SOMA EP11: A Monstrous Waste of Time

By Shamus
on Apr 21, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

45 comments


Link (YouTube)

Watching Josh play this sequence confirms my suspicions: The monster is scripted to make a beeline for you when you approach the panel, logic be damned. Even if it’s locked in a room on the other side of the level. And even though it’s supposedly blind, slow-moving, and making tons of noise itself. Yet somehow walking near the panel will cause it to know where you are and magically escape the room and cover the distance.

So then you think, “Since his hearing is so good he can detect me looking at a panel over his own gargling from fifty meters away, maybe I can distract it with sound?” But once again, no. You can toss trash cans and paperweights all over the place and it won’t come to investigate. The only thing that attracts it is approaching the panel.

The game tells you he’s “blind” so you assume it’s all about managing sound. But then the game brazenly breaks that rule. Great. So what ARE the rules? Maybe the game is saying I need to deal with the monster before I can repair the panel? Maybe I’m supposed to stay in place but STOP working on the panel when the monster approaches? Maybe I’m supposed to solve this puzzle quickly, before the monster reaches the door?

I want to solve this door puzzle, but instead I end up working on this meta-game puzzle of trying to figure out what the designer is thinking. It’s a safe bet that if the player is thinking about the game designer, then they are no longer immersed in the world and thus aren’t likely to be very scared. The fact that the monster hangs out for a good minute or so and prevents you from making any progress makes it pretty likely that this whole section will turn fear into frustration.

This game has some moments that are, if not scary, then at least chilling or disturbing. But all of them happen when the actual “dangerous” monsters piss off and you’re able to think about the ideas the game is presenting.

On the other hand, running from monsters was a huge part of the cultural appeal of Amnesia. And Amnesia was one of the games that originally launched jumpscare streaming culture as we know it. It’s entirely possible that if it wasn’t for shrill teens screaming into their webcams, then there would be no Five Nights At Freddy’s. No Spooky’s House of Jump Scares. None of the hundreds of jumpscare-based games on Steam designed not to be fun to play, but to act as fodder for the streamers. Amnesia wasn’t the only game to launch this fad, but it was certainly one of the major contributors.

It’s like SOMA is torn between the really interesting Sci-fi the developers wanted to make, and the same old thing they assumed the fans expectedAnd maybe they were right? I dunno. I don’t follow streamers much..

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Mass Effect Retrospective 44: Boss Fight

By Shamus
on Apr 21, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

243 comments

Here we are. The mysterious and legendary Quarian homeworld. We’ve been hearing about this place since we met Tali way back at the start of Mass Effect 1. I’ve always wondered about this place. I have to say it’s not quite what I was expecting.

Rannoch

Quarians actually lived here? Maybe this isn`t the best time to bring this up, but maybe the Geth did you a favor when they threw you off the homeworld.

Quarians actually lived here? Maybe this isn`t the best time to bring this up, but maybe the Geth did you a favor when they threw you off the homeworld.

The Quarians only left a couple of centuries ago, and they were already a space-faring civilization at the time. So you’d expect to see some spectacular cities here. Or ruins of cities. Or Geth cities built from abandoned Quarian cities. Or, you know… houses. Something.

The planet description offers the excuse that a lot of the planet is kind of “Mojave Desert”-ishWhich almost makes me wish for a nuclear winter. and not worth inhabiting. I guess that’s where these missions take place?

In reality, I’m sure this was a simple budget problem. Cities are expensive to build, and this game is already heavy on expensive content. Still, I really wanted to see a Quarian city. Even if it had just been a darkened city on the horizon, baked into the skybox, it would have been wonderful.

It’s hard to share Tali’s excitement when her planet looks like such a depressing shithole. It’s like bringing your alien friend to see Earth, except you only show him some featureless scrublands, or a random spot in the middle of the Atlantic. Spoiler: He might not be super-impressed.

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SOMA EP10: Dunbat? More like Dumb-Bat!

