Diecast #362: Definitive Podcast

By Shamus Posted Monday Nov 15, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 71 comments

I start the show off with some negative energy aimed at Rockstar games. But then we settle in and have a good time.



Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.
Diecast362

Link (YouTube)


00:00 GTA “Definitive Edition”

Here are the images I talked about on the show. The first is the version of Denise where she looks like a Mii:

These three different images represent different versions of the game. Rockstar pulled the first one from stores and unleashed their legal team to make sure that the third one got taken down, all so they could sell us the second one.

The original game didn’t use bump maps / normal maps. San Andreas pre-dated the point where that sort of thing became common. And that’s fine. But here they added bump maps. Well, they added one apparent bump map. And got it wrong.

And here’s one more image that I didn’t show Paul, but which is fairly instructive. Here are some screenshots of the in-universe pornographic actress “Candy Suxx”. This illustrates how they’ve always been sort of lazy and unimaginative when it comes to Satirizing American culture.

Now to be fair: Yes, the original 2002 version of this character (left) is still atrocious. I was making 3D characters in this era, on an earlier version of this same graphics engine, with the same apparent polygon budget. I was always a pretty crap artist, but I promise you I was able to make things much better than this.

The shoulders are all wrong, the neck is a disaster, and her overall proportions are off. Way too many polygons were spent on making her boobs very round, when the rest of her is conspicuously jagged. I realize that the oversized bust was part of the joke of the character and I’m not suggesting it should be made smaller. I’m saying you could reclaim quite a few triangles from the breasts and make them look slightly less round, and spend those polygons elsewhere for massive improvements to the overall silhouette.

Having said all of that, it’s obvious that the Definitive Edition is miles worse. In fact, a running theme in the Definitive Edition screenshots is characters with bizzaro-world proportions.

Here is what I think is happening:

Somehow, these old models are getting mapped onto skeletons with different proportions. The “definitive” image of Candy is exactly the sort of outcome you should expect if you carelessly stick a male skeleton inside a female mesh. The shoulders will get wider, the torso and arms will get longer, and the legs will get shorter.

In the world of animation, the skeletons come with the animations. (Sometimes. It depends on the engine.) So if you’re lazy and you don’t want to make male and female versions of all animations, then the female models might end up playing male animations, which will deform them to fit male proportions. If you’ve got a “stylized” figure with exaggerated feminine proportions, then the resulting deformation is going to look freakish.I’m willing to bet this looks even worse in-game. Skeletal re-mapping looks bad in still frame, but worse in motion.

12:17 Guess which component failed!
I’m going to guess… the operating system?

20:11 Barotrauma
I am reminded of Sunless Sea, another vaguely horror-ish game with cool art and delicious atmosphere that wasn’t particularly fun to play.

26:21 Mailbag: Villains

Dear Diecast,

Who do you think are some of the best written villains in video games, and/or what do you think makes a great (video game) villain? Would you say there are constraints or stumbling blocks that exist in video games for making well-written villains that aren’t an issue in other mediums? Do you think villains in video games need to be tackled in differently when writing them? Who are some of your favourites, and why? Any examples you would use as a “Don’t do this, never do this” piece of advice for future games? Are there any villains you think were close to being great, but ruined or held back from achieving their full potential?

UnKind regards,
– Andrew

34:32 Mailbag: Blog to Video

Dear Diecast,

I’ve noticed Shamus has a lot of interesting and incisive blog posts, particularly the retrospectives. I’m sure the thought has crossed your mind and there must be a reason for not having done so yet (barring simultaneous blog/video releases), but I was curious as to why you (or your editor) don’t turn those blog posts into videos. I imagine it’s because acquiring all the relevant footage, getting the recordings right, and having it edited together properly is very time consuming and would take away from your other work.

But you have put together a number of videos from scratch (as in scripting), it seems, and you have said you’d like to do more videos in the hopes that your success there will take off. So I was wondering if you had any plans to make the script part a lot easier by recycling old content and making videos out of them, perhaps even gradually on the side as you focus on the work you deem more important? For instance, would you ever consider turning your Mess Effect series or retrospectives on the Arkham games into videos? Or even smaller, more singular pieces, like The Cost of Spectacle, and The Plot-Driven Door?

All the best,
– Andrew

38:22 Mailbag: Refterm

Dear Diecast,

you may have heard about Casey Muratori’s Refterm, a terminal emulator for Windows that vastly outperformed the standard Windows terminal.

