Final Fantasy X Part 1: Favorite Fantasy

By Shamus
on Jun 9, 2016
Filed under:
FFX

199 comments

Final Fantasy X came out on Steam this year. I hadn’t played it in a decade. I wasn’t sure if the game was as good as I remembered, or if I was suffering from long-term nostalgia distortion. I changed careers in the last decade, moving from programming to writing about videogames. (And also still programming.) The indie revolution happened. Today I spend more time playing more games, and more time pondering them after the fact. As a result, probably half of the games I’ve played in my life, I’ve played in the last decade.

Naturally I wondered: If I revisited FFX, would I see it differently? It’s possible that my initial perception of Final Fantasy X was hopelessly warped, or simply out of sync with my tastes and standards as they exist in 2016. The only way to know for sure was to play it. So I did.

I discovered that the good parts were better than I remembered and the bad parts were worse. My initial take on the game was basically correct, but now I think I’m better at drilling down and figuring out why the various parts did or didn’t work.

I’ll do my best to explain things to those who haven’t played the game, but this series is primarily aimed at people who are already familiar with the material. Obviously I’m going to be spoiling everything.

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Fallout 4 EP4: First Deathclaw in Space

By Shamus
on Jun 8, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

170 comments


Link (YouTube)

It seems like everyone has a different story about how the Deathclaw encounter went wrong because the game designer expected the player to read their mind (or the script?) and know what they were supposed to do to make the scene work. Everyone has it turn kind of shitty and underwhelming in a different way. I imagine it worked best on people like me, who watched the E3 demo and knew what they were “supposed” to do. It’s an awful, contrived, muddled scene that somehow manages to be both hand-hold-y and vague.

I think Rutskarn is right, in that the next most obvious thing to shave off the experience to make it more “mainstream” is to get rid of carry weights. I’ve heard a lot of players express an interest in exactly this. They assume their goal is to pick an area clean. But you can’t carry everything at once. So you fill yourself to capacity, fast-travel to your base, store all the items, fast-travel back, and repeat. If you’re playing this way then clearly the fast-travel is just a bunch of useless loading screens and busywork.

But getting rid of carry weights would lead to a slippery slope of “streamlining”:

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Ruts vs. Battlespire CH11: Arach That Won’t Quit

By Rutskarn
on Jun 8, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

50 comments

I learned some useful lessons from the last labyrinthine expanse of killpits and misery-chasms I was purposelessly trapped in. Firstly, a mechanic that shows you where you’re going to jump doesn’t make sense in a game with lots of jumping puzzles unless that mechanic turns out not to work, in which case it makes the worst kind of sense. Secondly, I should start checking my map more often.

The red stuff is lava, which is why the last level`s map was just a cherry-red smear.
The red stuff is lava, which is why the last level's map was just a cherry-red smear.

Without as many elevation changes and overlapping tunnels, this level’s map approaches usable. The trick is to point yourself like a torpedo at any suspiciously blank parts and once you arrive, aggressively frisk every piece of scenery and lootbag there until a hidden door skulks open or a teleporter kicks in or a candlestick asks a riddle or some other whimsical dungeon bullshit.

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This Dumb Industry: Mass Effect Andromeda

By Shamus
on Jun 7, 2016
Filed under:
Column

153 comments

So my Mass Effect series has ended. In the final entry I wanted to look at where BioWare and the Mass Effect series are headed, but it didn’t seem appropriate to conclude a retrospective with so much speculation. So let’s have that conversation now.

The ending to Mass Effect 3 blew up the entire setting. Whether you liked it or not, it made it impossible for any author to continue from that point. Shepard’s final choice completely changed life in the galaxy. The story is vague about how it all turned out and what exactly the different endings mean, and there’s no way you can stick another game in the aftermath of the Reaper invasion without nailing down some specifics. Doing that would mean making clear many things that were – for good or for ill – deliberately left vague.

Yup. This galaxy is totaled. Write it off and build a new one.

Yup. This galaxy is totaled. Write it off and build a new one.

So making a direct sequel would mean building the next game atop a vague branching ending that many hated and was riddled with confusing contradictions. That’s no way to begin a new story. What’s interesting here is that this is the opposite of what I’d expect from a company being turned into another EA sequel mill:

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Diecast #153: Hitman, Uncharted 4, Wasted

By Shamus
on Jun 6, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

111 comments

It’s just Chris and I this week. Enjoy this more subdued, less interrupt-y episode of the Diecast.


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

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Shamus, Campster.

Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


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Shamus Plays LOTRO 15: A Quagmire

By Shamus
on Jun 5, 2016
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

41 comments

I spent most of yesterday in the reeking swamp of Frogmorton. I did a couple of jobs there but was driven away by the smell and lack of work. After that I continued my general eastward push and found myself a spot by the river where I proceeded to spend the next several hours washing myself, my clothes, and my pie collection in the river. I don’t know that I’ve actually gotten the stench out, but it’s at least mild enough that I’m willing to start breathing on a regular basis again.

HOBBITS GONE WILD!

