Borderlands Part 4: Diamond in the Rough

By Shamus
on Aug 3, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

Based on what the developers have said about the game, Borderlands was apparently a title that came together at the last minute. It shows. Almost every part of the game seems to be missing something obvious.

The Airing of Grievances

The field of view is so narrow it`s genuinely uncomfortable. It doesn`t look too bad here in a screenshot, but trust me: It`s really pronounced when you turn your head.

The field of view is so narrow it`s genuinely uncomfortable. It doesn`t look too bad here in a screenshot, but trust me: It`s really pronounced when you turn your head.

In the PC version, the multiplayer matchmaking was handled through the now-defunct Gamespy, which was awful and inconvenient when it wasn’t outright broken. The game had voice chat but no real interface, which means that once you joined a game it was always just broadcasting your default microphone with no option for push-to-talk, no ability to mute yourself, no control over the volume, and no hint that this was happening. The field of view was shamefully narrow, to the point where it felt like you were “zoomed in”, as if you were always looking down iron sights. I actually find this nauseating. Even today, the only way to fix this is to hack config files.

Rockets didn’t work properly, character classes weren’t really balanced, and it was far too easy to grief people and far too troublesome to deal with griefers. The developers bragged about how they simulated bullet trajectories instead of using the more typical hitscan approach, but in practice it was wonky and the only time you’d notice the difference was when it malfunctioned. The game ran poorly compared to contemporaries. Claptrap would pester you constantlyEven interrupting combat and story dialog! if there were quests available that you hadn’t yet accepted. The interface was obnoxious to use with a mouse and keyboard. Some simple gameplay conceptsLike respawn stations or the bounty board. were patronizingly over-explained by voiced characters while other less obvious topicsLike weapon proficiencies and ammo storage limits. weren’t explained at all.

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Overhaulout Part One: New Game

By Rutskarn
on Aug 2, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

EDIT: Not sure how I managed to turn comments off. Fixed!

If someone hasn’t already heard that Fallout 3‘s story stinks, they probably don’t care—and they don’t really have to,

It doesn’t matter if you can line up all the ways the game’s characters were thin, the plot didn’t make much sense, and the choices were odd and insubstantial. A fan of the game might listen, might even end up agreeing. They’ll nod, shrug, and admit that yeah, it sure wasn’t Shakespeare. Congratulations! You’ve successfully argued that the story of Fallout 3 is bad. But thought it might seem self-evident, you haven’t actually made an argument that the bad story made the game much worse to play, and that a good story would have made them like it even more. The fan is a fan for a reason. They didn’t hallucinate a better storyline than existed, they were just satisfied with the moral choices and combat and exploration and worldbuilding that they got. If they didn’t really notice or care that the economy didn’t make sense, how can you effectively argue that the game would have been more worthy if it did?

At the end of the day, the only sensible thing to do is accept the disagreement, allow people to enjoy things, and move on. And instead of doing all that, I’m rewriting Fallout 3.

Actually, mostly just the big parts. And of those big parts, as little as possible.

Art pictured is concept art from the game. As best as I can tell, all of it`s the work of the late Adam Adamowicz<b>.</b>
Art pictured is concept art from the game. As best as I can tell, all of it's the work of the late Adam Adamowicz.

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This Dumb Industry: Free Advice Part 2

By Shamus
on Aug 1, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Last week I gave some advice to the leaders of the videogame industry. This week I’m going to wrap things up.

3. Stop with the Perma-Crunch

The working conditions here are AWFUL. It`s like the bosses are Nazis or something.

The working conditions here are AWFUL. It`s like the bosses are Nazis or something.

I already dedicated two entire columns to this topic last year, explaining why crunch is a bad idea and why crunch should be saved for emergency situations. The short version:

It’s been well known for years that productivity drops off sharply as hours increase. Above a certain threshold, increasing hours worked can actually DECREASE the amount of work accomplished! And that’s just regular boring office work. The effect is even more pronounced in creative fields. (Protip: Game development is a creative field.) You are making your employees miserable, un-creative, and disloyal, while generating negative press, and at the same time also fueling a high turnover rate within the industry that’s driving people out just as they’re getting good at their jobs. And after all that damage, you’re probably making games SLOWER than if you just ran a proper business. You are screwing everyone else in order to screw yourself harder.

