Hitman Absolution EP10: Deputy Weld

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Apr 1, 2015   87 comments

Link (YouTube)

Behold! The first-ever episode of Spoiler Warning you can watch in glorious 60fps. To be honest, it looks the same to me. But people with younger eyes and faster brains will probably appreciate it. This is probably the biggest step up in quality since we moved to HD during the Fallout 3 season. Thanks to everyone who is supporting Spoiler Warning on Patreon. That money goes to Josh, and he spent it on the PC upgrades to make this happen. So we all win, really.

Or would be, if we weren’t playing this game.

I know we’ve been faulting this Hitman game for not having enough man-hitting, but the game isn’t very strong even when it finally stops screwing around and allows for the hitting of various mans. It’s been a while since I played the other games (and as I’ve said before, I’ve never finished any of them) but the hits in this game come off as infantile and patronizing. Just wander around and pull all the levers you find, move all the objects, and sabotage all the things. Your targets will kill themselves without you needing to think or plan.

But savor these hits, because it’s going to be a long time before we get any targets again. (And longer still before we get to interact with anyone germane to the plot.)

On the upside, this game is a lot more fun to mock than it is to play.

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April First

Notices   By Shamus   Apr 1, 2015   109 comments

April Fools day kind of has two faces: There’s the “prank lies” face and there’s the “do something silly” face. The prank lies are the things where a news site will falsely announce that Half-Life 3 is released, Obama is going to be in the next Call of Duty, or that id Software is working on a licensed Dirty Dancing videogame. The “something silly” idea is where people metaphorically put on a silly hat for the day.

I do not like the prank lies. Either the lie is just a little too plausible and thus confusing or annoying, or it’s not plausible enough and it’s just dumb and pointless. All too often the punchline seems to be laughing at all the “dumb” people who fell for it: As if trusting usually reliable sites is some kind of character flaw. If they don’t have April Fools day in your country, or if you lose track of the date, then you become the butt of the joke. This is just no fun.

But I do kind of enjoy the obviously silly stuff. For those of you reading this in the archives or via RSS: As of this writing the site is decorated with a huge “My Little Pony” backdrop. (For posterity, I’ve used a smaller version of the image as the header of this post.)

Although, now that I’ve seen it: I do like the idea of having a large fixed image in the background. I mean, not this one, obviously. But something might be nice. I feel like I’m getting tired of these dice. Or maybe having an image that changes weekly or monthly might be worthwhile.

Anyway, this post is just your friendly reminder to be careful out there today. Beware the fools and mountebanks.

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Experienced Points: So Who Is DRM For Anyway?

Escapist   By Shamus   Mar 31, 2015   94 comments

Yes, we’re talking about DRM again. To a certain extent, I realize this is a bit like complaining that the view outside of your jail cell kind of sucks. The DRM argument is essentially over. Our games are already linked to Steam / Origin / Games for Windows Live / UPlay / Whatever. The ownership argument has been over for years. From here on it’s just a matter of degrees. The publishers say, “We both agree the game belongs to us. Now let’s talk about what we allow you to do with it. And when we say ‘talk’ what we mean is, ‘agree to this EULA and leave us alone’. Thanks for being a customer. We love gamers and video games.”

I know the argument is over, but once in a while you need to drive by and chuck a brick through the window to let ‘em know you’re still mad. So that’s what we’re doing this week.

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Hangout: Bloodborne

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 30, 2015   49 comments

Link (YouTube)

Here is the capture of the stream from last weekend. This is a local recording that Josh made, so it should be in HD and not in Mush-O-Vision like Twitch likes to serve. Also, it won’t be deleted in a couple of days, which is something else Twitch likes to do.

I really like doing these. It’s nice to be able to interact with the audience while the thing is going on. If Twitch wasn’t outrageously stupid, they would allow you to keep some streams. Also, they ought to archive the chat so you can watch the stream along with the comments as they appeared. I try to read off the comments as I respond to them, but it’s not the same as you being able to see them for yourselves.

