Diecast #161: Death Road to Canada, FTL, Starbound

By Shamus Posted Monday Aug 1, 2016

Filed under: Diecast 118 comments

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster.

Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:1:54 Death Road to Canada

Link (YouTube)

16:01 FTL has been updated and is more interesting now.

To clarify: The update is “new” in the sense of being new to me. It was actually released ages ago. (A couple of years, according to the comments.)

20:40 Josh goes on a rant about Adobe products and their bone-headed keymapping feature.

24:00 Scary games / Not Scary Games

33:19 Starbound

Link (YouTube)

52:34 Mailbag: Rutskarn’s made-up internet name.

Dear Rutskarn,

What is the proper pronunciation of your name? Your fellow casters call you Rut-skarn (or Butt-skarn) but when you introduce yourself when hosting you say Root-skarn.

Best Regards,

53:54 Mailbag: Details vs. Drama

Dear Shamus/Diecast,

In your Mass Effect Retrospective, you discussed details-first vs drama-first storytelling. However, you only spoke of this topic within sci-fi settings. Is it possible to tell a details-first fantasy story?

Thank you,


From The Archives:

118 thoughts on “Diecast #161: Death Road to Canada, FTL, Starbound

  1. Ninety-Three says:

    16:01 FTL has been updated and is more interesting now.

    You got my hopes up about a new update. Turns out you’re talking about the Advanced Edition, which came out over two years ago.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Really?Aawww man!

    2. Grudgeal says:

      Same here. Darn you all.

    3. DTor214 says:

      My thoughts exactly.

    4. Echo Tango says:

      It’s still a good game, though! I play it every once in a while, while I listen to podcasts. :)

    5. Philadelphus says:

      I started up Steam specifically to check if there was a new update out, since I loved all the new stuff from The Advanced Edition so much. Thanks for getting my hopes up, guys.

    6. silver Harloe says:

      It got my hopes up, too, but only for 17 minutes, since the first thing Josh said about it was that the patch was 2 years old.

    7. Andy_Panthro says:

      I was also disappointed.

      But I am also waiting for Star Command: Galaxies to be completed, which is a little bit FTL-like, but hopefully with much more freedom (the mobile version is quite linear, at least as far as I’ve managed to play it).


  2. Wide And Nerdy® says:

    Shamus, I don’t know how to break this to you, but Spoiler Warning went and recruited former Mayor Macready.

    Whats worse, you know about it because you mentioned it in the show notes for that episode. Even worse still, you’ve recorded the Spoiler Warning for this week already so you might have encountered him. I won’t know for sure till Wednesday at the earliest but I’ll be sure to fill you in as soon as I know.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

  3. Ninety-Three says:

    Re: a Cthulhu game that handles Cthulhu well:
    Consuming Shadow did a better job of it. The game tells you Cthulhu will come in 72 hours, and then it dumps you to the main screen which prominently features a button labeled “Kill yourself”. You can technically win, but it’s one of those learn-by-dying roguelites, and even if you win it’s a suitably Pyrrhic victory.

    I don’t think videogames can fundamentally do a really good Cthulhu though. The biggest challenge isn’t that Cthulhu can’t be fought, it’s that Cthulhu is supposed to be horrifying. Not jump-scare horrifying, or even genuinely good Amnesia horrifying, just knowing that Cthulhu exists fills characters with the kind of existential dread that drives them to suicide. If you tell the player “There’s an ancient god that’s going to kill everyone in this videogame”, they won’t be impressed by the scope of the god’s ancient power, and they won’t dread the destruction of the world. There isn’t even a way to subvert the normal badly-done-Cthulhu tropes, because nothing the author says can possibly convince the audience that this game won’t end with us winning a boss fight against God.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Didnt eternal darkness do psychological horror well?So technically it has already been done,only not with actual cthulhu.

      1. Thomas says:

        Darkest Dungeon is where it’s at for Lovecraftian horror.

        It has that flavour of your group of characters gradually falling into irrecoverable debauched madness as they gain power through experience. Any power they gain is tempered by a collection of addictions and crippling mental illnesses.

        I find it somewhat grindy because of the constant need to rotate characters in an out of treatment. And the animation pauses during the otherwise interesting ranked-line turnbased-combat begin to grate.

        But the concept and setting is cool. You uncle foolishly decided to dig for some powerful artifact in the basement of the family estate. Cue monsters. Uncle asks you to return to right what he has unleashed then kills himself. And you fight bandits, cultists, old-ones, pigmen, the undead, and eldritch horrors using a collection of hired help of various medieval/Victorian character classes.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But in darkest dungeon its the characters you manage that the game messes with and who lose their shit.In eternal darkness,its the player who the game messes with and who loses their shit.

          1. Ysen says:

            That’s not entirely true, if you make it to the end of Darkest Dungeon.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But in darkest dungeon its the characters you manage that the game messes with and who lose their shit.In eternal darkness,its the player who the game messes with and who loses their shit.

    2. Matt Downie says:

      Some problems with Cthulhu as a game boss:
      (1) In the original short story, Cthulhu is defeated (though not permanently killed) by driving a boat into him. He demonstrates no powers that would make him a threat to the military.
      (2) Cthulhu has become a meme, used more often for comedy than for horror.