By Shamus
on Apr 20, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

46 comments


Link (YouTube)

The most interesting thing about these philosophical debates is this: Many people, when presented with these questions, seem to already have some kind of mental model for how they think it all works. They have their own definition for what a person is, what consciousness is, and what it means to “die” in a world where people can be copied. And to them it’s all sensible, reasonable, and consistent. Perhaps even obvious. Everything is fine until they talk to someone else, who has a radically different mental model, which the other person feels is equally inescapable and obvious.

For example? Everyone keeps linking the Transporter Problem video by the awesome CGP Grey. In that video, the mental model is that since your cells are all destroyed, you die, and then a new thing – a copy of you – is created in a new location. This doesn’t match my mental model at all and so just comes off like a bunch of wanking to me. When talking about someone “dying” I’m much more concerned with the continuity and fidelity of their thought processes than with which particular pile of cells those processes are running on.

This is one of the reasons I like this game. It seems to be pretty good at finding those narrow gaps between people’s mental models and wedging them open.

For the record: I think the bit with Brandon is actually pretty tricky, ethics-wise. I shrugged it off during the game, but if we were causing him physical(?) pain then I might have reacted differently. But to me we were slightly upsetting someone for twenty seconds for our own survival, and that seemed like a pretty clear-cut case. The fact that he won’t even remember being upset makes this even easier. Also – and maybe I’m being unfair to Brandon – but I felt like he should have handled this better. He’s exhibiting Simon-levels of panic and confusion, when he ostensibly grew up around this technology and has been given ample time to wrap his head around the idea.


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Ruts vs. Battlespire CH 5: Aches and Planes

By Rutskarn
on Apr 20, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

48 comments

Exploring the Battlespire turns out to be deceptively troublesome. Not because the local talent is putting up much resistance; they’re doing their jim dandiest to make my stay at the ‘spire as memorably gruesome as possible, but what they make up in enthusiasm they lack in starch. I would describe their presence as “nagging,” a gentle buffeting of scamp claws when I enter a room to remind me to tip the doorman a fistful of steel. I will admit it hurt when I strained my wrist cleaving these geeks in twain.

That sounds like a disaffected quip, but no–seriously, my actual wrist sincerely hurts. Since every time you swing a sword you need to right click, hold, and drag the mouse in a pretty wide arc in monotonous patterns–and not every swing is a hit–clearing a room leaves you feeling like you’ve just directed runway traffic at LAX on a Friday night. Playing for extended periods makes you feel like you just transcribed your thesis on a jammed mechanical typewriter. I seriously incur less wrist strain writing these posts than I do playing for a few minutes.

This helmet belonged to a scamp who attacked me. I assume it was trying to kill me so it could leave the hat on my corpse. Fun fact: the helm is magical and once I actually figure out what it does you`ll be the first to know.
This helmet belonged to a scamp who attacked me. I assume it was trying to kill me so it could leave the hat on my corpse. Fun fact: the helm is magical and once I actually figure out what it does you'll be the first to know.

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This Dumb Industry: The Opportunity Crunch

By Shamus
on Apr 19, 2016
Filed under:
Column

221 comments

This week we’re talking about this article from Alex St. John: Game developers must avoid the ‘wage-slave’ attitude, which itself is a response to Why ‘crunch time’ is still a problem in the video game industry. I have a lot of problems with the second article as well, but if I try to argue with both of them at once while they argue with each other, it will be chaos.

For context, Alex St. John is co-creator of the DirectX family of API’s at Microsoft and founder of WildTangent Inc., so this isn’t just some whelp game journalist saying provocative things for links. This is an industry veteran who – even if I disagree with him on a few points – has a lot of experience and knows what he’s talking about when it comes to running a business and developing software.

The article isn’t long and you should read the whole thing, but if you insist on me distilling it down to a few bullet-points then:

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Diecast #149: Eve Online, Town of Salem, Dark Souls III

By Shamus
on Apr 18, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

175 comments

Dear Firefox user: You can stop leaving comments and emailing me about how I have a bug in my website that makes the Diecast auto-play. That’s a confirmed bug in Firefox. I’ve heard a rumor that the latest build has a fix for this. Good luck!