Yes, there’s an extreme glut of would-be game developers out there. The game colleges are pumping out wave after wave of sad-sack graduates who are dragging heaps of student loan debt into the workforce. They’re enough to replenish the exodus of experienced workers. I’m only saying this because you’ve evidently figured it out already. (Otherwise, why would you be treating your workforce this way?) But the point still stands: Just because you can get away with treating people this way doesn’t mean there’s any benefit in doing so.

Do you know if it really makes business sense to rely on a work force of disgruntled, burned-out, and inexperienced creatives? Have you ever tried doing things the other way?

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Timely Game of Thrones Griping 3: What Exactly Is This Show Doing?

By Bob Case
on Jul 31, 2017
Filed under:
Television
This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

I’ve had a busy week – I’m in the middle of moving, and a friend of mine got married this weekend, so I didn’t get back into town until almost midnight last night. So this week’s review is a bit late, and will be a bit shorter than most. With that in mind, it would be good to limit its scope to the easy, specific questions, such as:

What Exactly Is This Show Doing?

I don’t mean on an existential level. I mean what is it doing on a basic plotting level. Basically, at the start of season seven, the writers had a problem: Queen Daenerys was too powerful. She had either the finest or tied for the finest infantry in the world (the Unsullied), a huge force of crack cavalry (the Dothraki), countless ships, and three full-grown dragons. Queen Cersei, by contrast, seemed to have one army of indeterminate size, led by Jaime Lannister. I say “seemed to have” because you can never quite be sure with this show, which more and more has been playing fast and loose with its balance-of-power details.

Either way, it’s a pretty lopsided matchup, so, in the interests of drama, something must be done to even the odds. In other cases I’ve been sympathetic to the challenges of adapting the page to the screen, but not here. It was the showrunners that wrote themselves into this particular corner, not GRRM, and they’ve been straining mightily against plausibility ever since to write themselves out.

Their main vehicle so far has been Euron Greyjoy. He’s built an unbeatable fleet offscreen between seasons, and has now won two major (and confusing) victories in the space of two episodes. The first rested on the idea that he could find Yara’s fleet in the middle of a dark night without them even noticing he was coming. The second rests on the idea that Euron has time-bending powers that dwarf even Littlefinger’s.

Euron is played by a Danish actor named Pilou Asbaek. He at least seems to be having fun, so there`s that.

Euron is played by a Danish actor named Pilou Asbaek. He at least seems to be having fun, so there`s that.

Let’s rewind to the end of episode two: Tyrion, adhering to the ancient military maxim of “just divide your forces, it’ll be fine,” sent the Unsullied to attack Casterly Rock, the Lannister stronghold of great and hitherto unmentioned strategic value. At what I presume is the same time, he sent Yara’s fleet to collect Ellaria Sand’s forces in Dorne. It was the same time, right? I mean, why wouldn’t it be?

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Obsessive Compulsive Daydream

By Shamus
on Jul 30, 2017
Filed under:
Personal

I don’t normally watch Vlogbrothers videos. I know they’re the titans of YouTube and beloved by millions, but their topics don’t often land in my particular wheelhouse. (For me, Numberphile, Tom Scott, and Deep Sky Videos are where it’s at. And also CGP Grey when the planets align and he makes a vid.) But once in a long time the YouTube suggestion heuristic offers up a Vlogbro video that catches my eye, which was the case this past week: What OCD Is Like (for Me).


Link (YouTube)

(No, I don’t know why I’m talking about this sort of oddball mental stuff two weeks in a row. It’s not a sign of any particular trouble on my end. Probably just random chance, or the result of too much introspection.)

I don’t know anything about OCD aside from the pop-culture depictions of it, so this made for an illuminating video. OCD is, as I suspected, badly portrayed in media. I do not have OCD, although I’d like to use this as a jumping-off point for a tangentially related topic…

John Green talks about how a particular idea will stick in his mind and he won’t be able to stop worrying about it. While I haven’t experienced his particular problem of ongoing vexation, I am familiar with the idea of having an idea that sticks with you for weeks and months and kind of grows on you despite it not having any practical value. In my case it’s a completely harmless personality quirk rather than a source of stress or dysfunction. Which is nice. But it also made me wonder if this is a common thing. Does everyone have a clingy idea or scenario that won’t leave them alone?