    3. Fizban says:

      Essentially the only way to do a Cthulu game right is to have them playing a completely different game where they’re having fun and there’s no end in sight, then slowly reveal that you’re going to tear everything apart, kill all the characters they love, and delete their save file even if they stop playing. If they ragequit, congratulations, your character must have gone insane and/or killed themselves. If they play to the end, congratulations, you saw the end of the world and it wasn’t good.

      Optional: having been consumed by an eldritch abomination, this world no longer exists, so the game has been uninstalled and your unlock code and IP have been blacklisted.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        That’s why I said this though:

        There isn't even a way to subvert the normal badly-done-Cthulhu tropes, because nothing the author says can possibly convince the audience that this game won't end with us winning a boss fight against God.

        Putting aside the fact that more games than not fail at the prerequisite step of “Build a world the player really cares about”…

        Even if you were to mimic the one critical element of a Lovecraft story that no one ever mimics (the fact that the protagonist doesn’t know they’re in a Lovecraft story until act 3), I don’t think you could get an even slightly genre-savvy player to believe that you were really going to tear down everything they loved. They’ll just assume you’re hyping up the inevitable moment of beating God to death. They’ll only figure out that you meant it at the very end, when everything’s been destroyed, and then you haven’t created existential dread but a “Wait, seriously!?” twist.

        Maybe there’s an interesting story there, a Spec Ops-esque “You’re not the hero” deconstruction of expectations, but the expectations are too tightly coupled to the tropes to make it work as anything but a genre commentary.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          I think you could avoid the “Wait, seriously?” reaction, if you started destroying the world sooner. Like, maybe act 1 has the player(s) fighting what they think are vampires, or wolfmen, or whatever, then act 2 reveals that these aren’t actually those types of monsters and actually have a lot more teeth and tentacles. They keep fighting, but the battles get harder, and in act 3 you start mortally wounding them and killing off characters. In act 3, they start getting the choice of “Do you want to keep playing?”. If they say yes, keep going until they’re all dead or insane. If they say no, their characters have either fled in terror or gone insane. Either way, the player(s) now no longer have agency in the world, and you end the story with unstoppable cosmic horrors who are now definitely invading.

          1. Cinebeast says:

            You just literally described Bloodborne.

            Well, okay, not literally — even Bloodborne ends on a note of hopefulness, depending on which ending you get.

            EDIT: Whoops, someone else brings up Bloodborne below.

      2. Alex says:

        That’s called “fraud”. Knowingly misrepresenting your product to your customers is only acceptable practice if what you’re giving them is better than what they think they’re buying.

        1. Austin says:

          There’s always the opinion-based part of what is “better”, though.

    4. IFS says:

      I disagree that Cthulhu can’t be fought, the central premise of Lovecraft is not that the horrors can’t be fought but that they are great and uncaring towards humanity, and that they cannot be understood. Lovecraft’s horror stems from fear of the unknown coupled with the existential fear of an uncaring universe. Some of his more well known stories (including Call of Cthulhu and the Dunwich Horror) feature the eldritch monster being defeated, though the threat it represents remains.

      Now I do agree that Cthulhu is difficult to do in videogames, and that allowing the player to fight the horrors can weaken the impact of them but I disagree that Lovecraft is impossible because ‘you shouldn’t fight Cthulhu’.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        they cannot be understood

        The problem is that videogame fights are antithetical to this notion. They want to kill you with their melee attacks, their pathfinding works like this, they have that much health, and they take damage in exactly the same way as everything else. You might be able to fight Cthulhu narratively, but videogames are highly systemized, systems require knowledge and understanding, understanding is the enemy of fear. Cthulhu can’t be fought because that would make it just another fight, when Lovecraft’s monsters were supposed to be both incomprehensible and beyond us mortals.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          You could still do it, if you had the Cthulu monsters break some/most of the rules that normal monsters in your game follow. Like, zombies can be killed with a special weapon, or a decapitation, but the Cthulu monsters just come back from the dead after a couple turns/seconds. Or maybe they get to phase through walls that normally stop the wolfmen. Or they get to insta-kill you once you’re in melee range. They never stop, and continuously hunt your character at a slow pace. If you manage to outrun them, they start teleporting. Normal snake-monsters’ poison can be cured for a price, but Cthulu monsters’ poison(s) can only be delayed. Etc. :)

          1. Austin says:

            These things are supposed to be completely beyond mortal comprehension. If they can phase through walls you’ll just think “Alright, these guys phase through walls.” If they kill you instantly at melee range, you’ll think “Alright, I just have to stay away from them.” They still have rules. It is impossible to not have rules. Breaking rules just makes more.

            1. Echo Tango says:

              Breaking the rules means the player will be dead shortly. If the player still isn’t dead, just kill them. Period. The point of having more ways for the cosmic horror monsters to cheat isn’t to give the player a new puzzle to solve, it’s to kill the player. Note that every single one of my examples was escalating in severity. If you’re not killing them, and making them realize that they cannot win, you’ve failed at making a Cthulu game. The player should not want to pick up the game, because they know they’re not going to win, just delay their inevitable death.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Sure,but you can still have an illusion of “no rules” by making the rules hard to grasp.Great example is the controller thing of psycho mantis.Everyone knows about it now,but it was quite a hard rule to grasp back when it was new.And dont think that its impossible to make such things today,because undertale managed to do it with some if its things(like the whole sans battle).

