Rage 2 Part 3: As You Know, Bob

By Shamus Posted Thursday Feb 6, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 114 comments

In the previous entry, I began making suggestions on how to fix some of the obvious problems with this script / story / game. I should make a few ground rules clear:

  1. I’m only modifying scenes, not re-structuring the plot or writing a new story. This means my plot will inherit a lot of the structural problems of the original, but that’s fine. I want to do side-by-side comparisons as we step through the game, and we can’t do that if my story goes off in a totally different direction.
  2. Even though the game was marketed as a comedy, the story itself is… not. In my suggestions, I’ve been keeping the self-serious tone of the shipped game. I’ll make comedic suggestions here and there, but for the most part I’m keeping the existing tone.
  3. I’m trying to keep my suggestions moderately budget neutral. I might add a few lines of dialog or an NPC here or there, but I’m staying within the given scope.

Last time, I mentioned that the game begins with a two-minute expositional monologue from our villain General Cross as he addresses his troops. I skipped over that bit, but let’s back up and analyze it now.

ALL WILL TREMBLE BEFORE THE MIGHT OF THE SHOUTY-PANTS FACTION!
ALL WILL TREMBLE BEFORE THE MIGHT OF THE SHOUTY-PANTS FACTION!

During this monologue, Cross gives exposition for the following:

  • An asteroid named Apophis hit Earth years ago, transforming it into the wasteland it is today.
  • Cross wanted to use this global cleansing as an opportunity to set up a brutalist techno-fascist state and conquer the world.
  • A lone guy named Nicholas RaineThe player character from the previous game. stopped them.
  • Arks emerged and eco-pods fell down (we don’t know what these are yet) which put an end to their plans.
  • The thing with the eco-pods kick-started the regrowth of life, which was a setback for Cross. He wanted to do the same thing himself, presumably using different lifeforms as a starting point. It seems he thinks his society of cybernetic goons is a new species, and he wants to create a world suited for them and not for obsolete humanity.
  • Humans are pitiful, naive, unworthy, etc. They chose to survive rather than allowing Cross to take over with his superior breed.
  • They thought we were defeated. We LET them think that. But actually we moved our operation underground! Since then we’ve watched them fight among each other.
  • We grew strong, doing science and stuff. We’re now re-dedicating to our original purpose to weed out the weak.
  • Now we’re going to kill them, wipe out their settlements, claim the arks, and take over.
  • Our faction is called THE AUTHORITY!

There’s a lot wrong with this. Most importantly, none of this information is needed at this point in the story. I skipped it in the last entry, and everyone was able to get the general gist of the world. Nobody was stuck saying, “Help. I can’t possibly comprehend this monster attack without first knowing what caused this apocalypse and how it changed the political and cultural landscape of the world!”

Making things worse is the overly verbose dialog. Worse still is that the bad guy’s delivery is really grating with many… dramatic… PAUSES! It’s information the audience doesn’t need, doesn’t care about, which is delivered at the worst possible time, as slowly as possible.

Storytelling Priorities

I can't help it. Whenever I see pictures of this guy I keep trying to figure out what he transforms into. Spoiler: He doesn't transform into anything.
I can't help it. Whenever I see pictures of this guy I keep trying to figure out what he transforms into. Spoiler: He doesn't transform into anything.

Even if this information was interesting, this is the wrong time for it. In an RPG, your introduction probably has the following priorities:

  1. Worldbuilding
  2. Characters
  3. Action

But in an action game, these are reversed. We need to get the player into the gameplay as soon as possible, and then we need to engage their emotions by using characters. Once they’re playing the game and they feel a personal attachment to the world, then we can sneak in little bits of worldbuilding to explain the asteroid that caused the apocalypse and the events of the previous game. Rage 2 tries to lead off with worldbuilding and characters, but it also tries to rush through them to get to the action, so we end up with the worst of both worlds.

Cross is talking to his own soldiers, which means this entire speech is one giant As you know, Bob. Cross is telling his troops their entire history and goals, which you’d kind of expect them to know already. Even if we decide we need to begin the game with a bulk info-dump, this is the wrong person to give it and the wrong people to hear it.

This information could easily be cut here and given organically through dialog over the next half hour of gameplay. I realize this might sound massively hypocritical coming from a guy who front-loaded his novel with brute-force exposition. But the needs of a sci-fi novel are very different from the needs of an action shooter. A novel needs to tell you everything in words, but a videogame can use sound, visuals, and animation to reveal the world to the audience. Starting off with a dude delivering a speech is a really boring and inefficient way of conveying this information. To be fair to the cutscene, it does cut away to footage of some of the events Cross is talking about, so the cutscene isn’t entirely his talking head.

We don't know what Eco Pods are or what they do, but the cutscene shows us this image. So at least we know what they look like. That's better than nothing.
We don't know what Eco Pods are or what they do, but the cutscene shows us this image. So at least we know what they look like. That's better than nothing.

The player is here to shoot mutants and wreck cars. We have gameplay tutorials that we need to take them through. We need to get them invested and having fun as soon as possible, and this long speech works against that. It would be better to send the player into the game lost and confused than to make them sit through this two and a half minutes of drip-fed backstory, but if we really needed to have this sequence, then we need more showing and less telling.

We can begin with General Cross knocking over some town or outpost. The locals could exclaim stuff like, “Oh no, it’s General Cross!” and “Impossible, the Authority was destroyed years ago!” to get the obvious exposition out of the way. (This would have the added benefit that we wouldn’t need to cram this information into the already-crowded cutscene where Sgt. Prowley dies.) Then Cross could explain his purpose to the settlers while his army is slaughtering them. Maybe he snatches up one of the city defenders by the neck and delivers his big campaign speech to that guy. If we really want to commit to the comedy vibe, then we could gradually transition from a wide shot of his attack to a tight shot on his face. His face is gradually lit from below with fire and his eyes become more maniacal. Slowly the sounds of screaming and gunfire cease as he builds to a mad crescendo announcing his grandiose plans. Then we cut back to the wide shot and we realize that the settlers are all dead. He’s throttled the city guard, who is now a ragdoll. He falters mid-tirade and there’s a beat where he realizes he’s talking to himself. Embarrassed, he chucks the guard over his shoulder and storms off in a huff.

We could easily get all of this exposition done in under a minute, particularly if we tighten up his dialog and speed up his delivery. We could slam-cut to the opening credits after his tirade, which means the player will begin the game waiting for the other shoe to drop. They know this guy is out there, and as they meet their friends and family in my rewritten intro, they’ll realize that they’re all at risk of suffering the same fate as those poor idiots Cross just massacred.

It’s not much, but a tiny measure of empathy and suspense is still way better than zero empathy and suspense.

What’s In a Name?

Like a lot of Authority visuals, this is kind of hard to read. That Y in the beam of light is General Cross, screaming with his arms in the air.
Like a lot of Authority visuals, this is kind of hard to read. That Y in the beam of light is General Cross, screaming with his arms in the air.

The other problem with this monologue is that the writer doesn’t understand the worldbuilding power of names. Cross uses phrases like “those that opposed us” when talking about people outside of The Authority. He calls them “they” and “them”, but he doesn’t seem to have a proper noun for the people he’s talking about. It sounds unnatural and awkward, because in the real world we are really good at coming up with shorthand names for our perceived enemies.

The term “environmental activist” is kinda long and cumbersome. Why call someone that when you can call them a “tree hugger”? That identifies the outgroup you’re upset with, while also belittling their cause. That’s why we have terms like regressives, one-percenters, snowflakes, boomers, zoomers, weebs, fundies, tree-huggers, tea-baggers, and commies. I’ll bet at least one of those terms annoyed you, or summoned an image of someone you find really annoying. And those are the tame examples. The slang words we devise for the people we want to kill are quite a bit worse.

The point is that if you’re writing some dialog and you find yourself typing a phrase like “those that opposed us”, it means you need to back up and invent a shorthand for this group. What pejorative would The Authority use to refer to the people of the wasteland?

All we need to do is look at the characters. The Authority sees themselves as agents of order, progress, and evolution. Those are – as far as we can tell in the game – their values. Therefore their insults ought to reflect this. They would probably describe outsiders using terms like savages, ferals, rebels, animals, rodents, or parasites. To Cross, the people outside are looters and scavengers. They’re obsolete inferior mongrels. They’re unruly rebellious vermin.

