Achilles and the Grognard: Biowarification

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Jan 18, 2020

Filed under: Video Games 67 comments

Achilles: I finally put my finger on something about how this game feels.

The Grognard: How’s that?

Achilles: This game feels more familiar. Like it’s part of a genre I recognize, instead of something from before my time.

The Grognard: Is there anything specific that makes you feel that?

Achilles: Well, for one thing, I can finally bang some of these people.

Sometimes, Aerie starts sashaying her hips at you after just a couple hours of gameplay.
Sometimes, Aerie starts sashaying her hips at you after just a couple hours of gameplay.

The Grognard: A Bioware signature. Of all developers, I feel they’re the ones to most effectively monetize the horniness of your average consumer. As far as I know, these were pretty much the first examples of involved NPC romances. So, who are you going with? Aerie? Jaheira? Viconia, even?

Achilles: I don’t have to choose yet. I’m keeping my options open. Top Hat Guy is still bitter that he never got to shoot his shot with Dynaheir in the last game. And then there are all these new people too.

The Grognard: New people?

Achilles: Like Neera, Dorn, and Rasaad. These extremely conspicuous ones. I haven’t mentioned them yet, but I’m going to take a wild guess: these are the companions added in the “enhanced edition” version of the game.

The Grognard: They are. They’re characters designed in a later era – more involved quests, more dialogue, and more voice acting. The last of those is particularly noticeable. You don’t seem to care for these new characters, though.

Neera - wild mage and unfortunate object of desire for the Red Wizards of Thay.
Neera - wild mage and unfortunate object of desire for the Red Wizards of Thay.

Achilles: They’re not bad or anything. They’d work fine in their own game. They just stick out here. Look, you’re going to be proud of me: only two games in, and I’ve already generated my own, home-grown, old-fart, stick-in-the-mud opinion about RPGs and how they used to be better.

The Grognard: I knew this day would come. Let the hate and anger flow through you. They will make you strong.

Achilles: They’re all voice-acted now, right? I mean, fully voice-acted dialogue is expected nowadays.

The Grognard: For the most part, yes.

Achilles: Honestly, if I were a writer, I’m not sure I’d want that. You’d think it would just make my job harder. Now the company has to factor in the expense of getting actors into a studio into their bottom line, and you just know they’re going to chisel that out of the writing budget. Plus, late rewrites are out. Writing “just for fun” dialogue is out. And stuff like that, if I had to guess, is part of where the magic happens.

From the first game. Periodically one-off NPCs will wander up to you and start talking in what I call 'Forgotten Realms-ese,' which is reliably entertaining to read.
From the first game. Periodically one-off NPCs will wander up to you and start talking in what I call 'Forgotten Realms-ese,' which is reliably entertaining to read.

The Grognard: My friend, you have wandered directly onto the saddle of one of my favorite hobby-horses. Fully voiced dialogue is the development pipeline equivalent of a trap build. The budgeting equivalent of a low-INT wizard. I wish it wasn’t the industry standard.

Achilles: Now you’ve gone and gone too far. It’s not always bad. Think of characters like Garrus, or Mordin who was actually voiced by two different people in the second and third Mass Effect games.. The way those guys talked, the way they performed their lines, added something to the characters.

The Grognard: True – yes, voice actors can add to a character. But they don’t need to be fully voiced to do it. Think of David Warner as Jon Irenicus. Not fully voiced, but memorable. Admit it, you can hear his voice in your head right now.

Achilles: So what would you do instead? Have developers go back to the old way, and have their lunches eaten by teams who realize it’s not 2006 anymore?

The Grognard: Honestly? I wouldn’t mind. I’ve never been able to muster up that much investment in whether games make money or not. As far as I’m concerned, for a developer to make money is a means to an end, not an end in itself. My favorite RPGs recently have included the Pillars of Eternity series, which is not exactly some AAA powerhouse, and Disco Elysium, maybe the most interesting RPG in years.


Link (YouTube)

The Grognard: Watch how much “unnecessary” dialogue is in that bit of gameplay. Then remember that “unnecessary” dialogue is usually anything but – it creates vibe, atmosphere, themes, character development, and foreshadowing. The things that lurk underneath a setting and make it seem real. How often is a game prepared to ramble the way that one does?