Thanks to everyone who joined in. Be sure to bug JoshSince he’s not on Twitter, doesn’t have a blog, doesn’t use Facebook, and his email isn’t public, I have no idea how you can do this. if you want us to do it again.

Considering the central gameplay, the loading screens in Bloodborne are absolutely unforgivable.

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Hangout March 29: It’s OVER!

Notices   By Shamus   Mar 29, 2015   40 comments

EDIT: Thanks for showing up! The archive ought to go up later this week!

Come hang out with us and watch Josh die over and over again in a way that – if we’re being totally fair – he probably deserves. The stream is here.

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Hitman Absolution EP9: Bald Shootlots

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 28, 2015   94 comments

Link (YouTube)

I made fun of the game for having a gunstore willing to put firearms on display when they have these massive suppressors attached. That was a silly thing to comment on. There are so many egregiously wrong things with this story that we really don’t have time to waste on tiny trivialities like that.

But it does sort of make me wonder about the use of suppressors. I’ve used firearms a couple of times in my life, and boy howdy are they loud. Even with proper ear protection. Movies don’t do them justice. If movie shootouts were at all realistic, everyone would stand around after the fight doing this.

So I wonder why more people don’t use suppressors on the firing range. I’m well aware that in the real world they don’t magically make a handgun sound like a blowdart, but even shaving off a few decibels would help a lot. Maybe it’s the expense. Maybe it’s the legality. Maybe it would interfere with the ballistics too much. Maybe it’s just not practical. I honestly have no idea.

Anyway, I’m totally fine with suppressors being 100% legal, easily available, and supernaturally effective in the Hitman universe. This is absolutely the type of compromise my brain is willing to make. On the other hand, having “The Agency” be a massive paramilitary force with thousands of soldiers, massive funding, no accountability, with a control room that looks like NASA? Not so much.

So the bossman demands 47’s head on a platter. Jade responds that maybe they should look for the girl. Boss replies that that’s not needed, because 47 will “know where she is.” But… didn’t you just gave the order to kill him?

Did the writer have some kind of short-term memory damage?

Why is the town of Hope stuck in the 50’s? 50’s cars. 50’s music. 50’s haircuts. Letter jackets for all the gang members. They’ve even got a huge barbershop that would have been too big for a town this size even when places like this were in their heyday. In another game I’d assume this was a stylistic choice, but here I’m going to assume it’s for the same reason that nothing makes sense: The writers really didn’t know or care.

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Hangout March 29

Notices   By Shamus   Mar 27, 2015   26 comments

We’re going to be doing a hangout this Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Josh will be playing that whimsical little journey into friendship and laughter, Bloodborne. We will be watching him make friends with the inhabitants of that fairy-tale land.

The stream begins at 3pm Eastern US time. If you live in one of the civilized places in the world that doesn’t do the stupid Daylight Saving Time nonsense, then here is a timer to the stream so you don’t have to convert from Stupid Time to Actual Time:

The stream will be here when it goes live.

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Windows 8, A Broken Monitor, and Other Things That are Strange

Rants   By Shamus   Mar 27, 2015   69 comments

This isn’t really a rant, although I’ve filed it under “rants” just so it fits in the continuity with the related events. This probably doesn’t mean much to you, but people exploring the archives years from now will likely appreciate it. You’re welcome, people of the future. If you figure out how to reply, we’d love to know how things turned out with Half-Life 3. Thanks!

You may remember a few weeks ago I installed Windows 8. In fact, it looks like today is the three-week anniversary of using it. How would I rate the Windows 8 experience? Meh. I am indifferent. It’s not nearly as infuriating as I expected.

About once every three days I accidentally shove my mouse into the corner of the screen and open some useless bullshit I don’t want, but that problem hasn’t annoyed me hard enough to convince me to go looking for how to turn it off. I haven’t seen the Metro interface in days. This basically feels like Windows 7 with a way faster search. (I could never figure out why prior versions had such glacially slow file search. Windows 8 is basically in the same ballpark as Linux now, when it comes to looking for stuff on your hard drives.)