So instead of saying “those that opposed us”, he could say something along the lines of “feral trash-pickers”. That’s more natural, it characterizes Cross and his faction organically through dialog, and later in the story it can be shortened to “ferals” to make dialog tighter. Little details like this can make a setting seem vibrant. It will feel more like a living world and less like an arrangement of tropes to facilitate gameplay.

Later in the series I’ll talk more about the intense need to trim the dialog in this game, but for now let’s move on.

The Least Brief Briefing

This one line of dialog is Lily's entire reaction to the death of her mother. In a minute she'll exit the story and won't show up again until the last 30 seconds of the game.
This one line of dialog is Lily's entire reaction to the death of her mother. In a minute she'll exit the story and won't show up again until the last 30 seconds of the game.

Let’s jump back to covering the story in progress. Like I said last time: Walker puts on Ranger armor, her mother-figure Prowley is killed by General Cross, and Vineland is left in ruins.

Once the attack is over and Lily has mourned her mother for six seconds, she and Walker discuss what to do next. Walker comes up with the idea to visit Ranger HQ and see if there’s any information that could help them take down General Cross.

Inside, Walker encounters a hologram of Sergeant Prowley that says, “Walker, if you’re seeing this message then it means we’ve been hit harder than ever before. I’m likely dead, and Vineland is laid to ruin. It also means that you’re the only living Ranger, and that the Authority is back and they must be stopped. All these years I kept you away from the ranks of the Rangers as I hoped you would be spared in an attack like this – likely targeting Rangers and Elders. You’re my hidden weapon. Sorry I kept you in the dark.”

Arg. This makes Prowley seem RIDICULOUSLY prescient. She was apparently able to predict:

  • A huge attack specifically from the Authority.
  • That the authority would specifically target Rangers and elders but also leave other people alive for some reason.
  • Prowley anticipated her own death.
  • She predicted that Walker would survive…
  • …and that none of the other Rangers would.
  • Some Ranger armor would survive and that Walker specifically would be the one to put it on.
  • Walker would be the one to enter HQ to hear this recording.

There are a lot of possible permutations of events that don’t match these exact facts. This is an action story and we don’t need to explain every little detail, but this comes off as absurd.

SIX MINUTES. That's how long we stand in this boring underlit room and listen to a recording that explains the plot and all of the major characters.
SIX MINUTES. That's how long we stand in this boring underlit room and listen to a recording that explains the plot and all of the major characters.

You could fix this by making it both more plausible and more interesting by employing dramatic irony. Instead of her flawlessly predicting the outcome of a chaotic battle, have her attempt to do so and fail:

In my version she might say something like, “To the last of the Rangers. I don’t know how many of you are left, but you can’t let my death be the end of our struggle. Pull together. Protect what’s left. Refill your ranks.”

This amps up the tension considerably. It drives home the idea that this situation is far worse than Prowley ever imagined.

Instead of being guided by an apparent psychic who already has a plan, we’re in a desperate situation where we can’t imagine how we can overcome this enemy.

Let’s back up and consider this line again:

“All these years I kept you away from the ranks of the Rangers as I hoped you would be spared in an attack like this – likely targeting Rangers and Elders. You’re my hidden weapon. Sorry I kept you in the dark.”

To be honest, I’m not totally crazy about the idea of Walker being this secret badass. It smacks too much of “chosen one” tropes that work well in RPGs but don’t really suit an action story like this one. It’s too patronizing to tell the player “You are a special badass” at the start of the storyAlthough to be fair, the new DOOM kinda gets away with this. But then again, DOOM is leaning on DoomGuy’s existing cultural reputation as shorthand for his power. Essentially, “You already know what a badass this guy is.” Rage 2 can’t do this because it doesn’t have a quarter century of entrenched fandom to lean on.. We have a long road ahead, and being proclaimed a badass works so much better as something the protagonist earns through their actions. Walker is a voiced protagonist with no arc, and making her earn the respect of her allies would do a lot to correct that.

But fine. I’m trying to stick with the story we have. I’m trying to fix the story by changing how we tell it, not by telling a different story. So we’ll keep the idea of Walker being a secret badass.

The bigger problem is that this is a payoff to something the story didn’t set up. In the game, there’s nothing before this moment to suggest that Walker is a secret weapon. In the rewrite I did last week, I tried to fix that by introducing the question, “Why hasn’t Prowley made Walker a Ranger yet, since Walker is so qualified?” This briefing would answer that question rather than just pull the “secret badass” idea out of nowhere. This would be a payoff to an existing question rather than a random declaration that the player character is a special snowflake.

Getting back to the briefing in the game…

Action Protagonists Require Agency

There's an intermission in the middle of this briefing where you enter this concrete box room and learn the dash move by pushing buttons when you're told. If you asked me to make this introduction MORE boring, I'm not sure I could do it.
There's an intermission in the middle of this briefing where you enter this concrete box room and learn the dash move by pushing buttons when you're told. If you asked me to make this introduction MORE boring, I'm not sure I could do it.

Prowley then outlines that she has a secret plan to take down the Authority, called Project Dagger. She then explains that she’s been working with three other people on this project. She then tells you who all of these people are, what they do, and she gives us their entire backstories. This probably the worst creative decision in the game, since it makes everything else so much harder. This creative decision will continue to damage the story for the next several hours, because we’ve already spoiled everything that’s going to happen.

Worse, this steals all of the agency from our protagonist and gives it to a dead NPC. Mass Effect 3 made a similar mistake when all the important decisions were made by secondary characters and Shepard lost all sense of agency. You’re not finding out how to beat the enemy, you’re just enacting an existing plan cooked up by someone else. I don’t care what genre of fiction you’re working in, this is a serious blunder and video games make it all the time.

The protagonist needs to be an active force in a story and an agent of change. If you have them enacting plans in which they have no say, then your main character becomes nothing more than a walking gun. If you’re not the one making decisions or going through some sort of character arc, then you’re not the protagonist. You’re just a supporting character who’s hogging the camera.

Yes, there are shooters out there where the main character is a walking gun with no story agency or arc. Half-Life 2 is the classic example. But Half-Life 2 has a silent protagonist. Gordon Freeman isn’t constantly asserting a personality within the story, so the player is allowed to project their own feelings onto the character. Rage 2 gives us a protagonist with a personality that displaces the player’s, but that personality isn’t important or relevant to the story and isn’t particularly interesting on its own. We get the worst of both worlds.

None of this exposition is needed, because Walker should be coming to these conclusions herself. Then the protagonist is the one making friends, forging alliances, figuring shit out, and making plans. Don’t have a character tell the player “Go out into the Wasteland”, have the player character say, “I’m going out into the Wasteland.” It takes exactly the same amount of dialog to have a side character to explain a plan as it does to have the protagonist to explain a plan. Don’t have Prowley tell us who we’re going to meet, have them introduce themselves when we meet them. You don’t need to allocate more budget or make more cutscenes. Just put Walker in the driver’s seat of the story.

Is this really the best time for this information?
Is this really the best time for this information?

Also, giving the backstories and character concepts to the audience in this briefing is crazy. It’s a lot of information that the player doesn’t need now because they’ll discover it later. There’s no reason to deliver this information in the most boring way possible. Unlike the earlier stuff, this is not a cutscene. You can’t skip it.

This is like the scenes in Dr. Kliener’s lab or Black Mesa East during Half-Life 2 where the player is free to move around while other people talk. Except the Half-Life 2 scenes at least work in a dramatic sense because you have multiple characters with different personalities interacting with each other. Also, the game designer gives you some gizmos spread around the room for you to fiddle with. Rage 2 locks you in a concrete box with nothing to do, no characters to get to know, no jokes, and no interpersonal drama to keep things interestingAlso, a post-release patch turned up the reverb in this room, so Prowley’s recorded dialog is almost unintelligible without subtitles.. This sequence is six minutes long. That’s six minutes, locked in a roomYou actually run to a side-room for a minute and unlock your dodge power. So that’s a bit of a break in the middle. But still., listening to a recording, where the entire plot and backstory of the game are essentially dropped on the player in the form of an extended audiolog.

This would be bad enough in an RPG, but in the context of an action game this is basically sabotage.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The player character from the previous game.

[2] Although to be fair, the new DOOM kinda gets away with this. But then again, DOOM is leaning on DoomGuy’s existing cultural reputation as shorthand for his power. Essentially, “You already know what a badass this guy is.” Rage 2 can’t do this because it doesn’t have a quarter century of entrenched fandom to lean on.

