Achilles and the Grognard: Top Hat Guy Finds His Feet

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Aug 24, 2019

Filed under: Video Games 101 comments

Achilles: I think I’m starting to get the hang of this game.

The Grognard: Are you? How so?

Achilles: I have a full party now, and a couple +1 weapons. I’ve knocked out a few side quests – house full of spiders here, ogre with a stolen magical belt there. Even took a long trek way out to a gnoll fortress to rescue a witch for a guy with a hamster and a head wound.

The Grognard: Most people would be confused by that sentence, but it’s good to know you have Minsc and Dynaheir now.

Dynaheir is hidden down in one of these pits. If you don't pay attention to the area's opening cinematic I could see someone missing her.
Dynaheir is hidden down in one of these pits. If you don't pay attention to the area's opening cinematic I could see someone missing her.

Achilles: I’ve also learned a few things.

The Grognard: Such as?

Achilles: Give everyone a ranged weapon, and plenty of ammo.

The Grognard: Ranged is very useful in this game, just as it is in real life.

Achilles: Also, the sleep spell is practically an “I win” button. It’s AoE, and enemies only occasionally save against it.

The Grognard: True. But it only works on things with four hit dice or fewer, so it’ll abruptly stop being useful later in the game. What else?

Achilles: Mash quicksave every 2.7 seconds, and reload whenever anything even mildly inconvenient happens.

The Grognard: I’m… not sure I like that one as much. Didn’t you just notice the immersive quality of the game last time? I can’t imagine constant do-overs are going to strengthen the illusion.

Achilles: What’s the alternative? Just dying every time there’s a couple bad rolls?

The Grognard: Well obviously you reload a save if you die.

Achilles: I’m dying kind of a lot. Another assassin showed up right outside the Friendly Arm, he killed me. Then a pack of vampiric wolves hanging out next to the temple east of Beregost. Then that bandit guy with the fire arrow kobolds. Then something called a “Doomsayer” killed my entire party like eight times in a row.

The Grognard: Well, you shouldn’t have removed that evil idol from its ancient tomb! That’s like, staying alive 101. I told you, you have to be careful in low-level DnD.

Achilles: Taking stuff from tombs that you’re not supposed to is also dungeon diving 101. Good loot 101. I thought you said this was an outgrowth of the tabletop experience. If you ran this encounter with a live group, would you just let them party wipe for that? Scrap the whole campaign and start over?

The Grognard: No – I’d probably figure out some way for them to escape, or something. Keep the Doomsayer in my pocket as a recurring villain.

Achilles: But a computer can’t do that sort of thing. It can’t even fudge die rolls. It only knows how to be ruthless. Quicksave and quickload makes up for that.

The Grognard: I never thought of it that way, but it does make a weird sort of sense. But it’s not something you want to abuse.

Achilles: If you don’t want players to abuse something, then don’t put it in the game. The ability to have at-will, unlimited do-overs is too powerful not to abuse.

The Grognard: It’s why someday I’d like to see a real story-driven RPG with a more restrictive save system. Something more like Dark Souls, or even a roguelike.

Achilles: Your solution to every gameplay problem is to make the game meaner!

The Grognard: In a good game, mean and nice should be in balance, like Yin and Yang. Games nowadays are too nice, like having a five-course meal that’s nothing but dessert. But fine, mash quicksave if you have to. I did too, my first couple of playthroughs. How is the story?

Achilles: A little threadbare, honestly. Something or other is wrong with the iron mine down in Nashkel, and I had a weird dream that gave me cure light wounds as a special ability.

Chapter two's 'good' dream, which you get if you have a reputation higher than ten.
Chapter two's 'good' dream, which you get if you have a reputation higher than ten.

The Grognard: “Threadbare” isn’t the word I’d use. It may seem threadbare because it’s not constantly pestering you to advance it, but there’s a real main quest here that will reveal itself over time.

Achilles: I’m not complaining, exactly. It’s not like there’s nothing to do. It’s just that in most games I’d have some idea of what was going on by now. In this one, all I know is that a guy in a fancy helmet wants me dead for some reason. What’s more, this game’s humor is… strange.

The Grognard: You ran into Noober, didn’t you?

Noober, found on the south end of Nashkel, will force you into dialogue a total of thirty-two times. Put up with it and you'll get 400xp at the end.
Noober, found on the south end of Nashkel, will force you into dialogue a total of thirty-two times. Put up with it and you'll get 400xp at the end.

Achilles: It’s not just him. The journal entries are jokey. The ‘evil’ dialogue options are jokey. It’s like having a vaudeville act as your GM.

The Grognard: Live roleplaying can be an embarassing thing to do. Humor is a way to relieve the awkwardness. I suspect that this style of comedy is another example of a habit the developers brought over from the tabletop experience. Remember what I said about early Bioware? You’re seeing what would become their in-house writing style in its rough, first-draft form.

Achilles: Yeah, but you’re saying that like it’s a compliment. Compared to what I’m used to, it comes off as amateurish.

The Grognard: Amateurs often have a certain kind of energy that you don’t see in professionals. A vitality. A healthy disregard for formula. In fact, instead of amateurs, let’s call them “enthusiasts.” Their work may fray around the edges, but it has a soul. The alternative is a safe, polished sort of game that doesn’t do anything unexpected or advance the genre. If you ask me, that’s how we got modern Bioware.

Achilles: Those are our only two choices? Safe and boring, or janky and interesting?

The Grognard: It’s not janky janky. This game was reasonably polished by the standards of its time. But it also took a lot of risks, some of which paid off and some of which didn’t. Take Minsc, for example.

Achilles: Head wound hamster guy.

Minsc is so well-known nowadays that it's easy to forgot that the 'rescue Dynaheir' quest was essentially his entire story in the first game.
Minsc is so well-known nowadays that it's easy to forgot that the 'rescue Dynaheir' quest was essentially his entire story in the first game.

The Grognard: The same. He’s a broadly drawn character; one note, two jokes, and a hammy voice actor. But he’s memorable. The first memeable RPG party member, back before we even had a word for that. Later, Bioware sold truckloads of units largely off the strength of their characters, and Minsc was one of the seeds from which all of that grew. That wouldn’t have happened under a more cautious developer.

Achilles: Well, Larian’s making Baldur’s Gate III. What would be your advice to them? “Go a little nuts?”

The Grognard: Go the right amount of nuts. The genre needs a shot in the arm, not just an update or a reskin. And the big publishers aren’t going to do it. They’re too hypnotized by the bottom line. Larian might just be that goldilocks developer we’re looking for.

Achilles: Here’s hoping. In the meantime, I’ve done enough sidequests. The time has come to go the Nashkel mines, and finally dip our toes into the main story.

 


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101 thoughts on “Achilles and the Grognard: Top Hat Guy Finds His Feet

  1. Chad Miller says:

    That discussion of quicksaving is a perfect explanation of why Achilles is already further in this game than I ever got. Really looking forward to the rest of this.

    1. Droid says:

      Since we’re talking about Larian here: this quicksave exchange boils down to the same thing that made me quit Divinity: Original Sin multiple times, even though my friend was enthusiastic about it and I tried my best to give it more than a fair chance.
      I just don’t like dying over and over, trying to find the one encounter that isn’t just going to stomp your head in, use it to level up, then repeat ad nauseam. Also that literally everyone you meet is an unlikeable asshole and the optimal end state of every zone is that everyone except you is dead, because you needed their XP to stay afloat, given the game’s balancing.