Are there other applications you think could be vastly improved by implementing lessons learned from game development?

Vale,

-Tim

P.S. If you haven’t heard about Refterm, the developer made a video highlighting it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxM8QmyZXtg


Link (YouTube)

52:00 Mailbag: Playing Games WRONG

Dear Diecast,

Have you ever tried playing Cities:Skylines wrong? Throwing roads around willy-nilly, applying the “eh, wherever” philosophy of zoning, taking the SimCity Monster Hates Your City video’s city design as a How-To Guide, and generally YOLOing everything until the resultant monstrosity nears collapse… and then trying to fix it?

May the day find you well,
Cilba Greenbraid

 

Footnotes:

[1] This illustrates how they’ve always been sort of lazy and unimaginative when it comes to Satirizing American culture.

[2] I’m willing to bet this looks even worse in-game. Skeletal re-mapping looks bad in still frame, but worse in motion.



From The Archives:
 

71 thoughts on “Diecast #362: Definitive Podcast

  1. Parkhorse says:

    Well, they added one apparent bump map. And got it wrong.

    Given the coloring and the two different numbers, it looks like his jersey is one of those color blindness tests.

    1. Geebs says:

      I got a version of the dancing-bear-in-a-basketball-game illusion instead. The model’s silhouette is such a mess, I couldn’t even see the mistake with the numbers.

      Wait, why does the number on a sports jersey even need a bump map?

      1. tmtvl says:

        To make it seem like the number is sewn on, rather than being woven into the pattern of the shirt.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          You can see the effect here (timestamped at about 8 minutes in): https://youtu.be/HwyhOy-QL9M?t=481

          The demonstration also shows the likely cause for the problem; another guy in the same group does have number “7”, and they probably used his bump map for both.

  2. tmtvl says:

    Ooh, I can think of one well-written non-sympathetic villain: Adachi, the bad guy in Persona 4. Granted, anyone would hate the guy who throws Nanako into a TV, but the personality switch when you find him out is great!

    1. Lars says:

      Ages ago there was a survey about the best villains in the video game mag I read. LeChuck of Monkey Island won in front of Sephiroth from FFVII. I’d like to add The Boss and Revolver Ocelot from Metal Gear Solid 3 and Sebastian from Vampires The Mascerade Bloodlines.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Now that you mention Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, I remember another very hate-able villain: Jon Irenicus from Baldur’s Gate II. Although he gets some demerits for his sob-story backstory.

        1. Zekiel says:

          I’d go with Irenicus, Kreia from KOTOR 2 and Glad0s as all time greats.

      2. Steve C says:

        LeChuck is a great villain. I love him. I’m not sure he counts in this discussion though. Since he’s a joke villain. One of the all time great comedic villains. But still mostly nonsensical.

        In terms of great narrative villains, the first one that popped into my head was Agandaur from Lord of the Rings: War in the North. He is only indirectly related to the plot though. All the other characters are constantly talking about him and the things he’s done. The players see a lot of those results. The harm he’s caused. However the villain doesn’t know the players even exist. He’s just doing his thing. He matches the feeling of Sauron in that way.

        Yet it works both on a character level and a narrative level. He is the antagonist because of the things he’s done. No more. No less. It works in a game in a way that so many other game villains don’t. Other villains tend to trip over themselves with forced narrative complexity.

        I don’t think a good game villain needs to be hated to be a good villain. I love LeChuck. And while I personally don’t hate Agandaur, I believe that the characters do. That’s enough for a good well written villain.

        1. Fred Starks says:

          Ah, Agandaur, been a while since I last played War in the North. I ought to get back to it!

  3. Syal says:

    For villains, I’ve always liked philosopher gods; the character whose power level is extreme enough that they never even bother trying to defeat the hero, they just let you do your thing on the assumption you’ll fail, and if they ever interact with the player character it’s to try to convince you you’re on the wrong side. Artorius from Tales of Berseria is the best example I can think of; extremely pragmatic, extremely philosophical and extremely strong. Dagoth Ur from Morrowind also fits here, a god playing cat-and-mouse with other gods who just wants you as a friend. For a less villainous version, the Turks from FF7, who are just doing their job and don’t even dislike the heroes.