        2. IFS says:

          The systems inherent to any video game do pose a problem to making a foe incomprehensible but only on a purely gameplay level and I think you can make a foe that comes across as unknowable on a story level if you try. Bloodborne is a great example of Lovecraftian themes in a video game so I’ll use that as an example for a way you can do some things right.

          Spoilers for Bloodborne Below:

          In Bloodborne you spend the first half or so of the game pitted against a very gothic horror setting. Werewolves, corrupt elite, and diseased angry masses make up the threats you face but the game also steadily hints that there is something more. You find odd statues and disturbing statues in a church, you make note of a steadily increasing insight stat that you don’t understand, and you might be briefly abducted by some sort of unseen cult lurking in the shadows.

          Then you reach Byrgenwerth and everything changes. You encounter Rom in a strange realm beneath a lake and the veil is lifted. Now suddenly you can see the grasping horrors hiding in plain sight, they were always there and maybe you even encountered them before but now you can see them. Various Nightmare realms open up as you progress and encounter ever more twisted horrors, leading into a question of how much of Yharnam itself is a Nightmare rather than reality.

          The ending is what really drives this home though as you return to the Hunter’s Dream which has been your safe home for the duration of the game. You approach Gherman who in some ways has been the gatekeeper of the truth of things, he knows more than you from the beginning and does not share it instead guiding you with occasional remarks and directions. He offers to free you from the Dream, and should you accept you awake in Yharnam in the morning once more blissfully ignorant of the Eldritch Truth you uncovered, you reject the knowledge of the Great Ones to avoid madness (and indeed Gherman’s reaction to you refusing his offer indicates that he thinks you’ve gone mad). Should you refuse you fight Gherman and eventually defeat him (or quit the game I suppose) you inherit his knowledge, a previously unseen (but hinted at) Great One descends and you are enraptured by it. You don’t understand it (though I’m sure the fandom has theories) and it drives you mad, it leaves you largely catatonic and taking the place of Gherman. Both of these endings seem to imply that the Hunt will continue, that even with all you accomplished there is an uncaring cycle that will go on.

          But there is another way, if you’ve gained enough insight through a series of items of rather disturbing origin your character (not you the player) has the knowledge and understanding to stand against this Great One. It is not incomprehensible to them and they are able to reject and defeat it and in doing so are changed. An important part of Lovecraft is how attempting to understand the unknowable changes people, often driving them mad but other times giving them access to dream realms and mysterious powers, and in this case your character is transformed both by their knowledge and their victory into another Great One. This is the only ending that seems to be implied to break the cycle but it replaces that existential horror with the fact that your character is no longer human, they’ve become something other that you no longer understand.

          Now you could argue that Bloodborne isn’t a horror game (though it is undeniably horror themed) due to its gameplay falling squarely into action RPG territory but I think it does an excellent job (though certainly not perfect) of incorporating Lovecraftian themes including such pivotal moments as that revelation of the eldritch truth. It also has some really interesting subversions of Lovecraft in other ways but I’ve already written more than enough on the subject.

        3. Veylon says:

          I don’t know. Chrono Trigger did a halfway decent job with Lavos. It’s clearly a threat, but what it is and why it does what it does remain mysterious throughout most of the game.

          1. Syal says:

            I think a proper Lovecraftian boss fight requires the monster be at significantly less than full power. Call of Cthulhu had Cthulhu just waking up, The Dunwich Horror killed the child monster before the true monster could be released, the one with the sleeping vampire had the vampire be asleep. So Lavos wouldn’t count because it’s at its most dangerous when the heroes kill it.

        4. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Nothing says that you have to fight cthulhu.Having a portal being opened while you fight the cultists and monsters in order to stop it would be enough.You can have an elder god slowly seeping into our world in various places by turning things trippy more and more,until you finally get to close that final portal where things get extremely trippy.But you never actually face the elder god,unless you are careless enough to approach the portal and get sucked into your gruesome death.

          1. JakeyKakey says:

            Pretty much how Hellboy (well BPRD to be more precise) does it.

            The world has been going through a Lovecraftian apocalypse for years now, with millions dead and entire countries wiped off the face of Earth. The GREAT OLD ONE that will bring about end of the world as we know it is still imprisoned/sleeping, but there’s dozens of his city-sized children running amok, driving people insane and mutating them into hideous monstrosities. Otherworldy supernatural entities speak of humanity getting wiped out and replaced by a new mutated race of ‘men’ as a given. Various factions still attempt to wake up or prevent the rise of the GREAT OLD ONE, but for every individual victory our heroes experience, you still see they’re gradually losing the war and things are not getting better. And even if they eventually do, majority of the world is already ruined.

            There’s more shades to Lovecraft than ‘Find out about Cthulhu, kill yourself as a result.’