Achilles: Yeah, but making games takes money, and the more money you make the more money they’ll give you on the next go-round. This avant-garde stuff is like a luxury item. Be glad it’s there, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

The Grognard: Are we sure of that? I can’t tell with Disco Elysium because Steam doesn’t release sales numbers, but if I had to guess I would guess that it made back its money and then some.

Achilles: There’s money and there’s money. It’s an indie game. In a perfect world, maybe indie games have AAA budgets, but that’s not the world we live in so far.

The Grognard: But the world we live in now is designed by people who overestimate their own ability to predict what will and won’t make money, and who give undue importance to profitability. I want to show you something:

In the southeast corner of the theatre map in the slums.
In the southeast corner of the theatre map in the slums.

The Grognard: This is a backroom of a theatre company, where they store props. You can see that there’s a tiny little ship, and a tiny little castle, and other props that you might use when putting on a play.

Achilles: So?

The Grognard: There’s no quest here. There are no NPCs or mobs here. It’s just a back room, with nothing in it. And yet they put so much care into the art, art which I believe is unique and not seen anywhere else in the game. Once upon a time, they made games like this, and they were not only profitable, they were hits – ones that commercial reputations were built from.

Achilles: You’re taking too much credit away from modern games. There are bits of soul in them too, like Elcor Hamlet or Krogan Macbeth. Fully voiced, too! It’s not impossible.

The Grognard: Not impossible, no, but harder. To me, the goal of the business end of game development is to support the creative end, not the other way round.

Achilles: Look, I see where you’re coming from. I just wouldn’t hold my breath.

The Grognard: You have no way of stopping me! This Biowarification of games contains the seeds of our doom!

Achilles: Look, I just worry about you, okay? Anyway, next time we’ll talk about the game’s combat, some of the best in the genre.

 

Footnotes:

[1] who was actually voiced by two different people in the second and third Mass Effect games.



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67 thoughts on “Achilles and the Grognard: Biowarification

  1. tmtvl says:

    Middle market* is the future for those games that have enough budget and love to be outstandingly amazing. Indie games can be quite amazing in their own way as well, but the hamstrung budget they tend to have can leave its scars on the overall experience.

    * I despise and loathe the term ‘AA’. Batteries aren’t my idea of a fun toy to play with.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I really wanna make a joke about AAA being batteries too but nothing comes to mind.

      1. Syal says:

        Nah, AAA is towing. They’re the games that tow the industry around.

        So maybe we should call the middle… um… Yellow Cab?

    2. Asdasd says:

      I’d join Achilles in not holding my breath on the middle market. What looks like a viable sector is really, I suspect, always a transitory phase for independent studios who have had enough of a hit to make lift-off with their operation, are looking to keep it in the air for as long as possible, but are that much heavier for the very fact of their growth and success. It’s stressful when every project could be your last, and the owners will always be mindful of the opportunities out there that will could at any moment take all the insecurity over their employees’ future away and give them much better nights’ sleep into the bargain.

      (See also: take-up for EGS exclusivity. Whatever other pros and cons it might (or might not) pose in the long run, the guarantee that Epic will buy enough copies of this game, that they can make the next one no matter what, has proven irresistible to many small and mid-sized studios.)

      Opportunities such as an acquisition. To wit, look at the proud, Brown-coat paeans to independence we’ve had over the years from the likes of Tim Schafer, inExile, and Ninja Theory: all owned by Microsoft now. (You can find countless examples elsewhere too, I’m not picking on Redmond.) Consolidation has been a trend since gaming began, albeit one which has been periodically been bucked by an indie renaissance here and there. Every studio makes the right noises about nothing changing when they’re bought out, but rising budgets and a different tone at the top will always have some effect: for one thing your games are now going to be fully voice-acted, with the attendant ramifications..

      We can look to the ‘game pass’ model as a future alternative model to selling up to a publisher outright, but the details on revenue share are murky. What are the metrics by which success is compensated, and at what rates, and how generous and trustworthy are the platform holders likely to be, given that all the numbers go into a black box to which they have the only key? The need to make the ‘right’ kind of game for success in a subscription ecosystem could prove as distortive and constraining to game design as ownership (or indeed independence).

    3. Baron Tanks says:

      Hear, hear! These terms are awful. Middle market is one of the better alternatives I’ve heard

  2. The characters “The Grognard” and “Achilles” why it may seem amusing, they kinda blur into each other as if they where two sides of the same coin. It’s entirely possible to write in one voice that is able to see multiple sides at once, I think a “Bob Case” did that at least once before.

