Rage 2 Part 4: Marshall Your Allies

By Shamus Posted Thursday Feb 13, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 69 comments

I know the last entry was really negative. If it helps, the worst is over. This story never becomes great, but we’re past the horrendous self-sabotage of the excruciatingly paced opening.

Actually, there’s one last nasty bit:

Once Walker is done with Prowley’s Purgatory of Exposition, Walker has to go outside and explain the situation to Lily. So we need to listen to Walker repeat parts of what we just heard. The only thing worse than overlong needless exposition is doing it twice, so this is a little annoying.

The repetition is actually pretty short – less than 30 seconds – and it’s done over the radio while Walker is walking from the HQ to the gates of the city. That takes the edge off, and maybe it’s worth reiterating the premise of the upcoming adventure to make sure it sticks with the player. Still, after such a long clumsy delivery of information, it feels like salt in the wound.

Obviously this wouldn’t really be a problem if the previous scene was more economical with the player’s time, but you could improve it even more by re-framing the conversation. You could avoid having this feel like a recap by simply having Lily present during the briefing. Then Lily could react to her mother’s briefing, thus doing some character-building stuff. We could get some emotional stuff done so the scene isn’t 100% expositionAnd if you don’t want to waste time on icky emotional stuff, then don’t make Lily the daughter of Prowley. We’re either doing pathos or we aren’t. Pick one.. Walker and Lily could discuss what they’re going to do next to make the player’s goals clear. Even if they’re repeating bits of the briefing, it won’t feel like an expositional re-run if we present it as part of what we’re going to do next.

Instead of Prowley sending you out to talk to the three leaders so they can explain the plot, have Prowley ask you to WARN the other communities. Rather than having her tell you about the leaders, their names, and their backstories, have her say that everyone needs to fortify.

Again, I don’t like the idea of the hologram briefing, but I’m trying to get through this without changing too much. In my briefing, you’d get something like:

Prowley’s Dumb Hologram: You need to go and tell the other communities what happened here.

Lily, who is actually present and not standing outside for no reason: Jesus. Mom had a plan for everything.

Walker: And it still wasn’t enough to stop General Cross.

Prowley’s Dumb Hologram: Talk to the leaders of Gunbarrel, Wellspring, and the science enclave in the Sekreto Wetlands. Everyone needs to focus on defense. This is what I’ve been warning everyone about. Maybe now they’ll listen.

Walker: Screw that. If the Rangers couldn’t hold Vineland, then the other places don’t have a chance. We need to take the fight to Cross.

Lily: How are we supposed to do that?

Walker: I don’t know yet. I’ll visit these towns and see what they know.

Again, this makes Walker the protagonist instead of a minion of a dead NPC. It points us towards our goal without destroying the sense of mystery. It shortens the briefing. It gets Lily involved in the plot rather than making her wait outside while Prowley takes an exposition dump on our protagonist.

I’m not going to claim my intro is brilliant, but I think I’ve fixed the worst problems with the original briefing.

I have one last nitpick before we get started on our Wasteland Murder Tour. That’s this guy:

How dare you not win!
How dare you not win!

This guy is screaming at one of the town guards. (Or is she a Ranger? But I thought all the Rangers were dead? Whatever.) He’s angry that the bad guys won. This might be understandable if the defenders had run away or hidden, but they got slaughtered defending the city. The defenders died protecting him, and now he’s yelling at one of the few survivors. This guy is being an unreasonable ninny.

You could argue that this is a “realistic” reaction, maybe? I’ve never been the survivor of a sacking, and maybe this is something people do. But this guy is the only civilian we see. Just like the disaster with Joe Colonist in Mass Effect 2, this guy represents what we’re fighting for and the fallen community we’re trying to avenge. He should be an extremely sympathetic character. Instead, he’s a complete moron and an asshole.

The good news is that this isn’t a cutscene. These two are talking as you enter the area and it’s up to the player if they want to stop and listen or keep moving forward. That’s nice, but it would be even better if this guy was somewhat sympathetic.

How I’d fix it:

You could make this so much more interesting by having him ask for help that this woman can’t give him. Something like this:

Joe Civilian: I gathered up all the survivors I could find. We’re holed up in the cafeteria. We’ve got a lot of empty bellies and those freaks burned all our food. You guys have any rations left?

Jane Guard: Can’t help you. One of those monsters stepped on the barracks and it’s just a big pile of busted concrete. If there’s any food in there, you’ll have to dig for it.

Joe: What about medpacks? We got a lot of injuries too.

Jane: Maybe check the bodies of the Rangers. Like I said, all our stuff is under the barracks.

Joe: The Rangers are gone. Even their bodies. I think the Authority took them.

Jane: Shit.

Joe: I guess we better start digging then. (Walks away.)

That gives us some worldbuilding, and helps us empathize with the people we’re about to protect / avenge. None of this is essential. The player can stop and listen if they care, or sprint past to the open world if they just want to shoot shit.

Speaking of moving out into the open world…

The Phoenix

That purple flash on the right side of the screen isn't a bug. I just took this screenshot in the middle of a UI animation.
That purple flash on the right side of the screen isn't a bug. I just took this screenshot in the middle of a UI animation.

Lily gives Walker a car and from here Walker has complete freedom to explore the wasteland. The open world has officially opened at this point. It’s been about 23 minutes since the player hit the New Game button, and they’ve spent less than 4 of those minutes actually playing the game.

