Experienced Points: But I LIKE This Cliché!

By Shamus Posted Friday Dec 11, 2009

Filed under: Column 42 comments

Last week I somehow messed up my Experienced Points article and ended up making people think I was unhappy with BioWare, rather than celebrating their efforts. That is, I ended up saying more or less the opposite of what I intended. I tried to patch it up with additional comments and such, but alas the thing was published and its errant message was already delivered to the hearts of thousands of now-annoyed gamers. In print, you cannot un-say something, you can only append “clarifications”. I did what I could with the tools I had, but some people no doubt think of me as “that guy who hates BioWare”. Most wounding of all were the messages from people who do in fact hate BioWare, who were welcoming to their fold and accepting me as one of their own.

I began to think it might just be easier to learn to hate BioWare than to clear things up.

I suppose this sort of thing happens from time to time. I’ve written about 23 MB of text here in the past four years. For reference, that’s more text than The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the The Silmarillion combined. With that kind of output, it’s amazing this kind of misunderstanding doesn’t happen more often. It’s like the old analogy: If you put a monkey at a typewriter long enough, sooner or later he’ll type something you’ll have to apologize for.

So anyway, I was careful to make the gist of this week’s article as unambiguous as possible. I even put the message into the title, so that even if you never read my articles and you only click-through so you can look at my picture, you should still leave with the correct impression of my thesis. Then I made sure to link it four times, to make sure you wouldn’t miss it.

I’ve done what I can.


From The Archives:

42 thoughts on “Experienced Points: But I LIKE This Cliché!

  1. Groundhog says:

    The ‘Captured!’ trope has pretty much become a staple of games in general. You can find it in practically any type of game these days.
    An example of it done well would be in BG2, the spell component in the soup. It is a solid plan, in line with what you’d expect of a talented wizard, and it explains why you’re powerless to resist it.

  2. Patrick says:

    Heh. Displacer Moose. I want one!

  3. Yes, THAT Guy says:

    And then you spelled Experienced wrong in your title. Your mum would be proud.

  4. John Arguile says:

    He most certainly did not spell it wrong.

    OT: Shamus, You write great stuff, I never got the impression that you hated Bioware. But then again, i keep up with all your stuff on this site.

    1. Shamus says:

      Eh. I fixed the typo in the title. Thanks.

  5. Magnus says:

    Perhaps this list might help some people.


    warning: it does contain spoilers.

  6. Doornail says:

    I dislike being captured, especially the “striped of all your gear” part. I hate having to change my chosen role based on what improvised weapon they provide you with. “But I’m an unstoppable iron-clad machine of war, I don’t want to sneak around and shank guards!” The rage is especially intense if magic is somehow nullified when I’m playing a mage.

  7. Tizzy says:

    @Magnus #5: A link to TVtropes. Real nice, I guess I didn’t need to have a life anyway! ;-)

    If you put a monkey at a typewriter long enough, sooner or later he'll type something you'll have to apologize for.

    Shamus, I’m a regular reader (if infrequent poster), and this has to be my favorite of your many gems. Excellent!

  8. Jabor says:

    I've written about 23 MB of text here in the past four years.</blockquote.

    Just looking at this figure, it's actually quite amazing how information-dense written words are compared to things like video.

    23 megabytes is what, a minute of DVD-quality video?

  9. Viktor says:

    You mentioned Morrowind(and misspelled it, but I didn’t spot any of those clichés. No arena, never captured, the BBEG has been attempting to break out for 1000 years(so close is relative), no traps, poor lighting at best, and…okay, yes, you have to do everything for everyone, but that’s impossible to avoid.

    1. Shamus says:

      Viktor: Morrowind did have an arena, I’m sure of it. I think the quest to get Hortator (sp?) actually required that you fight a guy in there.

      And Dagoth-Ur will never take over the world, no matter how long you dally.

  10. Shawn says:

    I think part of the issue is your use of the word “cliche” as opposed to “trope”.

    Tropes Are Not Cliches:

    Standard TV Tropes Warning: Clicking the above link may cause the next several hours of your life to be sucked in to a TV Tropes Time Wormhole. You have been warned.

  11. Tuck says:

    I just realised that Ultima V, VI and VII are remarkably free of the typical RPG cliches. Perhaps that’s another reason why they’re so good!

  12. Jabor says:

    Since my first comment appears to have been eaten, I’ll make another observation on how information-dense text is compared to other media.

    Seriously, it would take days to get through Shamus’s archive, while 23MB of DVD-quality movie is what, about a minute?

  13. nerdpride says:

    I used to think that the Escapist was great, but now the other readers and the reviewers are beginning to sound more “meh”. Even Yahtzee, he’s not doing cutting-edge criticism like in the episodes I really enjoyed. It’s like watching some Mongols slowly grow fat and civilized after they carved out a bit of Europe.

    I think that those people are pretty obviously offended because you found a nail and hit its head, not due to any of your faults. I won’t be getting Dragon Age because I’ve played and thoroughly enjoyed Baldur’s Gate, and then I played and was disappointed with KotOR and Jade Empire (and decided not to bother trying Mass Effect).