    But the characters “The Grognard” and “Achilles” might be improved by having a small avatar next to their names each time they speak that reflect their personality. Because I can’t recall which is supposed to be witch and I’m too lazy to go back to post #1 in the series to remind myself.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      I think their voices were cleared and more distinct in those early entries. The Grognard was the old-school man with sensibilities shaped by RPGs in the 90’s while Achilles was the new generation, brought up on games defined by ballooning budgets, increasing ability to make games that managed cinematic storytelling and game design that emphasized user comfort over punishing gameplay and trial and error.

      In the last few entries I’ve felt that Achilles in particular is way too easily swayed into conceding the points of Grognard. Particularly when I, someone brought up on late 90’s RPGs and for whom the Baldur’s Gate and Fallout series were formative, can make some much more biting counterpoints. To wit: The screenshot from the theater house is taken in the theater which serves as the bard class’ stronghold. You see a similar amount of detail in the Planar Sphere (Wizard/Sorcerer), D’Arnise Hold (Fighter), Umber Hills (Ranger) and Guildhouse (Thief), because those were places the player would repeatedly visit and create a connection with. You would not see that kind of detail in most other areas of the game, particularly the non-descript houses of Athkatla. In that way it is no different from how the Normandy or Skyhold has tons of unique assets.

      1. Asdasd says:

        On the other hand, every class has a custom base with unique art and exclusive quests . Can you imagine a 2019 game that would lock dozens of hours of content away just to differentiate ten separate playthroughs? It’d never get past the boardroom at Bioware today, let alone EA (‘wait, so you’re saying the player will only get to see one tenth of this stuff? What a waste of time and money! Give the player *two* choices, and save the rest for the season pass.’)

        It’s different to Skyrim precisely because in that game you can be a member of every class guild in a single playthrough and rinse the entirety of the content in one go.

        1. Meanwhile over at CD Project Red… (paraphrased) “Cyberpunk 2077 will be a little shorter than The Witcher 3 but have more paths/replayability/outcomes”.

          1. Asdasd says:

            Ok, ok. There will be exceptions; I think the point stands. And I’m looking forward to Cyberpunk as much as anyone else !

        2. Gethsemani says:

          You are greatly exaggerating just how much content each of the class specific bases had. All of them amounted to a quest chain that was, at best, 2 hours long and 3 or 4 short consecutive missions and maybe you got a half-decent unique item or two at the end (the Ranger and Druid was the best about this, the Bard and Fighter worst). All of the bases were also explorable by all classes, since they all tied into a significant side quest that all classes got and the coolest encounters and items for each location could be found by all classes as part of the unlocking side quest.

          I mean, considering the rather weak plotlines of the class specific side quests (it really shone through that BioWare did not have time to flesh them all out to any significant degree, to the point that the Fighter/Monk quests basically amounted to meeting a bunch of guys in your throne room a few times and then fighting half a dozen weak mooks outside) it was arguably the right call to do what BioWare did going forward: Focusing more on companion quests and making the base the same for all classes/characters.

          As I said, the Normandy and Skyhold each individually is likely to have more unique assets (and those assets were more time consuming to make due to advancements in graphics) then all of the PC bases in BG2 put together. That’s simply because it is generally a virtue to create one genuinely interesting and unique area for the player to explore then it is to punch out half a dozen asset flip areas. If you want to disagree with that I’ll point you to the absolutely worthless asset flip that is DA2’s every non-main plot dungeon as opposed to all the handcrafted dungeons of DA:O. The idea of unique bases for each class was cool, but in execution it is a dilution of resources that runs the risk of weakening the game, especially if you could put all that time and effort into making one truly cool base that all classes shared. I’d argue that BioWare did the right thing with the Ebon Hawk and moving forward, in that a shared base that you actually want/need to visit between areas is better then the bases of BG2 which you might visit to collect the pitiful income once the short quest line is done.

          1. Gautsu says:

            I’d argue that Paladin is the most extreme example of this, as you don’t even get your own room, in the single screen stronghold, it’s only 4 quests, but Carsomyr is one of the best weapons in game

        3. ivan says:

          Technically, it’s not that you can, but that you have to. By which I mean, besides the civil war, and the dark brotherhood, no other questlines have a particular off-state, failure-state, or have paths that branch to lock you out. And the civil war doesn’t even really count, since besides the introductory quest both sides are identical, besides which towns you conquer, in which order, and which person you kill at the end.