[3] Also, a post-release patch turned up the reverb in this room, so Prowley’s recorded dialog is almost unintelligible without subtitles.

[4] You actually run to a side-room for a minute and unlock your dodge power. So that’s a bit of a break in the middle. But still.



From The Archives:
 

114 thoughts on “Rage 2 Part 3: As You Know, Bob

  1. djingdjan says:

    Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order retrospective when? I can’t wait to discuss the franchise

    1. raifield says:

      I am vowing right now to permanently increase my contribution to Shamus’s Patreon (which is currently not at $0) by $5 a month should we ever get a Jedi: Fallen Order retrospective.

      I haven’t yet played Fallen Order, but other Star Wars games are weird to me: They’re not great, but they generally aren’t horrible (confession: my favorite is Star Wars: Rebellion), and playing any one of them sends me on a nostalgia-fueled mania for more Star Wars. I want to experience more of the world the games hint at, but I never quite get enough of a hit to satisfy my cravings. Let’s have a law enforcement/investigative game about going through the stormtrooper academy and receiving postings prior to the Rebellion. Let’s play a business space-sim as an Outer Rim salvage merchant or something. Show me the universe.

      Alas, Star Wars is owned by EA and Disney, though I hear Fallen Order and the Mandalorian are pretty good experiences.

  2. GargamelLeNoir says:

    This is such a fun exercise! It makes me enjoy that retrospective much more than Spiderman’s, even though I’m more interested in Spiderman as a game. Seriously, Videogame Script Doctor needs to be a thing if it’s not already.

    1. CountAccountant says:

      I agree! The “how I would have done it” sections were always my favorite part of the previous retrospectives. This series is like getting to skip the rest of dinner and go straight to dessert.

    2. ElementalAlchemist says:

      Videogame Script Doctor needs to be a thing if it’s not already

      That’s what Chris “Human Stretch Goal” Avellone basically does for a living now.

    3. LowercaseM says:

      Next YouTube show for Isaac, Shamus and Bob? Reconstructive Videogame Script Surgery Season One… any suggested stories to postmortem or enhance?

      1. Syal says:

        Tales of Berseria.

        1. Volvagia says:

          If we’re talking strictly as a post-mortem without enhancement? Sure. There’s A LOT to talk about there. But what would you “enhance” about Berseria? Strictly from a storytelling/character standpoint, Berseria is EXCELLENT. A Tales of Zestiria script enhancement? That’d be more interesting to me, because that one was kind of a disaster as far as I could tell after 10 hours with it. Skits are borderline non-existent (and the ones that are there are REALLY DULL), Sorey is…yeah, painfully dull as far as I could tell, and the plot is less subtle about “twists be coming” than Symphonia, and that one was already straining to the point of absurdity in that regard.

          1. Syal says:

            I’ve only played Berseria, so no comment on Zestiria. I played Berseria twice in a row, and the second playthrough really highlighted how meandering the plot becomes. Plus there’s the amazingly stupid “let’s take over the most famous prison in the world so that nobody will find us” plotline immediately after introducing the sidequest about locations the church is afraid to explore.

  3. BlueHorus says:

    Half-Life 2 has a silent protagonist. Gordon Freeman isn’t constantly asserting a personality within the story, so the player is allowed to project their own feelings onto the character.

    Half-Life 2 also used this for comedic effect. I remember this scene from one of the briefing sections:

    NPC: We’re being attacked by alien aircraft! Sadly, we’ve only got one high-tech rocket launcher to combat them with – it’ll be risky.
    I need a volunteer!

    Me: *shouting at screen* NONONO DON’T YOU DARE I LITERALLY JUST GOT HERE

    Gordon Freeman: ……….

    NPC: Dr Freeman! Thank you so much. Here’s how this rocket launcher works…

    Me: Goddamn it *grumblegrumble*

    (Also, said scene was also only about 30 seconds)

  4. Higher_Peanut says:

    Do games tend to be very front heavy for showcasing reasons? I remember Fallout 4 as soon as you left the vault gave you a faction, a gun, power armour and a deathclaw to fight with a minigun in under 5 minutes.

    Is this sort of up front info dump common in modern action games or does Rage stand out by trying to have all the story going this early and I’ve just got a really poor sample size?

    1. The Wind King says:

      I think it’s to get the player invested in as much as the story and action as possible.

      Kinda like a Monty Hall DM giving you all the cool items, and spells, and swag to keep you interested in his game.

      Because we’re only here for shiny treasure, not for story, or fun, or ANYTHING ELSE!!!

    2. I think everyone’s always known you need to front-load some things into your game to hook interest, but what gets frontloaded has changed and gotten more shallow. Fallout 1 and 2, and even 3, frontloaded a story hook, and some mystery, and shoves you out the door fairly quickly. Fallout 4 frontloads the whizbang goodies that go big boom and enable power fantasies. (I’d say “none of the above” deal with characters… that was never what any of them tried to hook you with. Typical for Western RPGs, I think; JRPGs are much more likely to open with a character-based hook. I’m just talking about the hooks here.)

      The latter is probably more effective in the short term, but you come out of the gate painted into a corner in several ways. The latter is more effective in the long term.

      1. Trevor says:

        There’s also the Obi-Wan Kenobi character an alternative hook. You get a super powerful NPC for the first little bit of the game who gets to show off a bunch of cool high level powers (and also ensure that you don’t get instakilled in your initial incompetence) while you’re still at level 1. Then they die and you’re left fighting rats to start your progression. Earthbound does this with Buzz Buzz. This, to my mind, works a lot better than suddenly losing all your powers.

        But yeah, for the most part JRPGs are much more open to having cinematics and cut scenes as their hooks.

          1. Joe Informatico says:

            That’s a pretty popular intro trope; the broader related one is A Taste of Power, where your regular character goes through the intro/tutorial level with levels or abilities they won’t otherwise have until later in the game, and then they’re taken away from you. E.g. both Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Dragon Age 2 did this.

    3. Asdasd says:

      The really common one is, ‘the main character has all their powers unlocked for the first 20 minutes, then get reduced to nothing because plot reasons’.

      I always thought it felt a little weird, like the developer thought I needed a bribe to keep playing, or didn’t quite have faith in their game sans the bells and whistles.

      1. Sven says:

        Racing games tend to do this too. So many of them have you start out with a race in some kind of supercar, then basically go “you want all this? You’ll have to earn it!” before giving you a choice between a Smart Car, a Reliant Robin, and a bicycle as your starting vehicle.

        This is even worse because during that first race you haven’t gotten used to the game’s controls and handling yet, don’t know the track, and yet are expected to complete (and sometimes come first) in a race at ludicrous speed which you won’t be able to attain again for hours of gameplay after.

        1. Metacritic must die says:

          I actually like this in racing games. They definitely need to carefully balance that taster race, but it does let you feel the difference between the cars and appreciate the late ones. But there are some games like, some of the Burnouts, or Midnight Club, or simulationist games, where the high level play is just super confusing at first.

          I like that one when it’s done really well. I find it less annoying than giving players gear they won’t have later and then taking it away, because the story is rarely the focus in a racing game, so the excuse they have for taking away my supercar and leaving me with a Pinto doesn’t matter, whereas getting captured so that the bad guys can take my guns away, so I can collect them all again in a slightly different order, so the game can balance out it’s own pacing, tired.

        2. Duoae says:

          Oooh, you just gave me an idea for a delivery service game where you drive a Robin Reliant. It’d be a “sim” game in the sense that the game play is partly logic puzzle and partly driving technique. You’d have to balance the load of the packages in the rear of the vehicle in order to not fall over too much (or too easily) but, of course you also have to balance this with the order of delivery and route of delivery since you can’t re-shuffle items around in the rear of the vehicle without losing time during the deliveries.

          The object of the game is to deliver all the packages within the least amount of time and with the least amount of damage.

      2. Higher_Peanut says:

        Reminds me of when I played the first Assassins Creed. You wanted to have fun with parkour? Well you better go level up if you want to hang onto ledges bucko. It made the start a strange bump suddenly losing basic movement like that.

        Giving me all the fancy powers and taking them away tends to bug me in general. You get overwhelmed at the start when you have no idea how to play and ruin the sense of growth and discovery of the game at the same time.

    4. GoStu says:

      Fallout 4’s intro felt like they crammed it together to be a 5-minute E3 gameplay trailer. I suppose it’s a shred of honesty in advertising when all this really does play out in the released game.