      1. Yep, sounds familiar.

        They also have bizarre moments of excellent writing in the weirdest places, janky and semi-lovable humor, puzzles you can’t solve forever because you had to move something and didn’t think you could move it . . .

        Basically, if you’re trying to re-create the original Bioware experience, they’re perfect.

        If you’d like the Bioware experience without the truly awful bits, well, less perfect.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          I’ve enjoyed the humor in Larian games. I know some people don’t like it, and I hope that doesn’t cause them to backpedal in the future. In fact, the more humorless RPGs I’ve played are also kind of boring, well-written or not.

      2. John says:

        That was, uh, not my experience in Divinity: Original Sin. Of course I only played the revised version of the game. The original version may have been different.

        Yes, there are a few places on the first map which are certain death if you’re under-leveled, but it’s not as though you can get to most of those places directly. You usually have to go through other, level-appropriate areas first. Also, fleeing is a thing. If you’re losing, or even if you’re not–yet–but the enemies are just too high-level for you to want to keep fighting them, you can usually run away. Finally, I’m not sure how serious you are when you say “the optimal end state of every zone is that everyone except you is dead”. Are you talking about just hostile characters or do you mean absolutely everyone? Because there’s really no need to go around killing towns-people or guards. You don’t need the XP that badly, I promise.

        I’m sort of with you on the “everyone you meet is an unlikable asshole” though.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          I only played the original version, and your description of the revised one sounds pretty much the same.

        2. Syal says:

          Also, fleeing is a thing. If you’re losing, or even if you’re not–yet–but the enemies are just too high-level for you to want to keep fighting them, you can usually run away.

          Ever since I saw someone play through OgreBattle with its two-round combats, I’ve wanted to find a hit-and-run style RPG, where the majority of battles are you running in, landing a couple of hits and running out. Like, level 1 you’re running into dragons, and the goal is to hit one enough to knock off a scale and escape with the scale before it notices you.

        3. Gwydden says:

          I genuinely don’t get the “unlikable asshole” thing. But then, I find characters like the Red Prince and Malady delightful. I’m reminded of my peers’ shock at my love of Oscar Wilde’s “dandy” archetype. A dash of arrogance and biting sarcasm are a weakness of mine.

          I also enjoyed playing along to the Red Prince’s power trip and watching him be utterly oblivious that I was making fun of him, to be honest. And, to be even more honest, I also have a thing for characters that don’t immediately fall over and suck up to your protagonist. Fictional friendships feel more meaningful when there is a bit of an arc to them.

          1. John says:

            We’re talking–or at least I’m talking–about the first Original Sin, the writing in which is, uh, less than inspiring. I think that calling everyone in it “unlikable assholes” is a stretch, but I can sort of see how someone who’s been struggling with the game in other ways might start to feel that way. The characters the player meets aren’t very interesting or inspiring. Only a few of them are supposed to be unlikable assholes, but the writing is such that even nominally friendly characters like the quest-giver and exposition machine Arhu can be deeply irritating. I’ve heard that the writing in the sequel is much better.

            1. Jabberwok says:

              Yeah, I don’t get that either. I don’t doubt there are a lot of unmemorable characters, but I can’t think of any that I found irritating, let alone actively mean. I liked Arhu well enough. Really, if I compare the character writing to some of the other major modern RPGs I’ve played (Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, Skyrim), I find the Divinity games to be average at worst, maybe better than average just because they’re at least willing to be more playful at times.

              1. John says:

                Arhu irritated me mostly because he’d tell me to investigate some mysterious place and then, when I finally got there, Arhu would have inevitably arrived before me. “Find the White Witch!” says Arhu. So I fight my way through the undead, through cultists, through the strange denizens of the faerie realm of Hiberheim, and finally–finally!–find the White Witch . . . and there’s Arhu, who apparently has known where she was all along. Why did I even bother? He does this sort of thing for very nearly the entire game. It’s not so much his personality that bothers me–although he is awfully dismissive about that Sparkmaster robot thing that he built that’s gone rogue and started killing people–it’s the way the game uses him.

      3. BlueHorus says:

        dying over and over, trying to find the one encounter that isn’t just going to stomp your head in, use it to level up, then repeat ad nauseam

        Oh, yes, a great sprawling map in which you can go in any direction…and die horribly. Apart from the one that’s exactly your level. And don’t leave any areas behind, because they’ll be trivially easy to defeat once you’re a couple of levels ahead.
        Not that I can think of a solution for this issue – it seems inherent to any game in which the party ‘levels up’, like an RPG. Well, there’s level-scaling, but then you run the risk of making the classic Bethesda experience, in which your character’s development is negated by the enemy scaling.

        Also, Bob’s going to cover the Divininty: OS games, right? Because I could write my own Shamus-style long-form analysis of that game (and the sequel), starting with the NPCs.

        1. Syal says:

          I think you can avoid it outside of level-scaling by giving each area a gimmick. Like one direction would be the Fighter layout with slow hard-hitting enemies where single-target high damage is needed, one would be the Wizard layout with lots of weak guys where AOE is important, one would be the Thief layout with weak but very fast opponents. Then the end of that area gives you a bonus to one of the other areas; Fighter gives your fighter an AOE attack, Wizard gives you an item that raises your speed, Thief area gives you a stronger attack.

          1. Ofermod says:

            That sounds like the Megaman approach – each boss’s weapon is strong against a different boss/area.

        2. Rack says:

          The solution to this is pretty obvious. Don’t multiply the players power by ten every time they level up and don’t add systems to block players from accessing content not exactly equal to their level. Players enjoy the feeling of artificial progress from levelling up but you only need to give enough that it’s noticeable and gives extra options. CRPGs tend to overshoot that by several dozen orders of magnitude.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            I’m not convinced…one of the few appeals I see to systems with levelling up is that there’s a substantial increase in what your character can do in different levels. The classic example in D&D is gaining access to the fireball spell or your first ‘save or die’ ability*.
            A constant supply of new abilities is a great thing to have in a game with a lot of combat. and to Divinity: OS’s credit, it’s very, very good at this. The early game is just a constant stream of ‘man, I can’t WAIT until I get enough money for that skillbook/a high enough level to learn [X]’.

            How far the actual NUMBERS increase between levels is another matter altogether…one Idon’t know much about, as is probably deceptively difficult to balance.

            *Oh, Phantasmal Killer/Circle of Death. Using you to strategically one-shot enemy mages/bosses in NWN never got old.

            1. Syal says:

              I’m going to bring up Jimmy And The Pulsating Mass, mostly just to plug it because the game is excellent but specifically because characters start with all their skills unlocked. New skills are progress-based (and stat-percent based so they never go bad) and levelling up mainly gives you small stat increases. One good side effect is you never have to worry whether an area expects you to know a certain skill, because if you need it you already have it.

            2. Rack says:

              D&D goes a bit overboard in parts, there’s definitely a few areas it goes overboard. But it’s still within the ballpark of being balanced. But most modern CRPGs go way beyond that.

              I don’t think it’s that designers are aiming for balance and missing by light millennia, I think there’s some reason designers want to pen players into these linear paths while giving an illusion of freedom. Probably because they don’t want players trying challenges that are 20-40% over the intended difficulty, but to be pushed back by challenges 4000-8000 times more difficult.

