Experienced Points: Where Marvel’s Spider-Man Fails

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Oct 10, 2018

Filed under: Column 56 comments

My column this week is… well, you can probably guess from the title. I love the new Spider-Man game, but that won’t stop me from picking at its flaws.

I have some other gripes about the game. In fact, I have a lot of gripes. Like I said a few days ago, I’ll be doing a full retrospective on this game in the coming months. When the time comes we’ll spend a lot of words analyzing this game and its comic influences. I’m currently on my fifth play-through of the game. Actually, my fourth and fifth play-throughs are concurrent. Number four is the one where I’m capturing all my gameplay footage and doing 100% of all the side content, while number five is just me blasting through the story as quickly as possible and ignoring all side content.

There’s nothing I can say here that won’t spoil what I’m going to write later. So instead let me share some screenshots with you. If you examine these very closely, you might be able to spot one more little gripe I have with the game. It might be subtle, so keep your eyes open!

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This Dumb Industry: The PC Market Share

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Oct 9, 2018

Filed under: Column 95 comments

Back in 2008 or so I read some studies showing that the PC gaming market had dwindled. I don’t remember what those studies were, who did them, or where I read about them, but the idea stuck in my head that the PC was no longer a major concern to the big publishers.

This certainly explained their behavior at the time. In 2008, gaming was plagued by horrible ports, ghastly PC performance, and burdensome DRM. And that’s when publishers could be bothered to port a game to the PC in the first place. It very much felt like PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii were where the bulk of hardcore gamers were at, and the PC was sitting at the kid’s table.

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Two Retrospectives at Once?

By Shamus Posted Sunday Oct 7, 2018

Filed under: Notices 68 comments

I knew this would happen sooner or later. Sometimes there just isn’t enough news going on to give me a topic for a weekly column. Now that I’m writing at the Escapist, I’m trying to fill two columns.

One of the decisions I made when I took the Escapist gig was that I wan’t going to reduce the volume of content here on the blog. I think that’s the only way to be fair to my Patrons. Now I’m having trouble filling both commitments.

My self-imposed quota goes something like this:

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The Witcher 3: Dad Games, Revisited

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Oct 6, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 133 comments

In an earlier entry in this series (this entry, to be precise), I placed the Witcher 3 into the mini-genre of “Dad Games,” and said furthermore that in my opinion, it’s the best of them. Now that we’re closing in on the end of the main quest, I should go into that more.

Most Dad Games feature a protective relationship between the father and the child. This was the case in the Last of Us and this year’s God of War. In the case of the Witcher 3, however, Ciri is pretty capable herself and isn’t presented to the audience as vulnerable in the same way. She’s also older. I don’t remember if her age is ever made explicit in the game, but I get the impression she’s twentyish years old, or at least in her late teens – basically, an age where parenting might be less about protecting and more about letting go.

CDPR handles this theme in a way that in some ways is very clever, but in others can lead to players feeling like they’ve been treated unfairly. Basically, at several points in the second half of the game there’ll be a scene – which seems innocuous at the time – in which Geralt is given the choice of either being protective or solicitous towards Ciri somehow, or backing off and letting her act on her own. (The choices don’t all cleave along that particular line, but

For example, in one instance, Ciri is frustrated after the battle at Kaer Morhen, and storms off, and Geralt has the choice of following her or giving her privacy to deal with her feelings on her own. In another, Ciri is to meet several members of the Lodge of Sorceresses. Geralt, knowing that the Lodge has their own agenda and can be manipulative, can either accompany Ciri or allow her to face it alone.

The wrinkle that isn’t revealed to the player until much later (the end of the game, really) is that each of these decisions affects how Ciri’s character develops, and how well-equipped she is to handle a certain challenge that she has to face alone. This, in turn, determines whether you get one of the “good” or “bad” endings.

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Grand Theft Auto V: We Need To Talk about Trevor

By Shamus Posted Thursday Oct 4, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 104 comments

I think I get what the writer is trying to do with Trevor. And to a certain extent, I think they succeeded. The writer is trying to alleviate the case of ludonarrative dissonance the series suffers from. The story tells us one thing, and the mechanics tell us the opposite. This dissonance peaked in GTA IV, and here in GTA V the designer is finally taking some steps to smooth this out.

On one hand the story is telling us that the protagonist is a generally sane and reasonable criminal and not a mass-murdering supervillain. But then all of the mechanics, the missions, and the player’s own desire to have fun work against this, turning our otherwise relatable protagonist into a madman. Even if we ignore the player’s behavior in the the open world and their crazy driving, the scripted missions themselves require the player character to kill literally hundreds of people. That would be fine, except the cutscenes then depict the character as a much more grounded person. And that would be fine if this was some absurd romp, but the cutscenes usually demand that we take this melodrama seriously.

But Shamus, you don’t have to overthink this. Just understand that the story and gameplay are separate, or that gameplay is exaggerated for the sake of fun.

Yeah, that’s what ludonarrative dissonance is. We have to mentally compartmentalize parts of the experience because they don’t quite fit together. Dissonance doesn’t mean “automatically bad”, but a work where all the elements are in harmony is often better. It’s fine if you can enjoy the gameplay and the cutscenes despite the harsh seams between them. I usually do. But it’s frequently distracting. It can also cause confusion when we find ourselves in the semi-scripted gameplay moments when it’s not clear if the content in front of us is taking place using the movie logic or the gameplay logic.

Trevor doesn’t fix this problem, but he does mitigate it.

This is usually portrayed as a conflict between gameplay and story, but you can also think of it as a conflict between the designer and the audience. The player wants to play with all of these systems and enjoy the empowerment of running rampant in this simulated world. The writer wants to take a bunch of scenes out of different Scorsese movies and string them together into a crime drama mixtape. They want the player to inhabit this story as one of the characters, and not as an outsized god of mischief. The player wants chaos and the writer wants restraint.

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