      To give the game its due, it is introducing a lot of the things you’ll spend the next X hours doing in game:
      – Pick through ruins to acquire things to keep your gear running
      – Shoot monsters
      – Bit of NPC dialogue mixed in

      1. Geebs says:

        I’d expand that list a bit:
        – wonder how the dialogue wheel is supposed to relate to the actual dialogue
        – be irritated by Preston Garvey
        – shake head at the sheer inanity of the plot

        1. Lino says:

          – get your train of thought interrupted, because “Another settlement needs your help!”

    5. ElementalAlchemist says:

      I remember Fallout 4 as soon as you left the vault gave you a faction, a gun, power armour and a deathclaw to fight with a minigun in under 5 minutes.

      That’s waaaay off the mark. Unless you mod it out, you have to sit through the whole 50s happy family schlock where you fill out the VaultTec guy’s form to set your stats, run to the vault, see the bomb fall, get frozen, get woken up to see your (in)significant other get shot and the baby stolen, get refrozen, wake up again, crawl through the tutorial vault, get a PipBoy, exit the vault. Then, assuming you don’t metagame it, you head back to your old house, meet your 200 year old butler robot still trimming the hedges, clear out some bugs from the local houses, then get told to go to the nearby town. On your way you pass the Red Rocket and meet Dogmeat. Then you get to the town, find out some people are holed up in a building being attacked by Raiders, you kill the ones outside, go inside and clear them out, meet Preston (unfortunately) and his remaining hangers-on, get to the roof to find the Power Armour and minigun, jump down and trigger the Deathclaw. There is zero chance you do that lot in under 5 minutes.

      1. Trevor says:

        Sometimes people use exaggeration for rhetorical effect.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          The phrasing and nearby sentences don’t seem to indicate any irony. Occam’s Razor would dictate that they just mis-remembered.

          1. Higher_Peanut says:

            It’s partially exaggerated and partially trying to remember something that didn’t really leave much of a mark. Although if you’re not feeling the Shaun story with its obvious “twist” and just want to explore something else it can take about 15-20 minutes to reach from exiting the vault, even if you’re following the signs for the first time.

            The point was that as soon as you leave the vault it’s the first encounter you’re guided to. Then you go all the way from just left the vault to power armoured deathclaw minigun showdown with nothing in between. For an RPG it’s frontloading the late game experience very early and felt very much like an ad ticking all the “what would you like to see in fallout?” boxes. Which was essentially it was, the slice was made to show off as much as possible at E3 rather than fit a larger RPG experience.

      2. Shamus says:

        ” meet your 200 year old butler robot still trimming the hedges,”

        ARRRG. This drives me CRAZY. I didn’t mention it in my latest article / video on Bethesda’s Fallout because the dang thing was already 20 minutes long, but this scene was just so profoundly lazy and thoughtless.

        Like, Codsworth is supposedly taking care of the house, right? So why does it look exactly like all the other houses? Like, furniture is knocked over and moved around, there’s trash on the floor, the hedges are overgrown, and there’s no hint at all that he’s been doing anything for the last 210 years.

        Imagine how much more interesting it would be if your house was neat and tidy. Sure, the wood would still be rotting, metal would be rusting, and paint would be peeling, but the floor would be clean and the furniture would be placed just so. Oh! Put a line of graves in the backyard and give Cods a throwaway line about “keeping the riff-raff out”. Leave it to the player to put 2 and 2 together and realize their butler went all Norman Bates and has been murdering people that strayed onto the property. THAT would be environmental storytelling, dark humor, and visual variety.

        But no. Just it’s more thoughtless copy-pasted garbage. (Both your house and the game itself.)

        Sorry. Had to get that off my chest.

        1. ElementalAlchemist says:

          I think the only decent thing they did in the entirety of either Falllout 3 or 4 was give Codsworth a list of player names he could say (naturally I chose Tony Stark). Such a criminally underused idea that would add a lot to modern RPGs that insist on being fully voiced playable movies.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            The trick works in one place, but you can’t use it everywhere because then you’d have to record a thousand different takes on every line that used the player’s name, or awkwardly cut and paste in your one recording of the player’s name to every line that uses it, messing with the delivery that scene needed.

            1. Hector says:

              Easier than you might think, though not trivial. Not every character needs to address the player by name, and they don’t have to do so constantly. Just a few of these sprinkled into the script can go a very long way.

            2. ElementalAlchemist says:

              We are probably only a few years away from George Lucas’s long awaited utopia of fully AI-generated voice acting. At that point you could conceivably have characters in the game dynamically include whatever name the player types in (perhaps with some pronunciation coaching setup during character creation).

              Personally though I am more interested in the modding possibilities of “deep faking” existing VO to create entirely new dialogue. Imagine going back to Mass Effect 2 and 3 and rewriting vast swathes of it, but still retaining Mark Meer/Jennifer Hale voicing Shepard, Keith David voicing Anderson, etc., just now generated by AI.

            3. Echo Tango says:

              Nowadays you could make a pretty good computer-voice, that sounds like a specific voice actor, and can do inflection. This company is even offering a turn-key solution.

              1. Lanthanide says:

                Yeah, I’d say the technology is achievable if a game company wanted to do it, like how Valve pioneered their facial animation tech for Half Life 2 because they thought it was important for what they wanted to do so they did it. Now it’s a standard feature in any AAA game engine.

                Wouldn’t necessarily be easy, wouldn’t always give perfect results, but achievable with effort put in.

                1. Echo Tango says:

                  The expected quality would be lower if the NPC / robot was a “prototype” or “damaged”. ;)

                  1. Chad Miller says:

                    Yeah, this conversation makes me daydream about what it would be like to have a video game AI/robot that could have arbitrary voice-“acted” lines. For inspiration you have real-life virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, vs. the likes of video-game AIs like SHODAN and GlaDOS. There’s even already overlap between these two groups thanks to Cortana.

        2. Chad Miller says:

          Funny, my headcanon rewrite of Codsworth goes in the other direction: Codsworth didn’t stay active after the nukes. But, your house is still mostly intact. So your first quest is to repair him. After this point you find out about a distress signal from Concord, either because Mr. Handy can pick that up somehow or because Codsworth repairs a radio somewhere in the neighborhood. “Why didn’t anyone else do this?” is handwaved with “because it’s my house and I know where my own stuff is.” This also explains why Codsworth has nothing of note to tell you other than “the main quest is that way;” in this version he knows just as little about the outside world as you do.

        3. Sartharina says:

          If you speak to him about it, he actually has a mental breakdown over his inability to fix the damage and keep up with the mess.

          1. Karma The Alligator says:

            But if he’s been cleaning, how does the mess keep coming back?

            1. The Wind King says:

              Asexual reproduction…

              1. Syal says:

                Powerful wind.

        4. Agammamon says:

          To add insult to injury – the yard doesn’t match the yard from the intro. They couldn’t even bother to get that detail.

      3. Metacritic must die says:

        Sure, but that is still describing what amounts to the introductory quest giving you endgame gear and having you fight an endgame enemy.

        Like, to the average player, that’s going to be the first 50 minutes, the first hour 20 of the game. And like, it’ll be a great 50 minutes, a great hour 20, it’s a great escalation of power and threat and all the cinematics are on display, the story hasn’t gotten too stupid yet, you finish the thing fighting a DEATHCLAW with a MINIGUN in POWER ARMOUR that you LITERALLY JUST PUT ON BEFORE THE DEATHCLAW AAAAHHHH. That’s cool, that’s a great spot to end a chapter.

        The problem is, there really isn’t a lot further to go from there. Be it one minute or five, encountering Preston is a significant event that most players will do as part of a significant minigame-and you will encounter him literally where the game tells you to go after meeting Codsworth at your old house. That’s far too soon.

        1. ElementalAlchemist says:

          They peak early (for an RPG) for pretty much exactly the same reasons Shamus talks about Rage 2 needing to get rid of all the forced cutscenes and get to the action. FO4 is attempting to appeal to the broad mass market. You can’t make them wait 50 hours to get a big gun and a fancy suit of armour.

      4. ivan says:

        Unless you’re a speedrunner.

    6. Metacritic must die says:

      It can’t hurt when a good chunk of the vertical slice demo you’re going to show at conventions ends up being also usable as product.

      It’s very lazy however, when that game is an RPG that should be leaving that late game loot as a rare reward the player will work towards down the track (Yes they introduce limited resources to balance this-no, this isn’t significantly better. Fallout 3’s hard lockout system was better, and that system is bad because it doesn’t allow the player to be rewarded if they are crafty enough to get some power armor, because then they couldn’t have brotherhood patrols).