The big mystery was the failed monitor. You might remember that right in the middle of installing Windows 8, my monitor failed and a single vertical line of pixels turned on and never turned off again:

The red line of sad-making.

It was an AOC monitor. I’ve thought of AOC as an “off-brand” monitor. Maybe some kind of dark horse newcomer? I dunno. I’d never owned one before and the name wasn’t familiar. But as I write this post I discover the company has been around since 1967.

I got the monitor because it was a little cheaper than the alternatives and I figured at this point monitors are all basically interchangeableMy aging eyes aren’t good enough to appreciate super-precise colors or refresh rates above 60Hz., so why pay extra? Obviously I’m really regretting that now.

The monitor was just a little past the Amazon return date, but still under manufacturer warranty. So I RMA‘ed it, which I’ve never had to do before. I got a replacement a little over a week later, which I understand is lightning fast by the standards of this sort of thing. On the downside, my replacement monitor was even more broken than the one I sent them. It does this:

Continue reading »

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Hitman Absolution EP8: Vicar is Quicker

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 26, 2015   103 comments

Link (YouTube)

We could spend a lot of time covering all the ways in which Birdie doesn’t make sense. His short-term actions don’t make sense and his long-term goals aren’t clear. But the way he’s constantly scheming makes it feel like he’s got a plan. He uses the guns and the notes and drops hints and it all has the rhythm of a movie where one fast-talker in the style of Verbal Kint is playing everyone.

But it never goes anywhere. His plans don’t actually make sense or lead to any sort of narrative or thematic payoff. It’s just a bunch of rambling bullshit. But I actually think it could have worked. If the rest of the game had been even halfway competent we would have been theorizing on what Birdie was doing instead of just assuming he’s yet another brute-force plot device. A story doesn’t need to make 100% sense. But it does need to make some sense, and at the right time.

Speaking of dumb things that make no sense:

  1. A biker bar where the bouncers try to keep you from reaching the point where you can buy drinks?

  2. Even though nobody here knows who 47 is or has any reason to be suspicious of him, the bouncers all try to “arrest” you anyway.
  3. And then pull guns. On a patron. Dressed sort of like a priest. Who hasn’t done a damn thing wrong. And then attempt to gun down a civilian in their own establishment.
  4. But once you do reach the bar, you can beat the crap out of the bartender without repercussion.
  5. Still not a Hitman level. No assassination target.
  6. How does pulling the switch begin a brawl? There was no reason for it.
  7. More importantly: There’s no way for you the player to anticipate that pulling the switch would start a brawl. That’s not a puzzle solution or a reward for lateral thinking. That’s just pulling a lever like a good little videogame monkey.
  8. The changes to the disguise system would be so much more forgivable if the game wasn’t full of levels like this, which seem designed to highlight all the flaws.
  9. What’s the deal with the gun store owner? He bought the guns, then refuses to sell them (isn’t he running a business?) but then offers them to you if you can out-shoot his daughter? Why did they bother voicing and animating this walking contrivance? Just replace him with a World of Warcraft style quest maker.

It was actually a revelation to me that this is the same team that did the earlier Hitman games. I mean, it’s right there in the title screen. IO Interactive. It just never occurred to me that this might be the case. What could possibly have happened here? This is like a world where Metroid Prime and Other M were made by the same team. It’s like if
Anne McCaffrey followed up her Pern books with The Eye of Argon. Everything here feels wrong. Even ignoring the almost constant failures of logic and basic storytelling, this feels like a Hitman game by people who never really played or understood Hitman. The tone is wrong. The themes are wrong. The setting is wrong. The characters are wrong. Even the gameplay is wrong.

I guess there were six years between Blood Money and Absolution. That’s a long time in game years. But still.