    The worst is the gloating villain who keeps showing up just to say “ha ha ha, I’m so powerful and smart, so much more powerful and smart than you!”* Lots of anime villains fit this one; the Society of Ouroboros from Trails in the Sky 2, nearly every late-game traitor character in a JRPG that has one.

    The “Never do this” category is going to be the priest fanatic from Grandia 2, who suddenly turns out to be a devil-cult fanatic for the other side. That undercuts the one trait that made them threatening, essentially replacing them with a completely different character.

    And then there’s Sephiroth from the FF7 Remake, or the “Real Organization 13**” from Kingdom Hearts 3. They have, like, no motivation at all. You can have a villain with no motivation, see the Typhon in Prey, but for the love of God if they don’t have one then don’t make them keep talking about it.

    *Joke characters are a different story; Kefka is always gloating, but you also kick Kefka’s ass every time you run into him, so he works as comic relief. Right up until he kills the main bad guy and suddenly becomes monstrously threatening. Kefka was a good twist.

    **90% of which are from the “fake Organization”. This series is just as nonsensical as people say.

    1. Syal says:

      Don’t think videogame villains have any special restraints for the medium; any villain that works in a movie should work in a videogame. You just need to be able to pace them; if you’ve got a weaselly politician as your villain, they need to have enough sub-villains to last the length of the game.

      For villains that were close, I’d say the villainous Persona user in Persona 5. Well set up, well executed… and then they turn into a completely different character and give a “ha ha ha I’m so powerful and smart” speech. At least it’s in private to themselves and not while facing the heroes.

    2. tmtvl says:

      Speaking of philosopher gods, while it’s hard to call him a villain, Eothas in Pillars of Eternity II is an interesting case. Much more memorable than hobo wizard from the first PoE.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Yeah, I don’t think Eothas fit as a villain, either. Still, I liked Hobo Wizard (Thane Krios) quite a bit. The link the the cahracter, the way he both embodied and embraced the game’s big twist / theme…that final conversation with him is great.

        That final boss fight can go die in a fire, though.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          *The link to the player character

    3. BlueHorus says:

      Apparently the Spam Filter ate my reply, so let’s re-do it…

      And then there’s Sephiroth from the FF7 Remake, or the “Real Organization 13**” from Kingdom Hearts 3. They have, like, no motivation at all. You can have a villain with no motivation, see the Typhon in Prey, but for the love of God if they don’t have one then don’t make them keep talking about it.

      So it’s been a while, but from what I remember of the original FF7, Sephiroth always had this problem? He was a master of speaking a lot without saying much at all, mostly because (as I recall) he almost never finished his sentences. A large part of his mystique came from the way the other characters would play along, pretending what he said meant something.

      Always baffled me that he ended up THAT popular. I’m going to say it was the theme music.

      1. Mye says:

        ? Sephiroth (including the clones) has barely any lines in the entire game and almost all of them are in the flashback section, which is incredibly unreliable and before he became a villain. The whole reason Sephiroth worked as a villain is because he’s barely in the game and you only ever see the aftermath of his actions. Even when he kill Aeris he barely says anything and just leave. His motivation is also pretty straightforward and revealed early in the game.

      2. Xeorm says:

        Ah yea, he was never very good. But very brooding and mysterious. I think it also helps that he was clearly a villain, cool at it, and didn’t hem or haw about his wants being for the good of anyone.

        https://youtu.be/QrQBYonputE?t=98

        You can’t tell me an introduction like that isn’t going to get some anime fans or young adults riled up good. Blow the world up and use it as vehicle across the stars. And look badass while doing it.

      3. Syal says:

        I don’t think OG Sephiroth is that bad; he changes goals over time, but he’s always on point with what he’s doing. First he says he’s an Ancient and he’s going to take back the planet, and then five years later he’s like “oh yeah, that was a stupid idea. Instead of that, I’m going to kill everyone and drink their fluids.” Messing with Cloud and killing Aeris are both directly related to the “kill everything” goal, and once he summons Meteor he never says another word.

        1. Rob says:

          It’s been a long time since I played FF7, but wasn’t the big twist that Sephiroth had been dead since before the game even started (since Cloud stabbed him in the Nibelheim reactor flashback), and every interaction in the game proper was with his corpse that was being puppeted around by Jenova, an alien parasite that wanted to eat the planet?

          So his goals and motivations never changed, they just weren’t his anymore.

