorWhich is fine in this case. Now is not the time for pathos.. Lily and Walker fight their way to a courtyard where we get another minute-long cutscene. A 20-footAbout 6 meters. brute monster storms in. Some guy in special armor rides into the scene on a motorcycle and Lily explains that he’s “Ranger Jersey”. Jersey then attacks the brute, who bites his head off.

“Holy shit it took his whole head off!”, Walker exclaims.

It’s generally a waste of dialog to have characters narrate things that the audience can already see for themselves. It makes sense to have a reaction line after his death, but it should tell us something new or serve the story in some way.

Comedy: Oh! That’s gonna leave a mark!

Ironic pun-based anti-comedy comedy: Looks like Jersey had trouble keeping his head in a fight.

Melodrama: NOOOooooo! You’ll pay for that!

Personal exposition: I’ve never seen a Ranger die before!

Worldbuilding: He was one of the last 6 Rangers left!

The brute dies due to the grenade Jersey threw into its mouth at the last moment. Walker then pulls Jersey’s remains out of his Ranger armor and puts it on.

I know it probably seems like I’m skimming over things, so I want to stress that my description is very true to how things happen in the game. Things happen abruptly with no build-up, we get very little in the way of reactions from our leads, and then you’re shoved onward to the next thing. The game just started. We met two people, one of them died, and our character slipped on their still-wet armor like it was no big deal. Paradoxically, it feels like the whole thing is cutscenes and yet it feels like you’re skipping cutscenes.

FEEL EMPATHY FOR MY CHARACTER RIGHT NOW! THAT'S AN ORDER, SOLDIER!
FEEL EMPATHY FOR MY CHARACTER RIGHT NOW! THAT'S AN ORDER, SOLDIER!

From there we go to another area and we’re introduced to SergeantShe’s supposedly a sergeant, but she’s in charge of this entire outpost / town and there don’t seem to be any officers among the Rangers. Either military ranks work differently after the apocalypse or the writer wasn’t totally clear on the line between officers and enlisted. Erwina Prowley. She’s Lily’s mother and thus Walker’s adoptive mother. Prowley is a hard-ass woman with battle scars who screams orders about sitreps and hotzones. All of the following takes place in a single cutscene:

  1. We meet Prowley.
  2. She notices that Walker put on Ranger armor.
  3. Another brute enters. This one is perhaps 50 feet15 meters. tall.
  4. General Cross enters and Prowley reacts with disbelief that Cross is still alive.
  5. Cross twirls his metaphorical mustache.
  6. The brute grabs both Prowley and Walker.
  7. Prowley breaks free, grabs a mounted gun, and blows the arm off the brute, thus freeing Walker.
  8. Prowley is captured.
  9. Prowley is executed by General Cross.
  10. Walker passes out.
  11. Lily revives Walker the next morning, after the battle is over.
  12. Lily mourns her mother and explains that the base is down to just a handful of survivors.

That’s a lot of stuff to have happen all at once. The whole scene is about 5 minutes long. Once again a character dies in the same cutscene where they are introduced.

This cutscene feels paradoxically rushed and yet overlong. Too many things happen too close together, mixed with too much awkward exposition, and so none of it really registers. At the same time, the player spends too much time not playing the game.

This it isn’t just boring, it’s actively damaging to the story this game wants to tell. If the story doesn’t matter, then why are these cutscenes so long? If story does matter, then why are we telling it in this awkward, rushed way?

We need player input to happen sooner, we need it to last longer, we need these cutscenes to be shorter, and we need to create emotional investment and stakes so these losses can have some impact on the player.

Fixing This

Yeah. I mean, I think that was the idea Prowley.
Yeah. I mean, I think that was the idea Prowley.

My suggestion here is the same as the suggestion I had for the original Dishonored: If the death of a character is going to be the inciting incident in a story, we can’t introduce them and kill them off in the same scene. You just can’t expect the player to feel anything in response to the death of a character that was just introduced. There needs to be space between the introduction and the death. We need to create a status quo before we can disrupt it, and we need to give the player time to become attached to someone before they’re killed. The most obvious way to do this is to have a single mission that establishes normalcy and creates short-term goals for the player to think about.

So here are my suggested fixes:

As with the actual game, we can start with the player talking to Lily. But instead of starting with the attack in progress, we begin the game in pre-invasion Vineland. The player should be allowed to walk around and see their home in its natural state. Lily is introduced in dialogOr, if you MUST, using one of those oh-so-cute character cards. and we get the siblings explanation out of the way. Lily says Walker needs to go see Mom.

The player is allowed to navigate around on their own, putting them in control right away. They just need to cross a small courtyard to reach Prowley’s office. As Walker enters, Prowley is talking to a civilian about some sort of water problem. The civilian exits when Walker enters, leaving the two of them alone.

Walker: Mom, you wanted to see me?

Prowley: (Brusque.) Are we in uniform?

Walker: Obviously.

Prowley: Then I’m Sergeant Prowley to you.

Walker: Okay then, Sergeant Prowley. But if we’re following protocol then why am I not a Ranger yet? I’ve passed the tests. I’ve paid my dues. I’m a better driver than Jersey and I’m a way better marksman than Sidewinder. I’m ready. (Beat.) I’m more than ready.

Prowley: You’re not a Ranger until I say you’re a Ranger. That’s just the way it works.

Walker: Can I at least do some patrols with the squad? I’ve been cooped up here in Vineland forever and I want to see-

Prowley: (Cuts her off.) If you’re looking for action then there’s plenty of that for you here. We got muties in the waterworks again. Go see Jersey.

Walker: But…

Prowley: (Firm.) That’s an order.

Walker: (Crestfallen.) Yes, Sergeant Prowley.

In 11 lines of dialog, we’ve established:

  1. The distant relationship between our lead and her mother figure.
  2. Walker’s desire to be a Ranger.
  3. Walker’s dedication and capability as a military-type shooty person.
  4. Walker is stuck inside the base, which implies that people can’t come and go freely, which tells us a bit about how this town works.
  5. A little mystery for the audience to ponder: Why hasn’t Sgt. Prowley made her badass daughter a Ranger?

That’s not bad for 11 lines of dialog. This will also save us many lines of dialog later, because we won’t have to awkwardly explain this stuff in the middle of a battle.

After the conversation, the player is free to move around. Maybe the walk to the Waterworks is a good place to put the crouch / slide / jump / pick up stuff tutorials. Whatever. We just want the player to feel involved. Just outside the waterworks, Walker meets Jersey:

Walker: How come you guys don’t ever have to do this shit? I’ll bet cleaning muties out of the waterworks is a lot easier when you’ve got Ranger armor.

Jersey: You know how it goes, Walker. Everyone has to pay their dues if they want to wear the suit. (He hands her an assault rifle.)

Walker: You know I have, and then some.

Jersey: I know. Maybe Prowley is just trying to avoid looking like she’s playing favorites. (He pulls the release lever to open up the waterworks access.) Good luck in there, Walker.

Walker: (Grudgingly.) Thanks Jersey.

5 more lines of dialog tell us:

  1. Walker evidently does this kind of thing a lot, thus establishing her capabilities. This is a shooter, not an RPG. She doesn’t need to start out a lowly farmhand and level up into a demigod. It works much better for the gameplay if our lead is a capable badass right out of the gate.
  2. We can intuit there’s something powerful / special about Ranger armor.
  3. We establish that Walker admires the armor, which will make it more interesting when she finally gets to put it on.
  4. We meet Jersey and see that he and Walker are on friendly terms.
  5. We reinforce the little mystery about why Walker hasn’t been made a Ranger yet.