In my case the thoughts revolve around impossible hypothetical situations like:

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Nan o’ War CH18: Blighty Makes Righty

By Rutskarn
on Jul 28, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play

I feel that if your game is set between 1500 and 1850, you should be able to fight Blackbeard. You might say that doesn’t make any sense at all, and that Blackbeard, while a timeless cipher, is not appropriate thematically to every gaming experience. You would be totally correct, but also just a little less cool than you were before you opened your piehole.

Because you know what? I don’t care that Blackbeard wasn’t even around in 1670. I don’t care that his crew may not have ever killed or even shot at anyone except in strict self defense. I don’t care if his historical KD ratio is “clubbed a guy with his pommel one time” against “got beheaded.” I don’t care if he probably didn’t light fuses in his beard, kill his crew to keep the others in line, or strike bargains with the Guédé loa to ensorcell his peers and bring confusion to his enemies. It’s all happening on the inner-child level. You show me a swordfight, and a Blackbeard, and a point on the graph where the lines cross, and I’ll show you a guaranteed one-half of a thumbs up. In this economy, that’s nothing to be sneezed at.

Unless I can negotiate to fight <em>two </em>Blackbeards, I`m taking this to the mattresses.
Unless I can negotiate to fight two Blackbeards, I'm taking this to the mattresses.

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1515 comments. (Fifteen is the smallest natural number with seven letters in its name.)



Borderlands Part 3: Cast of Character Classes

By Shamus
on Jul 27, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

When development on Borderlands began, there was a “religious war” among the team as to whether the game would be an RPG or an FPS at heartAgain, my source for this is the Gearbox talk at GDC 2010.. Sure, this was supposed to be a fusion of the two gameplay styles, but you can imagine all the different possible games that could arise out of that simple idea. It’s not like this is the only game you could make with the elevator pitch of “FPS+RPG”.

In fact, that idea had already been done, eleven years before work began on Borderlands. System Shock came out in 1994, and it was basically a mashup of Ultima Underworld and Doom. But that was just one game out of dozens you could conceive of, and the Gearbox team needed to figure out how their particular take on this genre blend was going to work.

Our heroes. Or what passes for heroes on Pandora.

Our heroes. Or what passes for heroes on Pandora.

For example, you could imagine this shooter gameplay in something more Fallout-ish, where you’ve got dialog trees and stats for influencing people. You can imagine something more like KOTOR where you’ve got a morality meter and lots of binary player choice. You can imagine something more like Elder Scrolls, where the player wanders an open world, looking for dungeons and questsIt’s a good thing they never made this, since I probably would have played it until I died.. You can imagine something like Dragon Age, where the player character plays a particular role and gets caught up in a bunch of political intrigue. Or maybe something like Deus Ex or Dishonored where you could employ stealth and diplomacy to vary between lethal and nonlethal playstyles.

But in the end the “RPG” we got was more the Diablo style of RPG where the character-building stuff all feeds directly into combat. There’s no dialog wheel, no factions, and no moral choices. Every NPC gives you the exact same dialog regardless of character class and behavior.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

By Shamus
on Jul 26, 2017
Filed under:
Movies

Based on the reviews I see in my social media circles and favorite YouTube critics, Spider-Man: Homecoming seems to be getting a “pretty good, but not great” reception from people. I saw it this Saturday with by brother Dan. Not only did I like it, but I think it’s the best Spider-Man movie. Yes, even better than the Sam Raimi films. Yes, I realize that’s a terribly controversial opinion.

Let me explain where I’m coming from…

I probably got hooked on Spider-Man through the 1967 animated show. You know, the one with the theme song people are always referencingHomecoming actually gives it a nod at the start of the movie, featuring a drastic rearrangement of the famous theme.. Spidey’s first live-action appearanceUnless you want to count the educational bits in the Electric Company. was in the television series that debuted in 1977. I was six, and had just started school.

I remember being really frustrated with the show. I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but I suppose my various child-like complaints could be summed up under the broad heading of “lack of production value”. Spidey didn’t fight anything that could remotely pass as a super villain. The eye holes in his costume looked like swim goggles crossed with horn-rimmed glasses. They didn’t really have the budget to depict his web-swinging, and the whole thing was very, very light on action.