      It also just helps the reception of the game in general. Most games end up unfinished, especially long ones and RPGs. So nearly everyone sees the start, and less people see the end, so it makes a certain sense to frontload the best parts of your game at the start, and project management wise, the only way you know to make “best” is to put more time and money into it.

  5. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    One of the many things that I liked about the story of the original Mass Effect was that when I reached a goal, it felt earned. Shepard started the story as someone who seemed to be pretty widely-regarded as awesome, but there wasn’t a hint of “chosen one” to be found in that. Shepard wasn’t handed the title of Spectre quickly after that first firefight at Eden Prime. We had to run around and dig up evidence of Saren’s guilt to get the council to a point where they knew that they’d have to send a Spectre after a Spectre and that Shepard was the immediate, logical choice. When that title was granted, it felt earned and justified. Shepard didn’t inherit the title because he slipped into some super armor he stripped off of Nihilus on Eden Prime (or because a nepotistic father performed a confusing, suicidal helmet swap).

    And that game goes on to use that title to create the illusion of autonomy for Shepard. You talked about it in your retrospective that the game came up with this clever way to seemingly offer options while simultaneously giving the character a title that is as powerful or as useless as the story requires. I don’t get why more games aren’t doing this.

    I suppose you could say that Mass Effect is an RPG and that Rage 2 is a shooter, but in a lot of ways, I’d say that ME is a shooter too (and increasingly became more of one as the franchise continued). Conversely, I have to assume that Rage 2 has some RPG elements because they all do these days. If your shooter is going to inherit things from RPGs, why not inherit the shooter-friendly story beats? I get why you don’t want to have all of the crazy talky bits that ME has, but why not construct the story so that the character earns the “chosen one” title in a satisfying way instead of it being handed to the character immediately and uncerimoniously? Why not create the illusion that the character is driving the story instead of the other way around? If you’re going to bolt a story onto your shooter, why not do it in a satisfying way?

    At the very least, it would be nice for some pretty basic narrative competence, like “show, don’t tell,” and “don’t frontload the story with a ridiculous infodump.” I would think those would apply to all games that are trying to tell a story whether they’re RPGs or shooters.

    1. but why not construct the story so that the character earns the “chosen one” title in a satisfying way instead of it being handed to the character immediately and uncerimoniously?

      At the risk of being a bit discivil, I find myself increasingly drawn to the conclusion that the modern writers of videogames (and movies, tbh) don’t write stories about people earning things, because they themselves have never really had to, and can’t conceive of it. So of course they don’t write it.

      Writers don’t need to necessarily know everything about what they’re writing about, but I do wonder if some of these authors are trying to write from a just generally insufficient base of personal life experiences, with the gaps filled in by presumptions and suppositions, often largely supplied from other writers with insufficient life experiences collectively building up the cliches they’re all drawing from.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        I’ve often wondered if “what do they eat?” and “games are largely developed by urban twenty-somethings” are related for similar reasons.

      2. Kyle Haight says:

        I wonder if something similar explains the lack of agency. Large chunks of modern culture accept some form of determinism. This is particularly prevalent in the technology industry, probably because determinism is seen as scientific. But if our actions in the real world lack agency, because they’re really caused by our genetics or environment or the people around us, why would we expect our actions in the game to be any different?

    2. Gethsemani says:

      I think it is really easy to dump on game writers for being poor writers without really knowing the situation they work in. A lot of the time game writers come up with a general idea for a story way before there’s something playable to put that story in. At this point the story can be all manners of complex, nuanced and with interesting themes, because it just a story told through a script or storyboard. But when the game gets added to the mix, you are faced with the reality that a lot of what you wrote might not work from a gameplay perspective. Perhaps your engine doesn’t allow for advanced facial animations, so there goes all the scenes that relied on your protagonist subtly frowning in displeasure at the Mad King. Maybe it turns out that the climactic battle on the Lava Planet is very dreary and repetitive coming off the heels of the red Desert Planet, so you have to switch it around so that Lava Planet comes before Ocean Planet. But when you do that, you realize that all the dialogue on Lava Planet references the PC reaching Badass Status in the boss battle of Ocean Planet and since you can’t get Liam Neeson, Alison Brie and John Cena back for additional voice work, you can’t re-record the dialogue to reflect this. On top of that, the cool and thematically important Space Battle has to be scrapped because the level designer just can’t get it to stay within RAM limitations on the PS4, which means you have to totally re-write the Love Interest Plot because without Space Battle you don’t get the pivotal Rescue Scene.

      And on and on like that it goes. For studios that are gameplay first oriented, the story will always be shifted to meet the needs of gameplay and since voice work and such is usually done before all the gameplay is laid down, you need stories that are easy to write and doesn’t contain a lot of character development. Because what happens if you need to move the levels after the ascension to Godhood (explicitly referenced by everyone calling PC Divine afterwards) to before that (when PC was just called Nobody) or need to re-write the entire Godhood arc? Better to make the PC a pre-defined non-entity with little development, because that way you get a lot of flexibility with how and when you put in dialogue and can re-use a ton of generic barks instead of having three sets of similar barks depending on if the PC is Nobody, Divine or Fallen.

      This is particularly obvious when you compare to the studios with some pedigree in storytelling or narrative. CDPR explicitly and proudly refused to budge from the storyboarding of their major quests (and in fact designed a lot of their story around what was possible from a gameplay perspective), Obsidian, inXile and BioWare have also stuck closely to their pre-defined scripts. In those cases when BioWare have really failed (DA2, Anthem, ME:A) it is because they either failed to have a proper script ready prior to making the game (Anthem), they couldn’t get the gameplay demanded by the story to work necessitating rewrites and redesign (ME:A) or because they didn’t have enough time to properly develop the story and had to cram something in (DA2).

      Game writers, much like TV or movie writers, have a shitty job in that their job is often design by committee and their stories are written to function within the confines of another medium, whether that is 40 minute serialization or gameplay driven FPS games. They need to write something that’s engaging while also adhering to limitations in budget, game engines and development/filming times and needs to write that something so that it is robust enough to withstand multiple iterations, some of which might see a large part of the writing discarded if the conditions for other things (like animation budgets or shooting locations) change. As the final consumer it is easy to be critical of their work, but to dismiss them as talentless hacks without understanding the massive challenges they face seems more than a little bit unfair.

      1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

        I often think back on an article I read many years ago about a guy who had made it into the AAA video game industry and he wanted to demystify the reality of what that actually entails. You may be wanting to work on those big, fun franchises, but you’re going to start your career working on a lot of Barbie games and McDonalds-based games. In short, there are only a lucky few who actually get to do the work they want to do when they get into the industry.

        I don’t question the notion that the people working in the video games industry are both hard-working and wanting to put out the best quality work that they can – including the writers. And there are a lot of elements working against them. I know that simply declaring “fix the system” isn’t a very satisfying answer. It’s maybe marginally better than saying, “Hey man, they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got, so lay off.” Even if we extend a bit of understanding on our end, the final product is still paying a price.

        I don’t think that bad writing should be laid solely at the feet of a game’s writers. But I don’t think that fact absolves it from being bad writing. Bad writing can result from a lot of different things that, unfortunately, have very little to do with the actual writing, though it is possible that there can be bad writing. I initially tried – and perhaps failed – in identifying this as a holistic issue as opposed to a writing staff issue. I have to imagine that the writers are the lowest face on the totem pole and that their work often pays the price first because of it. As deadlines approach, it must be easier to futz with the script than it is to futz with the code. If I were to add an addendum to my initial post, it would be to clarify that I think that game studios should value the writing a lot more than they do; that when it comes time to start cutting time, money, and effort, the writing shouldn’t be the first head on the chopping block, though that choice makes sense to the practical-minded. I don’t think it’s as simple as them hiring writing staffs that don’t know what the heck they’re doing. If there’s any incompetence in this respect, it’s not hard to think that it may be coming from higher up the corporate ladder. But wherever it’s happening, we still see what is arguably a bad result.

        No matter who’s making all of the final calls in the writing room, the writing should be respected (and understood) enough that the staff is allowed to get the basic Writing 101 stuff right. I don’t have a good answer to fix that, but I also don’t want to avoid calling out bad writing when I see it just because the mechanism that created it is ineffable and inscrutable. But it is fair to point out that we don’t need to burn the writers in effigy as if they are the alpha and omega of how a game’s writing is ultimately presented.