    There is still a vibe of casual gaming in there, but it’s getting less nerdy and more videogame-obsessed-nerdy.

  14. swimon says:

    @viktor Also Morrowind did have traps but only rather bullshitty ones and they’re restrained to doors and containers.

    Actually the lack of any nice traps is perhaps one of the few flaws with Morrowind. It was a strange game, so broken (bugs monetary system powerleveling ridiculously easy etc.) and yet so few flaws^^ (well ok the bugs but the rest just added to the experience).

  15. Stellar Duck says:

    About Morrowind, one could argue that the captured trope is the start of the game. IIRC you start out as a captive in a boat. Granted, you are not stripped of gear, not having any, but it does satisfy the trope to some extent I think.

    Or am I thinking of Oblivion? There at least I’m 100 % certain you start as a captive. :P

    And, Shamus, I’ll just add that I found your piece about the writers of Bioware good, insightful and funny. As I almost always do when writing your stuff. There is a reason I keep coming back. Don’t be overly bothered that the fanboys at the Escapist missed the subtleties (not that it was so complicated). That place is very different now compared to when I signed up back in ’07.

  16. Viktor says:

    I forgot the duel arena. But IIRC, it still doesn’t follow the lines you outlined. You encounter the enemies outside as well, it’s reasonable for you to fight them, the fights make sense, no announcer, and what audience there is you can chat with.

    Dagoth Ur is never said to be breaking out soon. He’s straining against his bonds and spreading the blight, but the implication I always got was that it’s a ways off. Essentially, in-universe the confrontation can’t take place until you want it to or you ignore him for the next century. Compare that to Oblivion, where you always show up at the key moment.

    Actually, Oblivion was lousy with these. 2 arenas, no actual time limits, several captures, useless NPC, and tombs with no visible light sources and rusted traps with falling rocks that didn’t shake down over the past 3000 years.

  17. Guile says:

    Me, I’m tired of the ‘callow youth saves the world’ protagonist. It’s good in some ways (able to see your character grow from loser to hero, can feed you backstory because the farmboy doesn’t know about the outside world, etc.) but probably 3/4ths of all RPGs I own do this.

    This is coupled in JRPGs with the ‘hero dresses like he fell into a tumble dryer’ bit.

  18. Sam says:

    The only thing I got out of that article was Displacer Moose. What a sweet idea. I’m totally stealing that for my campaign.

  19. Groundhog says:

    By the way, I actually kinda liked the time limit in Fallout(1). It gave a nice sense of urgency, and made the quest feel more personal. I never really felt handicapped by it.
    I’m not saying that every game should have one, of course. It’s easy to fuck up, and if made too strict will ruin the game.
    The second fallout is great fun, but the main quest lacks a sense of importance. You get more freedom, but at the cost of immersion. At least in my case.

  20. Hugo Sanchez says:

    Jabor: Since my first comment appears to have been eaten, I'll make another observation on how information-dense text is compared to other media.

    Seriously, it would take days to get through Shamus's archive, while 23MB of DVD-quality movie is what, about a minute?

    Well a letter is a byte. So Shamus has written approximately 24,117,248 letters. If Shamus averages 7 letters per word that is approximately. 3,445,321 words.

    If the average reading speed of an adult reader is 2 words per second that means it would take you: 28,711 and a half seconds to read his collected works, (Again, Approximately).
    Which comes out to about 7.9 hours to read it all.

    Though I’m no math pro, and i may have seriously screwed that up.

    EDIT: Corrected some math (Maybe?)
    EDIT2: The average length of all words in the english dictionary is about 4.5
    With that in mind it would be 5,359,388 words.
    Which at the same reading rate would take around 12.4 hours.

  21. Arquinsiel says:

    What I find really odd in RPG’s is how standard the “quest through vally of the s” is always followed with the reward of “sword of slaying”. It’s sort of tedious.

    When thinking about information rates you have to consider things like extraneous background “noise” in a DVD video. There is a very, very good reason it takes so much to store this stuff, even when only changed states are encoded.

  22. RichVR says:

    I guess that, at the very bottom, the ur-cliche is:

    I start out in a village where everyone is killed by the bad guy except me. I have a rusty dagger and homespun cloth on my back. I wander from clue to clue barely escaping being killed and in a matter of weeks I have “learned” how to be a killing machine. I collect better and better stuff and slay the big uber-badguy.

    Aren’t all RPGs all one huge cliche at heart?

    Who cares? I love them too. ;-)

  23. Menegil says:

    Well, I actually wondered myself why the hell so many people were casting stones at yee, Shamus. I did not see any sharp or in-your-face berating that would justify such an extreme reaction, despite the implications of some arguments.

    I still stand by my opinion (expressed in the previous article’s blog page comments), though, which is that Dragon Age is far from sporting the mire of cliché (BioWare or otherwise) that you describe. I am used to reading senseful nitpicking in your stuff, and simply found these nitpicks to be mostly misplaced, only a select few being truly applicable.

    Those you mention in this article, for instance.