  4. Tuck says:

    Well-written video game villain, off the top of my head: Gaunter O’Dimm, the big bad in the Witcher 3 expansion Hearts of Stone. Just a normal guy to look at, but really so deeply amoral and supremely powerful… And he has the best musical theme: listening to it now even years after playing, it still gives me the creeps.

    Also, from many years ago, Batlin in Ultima 7.

    Villains in video games have to be interesting, and they need to motivate the player’s character. I recently tried to start Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but I just felt I had no motivation at all thanks to the lack of clear antagonists, and gave up not far in.

  5. Paul Spooner says:

    Just watched that Refterm video. I really love the team that J. Blow has put together. Maybe civilization won’t completely collapse!

    1. tmtvl says:

      Casey made a few follow-up videos about it addressing comments he got and discussing in-depth how he designed it.
      He has quite a few good videos on the Molly Rocket channel where he goes into how we software people can avoid the incoming apocalypse.

      Response to comments about Refterm
      Playlist with the in-depth lecture

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        That response video where he makes it three times faster again by doing one small optimization based on zero metrics is a beautiful rebuke to many of the things that are wrong with programming culture.
        What a time to be alive!

  6. ContribuTor says:

    In my mind, they key to a well written villain is simple and twofold.

    The villain must want something.
    All the villain’s actions must be logically consistent with the villain attempting to accomplish that goal.

    And that’s it. The goal could be big like trying to take over the world or small like trying to steal a necklace. And their actions don’t have to be entirely sensible to you and me – it’s perfectly ok if the villain has some warped view of reality or proportion.

    But within that villain’s logical framework, there needs to be an internal self consistency. If the villain is slaughtering farming villages, it has to be consistent with whatever goal they have. If you’re trying to kill the One True Hero that is prophesied to destroy you, maybe that’s ok. But if you’re trying to take over the most prosperous country in the world, destroying your own infrastructure in a fit of mustache twirling isn’t sensible.

    Good villains don’t do thing because they’re the bad guy. Good villains do things because their goals demand it.

    1. jurgenaut says:

      I mostly agree with your points. The problem I see is that many – otherwise well written – villains want “power”. Kefka and Emperor Palpatine are good examples of this.

      But then what? All of that power is the means to accomplish… what exactly? Kefka – again, well written – actually seems like he has an existential crisis once he breaks the world and ends up the most powerful being on the planet.

      He sits kooked up in a tower, only burning the odd village from time to time to break the monotony. It’s only when his old enemies (you!) show up at is doorstep he’s shaken out of his malaise and manages to put up a memorable boss fight (with a kickass soundtrack).

      Power should only be the means to an end. A villain in search of power needs to have a goal that he needs power to accomplish.

      1. bobbert says:

        I really liked the FFIII story. Ghestal is charismatic, driven, and purposeful villain. He also brings about his own downfall by getting tunnel vision at the threshold of victory and overlooking red flags he really shouldn’t have. I wish there were some NPC that talked about him in the 2nd half. “Man, Kefka is a disaster. If only the Emperor was here…” would have felt really true to life.

        Kefka gets some great lines (monument to non-existence), but “Rabid dog needs to be put down.” isn’t a narrative that can carry half of a game.

        1. jurgenaut says:

          I always thought the first half of FF6 was far superior to the second half. You had your start where you were escaping the empire, meet up with the rebels, the team gets split up and go on separate adventures, meet up again – some drama with the new crew – break into science lab in the empire, then emperor convinces everyone to help with the espers, backstabbing galore. There was actual plot, and a lot of it. RIP General Leo.

          The world of ruin part is mostly find your dudes, get a new airship, grind levels and beat Kefka.

          1. bobbert says:

            I am with you on Act I being a lot stronger. There are some good ideas in Act II; I like Terra’s “The war is over. I am retired.” subplot especially, but on the whole it is too little butter over too much bread.

          2. Henson says:

            The world of ruin part is mostly find your dudes, get a new airship, grind levels and beat Kefka.

            Just like Mass Effect 2.

            (…except ME2 didn’t have the benefit of half a game of character building.)

        2. Rho says:

          Here’s a point about Kefka: he’s more of a tragic villain, but he doesn’t realize it. The big problem was that the writers probably knew what they were doing, but whoever was involved kept failing to move past it. Seymore is basically a bad parody of Kefka.