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster, Mumbles.

Episode edited by Issac.
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Lord of the Rings Online #8: Bandit Boy

By Shamus
on Apr 17, 2016
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

12 comments

I’m still in the Archet area, doing… something. I’m supposedly here to help the locals, but this entire town is incredibly help-resistant.

A few people have expressed outrage at how dumb the quests are. Its true that the quests I’ve been doing are a little on the “open mouthed and drooling” end of the spectrum, but keep in mind I’ve been cherry-picking these quests. I mean, if you just want the standard “kill ten wolves” kind of stuff LOTRO will be able to meet your needs.

Also note that there is a ridiculous amount of content in this game. There are three totally unique areas for level 1-15 content. Each of these has way more quests than you need. You can easily pick and choose to do things based on how fun they sound.

What is Maida doing? It looks like she`s suddenly become aware of the golden ring floating over her head and she`s trying to shoo it away.

What is Maida doing? It looks like she`s suddenly become aware of the golden ring floating over her head and she`s trying to shoo it away.

Maida Woodwright is looking for her son. She wrings her hands as she tells me her tale, “I haven’t heard word from me son since this brigand nonsense began, and I’m mighty scared he got caught up in some trouble.”

This makes me sad, but also happy. It’s sad because her son is missing. But happy because at long last I’ll be doing something useful.

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SOMA EP9: Go Away. Nobody Loves You.

By Shamus
on Apr 15, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

105 comments


Link (YouTube)

So humanity is doomed. A few dozenYou know, I’m not really sure on the numbers, but it’s probably somewhere under 100. people are left alive in this undersea base. The surface is uninhabitable. Sooner or later these folks will starve, and that will be the end of the speciesAssuming there aren’t any other humans living in a bunker somewhere. That’s certainly possible, but there’s no way to contact them. So for the purposes of this story, let’s go ahead assume this base contains everyone still living.. Cathy gets the idea to save people by putting brain scans into a simulator and launching it into space.

Like I said in the show: To me this doesn’t save humanity. It might arguably create some new thing that’s just as interesting and important, but saving a couple dozen brain scans isn’t the same as having an ever-evolving population of reproducing organisms. The ARK is stagnation. The only good thing you can say about stagnation is that it’s preferable to oblivion.

But your average grunt-level worker – let’s call him Bob – has a problem. Bob doesn’t want to sit here in the dark, slowly starving to death. Or freezing to death. Or slowly going mad from being forever trapped in a small base at the bottom of the ocean of a ruined world, never again to feel the sun on his face or the smell of wet grass after a rainstorm. He wants some other option. Catherine is offering to scan his brain so it can live on, but Bob knows that after the brain scan, he’ll still be here in sucktown.

Bob very much wishes he could live in this simulated world. And so he gets the idea into his head that there’s only ever one version of him in the world. If he kills himself, then the “real” Bob – or perhaps the “current” Bob – will be the one in the robot. I’d love to know how Bob’s mental model works, here. Does he think that he’ll shoot himself in the head, and then suddenly find himself in a robot or whatever?

It sounds like a strange idea to me, but that’s how he sees it. And to be fair, this metaphysical shit can be really tricky sometimes. It’s hard enough to consider this rationally when presented with various ethical dilemmas at the best of times. So when you’re half-mad and facing a lingering, hopeless death, it’s probably easy to bend your thinking in ways that will give you hope for the future.

Having said all that, this would make for an interesting thought experiment for the various Bobs in this undersea base. If Bob and Carl both agree that killing your meat body should make the copy into the “real” you, then Carl could test this hypothesis for himself. Once Bob is dead, go over to robo-Bob and tell him what happened. Ask him if the demise of his physical body impacted him in any way. Ask him if he remembers killing himself. I imagine that Robo-Bob’s answers really ought to give Carl something to think about.

(Yes, I’m aware that their goal is actually to kill themselves before the copy is up and running. I’m just playing around with the idea.)