    5. Echo Tango says:

      I’d argue that Consuming Shadow does about as good a job as you could reasonably expect. Canonically, when you die or start a new game, it’s just another instance in the multiverse, so you definitely already died. Plus, even when you “win”, you’re only pushing back the invading horrors temporarily.

      Plus, the game is just really fun. Everyone go buy it! :)

    6. Ciennas says:

      Old Man Henderson. Basically the Cthulu mythos filtered through a protagonist who’s actions would have him right at home in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.

      Look him up on d20 chan, I can’t do him justice here.

  4. Wide And Nerdy® says:

    Rutskarn slipped and accidentally explained it correctly.

    Rootskarn is correct. Ruttskarn is the correct way to pronounce his name wrong.

    As a corollary, Ratskurn is the wrong way to pronounce his name correctly and Mumbles is the right way to pronounce Rutskarn’s name when you’re talking about Mumbles.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      You’re saying that all these years I’ve been mispronouncing Rowtskarn wrong?

      1. Wide And Nerdy® says:

        Correct. Though to be fair, Rowtskarn is the correct to mispronounce Shamus’s name and the accepted way to misspell Rutskarn’s name correctly. Most people get that mixed up.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Wait,I thought rincewind was the wrong way to pronounce gandalf?

          1. Nope, Ridcully’s the wrong way to pronounce Rincewind, rather like mispronouncing Librarian as monkey.

              1. Wide And Nerdy® says:

                I don’t want to be that guy but your usage of “OOK” was proven invalid back in the 90’s. Now we say “Campster” or “Depression Truck” for short.

                I know people get tired of us pedants for pointing that out but its not hard to get it right.

                1. ehlijen says:

                  Hard to get right? I think you mean hard to get port-side, good chap.

                  1. Wide And Nerdy® says:

                    Correct. But I said “get IT right” which means Howard Stern.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      No,it should be Chris O’Dowd.

        2. Austin says:

          So, you’re telling me it isn’t Reetskarn. Reetskarn is how to pronounce Josh’s name wrong when you’re not talking about Reetskarn?

    2. Sunshine says:

      Wait, Rutskarn is actually Mumbles in disguise?

      1. Echo Tango says:

        No Buttskarn is Mumbles’ spirit animal’s dog’s owner’s cousin.

  5. Ninety-Three says:

    I’ve been playing games for my entire life, and it wasn’t until about age 20 that I realized “Wait a minute, have the cutscenes ever been good?” And at that point, unless I’m playing a game that I bought for the story, I became the asshole who skips every bit of dialog in the game. I don’t even give a chance to the opening cutscene or first NPC. I realized that it’s like sifting through fanfiction: Yeah, it might have a good story, but the odds of that are so low that even giving it a chance would be a waste of my time. I might as well dig for oil in my backyard.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      C&C and red alert had great cutscenes.

      1. Decius says:

        The Brotherhood of Nod mission briefing where you got a promotion really helped set the tone for the organization.

        1. Andy_Panthro says:

          I like the earlier (first?) cutscene: “From God, to Kane, to Seth, and now to you.” Really made you feel like you were starting at the bottom.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        They’ve got the correct amount of budget, mad-science, humor, and cheesiness to match any B-movie that became a cult classic. Plus, mission-1* cutscene of a military officer nailing their subordinate. :P

        * Edit: Hmm, I guess it was like, technically a couple missions later. Mission 1 only has them leaving the briefing room together. ^^;

      3. Falterfire says:

        Well, some of the C&C games at any rate. I decided to actually try the campaign for C&C 4 a couple days ago and boy was it terrible. Got about four missions in before I just couldn’t take it anymore because of the combination of weak gameplay and weaker story.

        The very first cutscene features a character who is your wife. The cutscenes are first person, which means the player character is you, and this actress – playing the character of your wife – speaks directly to the camera. There is no character customization. Are you anything other than a straight guy (other characters use explicitly masculine pronouns to refer to you)? Well, I’m afraid the writers couldn’t be bothered to account for your existence.

        And then, four missions in they kill the wife, presumably to force the player to have a personal “THEY KILLED MY WIFE” motivation. Based on the way they frame it, I assume she’s either not dead or the ‘good’ guys actually did it to motivate you or some other twist, but that was about the point where I decided that I definitely didn’t care enough to keep playing.

        The cutscenes were terrible and the story was dreck, but unlike other games they couldn’t be bothered to go over the top hammy with it, and so it was just an over-serious near future military story with subpar writing.

        (Now Red Alert…. Red Alert was amazing, and RA3 may not have been a perfect game but its cutscenes are some of the best in any game ever.)

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Im specifically talking about the first c&c and first red alert.No sequels for me,thank you.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            Yeah, the sequels were almost-as-good at best, and crap at worst… :S

            1. Andy_Panthro says:

              I really liked C&C2, can’t remember RA2, and RA3 was camp and silly but didn’t quite feel right.

        2. Sunshine says:

          The funny thing about the cutscenes with your wife in C&C4 is she’s trying to portray this relationship but an RTS avatar isn’t a character, which means she never refers to you by name and her beloved never makes any response at all.

          And then, four missions in they kill the wife, presumably to force the player to have a personal “THEY KILLED MY WIFE” motivation. Based on the way they frame it, I assume she's either not dead or the “˜good' guys actually did it to motivate you or some other twist, but that was about the point where I decided that I definitely didn't care enough to keep playing.