          I wouldn’t be the first person to point out the similarities of Kefka to the Joker. Right down to people creating eerie mashups of Dissidia and the Dark Knight. Kefka is basically *that* character – he’s seen through all the lies and hypocrisy of Gehstahl and seizes power for its own sake. And he wins, unlike every other Final Fantasy. IN all of them, good ones and bad, the bad guy doesn’t really win. He (or sometimes she) is always preparing or gloating or stopping time to do nothing or whatever, so the heroes have plenty of opportunity to stop the villain. In FF6 that… does not happen.

          There are three reasons this works as a twist. First, you get to see the kind of world that the villain would create. Second, you have an opportunity to do some great character stories that wouldn’t have fit in previously, in a same-but-different world map. But third, and most important, is that the villain has to confront the world in which they won. Kefka isn’t happy; even after getting everything he could have dreamed up he’s still miserable. He hates everything including himself and just about his only move left is to erase the world and kill himself. He’s lost already, whereas the heroes lost but they just circled right back up and no matter how bad it is, are still ready to punch his clown nose into his bloody face.

          Unfortunately, subsequent FF’s would still use the “Omnicidal Nihilist” trope and mostly fail at it. Sephiroth looks cool, although there’s no much going on emotionally such that the real plot of FF7 is arguably “Cloud gets mental healthcare.” And also all later games in the loose timeline more or less give his motivation as “I hate Cloud” because. FF8’s Sorceress is a non-character. FF9’s Kuja could have worked but he gets upstaged by… Death? Honestly the end goes off the rails and is basically Random Boss Fight. FF10’s Seymore doesn’t just look silly, his motivations are both petty and grandiose. And in reality bad ultiamte villains is par for the course for most FF’s – Garland (for the memorable meme), The Emperor, Exdeath, Golbez, and Kefka are the standouts. But note that Golbex is mostly just a flunky, where as the “true” Big Bad is a non-presence.

          In addition to the twist of the villain actually hating the victory, the opther fun quirk is that Gehstahl would make a more normal Big Bad villain given the series thus far. However, Kefka more or less laughs at the plot itself and does the unthinkable – he offs the villain of his own story, promoting himself from The Dragon on the spot.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Well, one possible end for which power could be a means to is simply “security” (either personal or for the villain’s family/friends/country/race or whatever), in which case amassing as much power as possible might be a logical-seeming goal. And people aren’t always completely rational; I think there are plenty of examples of real people throughout history who have simply tried to amass power without seeming to have a clear goal for using it. (Though I agree that it doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting video-game villain.)

        1. Syal says:

          “To see if I can”.

  7. Lasius says:

    I think I’ve only ever once seen the villain out to destroy the world because of all the pain done well. And that’s in the webcomic Unsounded. The interesting metaphysics of that series actually make such a villain plausible in a way I don’t want to spoil. It also helps that the antagonist in question is only one link in a big chain of gambits and conspiracies and does not dominate the entire plot.

    1. papercuts says:

      Unsounded is so good! It’s my favourite webcomic.

      Just making sure here: are you talking about Prakhuta/Cutter?

      1. Lasius says:

        Yes, but even with those spoiler tags I did not want to name the antagonist since it’s one of the best, though also well-foreshadowed, twists of the early part.

        1. Thomas says:

          I’m thirding the appreciation for Unsounded. The only webcomic I’ve bought physical versions of

    2. MelfinatheBlue says:

      OMG, I’ve been trying to refind that webcomic for ages! I couldn’t remember enough about it, and my browser bookmarks go back to 2006 and are both incredibly unorganized and way too full of dead links.
      So, yay, you made my day! Thank you!

  8. tmtvl says:

    Also, Joshimuz did a speedrun of the San Andreas remaster/DE/clowncar. He made the unfortunate decision of looking at Catalina. It was quite a sight to behold.

  9. Lino says:

    37:49 – Got it! If we want Shamus to start posting more videos, so that he becomes more popular and successful, we need to kill all intelligent discussion on the site! Let’s start by flinging horrible insults at each orher: This episode was bad, and if you liked it, it’s because your mother is a hamster, and your father smells of elderberries!

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Your faith in Zeus is the outdated belief of a primitive mind and all right-thinking people wish to reform society into an anarcho-syndicalist commune!

      1. Lino says:

        Be quiet! I am the lord of the comment you are replying to, and all replies are subject to my command!