          2. Jabberwok says:

            It really depends on what your goal is. If you want players to have the freedom to go anywhere, you probably either want to use level scaling or (better, imo) eliminate most of the power creep that traditional levelling entails.

            But a lot of traditional CRPGs are doing something different. They want to present a coherent story from start to finish within the context of a coherent setting. Levelling the player and enemies, when it’s done correctly, works very well for that. Like a tabletop session, it should give players freedom in the mechanical sense, but should encourage them to go on a journey instead of marching straight off to the main villain’s lair at level 1. I mean, the most quintessential plot of this genre is giving us an everyman PC faced with an antagonist they couldn’t possibly defeat at the start of the game. The whole rest of the game is about getting from there to being the person who can save the world. That type of story is actually about powering up; so levelling, with all of the HP and damage boosts it usually involves, actually makes sense in that context.

            Of course, the good examples of this usually give fixed levels for different types of enemies instead of just boosting numbers on the same types. The mechanics need to match the fantasy.

      4. GargamelLenoir says:

        Same. I mean I stick with it because everything else but the difficulty curve is great, but it’s to the point that it breaks my immersion. How the hell did the characters “canonically” knew to turn left, loot this cave but not that other one, and not talk to that scarecrow that would have destroyed them mercilessly? And sometimes in the same dungeon there are insane difficulty spikes. “Oh you killed a bunch of small voidwoken larvaes? I guess you’re ready for four massive ones with your party split up then!”

      5. Jeff says:

        DOS1 is actually very linear. It pretends to have an open map, but if you don’t follow the areas in the correct order you run into the problem you’ve described.

        Follow the correct order and none of that is an issue, assuming you have a decent understanding of the easily abused combo system.

      6. Niriel says:

        Droid, have you played Gothic or Risen? Some areas are locked behind over-leveled monsters. Armor is hard to get in the game and is weirdly overpowered; getting a new armor pretty much unlocks those new areas (still hard, but doable now). Somehow, I wasn’t bothered by this. I would try, I would run away badly injured, and then keep away. I saw these areas not as a challenge to overcome right now but as a future goal to prepare for through questing. It’s possible to grind and level-up, to a point (because mobs don’t respawn so you can’t grind forever), but in the end that doesn’t help because you kinda need that plot-unlocked new armor to continue.

        It might have been possible to save-scum through those areas, but for some reason it didn’t feel required. The story is linear enough (despite some crazy replayability thanks to the faction system) that I could trust it and knew I’ll get the armor I need in the future. The message was clear: approach, get your butt handed to you, run away, heal, come back way later when you’ve got the means AND the reason to. In the end, I felt in control, not cheated by the RNG and absurd numbers. Armors unlock new areas, it’s clearly cut.

        I haven’t played Divinity Original Sin, so I wonder why the game didn’t give you that feeling. I suppose that nothing in the game design suddenly unlocks those over-leveled areas for you, that only grinding and leveling can get you through them. Is that the case?

      7. Paul Spooner says:

        Oh no! You run headlong into the largest thing that you aren’t going to bounce off of, absorbing the XP and equipment to grow just a little bigger? Final Fantasy, Chronocross, KOTOR… it’s all true isn’t it? All RPGS are really just Katamari games!

    2. King Marth says:

      There’s a certain type of gamer masochism which shows up a lot online, insisting that experiences are worthless unless you lose large amounts of time to repetition on a regular basis. Nice to have that brought up and shut down. Also, exposing the hypocrisy behind those advocates, “I only used quicksaves until I had memorized enough of the game to know which challenges were which difficulty, since the game design definitely doesn’t help you understand that, and I’m playing this game with you, but instead of sharing that hard-earned knowledge, I will berate you for using the same methods I did and not starting out at my current level of expertise”. Of course you don’t find something hard after you’ve practiced.

      The Grognard is definitely in the trap of “it was good for its time”. That’s fine when you’re studying the history of how games evolved and trying to learn in order to create something new, but Achilles is looking for a good experience, and trying remarkably hard to create that experience despite the game’s best efforts. Instead of making a friend face the same frustration so you can commiserate, it’d be nice to see that knowledge used to avoid pitfalls and steer towards fun outcomes.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        There’s a certain type of gamer masochism which shows up a lot online, insisting that experiences are worthless unless you lose large amounts of time to repetition on a regular basis. Nice to have that brought up and shut down.

        Funnily enough, if we’re talking about a different style of game I may actually be one of those people. When it comes to, say, platformers, I find the “autosave every other screen + infinite lives” style of game boring. I’m fine with a more ruthless style of game in principle, but in this game my problem is:

        * If I’m in the mood for mechanical challenge I’ll boot up Civilization or an RTS or something. If I’m running an RPG I’m looking for a very different experience and both this game style and difficulty level distract from it too much.
        * Unlike many “hard” games of the past, this one didn’t feel challenging so much as unfair. It felt to me like everything depended too much on foreknowledge or die rolls. I don’t think I’ve even bothered to express this opinion publicly in the past because I gave up on the game so early, but this particular post had me nodding and saying “yeah, that sounds about the way I remember it.”

        1. galacticplumber says:

          Indeed. I favor the opinion that the best way to balance difficulty in an RPG is to have some manner of level curve, GENERALLY applied, clearly labeled, and accessible. Throw in the occasional overleveled/underleveled enemies to make the area feel immersively alive, and teach the player that running away is a perfectly reasonable thing to do in some situations.

          Why? The player sets their own difficulty. They can farm weenies if they haven’t quite mastered the concept of git gud and want something easy to practice game systems on/just aren’t planning to put in that effort.

          They can keep relatively close their level for the intended experience, or even go punch the thing twenty levels ahead of them because they’re expert/have a deathwish.

          Also if you’re willing to accept numbers as an abstraction of general knowledge of how nasty stuff generally is it’s even reasonably world friendly. Certainly better than everything syncing to your strength in hard lockstep.

          1. Caledfwlch says:

            Why? The player sets their own difficulty. They can farm weenies if they haven’t quite mastered the concept of git gud and want something easy to practice game systems on/just aren’t planning to put in that effort.

            This is a feature of open world, rather than a save system. There are a lot of games with quicksaves/quickloads, that still allow players to set their own difficulty by allowing them to attempt different challenges, e.g. Morrowind.

            I, honestly, like quicksaves very much. Quicksaves give me, the player, much more control over the game, and I like having control. In, say, Dark Souls, I am completely at the mercy of game designer. Is there going to be a bonfire after this brutal fight? Is there going to be something useful at the end of this hallway, or was this a complete waste of time and resources? Should I continue battling through these difficult enemies, or is there an easier path elsewhere? Every time I experience a loss like that I don’t think “Oh well, that was a teaching experience”. I think “The game just forced me to waste my time and resources, and I couldn’t do anything about it, fuck that game”.

      2. Matthew Downie says:

        Note that the Grognard isn’t actually advocating losing large amounts of time to repetition.
        “I can’t imagine constant do-overs are going to strengthen the illusion.”

        I think what Grognard wants is for the player to make mistakes or suffer bad luck but still attempt to continue without reloading, living with the consequences of mistakes, continuing to fight with most of the party paralyzed. (Which, admittedly, doesn’t usually work too well in an old-school RPG with extremely lethal consequences.)