        1. Asdasd says:

          Quite.

          It’s true writers are unfortunate to be working in difficult circumstances, with the result that some games are released that, because of those circumstances, turn out to be badly-written. But they’re more unfortunate still for the fact that extremely well-written games are occasionally published, which by comparison demonstrate how far short of the mark they’ve fallen, whatever the extenuating factors might be.

      2. Metacritic must die says:

        This.

        If you look into how writers for big budget games like say, Call of Duty put things together, it’s a mess. Even if they are involved early in the process, it’s hard to get anything solid down, because things are very fluid, and the overall layout of locations for gameplay, and setpieces are still being put together. In practice-the setpieces are written, the levels are crafted, before the story people get involved, and then they have to write the thing together out of setpieces and vague beats and crafted levels, and then deal with the way the development changes things, as sections are dropped or reorded. It’s why things can come out such a mess on this front and why alternate material is so vastly different in games.

        It’s a messy and tricky job, where most writers don’t get to work in circumstances that would let them just write a story.

        To the guy blaming millenials for “what do they eat” consider the more parsimonious explanation that most developers don’t consider the farmland that supports a small rural settlement important gameplay space, so they don’t include it unless they want a velocirapter Jurassic Park sequence. That the priorities of the people making the game space, the ones modelling and programming and planning out events and locations-are not the same people who are writing the story, and they have vastly different training and priorities. For the guy making the space-if a crop nearby is included, it means modelling a lot of it, animating it, he probably doesn’t have that crop (Or “What do they eat” would not be a problem) as a model yet, and adding it to the gamespace for a cost-in resources, and opportunity.

        Let’s take it back to civil

      3. Mephane says:

        I think it is really easy to dump on game writers for being poor writers without really knowing the situation they work in.

        Shamus has clarified multiple times in other articles that he generally does not target any specific person as “the writer”, but rather as a shorthand, an abstract writer who may refer to a whole team of people, who might indeed have done the best anyone could have given the circumstances they had to work with. He doesn’t say “this person who wrote game X is a bad writer” but rather “for whatever causes we may never know, the writing in game X is bad”.

        1. Gethsemani says:

          I am not really talking about Shamus though, I’m responding to the post that calls for “basic narrative competence” and in extension the people agreeing with them that makes unfounded assumptions about writers being soft millenials who doesn’t understand anything. That is to say, the people who are explicitly calling the writers bad.

          I’ve worked long enough in a highly complex field where multiple highly skilled professionals routinely screw up because of bad communication, planning and logistics, as opposed to all of those professionals being incompetent hacks, to have developed a pet peeve against statements like that.

  6. Hector says:

    For a game called “Rage,” it’s also curiously devoid of that emotion. Nobody hates Cross, he’s only vaguely irritated at the Ranger faction for impersonal reasons, and as far as I’ve seen nobody expresses much anger.

    Even the art for game shows characters who look more as though they got plastered in a seedy London dive bar than angry.

    1. Christopher says:

      I though Cross was referring to like, a Christian cross, or possibly a buried pirate treasure, but maybe he was just a little cross all along.

  7. Syal says:

    Going to say, I thought the opening speech worked as a silly opening to a silly story. “This is what happened in Rage 1, and you’ll be fighting mutant Nazis who are also The Man.” But, the post-mom death briefing is played super straight and I guess you have to pick one tone or the other.

    What do you think of the System Shock opening speech? Better, worse?

    1. beleester says:

      I’d say it’s better. It gets through the exposition at a pretty brisk pace: It’s the cyberpunk future, you’re a hacker, Diego forced you to remove SHODAN’s ethical constraints and she promptly went crazy. You survived because Diego rewarded you with a cybernetic interface and you were in a healing coma for six months. And the sudden shift in SHODAN’s voice when she says “I re-examined my priorities” is very ominous and provides a good hook.

      (It helps that it can lean on the cyberpunk tropes quite a bit – we know that the hacker is the good guy and the megacorp with private security goons is evil, and we know that anything involving the phrases “artificial intelligence” and “ethical constraints” is about to go horribly wrong.)

      It’s surprisingly personal, now that I look at it. It’s explaining who you are, and why you’re in that situation as the lone hero, while all the details about how SHODAN went crazy and killed everyone are saved for audio logs. Rage 2, on the other hand, spends 2 minutes (the same amount of time) to establish that this is a post-apocalyptic world and the Authority wants to conquer it, but doesn’t say anything about Walker. And it doesn’t really lean on the tropes even though it feels like it could – it takes the time to establish what flavor of post-apocalypse we’re in, and what the Authority’s motivation is for conquering it.

  8. Karma The Alligator says:

    I can’t help it. Whenever I see pictures of this guy I keep trying to figure out what he transforms into. Spoiler: He doesn’t transform into anything.

    Not even a corpse?

    That Y in the beam of light is General Cross, screaming with his arms in the air.

    You sure those are his arms? Because to me it looks like he’s doing a handstand (I don’t see his head) and those are his legs.

    1. Joshua says:

      That design is hideous, for sure.

    2. Jason says:

      He looks like a Michael Bay Transformer with a human head plopped on top.

  9. beleester says:

    She then tells you who all of these people are, what they do, and she gives us their entire backstories.

    This one seems particularly baffling to me, because an easy writing trick is to come up with a cool name for something and then fill in the details later when they become relevant. It catches the reader’s imagination and saves you from having to actually think up all the backstory.

    “There are three other people who know the details about Project Dagger. John Marshall, the old warhorse. Loosum Hagar, the motorhead. And Doctor Kvasir, rebel scientist.” That’s all you need to point the player in the right direction, the rest can wait until you actually meet them.

    You could cut this down further if you want to keep a reveal up your sleeve – “John Marshall is an old warhorse who might come out of retirement to help us, but we also need an expert on military vehicles and nanotech and you don’t find a lot of those in the wasteland” – but since it’s a sandbox game you should probably just put all the options on the table.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      You don’t even have to give the player that much.

      Just have the recording conveniently glitch out at key points, so that the player has to go through a scavenger hunt to figure out the details.

      This has the benefits of being extremely easy to retcon for last minute rewrites. Just have the protagonist’s voice actor record a line that goes “Alright, so we know where we need to go.” and have a minor NPC (like a robotic voice in the HQ’s computers) fill in the blanks, like “Doctor Kvasir’s last known location is in XXX”.

      1. beleester says:

        Given that it’s a sandbox game, and these three people are both your primary quest-givers and your upgrade shops, I don’t think it should be too much of a scavenger hunt.

    2. Syal says:

      Yeah, giving a character’s backstory up front is basically telling me they’re going to be dead when we get there and we’ll have to deal with their apprentice or quirky daughter or somesuch.

  10. Kathryn says:

    That header image is truly hideous. I’d even describe it as repulsive (for me, anyway. As the dragonet said to Dorothy, “Tastes differ”). Is that a sample of what the game’s art looks like?

    I’m enjoying this series so far. Script doctoring is always fun!

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I believe that would be the promotional art/cover for the game.

  11. Hector says:

    Random thought relating this post to the Dark Souls post from yesterday.

    I had posted that I eventually got tired of DS1 and 2. I liked them but found it frustrating. After some thought, I realized that what I loved was exploring the world, finding cool secrets or views or goodies, and trying out different things against the well-designed common foes. I *hated* the boss fights. Those are often what Dark Souls fans loved – but to me they were just a roadblock that made me pay a misery tax.

    I related this to this Rage2 post because after seeing people play the game, I’m wondering something similar happened. The designers evidently thought that Rangers, Cross, three faction leaders and the Authority were the “important” parts but players viewed that as a tax they had to play to get to the good part of shooting weird raiders and mutants in wild environments.

    1. CloverMan-88 says:

      Same here. I always dread bossfights in soulsborne games. I love their art and design, but suddenly I have to stop exploring to repeat the same fight over and over for an hour. Around 90% of my overall deaths are bosses. I believe that if bosses were tuned to a point where you could beat them in 1 to 3 tries, I would enjoy those games even more. They would still be an amazing spectacle, but there wouldn’t be such jarring change of pace.

    2. Christopher says:

      Since someone’s mentioned Dark Souls, I guess this is as good a time as any to give them props for doing this opening stuff right. They’re delightfully tight-lipped for RPGs. Dark Souls 1 and 3 both have intros that last less than four minutes. They give you a quick version of the history of the setting, but the important part is that it shows a glimpse of the big bosses you’re going up against, giving a quick description in the process. You know who you’re going after just from those 4 minutes, and then you’re in gameplay straight away afterwards. There won’t be another cutscene that long for the remainder of the game.