So we’ve done some worldbuilding and given our protagonist some motivation. We’ve established that Ranger armor is powerful and useful somehow, and that Walker wants it for its utility, not just as a status symbol. We’ve shown Vineland in its ideal state so the player will have a sense of loss when it gets destroyed. We’ve established a personality for our protagonist, and created a couple of relationships. And finally we’ve allowed the player to move around so they feel like they’re playing the game rather than watching a cutscene. The interactivity is mostly an illusion, but it’s better than total passivity.

I usually try to make budget-neutral suggestions. During Andromeda, I tried to suggest things that were better, but without needing more money / time. After all, it’s easy to fantasize how to fix things if you imagine you have unlimited resources.

But I have to admit we’re probably spending more money to make my version. Pre-invasion Vineland would be an area with buildings and NPCs that don’t exist in the shipped game. Those NPCs will need to be scripted to move around so they look busy, and they’ll need a little ambient chatter so they don’t feel mute. So my version is going to be expensive.

Then again…

We’re not going to be scripting so many long cutscenes. In terms of dollars-to-minutes, gameplay is massively cheaper than cutscenes. So maybe it’s a wash? I don’t know. I only know AAA development though GDC talks, and I can’t really say one way or another.

My version might be slightly longer in terms of word count, but these lines will enable us to chop a bunch of dialog out of the action scenes later so we’re not clogging up exciting / intense moments with clumsy exposition. We can give Jersey his big heroic death moment without needing to awkwardly explain who he is and how he’s above Lily and Walker in the pecking order moments before he dies. We can cut all the awkward flow-breaking exposition that introduces Prowley in the middle of a supposedly hectic scene.

Even if my version is more expensive: If there’s one place where it’s safe to spend a little extra to make things good, it’s in the first 20 minutes of the game.

This tutorial message pops up right in the middle of voiceover dialog. It pauses the game and interrupts the conversation. This happens several times during this section. If this exposition is important enough that we need to dump it on the player right now, then it's important enough that it should not be clobbered by popups.
This tutorial message pops up right in the middle of voiceover dialog. It pauses the game and interrupts the conversation. This happens several times during this section. If this exposition is important enough that we need to dump it on the player right now, then it's important enough that it should not be clobbered by popups.

So Walker heads into some sort of generic drainage / pipe system below the town. They just need to blast a few mutants and get comfortable with the gameplay. The layout can follow the classic “room-corridor-room” format of bog-standard tutorial dungeons. In the rooms the player learns all the tutorial stuff, and in the corridors Walker can have brief expositional exchanges with Lily over the radio. In the shipped game, the flow-breaking tutorial popups trample all over the dialog and interrupt the conversation. This waterworks introduction will fix that by putting some breathing space between dialog and learning.

This conversation can solidify the relationship between Walker and Lily. Lily can complain about the fact that she can’t ever become a Ranger because her body isn’t compatible with the armor’s nanotrite science-wizard powers. (There’s already a line about this in the game, but here I’m introducing the idea earlier so it doesn’t seem weird when Lily doesn’t show any interest in Ranger armor of her own.)

Once the player clears out the mutie nest, Lily tells Walker that she’s supposed to report back to Prowley. Ah! So maybe now Walker is finally going to be accepted as a Ranger? Walker is excited and gets her hopes up.

But then Cross attacks, as in the shipped game. The player gets a few minutes of blasting Cross’ goon squad. Jersey and Prowley both die, while Walker is knocked out of the fight by a contrivance.

I’d cut 90% of Cross’ villainous monologue, because most of it is empty bluster with no real plot or character information.

Cross looks like someone stuck a human head onto one of Michael Bay's Transformers.
Cross looks like someone stuck a human head onto one of Michael Bay's Transformers.

These changes will make these various deaths much more impactful. When Jersey is killed, we’ll feel a slight sense of loss because we sorta knew the guy and he showed us some respect / empathy. When Walker puts on the armor, we’ll understand that she’s grasping power she feels she’s earned and she’s not just some psycho putting on a dead man’s suit for giggles. When Prowley bites it, we’ll have some sense of lossNot much, but every little bit counts!. When the town is destroyed, we’ll feel the impact because we can remember what it looked like before it all went to hell, and we just put some work into improving the place by fixing the waterworks.

Not only is this introduction far more engaging than the bulk exposition of the original, but it breaks the cutscenes up so the player doesn’t need to be a passive viewer for minutes at a time. Instead of a single five minute cutscene you’ll end up with something like five one-minute cutscenes. The player can have more gameplay, sooner, and that gameplay won’t be tangled up in tutorial popups.

We’ve still got more introduction to fix. I’ll cover the rest of this in the next entry.

 

Footnotes:

[1] They also have a lot of the same dialog spoken TO them, which means female Walker is called “dashing” and “handsome” at a couple of points. That’s fine. Whatever. I’d get annoyed if an RPG did this sort of thing, but in the context of a shooter where your character is basically a very smug gun I just can’t bring myself to care.

[2] Which is fine in this case. Now is not the time for pathos.

[3] About 6 meters.

[4] She’s supposedly a sergeant, but she’s in charge of this entire outpost / town and there don’t seem to be any officers among the Rangers. Either military ranks work differently after the apocalypse or the writer wasn’t totally clear on the line between officers and enlisted.

[5] 15 meters.

[6] Or, if you MUST, using one of those oh-so-cute character cards.

[7] Not much, but every little bit counts!



From The Archives:
 

106 thoughts on “Rage 2 Part 2: Shut Up and Let Me Shoot Stuff

  1. Dev Null says:

    We meet Walker and see that he and Walker are on friendly terms.

    I feel like one of those Walkers was meant to be Jersey. Unless you mean the other-sex Walker. Which might be funny.

  2. pseudonym says:

    The whole article is on the frontpage. Just so you know.

  3. Syal says:

    Having not played the game, the big list is confusing. It refers to Prowley, but we’ve met two characters and they’re both named Prowley.

    I think the “it took his whole head off” line is giving personal exposition, establishing that Walker hasn’t seen anything like that before and implying it’s uncommon in the setting.

    That’s probably a much better intro, but I wonder if you could just add a bit of gameplay where Prowley sends you off to find an anti-brute monster weapon and keep everything else the same, including the door-kills-the-other-character opening bit.

    Empathy will always help, but I’m not sure if you need empathy for the scene. It’s an action movie; you don’t really need to establish emotional stakes, you need to establish physical stakes. It’s not that General Cross is killing your mother, it’s that General Cross is killing someone the character thinks of as a badass. (Same thing with Dishonored, now that I think of it; it’s not “Oh, I was emotionally attached to the Empress,” it’s “These guys are dangerous enough they can kill an empress in her home!”)

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Having not played the game, the big list is confusing. It refers to Prowley, but we’ve met two characters and they’re both named Prowley.

      Yeah, but Shamus has been careful to call the daughter Lily at all times. Prowley is the mom.

      I think the “it took his whole head off” line is giving personal exposition, establishing that Walker hasn’t seen anything like that before and implying it’s uncommon in the setting.