        While Achilles is saying, “I didn’t get the conversation response I wanted? Reload and try something else. My sleep spell failed due to lucky saves? Reload and try again.”

        1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          I don’t know if Achilles is actually saying that though.
          To me the argument seemed to be: “this game kills your entire party regularly, and with little to no warning. So save constantly.”

    3. PPX14 says:

      I quicksave constantly in the Thief games. Because otherwise going on a running away and guard fighting spree is not in keeping thematically with playing as master thief haha. Think PoP Sands of Time voiceover:

      “No, that’s not what happened”

      Quickload.

  2. Duoae says:

    I usually do the same – hit up as many side quests as possible until jaheira and Khalid are about to leave the party, then sort out the mines.

    Of course, that’s assuming that my weapons aren’t all breaking because of the iron poison by that stage (which, if memory serves, suddenly stops happening afterwards).

    You know, I’ve played BG multiple times but never actually gotten to the titular city. There’s so much content, I usually get burnt out by the time I head north into the arms of those blasted archers(or dart throwers? ). That reminds me, I should start a new play through….

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I always thought the weapon breakage didn’t apply to magical weapons, so with enough side quests, your party won’t have a problem.

      Alternatively, if you’re fighting primarily with ranged weapons, they have the benefit of not being made of metal.

      1. Duoae says:

        You’re right – it doesn’t affect the magical weapons. If memory serves, you get a few +1 and +2 short swords and special daggers, but depending on your characters they may not be the preferred type of weapon. I usually liked longswords (which you do get as magical weapons) but I think that might require a little too much time before Khalid and Jaheera start complaining about not doing their quest… I’ll check it out once I’ve finished my run through of Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw.

  3. ShivanHunter says:

    The Grognard: Well obviously you reload a save if you die.

    Me: laughs in NetHack

  4. CoyoteSans says:

    I think Minsc’s appeal is more than just “wacky humor berserker specc’d-for-regular-fighter-ranger”, he’s one of the few truly heroic and upbeat NPCs you can recruit in the original base game. Him and Imoen have rather basic goodie-two-shoes personality archetypes with no further characterization in BG1. However, because you get them so early and they provide such a refreshing contrast to the rather depressing setting and characters and the sly, black humor of the rest of the game, they stand out more in people’s minds’ than they would in a more conventienal (for the time) RPG. They were like shining beacons to remind you that even in the unpleasant world of the Sword Coast and Amn, there are still good, decent people willing to fight and fight for.

    Also, it can be argued that Imoen, who was intended to be a forgettable throwaway NPC like all the others, managed to start the Bioware archetype of “perky, upbeat thief girl” party member.

    1. RFS-81 says:

      What, you prefer that over “We are all doomed!” and “Our quest is vaaaaa-aain!”?

      Well, I have to agree, because I can’t imagine playing Baldur’s Gate without Imoen and Minsc.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Speaking as somebody that mainly played BG2 I can honestly take or leave Imoen. She’s… fine, but there’s just so many other characters that have more to them cracking wise now and then.

        I donno, maybe it’s me having four real life siblings, but I just got so little family style chemistry from her and the Main Character, and what little there was just so half-baked it made me roll my eyes. She just throws in the odd ‘yo, bro/sis’ equivalent when the writers recall ‘oh, right, you two where raised together.’ Just roses & sugar like that; never any fights or squabbles, or even in-jokes and idiosyncrasies, if that makes sense. You never feel like… well, family. And consider she’s basically got that and the jokes going for her, she just felt really dang flat & dull to me.

        (Duncan in Shadowrun: Hong Kong was a MUCH better written sibling character, IMHO—though I’ll admit that decade apart comparison isn’t quite fair to BG.)

        I mean, she’s more pleasant and useful to have around then that under-powered, slow-leveling sour-puss Jihira. I’ll give her that much, at least.

        Minsk, though? Yeah, it’s just not Baldur’s Gate without him. Useful, strong, unique, a true friend, AND funny. What’s not to like? Of all the times I’ve restarted and tried to replay the BG series, not getting/keeping Minsk has never even crossed my mind. He’s just that good a character to have around, in both senses of it even.

        1. Zaxares says:

          Heh, that’s interesting to read. Imoen was the one companion who stuck with me throughout both games and whom I never, ever dropped from my party. (Jaheira might have made it too, but she was paired with Khalid in BG1 and I preferred Ajantis as my frontline fighter.) But anyway… I guess to me Imoen was like the little sister/childhood friend I never had. I only had one brother growing up, and we had a somewhat antagonistic relationship in our youth (and now that we’re older we’ve grown apart). I didn’t have very many friends as a kid, and I was actually betrayed rather badly by my best friend as a kid so that’s always soured me on trusting too deeply in friendships. Imoen sort of symbolized the best of what a sibling/childhood friend relationship COULD be, what I’d missed out on and will never have in real life.

          I do love Minsc too though. He’s my mainstay bruiser companion in BG2, and I’d have brought him with me in BG1 too except for his Dynaheir pairing (since I always play Mage characters in RPGs, and I didn’t need another arcane “rival” in my party).

          1. Mattias42 says:

            Sorry to hear that. Hope you’re in a better place now.

            Still, it was interesting to hear from the other side, why somebody likes Imoen, I mean. Usually when I say I don’t particularly care for her, I just get these blank looks, and the subject gets switched.

    2. Imoen was obviously meant for you to keep her in the party and dual-class her into a wizard (hence why she has a 17 int).

      1. CoyoteSans says:

        We know you start with Imoen because playtesters complained the early game (particularly the infamous Tarnesh fight) was too difficult without recruiting the evil Montaran and Xzar, which chafed for people who wanted to play good guys. There’s also evidence that Imoen was “supposed” to have been recruited in or near the actual Baldur’s Gate section of the game, due to dummied out dialogue she has referring to an association with another recruitable character that has their personal quest there.

        There are other recruitable thieves in the game, including one who might as well be a carbon copy of Imoen (minus the absurd Int) in terms of class and alignment, but Imoen is typically considered the best because aside from the dual-class opportunity, the game is really bad about auto-leveling thief skills in a useful way. Only Detect Traps and Lockpick are truly essential, Stealth is really only good for combat thieves (which Imoen and some of the others are not specc’d for at all), and Pickpocket is infamously useless given the number of things you can actually nab of NPCs in the game can probably be counted on one hand. Getting a level 1 thief from the start (and the others you probably won’t) means you can dictate where those thief points go from the outset, which is Really Important in a game where you only get 6-8 level ups for a character.

        1. Steve C says:

          Pickpocketing was amazing in the first Baldur’s Gate. Plus it was the only thief skill that couldn’t be duplicated by spells. You could sell all the gear you wanted to keep, then steal it back. Which made everything in the game effectively free soon as you had enough cash on hand to afford it. It was straight up broken cheese.

          BTW there were a lot more than a handful of items to pickpocket. Though pickpocketting random people wasn’t the way to do it. The way was to drink a ‘potion of thievery’ then hit a store hard by cycling your inventory.

      2. Nimrandir says:

        That’s what I’ve always done with Imoen, but my PC is usually a thief. Otherwise, she’s still a really competent trap-spotter and archer, which I think you have to go off the beaten path to get.