The car is called the Phoenix. It talks. It’s voiced by Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman back in the 1970s. (You younger folks might remember her as Vermont Governor Jessman in Super Troopers.) In what is probably a random coincidence, she was born in Phoenix, Arizona. (Or maybe they named the car after her hometown? I don’t know. This game has a lot of weird stealth callbacks and references and this could be one of them.) These days she’s married to Robert Altman, Chairman and CEO of Zenimax, parent company of Bethesda Softworks, publisher of Rage 2.

None of that is germane to this analysis, I just thought it was a fun bit of trivia.

Power Level and the Intended Experience

Left-to-right: Marshall, Loosum, Kvasir. You level up your standing with each of them by clearing map markers in their region.
Left-to-right: Marshall, Loosum, Kvasir. You level up your standing with each of them by clearing map markers in their region.

The player needs to meet with the three leaders of Project Dagger: John Marshall, Loosum Hagar, and Dr. Kvasir. You can meet with them in any order you like, although I think the game intends for you to meet them in the order I listed. The gameworld gets tougher as you get further from home, so taking them out of order might have you crossing paths with foes before you’re ready.

The game doesn’t have character levels the way that an RPG does, but outposts are ranked on a scale of 1-10 in terms of difficulty. Marshal’s area is mostly 3. Hagar’s region is around 5. To reach Kvasir you need to drive past a lot of 7-9 stuff. Since this is a skill-based shooter with an upgrade system, there’s no good way to measure player power in a way that can be boiled down to a single number. If you’re really good, you can probably take on level 10 stuff as a newbieDisclaimer: I have not attempted this.. The upgrades are mostly improvements to things like cooldowns, ammo capacity, and reload times. There’s no concept of a  “player level” that automatically scales up health and DPS like in Borderlands. It’s up to you to figure out when you’re ready for a Threat Level 10 encounter. I actually really like this system.

I love how this uncertainty makes the open world more free. It’s not like an RPG where your level 7 character arrives at a level 15 dungeon and you can clearly tell you’re not supposed to be here. Instead you’re like, “Huh. a threat level 7 encounter. I’ve never tried anything that tough. (Beat.) What the hell? I’ll take a crack at it.”

This lack of information might be a no-no in an RPG with an intended path of progression. But this is an open world game where you’re supposed to wander around doing what seems fun and your power is based on skill rather than leveling up. This lack of gamedev babysitting is exactly what you want.

In this write up I’m going to cover the three leaders in the (apparent) intended order. That means we’re headed to meet…

John Marshall

We find out later that Rangers travel all over the map, so I'm not clear on why none of them ever stopped by here. Whatever.
We find out later that Rangers travel all over the map, so I'm not clear on why none of them ever stopped by here. Whatever.

Of all the characters in the game, Marshall is probably handled the best. Walker arrives in the town of Gunbarrel, asks to see Marshall, and when Walker asks about Project Dagger he turns around and says that he needs Walker’s help first. There are mutants below the city’s power plant, gumming up the works. Once you go down and clear them out, he’ll help you with Project Dagger.

This is a pretty classic video game sidequest scenario and it all basically works. I have just a few quibbles:

The smallest problem is that this idea of the power being out isn’t really supported by what we’re shown. Marshall makes this request while tending his bar, which is flooded with neon lights. The city is lit up from the moment you enter. People talk about the power being out, but the lighting doesn’t change as a result of your actions.

It’s not a big deal in this genre, but I’d suggest changing the problem to water or communications if you’re not sure whether the engine / art team can handle swapping between powered and non-powered versions of the city. The supposed “power plant” is filled with pipes and valves and doesn’t have anything in the way of recognizable electrical infrastructure. Maybe this was supposed to be a water treatment plant but the designers changed the dialog to refer to a power plant for some reason? I don’t know. It’s a little weird and distracting.

You’re So Special

I don't know if I should cringe, sigh, or eye-roll.
I don't know if I should cringe, sigh, or eye-roll.

My second problem comes from the dialog between Walker and Marshall as Walker heads into this sewer / treatment plant / power station / murder dungeon.

Marshall is talking about how he runs the city when we come to this exchange:

Marshall:

(continued) …plus, there’s always a gun for hire to do the jobs if things go south.

Walker:

That’s what I am? A hired gun?

Marshall:

Hell no. You’re a Ranger, that’s a whole different enchilada. A whole lot spicier AND meatier!

Walker:

Just making sure, Marshall. Just making sure.

I strongly disapprove of this ego-stroking so early in the story. It would be one thing if Walker was a famous badass like Master Chief. Even then, having the protagonist go around acting like their allies need to validate them is kind of lame and un-heroic. Walker is a new recruit who attained her rank through attrition, so it would be totally reasonable for people to doubt her abilities. Moreover, having her prove she’s more than a hired gun would give us a bit of character arc. People could distrust Walker because she’s an impulsive young gun, and then come to respect her once she’s accomplished something. Yes, this is an age-old trope, but those tropes exist for a reason! It’s much more interesting and heroic to have the protagonist earn their allies than to have them show up and act like they’re entitled to respect.

It’s a small thing, but if we’re trying to tell a minimalist story in the context of a shooter then using the right tropes is a must. Tropes enable you to pack a lot of meaning into a small number of lines of dialog. Leave the expectation-subverting and the fancy plot deconstructions to the RPG nerds.

But even if we decide we want to have other characters stroking Walker’s ego, Walker should not be policing their appraisals of her. When Walker balks at being called a “hired gun”, it makes it sound like she’s a spoiled diva. Walker’s character is paper-thin, but what little characterization we have says that she’s a gruff, practical military hard-ass. In terms of shorthand writing tropes, this is not the sort of person that goes around fishing for validation from people they just met. In a movie, this sort of behavior would signal that the character is weak and emotionally needy. This is why I cringed so hard at this throwaway exchange. I think the writer was trying to build up our hero, but the presentation makes it seem like she’s either entitled or emotionally insecure.