          I was curious enough to watch the cutscenes on YouTube, and your guess at the twist is correct – the GDI general is has a white-whale vendetta against Kane and wants you on the same page. On the other hand, if you play the NOD missions, the Commander’s wife lives to the end. The story is same either way, so it seems like the bad guy’s campaign is a marginally better ending

          1. Sunshine says:

            (Also, Red Alert 3 cutscenes are a dumb joy.)

    2. Matt Downie says:

      I’ve seen good cutscenes in Saints Row and Far Cry games, among others.

      If I think the cutscenes will be that bad, I don’t skip the cutscenes, I skip the game.

    3. Andy_Panthro says:

      The cutscenes for the first Max Payne were great, perfectly suited to the game.

      I recently replayed Dark Forces and DF2: Jedi Knight, and while the first game had basic and functional cutscenes, the second game has proper FMV stuff which is amazingly awful.

      My personal favourite are probably the Monkey Island 2 cutscenes, with Largo and Z.P. Lechuck.

  6. Grudgeal says:

    If you want a details-first fantasy story, hit up the Icelandic sagas sometime for a primer. Generally low on fantasy elements, of course, but let nobody say they’re not details-first in telling how events come to pass. The actual events and drama are described in extremely terse language while how the bad blood between the last five generations inevitably led to said events eat up about half the saga.

    1. djw says:

      Game of Thrones might fit the details first genre as well (the books at least, I have not watched the show). The deaths seem shocking mostly because they subvert drama first tropes.

      1. IFS says:

        I would very definitely define Game of Thrones as drama first as the entire thrust of the story comes almost exclusively from the interpersonal drama of the various characters. That is not to say that the world isn’t well detailed or the characters don’t have fully developed backstories tied into the history of the setting, in fact the story is very details heavy, but almost everything driving that story forward comes from the characters and many of the shocking deaths come as service towards further drama.

        Just as a few examples: Joffrey having Ned executed is shocking but serves to propel the story into the war that divides the realms. The Red Wedding serves as a dramatic endpoint to a section of that war but has its own fallout. Oberyn’s death similarly serves to kick off more drama in Dorne.

        While the world/history is very detailed and the drama draws from and references that it also has a lot of holes and vagaries. Much of the history is wrapped up in myths and legends that in universe are uncertain and beyond some symbolism (which again ties into the drama) the magic of the world isn’t carefully explained (this is good imo, it keeps the magic feeling like magic). That said I would say that it definitely has some of the best of both worlds as far as details first vs drama first goes.

        1. djw says:

          I would argue that your example fits the details first, rather than drama first. I grant that it was a very dramatic moment in the story, but:

          Ned’s discovery that Robert was not Joffrey’s father would have likely propelled the kingdom to war anyway. Robert’s brothers were already looking for an excuse. The politics surrounding Joffrey’s Kingship were already extremely unstable, and some sort of conflict was probably inevitable even without that big reveal.

          In general, I agree that the deep history of Westeros is somewhat vague and clouded in mystery. On the other hand, the politics are very detailed, and the character interactions follow the rules of the politics to their grim conclusions. Even the vague history of Westeros fits when you consider the important detail that real people often don’t know history very well.

          As an aside the execution actually serves to give us some important insight into Joffrey’s character that will be critical to understand his actions later. This serves the details first narrative, while at the same time providing the single most dramatic moment in the first book.

          1. IFS says:

            That’s very fair and I did sort of realize as I was writing my comment that you could go either way depending on what you consider details vs drama. I’d still consider it drama first but its definitely a work where you could go either way on what end of the spectrum you think it favors.

            1. djw says:

              Shamus coined the terms “detail first” and “drama first” to explain how a video game propels you into whatever scene you play through. Basically, they are two ways to answer the question: why am I doing this?

              Books are different, since you don’t take breaks between narratives to play a video game. I think that books can be character driven in a way that video games cannot be, because they don’t include the reader as an active participant. So our confusion over the terminology here may be due to the fact that detail driven and drama driven are not quite the right way to understand how a book plot develops.

              1. I’m not so sure, because the example he always uses is Star Wars vs. Star Trek, neither of which are originally games. I’d tend to favor GoT as details first because stuff happens because of clearly delineated background and relationships. It’s dramatic, sure, but that’s because any good piece of storytelling HAS drama. But since the goal of the story is to feel “historylike,” it does its best to establish all the moving pieces in a given conflict rather than boiling it down to singular oaths of vengeance or prophecy.

                Prophecy and destiny strike me as strong dividers between details first and drama first fantasy, because those are the plot elements that lean heaviest on the idea that things happen because of narrative cohesion. On the other hand, I’d consider the first two Witcher games to be definite details-first fantasy, and the third game delves into destiny without feeling out of place, so I guess it’s not a hard and fast rule.

                It’s a little tricky to delineate detail from drama in fantasy, because we usually divide it along lines of scale and theme – high fantasy versus low fantasy, Lord of the Rings vs. Conan the Barbarian.