      3. GargamelLenoir says:

        Apparently she wasn’t “meant” to, but when they saw that most players did it they rolled with it.
        I didn’t because dual classing is a pain in the ass, how long do you get a useless party member just so that they’re marginally more powerful for the very last stretch of the game?

    3. krellen says:

      I still have “Heya, it’s me, Imoen!” stuck in my head, twenty years later.

    4. zekiel says:

      Funnily enough I was never that bothered by Minsc. I had a full party when I met him, so I refused his quest which means he *attacks* you (forcing you to kill him). Didn’t leave me with a great impression!

      And in the sequel I find Edwin and Jan more amusing than Minsc… there’s nothing wrong with him, I just find it slightly odd that he became the most recognisable character from the series.

    5. Gwydden says:

      That’s an interesting take. When I played the games myself, I was mystified as to why everyone found Minsc so lovable. His shtick got tiresome to me really quickly. It’s one of the reasons I don’t take seriously complains from BG fans that Larian’s writing is too silly. Minsc is easily as bad as anything from D:OS1, and much worse than anything from D:OS2. Nostalgia, rose-colored glasses, etc. etc. Reminds me of Blizzard fans who complain their modern games are soooo cheesy and terribly written. Somehow, their teenage selves failed to notice how hammy Starcraft and Warcraft 3 were.

  5. RFS-81 says:

    I replayed Baldur’s Gate a few years ago, and I’m mostly on the side of Achilles here. I liked it much better when I first played it. These save-or-suck spells are just bad design, in my opinion. Knocking out characters based on a single die roll could work if you control a small army. I’m wondering if this is a leftover from D&D’s wargaming roots. But this is just unreasonable with only six characters.

    Sorry, you rolled badly, one of your characters is now paralyzed. Or your fighter is whacking at your mage. Or whatever. Sure you can buff resistances, but there’s still a single roll that can decide over life or death.

    Also, has Achilles complained about the walking speed yet?

    1. IIRC you can adjust the game speed, but it might be one of those options that you have to dig deep into the files to find. It’s not accessible on any of the in-game options panels.

      1. GargamelLenoir says:

        Exactly. I always have to google it again, but I can’t stand the game without doubling the walking speed.

        1. lurkey says:

          Is it the framerate thing that speeds up everything? I’m getting progressively crankier about slow movement, but I’d rather have just faster walking speed for the party.

          1. GargamelLenoir says:

            IIRC yeah it’s the framerate.

    2. Mattias42 says:

      I think history is on your side with the ‘save-or-die’ stuff being a bad idea. In 5e there’s… one ability like that, and it’s one of the Monk’s long-standing signature tricks at that. And even then, only a specific sub-class of Monk gets that trick in 5e, instead of Quivering Palm being something all Monks learn automatically.

      To act as Devil’s Advocate, though, there used to be counters to near all those tricks. Like spells, abilities, even outright items…. but yeah, that doesn’t really help your poor noob & his/her level 5 character that found the wrong hidden door, and got mulched in one turn by a surprise level 20 ilithiad you weren’t meant to even notice for ten more levels, or similar mean-spirited crud these old-school games used to pull quite regularly.

      That sort of ‘you went left instead of right, the Gru eats you’ stuff is funny slash charming exactly once for the average person, and I think a lot of the old-timers forget that type of frustration since they’ve got the entire game memorized backwards-to-forwards already since nearly two decades back.

      I mean, even the by now downright ancient Zork games had an ‘Undo’ command that instantly plopped you back before you did a mistake. Having to replay half an hour—If not much more!—since your last auto-save REALLY isn’t the same deal, and I think that sort of time wasting, intentionally player disrespecting design is one of the areas where BG has aged the most poorly.

    3. Higher_Peanut says:

      It’s kind of a holdover from war gaming but ADnD and 2nd edition were very frequently run like character grinders that you were supposed to win. Nothing disappears faster than a 1d4 hp wizard or the fighter who rolled a 2/10 for hp. Even at higher levels death or permanent stat damage were common and resurrections could fail. If you invested in a character or story it could end at any time. DnD has moved steadily away from “save or lose” since then, as the focus moved from winning to storytelling.

      Old editions were centered around (unsurprisingly) dungeon modules and wanted you to loot everything (getting loot gave exp) but world fidelity was often secondary to presenting a challenge. At the time instant death traps weren’t just present, but encouraged. Various designs were submitted and discussed in the hobby magazines of the time. Monsters could be downright sadistic. Mimics for everything, chest, wall, floor, ceiling and stalactite were all individual monsters. There were monsters that lived in keyholes that ate your eyes if you looked through and ones that lived in wood and burrowed in ears if you tried to listen.

      Newer editions focused more on establishing long term characters and relationships for role-playing (or at least cutting out the more RNG based deaths) and the low level coin-toss survival of 1st and 2nd was phased out.

      1. Asdasd says:

        The clue’s in the name, right? Dungeons and Dragons. The focus, at least in the beginning, wasn’t the heroes – it was these dark, dangerous places and the fearsome creatures that inhabited them. Realistically (in so much as fantasy can ever be realistic) the traps and ancients evils in a dungeon ‘should’ absolutely be lethal, and the adventurers who brave them in real peril.

        That’s impressively vivid, but it’s not how a few decades of iterative gameplay design have demonstrated most people want to experience a game. They want sessions to be the unfolding of their characters’ stories, for successes to be often and empowering, for fights to be fair, and for mistakes to be lightly forgiven. They don’t want be disintegrated for putting their hand in the statue’s mouth. They don’t want the floor to be a monster that eats them. That RPGs have changed to reflect the desires of the people who play them is not a problem at all in my book.

        It’s interesting to contrast this with something like Darkest Dungeon. That game was mechanically committed to its theme, resulting in a refocussing back towards the old-school, ‘realistic’ dark fantasy that RPGs grew out of. The conversation around that game, held between a mixture of players of differing generations, was quite interesting. For the most part it didn’t devolve into people taking sides and pointing fingers. People liked the oppressive atmosphere, and were willing for the game to be punishing in a way that felt appropriate to it – but only to a point. The developers had to balance against the frustration, like an engine being held on the clutch.

        1. Kyrillos says:

          Re: The Darkest Dungeon

          As someone who is both a fan of character driven pen and paper, and the DD, I will point out that in DD, you don’t play as the characters you send in the dungeon.

          You play as the Heir, and unless you are playing on the darkest difficulty, you can’t even “lose” the over all game, from your characters point of view. In fact, if you keep your stagecoach is kept up to par, its not even that hard to recover from mistakes. So it seems even that Darkest Dungeon is less dark than early dnd, from my point of view.

        2. Nimrandir says:

          On the other hand, some folks really are after the experience engendered by older editions of D&D. Stuff like Dungeon Crawl Classics isn’t my style, but tables for the system fill up whenever they’re available around here.

        3. Joe Informatico says:

          Well, when AD&D was first published in 1974, Tolkienesque epic fantasy literature didn’t really exist beyond LotR itself and Gary Gygax’s main inspirations in the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s Appendix N were of the sword-and-sorcery variety that had been popular in pulp magazines since the early 20th century: self-serving mercenary rogue heroes who braved the temples of evil cults, the ruins of lost civilizations, or the vaults of crime lords for quick cash in fantasy kingdoms ruled by wizard tyrants and corrupt decadent nobles, where wild beasts, bandits, and barbarians preyed on anyone who left the walls of the cities. Tolkienesque epic fantasy, wherein a band of good-hearted heroes band together to stop the Dark Lord, doesn’t really become established until 1977 (the publication of The Sword of Shannara and the Silmarillion, among other things), and it takes until the mid-80s for that approach to really be introduced into D&D via Dragonlance, the campaign setting still better remembered for its novel adaptations than the actual gameworld or modules.