      Doesn’t work for me, because it establishes Walker as Captain Obvious (unless that’s what they were going for? But then that makes the MC not too bright).

    2. Lars says:

      and keep everything else the same, including the door-kills-the-other-character opening bit.

      Let the attack happen as it is but pushed back (for now) by you, Jersey and his power armor. After that the Seargent orders you and the sister to sneak behind enemy lines, blasting fuel and or ammo as the tutorial level. At the end you find Cross outfitting his men for another attack. Followed by a playable chase scene back to base. (You chase or you being chased – the latter is better because: no power armor, yet) Jersey dies saving you, Seargent has a stand-of with the brute. Cross kills the brute and knocks down Seargent in one blow.
      You get Jerseys Power armor to distract Cross and save Seargent while sister frees her and hands her a grenade launcher. Seargent goes close combat with grenade launcher and Cross blowing up herself and damaging Cross. Therfore he has to retreat and leave the new Ranger alive.

      1. Syal says:

        Beating back the attack, counterattacking, and injuring the villain weakens the villain’s threat level, though, and from the sound of it they’re already weaker than they should be.

    3. Dreadjaws says:

      I think the “it took his whole head off” line is giving personal exposition, establishing that Walker hasn’t seen anything like that before and implying it’s uncommon in the setting.

      I think a simple “Holy shit!” would have sufficed. That line of dialogue seems to be a remnant of a time when the dialogue was written before any visual description was made, so they chose that way to describe what had happened. That or the writer simply isn’t very good.

      Yes, there are some ways to make that line work. Some people are obvious in their dialogue in real life, so if this was an established character trait it would be fine, or maybe have Walker be talking to someone in the radio while the attack happens, so they’re communicating this to someone who isn’t watching. The way it’s shown, though, it’s precisely one of the few ways this line doesn’t work.

      At least according to Shamus; I haven’t played the game.

      1. Syal says:

        I think a simple “Holy shit!” would have sufficed.

        That alone would be too vague for me; people say that when they’re startled, so we’re left wondering if this is about the violence, or the monster’s sudden appearance, or Jersey being defeated, or just “too many things are happening” stress. No worldbuilding in that at all.

        1. Dreadjaws says:

          Your point being? There’s no worldbuilding at all in the original line either. He’s saying what we’re already seeing. The visuals are in charge of it. There’s really no point in the line as he’s saying it.

          In any case, I disagree. Obviously the line can only be a reaction to Jersey being defeated. It cannot be a reaction to the monster suddenly appearing because there was already a bunch of dialogue and visual exposition between its appeareance and the head bite. Sure, it can be a reaction to “too many things are happening”, but is it really that much of a difference? The head bite is the thing that sets it off, so it’s still a reaction to that. The violence? I mean, it’s an established post-apocalyptic world, we have no reason to think this character has never seen violence before, particularly when this character just a few moments ago saw the other potential Walker be completely squished by a door and had no reaction to it.

          1. Sartharina says:

            Except there is a point to the outburst – it’s a reaction to an unbelievable event (In this case, a brute tearing someone’s entire fucking head off). Like the Marine’s reactions to the destruction of the Malta and Athens stations in Halo 2 (Though in that game’s instance, they also served as a cue to look out the window in time to see the other explode). But there’s also the emotional ‘That didn’t just happen” shock.

            A simple “Holy Shit” wouldn’t have sold the shock of the moment, and anything more verbose would have been stupidly verbose. A lot of people state the obvious happening when the obvious thing that’s happening is completely ridiculous and unbelievable, like someone getting their entire head torn off by a giant monster.

            1. Shamus says:

              “A lot of people state the obvious happening when the obvious thing that’s happening is completely ridiculous and unbelievable, like someone getting their entire head torn off by a giant monster.”

              Sure, you can argue that this is realistic or whatever. But movie conversations are NOT realistic. People begin conversations without warm-up smalltalk. They end phone conversations without saying goodbye. People talk without saying “um” or stumbling over their words. They’re unnaturally witty.

              Yes, there are movies with realistic dialog. But RAGE 2 is not The Meyerowitz Stories, and in a broad action story like this, dialog is precious and should be used to maximum effect. This is even more true in a busy action scene at the story of the story.

              And if a character IS going to say something obvious and dumb, it shouldn’t be our just-introduced main character.

  4. Kai Durbin says:

    Caught the whole thing on the front page!

    (I know other people (pseudonym in particular) have already caught this, but I feel like recording it anyway.)

  5. GargamelLeNoir says:

    Once again I really like this format, even though I haven’t even played the game! Also I appreciate providing the heights in metric units, it’s a nice touch.

  6. Lino says:

    This is a much better (if somewhat standard) opening.

    By the way, I really appreciate the footnotes that convert imperial units into metric! The most annoying part of reading American books and articles is the fact that I constantly need to have a unit converter open. I’ve even got one on my phone when I’m reading something offline (either on my reader or an actual book).

    1. Agammamon says:

      Generally speaking, multiply feet by three and you get meters. Not exactly, and I wouldn’t use that for anything important (39 inches to the meter is better) but it’ll get you in the ballpark for mentally visualizing the sizes.

      1. Richard says:

        You mean divide-by-3 ;)

        3.34 light-nanoseconds is about a metre, a metre is reasonably close to a yard, and a yard is three feet.

        (Also a ‘meter’ is a device for measuring or counting something, a ‘metre’ is a unit of length.)

        1. Agammamon says:

          If you’re converting feet to meters . . . yeah, divide. My mistake.

          And here in Eagleland, a meter is both a device to measure something and a unit of length. A metre is a misspelling in the same category as colour and aluminium.

          The Anglic countries are truly divided by a common language;)

  7. Joshua says:

    “This cutscene feels paradoxically rushed and yet overlong. Too many things happen too close together, mixed with too much awkward exposition, and so none of it really registers. ”

    So, on top of the TLJ review some of us asked for, any chance we could add RoS to the queue? Because that’s a good descriptor for it right there.

    1. Hector says:

      I laughed.

  8. Karma The Alligator says:

    But I have to admit we’re probably spending more money to make my version. Pre-invasion Vineland would be an area with buildings and NPCs that don’t exist in the shipped game. Those NPCs will need to be scripted to move around so they look busy, and they’ll need a little ambient chatter so they don’t feel mute. So my version is going to be expensive.

    Does the game not have other settlements or buildings that could be re-used? That could be used to show how similar the building styles are between places. As for NPCs, do we really need a lot of new ones? Aren’t there generic NPCs that could maybe be used from somewhere else (unless all NPCs are unique in the game)? Just make it early (and foggy, if possible) or late enough in the day that there wouldn’t be a lot of foot traffic and we don’t see a lot of the place.

    1. Shamus says:

      There are, in fact, entire settlements on the map that are entirely unused. They feel like cut content. No quests, shops, or talking NPCs. Just a map marker and a bunch of non-hostiles standing around.

      On the other hand, all other settlements feel a bit like Fallout 4: Everything is rusty, run-down, dented, and filthy, while Vineland is unique with big white stone walls to guide you through the tutorial rat-maze. The few buildings look kinda clean, and they might clash if we lifted settlement assets to fill the town out.

      So I dunno. It’s a complicated question.