Like I said earlier, Walker has to go through a sewer level to get the power back on. In the end, you restore power by turning this giant pink valve:

It's more complex that just turning this valve. You have to fend off waves of mutants and do some hopping around to throw some switches in the middle of a fight. In terms of gameplay, it's actually pretty good.
It's more complex that just turning this valve. You have to fend off waves of mutants and do some hopping around to throw some switches in the middle of a fight. In terms of gameplay, it's actually pretty good.

This looks… not at all like a power plant. It looks like a sewer, so I have no idea why they didn’t just call it a sewer and have you restore water rather than power. In any case, this does create a small hiccup for my re-write. This level is basically what I suggested for the tutorial mission in my rewrite of the introduction. There are several of these sewer levels in the shipped game, so I don’t think the one I added is a dealbreaker. However, we really don’t want to start the game with two sewer levels in a rowActually, you have to knock over a bandit camp on the drive from Vineland to Gunbarrel, so these two sewer levels wouldn’t be back-to-back. But they’re still too close together. or the player will think that’s all we have to offer. So let me do a quick patch to this mission:

In the shipped game, you sometimes find these lairs / caves that are home to 18ft6 meters. tall monsters. It’s your typical mini-boss kinda deal where you use dash to evade its big attacks and then circle around and shoot it in the back as it recovers. Nothing fancy, but it’s totally serviceable in terms of gameplay.

The thing is, none of these lairs are integrated with the main story. They’re just map markers for you to visit during your murder tour of the wasteland.

To fix the problem of back-to-back sewer levels, I’ll swipe one of these lairs off the open world map and stick it under the town of Gunbarrel. Since the art can’t support switching city lights on and off, let’s ditch the idea that this is a power problem and instead go with communications. The big brute has been chewing through the cables, and now Gunbarrel’s communications gear is disconnected. Marshall explains that he can’t help you with project Dagger if he can’t communicate with you in the field, so you need to slay the beast so the engineers can go in and repair things.

A Side Character Spoils The Ending

Dude! How about a spoiler warning next time, okay?
Dude! How about a spoiler warning next time, okay?

My biggest gripe with this section is the dialog we get once the power is back on. Marshall informs Walker that, “Project Dagger involves driving a jury-rigged tank into Authority headquarters alone and manually distributing a nonotrite murder-mickey to the grand ghoul himself: General Cross.”

Minor nitpicks:

Why do we have a super-complicated plan to kill General Cross, when everyone thought he was already deadDuring the intro, Prowley expresses disbelief that Cross is alive.? Since this plan has evidently been around for years, why didn’t anyone ever enact it? The story makes it sound like the four main leaders came up with a plan they didn’t need, and then stopped talking to each other for no reason, leaving the plan in limbo. When was this plan devised and who were they going to use it on?

The story is vague enough that the player can easily cook up some post-hoc justifications for this. But making the story coherent is not the player’s job. So not only is this ruining the next N hours of story by explaining everything that’s going to happen ahead of time, but it doesn’t even make sense or fit with what we’ve already been told.

As it turns out, the final mission goes exactly as Marshall describes. Again, this takes away Walker’s agency within the story. Walker isn’t going to make any decisions, learn anything new, or undergo any personal growth in order to make this plan happen. She’s just going to go out and do exactly as she’s told.

You could easily change this dialog to put Walker in the driver’s seat. In fact, it would make a lot more sense if this was her plan. “Let’s send one lone soldier into the enemy fortress to shoot the place up and kill the bad guy” is young-person thinking. The three leaders all represent the old guard. They’re the previous generation. They could be written as passive, reactive, or overly cautious in the face of this looming invasion. We could have them adopting a “wait and see” approach, when that approach just failed back in Vineland at the start of the game.

Walker could devise this plan to enter Authority headquarters, and then each of the three leaders would explain why it wouldn’t work as a way of giving her the mission. A paraphrased version of that plot might look something like this:

Marshall: Only authority Tanks get in or out of their base.

Walker: Then I’ll take out an enemy tank and repurpose it!

Marshall: Impossible! That’s suicide.

(One mission later.)

Kvasir: You have a tank, but you need to break the door encryption codes. And that’s impossible. To do that you’d have to (kill a bunch of dudes and access a computer), and that’s impossible!

(One mission later.)

Walker: I’m back, I got the computer codes or whatever.

Loosum: You have a way to get in, but you don’t have a way to kill General Cross. To do that, you’d have to (kill a bunch of dudes and access a science thing), and that’s crazy.

(One mission later.)

Walker: I did that.

Marshall: I’m sorry we doubted you for the whole game. You really do deserve (respect / the Ranger Armor / a gold star)!

You see the difference? Walker isn’t just the one coming up with the plan, but also the one deciding to go on these missions. This makes her proactive and her allies passive, which is the way it should be in a broad action story. Instead of your allies telling Walker how awesome she is, she could instead be a driving force in the story by demonstrating her badassery.

You could do all of this within the framework provided by the game. All you’d have to do is change the dialog to put Walker in the driver’s seat. (You might need to shuffle the missions around or whatever, but the point is that this isn’t more expensive than the alternative.)

Say Something Nice

Annoyingly, the game grabs control of your camera / character here so Walker can mosey up to the bar slowly. So I wasn't able to get a good shot of Gulo's face-mask. We'll see her again before the end of the game.
Annoyingly, the game grabs control of your camera / character here so Walker can mosey up to the bar slowly. So I wasn't able to get a good shot of Gulo's face-mask. We'll see her again before the end of the game.