      Demon’s Souls is probably an even better comparison, since while the opening establishes the main villain and conflict, it mostly namedrops big NPCs you’ll meet along the way instead. But you just get a name and a title. “Karl, Saint of the Homeless” is enough to engage your imagination, but it doesn’t take anything away from their actual introduction later.

      Demon’s Souls goes deeper into the conflict in another three-minute cutscene after the initial level, where a powerful being binds you into the whole coming back from the dead-thing. You get an initial cutscene setting up the whole deal, you get to play the game with no one looking over your shoulder for a while, and then you get a scene explaining how we’re gonna go about solving this shit.

  12. Fizban says:

    With the setup of asking the question “Why haven’t we been acknowledged as a badass when everyone knows we’re badass,” I actually quite like the response of “I kept you out of it ’cause you’re my secret weapon.” It’s a solid parental sort of coming of age “conflict,” except once you get through the tutorial it’s action game time so boom you’ve come of age and you find out your parent had confidence in you all along. And, possibly because so many games fail to make their main character actually be a driving force, I like it when I’m at least acting according to the plan of someone who seems competent and chose “me” for the job (after which you should then contrast by having the protagonist deal with unforseen problems of course).

    I also don’t find Prowler’s prediction all that farfetched, as long as it’s not phrased too absolutely. All it really needs is: I thought these bad guys might come back, if they did they’d go for our leadership and badasses first, so I kept you off the official badass list. Leaving the message at the ranger station, well where else would they leave it? You can lampshade that by saying they left a few copies here and there for you to find, or go even more immediate/personal by having it be a hidden message you pick up the moment you put on the armor (“DNA confirmed, you have 1 new message”), but checking what’s left of the badass headquarters is a pretty obvious move and finding a message there doesn’t bother me at all.

    1. Hector says:

      The problem is that the message as presented requires some absurdly precise assumptions. As per the game, Prowley guessed that Walker and (more or less) only Walker would survive an attack. There is no reason to ever expect that, and if she knew such an attack was coming it would make more sense to avoid it. Further, she assumes that Walker would not be specifically targeted despite the enemy having knowledge or interest in Ranger internal politics – as far as they care, Walker is just as much on the list as anyone and they wouldn’t care that Prowley didn’t make it official. And since Walker got the Ranger armor in the opening anyway, even that doesn’t make much sense.

      And having this be the headquarters is also odd. If it were in a secret safehouse established as a last refuge specifically things would make more sense.

      1. Daimbert says:

        That’s where you use something like them being the best trained janitor to explain why they’d clearly not be explicitly targeted, and would be skilled enough to likely survive.

        Which actually reminds me of how the book Jason Cosmo did it. The hero is the reincarnation of their Great Champion, but was raised in obscurity in the least appealing part of the world. When the gods leave him a message in his aura explaining this, they say that they knew that the forces of evil would be constantly trying to find and kill him, so they reduced his entire family for many generations to poverty and obscurity, noting that “You can’t beat planning like that!”.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          The thing is that, far as I understand, this was not a surgical strike against the Rangers. Sure, they might have been the main target as the most capable and organized opposing force, but it’s not like there wasn’t collateral. Heck, the “non-selected character dies” tells us that if Walker was a few steps over yonder they’d be a splatter on the wall.

          Actually, do we know what triggers the hologram thing? Is it a dead man’s switch? Is it somehow tuned to Walker’s DNA? A combination of Walker in Ranger armour? Because I can see a slight fault in a plan that goes something like “and in case we get attacked by The Authority I’m going to leave this message that explains my secret plan to fight The Authority and describes in detail who else has been working on it with me playing for whoever comes here first”.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      I love the idea of Prowler leaving like a dozen of the same message scattered around to make it more likely someone would find one. You could even lampshade it by having Walker get audibly more exasperated each time she finds another of the exact same message. “Another one? Seriously, mom?”

  13. Retsam says:

    Maybe Prowler didn’t predict those events, and just made a crapton of hologram messages for all the possible situations in which she could have died.

    “Walker, if you’re seeing this message, I was murdered by a power struggle inside the Ranger faction, and you’re now a fugitive on the run for your life…”
    “Walker, if you’re seeing this message, I died while fighting off an incursion by the local wildlife, leaving a dangerous power void in the chain of command… ”
    “Walker, if you’re seeing this message, I just passed away in a freak industrial accident, and have left you my fortune of two million spacedollars…”
    “Walker, if you’re seeing this message, the astronauts have absconded with the spacecraft…
    “Walker, if you’re seeing this message, I was killed by an exploding door while you and the other Walker were just standing there…”

    1. Steve C says:

      Still needs more player agency. Maybe with a set of options to choose from?

    2. Karma The Alligator says:

      How would the computer know which message to play, though?

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Her last words were “Oh no, they’re here! Computer, load message 257-BQ, subcontingency: shouty mecha-nazis.”

        1. Hector says:

          And we discover that she named all her kids “Walker”as well as insisting on nicknaming literally everyone that…

        2. Retsam says:

          I was going to say “rudimentary AI”, but I like this version better.

    3. Asdasd says:

      “Walker, if you’re seeing this message, the Earth is currently governed by a manner of animal king, sentient cloud, or other governing body that either refuses to or is incapable of listening to reason…”

    4. Syal says:

      “Walker, if you’re seeing this message, Gerald Ford is dead today.

      1. John says:

        Aw, you beat me to it.

    5. Exit Through The SubOcean says:

      Then as you leave the room, some other guy walks in and the recording starts again with “Bob, if you’re seeing this message-“

  14. Thomas says:

    That dramatic irony change is excellent, it makes everything about the scene work better for a relatively minor alteration.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Yep. If you really want, you can even add in some handholding.

      ‘Get to doctor [name]. I don’t know if he’s alive, but he’s our best hope…last I heard he was at [location]. Good luck…

      1. Steve C says:

        ‘Find Jersey. If I’m dead, he’s our best hope.’

        1. Syal says:

          That’s actually probably the best fix. She’s left this highly detailed message for Jersey, and you’re only hearing it because you’re wearing Jersey’s armor.

  15. Cilvre says:

    Maybe he snatches up one of the city defenders by the neck and delivers his big campaign speech to that guy. If we really want to commit to the comedy vibe, then we could gradually transition from a wide shot of his attack to a tight shot on his face. His face is gradually lit from below with fire and his eyes become more maniacal. Slowly the sounds of screaming and gunfire cease as he builds to a mad crescendo announcing his grandiose plans. Then we cut back to the wide shot and we realize that the settlers are all dead. He’s throttled the city guard, who is now a ragdoll. He falters mid-tirade and there’s a beat where he realizes he’s talking to himself. Embarrassed, he chucks the guard over his shoulder and storms off in a huff.

    Comedy Gold here, and I wish someone would make this a voiced animation and clip.

  16. Alexi says:

    That Y in the beam of light is General Cross, screaming with his arms in the air.

    It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A!

    1. BlueHorus says:

      And for those 4 minutes, he was General Joyous.

  17. Dev Null says:

    I imagine the reason for the massive front-loaded infodump is just pure laziness. (Well, inasmuch as you can ascribe laziness to a team that was probably given story updates to add during it’s 8th straight week of 80-hour crunch…) For the exact same costs _with a little foresight_ you could have used the same assets to intersperse the same information in dribs and drabs organically sprinkled through the game. But handed a bullet-list of new story points to add in the closing weeks, with a choice of “add one long infodump” vs “modify 17 existing scenes and re-test them”, I can see how that decision would get made. They probably just handed the bullet-list verbatim to a voice actor (or Bob from test) and hit “record”.

    Which, if not necessarily your main point here, has certainly been a repeated thesis in your past posts, so I get no points for pointing it out. Good writing doesn’t have to add a lot of cost to your production, but it does have to be there from the get-go, and involved continuously throughout the development process.

  18. Grimwear says:

    Wow thank God Cross didn’t explore the base he just took over looking for information or maps detailing the position of other Dung Dwellers. *Cross walks into their HQ. An automated message turns on of the leader he just killed explaining just how important this one person is as well as spells out her plan to stop Cross and all the relevant staff associated with it. Cross then has his soldiers scour the base to make sure that person is dead, takes notes, blows up the HQ, and proceeds to go hunt down and murder the rest of the staff. Game ends.*

    1. Syal says:

      The dramatic reveal is these guys don’t even exist; the message was in fact meant for General Cross, to make him waste his time.