          Anyways the point is, just by inertia, EVERY Skyrim character WILL complete EVERY quest, even if it’s just by extrapolation into the future, after the player stops, since there is no gamestate where they become not completable. Nor any player build where they are not completable. Basically, it’s made in such a way that there’s no way for a character not to do them all, every time.

          The only player/character agency there, is to choose to do them later.

    2. The Puzzler says:

      If you know what a “Grognard” is (literally ‘grumbler’ but also ‘old soldier’) it’s pretty easy to remember which is supposed to be which.

    3. Joshua says:

      I’m more wondering when it’s going to get to the point of BG3. I guess he’s dragging it out until it actually releases?

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I’m waiting for him to get onto the Divinity games. THAT’LL occupy Achilles and the Grognard for a while.

        Plus, I’ll have actually played those and will have something to say!

    4. Decius says:

      You have the thesis and antithesis speaking, and forming the synthesis.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Just don’t switch them via metathesis.

    5. KillerAngel says:

      I’m a sucker for the Socratic style because it’s a good way of writing out two conflicting sides of yourself. I’ve never had any issue remembering which is the side of him that resents all these new-fangled modernizations and budget upgrades and just wants to get back to janky charm, and the side of him that loves that RPGs sometimes stray into big budgeted 3D worlds. Sometimes the best way to convey your conflicting opinions is to give each of them their own distinct voice, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t two sides of the same coin — the coin being Bob and the sides being his opinions.

  3. Ofermod says:

    It’s interesting that Pillars of Eternity is mentioned as an example of “going back to the old way”, when they decided to go to fully voiced for Pillars 2.

    1. True, but still only the NPC characters, it’s when the player character gets voiced that things get complicated (regarding VO) and you’ll need to scale down the dialog (Cyberpunk 2077 devs are struggling with that balance now).

      1. tmtvl says:

        Interesting case study: Wizardry 8. Unfortunately Sirtech ran out of money during development, but you can make a party of 6 characters and for each of them pick one out of 48 voices, and they get some internal party dialogue at times. It’s not D:OS, but still. Also applicable since Wizardry-style games have kinda fallen out of fashion in the Western market.

  4. Christopher says:

    While Bioware games, Bethesda games and what I’ve seen of the Witcher games seem pretty obstinate about dubbing all dialogue, the same can’t be said for the Personas, the Zeldas, or the Yakuzas of the world. I wouldn’t say this is a reason those last three are better than the first three, but it’s at least enough evidence that VOs don’t have to be everything. Or everywhere, rather. They seem to be making their money back quite nicely.

    Do the new characters only stick out because they’re fully voice acted? I’d expect more of a difference from adding new characters to an old game than that. Even just a few years after the fact, I know more than one friend who resent Persona 4 Golden’s Marie because she’s an unfamiliar face stuck into a beloved story that didn’t use to have her.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Well, they’re written by a new team, and it shows. Lots of energy and enthusiasm at being allowed to play with the world, which some might find endearing. Personally I didn’t find the quality of writing to match up to the standard set by Bioware in their prime.

      More damaging than the writing in itself is that the difference between old and new characters is so noticeable, which can pull you out of the experience and break your immersion in the game world.

      1. baud says:

        More damaging than the writing in itself is that the difference between old and new characters is so noticeable, which can pull you out of the experience and break your immersion in the game world.

        There’s a mod for the enhanced editions somewhere on the web that removes the new characters, so that you can get all the new quality of life enhancements of the new editions, but without the immersion pulling.

      2. Lino says:

        More damaging than the writing in itself is that the difference between old and new characters is so noticeable, which can pull you out of the experience and break your immersion in the game world.

        I haven’t played any of these games, so could you elaborate on that? Are they breaking the fourth wall a lot? Or is their tone inappropriate for the setting?

        1. Asdasd says:

          Think of someone building an extension on a stately home. If they try to emulate the style, there’s still going to be tells in terms of a change in available/used materials and craftsmanship techniques that simply don’t exist or have been made obsolete by advances in architecture, construction, upholstery or what have you.. but if they do a good enough job it might not be noticeable where the old building ends and the new one begins, unless you are actively looking for it.

          Now imagine the people who are building the extension decide to cut loose with the past, express themselves freely, avail themselves of every modern technique, material and passing trend. Regardless of what you think of the new extension on its own merits, it’s going to be very obvious which bit are new, which are old, and when you’ve stepped from one into the other.