There’s one little moment here in Gunbarrel that I want to focus on. When Walker enters Marshall’s bar, she finds Marshall having an argument with Gulo, his spy.

Gulo has a hood and a face mask with a particular voice distortion that always makes me think of Tali from Mass Effect. I have no idea if the similarity is intentional.

Gulo uses unique slang that makes her really interesting. Like the War Boys from Mad Max: Fury Road, the slang is thick enough that it feels like the product of another culture, but it’s not so heavy that you can’t figure out what the heck the character is talking about. This brief conversation is really good. I don’t mean it’s “good for a shooter”, I mean it’s honestly good. This kind of stuff is hard to do.

This is one of those strange moments that made me curious about how this game was written. The dialog usually oscillates between functional and cringe-inducing, but then we get occasional exchanges like this one where it feels like a completely different writer snuck in and added half a page of solid material to the script. Who is this writing ninja, and how did they get away with it?

Cringe. It's like someone in the recent Mad Max movie saying, "I got you, fam".
Cringe. It's like someone in the recent Mad Max movie saying, "I got you, fam".

On the other hand, nobody else in the game talks like this. In another part of the game there’s a sign outside a club or whatever. It says, “Don’t clap back. If you basic, you basic.” That cringe-inducing bit of modern slang sounds completely out of place. It would be like Luke Skywalker shouting “Totally tubular, dude!” in Return of the Jedi when they blow up Jabba’s ship. Ephemeral pop-slang doesn’t belong in fantastical alt-worlds.

The Gulo slang was excellent. Ideally, I’d like it if each town had a few unique verbal quirks or accents to make them seem culturally unique, rather than limiting most of the slang to a couple of characters. In any case, these kinds of worldbuilding details can bring a world to life without requiring any additional art assets. I wish there had been more of that sort of thing in the game.

 

Footnotes:

[1] And if you don’t want to waste time on icky emotional stuff, then don’t make Lily the daughter of Prowley. We’re either doing pathos or we aren’t. Pick one.

[2] Disclaimer: I have not attempted this.

[3] Actually, you have to knock over a bandit camp on the drive from Vineland to Gunbarrel, so these two sewer levels wouldn’t be back-to-back. But they’re still too close together.

[4] 6 meters.

[5] During the intro, Prowley expresses disbelief that Cross is alive.



From The Archives:
 

69 thoughts on “Rage 2 Part 4: Marshall Your Allies

  1. Platypus says:

    “Dont Clap Back, if you basic you basic.” Call me dumb but canonically im pretty much “one of the youth” and i cant make heads nor tails of that, are you sure that isnt in game slang lmao.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      I believe the translation is: “Don’t try to insult me back, if you’re a loser you’re a loser”. Clap back being talking back or trying to return an insult and basic being an insult about how you aren’t anything special. To me, someone who’s about 10 years out from the youth, it sounds very much like how the/you kids these days talk. Or maybe it is just how us (not really) old people think the/you kids speaks these days. Either one is equally probable.

    2. Lino says:

      Yeah, neither can I. Although, at 26 I don’t know if I count as “youth” anymore. It’s kind of depressing how I now need to select the 26-35 age range, rather than the 18-25 whenever I’m filling out a poll or something :(

    3. Higher_Peanut says:

      I read it like this, though it took a bit to stop and think through. Black is the default, hence sayings like “X is the new black”. Basic is the hip, with-it (Dislaimer: I am neither) way of saying someone isn’t very bright all falls into all the expected stereotypes with no personality of their own. Don’t clap black seems like a variation on “don’t knock X”.

      So all together: Don’t make fun of the “normal people/thing”, you’re probably one of them. A rather round about way of saying stop being so judgemental or a different version of “those who live in glass houses”.

      I haven’t heard the wasteland dialog but if it’s written as well as Shamus says the use of a more modern day slang term (basic) would really stand out.

      Edit: I misread back as black. Basic still stands out as an out of place slang though.

    4. Nimrandir says:

      I especially like that someone painted the word “dont’t” on the side, with a stencil and everything. It almost feels like a passcode entry for one really dumb member of the gang running the place.

    5. Shamus says:

      “Clap back” means “talk back”, “argue”, or “return an insult”.

      “You basic” means you’re low-class, poor, or otherwise low-status. I’ve heard my daughter (23, lives in Texas) refer to herself as “a basic bitch”. This is taking a pejorative that others have used for her (or people like her) and embracing it as true. Kinda like how a gay person might take a gay slur and use it on themselves as a way of showing they don’t care what their critics think of them.

      I’ve always associated both phrases with poor urban groups, and there seems to be a racial (nonwhite) angle to it, but I could be way off base. I am not an expert in this area.

      1. Lino says:

        Really? I think “basic bitch” means someone who’s shallow and uninteresting. Take it with a grain of salt, though – I’m not a native speaker, and this skit is where I got this definition. I’ve also seen it used to that effect – I haven’t heard it used as a slur for low-income people.

        1. Higher_Peanut says:

          That’s the way I see it used around the internet and in memes. A “basic” person is expected to be simple, follow whatever’s trendy or expected, and have little depth of personality. Like other insults, people can end up using it to describe themselves as a sort of “so, what?” response.

          I don’t think it has a racial component beyond conforming to expected stereotypes. Last I heard the white version of a “basic bitch” likes pumpkin spice and ugg boots, but I could be horribly out of date. I get my slang updates from 2nd hand memes and one friend who somehow keeps up with it.

          1. Geebs says:

            I assumed it was calling another person “basically a bitch” but mangling the syntax.