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Good Robot #48: Bringing Balance

By Ross Zevenhuizen
on Apr 15, 2016
Filed under:
Good Robot

58 comments

Hey guys, I’m Ross. I have a strange job that involves wearing a lot of hats, and recently just involves a lot of hats. I’ve been with the gang since Unrest, usually handling scripting and level design. I also edit together most of Pyrodactyl’s trailers with the same technology I use to play Terrible Terrible Video Games (Glass Houses – Ed.). I’m here today with some insight into the latest update for Good Robot, and hopefully our thought process as game designers to boot.

With QA teams that number in the ones of dozens (baker’s, if you’re exceptionally lucky), esteemed indie developers like ourselves soon become incredibly adept at one crucial step of the modern video game creation process: making mistakes. But perhaps more notably – making mistakes and fixing them quickly. It’s in this spirit that I present you with a commented list of the major changes this time around.

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SOMA EP8: Handwavium

By Shamus
on Apr 14, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

58 comments


Link (YouTube)

This entire show is supposedly some form of game criticism where we talk about what worked and what didn’t. But let’s put that idea aside for the next couple of episodes, because that’s not really what our conversation is all about. When I say something didn’t work for me, I’m using that to segue to another philosophical question. I’m not actually saying the game is bad, or that it should have been done differently. I’m a big believer in the idea that when it comes to philosophical wanking like this, there are no wrong answersObviously the stakes go up when we start talking about how this stuff could be applied to real-world problems, but that’s why I love sci-fi. It gives us a safe space to play around with these ideas, where nobody dies if we’re “wrong”..

To put it more specifically: It’s pretty clear that Simon (and perhaps the developers?) disagree with me on a pretty fundamental level. And that’s okay. I bring this up because I disagree with the game often, and I don’t want people to think I’m counting these disagreements as faults, from a game-design sense. It’s all good.


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Mass Effect Retrospective 43: Interesting Stupid

By Shamus
on Apr 14, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

241 comments

Shepard continues his tour of the galaxy, selling dubious hope in exchange for direct military support from people who are really going to need those military units in the near future. Today he’s giving his sales pitch to the Quarians.

Admiral Idiot

If we`re going to go extinct, then we`re going to do so while standing on a planet, because that`s better somehow!

If we`re going to go extinct, then we`re going to do so while standing on a planet, because that`s better somehow!

The Quarians became space-nomads centuries ago when they built robots that eventually became “self-aware”. Worried of a robot uprising, they tried to destroy the robots. This led to a robot uprising, and they got their asses kicked off their own homeworld. Since then they’ve been flying around the galaxy in a huge fleet of ramshackle patchwork ships, dreaming of the day when they could retake their homeworld. It’s a good story that adds some interesting historical context to the universe, and has ramifications throughout the world of Mass Effect.

The Quarian fleet is broken into sections. Some ships are military, but most are simply homes and places to grow food for the Quarian people: The “live ships”That’s “live” as in “live wire”, not “live long”. English is annoying sometimes.. A lot of their ships are old and in a perpetual state of being refurbished.

Admiral Han’Gerrel is our villain in this story. He’s stuck guns on the Live Ships and launched an attack on the Quarian homeworld. He was doing okay until the Geth teamed up with the Reapers. Now the Reapers are giving the Geth some sort of mental upgrade via a broadcasted signalJust go with it. and it’s making them more dangerous opponents. The Geth have now pinned the Quarian fleets – basically 99% of every Quarian alive right now – and are going to overwhelm and destroy them if we don’t do something soon.

Continue reading »


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SOMA EP7: Good Robot!

By Shamus
on Apr 13, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

23 comments


Link (YouTube)

Contrary to convention, I actually find myself liking SOMA more now that we’re covering it on the show. I think this is a game that benefits from repeated playthroughs to map out all the various character stories, explore the different choices, and listen to dialog with the benefit of second-playthrough foresight.

On the other hand, the gameplay generally wears out its welcome before the first playthough is complete. Pity.

20323 comments. Highly cototient!




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