  5. King Marth says:

    Which game is this talking about? The heading banner lists Baldur’s Gate 3, the character names and screenshots are from 2, there’s mention of an Enhanced Edition and new characters. I’m pretty sure this is still BG2 Enhanced, but it has been a while.

    1. Zekiel says:

      Yeah it’s BG2. Could have done with a little reintroduction since it’s been ages since the last post in the series. But it’s good to see it back!

      1. Asdasd says:

        I was going back through the series to refresh my memory via the links at the top, and there’s all sorts of unrelated articles which seem to have slipped into the category, including on GTA5, The Outer Wilds and Borderlands 3.

        1. Lino says:

          “Video Games” is probably the weirdest category on this site. Technically, all of the articles of recent years could go here. I think it’s a leftover from when the blog was about tabletop and general stuff that was on Shamus’ mind, and now he just uses it to stick anything that doesn’t belong to an existing category.

          E.g. some of Bob Case’s stuff could go into into “Retrospectives”, but that’s used for Shamus’ retrospectives, or into a “Guest Posts” category, if one existed.

          I don’t know when was the last time he created a new category (the most recent I can think of is “Game of Thrones”), but I guess he doesn’t bother, I assume because most users either read the most recent posts, or binge on particular series. This is why categorizing content probably isn’t one of Shamus’ top priorities (otherwise, he would have been more stringent on having different categories for everything).

  6. DDO (Dungeons and Dragons Online) has some of the weirdest voice acting in games and it’s actually kinda cool. See . . . most of the voice acting is . . . the DM. As in Dungeon Master. Talking over the dungeon. Narrating.

    SOME dungeons and areas do have actual voiced characters, but for the most part it’s just the DM narrating the game as you go along. The thing is that it REALLY WORKS. It adds a lot to the game. The voiceover works best, IMO, when it’s narrating stuff that simply can’t come through a video game, particularly really good description of the way an area SMELLS, or weird things like air pressure changes. Atmospheric stuff that you can’t get through visuals or sound.

    I just finished running one of the older quests before they started voicing NPC characters in most of the quests, and it really makes a difference for timed moments, too, when you have pauses in a fight where an NPC holds forth on how badass they are or similar. If that isn’t voiced but is just text, it’s super-lackluster and most of the time you don’t even know what’s going on or why you’re waiting around.

    On the other hand, if they actually voiced all the NPC combat barks in DDO, the game would be flat out unplayable.

    So, weirdly, this strange little MMO actually hits a pretty good voiced/non-voiced balance.

    1. Orophor says:

      Best part of DDO IMHO is that a lot of the earliest DM narrating is done by THE dungeon master himself, Gary Gygax!

        1. Some random dude says:

          Sorry to disappoint, but I think it was just the one dungeon as a guest DM. (Don’t remember exact details or which one as I’ve quit the game – went in a direction I hated.)

          1. Gary Gygax narrated several quests in the Delera’s tomb pack, and Dave Arneson narrated much of the Ruins of Threnal pack. They’ve also got guest DM appearances from Vox Machina members, Wil Wheaton, and Ed Greenwood.

  7. Thomas says:

    The success of indie games is built on breaking the backs of thousands of aspiring artists who make zilch in return for their efforts.

    Disco Elysium did make a lot of money – SteamSpy has it between 200,000 to 500,000 sales. But to get there there’s were 8,000 games released on Steam this year and I’d happily bet that well over 7,000 out of those 8,000 lost money.

    The finances of games are just brutal, especially as in the Indie World surprise is everything. DONTNOD had a fantastic hit with Life is Strange but despite Vampyr and Life is Strange 2 being good, they’ve had nowhere near the same level of attention.

    In RPG world we’ve seen Obsidian and inXile both sell themselves to a mainstream publisher and I imagine Obsidian won’t be putting out many more Pillars games.

    1. Thomas says:

      Maybe that’s being too negative – because Disco Elysium exists. So if you’re happy with what we have at the moment (and what we have is great) I only see that continuing in the future, and I’m sure we’ll get many more surprising wonderful indie games.

      I just don’t know if that could expand to a big viable publishing model where we see indie games with much more money behind them.

      My hope would be the cost of making games becomes cheaper so it’s easier and easier for small studios to make high quality games.