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This Dumb Industry: Free Advice Part 1

By Shamus
on Jul 25, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Last week I promised to give some advice to the leadership teams of of major game publishers, who will never read this. I doubt this advice will strike most of you as profound or novel, but I’m doing this anyway in order to drive the point home that the people in charge are making expensive mistakes despite their financial gains.

First, the really obvious stuff: Microsoft needs to ease off the push for more intrusive platforms and invasion of privacyI guess they kinda repented with the new Xbox, but I suspect they’ll try again. They didn’t have a change in company values, they just needed to deal with a PR disaster. and fix the Windows 10 Store before it does some damage. EA needs to stop treating their creative teams like a rental car. I don’t know what Ubisoft is trying to accomplish with Uplay, but whatever it is isn’t working and they should probably just stop. But this is stuff we’ve all heard dozens of times before and all of these are just symptoms of a larger problem.

A Long-Term Problem

Some people have trouble telling the difference between Wall Street and Vegas. (Hint: Vegas is the one with the tits.)

Some people have trouble telling the difference between Wall Street and Vegas. (Hint: Vegas is the one with the tits.)

As some have pointed out, if you’re a shareholder then you might be pretty happy with how these companies are being run. If your only goal is to keep pumping up the stock price and focusing on the short term, then the current crop of guys are doing their jobs. When EA bought Playfish it was a pretty good example of this behavior in action. To an outsider it probably seemed “bold” and “proactive”. Hey, casual games are a thing and EA just made a massive investment in casual games. This must be a good thing! It’s a move made by people who don’t understand the industry, intended to impress people who don’t understand the industry. Sure, it was a terrible move in the long run, but if you’re the kind of jumpy investor who buys and sells based on fads, feelings, and the latest gossip out of the news ticker, then you’re not making long-term judgments.

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Timely Game of Thrones Griping 2: The Wages of Adaptation

By Bob Case
on Jul 24, 2017
Filed under:
Television
This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

When last we saw our heroes, Team Dany was at the (conveniently empty) castle of Dragonstone about to plan an invasion, Euron was galivanting off to parts unknown to deliver an unknown gift to Cersei, Arya was off to kill Cersei, and the Hound and company were heading north to do… something or other. Sam is in Oldtown noticing conspicuously circled things in restricted books and nearly getting infected with greyscale (It’s transmitted through touch, Jorah. Keep your hands to yourself!). Jon, Sansa, and Littlefinger are at Winterfell, not really doing much so far. Bran is finally south of the wall. I think that pretty much covers everyone.

The Wages of Adaptation

We start at Dragonstone. The first part of the scene consists of Dany’s brain trust repeating things we already know. Among its other faults this show has a habit of repeating exposition two and three times. To me it feels like padding.

But the scene quickly improves. Dany confronts Varys about where his loyalties lie – in the show-continuity, he’s twice conspired against the King he was supposed to be serving, and Daenerys is understandably wary of his intentions in the future. Varys gets to give a good speech explaining his own actions. It one way, it clarifies the character. In another way, it muddles practically everything that’s happened so far.

This is one of those moments where I feel I have to bring in book knowledge, because it affects how I think this character is supposed to be viewed. To give you the reader’s digest version, in the books there’s another Targaryen: Aegon, a son of Rhaegar’s. Varys and Illyrio (the merchant who originally brokered the Daenerys-Drogo wedding in both books and show) have been keeping his existence secret for quite some time.He’s also probably not an actual Targaryen, but that’s a whole other story. Aegon, to Varys, is the perfect monarch: one who’s been trained since birth with not only the necessary skills, but also (Varys hopes) the necessary appreciation for his duty to the common people of Westeros.

In the books, Aegon’s existence is the revelation that makes many of Varys’ mysterious actions retroactively make sense. In the show, Aegon never appears. Not only that, but Varys also admits that it was him who sent the assassin after Daenerys. In the books the assassin was motivated by a public offer of a lordship for whoever killed her – a scheme thought up by Littlefinger, not Varys. Suddenly Varys has a whole lot of splainin to do, to both Daenerys and the audience.

TFW when your character`s primary motivation has been cut for time.

TFW when your character`s primary motivation has been cut for time.

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Autism?