    4. michael says:

      The save-or-suck approach presumably does come from the wargaming/simulation origin where if you were trying to simulate a wizard casting sleep on someone, either they fall asleep and all the consequences that entails or they resist the spell and nothing happens. There was not a “good game design” first mentality to old school DnD because it used to be intended to facilitate role playing instead of being a well-balanced combat-oriented tabletop game like they tried in 4e.

      1. Matthew Downie says:

        I’m not convinced instant death on a single dice roll facilitates role playing.

        Old-school D&D did very little to encourage what most people these days consider to be role-playing. Adventures tended to be, “Go to the dungeon and try to get your hands on as much gold as possible.”

        1. galacticplumber says:

          Sure they do. The scenario being sold by D&D, and it’s ilk, is that you’re a group of people whose entire job is repeatedly risking your life against horrifying monsters and treacherous traps for great riches and glory. You’re SUPPOSED to be worried that the group of axe wielding orcs might, in fact, respond to your presence by taking said axes to your neck if you screw up.

          How am I supposed to properly get into character as someone who walks the razor’s edge of dealing/receiving death every day if I empirically know the next room over is harmless?

    5. Scampi says:

      I really get what you’re saying there and agree with it. This also applies to P&P rpgs in general, at least those that have this kind of effect. Only lately I thought of this and if GMs should give themselves rules to use disabling spells and such extremely rarely against PCs (like, house ruling GMs to be allowed maximally 1-2 S.O.S. spells per combat encounter or something in the range of that).

  6. John says:

    In my experience, the degree to which I save-scum tends to be directly proportional to how easy save-scumming is. I am a mad, bad save-scummer in Alpha Centauri, a game in which re-loads are nearly instantaneous, but I never, ever save-scum in Civilization V, a game in which re-loads can take upwards of 30 seconds. This, despite the fact that the games are in the same genre and even by the same developer. You might think that the difference in load-times is due to Alpha Centauri being so much older than Civilization V, but you would be wrong. Even on the hardware for which it was originally intended, Alpha Centauri reloaded very quickly. I have always been a filthy save-scummer in Alpha Centauri. There are other, mechanical factors that make it easier and more painful (in the early game, at least) to lose a unit in Alpha Centauri than in Civilization V but they matter much less than the ease of reloading.

    In an RPG, I reload when I die (of course) but never feel like I’m save-scumming except when I’m up against an enemy with some sort of save-vs-death ability or spell.

    1. Zaxares says:

      For me it’s also directly correlated to how BAD the consequences of not reloading are. To give an example, one of the early AD&D games I played was Strahd’s Possession (by SSI). This game was set in Ravenloft, D&D’s foray into a gothic horror setting, and it’s jam packed with all kinds of nasty undead. In this game, if you get level drained, there’s absolutely NO way you can get that level back, so for every level you get drained, that either means you’re going to be that much more underpowered for the final battles, or you have to do hours of grinding for XP via random encounters. End result? I just shamelessly save scummed before every single fight in dungeons with level-draining monsters and instantly reloaded if I got level drained.

  7. Nimrandir says:

    I must confess that I was hoping for more salt over Tarnesh. I sure as heck yelled at him on my first encounter.

    1. zekiel says:

      Me too.

      Wait how has he duplicated himself three times!?

      1. Zaxares says:

        What I do to tip the odds is that when he runs over to talk to you, I move away from him and towards a couple of the nearby Friendly Arm Inn guards. Once Tarnesh goes hostile, those guards will also attack him, and their additional attacks can literally make the difference between life and death by stripping off his mirror images so you can disrupt his spells. :)

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Yeah, my first ‘triumph’ over Tarnesh was courtesy of the guards. My PC had failed a horror save and run off, and if I remember correctly, Imoen died before it was over.

        2. lurkey says:

          I’m currently trying to replay BG as well (really unimpressed, bored and unpleasantly surprised, also agreeing with Achilles about vaudeville feeling) and after initial wipe managed to run into the temple, that guy followed me in but not out, I went to the inn, picked Jaheira and Khalid, returned to the temple and smashed his head in, and it was annoying instead of fun. Also, low level DnD is not fun, writing is Larian levels of cheesy, characters are one note and their barks are infuriating in their repetitiveness (good thing music is boring too so I can listen to something else), and hoo boy how truly overrated this game is, isn’t it.

  8. Philadelphus says:

    But a computer can’t do that sort of thing. It can’t even fudge die rolls.

    Isn’t that what the adaptive difficulty Shamus has talked about in Half-Life 2 all about? Well, maybe not dice rolls, but the same principle, that the game gets subtly easier as you do worse so that you always have the perception of being just about to die but don’t actually die very often unless you’re truly terrible or unlucky. Not quite the same principle, but XCOM 2 also literally fudges dice rolls at lower difficulty levels, by having the actual chance to hit be a bit higher than the stated chance to hit.
    Has anyone tried applying that sort of philosophy to an RPG? Giving an approximation of a GM who wants you to have a good time, even if that occasionally means fudging the rules for dramatic effect?

    1. Christopher says:

      Considering everything from Resi 4 to Ratchet & Clank use some form of adaptive difficulty, I think it’s pretty probable that Bioware does too. Maybe not at this point, though.

    2. Higher_Peanut says:

      I haven’t heard of it applied to an RPG, at least drama wise. Programming a computer to determine dramatic timing beyond low hp or few standing party members would be hard. A real GM also has more tools to fudge than the dice and a person who understands the decision. It might end up just promoting meta gaming behavior, associating full strength with danger and failure.

      Personally I dislike adaptive difficulty you can’t turn off. If I’m here for the gameplay having it on feels awful, like there wasn’t any point to engaging with the game because success is enforced. Some like Resident Evil 4, lock out content when it activates. If I’m playing for story the adaptive difficulty is irrelevant since I’ll play on easy.

      1. Matthew Downie says:

        Like GM dice-fudging, adaptive difficulty is great fun until you become aware of it.

        1. Christopher says:

          A Link Between Worlds did me dirty with this recently. As in, it’s never been more obvious.

          See, in the Lost Woods this time around, six poes are gonna do a little dance and you gotta pay attention to where they go so you know which way’s the right. You gotta do it three times, and what you have to pay attention to changes each time.

          But when I failed, all the poes slowed down. And there was only five.

          I fail again. Now there’s only four.

          Only three.

          And now I’m failing a couple times with the game bending over backwards just for good measure.

          If you wanna retain your dignity with adaptive difficulty this blatant, you just have to get it first try. Or at least pretend you don’t notice when the boulder in Crash Bandicoot starts chasing you slower out of pity.

          1. Syal says:

            I’m okay with that when it’s a non-standard gameplay gimmick, especially in a game for kids. Although it would work better if they made you fight the poe you’d followed so there’s an in-game reason it gets easier.