      1. ElementalAlchemist says:

        I don’t think it would really be complicated. The article series takes the form of suggesting fixes for the game as it currently is, but in reality what you are suggesting is the ideal world scenario, i.e. what would have happened from the beginning if they had a competent lead writer and project director. In that case there’s no reason it would have needed to cost more, because they would have planned out the changing appearance from the start.

        I haven’t played the game, but it should be straightforward enough to have both versions mostly covered by a pool of common assets, with some simple set dressing used in both cases to make the distinction between pristine and war-ravaged. Especially since planning it that way from the start means you can make use of assets for those other towns you mentioned, by virtue of designing in some modularity specifically to allow for that sort of thing.

      2. Decius says:

        If the world as a whole has a lot of cut content, taking labor off of filling it out to fix the intro might not be wise.

        You can’t always just have writers get it right the first time.

  9. Asdasd says:

    You’re offered the choice to play as either a male or female character. Once you’ve made your choice, the other character is immediately killed. Then we learn your character is named Walker.

    Astral Chain has sort of the opposite version of this. You choose and name one of two characters, a guy and a girl. Whoever you don’t choose is given the name Akira, and goes on to have a significant role in the story as your sibling and fellow officer.

    They get a lot of voice-acting, dialogue and characterisation, which I found as I was playing made a strange contrast to my silent blank-slate protagonist, given that I knew the two roles could have been swapped. In other words, Platinum do create an extraneous character, but then they commit to it fully and put in a lot of work to integrate them into the story.

    1. ccesarano says:

      My mind also went to Astral Chain there, and as I kept reading I kept thinking about the similarities and where Astral Chain did it better. You’re already established as being a cop, your sibling is already on the scene and you’re catching up as you go through an exciting action sequence, you discover your (adoptive) Dad didn’t want you involved in the dangerous stuff, and you and your sibling are given these new Legion things. There’s a lot of cut-scenes, but a lot of gameplay as well.

      And they don’t even get rid of your adoptive father yet! They give you time to get to talk with him and stuff before they write him out of the story.

      Astral Chain certainly doesn’t have the best story or writing, but I give ’em props for trying. They took that game mechanic of the chain and names like “Legion” and “Chimera” to create themes of working together as one, with the good guys named Legion due to individuals fighting together while the bad guys are “Chimera” because you’re losing individuality to converge as a single entity (spoilers maybe?). The sibling angle kind of fits into that theme, so it was an inventive way to handle it whereas games like Dishonored 2, as Shamus mentioned, just kind of had the other character incapacitated the whole time.

      Of course, I’m now wondering what a Shamus write-up of Astral Chain would look like. Won’t be crossing my fingers for it anytime soon, though.

    2. Darren says:

      I’m also reminded of Dragon Age 2, where your choice of class determines which of your siblings dies in the opening. They are very different characters, and there are even further permutations (your sister is a mage and may end up effectively confined to the chantry for most of the game depending on choices you make later).

      It’s maybe the most extreme version of this setup I’ve ever encountered.

      1. Thomas says:

        Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has whichever sibling you don’t choose become the villain of the story

    3. Ninety-Three says:

      Pathologic has a weird approach where each of the three playable characters has a different main quest and the ones who you don’t choose to play as still exist in the world, going about their own main quests as NPCs and occasionally working at cross purposes to the player. It’s a decent solution for how to hold together a detailed world without needing too much branching content: what if the player doesn’t play that character and complete their world-changing quest goal? The NPC version of the character will do it.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        Trials of Mana also does something like this; it has 6 characters and a max party size of 3, which sounds like a standard JRPG setup, but the twist is that you decide which one is the main character, choose 2 more as party members and the other 3 do their own thing.

        1. baud says:

          I’ve heard about 7th Saga, where you start the game you pick one of 7 or so characters. During your travels, you can encounter the other characters you didn’t choose, who are all on the same quest as you, to retrieve a number of powerful magic runes for the king. If you’re strong enough, you might convince one to become your partner in battle (thought some characters don’t like each other). If you have a rune, one might attack you, and if they win the fight they’ll take it from you and you’ll have to win it back at a later point.

        2. Decius says:

          Is that the same game as Secret of Mana 3?

          I was blown away when I realized that picking the same characters in a different order changed most of the plot.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            Sort of. It’s got a bizarre localization history similar to Final Fantasy:

            Seiken Densetsu (Game Boy) = Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy)
            Seiken Densetsu 2 (SNES) = Secret of Mana (SNES)
            Seiken Densetsu 3 (also SNES) = Ported to the Switch last year as Trials of Mana

            I wouldn’t be surprised if some fan translation ROM called it “Secret of Mana 3”. I only know the game because played such a ROM in the 1990s.

            1. Decius says:

              Uh… legal counsel has advised me to neither confirm nor deny that I’ve played bootleg fan translations.

          2. Asdasd says:

            Wait, what? How does that work?

            1. Syal says:

              Seiken Densetsu 3 has three different main antagonists and enemy factions, with each hero’s unique starting level establishing a personal vendetta against one of them. The nemesis of the main character eventually defeats the other two factions and becomes the endgame boss, with their own unique dungeon and bosses.

              I wouldn’t call it “most” of the game, though, just the beginning and the end.

      2. Chris says:

        I like how pathologic does it. As the other characters basically do the most likely thing you would do if you control them, but if you play them yourself you can do it differently. This makes replaying as another character even more fun since you can see why the NPC version of you did what he did, yet you know how this would look like from an outsiders perspective.

  10. Asdasd says:

    Regarding the ‘one mission with your mentor to invest in the relationship and then they die’ idea. The problem with this is that while it’s more effective than what Rage 2 does, it’s still a very well-worn groove in gaming, such that the player will probably recognise that the mentor has a death flag almost immediately. From that point they’re not building investment, they’re waiting for a story beat that they know is coming, which means you’re achieving the same effect as just killing the mentor right away, only now you’re dragging it out.

    It’s a bit like starting a JRPG with the protagonist running some errands in his sleepy, idyllic village. You know that village is toast just as soon as the villain makes their dramatic entrance – that’s like trope #1 of JRPGs – so you’re only a little bit more likely to care when they do than if it had all happened in the opening cutscene.

    1. Shamus says:

      I disagree. Tropes aren’t bad, tropes are tools. It’s totally possible to know what’s coming next and yet still feel engaged. (Which is why you can still enjoy a movie on repeat viewings.) If you’re bored, it’s not because of the tropes, it’s because the author has failed to make characters you care about or a world you can believe in.

      While I’d love to make a massive story with lots of lore, multiple factions, surprise twists, and lots of interesting questions for the audience to puzzle over, I think that would be inappropriate for this series. I’m trying to roughly constrain myself to the scope / running time / premise of the original game. My goal is “how can we make this story good”? not, “how can we make a totally different story”?

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        OK, I realized I made a similar point to Asdasd down there, but while what you say it’s true, you really need a lot of characterization and storytelling/worldbuilding to achieve this, and it’s kind of hard to do in a game like this, that relies on action rather than story. This is why I believe it would work better if they either moved away from cliches or embraced them in a humorous side, none of which the game seems to do.

        1. Kylroy says:

          I feel like you’re missing the point of this whole exercise – Shamus is *trying* to write a bland but effective story. If Rage “either moved away from cliches or embraced them in a humorous side”, it would *drastically* change the story of a game that wants just enough narrative to underpin it’s action-focused gameplay. With his extensive Mass Effect analysis, he showed what he’d like to see in a series with massive, sprawling lore; here, he’s trying to show that making a story simple doesn’t mean it has to be nonsensical. (Which, yes, probably does mean it’s predicatable.)