                1. Starker says:

                  There are definitely areas where the dichotomy is more apparent, such as whether magic should have (clearly defined) rules. Games tend to err on the side of yes, because they usually also systemise it, but it’s a bit more contested in other media.

                  Here’s the Mrbtongue/TUN video for one take on it:


                  Of course, on the other side of it you have things like Vancian magic: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FunctionalMagic

            2. Loonyyy says:

              I think though, in the way that Shamus defined the terms, it’s a details first one. In fact, it’s one of the strongest possible candidates for it.

              Drama first stories are ones where things occur and work because they fit thematically and dramatically. The example he used being Star Wars. Luke destroying the Death Star doesn’t have a details reason for his success. It’s a thematic one. He’s learned that he needs to let go and trust in the Force, achieve peace, and now he’s at the right point in his “Hero’s Journey” to do it. Rey defeating Kylo Ren isn’t about martial prowess, sword forms and drills, or how much someone can bench press, it’s about characters, their arcs, and how it serves the dramatic and thematic purposes of the story. The Force ends up being a mechanism for telling the story in that regard. The Force actually is a great tool for analysis in this regard, because using the Force wisely correlates to a standard heroic character arc.

              Game of Thrones on the other hand doesn’t care about that, and fundamentally rejects that. It is a drama, but it’s a details first story. Ned doesn’t survive because he’s made honourable choices, or because he’s our protagonist, ostensibly our hero, because he’s made a hard choice, but the right one. Oberyn doesn’t survive because it would mean finishing his arc towards vengeance and finding peace, and in fact, what he’s done doesn’t matter, because Tywin doesn’t suffer and Gregor is even more useful dead. Going further would be too close to current spoilers territory, but there are only really two characters where the story looks towards drama first for any real period of time, and that’s Jon Snow and Daenerys, because they’re both exploring the Hero’s Journey archetype, but even there, it gets sidetracked by the details, Daenerys’ chapters become filled with Mereneese politics, and John has an extremely significant moment which involves all of the details of the story catching up to him and thwarting his heroic ambitions, which the reader is primed to agree with anyway.

              Especially in the case of the books, GoT is a details story. You may be there for the drama, but the story is not told using dramatic conventions, it’s told using details, and a part of the way that it’s written is that often characters are introduced slowly with details underneath the current drama on page.

        2. djw says:

          Actually, on a second read of your comment, I think we may just disagree about what counts as detail vs “a drama”.

          I agree with you that the interpersonal relations drive the entire story. However, it is the attention to the details of these relations that allows the story to work. This is not a retelling of the Hero with 1000 Faces. The character interactions matter, and there are an enormous number of interlocking details to remember as you follow their stories.

      2. Andy_Panthro says:

        I would call the GoT TV show drama-first, definitely. They prefer not to dwell on the details most of the time, for various reasons.

    2. Retsam says:

      My favorite example of details-first stories is Mistborn by Sanderson. It’s famous for having a very detailed and rules-based magic system; but more than that, it’s astounding the amount of world-building detail has been worked directly into the plot of the trilogy by the end of the third book, like the origins of all of its non-human races.

      1. Syal says:

        The Way of Kings/Stormlight Archive as well I’d say, though it’s far from finished. Sanderson likes his stories detail-oriented and mystery-driven.

        Although there’s a good bit of drama-based action scenes that feel like they would fit well in a JRPG.

      2. Joe Informatico says:

        Sanderson’s a really good example of a details-first fantasy author. He invests a lot of work into figuring out his magic systems to the point that his novels are stylistically more like science fiction than fantasy: the protagonists prevail through their mastery of the magic system, and rarely is there a deus ex machina or asspull.

        Sanderson’s not my personal cup of tea these days, but I’ll say this: he’s quite good at plot and character as well. I’ve read a few authors who are clearly Sanderson disciples but without his skill at plot and character, and they’re rough reading.

        I guess I’d say Max Gladstone is a details-first fantasy author as well. His plots are also highly dependent on the details of the world-building and magic systems. I don’t think he’s as precise as Sanderson, but I like his ideas and characters better. (Why does second-world fantasy have to be caught in this medieval/Renaissance timeframe? Why can’t you have a 21st century-ish Grisham legal thriller with god-utilities, necromancer-lawyers, lich-CEOs, and cosmopolitan city-states? Turns out you can.)

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Now I wish that someone DOES listen to the diecast on their xbone.

    1. Wide And Nerdy® says:

      Can either major console play audio from a separate source while playing a video game?

      1. Falterfire says:

        I know they talked about multi-tasking with the XBone during the reveal announcement, but I have no clue if that ended up being one of many features they backtracked on and/or failed to deliver as expected.

    2. SpiritBearr says:

      Used my PS4 when my laptop died last month. Switched to my phone when I couldn’t carry the sound from app to game.

  8. Hal says:

    I think The Dresden Files might count as details-first (urban) fantasy. Jim Butcher (the author) spends a lot of time in the books on how magic works, how each of the different supernatural creatures do their thing, etc.

    1. ZekeCool says:

      Not sure how you could reach this conclusion. While many details are provided, Dresden Files runs almost 100% on “Drama First” ideals. The magic system bends, breaks and suddenly has new or different applications based on the drama of it. Like Soulfire never being talked about or alluded to before becoming a huge Deus Ex Machina to save Harry from Thorned Namshiel.