      Perhaps Private Division / Focus Home will prove me wrong though – they’ve published ‘big’ indie feeling games (Outer Worlds, Kerbal Space Program / Vampyr, Plague Tale, Greedfall, The Council, Farming Simulator, Blood Bowl…)

      Focus Home in particular look like they might have a sustainable business publishing interesting games? I’d love to learn more about them

    2. Olivier FAURE says:

      I don’t know how much that takes away from your overall point, but I think the vast majority of these 8000 games are shovelware or asset flips of some sort.

      I suspect the proportion of games with an original concept, lots of effort poured into it and a good level of polish that nevertheless bombed is lower than you’d think. You can make your money back without being the next Minecraft / Super Meat Boy.

      1. Thomas says:

        I don’t think you’re right – we’ve had direct examples through Shamus’ dabbling in the game industry of hard sincere games that don’t make the time back.

        And you just have to look at ich.io – a site where they have a lot of well loved games that they’re basically giving away and can’t get attention.

        Making games is hard. Making good games is harder. Making good games that sell is hardest

    3. Asdasd says:

      I feel like that’s a bit of a cart and horse equation. The number of successful indie games presumably doesn’t depend on there being thousands of wannabes throwing themselves into the grinder. We’re not making live sacrifices out of indie developers for the good of the harvest. It’s that you can’t stop people from dreaming of making a success out of games, and you also can’t stop them from trying to make their dreams a reality, outside of letting the market ruin them.

      As long as there are indie hits, there will be people inspired by their success, but the number of hits doesn’t scale with the number of inspired.

      1. Olivier FAURE says:

        As long as there are indie hits, there will be people inspired by their success, but the number of hits doesn’t scale with the number of dreamers.

        It kinda does. If you have a 1/100 chance of finding success when making an indie game, if you have a thousand dreamers then you’ll get 10 hits.

        This can create the perception that niche indie games are a viable business model through survivorship bias, when in fact creating one is a terrible idea as far as expected returns go.

        (I don’t think that’s the whole story, see my answer above, but the reasoning is sound; there’s a reason they tell startup creators to have an exit plan)

        1. Thomas says:

          You can see the proportionality in the increase of indie hits. Back in the 2000’s the indie market was small and there were a handful of indie hits that everyone would play (World of Goo, Gone Home etc.) in the 2010’s the number of indie games has grown immensely and the number of good ones have grown too.

          The tools have also got better though – that’s part of the equation. You can either increase the number of attempts to make good games, or you can increase the chances of a game being good through good tools

        2. The Puzzler says:

          “If you have a 1/100 chance of finding success when making an indie game, if you have a thousand dreamers then you’ll get 10 hits.”
          I don’t think that’s how it works.

          As I perceive it there’s room for, say, ten hits on the market. There are a few games that get talked about, and they drive the others out of the conversation. Most of us only have time to play a few games in a year, and we want to play the ones everyone is talking about. So if you have a thousand dreamers, they’ll have a 1/100 chance of finding success. If you have a hundred thousand dreamers, they’ll have a 1/10000 chance of success.

          Obviously it’s not quite as simple as that – if there are only ten dreamers, they won’t all have a hit. But 100,000 game releases won’t lead to 1,000 profitable hit games all topping the charts at the same time.

          1. Shamus says:

            The gaming press unintentionally magnifies the problem.

            You need clicks to stay in business. To get clicks, you need to talk about the most popular stuff. This makes the popular stuff even MORE popular, which makes it even MORE likely that the press will cover it, which drives the creation of memes and videos, which drives sales, which drives even more discussion and coverage…

            Heck, just having your mediocre game played by an A-list streamer could be enough to turn a dud into a hit. The whole thing is so random. It’s a scary time to be an indie dev, although I guess it’s a pretty cool time to be into indie games.

            1. Asdasd says:

              I agree with that dynamic being problematic, although it’s interesting that traditional advertising as the main revenue driver seems to have fallen away a bit.

              Nowadays the biggest source of revenue seems to be from getting a vig from affiliate links that lead to sales, a form of native marketing. This is why some sites suddenly went from having essentially no interest in hardware, to posting several reviews of expensive laptops/monitors per day. Or trying to sell socks to gamers.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                If by “traditonal advertisement” we’re thinking of banner ads, ads playing before you watch a video, full page spreads in magazines etc. I think it’s still a thing largely for AAA for whom the expenditure is a drop in the bucket of the overall project budget (and honestly I suspect they kinda do it by reflex even if it’s not supereffective). For indies the expense is more of a problem, plus a lot of indies, especially the more niche titles, just don’t present well in traditional advertisement. Like, I love Spiderweb games, they’re among the few titles I’ll consider buying on release blindly, but it would be a right laugh to see them show the gameplay off in a TV ad (let’s not even begin to talk about a cost of TV ads).