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Actually, because you posted this with the gold pixel background, all comments made on this blog are subject to maritime law.

          1. Lino says:

            Preposterous! There is no such law! The only Law here is my Lordship, given to me by our Great King Shamus, who had the powers of Comment Enabling vested upon him by the All-Mighty WordPress and Custom HTML, hallowed be Their Names!

            Thus, I have these powers given to me in this here Comment Thread! Now be silent, or I shall be forced to smite you!

  10. bobbert says:

    Umm… Is it just me, or did the new Candy put a potato in her swim-shorts?

    1. RFS-81 says:

      In light of Shamus’s explanations, I guess the animation skeleton has an additional bone.

  11. Rariow says:

    This is my answer to pretty much any gaming question, but I really like it when villains in games are reinforced in some way through the mechanics. Final Fantasy X has you fight a boss that’s decently tough, pretty much standard boss difficulty, and then has the villain-to-be, Seymour, join your party for a rematch against the exact same boss immediately after. He’s so powerful that the boss fight becomes a trivial stomp, which goes a long way toward making him feel intimidating down the line . In Fire Emblem: Three Houses there’s several party members who can leave your team if you align themselves against their interests and gimp your team composition, especially notable when Edelgard, who’s the “Lord” (an extra powerful leader unit) of the Black Eagles house is revealed to secretly be the game’s antagonist. If you joined the Black Eagles at the start of the game and you don’t align yourself with her against every single other faction in the game’s world she and her co-conspirator Hubert permanently leave your team. They’re both powerful units that you’re encouraged to build your strategy around and have likely invested resources into, and it results in the hardest path through the game. The narrative of that route centers around dealing with the pain of being betrayed by Edelgard, so it makes sense that you feel her absence in the mechanics. If I want to stretch it a bit and not go for a villain character but more of a villainous force I also really like the way FTL: Faster Than Light makes you feel the omnipresence and power of the Rebel fleet that’s chasing you down – they slowly make their way across the map, taking over more and more warp points, and if you ever find yourself at a point they’ve taken over you’re faced with insurmountably powerful ships that you have no choice but to escape from, almost certainly taking heavy damage in the process. The fact that you can’t stand up to them in a fight is one of the central mechanics of the game.

    There’s almost certainly more examples I could think of, but the point is I find gaming villains the most effective when their villainy is actively being reflected in the way I play the game. There’s well written and interesting villains in video games that don’t do that – I mean, after all, you can do what a lot of games do and just pretend you’re a movie while telling your story, and lots of movies have great villains, but I find the ones that stick with me the most are the ones reinforced mechanically. I don’t even like Seymour from Final Fantasy X that much as a character in the script, but I very often find myself thinking about how strong his presence was.

  12. John says:

    So, how do you convince the player that the villain is super-duper tough?

    Well, you could make them fight the villain and make the villain so powerful that the fight is unwinnable. Except that sucks. If it isn’t clear that you expect the player to lose, the player’s going to waste a lot of time trying to win an unwinnable fight. If it is clear that you expect the player to lose, the player’s just going to wonder why you didn’t show the confrontation in a cutscene instead.

    Or you could make the player fight the villain, win, and then have the villain turn the tables in a cutscene. This is only slightly better than forcing the character to lose the fight. As in the mandatory-loss case, the player is going to resent you for wasting his time when the outcome is predetermined. (Also, Shamus Young will come for you and is that something you really want?) You would have been better off skipping straight to the cutscene.

    So, clearly, the answer must be to make the villain beat up the player character in a cutscene! Eh, maybe. The problem with that is that if you aren’t careful and you show the player character losing because he did something stupid, then the player is still going to resent you. Even if you haven’t gone through the trouble to explicitly encourage the player to identify with the player character, the player will still identify with the character to some degree by virtue of the fact that he’s been controlling him all this time. And, all issues of identification aside, do you really want to risk portraying the player character as kind of an idiot?