HOBBITS GONE WILD!

The underwear is really odd in this game. Being set in the super-tame Tolkien universe, they couldn’t very well put the guys in boxers and the ladies in thongs like they do in most fantasy games. So the underwear is actually really elaborate and colorful and not at all revealing. You’ll have to play the game yourself if you want to see it, though. I’ll bet I’m not the only person to strips down in fantasy games just to see how they handled the undergarments.

Once clean, I march eastward some more and find myself in the town of Budgeford, which should be named “Why the Hell Don’t We Build a Bridge”-ville.

On top of the hill is a row of houses, which is where we`re headed. If I turned left I`d be looking out over a vast expanse of swamp. I sure hope I don`t have to go in there!

On top of the hill is a row of houses, which is where we`re headed. If I turned left I`d be looking out over a vast expanse of swamp. I sure hope I don`t have to go in there!

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Drunkens and Flagons

By Rutskarn
on Jun 4, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

72 comments

Pretty soon in my GMinar series I’ll be talking about one-shot systems, which are so indispensable to the RPG community and its survival that it’s shocking how few tabletop gamers bother with them. For those with only a passing familiarity with roleplaying, let me sum up the medium’s history in a nutshell: old-school, traditional roleplaying games were made by and for 0ld-school, traditional nerds and are mirrors of the sorts of things that get old-school traditional nerds’ gears turning. Most are built to simulate a particular setting to a satisfying, comprehensive, and tactically complex level of fidelity. These rules tend to intersect with each other all the way down; if you start making a character for one of these games while grandma’s defrosting the turkey, you might just be ready to play by dinnertime, and that character’s only going to be making use of a small portion of the rules you’ll eventually require. Plenty of people did and do make characters in these systems that are only intended to be used once, but considering the amount of work–and the amount of useless information you have to establish about a very short-lived character–it always feels lavish and inefficient.

But these days, players have a lot of options. Among the least simulationist, complex games fall what I call one-shot systems. The hallmark of a one-shot system is that it’s designed for solitary, self-contained stories that begin and end in one comfortable sitting. Ideally these games can be explained to players, set up, and run in the same amount of time it takes to explain the basics of a more complicated RPG. Such games are great for parties, for getting people into roleplaying games, and for trying new things without committing to something potentially tedious.

I’ve devised one such one-shot game called Drunkens and Flagons. The game is flashy, casual, and relatively simple; my rules explanation is about 800 words long and pretty comprehensive. Since I’m mostly going to be talking about more complicated, long-term games in my GMinar series, I thought this might serve as a useful point of comparison.

Without further ado:

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Fallout 4 EP3: Sturges? Tell Him.

By Shamus
on Jun 3, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

217 comments


Link (YouTube)

(Sorry about the janky framerate in these episodes. We have three more coming that were recorded in the same session. But the following week we’ll have this smoothed out. I find it’s actually easier if you watch the show at 1.25 speed. For whatever reason, that makes the jagged frames less annoying.)

Preston Garvey is a disaster of a character. He’s designed to be “safe”. He’s friendly, welcoming, and inoffensive. The problem is that:

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Fallout 4 EP2: The Apocalypse Builds Character

By Shamus
on Jun 2, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

257 comments


Link (YouTube)

My take on Fallout 4: I think the voiced protagonist is the One Bad Decision from which most of the major flaws in this game originate. When my character spontaneously says things without my input or consent, the writer is kind of making a contract with me: I’m designing a specific character for you, so I’ll handle the characterization. And then they fail to follow up on that. My character’s voice is there to intrude on my internal attempts at roleplaying, but there’s not enough of it to form an interesting character with a personality and a proper arc. So the protagonist either has a shift personality as the writer and I play tug-of-war over them, or they have no personality at all.

But then the protagonist is voiced, and individual lines of dialog are often given some emotion. But I’m the one choosing these lines, and I’m doing so using vague prompts. I have no way of knowing what my character will say when I click on “Agree”, and even if I get a mod to reveal the text, I still can’t tell how the line will be delivered. The game designer is pretending to allow me to roleplay, but they haven’t given me the ability to make informed decisions. So my dialog ends up being wildly inconsistent.

In other news:

After playing through the introduction, my daughter came downstairs and said, “Dad, did you ever notice how there’s a bunch of Mr. Handy Fuel? Like, in your house at the start of the game?”

“Yes”, I said guardedly.

“So that means Codsworth needs fuel, right?”

I nodded knowingly.

“SO HOW IS HE STILL WORKING TWO HUNDRED YEARS LATER?”

I sighed. “He’s not just working, but he’s been HOVERING for two hundred years. Also, he claims he’s spent the whole time taking care of your house. And yet the place is totally trashed and hasn’t felt the touch of a broom in decades.”

Esther went wide-eyed with frustration. “Just… what… are they DOING?”

I’m so proud of her.