They’re working on another Hitman game. I still can’t escape the notion that all these problems are the result of one complete hack who was given too much power, because it seems unlikely that an entire team could all be this remarkably inept. (Particularly since they apparently made serviceable Hitman games in the past.)

Can the team self-correct? I’m perversely looking forward to the next Hitman game to see how it turns out.

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Hitman Absolution EP7: Get Thee to a Punnery

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 25, 2015   77 comments

Link (YouTube)

This game is a master class in why developers need to stop pretending to be moviemakers. The moment when 47 is approaching the elevator is a great example of a dev mindlessly aping the language of cinema without understanding why or how those techniques originally worked.

In a movie, this is a source of tension and dramatic irony. We (the audience) know the elevator is a threat. The character in the story doesn’t. The suspense comes from our anxiety over whether they will figure it out in time. The scene specifically requires that the audience and the protagonist have differing knowledge. Outside of a railroading cutscene, this is not possible in a videogame because the audience controls the protagonist.

Either you realize the danger and avoid it easily with no suspense, or you don’t realize the danger and get an abrupt game over. Either way, this situation can’t work here the way it works in a movie.

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Errant Signal – Life is Strange (Spoilers)

Movies   By Shamus   Mar 25, 2015   29 comments

Link (YouTube)

I understand the thinking behind episodic games. Like Chris says in the video: It’s like a mini-series or a season of a TV show. It makes a lot of sense to release games like this. It especially makes sense for low or mid-budget titles that don’t have a lot of marketing money. If you release the whole thing at once, the game will come and go in a few weeks. No matter how good it is, once it’s over, it’s over. But if you release it in episodes then the conversation keeps going. The game can stay fresh and relevant for months.

Even better, the team is able to make adjustments based on community feedback without needing to do slow and expensive Valve-style playtesting. If the writer puts in the funny throwaway character Maurice into episode one and the internet turns him into a meme, the devs can react to that. Maybe give Maurice some additional screentime in the later episodes. Or if players really hate him, then pull him from future episodes. Or tone him down.

I certainly can’t judge. Nearly everything I do here is or was part of a series. The Diecast. Spoiler Warning. Good Robot. DM of the Rings. Every programming series. Every let’s play. If I put up 10k words all in one day, it’s too much. Some people will hit the back button because they don’t have that kind of time and were just looking for something to read over their coffee break. Even among those that do read it, there will likely be some skimming. And there’s no way we could do the whole 10k novella justice in the comments. Lots of stuff will be glossed over. And then I don’t have any content for the next 9 days, because I’m writing the next 10k epic.

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Experienced Points: SimCity vs. Cities: Skylines – Who Wins?

Escapist   By Shamus   Mar 24, 2015   56 comments

The more I think about Cities: Skylines, the more delighted I am at how it turned out. But I didn’t want to spend an entire article just gushing about the game. So instead I did a compare & contrast between Cities: Skylines and SimCity 2013. Spoiler: This comparison is not remotely fair and I don’t even feel bad.

And yes, this leads into more EA bashing. (I’m sure you saw that coming.) I’m not as angry as I might sound in the article. I’m actually just sad. The people at Maxis gave us four wonderful Simcity games before 2013, and they absolutely could have given us a fifth.

There’s a usual defense for when an EA game turns out poorly. “This is what the developer wanted to do! You can’t blame EA!” While none of us can really know what was said or done internally, I do find it implausible that so many innovative and creative peoplePeople who have invented entire genres of games!, once they are free of the immediate money pressure of being independent, suddenly decide that their heart’s desire is to make their beloved franchises into forced-online DLC vending machines. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying it doesn’t sound like the most likely of explanations.

I am reminded of the TUN video on BioWare:

Link (YouTube)

Just so you don’t have to watch the whole thing: I’m talking about the part of the video where he points out how company values inevitably permeate downward through the layers of the company. If you’re looking to advance your career (and who isn’t?) then you’re going to do things that you believe will please your boss, and your boss will ask for things that will please their boss, and so on. This is why I’m always trying to push the blame uphill.

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