          1. Dreadjaws says:

            Shamus is *trying* to write a bland but effective story.

            Um, what? Where did he state such a thing? He said: “The goal is to create a story of surgical efficiency where we can create tension, stakes, and emotional investment in the shortest possible time”. There’s nothing in there about the story being “bland” or “generic”.

            If Rage “either moved away from cliches or embraced them in a humorous side”, it would *drastically* change the story of a game that wants just enough narrative to underpin it’s action-focused gameplay.

            Are you not paying attention? The problem of the game is precisely that it has too much story, not what kind of story it is. If the game wanted “just enough narrative to underpin it’s action-focused gameplay”, then why isn’t it doing that?

            1. Decius says:

              The problem is NEVER that there is too much story.
              The problem is that it spends too much time on the story.

    2. evilmrhenry says:

      If it’s going to be a cliche, roll with it. First person you talk to is a week away from retirement. The next boasts about how awesome their armor is; they’re nearly invincible. The next talks about how nobody would dare attack the city. And so on.

      1. Kylroy says:

        Leaning into the cliches lets the author signal that they’re aware of what they’re doing, but it doesn’t necessarily help the stated goal of improving this shooting-focused game’s background story. Hellgate: London’s quests were written to maximize my awareness of how clever the writers were, but it ended up ruining the setting for me.

      2. Syal says:

        Weakens the villain, though. “Oh hey, player, look, it’s the nefarious Mr. Predictable. Right on schedule. As always.”

    3. The Puzzler says:

      There are plenty of games where the mentor doesn’t die. They stick around as a quest-giver, or they turn out to be secretly evil, or they get kidnapped and need rescuing. Unless you overdo the foreshadowing, players don’t know which it’s going to be.

  11. Hal says:

    I like the new intro, but . . . If the game is supposed to be action/comedy, I feel like your intro is much more dramatic than comedic.

    1. Trevor says:

      Yeah, and not having played the game, I don’t know where the comedy is supposed to be coming from.

      The visuals look very Gears of War/near future military shooter. And the description of what happens seems to suggest the opening part is played very seriously. But the splash art at the top of the article with the neon mohawks and Mad Max bikes suggests a completely different game genre than the screenshots of the opening town.

      1. Syal says:

        Just watched the cutscene; the humor is in LIly and Walker treating the war as a party and the deaths as no big deal. (“How’s the armor?” “It’s still got a lot of Jersey in it.”) Plus Lily and Prowley’s pop-up intros lead to the joke of doing the same thing with General Cross (he’s not a loved one!) Plus the unintentional humor of the tooltips being terribly paced and cutting people off mid-word.

        Shamus’ version is much less comedic.

    2. Leviathan902 says:

      I mean, he hasn’t written comedy dialogue, but it would be fairly straightforward to do the same thing with a snarky protagonist and making Lily talk crap to walker.

      I don’t think Shamus’s premise is inherently non-comedic, it just isn’t written that way here.

    3. Ander says:

      Losing the character-pick door-smash gag is losing something very unique that does, in theory, set the tone for the game. I think it’s worth trying to retain it or replace it with something similar.

      1. Kylroy says:

        What it sets up to me is a Bulletstorm/Bayhem-style of over-the-top action…which I don’t think the game maintains.

      2. Syal says:

        Having now watched it… it’s not really a gag. The unpicked character says “I’ll guard the door” while you’re picking up your inventory, they guard the door, then enemies blow down the door and kill them. Not half as funny as Shamus’ description.

        1. Ander says:

          Having done the same now…I agree. On the one hand, that’s a little disappointing. On the other hand, it probably fits the game better.

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    While it’s true the whole intro you’re suggesting is better than what the game delivers, it’s also a bit cliche-ish. I don’t know what would upset me more, some nonsense or something that makes sense but I’ve also seen quite a few times in this kind of game.

    Then again, what are you gonna do? The setting doesn’t really lend itself to originality. It’s just paint-by-numbers post-apocalyptic trite. I know, I know. It’s done for convenience, of course. But they should at least try to spice things up a bit by changing things around. How about coming up with interesting looking towns? How about inventing new military ranks? How about letting the protagonist’s family live for a change? Maybe make the mentor not die/betray you but retire or go on fighting elsewhere. Sure, you can build up to the topical uses of these tropes, but then surprise the player by having a different outcome.

    Hell, even Resident Evil 5 did the whole mentor thing better. Resident Evil 5! You keep expecting Sheva’s mentor to be revealed as a traitor or be killed, yet he makes it until the end of the game. A game that seems to be built on cliches yet somehow does a better job of it than the majority. Likely by accident, but still.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Do you mean Josh as Sheva’s mentor? I never got the sense that’s what he was, just that they were of equal rank in their organization.

  13. Geebs says:

    I thought Shamus was joking about the angry-military-guy main antagonist. Turns out “General Cross” is his actual name. Huh.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      General Cross, who’s generally angry. Generically irritable.

      1. Syal says:

        Not a Double Cross, not a Triple Cross, but an all-encompassing General Cross.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          When he first joined the military, Private Cross kept his frustrations to himself, but years of bottling things up made him Major Cross.

          1. Geebs says:

            He never quite lived down the fact that his parents, keen crossword fans, saw fit to christen him Juan A. Cross.

            1. Agammamon says:

              OK, that? That right there? That’s funny, I don’t care who you are.

            2. Nimrandir says:

              This was beautiful, but I’d have loved it even more if you’d gone with a full middle name instead of the initial.

  14. Jake says:

    I’ll be honest, I missed the first few times that you wrote that Sargent Prowley was Walker’s Mom. It made me confused and made the reread of the actual cut-scenes even more disappointing. My first time through the actual cut scene as you described it, I literally said “Why are we talking about a mom who died off panel and was never introduced? This is some disjointed s***.”

    Now I know I can skip the game, and knowing is half the battle. In this case the other half is saying No.

  15. BlueHorus says:

    Honestly, this setup does sound kind of comical, the way you’ve described it. In my head, the instant you pick Walker’s sex, a door explodes and kills the other one. Same for the other deaths.
    Hey, look, it’s Ranger- *dead*
    Hi, Walker. I’m your sergean- *dead*

    I imagine a fast-paced NPC whack-a-mole scene, which lasts about two minutes. I’m sure it’s not that, but it would be funny, in a macabre way…

    (And then, at the end of the intro, Lily dies as well for good measure.)

    1. Syal says:

      Or Lily gets hit by something that should be fatal and then shrugs it off a few beats later.

      1. Richard says:

        Now that’s comedy!

    2. GloatingSwine says:

      I kind of think it was maybe supposed to be?

      As Shamus identified in the last installment, Rage 2 is not quite sure what its tone is. It frequently feels like it’s reaching for camp but doesn’t [i]quite[/i] get it.

  16. ccesarano says:

    I might end up having to start a playthrough of this just to keep up, because it feels like the game is comedy one second, and then abruptly stops being comedy the next. If they really wanted to deliver that Ranger’s death as comedic, then the two wouldn’t have responded at all until the carnage was over, and then have Walker say “Sweet! I got new armor!” or something like that.

    But then all the Sergeant stuff and… like… what? What’s the tone they’re conveying again? What?