    No, the real answer is to make the villain beat up someone else in a cutscene. The player can’t complain if the villain beats up someone he’s never controlled and doesn’t identify with. Well, actually, he can. Even if you do everything exactly right he can still complain. You can’t please everyone. But I honestly think that this approach, all else being equal, is probably going to produce less total complaining than the other two. Remember, even if the writing in your cutscene isn’t all that great, at least it won’t be the player character suffering those indignities.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      A thought I had (and maybe games have done this that I’m not aware of and it doesn’t actually work so well) would be the standard Villains Act, Heroes React trope: you don’t fight the villain directly, because that maps “success” and “failure” to whether you win the fight or not, and either way is unsatisfying as pointed out above because unless the game ends early the player has to fail a few times early on. What if, instead, the villain is always a step ahead and you’re always being forced to react to what they’ve done. So instead of a direct “boss fight”, you’d have more like a “boss challenge level”, where the villain has already done something dastardly and all you can do is try to mitigate the damage. Then you can still have the player strive for and experience succes (you saved 20/20 kids from the burning orphanage!) while having the character experience a setback (no matter how many orphans you saved, they’re all homeless now). Success now becomes a spectrum of “how much damage did I mitigate”, while still having all degrees of success technically still be a setback.

      I’m pretty sure this has been done in games before, but can’t think of examples at the moment, so I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on where/if it’s been done.

      1. Lino says:

        A good example of this Diablo 1 and 2. It’s especially pronounced in 2, where the villains are always one step ahead of you – you’ve just fixed the mess they’ve made, gone after them and… Oh, turns out you just missed them. And here’s and EVEN BIGGER mess you now have to clean up! And the original game ended with the bad guys actually winning! Until Lord of Destruction came, where you actually do end up defeating them. Even though it’s a stellar game, I always thought it was kind of un-Diablo-like for the game to have a happy ending…

        1. RFS-81 says:

          I was sure Tyrael would turn out to be a villain in Diablo 3. There’s no way cutting up something called the “Worldstone” could be good!

      2. John says:

        That sounds a lot like terror missions from XCOM, actually. How many civilians can you save from gruesome, horrible death-by-chryssalid as the city burns down around you? A terror mission that goes well is, mechanically speaking, an unequivocal win for the player but somehow it never quite manages to feel that way. Not for me, anyway.

        That said, you aren’t really fighting the game’s villain in terror missions. You’re fighting various kinds of mooks. XCOM is a strategy game and doesn’t have a whole lot of characters, let alone villainous characters. I don’t think XCOM has a singular villain unless it’s the load-bearing boss who doesn’t appear at all until the very last mission and doesn’t appear in person until the very last fight in the very last mission. As he has almost no character to speak of, I’m not sure he really counts.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Ooh, that’s a great example! Yeah, I think it was Jake Solomon (or at least someone at Firaxis) who said that everything in XCOM is designed to make you the player constantly feel like something terrible is about to happen (versus XCOM 2, where things are designed to make you constantly feel like something awesome is about to happen).

      3. GoStu says:

        Villains Act, Heroes React is a nice way of putting it. I’ve thought of it as ‘The Villains Play White’ – in the chess match of a high-level D&D campaign (for example), the villains should get the first move. Players can have a choice of moves to react, but then the villain does something again.

        On a similar tangent, I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t even get a shot at the main villain until you’ve wiped a lot of pawns and other pieces off the board. If General Big Boots is leading the invading army and is invading the kingdom, then General Big Boots should have both:

        – Too much stuff to do to personally scrap with the heroes
        – Many available soldiers, minions, lackeys and other things to divert at the heroes. (Of varying and ascending power levels, naturally)
        – (BONUS POINT): a boss he’s reporting to, even just nominally. General Big Boots is leading that army, but who’s the king he answers to? Or the emperor above that? Or the secret power behind the throne?

        1. Philadelphus says:

          It’s from TVTropes (obligatory link warning).

      4. Syal says:

        It works, but if you’re not going for complete depression you still want to give the player actual victories. That’s the reason villains get sub-villains; you can beat the sub-villains a dozen times and it doesn’t weaken the main villain.

        I’ve been thinking about this playing Kingdom Hearts 3, because 2 has the same villains doing the same things but it works better in 2, and I’m thinking it’s because 2 has Pete the loser sub-villain, so the heroes win as often as they lose.

        (I actually don’t mind a mandatory loss against final bosses; a cutscene is just a cutscene, but a fight reinforces their strength mechanically. They need to be final/super bosses, though, and you only get one.)

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Continuing the XCOM example from John above, in XCOM 2: War of the Chosen you have the titular Chosen, three mini-bosses that you fight repeatedly over the course of a campaign. With enough work you can put them down permanently (otherwise they respawn with time), which can be pretty satisfying. I guess you also fight the occasional Avatar, which are, well, the avatars of the Ethereals, the ultimate villains of the setting (you have to defeat three of them to win the final mission).