            (My favorite example was Trails in the Sky; there’s a stealth section at the tail end of the game where you have to dodge patrols, but I’d managed to go the entire length of the game without figuring out how to rotate the camera, so I was trying to dodge patrols I couldn’t see in narrow alleys I couldn’t see. And then I’d get caught, and the NPC says “alright, some of the guards have gone home now, let’s try again”, down to, like, two patrols in four screens.)

            1. Christopher says:

              That’s a cool way to do it.

        2. Zaxares says:

          Yeah, if you’re a good DM, you WILL need to fudge the dice rolls at some point (because ultimately, your purpose as the DM is to provide a fun gaming experience for the players), but you can never clue in the players that you’re doing it. The idea is to get things juuuuust right so that players feel like they’ve snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, or conversely, if they’re doing TOO well, make things just a smidge more challenging. One example of the latter? My players were about to do battle with an ancient dragon who’s allied himself with the BBEG of the campaign. This dragon has a rich history and the players’ characters have “grown up” hearing tales of how the dragon’s defeated whole armies, and only once came close to defeat (by a legendary paladin whose holy sword now lies lost in the dragon’s hoard).

          So, as you might imagine, expectations were high for this fight. Valiant challenges and gruesome threats were exchanged, initiative was rolled, and the battle was on! The Mage went first, and decided to start with a Finger of Death spell, which has a chance of slaying the dragon outright. Despite the dragon’s impressive spell resistance and formidable saves, the dice decreed… Death for the dragon with a natural 1.

          I momentarily considered letting it stand, but I think if I had, I would have wound up ultimately disappointing my players by depriving them of what should have been an epic fight that pushed all of them to their limits, something that they all an equal hand in. Yes, an insta-death would have been memorable too, but it would have given all the glory to just one player, and the others denied their right to participate in what should have been a battle to remember. So instead, I just smiled, shook my head and said, “The dragon shudders as your spell does its best to snuff out its life force, but against such a force of nature, how can mortal magic prevail so easily? The dragon glares at you with eyes of flame and growls, ‘You die first, little mageling!'” The mage player cringes, and all the other players commiserate with remarks like, “Yeah, there was no way it was gonna work. But good try! At least we damaged the dragon a bit.”

          1. Rack says:

            I fudged the dice as a GM before I knew what I was doing, but ultimately I learned to never roll the dice unless I am prepared for any outcome. Don’t hinge the campaign on a single die roll. If you must let your players have access to save or die and you must pit them against a singular enemy, then either give it a form of resistance or be prepared for that encounter not to happen. Otherwise you might as well sit reading a book and ask your players to roll dice for 40 minutes.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              This. You give them plenty of outs, but if you roll the dice, you have to mean it.

        3. Chad Miller says:

          And in video games people will become aware of it, because unlike a DM with a homebrew campaign a video game can compare runs by playing it repeatedly or in parallel while comparing notes (usually both)

      2. Scampi says:

        If I’m playing for story the adaptive difficulty is irrelevant since I’ll play on easy.

        I can’t fully agree with this, as I’m rather sure there have been games I played on higher difficulty because I played them for story and I felt the story ought to profer a sense of dread, and I felt I wouldn’t be able to properly appreciate it if I made it too easy on myself.

        1. Higher_Peanut says:

          The reason I don’t do this is I never get a sense of dread from death in a game. Deaths are a loss of time and the threat of dying just comes with a sigh. If the game play isn’t carrying the game I’m sure not going to do more of it.

  9. Christopher says:

    The quicksave/quickload thing is one of those PC game things that always sorta weirds me out. It’s nice to be able to save wherever you want, but most console games I’ve played, or in specific JRPGs, put some limit on it. Especially from the same time as Baldur’s Gate. You can’t save in a dungeon, perhaps unless it’s in a designated save spot, you can’t save during a battle, you might only have a few save slots, a reload puts you in a designated area rather than right where you were, that sorta thing. The quicksave/quickload deal is all very well in open world environments prone to glitching the eff out ( hey Skyrim ), but if you have it, you’re going to use it. I’ve played a lot of SNES platformers recently on not-SNES hardware, and a time rewind feature just changes that stuff forever. “I’m a busy man who needs to get back to watching youtube vids. I’ll just rewind every time I miss a jump.” And then you beat the game and the sense of accomplishment kinda isn’t there anymore, ’cause it’s like playing with cheats on. On the one hand, I just beat Donkey Kong Country. On the other hand, every time I failed the failure was instantly erased. It’s nice to not be frustrated, but what I really want is that middle ground of entertainingly challenging.

    In the case of Baldur’s Gate, it sounds like lowering the difficulty and removing the ability to quickload/save would be a bit more, ehm, comfortable? Not getting instantly deathened by randos, but also not being able to reverse it at a moment’s notice. But when what you’ve got is a frustratingly merciless game, I understand using the save system that’s there super liberally.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      I think the difference is whether the game is designed with quicksaving in mind. Shadow Tactics is a great stealth game with a well-designed quicksave mechanic that actually encourages you to use it. The game is still pretty difficult, and not allowing saving all the time would make it insanely frustrating. Or look at Gunpoint. The game is pretty much just quicksaving constantly, and you can jump back a few seconds whenever you want. The game is complex, fast, and lethal, and it can be that way because players can reload anytime. And the same is true of a lot of old PC games. I can’t imagine having to play through Deus Ex 1 using checkpoints instead of save slots. I’d guess console games grew up on a much different trajectory for save design because of different hardware limitations.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        I’d guess console games grew up on a much different trajectory for save design because of different hardware limitations.

        I think this is true, but somewhat indirectly: Early console games were also made for an audience that was used to most games not letting them save at all.

        The vast majority of the NES catalog was such that if you beat a game at all, you beat it in one sitting. Usually this means the game can be beaten in less than an hour once you’ve sufficiently mastered it (this is also likely why all the Super Mario Brothers games ended up with Warp Zones; the games were unusually long for the time!)

        If you don’t want such a game to be “so short I didn’t get my money’s worth,” then you gravitate toward high but skill-based difficulty so much of the playtime is spent learning the game. This is also where a lot of the better arcade games went (many of which were in turn ported to consoles, only strengthening this effect)

        Then you had games like Metroid and Metal Gear where you had “saves” that were implemented by putting in a long password representing the game state. I’m sure those games had “save limitations” meant to keep the passwords down to a halfway sane length.

        Once you’ve accepted all of that, games with real saving like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy feel like a mercy.

    2. GargamelLenoir says:

      Not really. A big part of the fun is to try various ways to resolve the fight. It forces you to find new combos, understand your spells better, etc. Think of it of a Groundhog Day superpower.

  10. Ander says:

    Computers certainly do fudge dice rolls. It may not have a good sense of how and when, but they really do. Sid Meier’s GDQ talk about player psychology is about just one place that comes up: Civilization.

  11. Jabberwok says:

    I actually have no problem with allowing players to save scum. I mean saving could effectively break the steal mechanic in Fallout, because it was just a single dice roll. If you were as stubborn as I was, you could just rob an entire town blind. Yes, I wasn’t playing as intended, but that’s kind of what made it fun.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I’m also in this camp. If the mechanics are engaging, players can restrict their access to the save feature as a self-imposed limitation, as the Grognard suggests.