      A better example IMO would be Sanderson, who is still more “Drama First” but when his magic systems pull out a twist they are heavily foreshadowed and come as a solid extrapolation of the other parts of his magic system interlocking in an unexpected way.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Starbound started in the wrong place.It sets you on this one planet and gives you a quest chain that in order to complete you have to mine all the way down to the lava layer,which is below the flesh layer(yes,flesh).And its boring.Because your tools are crap,and you cant make better tools because theres no tungsten around,and you cant spend your money on anything,and everything takes an hour to do.Its crap.

    But then you finally get to the hub and interact with other people,and can actually buy decent equipment,and can visit other worlds and mine for other things,and its fun.This is where the game shouldve started you.Because the way it is now you have to spend hours upon hours of doing boring stuff with boring tools and its just boring.

    Also,it does this stupid thing where there are some places where you can do missions,but you cant use any of your tools,because that wouldve actually been fun.No,you have to follow the preset routes and not bypass anything.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      Isn’t that what all crafting games are like? I decided I wasn’t interested in scavenging for twigs and gave up on the genre.

      1. Falterfire says:

        The bad ones, yes. The better ones know how to quickly move you past low-level menial tasks and on to the actually interesting parts of the game. Most have at least some period you spend standing next to a mountain trying to chop it down with the edge of your hand, but my favorites are always the ones that give you clear and simple goals for how to move past that and on to the power tools.

        As an example of the other extreme, I present Factorio, a game where you’ll likely mine a grand total of 20-30 ore by hand in your entire playthrough. You literally start the game with an automatic drill in your inventory.

        1. Veylon says:

          Another thing about Factorio: you can make more automatic drills right from the get go.

          A bizarre pitfall that I’ve run into with Empyrion and Fortresscraft is that they give you advanced stuff, but you can’t make more of it (at least not for a very long time) and you end up very tightly tethered to it’s limitations. It’s like if you started Minecraft with a furnace and a crafting table, but couldn’t build more of either one until you got blaze rods and God help you if you accidentally lost them in the meantime.

    2. Loonyyy says:

      Oh god yes, this. Plus, as the player, you know that your starting location is not going to necessarily matter, especially since you have a ship. You have no incentive to stay there, yet the game is designed in such a way that you’re basically required to build some sort of settlement.

      Also, somehow, despite using a spaceship and a teleporter, you can’t choose where you set down.

      It’s a bit better when you get going, but it sort of fails on the “in space” part, because your ship upgrades are linked to loot not building, and your piloting is automated. And somehow, despite being in a spaceship, your mining by going down personally and using poor tools to dig, and making ladders to get out.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is how you do details first fantasy:


    1. djw says:

      I don’t have the stamina to watch that whole thing. Was he speaking English?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Technically,yes.It was a story inspired by this:


        1. djw says:

          Ah, so he was joking. Well played.

          It is impressive that he did not giggle during the first 45 seconds (which is all I could stomach). Does he at least crack a grin by the end of it?

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            You should follow that link in the description to the page where there is text.Its somewhat easier to follow it when you can read what he is saying.And no,he does not crack a smile,even though he comes close to it a few times.

            EDIT:Ah,right,theres no description here.This link:

  11. Dragmire says:

    You start on Earth in Starbound now? Does that mean that you can’t choose a race other than human when you start?

    1. SoranMBane says:

      No, you can choose any of the other races (I chose Avian, ’cause they’re my favourite race). You just start as a member of the Protectorate, a multi-species peacekeeper group which happens to be based on Earth (at least until the Ruin comes along to wreck their shit).

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its just a tutorial.Technically its on earth,but its only a short linear corridor that teaches you how to move and dig.Then you get to your spaceship and fly away.

  12. Kelerak says:

    Death Road to Canada sounds more like the spiritual successor to Super Amazing Wagon Adventure. I may have to check that out now.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I’ve spent all morning playing Death Road to Canada, and it’s well worth my time! :)

  13. Christopher says:

    The talk about randomly generated roadtrips through a post-apocalyptic America reminded me of Overland, which is a roadtrip through a procedurally generated post-apocalyptic America. This isn’t my type of game, I get actively angry at anything remotely roguelike/procedurally generated. But if it’s yours you’re in luck, looks like a lot of them are coming out.

    1. Sunshine says:

      I was thinking of the same thing, even with the talk of the dog surviving alone. There’s a story of someone’s Overland game where they found a few dogs, but the humans were eventually killed and it was just four dogs driving a car through post-apocalyptic America.

  14. Austin says:

    I haven’t even watched the episode yet, but Death Road to Canada! FTL! AND Starbound! Perfect!

  15. Andy_Panthro says:

    My favourite Lovecraftian horror game is Alone in the Dark (the first one, from 1992). There are many monsters which cannot be killed by normal means, but can be beaten by other means (more of a puzzle game).

    Of course you do “kill” the bad… thing… in the end, but with this sort of horror even destroying one form of it doesn’t mean that it’s gone forever.

  16. tmtvl says:

    And for people who like their 2D top-down and are interested in Starbound: Check out Notrium.