  17. CloverMan-88 says:

    Im sorry Shamus, but your proposed introduction is unsuitable for an action game. You’re making an run-off-the mill beginning of an RPG, that focuses heavily on lore and doesnt care for a spectacle.
    Your players have certain expectations towards a game. And while RPG players are accustomed to slow, low power-lever section at the beginning of the game, you would probably lose 70% of the action game audience.

    The true beginning of Rage 2 has one big advantage – it’s a cutscene. A cutscene with monsters, guns, explosions and gore. A cutscene that can be skipped by your trigger-happy players who don’t give a rat’s as a about story, and with enough spectacle to engage those more patient who are still looking for action.

    You, however, made a playable segment that can’t he skipped, and has almost zero action.

    There is a reason so many action games being in-medias-res or with an action-filled flashback/side story. Players are incredibly fickle, and player expectations put a huge restraint on what you can and can’t do before your audience decide your game is not for them.

    1. Shamus says:

      “Im sorry Shamus, but your proposed introduction is unsuitable for an action game. You’re making an run-off-the mill beginning of an RPG, that focuses heavily on lore and doesnt care for a spectacle.”

      Not remotely?

      Like, Last of Us? The Potrals and Half-Lifes? The Tomb Raider reboot? My intro is shorter than all of them. It’s also shorter than the intro of Rage 2. It’s nowhere NEAR 23 minutes!

      “The true beginning of Rage 2 has one big advantage – it’s a cutscene. A cutscene with monsters, guns, explosions and gore. A cutscene that can be skipped by your trigger-happy players who don’t give a rat’s as a about story, and with enough spectacle to engage those more patient who are still looking for action.”

      I guess you haven’t played the game, then. The Ranger briefing scene is coming up, and it is six minutes of un-skippable exposition.

      My goal is to fix what we were given, not write a whole new story. You can certainly criticize the quality of my writing, but arguing that I need to get rid of the intro is changing the parameters of the exercise. All of the problems you pointed out are far worse in the shipped game.

      1. Kylroy says:

        Well, between CloverMan-88 and Asdasd, you’ve been criticized both for trying to do too much to change the story, and not enough. I fear the Goldilocks “just right” point for this will be in different places for almost every individual reader.

        1. Asdasd says:

          FWIW I don’t really recognise this as an accurate report of what you term my ‘criticism’ (my post wasn’t intended to criticise Shamus at all.)

      2. CloverMan-88 says:

        Preface: It’s true that I haven’t played Rage 2, all my opinions are based on your descriptions. Also, I’m not a writer – I’m a professional game designer, trying to bring my experience with direct and observed player feedback to the table. Also also – I try to avoid having discussions in writing, as they tend to escalate due to lack of non-verbal cues. But that’s why I might be even worse at not sounding like an asshole in writing, I hope I don’t, as I’m speaking from a place of love, but it think I might have based on your response. If so, I’m sorry.

        I’m not arguing that you should get rid of the intro. I’m also not saying that the original game introduction is better. What I’m saying that what you’ve proposed is not a great action game intro, and I though that creating one was the point of the exercise.

        In The Last of Us, the zombie apocalypse starts 3 minutes in. In Tomb Rider reboot, the storm that sinks the ship starts 40 seconds in. In Portal 2 – a puzzle game – your room gets dragged through the facility while crumbling 4 minutes in.

        Your introduction stars with a debriefing with your mother, and a sewer level.

        I’ve directed a fair share of voice-overs, and paced enough levels to know that your proposed intro level already takes at least 10-15 minutes. There are no stakes (even the gameplay tutorial is a routine cleanup mission) and it takes place in an unexciting location (there’s a reason sewer levels are a hated trope at this point, if I’m not mistaken you criticized games for using them yourself).

        Also, the fact that you can’t skip it is a big hit to the replayability. There are a few games I don’t come back to precisely because they take too long to get to the good stuff. This is the cost of playable segments, one that’s more important than money in some cases.

        1. Grimwear says:

          The Last of Us may have the zombie outbreak 3 minutes in but I’d argue the introduction is everything until the kid dies, which having just youtubed a Let’s Play is 17 minutes long. In fact I argue the introduction is even longer than that since you then still need to do a whole walking section with…Joel? Joe? as he moves along with Tess and the game is still giving you tutorial messages like how to pick up items and how to shoot your gun and fight. Heck game tutorial wise you could argue that for the Last of Us it doesn’t start until after those first 17 minutes.

          I just looked at Tomb Raider and yes the opening cutscene is only 40 seconds long but the introductory sequence which teaches you how to play and gives prompts for things ends at roughly the 20 minute mark. Again I deem it to be longer since I consider hunting the deer to be tutorial stuff but I’m not counting it for the purposes of this.

          As for Portal 2 I have no idea I didn’t feel like googling. But I can agree that for an action game this seems like a slow build but it’s a valid way to make a story. If we want to care about the story (which is the purpose of this exercise) then Shamus is taking a bit of time to set up this story. Otherwise it’s really easy to make an action game intro. Just copy Doom 2016. Wake up. Bash skulls.

          It seems you’re assuming the introduction is just the first cutscene. This is about the first part of the game and how they introduce you to the world and how to play. I’m sure there are some but I can only think of only two games off the top of my head that let you skip introductory segments and that’s Guild Wars and Divinity Original Sin. Because again we’re not talking about cutscenes we’re talking about the first introduction to the game. Metal Gear Solid 5, an action game based on the Steam tags, has an introduction that’s an hour long.

          1. CloverMan-88 says:

            Let me try to stucture my thoughts a bit, as there seems to be some misscommunication.

            An introduction to the game serves two functions:
            1) To introduce necessary story elements, and key characters and their relations. Prefferably, in an engaging, exciting way.
            2) To familiarise the player with the game’s core mechanics and controls, or reintroduce those concepts to returning players.

            The first part is optional, as some players might not care about the story, others might already be familiar with it. The second part is necessary, but can be brief, as good games introduce their core mechanics gradually.

            Great games blend those two functions together, and execute both well – exciting story with engaging gameplay.

            If you can’t do that, you can at least make the first part skippable, and the second one brief.

            The worst thing you can do is making an uninteresting introduction to your story, an an unexciting gameplay tutorial.

            The thing is, this is what MOST big budget games do. It’s really hard to do a great introductory segment. Some notable examples: God of War 2 (you fight an army of spartans and fend of an anomated Colloss of Rhodos while Kratos taunts Zeus setting up his character) and The Last of Us 2 (the pre-apocalypse introduction makes you care about your daughter instantly, which makes a typical gameplay section really engaging.) There is a reason those sections are one of the most talked about parts of their respective games – an introduction to the game doesn’t HAVE to be uninteresting, it’s just really hard to do.

            What Shamus proposes in not a bad introduction per se. It’s just very run-of-the-mill, and I was wondering if it could be done better. To be frank, I think that the whole original setup is impossible to execute well – they want to make you care about to many things too quickly (your city, your mother, your sister, ranger armor) and almost instantly cash that check out.

            1. Shamus says:

              I think you’ve nailed it. Any attempt to fix the intro as-is will inherit all of the problems of the original. If you REALLY wanted to fix this, then you’d need to go for a re-write. (Which wouldn’t really be interesting to read here on my site. It would just be serialized RAGE fanfiction, and that sounds like a terrible idea.)