                Actually I’d suspect some indies might get semi-free advertisement as they become co-opted or latch onto game passes or streaming services.

            2. Kylroy says:

              “It’s a scary time to be an indie dev, although I guess it’s a pretty cool time to be into indie games.”

              So much this, and I’d honestly expand this to videogaming as a whole. We’re in *such* a buyer’s market right now that you can get more quality games than you’d ever pray to have time to complete for maybe ~$100 a year. If you’re sticking to Steam sales and similar deals on games over a year old, I bet you could come in under $50.

        3. Decius says:

          If the market supports ten hits in a period of time, it doesn’t matter if you have a thousand dreamers or ten thousand, you still only have ten hits.

          The inverse is not quite true, there are genres where the market supports way more hits than actually happen- see tactical squad-based combat, which has been vastly underserved, getting subpar X-COM and JA2 clones and remakes for decades now. Yeah, I’m including Phoenix Point in that- even though it made a ton of money and is the best X-COM clone in a long time, it was still subpar at release. Maybe when it’s feature-complete it will be adequate, and hopefully that will be before the Steam release.

    4. “Obsidian won’t be putting out many more Pillars games”

      I wouldn’t say that as Microsoft Game Studios acquired Obsidian because of those games. I’m sure they’ll make more games along that style (just bigger budget) and with properly rotatable camera (think KOTOR’like) rather than a locked isotropic.

      For Obsidian I think a mix of The Outer Worlds and Pillar like games will allow then to have large teams work on a major title or two then in the periods when they’d wind down the teams they could shift them to smaller projects while doing the early design work on the next large game. Thereby avoiding the constant hiring/firing large projects sometimes causes (which must be exhausting for the devs).

      1. Thomas says:

        It would be interesting if that’s true – I could see inXile sticking to their roots.

        My hunch is that Obsidian will go back towards 3D first person / third person games though. If nothing else, isometric RPGs don’t work as well on consoles.

        Also Microsoft don’t have a great reputation for managing studios. The sad arc I don’t want to be true is that Obsidian make a couple of good really-Obsidian games, and then they try to create the next Mass Effect, it goes horribly wrong and Microsoft shutter them the next time games go out of favour at HQ.

      2. Duoae says:

        That’s true, at least until Microsoft get bored of internal studios again and kill them all off.

        If i worked at one of the acquired studios I’d be happy a mid-term stability but long term, I’d be looking to escape to another company. MS does not have good credibility in my perspective for gaming outside of the xbox console itself.

        1. Decius says:

          Is there room for a new big publisher to hire people who quit studios that got acquired by entrenched publishers and pay them to make their own stuff?

          If I had the money to pay Bryan Fargo to hire whomever he wanted and make whatever he wanted, I think it would be a pretty good investment.

          1. Duoae says:

            Oh, i was assuming they’d move over to Ubisoft and EA and work on the assassin’s creed series and far cry series…..

  8. Zaxares says:

    On the EE companions: I actually don’t mind the EE companions, but I will agree that they feel… a bit out of place compared to the original companions. The reasons for this vary; Neera has a kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl attitude that I found endearing, but which felt too “modern” for a traditional High Fantasy-style RPG. Rasaad is actually a fairly interesting character, but it felt a bit like his story kept on revolving around a single plot point (his brother); I call this the “Old Owl Well” syndrome, after a certain paladin from NWN2. :P Dorn unfortunately doesn’t seem to have a lot of character development; he doesn’t seem to have any deeper goals in life other than just killing anybody and anything that gets in his way. There’s a HINT of deeper character development in BG2, but unfortunately if you pick anything BUT the path that leads to him continuing to be a blackguard, that’s the end of his development; it locks out the rest of his storyline in Throne of Bhaal.