By Shamus
on Jul 23, 2017
Filed under:
Personal

Back in October of last year this question arrived in the Diecast mailbag. A lot of people have asked me this same question over the years and so I figured it was probably worth answering. On the other hand it felt a little too long, involved, and focused-on-me for the podcast.

Dear Shamus,

As an autistic person myself, I couldn’t help but notice that the experiences you describe both on the diecast and in your life story series on the blog (especially regarding sensory rocessing disorder, such as your difficulty processing two auditory streams at once) are very similar to what is experienced by both myself and my neurosiblings in the autistic community. Have you ever considered whether you might be on the spectrum yourself, or possibly been evaluated as a child? (Autistic kids who learn to hide their symptoms to avoid bullying frequently slip through diagnosis.)

Edith

Edith is probably referring to the early chapters of the Autoblography. I won’t try to summarize all of that personal history here. If you’re curious, you’ll have to read the series. I certainly exhibited a lot of odd behaviors when I was young. And if I’m being honest, I’m still pretty eccentric at 45. In fact, there’s a lot of personal strangeness that I left out of the Autoblography because it would have taken too long to explain or would have been too personally embarrassing.

I began writing a response to Edith’s question months ago, but then forgot all about it until the topic popped up again on Twitter when someone said:

To which I responded:

On one hand, I know it’s really annoying when people go around diagnosing themselves with complex things that they don’t totally understand. On the other hand, when autistic people describe their struggles it sounds pretty familiar. So while I’m reluctant to go around claiming I was / am autistic, I can say fairly definitively that I had some sort of profound neurological dysfunction that greatly inhibited my social development. These days I would expect a kid behaving the way I did to end up diagnosed with something. My malfunctions were off-putting to the adults in my life and prevented me from forming stable relationships.

Whatever my problem is, I couldn’t have been diagnosed with autism because autism itself is a new-ish idea. Our current understanding of it didn’t solidify among academics until the 1970’s. Before this, it was lumped into schizophrenia, which seemed to be our catch-all term for “This person is strange and we don’t know why”. This was long before the internet, which means it took a couple of decades for that understanding to work its way out into the general public where it would be understood by parents and school systems. I didn’t hear the word “autism” until the 90’s or so, long after I’d become an adult.

I knew I was different, but I didn’t understand how I was different or where my problems came from. Just one example of countless memories in my life:

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Steam Backlog: Car Mechanic Simulator 2015

By Shamus
on Jul 21, 2017
Filed under:
Game Reviews

It’s exactly what it says on the tin. You’re a mechanic, and you run an auto repair shop. Customers call you up with car problems, and you can choose which repair jobs interest you. You open the hood, take the engine apart, find the bad bit, and then either repair or replace the damaged part. Then you put the car back together and move on to the next job.

This game was originally Kickstarted for $22,866, and it’s pretty good for a game developed on a budget of that size. By random chance, this review is going to appear on the same day as the launch of Car Mechanic Simulator 2018. This will be the first CMS game since 2015. For the last couple of years developer Play Way has been trying to branch off from cars by making similarThe trailers make them look similar. I haven’t actually played them. mechanic-style games about farm equipment, trucks, and trains. I don’t know enough about this series to comment on those, except to note that the Steam reviews aren’t particularly good for those spinoff titles. This review has nothing to do with any of that. Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 is just the game I decided to play this week.

This game is pretty janky and I have gripes with just about every aspect of it, but I got a good couple of days of entertainment out of it despite that. There are a lot of baffling design decisions here, but the core loop of tearing something apart and putting it back together is really satisfying.

This is the quietest and cleanest repair shop I`ve ever seen.

This is the quietest and cleanest repair shop I`ve ever seen.

The various cars are modeled with an almost fanatical attention to detail, with each car being made up of literally hundreds of parts, all modeled down to the individual bolts. Because of this, it takes some familiarity with the particular model of car to work on it efficiently. (The cars are all fictional. No licensed cars here. I think that’s a plus, since licensed cars always have annoying compromises imposed by image-oriented car companies.) Different engine layouts mean that some cars are easier to work on than others, and knowing what parts you’ll need to disassemble to get at the problem can make a lot of difference in how long it takes you to complete jobs. Beyond the engines, you can repair damaged bodywork, open the doors, check out the detailed interior, and even take the car for a test drive to look for problems.

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