  17. Henson says:

    I imagine a details-first fantasy story would be a history book. With dragons.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      That sounds awesome, where can I find one?

      1. Timelady says:

        You’re welcome. (Admittedly more travel guide than history book, but still.)

  18. Timelady says:

    Josh, have you ever read ‘The Dragon Waiting’ by John M. Ford? Or any of you guys in the comments here? I’ll be honest, I just want the chance to talk about that damn book.

    1. Mike S. says:

      I’ve read it, though long enough ago that I only remember the broadest generalities. But Ford’s a brilliant and unjustly obscure writer who died way too young.

      1. Timelady says:

        I really need to read it again. And yeah. Yeah, he was.

  19. Mark says:

    You guys mentioned Interstellaria. I can’t speak to the quality of the game but the soundtrack is amazing. Listen to it, your brain will thank you.

  20. Sunshine says:

    Rutskarn’s idea for a tutorial where you’re punished for shooting your instructor happens in America’s Army, the FPS by the actual Army. If you do it, the screen fades to black and then shows your character in a prison cell in Fort Leavensworth.

    (Looking that up, I discovered that Fort Leavensworth is well reviewed on Google, though the second review says “When I tried to put the flames out, a small Asian woman mugged us.”)

  21. Jsor says:

    I think Glorantha (the setting of some tabletop RPGs and King of Dragon Pass), while not a story, is a details first setting. It’s a setting that kind of developed semi-independently from the Tolkien-inspired fantasy arising around the same time with D&D. It was written by an anthropologist who used the setting as an outlet to explore how different cultures throughout history treated things like myth, religion, and social structure.

    It’s a really great setting and I don’t feel like I could do it justice, but learning about it is fascinating and you couldn’t pay me enough to read all the books they stash in most fantasy roleplaying video games.

    King of Dragon Pass is a really interesting game in its own right, because it’s a game where you’re the chieftain of a tribe of Orlanthi (basically magic pseudo-Celts), and understanding their culture is by far the biggest skill in the game. You cannot manage the settlement according to your view of the world, you have to govern like you’re a superstitious magic pseudo-Celt. (Of course, in this game all their myths are real, and in fact when the myths change reality changes with it, so believing in their superstitions isn’t very hard).

    1. tmtvl says:

      I still love that you get a choice when doing a hero quest to either try and enter the land of the gods, or just re-enact the quest with people.

  22. Locke says:

    People claiming you can’t fight Cthulhu is a pet peeve of mine. Cthulhu is canonically defeated by getting hit by a really heavy thing. Not only is he defeated, he is defeated in such a way as to be easily replicable by any military since at least the 19th century, and as far back as the 15th century if the wind is right.

    1. Jsor says:

      Yeah, but he wasn’t killed, they put him back to sleep. I was thinking the same thing, but Josh (or someone) mentioned that the ending should have a hint of the victory simply pushing off the inevitable.

    2. GloatingSwine says:

      Cthulhu is temporarily inconvenienced by a boat driving through his head. It’s like if you went out to shout at the kids to get off your lawn and slipped over on the rollerskate they left there. It wouldn’t “defeat” you and now the kids have gotten off your lawn and so you could go back inside grumbling.

      1. Nidokoenig says:

        If we can build boats faster than he can sleep them off, he’s a controlled problem. It’s like hunger, you just need the resources to keep it down.

        1. Mike S. says:

          While it’s obviously at odds with the more common tendency to treat the Old Ones as a problem that can’t be solved, only delayed or avoided, I recall an old song that began:

          “Where oh where has Cthulhu gone?
          None of his lot remain alive.
          They packed up and they fled this world
          in August 1945.”

          And it’s true that if a ship sailing into him discomfits him then he can probably be kept down indefinitely with the amount of force it’s now possible to bring to bear.

          Of course there’s the alternative that after nuking him he reconstitutes himself, now angrier and radioactive.

          A friend took the idea one better: his Call of Cthulhu players ended the campaign by hitting the big C with an atomic bomb… encased in Elder Signs.

  23. Artur CalDazar says:

    Has chris played Out There Omega? It’s a mobile game originally but it’s an FTL ish game but without combat, so all about the little encounters and managing resources, both those maintaining the ship and those for building new tech.

    It sounds like the thing Josh wants is the feeling when the Reaper shows up in Persona 3/4, or at least how it feel for most players. This thing is coming for you and you cannot beat it. Of course thats one moment in a larger game.

  24. Nidokoenig says:

    A note on Eternal Darkness: If you beat the game three times, with each of the three gods, the timelines merge and they’re all dead, leaving Mantarok, the somewhat more neutral but dying god, to rot in the jungle temple. It at least makes the win somewhat plausible, but it’s still a win.

    The thing about a fantasy world with a known technology appearing and getting people hype reminds me of one of the Greek philosophers complaining about how young people were writing stuff down instead of committing everything to memory. So a setting with large scale flour milling coming in would have issues with unemployed millers, or families using their hand tools for other things now they’re freed up. IIRC there was an interesting switch when industrial milling first came in, white bread went from being the preserve of the rich to the thing the machines that fed the poor could churn out, so wholemeal bread went from poor people fodder to fancy artisanal stuff.

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