            I don’t know anything though. I thought “don’t clap back” was an exhortation not to pass on your gonorrhoea to the person who gave it to you in the first place. Sort of a carrying coals to Newcastle thing.

        2. lucky7 says:

          I’m turning 20 in a couple weeks, and I’ve also never heard basic used as a slur. In my experience, it’s meant shallow, boring, or uninteresting.

      2. TemporalMagnanimity says:

        I’m turning 21. Basic means “extra regular.” I have never heard it used as a slur or a perjorative. It’s probably on the level of “your shoes look dumb” on the scale of insults.

        Search for College Humor’s skits on the basic bitch and basic bro, because it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what the term entails.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          You absolutely have heard basic used as an insult because those skits are about DEFENDING those considering basic. Why would they need defending if those things were seen as neutral or positive?

          1. Syal says:

            Only hearing it in Internet passing, I still intuit it as an insult. Definitely “un-advanced”, semi-related to “going back to basics”. Alternately, shorthand for “fresh out of Basic Training, can’t do anything but follow someone else’s lead.”

          2. TemporalMagnanimity says:

            Oh, It’s definitely an insult and I never claimed otherwise. I said it’s neither a slur nor a pejorative, both of which are more wounding than a common insult.

            And those skits are making fun of basic people, not defending them.

    6. Agammamon says:

      Its part Twitter – clap emoji – and part ‘basic bitch’ reference.

    7. Higher_Peanut says:

      Looking back over the comments here, is this what it’s like trying to be a script writer for kids parts? A team with a collection of sort of jumbled up experiences from possibly different cultures trying to make the script sound like a real person and say the line at the same time?

      1. Urban Dictionary says:

        Yes.

        AND they have to balance it with communicating plot and character relevant stuff too, and they also have not been a child in so long that the difference between a 5 yo, 8yo, 12 yo, and 16yo are entirely academic, and their reference points for how young people look and act are 22 yo actors reading a script written by a team of 30-40 year olds.

        And even if they get it right, its dated on a few years.

        Not an enviable job.

    8. Urban Dictionary says:

      Basic=normie, boring, uncool.

      Clap backs are when you attempt to shut down someone dissing you with a better diss that turns people to your side, reversing the intended humiliation.

      So the phrase is basically “Don’t try to talk back, I’m right and you and everyone else knows it”. Like “Make my day” or “sit down, be humble”, its a taunt.

      If anything, this slang is like 3 or 4 years out of date, basic is well known and going out of style, you’re more likely to hear it in a The Good Place quote, and “clap back” is now pretty much used semi-ironically “clap back on them haters” “dab on them haters”.

  2. Mephane says:

    This is one of those strange moments that made me curious about how this game was written. The dialog usually oscillates between functional and cringe-inducing, but then we get occasional exchanges like this one where it feels like a completely different writer snuck in and added half a page of solid material to the script. Who is this writing ninja, and how did they get away with it?

    On the other hand, nobody else in the game talks like this. In another part of the game there’s a sign outside a club or whatever. It says, “Don’t clap back. If you basic, you basic.” That cringe-inducing bit of modern slang sounds completely out of place. It would be like Luke Skywalker shouting “Totally tubular, dude!” in Return of the Jedi when they blow up Jabba’s ship. Ephemeral pop-slang doesn’t belong in fantastical alt-worlds.

    The Gulo slang was excellent. Ideally, I’d like it if each town had a few unique verbal quirks or accents to make them seem culturally unique, rather than limiting most of the slang to a couple of characters. In any case, these kinds of worldbuilding details can bring a world to life without requiring any additional art assets. I wish there had been more of that sort of thing in the game.

    I love it when games (and movies, books etc) do this. A good example off the top of my head is Warframe where this is done in several places and in my opinion really enhances the worldbuilding:

    * In Fortuna you have a (literally) underground rebel faction which uses some slang, and particularly the younger characters employ it much more heavily than the older ones. Words like “dog” (good), “primo” (excellent), “chek chek” (alright, roger that), “logical” (friend as opposed to “biological”, i.e. family), “clock”/”klokkit” (understand), “mucking”/”mucker” (replace the m with an f), as well as adressing the player by various nicknames (“sparky”, “glinty”).

    * In Cetus, a techno-tribal culture lives that clearly speaks a different language natively, and words of that language slip into the dialog all the time that you are never sure you fully understand (“swazdo lah”, “utz”, “surah”, “lok heb”).

    1. RubberBandMan says:

      Also in Warframe Fortuna you have ‘The Business’ or ‘Biz’, a nice chap who everyone mentions isn’t around from here… and doesn’t use any of that local slang, even though he’s inner-circle. It’s not just ‘everyone here talks like this’ but uses their place in society and what local verbage they use to help define who is from where.

  3. Lino says:

    It gets lily involved in the

    Should be “Lily”.

    1. Kathryn says:

      Adding to typolice: not sure if this was a typo or intentional given the guy’s name turned out to be Marshall, but marshal, the verb, as in marshaling your allies (the title), has only one L.

      1. Shamus says:

        Yeah, that one’s just a lame pun and not a typo.

  4. Dreadjaws says:

    I know the last entry was really negative. If it helps, the worst is over.

    Aw. Seeing you react to the negative stuff is the most fun part.

    1. GargamelLeNoir says:

      Yes, this is a Shamus classic, apologizing to us for providing what we like. Jim Sterling does it too I’ve noticed, apologizing for hilariously bashing on Fallout 76 and the likes.

    2. Lino says:

      Yeah, it might be mean, but I also love it when Shamus is frustrated about something. Although, talking about worldbuilding is a very close second. The article I’ve re-read the most on this site is the Mass Effect Retrospective part about TIM Island. That, along with the articles at the beginning and end of the various games in the franchise.