              1. Asdasd says:

                INT – REBEL BASE – DAY

                Walker is minding her own business, polishing the suits of ranger armour she isn’t allowed to wear. Suddenly the door explodes inwardly, killing someone. In steps Sergeant-Ranger Jerley.

                Walker: Holy shit! That’s gonna leave a mark! He was one of the only alternate character models left! You’ll pay for that!

                Jerley: Shut up. You’re one of those data guys, right? Know a lot about spreadsheets?

                Walker: Uh, no? My job is to polish the –

                Jerley: Shut up. (Pulls a SPREADSHEET out of coat pocket.) I thought you’d want to take a look at this.

                Walker: Spreadsheet? That’s what this is about? Why did the door explode? Isn’t there some sort of attack on the Rebel Base that I, and by extension the player, have recently come to care about and invest in?

                Jerley: (heedlessly) This spreadsheet contains data on the performance of the Rebellion’s youtube series, This Dumb Insurgency. There’s a whole bunch of charts tracking obscure metrics. Probably took someone a solid evening.

                Walker: What? Why? Nobody would care about this!

                Jerley: On the contrary, it’s generated a tonne of engagement for our cause (though much of it was arguments over semantics). Anyway, head on down to our combined sewer/canal network. I need you to check there’s no problem with our shipping. It would be terrible if this fic were to be attacked by a marauding fandom.

                Walker: Fic? What are you talking about? This is a rebel base! Although now I think about it, I’m not exactly sure what we’re rebelling against.

                Jerley: Poor world-building on the writer’s part. Don’t worry, the main antagonist should be along any minute now.

                (Another door explodes inwardly, killing Jerley. A 20-foot CloverMan-88 is revealed.)

                CloverMan-88: THIS IS TAKING TOO LONG!

                Walker: NOOOooooo!

              2. Echo Tango says:

                A partial re-write like you’re doing here, could actually feasibly be done, too. If the publisher hired a group of people to re-cut a few cutscenes, change a few minor levels, etc, in the way your describing, it could take a reasonably short amount of time and little enough money, with people who actually know what they’re doing. :)

      3. tmtvl says:

        Typo patrol: potral. Sounds kind of like a joke. “What’s a pot ral?” “About 5 drachma a week.”

    2. pseudonym says:

      So Shamus, have you considered writing an application letter to one of your favourite game studio’s? You bring unique qualities to the table.

      1. You are a good writer.
      2. You have created assets when you worked at activeworlds, you have released Good Robot on steam, you have created some proc-gen demos. In short, you understand how much work it is too realize a gameworld and how your choices as a writer will affect the work the modelers, the animators etc. have to do.

      I think you might be one of the few people in the world with that unique combination. A must-hire for any studio!

      Edit: whoops. Not meant as a reaction to Cloverman. Must have clicked the wrong ‘reply’. Sorry!

    3. Echo Tango says:

      This rewritten intro has a few scenes with only a handful of lines of dialog, with breaks to do basic gameplay (i.e. tutorial stuff). This is almost the same as Deus Ex Human Revolution, System Shock 2, or any other number of action-focused shoot-man games. I don’t see how that translates to JRPG-length scenes.

  18. Genericide says:

    This series is interesting, I like trying to take apart a story and improve it as minimally as possible.

    I haven’t played Rage 2 myself, but is there a reason that Jersey needs to be their own character? My immediate thought after both them and mom died in quick succession was that there was no way both would have an impact. They both appear to be military people above you on the totem pole, could we just roll them into one character? That way we can put all the character-building towards one person, and taking up the armor of your dead mom seems more appropriately dramatic than taking up the armor of Some Acquaintance.

    On a separate note, I noticed as some other commenters that there’s not really comedy in your rewrite yet (can’t speak to how the real thing does it). Were you planning on axing it entirely for tonal consistency? Or did you just think it was better put off for the intro? If the latter, I’d be wary of getting the tonal mismash of games like Fallout 4, with it’s serious main quest and goofball overworld. Though it sounds like that’d be tough to avoid with minimal change.

    1. Syal says:

      I’ll mention again I don’t think they’re aiming for empathy here. Jersey dies to sell the idea of the brute monster being really dangerous, so that Sergeant Mom can kill it to establish her as a superbadass, so that SHE can die to establish General Cross as Badass Supreme.

  19. Exit Through The SubOcean says:

    These are, I think, my favorite kind of content, both in the long-form articles, and as offhand asides back when you did Spoiler Warning. I love seeing the different, often vastly improved versions you and Rutskarn come up with looking in from the outside.

    When I write, especially when I get stuck on a scene or world building, I live in fear of forcing through a version and then having someone wander by saying “why didn’t you just do this-” and throwing out some casual fix that ties together plot threads, enforces themes, strengthens characters, and takes less time than whatever I struggled to put together. So I guess I read these as practice in a way.

  20. PhoenixUltima says:

    If the death of a character is going to be the inciting incident in a story, we can’t introduce them and kill them off in the same scene. You just can’t expect the player to feel anything in response to the death of a character that was just introduced. There needs to be space between the introduction and the death. We need to create a status quo before we can disrupt it, and we need to give the player time to become attached to someone before they’re killed.

    This is one of the main reasons I just couldn’t get into the original Baldur’s Gate (the other reason being the lack of a run button). You get like one paragraph of dialogue from your mentor (who left such a lasting impression on me that I can’t even remember his name), mostly just telling you that leaving Candlekeep is a big deal, and then one of the villains drops by and kills him. The game just didn’t give me any reason to care about the story at the start, and in the end I just couldn’t maintain interest.

    1. Asdasd says:

      This is an interesting example, because to my mind the whole Candlekeep section – which is playable, not a cutscene – is exactly the sort of ‘space between the introduction and the death’ that Shamus is suggesting would help a player invest in the game’s setting. Except that for some reason you don’t get to meet Gorion until just before the villains attack, and your ostensible task (to find Gorion and leave Candlekeep ASAP) is at cross-purposes to all the benefits this introductory location might provide.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        While you don’t spend much time with Gorion in-game, other characters within Candlekeep (Imoen and Tethtoril spring to mind) help establish his concern for you before your meeting with Gorion himself.

        I mean, it’s not Virmire, but the game made an effort.

  21. Agammamon says:

    Either military ranks work differently after the apocalypse or the writer wasn’t totally clear on the line between officers and enlisted.

    Oh, that’s a rabbit hole.

    Technically, Sergeants are officers – non-commissioned officers – even though they’re still enlisted and part of one of three different grades of enlisted (private, non-com, and staff non-com). Distinct from Warrant Officers and Commissioned Officers (who break down into Line Officers an Staff Corps Officers).

    OK, so its not a very deep rabbit hole.

    Secondly, how senior a sergeant is varies by service and country. In the US Army a Sergeant is a fireteam leader (4 people). In the USMC (and the US Navy) he’s more senior and leads a squad-sized element (around 13-15 people for the USMC) and in the past, when units would operate for long periods out of contact (pre cheap radio) a Sergeant had a pretty decent amount of authority.

    So its not *entirely* unlikely that this person would be in the position she’s in in this story given that its a post-apoc world.

    1. modus0 says:

      I’m going to be pedantic here, the USN does not have “Sergeants”, they call their NCOs “Petty Officers”.