  24. Eric says:

    As much as I enjoy their games, I do think that BioWare is developing a bit of an Ivory Tower approach to their design, most likely because they simply have no competition. Pound for pound, I think Obsidian’s writers are leagues better than BioWare’s (I’d be willing to say Chris Avellone alone is better than BioWare’s entire writing staff, but I’m more than a bit biased in that regard). Unfortunately, for as strong as their writers are, Obsidian’s bogged down in pretty much every other possible way.

    It’d be nice to see another company step up to play ball with BioWare. Honest competition would be good to see how well they do when they don’t have a corner of the market to themselves.

    I’m also curious to see what the Dragon Age modding community will create (whenever the toolset becomes workable). Some of the Neverwinter Nights fan modules were quite good.

  25. Talby says:

    “And Dagoth-Ur will never take over the world, no matter how long you dally.”

    This gives me an idea for a mod, actually… which probably means it’s already been done. Off to Google!

  26. Zaxares says:

    You missed one of the most obvious, Shamus. ;)

    A. Your beloved home village is wiped out by the BBEG!


    B. Due to some cliched plot device, you are banished from your home village and can never return. At least for the remainder of the first Act anyway.

    Granted, it’s one of the most crucial of all the cliches. SOMETHING has to happen to get your character out of their safe, comfortable rut and onto the journey to adventure and glory. It’s just amusing how often writers fall back on these two ideas.

  27. Werdna says:

    Shamus @ Escapist: “Okay. What other good RPG cliché did I leave out?”

    Me: One of my favorites is inventory management. For some reason, the game Star Ocean 2 is the one I think of when this comes to mind. The party can carry around a bundle of twenty suits of full plate mail and another bundle of twenty diamonds, but not nineteen suits of mail and twenty-one diamonds.

  28. ps238principal says:

    So you’re “The guy who hates BioWare AND Fable,” then? :)

  29. Malkara says:

    Shamus, isn’t that last one basically a summary of the city with the impenetrable gate in NWN2?

    1. Shamus says:

      Malkara: Not really. Certainly having lots of quests is good. Being FORCED to do lots of quests to access something completely unrelated in a way that makes no sense in the world, isn’t.

  30. Old_Geek says:

    The problem is fanboys are relentless. They don’t want a peep against a game they like, or as in this case, even something perceived as criticism. Now I love DA:O. I’m on my second play through, and there might be a third. But I agree with Shamus on many of his observations. There are very few NEW IDEAS in this game. But its still wonderful, despite the lack of originality, because the cliches are so very executed.

  31. Ergonomic Cat says:

    JEEZ Shamus, how about a spoiler on that Fallout comment?

    RPGs are, indeed, full of cliches. And yet they are awesome.

    But every once in a great while you get something like Arcanum or Planescape. PS especially broke all the rules, and was amazing because of it.

  32. Nickless says:

    If you wish to cultivate a hatred of any cRPG developer, especially Bioware and Bethesda, you could look at RPG Codex

  33. ps238principal says:

    @Egonomic Cat: How was that a spoiler, per se? He didn’t say what it was about. Plus, the game tells you to hurry, you do have quite a bit of time to accomplish it, and it’s not the end of the game when you do.

  34. Axle says:

    Well. You’re twitter review of the game, actually gave me second thoughts about buying it. Thankfully I understood, that beneath all the criticism about some aspects of the game, you are actually having fun playing it and going through the story.
    I also think it is quite a good game, despite the small annoyances (which really don’t bother me that much).

  35. El Quia says:

    @Zaxares (29): It’s called the Hero Journey! :p

    I think that a lot of what is considered “a good story” isn’t really good storytelling at all. I mean, most games’ stories are chock-full with cliches. I don’t know if it is lazy writters or (more possible) lazy players, but I think games in general (and RPG in particular) can be a lot better written. I know there are some classic structures over which epic stories are told (like the Hero Journey mentioned above), but, mainly, I have some grievance with RPG stories being almost always EPIC! in nature. I am not always saving the world when at the gaming table, and our games are mighty fun. Why can’t games do that for a change?

    I am sounding a lot more angry that I really am at that, so know that I loved them games. But that sometimes gets in the way of my enjoyment.

  36. Chiller says:

    I do feel compelled to say, although I seem to be in a minority for some reason, that I’m one of the people that strongly dislike “this” cliché (and most others).
    I pretty much didn’t like DAO in any way, shape or form (yes I finished it, for some reason the ending seemed mostly ok, but then again it did reflect my choices). The combat was probably the worst part of it – I mean, Mass Effect was more or less the same game (in SPAAAAACE!) but had good combat, which made it even fun at times.
    I did greatly appreciate the fact that I could avoid the seemingly-scripted capture by killing the IMPOSSIBLY HARD boss (and heck, I was on Easy).
    But overall, I prefer playing something new.

  37. Galenloke says:

    I should make an epic fantasy RPG where you play an old woman.

  38. Cuthalion says:

    I should make an epic fantasy RPG where you play an old woman.

    Edit: Oops. First one showed up, too. Weird issue with sharing a computer. Cuthalion posted, Galenloke didn’t.

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