      I almost think he could turn into a series – “Novel/game ideas that I never had the time to write/make”, telling about the setting, world, main characters, etc.

    3. GoStu says:

      While I do like the (high-quality!) criticism that Shamus makes, I think there needs to be some positive or at least neutral sections in between for variance. Someone who’s just all-negative all the time comes off as impossible to please, or doing the tired persona of “angry ranting gamer”.

      That’s why I love a lot of Shamus’s bits of “here’s how I’d do it better, on a similar budget”. It’s insightful and shows there’s something salvageable in the mix-ups.

  5. GargamelLeNoir says:

    Only one thing that bugs me a little in this particular instance of script doctoring. If Walker has the idea of just charging into the bad guy’s fortress how does she know that she needs one component to achieve that plan from each settlement? And it becomes way too coincidental that they all have one piece of this improvised puzzle.
    I don’t know enough about the game’s story to be of much help to find a clever organic way for all settlements to be necessary for the success of this improvised plan…

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      Don’t take it verbatim. Shamus states clearly that it’s a paraphrased example. He’s just illustrating how you can keep the game’s existing structure and swap the elements to make the player the one driving the plot. The how and why of “go to three places and collect three MacGuffins” can easily be sorted out later. It’s not particularly relevant to this week’s post.

    2. beleester says:

      I think you could move the gather-the-party exposition to Marshall and just rewrite it to be less of a spoiler.

      “There’s three problems with your plan.
      You don’t have the codes to get through security. Even if you had the codes, they’re no good without an Authority vehicle. And even if you got inside, you don’t have a way to kill Cross when you find him.”

      “I can find those for you. Just tell me where!”

      “I’m an intelligence officer, not omniscient. But I do know someone who can help you with that other stuff…”

      [Other two settlements added to your map.]

  6. Joshua says:

    “Then Lily could react to her mother’s briefing, thus doing some character-building stuff. We could get some emotional stuff done so the scene isn’t 100% exposition”

    Something that experienced screen-writers for films and television already know. Dialogue can convey a variety of things:
    1. Exposition
    2. Humor
    3. Characterization
    4. World-building
    5. Probably more I’m not thinking of

    It’s usually best to hit more than one of these at a time to make your story more efficient and enjoyable. Stuff that is only one of these tends to drag the plot down.

    1. Urban Dictionary says:

      100%. If dialogue only does one thing, its generally considered inefficient. If the only thing it does is convey plot, its generally considered bad, and an editor should make some notes. It leads to people getting bored and whining about exposition dumps.

      This is a last chance for Lily to see her mother, AND it is happening right after her mothers death. You would be a damn fool not to put her in the room, it is a moment that writes itself, and it saves dialogue later, and it creates character conflict-her mother’s last message was for you, not her, and you can mine that for character drama between her and Walker, allowing the writer to develop both characters-setting up a bitter rivalry or heartfelt declaration of filial love and a burying of the hatchet.

      I can’t imagine how that got by them to be honest.

  7. Exit Through The SubOcean says:

    Having Walker be/feel like a fraud could actually make for interesting character stuff — and it’d recast the interactions you have/could have with NPCs where they laud you for being this badass ranger who will save them all. Sort of like the Postman but with more stolen valor and realized protagonist dreams. Maybe more of an RPG hook than a shooter though.

    It’d also be interesting if Operation Dagger was left over from back when the Authority was around for the first time and these guys were the protagonists (at least until the player character showed up and took care of everything). Then it’d feel less like you’re fulfilling a preordained destiny and more like you’re piecing together some ramshackle scheme from dusty archives they could never get to work the first time.

  8. Dreadjaws says:

    You could argue that this is a “realistic” reaction, maybe? I’ve never been the survivor of a sacking, and maybe this is something people do. But this guy is the only civilian we see. Just like the disaster with Joe Colonist in Mass Effect 2, this guy represents what we’re fighting for and the fallen community we’re trying to avenge. He should be an extremely sympathetic character. Instead, he’s a complete moron and an asshole.

    I’ve never been the survivor of a sacking either, but I’ve seen enough bad situations in my old job to know some people are just assholes and like to blame the victims or the saviors rather than the attackers. Hell, it’s a well documented enough reaction that you don’t need personal experience to know about it. How many people just outright hate the Police or Military? And I don’t mean just particular members of those groups, but the entirety of them.

    Yes, you make a great point that this guy shouldn’t be the only civilian we see, but keeping him around would be even better for worldbuilding than just getting rid of him. Showing the victims as sympathetic is important, but showing them as a realistic group with a few bad apples is important as well. It makes the hero look better because it’s not as easy to fight for a group of people where not everyone is nice. Of course, don’t just go around and make everyone a jerk either, or else you have no incentive at all.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      My take-away is that we only have one civilian, and he’s a jerkface. If you can only work one civilian NPC into the scene, he should not be a jerkface.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        That’s why I said to keep him around but also put some other, non-asshole civilians there as well.

    2. Urban Dictionary says:

      Lets not make it political, or I’d have to tell you why, and it would upset everyone.

  9. Nimrandir says:

    The car is called the Phoenix. It talks. It’s voiced by Linda Carter, who played Wonder Woman back in the 1970s.

    Another bit of trivia: her name is spelled Lynda. I’ve spent most of my life believing that was a pseudonymous spelling for the stage, but according to Wikipedia, it’s her birth name.

    1. Shamus says:

      Wow. How did I MISS that? I looked her up on Wikipedia when I wrote this, and I didn’t even notice the unusual spelling.