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        So, the plot of the Lego Movie, then?

  19. Sniffnoy says:

    Honestly, I don’t think “chosen one” (at least in a certain narrow sense) works well anywhere.

    Now, some people would say that this is because protagonists should start out weak and then become strong over the course of the story. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a protagonist who’s special in some way from the start.

    But the key thing is that they have to be special in some actual concrete way, rather than it just being “it has to be them that does it because they’re the prophesied ‘chosen one’, and anyone else who attempts it will fail for uhhhhhh reasons”. That, I think, is a failure of writing, and it seems to be unfortunately common.

    1. Mephane says:

      I think the problem with most “chosen one” stories is that they expect the audience to take it at face value. Like, it’s fine if the other characters in the story believe the protagonist to be the chosen one by fate, gods, lineage or whatever, but the better stories make it very amiguous whether they actually are, and whether any prophecy in general has any meaning at all, and let everyone in the audience decide for themselves. For example, Anakin Skywalker is believed by some Jedi to be the chosen one from some ancient prophecy to “bring balance to the force”. This is both an extremely ambiguous prophecy (didn’t he technically bring balance by reducing the number of Jedi to the same as the number of Sith?) and at no point does the story make a stand that Anakin is absolutely definitely the chosen one, or that such a thing would ever exist in the first place. Even if the whole “conceived by midichlorians” thing is true, this might be a thing that happens fairly regularly, or a convenient lie if a single parent doesn’t want to disclose the identity of the other parent – there are plenty of possible explanations and all we know is that the characters in the story believe one of the possibilities, and we as the audience are free to regard is as folly.

      1. Thomas says:

        The allure of a chosen one narrative is finding out that you’re not meant for this boring ordinary life – you’re special.

        The thing is, stories get the timing of this wrong all the time. For it to work you need to spend time establishing the character is trapped in a boring ordinary life. We had to spend time in the cupboard under the stairs before we can learn Harry is a wizard.

        And then as you said, it’s best if the reason is specific, earned and potentially doubted.

        Harry Potter does this perfectly. It’s specific – he is the boy who lived. It’s earned – he only continues to survive through courage and tenacity. And it’s in doubt – prophecies are mostly nonsense, it’s the choices people make that decide if they succeed or fail.

        Avatar The Last Airbender and the first Matrix are other examples of Chosen One narratives working really well.

  20. Agammamon says:

    Cross is telling his troops their entire history and goals, which you’d kind of expect them to know already.

    So, Hans . . . *we* are the baddies?

  21. Christopher says:

    Props to that hot Nova Prospekt prison rescue scene in Half-Life 2 where Eli Vance got successfully rescued – only, I had brought a turret with me all the way there, as protection. None of the NPCs knew how to react when it shot Eli dead as the prison claw carried him in.

  22. Dreadjaws says:

    You could fix this by making it both more plausible and more interesting by employing dramatic irony. Instead of her flawlessly predicting the outcome of a chaotic battle, have her attempt to do so and fail:

    Alternatively, They could have employed humor if they insisted in going that route:

    “Lily, if you’re seeing this message then it either means we’ve been hit harder than ever before and I’m dead or I’ve finally thrown the craziest party and I’m too hungover to relay this message to you personally. Whatever the case, Vineland is surely laid to ruin. It also means that it’s your responsibility to hunt down either our attackers or some more booze. All these years I kept you away from the ranks of the Rangers with a lie about you being incompatible with their armor, but the truth is that… frankly you’re a bit of a prude, and you couldn’t possibly handle our parties. Even though, well, you only exist because of one of them. Right now, though, you’re my only hope. You’re my hidden weapon/errand girl. Sorry I kept you in the dark.

    Now pick up any currently-unused armor from any of the bodies on the floor and wear it. Unconscious or dead, they’re not gonna need it right now.

    Oh, and please keep all this business hidden from Walker. I certainly don’t need that useless tit ruining everything. Again.”

    1. Pax says:

      That was my thought. Well, not the Lily bit, but the message being for any Ranger other than Walker, and her asking them to keep her useless son/daughter safe (or her special son/daughter safe, if they have some quality or genetic quirk that does make them actually essential to the plan.)

  23. Baron Tanks says:

    Aside from all the writing, the game does have some terrible visual design in places. I was sure the first screenshot was that of a close-up of the villain on a motorbike. Queue the second picture and it turns out it’s his armor? Not only does it look terrible but apparently it does not leave a lasting impression, as I’m pretty sure we’ve seen (parts of) his armor last week and it evidently did not click with me when I was looking at the first screenshot.

    1. Syal says:

      Maybe it’d be more memorable with more Mega Man X time? He’s giving me pretty strong Sigma vibes.

      I get the strong feeling General Cross got his head cut off at the end of the first game, so the power lifter body is basically a highly advanced jar.

  24. Olivier FAURE says:

    I’ve got to say, this series is giving me a lot of The Writer Will Do Something flashbacks. I’m guessing that’s only going to get more intense as it goes on.

  25. ccesarano says:

    All these years I kept you away from the ranks of the Rangers as I hoped you would be spared in an attack like this – likely targeting Rangers and Elders. You’re my hidden weapon. Sorry I kept you in the dark.

    This has my eye twitching. I don’t want to say it infuriates me, but it’s the sort of thing that I would harp on. I’m typically more of a “rule of cool” fellow, what with my complete ignorance of science brought upon by incredible apathy during my school years. It’s not my realm of expertise. But being more “rule of cool” doesn’t dismiss basic logic.

    How are you simultaneously kept away from action if you’re also a hidden weapon? Unless the protagonist has some special genes or whatever, then it makes no sense. It’s like they’re trying to imitate the protective mentor that knew their protegé could fight and would be able to do incredible things, but knew that it would result in pain, sacrifice, and loss. The refusal to let them be a hero until it became clear there was no choice left.

    But you don’t call them a “hidden weapon” when they finally have to fight. Nowhere in the background would the protagonist have been prepared to be a proper warrior capable of besting their peers. Nowhere does it sound like the character has any such genetic or cybernetic enhancement that would make Ranger armor more capable on them than anyone else.

    This makes me so angry.

    What’s more, I’d love there to be a twist on this sort of “final message” thing. As you outline, it would be great if Prowley was not only wrong in her assessment, but also intentionally included dialogue of protection for your protagonist, insisting they be kept out of the fight. “S/he’s not like Lily… s/he is too soft…” or something. What’s more, every plan for those three key NPC’s? Have it go wrong. Have the protagonist have to go in and find another solution for the plan to succeed.

    Of course, this turns your dead parent into a sort of incorporeal antagonist, rival, or adversary. It doesn’t fit the reverential attitude the player is clearly intended to have of Generic Parental Figure #21752526642. But you know what can resonate in the player? The idea of spending your life trying to prove yourself to your parent, and by time you finally get the chance they’re already deceased.

    You can do some REAL good stuff with that, and it doesn’t even require spectacular writing. Just take the common trope of “Sorry child you’re not ready/strong enough” and then just kill the parent.

    I’m getting tempted to hate-play this game just to see it for myself.

    1. Syal says:

      I’ll mention, special genetics is very much a thing here. Lily can’t wear the armor cause she’s not special enough. General Cross is trying to capture “originals” or whatever the term was, and when he meets Sergeant Mom he’s like “you’re special, but I hate you so I’m killing you anyway.”

  26. Paul Spooner says:

    Seems like a real easy move to make the “dash” training more boring would be to not use rockets.
    “Use DASH to avoid three incoming Nerf footballs.”
    “… to avoid three incoming gerbils.”
    “… three incoming party balloons.”

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      If you had to dash to CATCH gerbils before they got hurt, that might be the best possible version of this training, though.

    2. Olivier FAURE says:

      “… three incoming party balloons.”

      This feels like a very Portal-esque version of the standard “introduce the mechanics” tutorial.

      “For safety reasons, the rockets in this training exercise have been replaced with helium-filled balloons. If you feel like this exercise, or any of the following rooms, might still expose you to physical danger, please make sure to describe the nature of the danger when filling out your post-training survey form. Once you’re done dodging the helium balloons, proceed to the next exercise, which will involve evading machine gun fire while being chased by a sentient cloud of bees.”

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