      For instance, I hate getting spotted during the predator segments in the Arkham games. You really only get one shot at them per playthrough, and hitting the wrong button to drop down amid three guys with machine guns is about the least Batman thing I can imagine. Sure, I can drop a smoke pellet and escape, but the damage to my experience is already done. I enjoy the sections much more if I have easy access to retry the challenges.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I did the same thing in the Arkham games. Yes, yes, I know I can get away and come from a different angle, game, but I’m supposed to be playing the Batman. Getting spotted even once means I’ve failed.
        Reload!

        Related: something that I never, ever, got was Ironman mode in the XCOM games. Dude, if you want to avoid save-scumming, try…not save-scumming? Does an achievement on Steam/GOG/whatever mean so much to you?
        Running on one constantly-updated autosave for a 40-hour campaign is just asking for trouble.

        Particularly because both games are straight-up better with mods and not all that stable to begin with. I can imagin that a lot of Ironman playthroughs fell prey to crashes and bugs rather than the forces of the aliens.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I didn’t play much of the XCOM games, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed an Ironman run.

          Regarding the Arkham series: I really would’ve appreciated a separate difficulty toggle for the predator encounters, akin to Metal Gear Solid 3’s European Extreme setting. It would save me some button presses to get back into the action.

        2. Jabberwok says:

          Actually, X-COM is a game where I appreciate the ironman setting. I don’t care about achievements, but I do tend to abuse multiple saves if the option is there. And as a strategy game, with a lot of different levels of soft failure, I prefer being forced to account for those in a game like X-COM. My best sessions in that game involved making mistakes in a mission (or being screwed by dice rolls) and dealing with the fallout aftewards. I definitely would not support forcing everyone to play that way. But I like being able to choose to force myself to for an entire playthrough.

          It helps that X-COM is not really about a linear story. I’m much less likely to replay a story-driven game than a systems-driven one, so being able to save anywhere is even more important when it’s a game that is meant to be experienced from start to finish.

        3. John says:

          I’ve done Ironman in XCOM a couple of times. It’s not my favorite thing and I’d hate for it to be mandatory but I’m glad that it exists. It’s true that I could technically play quasi-Ironman by just not reloading, but I know me; after a sufficiently bad setback, I’d probably change my mind and reload. In my first successful Ironman run I had a mission where a sectopod wiped out half my squad and severely wounded the other half. If I’d been playing normally, there’s no way I wouldn’t have reloaded. But because I was playing on Ironman I was forced to stick it out. It was an interesting experience. I’m glad I did it, too. But I’m not going to run out and do it again any time soon.

  12. It’s why someday I’d like to see a real story-driven RPG with a more restrictive save system.

    And I would never play that game. That sounds utterly miserable.

    I quicksave all the time, but I very rarely load those. If a conversation doesn’t go quite the way I want, fine, that’s a choice I made. If a conversation leads to completely expected hostility or death, yeah I’ll reload that.

    Or the usual reason: Wanting to see what a choice that I would never commit to would do. I can’t replay story games, so if I want to see what the degenerate evil option would do, I save and try it out – then reload, do the benevolent good option, and continue the game. I do NOT want to have to replay the whole game to try out single branches far into the story.

    1. Chad Miller says:

      Ideally I think this hypothetical auto-saving story game should, after you’ve beaten it, give some way to go back and find out what you missed. Such as some kind of god-mode New Game+ or simply unlocking some way to read the major parts of the script you never saw. Kind of like the home releases of Clue that just played all the endings in a row.

  13. Christopher Wolf says:

    There are so many recruitable characters in BG1 that I think I have never actually used all of them when playing back in the day, except way later when I actively tried to recruit people, if even for a brief time. More recently I end up going for “canonical party” when I play through, just because it fits more story wise with BG1.5 (Dragonspear) and BG2.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      Yeah, I’ve never used most of the cast, even ignoring my lack of interest in evil characters. Let’s see . . . other than the canonical party, I’ve recruited Xzar and Montaron (to get me past Tarnesh), Garrick (he’s where I boot the previous two), Branwen, Xan, and Kivan. How many good/neutral party members does that leave?

      1. Zekiel says:

        Yeslick (LG Dwarf Fighter-Cleric found in the Cloakwood Mines; his single character trait is “gullible”)
        Ajantis (paladin, very dull)
        Coran (CG Elf Fighter-Thief found in the Cloakwood; his character trait is “womanizer”)
        Safana (seductive Thief) is technically Neutral although comes across as a bit evil
        Alora (CG? Hafling Thief, found in the city)
        Skie (Neutral Thief who is in love with Eldoth, found in the city – she is atrocious because she has worse ability scores than Imoen or Safana, you get her so late that you have no control what her thief abilities are AND she is incredibly annoying)
        And there’s Faldorn (the only single-classed Druid, found in the Cloakwood) who would definitely be Neutral Evil if you didn’t have to be True Neutral to be a Druid in D&D 2nd Edition!)
        And I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d forgotten some more. There were LOADS of characters in Baldur’s Gate.

        But you have to try Tiax sometime. Mechanically he’s a bit rubbish (Thief-Clerics are NOT a good combination) but he’s hilarious. A gnome priest of Cyric with a god complex. “One day… BOOM! Tiax rules!” He’s is at least as funny as Minsc.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Oh yeah — we forgot Quayle. This wouldn’t be of note except Bob used his portrait for the PC.

          I have a really hard time keeping evil companions happy, because I can’t bring myself to ignore goody-two-shoes behavior opportunities.

  14. TLN says:

    Dropping in to say that I think threadbare is a pretty accurate description of the BG1 story, and the game at large really. I replayed the series back to back a couple of years ago when the enhanced editions were released and while BG1 definitely helped lay the groundwork for the golden era of CRPGs, it’s more of an interesting curiosity than an enjoyable game these days (whereas BG2 is still pretty much a masterpiece). The staples of a good Bioware game (great worlds and characters) just aren’t really there for the most part and BG1 has a LOT of rather big maps with little to do, and an abundance of characters that are not so much poorly written as they are barely written at all.

  15. kdansky says:

    There are two parts to quicksaving.

    1. Convenience. In modern days, I don’t think anyone can make a good argument against me being able to pause the game, put it away, and continue two weeks later. Older games just could not support that, and they would restart you at a checkpoint. That was awful, because it required you to balance your real-world time constraints with an ingame mechanic. Luckily we’re mostly past this.

    2. Infinite Redo Magic. To me this is the straw that breaks the Skyrim camel’s back. Skyrim is basically unplayable without it, because there are too many bugs and ridiculous insta-kills to play without, and yet it also destroys all attempts at having consequence, because you can always have a do-over at the press of a button. It doesn’t really matter how good all your weapons and spells are, because you got that F9 button which is ridiculously overpowered. The fact that save/load in Skyrim is ridiculously bugged does not help.

    The problem is really that quicksaving stems from solving problem 1, and then introduced problem 2 as a side-effect, and now we’re used to it. Dark Souls is the prime demonstration of how to do it right: Think about your fail states instead of falling back to “just undo time”. If you make a big RPG, it needs to take into account how to deal with things going badly, without requiring an infinite redo option, because as noted, that just wrecks havoc on immersion.

    You know how Bioware fixed this? They made the games so easy that you hardly ever need to reload a save to begin with. They just got rid of the fail-state, because it’s not an interesting outcome for their kind of story-driven game. They should have gone a step further and gotten rid of 90% of the combat as well, because combat was never their strong suit, and it was always filler.

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