      I’m going to edit the post. Thanks for the heads up.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Not a problem at all. If it makes you feel any better, I misread the name of her husband and thought to myself, “There’s another Allman brother? And he runs Zenimax?”

      2. Duoae says:

        I think it’s quite common when you’re expecting a particular spelling of a name. It took me several entries to realise you were typing Issac instead of Isaac. (Apologies to Issac for misspelling his name several times!)

  10. Daimbert says:

    I strongly disapprove of this ego-stroking so early in the story. It would be one thing if Walker was a famous badass like Master Chief. Even then, having the protagonist go around acting like their allies need to validate them is kind of lame and un-heroic. Walker is a new recruit who attained her rank through attrition, so it would be totally reasonable for people to doubt her abilities.

    I don’t read the example as Walker trying to get validation or seeking ego-stroking. Any army professional is going to react that way to the implication that they’re nothing more than a hired gun, especially when accepting a mission since that might imply that she’s getting sent there because she’s expendable, and Walker is both part of the regular forces and is part of an organization that people consider critical.

    At best, they might not have had the guy stroke her ego, but she probably would demand it and he might well hasten to say, if he really wants her help with this problem AND with the Project, that he didn’t mean it that way.

    1. Hector says:

      I was going to post this as well. The PC is making it clear that his motivations go beyond money, not whining about it.

      It’s like treating a Park Ranger rescuing lost vistors as though he were begging for tips; you have wildly misunderstood the relationship and insulted him at the same time.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        In that case, surely a better line would be:
        ‘You know I’m a Ranger, right? You could just hire a merc to do this. And I’ve got the get to the other settlements!’

        1. Daimbert says:

          The point of the trope — and yes, it is a standard trope — isn’t a way out of the mission. It’s to express that they shouldn’t be considered merely a hired gun since that’s not what they are. Usually, the drive is, as Hector’s example notes, about motivation: denying that the person is just doing it to earn money or for personal gain. Here, that’s not as clear, but Walker would definitely want these people to be thinking of her as a ally to the overall cause and not just someone disposable to do dangerous things for them.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Of course, of course. I’m not trying to do the player out of game content. My example comes across less as Walker fishing for compliments, to me, and helps build up the threat of Cross and his army a tiny bit.

            Marshall can always reply: ‘Sure, I know, I know. But it needs doing now, you’re here now…it’ll take a Ranger no time at all, right?’

            (Plus be a bit of lampshading on the classic ‘Prove Your Worth’ trope could be fun.)

            1. Hector says:

              No argument that the dialogue could be way better however.

            2. Syal says:

              Don’t think that works well enough (although I also don’t see a problem with the original). The thrust of the line is “Remember, I’m working with you, not for you,” and the “you could have someone else do this” version still makes it seem like Marshall’s in charge and gets final say.

  11. Karma The Alligator says:

    It would be one thing if Walker was a famous badass like Master Chief. Even then, having the protagonist go around acting like their allies need to validate them is kind of lame and un-heroic. Walker is a new recruit who attained her rank through attrition, so it would be totally reasonable for people to doubt her abilities.

    I imagine what they were going for is that Marshall sees a (probably heavily used) Ranger armour, so he assumes Walker’s qualified for it (and Walker feels insulted to be taken for a simple gun for hire). Unless they actually say that everyone knows Walker is a greenhorn.

  12. Professorkid says:

    “Obviously this wouldn’t really be a problem is the previous scene was more economical with the player’s time,”
    Do you mean *IF* the previous scene?

  13. BruceR says:

    You spell “Marshal/Marshall” both ways in the text.

    Sorry to be that guy.

  14. BlueHorus says:

    making the story coherent is not the player’s job

    This. THIS. THIS, a thousand times over! The number of time’s I’ve pointed out a plot hole or sloppy writing in something, only to have someone step in and explain how their special headcanon or fan theory removes the problem…

    (…is quite a few, and I find it exasperating.)

    Sure, you can explain away plot holes. So can I. Sometimes I even do. But regardless, it misses the point that the plot hole exists in the first place, and no amount of headcanon will change that.

    Related (and to be fair, not something I’ve seen much here): it’s the game’s job to entertain you, not your job to enjoy the game.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      But it’s really hard to make a game nowadays. Did you know that game publishers haven’t even raised the price past $60 to keep up with inflation? There’s not enough budget to have an engaging and cohesive story, characters, and world!

    2. Joshua says:

      “The number of time’s I’ve pointed out a plot hole or sloppy writing in something, only to have someone step in and explain how their special headcanon or fan theory removes the problem…”

      Argh, this so much. “Well, what could have happened is”. Unless it’s something obvious, like “The film never explains what happened to the car of mooks firing automatic weapons at our heroes in the city, but it’s fairly reasonable to assume they had the police chase after them”, it’s all not just headcanon, but headcanon trying to cover up for the writers’ errors.

    3. Dreadjaws says:

      The number of time’s I’ve pointed out a plot hole or sloppy writing in something, only to have someone step in and explain how their special headcanon or fan theory removes the problem…

      Oh, God, for real. It’s far more prevalent in movies, but anywhere it happens is absolutely annoying. It’s fine if you wish to use headcanon to explain a story better for yourself, but don’t act like that means that the story doesn’t have those problems in the first place.

  15. Echo Tango says:

    Anyone else have a hard time reading the subtitles in the screenshots? I zoomed in and moved closer, so that the screenshots filled both my screen and my field of view, and those substitutes still felt small, and difficult to distinguish from the background.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I had a tough time with the ‘spoiler warning’ one, thanks to the lighting around the left side of the subtitle. The others were more or less fine, though.