  13. The Rocketeer says:

    This is the worst thing to happen to Grove Street since crack

    1. tmtvl says:

      Grove Street. Home. At least it was before Rockstar fucked everything up.

  14. BlueHorus says:

    So, Wasteland 2 has an interesting take on villains: the ‘main’ villain isn’t really present for the first half of the game. Instead you more-or-less dealing with local problems, all of which are just far more interesting than the main plot. Periodically you’ll fight some robots to remind you that there *is* a central story, that you’re ostensibly following, but that’s it.

    You only really get to put a name and a voice to him in the second half, where he’s awesome: taunting you on the radio, manipulating the locals, starting a smear campaign against you, disengenuously mixing lies with threats…
    …and then, just before you fight him, he’s killed and replaced by the infinitely less interesting villain from the first game, in time for the final battle.
    Don’t think I’ve ever seen such a jarring twist in a game that spoiled such a good thing before

  15. Content Consumer says:

    Throwing roads around willy-nilly, applying the “eh, wherever” philosophy of zoning, taking the SimCity Monster Hates Your City video’s city design as a How-To Guide, and generally YOLOing everything until the resultant monstrosity nears collapse… and then trying to fix it?

    Isn’t this just New Orleans?

    Actually, this probably applies to pretty much any real-world city you can name.

    1. The+Puzzler says:

      According to a thing I saw on the internet recently, all that green/blue zoning is a bad idea that’s really only done in the US. It’s sensible to zone polluting industry away from schools or whatever, but there’s no benefit to saying, “this is a residential zone, so you’re forbidden to open any shops or cafes or restaurants here”. Near people’s homes is exactly where you want those things. It’s good for small businesses, and it’s good for the people living there.

  16. Jeff says:

    Sunless Sea was ruined by the devs not sticking to the game as presented in the KS, listening to feedback and turning it into an arcade game. I should have gotten a refund since it absolutely did not deliver as promised.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      What? Arcade game? Is there some subgenre I’m unaware of with a heavy narrative focus and glacially paced gameplay?

      Man I hate how they turned Sunless Sea into a shooter.

      1. Drathnoxis says:

        I’m sure it must exist somewhere in Japan.

  17. Chad Miller says:

    Apparently the initial release of the GTA remasters included the infamous Hot Coffee code.

    Which means that not only did they repeat literally the exact same mistake that cost them so much money and bad press last time, but they also slipped in the opportunity for a sex scene with…that.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Oh gods, if Denise looks like that, I can’t imagine what Barbara looks like, her original model was already very potato-esque.

  18. MadTinkerer says:

    A lot of people are speculating that the GTA Definitive Edition’s texture issues are because of not just AI upscaling but other automated tools that had little to no supervision. It explains, for example, why signs are mis-spelled: the original textures are just blurry enough to confuse the character recognition software.

    People have also gone through the leaked source code and noticed there’s exactly one guy making a whole lot of comments in the code about how this or that needs to be fixed before shipping, and he was able to fix some things but there was just too much to fix and not enough people assigned to help fix it. His real name is unknown but the fans have theories.

    1. Syal says:

      His real name is unknown but the fans have theories.

      It’s John Carmack, isn’t it.

  19. Amstrad says:

    I’m really surprised Shamus didn’t have anything to say about Rockstar outright pulling the Definitive Edition from sale on PC completely over the weekend as well as shut down their launcher app, which also made it impossible to play GTA:V and RDR2. This was apparently due to a bunch of code and a number of otherwise cut music files being left openly visible in the downloaded/installed files.

    Somehow, these old models are getting mapped onto skeletons with different proportions.

    If the report that these new versions of the games are all rebuilt in Unreal Engine; and it isn’t a misleading ‘running on Unreal Engine’ like for the Master Chief Collection where it was just the launcher that was built in Unreal Engine, then I can absolutely confirm that this is how it looks when you take models designed for one skeleton and try and map them to another skeleton using UE’s built in re-targeting tool. If this new version really is running in UE however, I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of stuff modders will get up to with it.

  20. Andrew_CC says:

    Shamus, you should make a poll about how people listen to the podcast: I switched over to the Youtube version, since I really like having those chapter marks and being able to resume play from where I left off.

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