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Mass Effect Retrospective 50: The Final Affrontier

By Shamus
on Jun 2, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

276 comments

Now that the Star Child has explained his nonsensical purpose of solving a problem by perpetrating the same problem on an even grander scale, he asks Shepard to pick a new solution from three available choices. I don’t know why. Even if we accept the idea that mass cyclic genocide is an appropriate solution to the allegedly inevitable conflict between synthetics and organics, Shepard has done nothing to suggest he’s worthy or knowledgeable enough to participate in this decision. To the Star Child, he’s just a wounded meatbag soldier that crawled in here.

Also: All of the three solutions result in Shepard’s death.

If the Star Child really believes that his solution is no longer working and that he needs a new one, and if he really believes that Shepard is the guy to make this decision, then why do the Reapers continue to press the attack? Why not stop the assault while Shepard mulls it over? Why doesn’t Shepard ask for more time, or if he can use one of his lifelines to call a friend? Arrogantly making unilateral life-and-death decisions on behalf of the galaxy is what the Reapers stand for, not Shepard.

The Star Child has no good reason to be killing organics. But if we pretend he does, then he has no reason to think that Shepard showing up should change that reasoning. But even if he did, there’s no reason to think that Shepard should be the one to decide on a new solution. But if he was, then shouldn’t he come up with a solution on his own, instead of picking from A, B, or C? But even if it makes sense for the Star Child to provide the choices, there’s no given reason to constrain the choices to these particular three thingsFor example, why can’t Shepard destroy ONLY the Reapers and not the Geth? If you’re giving Shepard all the power, then why can’t Shepard just TELL you to have all the Reapers fly into the sun without him needing to kill himself first?. But even if that made sense, there’s no reason Shepard needs to kill himself to make these choices happen. And even if that were true, there’s no reason for Shepard to believe that any of these things are true.

Sure, you can come up with your own justifications for a few of these. You can extrapolate if you want. Maybe if you glue on enough fan-fiction you can get through this scene. But this is the big reveal at the end. The writer tied the whole universe in knots to to make this moment happen, and the big reveal at the end is actually a fill-in-the-blanks homework project. The whole thing is just so nakedly arbitrary.

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Fallout 4 EP1: Lore Never Changes

By Shamus
on Jun 1, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

179 comments


Link (YouTube)

In this episode we argued if it had been 3 or 4 years since the last time we played Fallout on the show. We were ALL wrong. We covered New Vegas FIVE YEARS AGO.

We’re playing a lot of Fallout 4 around here these days, which is giving me a first-hand look at the radically different ways people approach this game:

My son Issac (14) is not a roleplayer. He plays Fallout 4 because he likes finding legendary items, killing legendary creatures, and collecting suits of power armor. Doesn’t care to mess with mods. (His other two big games are Terraria and Borderlands 2.) He’s only ever made one character (named Issac) who is the default male character. He’s level 68 right now, which I didn’t even know was possible.

My daughter Esther (16) is a roleplayer. She gets getting mods for more customization options. She likes making characters and building houses, like she’s playing a first-person version of the sims where you sometimes need to murder the neighbors.

I continue to play as I always have: Tons of mods, permadeath, and ignore the main quest in favor of collecting comic books. I’m still playing female characters based off the same base save from 2015, since I haven’t worked up the energy to sit through the intro again.

In the episode I said the intro is “perfunctory, but not short”. It’s not long enough or in-depth enough to build a strong attachment to these characters, but it is long enough to get in the way of the fun. And even if the writing had more punch, this engine is terrible at melodrama. The stiff facial expressions. The stilted animations. The awkward pace of conversations where characters either pause too long before delivering their lines, or they talk over each other.

We’ll talk more about this as the series goes on, but this intro is pretty good at showcasing the upcoming problems with the game. I have many nice things to say about Fallout 4, but none of them are related to the main quest.

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Rutskarn’s GMinars CH5: Foundations, Continued

By Rutskarn
on Jun 1, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

33 comments

Designing Your Session

As I’ve mentioned, there’s no such thing as a “right” way to prepare a session. Some GMs like to plan down to the minute detail, some like to keep it broad and leave plenty of room for improvisation. I can’t tell you what’s going to work for you, but I can provide a couple broad genres of one-off gaming sessions and break down the most important elements of each. Then, in a future session, I’ll address these options in greater depth.

Type 1: The Classic Line

Or: The players encounter a dangerous problem. To get what they want, whether that’s treasure or survival or the answers to a mystery, they need to solve that problem. Doing so means solving other problems, one after another, until they finally get what they want. 

The Classic Line is by far the most common and crowd-pleasing kind of adventure. It’s particularly well suited to old-school games like Dungeons and Dragons which encourages players (through comparatively limited, combat-focused rules) not to think too far outside of the dungeon or puzzle room or battlefield they happen to have been led to.

Examples: The party is attacked by assassins, discover the killers were hired by an evil wizard, and must defeat the wizard in his tower to stave off future attacks. The party is paid to discover how a wealthy inventor was murdered, and in the process will face hitmen and the full fury of a technocratic conspiracy. A mysterious buyer offers a reward for anyone who can navigate a labyrinth and bring back the jeweled scepter within.

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