      Are you on a mobile device? I’m using a laptop, so that may account for the difference.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Desktop. I’d say they’re readable at this size, but that if I was playing the game, I’d probably lose them in the action. They’re on the border of what font-size I can parse quickly, they’re very wide, so I have to track back a long way to the next line, and they don’t have a background to separate them from the scene they’re overlaid onto. Compare the screenshots with what’s recommended by the BBC (scroll down a bit from section nine, to the pictures). Their aim is to help people with reading / vision / etc problems, but I’d argue that a player in the middle of a complex scene, in a high-action game will have problems parsing text quickly too, because of the situation they’re in.

  16. Syal says:

    This makes her proactive and her allies passive, which is the way it should be in a broad action story.

    Honestly, I think this is more down to taste. As an extremely not-self-motivated individual, I relate much better to go-with-the-flow type characters who are running with other people’s ideas. As long as the people who have the ideas can’t complete them without the player’s help (they’re too old, too well-known, too busy with other critical things), you’ve still got plenty of agency.

    Also, I hate when games tell me how to feel, so any version of the character trying to earn approval from an NPC is going to fall flat. I, the player, don’t care if they approve, just gimme the quest and get outta the way.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      In addition to what you said about agency, there are certain types of games where it is generally better to have an NPC come up with plans and order the PC around. The most obvious types of games here are most games with a military theme, as it just makes more sense that Private Parts isn’t going solo but is taking orders from a platoon leader somewhere and that the plan is coming from Major Mistake or General Idea. If you want the Badass Soldier fantasy, having NPCs give orders and come up with plans is quite a good fit, as it emulates the chain of command.

      Which is probably how Rage 2 thinks of its story: Walker is a Ranger, so Walker takes orders. This would make sense if it wasn’t for how the Rangers are pretty much gone and most of the game is about doing a solo mission anyway. It is also a very bad fit for any kind of open world game, where the player is likely to be chasing map markers rather than staying on mission. As such, open world games are much more suited to a story involving a proactive protagonist as it doesn’t cause the dreaded ludonarrative dissonance of playing a soldier who spends most of the game going against direct orders.

      1. Syal says:

        It is also a very bad fit for any kind of open world game

        Well you don’t want an actual boss giving direct orders, but the Nerevarine from Morrowind is probably my favorite open world main character, and all the quests there are choosing to follow people’s instructions. And Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn is easily my least favorite where she’s constantly trying to tell people their plans are bad.

        1. Urban Dictionary says:

          Sure, but the Neravarine actually has tons of agency, even if you follow the maim quest. Yes, someone is always telling you something or giving you an objective, but if you want to accomplish that, there’s often options, from research, investigation, magic, bribery, murder, and who you work with in a mutually exclusive faction system.

          They really aren’t just being told what to do in the same way. it’d be like arriving at Balmorra, and instead of Cassius saying that he needs you to skill up before he can use you, and choosing which guilds to run with, whether to quest, or just steal and pay for a trainer, he instead tells you “I need you to kill 25 boars” and then granting the required xp as a quest reward. One of these gives the PC and the player agency, even if in reality, their options are limited, the other one railroads them, which is a poor way of maintaining player motivation in an open world.

          Really weird comparison to bring up, really doesn’t support your argument.

          1. Syal says:

            he instead tells you “I need you to kill 25 boars” and then granting the required xp as a quest reward.

            Like the opening “kill the rats” quest in the Fighter’s Guild, or when Caius sends you to get notes, and the guy with the notes sends you to get the Dwarven Box. Plenty of missions where the NPC makes a plan and you follow it.

  17. Jack V says:

    I wonder if they put in the recap for the benefit of anyone who went out to make coffee (or just didn’t listen) during the cut scene. Or rather, I doubt they realised that was a problem here specifically, but if that’s common practice in games with long cut scenes…

  18. methermeneus says:

    Typolice (somehow, after 51 comments?):

    you go improve it even more

    Probably “you could improve”?

    1. methermeneus says:

      Also, “Marshall” has one l in the first caption to mention him.

  19. Hector says:

    Might be too late in this series, but I think one simple but strong addition would be Ghost Mom. That is, take advantage of sci-fi setting and do something similar to Halo: have an AI companion, but in this case have it be a digital copy of your character’s mom.

    But! Its mom when she was younger and a party girl, not the older matronly figure. You can have the characters interact with lots of jokes or banter, she can call out warnings, and other characters who knew her can chat with the AI. It’s a way of adding character with a little graphic and some voicework: very inexpensive, development wise.

  20. Taxi says:

    Regarding the double exposition:

    One thing I’ve always hated in movies/TV is the situation where:

    – person 1 and 2 in a room are having some serious conversation
    – person 1 storms out / leaves crying / very distressed etc.
    – person 3 is entering the room, sees P1 leaving and immediately knows what the conversation was about
    – alternatively, P3 asks P2 what’s going on and there’s a dramatic music and zoom in at P2’s face

    Basically such scenes felt very 2- dimensional. We would never P3 actually learning what happened in the room; it was all just theatre drama.

    Then in the mid-00’s this began to change. Battlestar Galactica comes to mind, we would often see characters give brief recaps to other characters. I loved it because it felt like we’re watching real life and not just a stage play.

    Apparently directors love it too and in the last few years have been going overboard with it. So now we sometimes have to watch something told and retold over and over.

    Star Trek Picard comes to mind where it’s actually somewhat annoying.

  21. Dennis says:

    Hey Shamus, spotted a typo. You’re missing punctuation here:
    intended path of progression But this is an open world

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