      And while an E-4 is technically at the bottom of the command totem pole, E-6’s are generally the ones in place as work-center leaders onboard a ship; with the number of people in the work center generally determined by the number of work centers and personnel in the division.

      And Warrant Officer is a weird ranking.

      1. Agammamon says:

        No need to be pedantic. I was a Petty Officer myself. However PO’s are all NCO’s and I figured it was too much detail and not relevant to the core point.

    2. Syal says:

      So, having actually watched the cutscene now, it’s seeming to imply Sergeant Prowley and General Cross are both holdovers from Rage 1, so it might also be a matter of the rank making more sense in the first game.

  22. Mistwraithe says:

    I did wonder whether Shamus’s new version means that the 20ft tall and 50ft tall monsters no longer turn up early in the game? I suspect someone at Rage wanted to have these big showy monsters early on to try to make an impact on the player.

  23. Paul Spooner says:

    Instead of cutting Cross’s blustering, why not record a couple dozen words and have them chained together indefinitely by a Markov chain? Then whenever he shows up, he’s preceded by this nonsense stream of shouty drivel which carries on the whole time and fades out as he walks off!

    1. Dave B. says:

      “I think that chance, we shall fight in the old. We must never been given to our enemy displays, we shall fight in the air, we shall fight in the best arrangements are being made, we shall fight with growing to the end, we shall defend our enemy displays, we may certainly prepare our people. In the hills; we shall do their duty!”

      (With many apologies to Sir Winston Churchill)

    2. BlueHorus says:

      That WOULD be fun. Like he’s got some kind of vox-caster built into his armor that’s malfunctioning, and he can’t turn it off.
      Half the time what HE says is just drowned out by the shouty drivel.

      Helps explain why he’s so Cross!

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        You know how computers get infected by viruses that encrypt the hard drive and won’t let you use it until you pay them off in Bitcoins? Futuristic ransomware tries to annoy you into paying up. He’s lucky he didn’t get the virus that makes your cyber-arm keep punching you in the face.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Oh, that virus is nasty. As well as taking over the arm, it causes the voxcaster to repeat the phrase ‘Stop hitting yourself!’ over and over.

          Or there’s the one that causes your cyber-legs to run all the time, while the Benny Hill theme plays on repeat.

    3. Philadelphus says:

      I love this idea. That sounds hilarious. Probably really hard to nail, but if you could get the tone of voice just right I suspect it would be amazing.

  24. “Whoever you choose will be named Walker, and the other person will die. This is the most unusual version of the Trolley Problem I’ve ever encountered.”

    I found the way it was done in Daragon Age II kinda annoying. If you choose to be a Mage your sister (who is a mage) dies.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Not sure why that’s annoying, it’s actually more clever than anything. If you’re a mage, then a melee teammate will be more useful and vice versa.

  25. Personally I wouldn’t have the villain attack directly after the first mission but rather right at the start of a second mission, for two reasons. If Half Life 2: Episode 2 taught me anything, it was that an amazing way to get the player emotionally invested in the struggles of NPCs is to have the NPCs show sincere and realistic non-overblown gratitude. Walker could come back to base and pass by a couple of guys who are, say, filling a few big jugs with clean water, and they look up and smile and say “Hey, alright! Nice job, Walker.” They don’t have to go into detail about hooray now we can water our crops again or whatever, just a thumbs up and a pat on the back and maybe a “I’ll buy you a drink later,” just enough to give the player a sense that the game world was actually improved, a problem was fixed even if it wasn’t a big epic one.

    The second reason is a bit more of a personal taste thing, but I’d do a sort of fake-out thing, where after the combat tutorial mission there’s another short conversation about a larger problem and set it up like the player is going to be sent to fix it, such as with a quick tutorial about equipping armor mods or something i don’t know i haven’t played rage 2. That way the player might feel like the central conflict is about to be explored in this new mission, and maybe their home base is going to stay their home base and not get destroyed, when suddenly it gets destroyed. This would only take a handful more lines of dialogue, which could be used to set up some other threat seen later in the game, and would make the Doomed Hometown just a little less obvious.

  26. James says:

    I really enjoy these Retrospectives of yours (regardless of whether I have played, will play, and won’t ever play the game).

    As a comment on the whole ‘inciting death’ thing that is common in games/movies/TV, the John Wick is a comparable counterpart, whereby the story isn’t the most important. Rather, it is the gunplay, and the world building, which I feel to be what Rage 2 has going for it. In the start of the original movie, we see a somber main character and are shown, without much dialogue, a loss of a meaningful relationship, mourning, and potential steps to recovery. We then see the attempt at recovering stolen from our protagonist, which as human beings, we can empathize with the whole ‘kicking someone when they are down’. That is a very simple way to drive the revenge motivation for John Wick. This simple, maybe 5 minute setup, was enough for us to follow John Wick through 3 and counting movies based on the simple opening.

    For a video game comparison, I think Titanfall 2, which was a fun shooter and had a surprisingly decent story, kind of fits the mold of your suggested revision. Mentor figure (some kind of captain, similar to Prowley here I guess) guides you through a tutorial level so you get the hang of basic things. You don’t yet qualify for a Titan/Ranger, but we know that it is a goal for our main character. After the tutorial, there is a battle with enemy forces and your mentor gets mortally wounded. You are finally bequeathed the Titan BT, who then guides you onward to the plot/mission. When playing that game, I thought it was efficient, and decently effective. So your proposed story changes to Rage 2’s opening certainly has precedent, and does make gaining the Titan/Ranger armor feel like more of a desired thing.

    As another commenter mentioned, in your list for the Walker-Jersey conversation, in one of the bullets you have the name Walker twice, when one should be Jersey.

  27. beleester says:

    I found a video of the opening on Youtube and you’re really understating how much of a disaster the Ranger Jersey cutscene is.

    The Ranger Jersey scene is sort of the equivalent of the Titanfall 2 opening cutscene – it’s establishing that there’s a group of badasses (Rangers or Pilots) that your character’s arc is going to be about them trying to fill the shoes of one of those badasses. It also establishes why they’re so badass – they have super-suits that give them special abilities – which means the player looks forwards to all the cool stuff they’ll be able to do when they get those powers as well. Except Rage’s version of this cutscene ends with Jersey getting his head ripped off immediately after demonstrating the super moves, which really undermines the whole thing. How badass can Rangers really be, if his first appearance is getting his head bitten off like an extra in Attack on Titan?

    It also clashes a lot with the personality they’re trying to establish for Walker. When he puts on the Ranger armor, he’s all “Whoa, this is so awesome!” (even before you get to use it in gameplay, so it seems like he’s getting super excited about wearing gloves), but that doesn’t really fit with a “take up my sword” moment, which you’d want to feel more respectful. Or if they were instead trying to establish that Walker is a Loose Cannon who Does What It Takes, you’d want some drama about if he’s ready to wear that armor, but all we get is Lily’s half-hearted complaint that Mom’s going to get mad at him. If you’re selling Ranger Armor as the threshold in the hero’s journey – this is the moment where they decide to join the ranks of the badasses – you need to give it the appropriate weight.

    It’s all sort of schizophrenic – it feels like one writer came up with a scene to show how badass Rangers are, and then another writer wrote a scene where Walker puts on a dead Ranger’s armor, and then they smushed the two together without thinking about the differences in tone.

    1. Shamus says:

      I should probably be embedding these scenes for context.

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