    On greater voice acting in RPGs: I don’t fundamentally think having more voice acting in RPGs is a BAD thing (although I think all of the points raised about how it makes it much more difficult to do dialogue rewrites on the fly is very valid). That said, I am a bit dismayed about how it seems that all new AAA RPGs are going with a voiced protagonist. Voiced protagonists never let me immerse myself in my character the same way that I can with silent protagonists, either because the character is a pre-established one (such as Geralt of Rivia, or Batman, and thus comes with the knowledge that you’re playing a character who SHOULD behave in a certain way), or because inevitably, the way that the VA delivers their lines starts to build up a distinct personality behind the character, based purely off the way they emphasize different parts of sentences, or the way they converse during parts of a conversation you can’t control. Either way, it all eventually builds up to a feeling that Commander Shepard or Hawke or the Inquisitor isn’t really MY character; it’s clearly an actor that’s standing in the game, and all I’m doing is telling them what lines to say.

    1. Hector says:

      Overall I liked the new characters. Rasaad is simple but not stupid, and has some wildly different endings.

      I can’t tell if the non-twist with Dorn is intentional or not (i.e., while he has had a rough life he’s also just as petty as you foes). Hes interesting as a companion at least and his class has a few interesting quirks to it, which I am unlikely to use as a PC.

      As far as Neera goes, I did not, and do not, get the MPDG vibe some do. She’s often standoffish, frustrated with chaos rather than just going with it, and prone to real violence while being surprisingly serious. Maybe it’s her art design.

      Speaking of which, Nalia was my favorite character I just couldn’t spend enough time with in the original. It’s hard to fit her into a party when Imoen is an option, despite Nalia having an intriguing story and personal growth. Plus her ending is actually cool.

      1. Zaxares says:

        Neera gets “darker” in BG2 and ToB, largely due to her getting jaded/cynical about being hunted by the Red Wizards all the time and seeing what they do to captured Wild Mages. My MPDG analysis of her largely comes from her behaviour and antics in BG1. In BG2 onwards I feel that she starts to cleave more closely to what a Chaotic Neutral character would generally be like; flippant, prone to chasing after whatever new fancy catches her attention, makes long-term grandiose goals but rarely has the discipline or inclination to really follow through on them etc.

  9. RFS-81 says:

    When it comes to unvoiced dialogue, I was surprised how dynamic the diplomatic messages in Master of Orion 1 were when I got back to it. (Don’t know about MOO2 or 3.) There’s stuff like “Now you too realize the true nature of the $SPECIES” when you go to war with their enemies. They also reference earlier deals or gifts when you negotiate new treaties. It’s all pretty simplistic, but it adds flavor. You can’t do that when you have to pay Mark Hamil (among others) to read all the lines, as they did in MOO 2016.

  10. jurgenaut says:

    Part of the magic with Book versus Movie is the way you unwittingly fill in the blanks. First time reading the council of Elrond you might have thought Boromir was a stoic fellow, the apex warrior of Minas Tirith, standing bright against the darkness. Then as you read further through the travel, you see the cracks in his armor (as it were), his pride and hubris.
    The thing is, it’s your Boromir-image evolving, growing with when you learn more and more about him. His fall to darkness makes sense.
    The point is, movies rob you of something intangible. They present a complete character – looks, voice, mannerisms. In no way do you get to own your own experience. WYSIWYG. You get a Sean Bean accent, a Sean Bean mugshot, Sean Bean’s mannerisms and a Sean Bean death scene. It’s Sean Bean there, it’s not Boromir of Minas Tirith.

    I watched the ralph bakshi movie before reading the books, so my image of Boromir was a bearded viking when I started reading. Funny that.

    This mirrors when you compare BG2 and Mass effect. Infinity engine games at most give you a portrait and some spoken combat lines, which is enough to sample the voice, but not the mannerism. You get to fill in some of those blanks.

    In Mass Effect, you get complete packages – which worked for some (garrus, tali, wrex) because they led to more insight into their respective races and did not work for others (kaidan, ashley) because their problems were human problems, boring. You already know some humans, you know what they are like. You likely didn’t even give them a chance.

    Colored by my own biases, I always nuke Kaidan – I expect male soldiers to be ready to give their life if necessary – and Carth Onassi was a wuss. That’s another thing with voices. Carth whining about headaches – get the hell off my ship.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      One of the things I hated most while playing KotOR (having played KotOR II first) was the forced dialogues with Carth that amounted to “I don’t want to talk to you right now!” Great! I wasn’t really interested in talking to you either at the time, but the game wouldn’t let me continue until I’d been forced to catalyze your little hissy fit! At least in the second game I could choose when I wanted to talk to people, or if they initiated conversation with me it’s because they actually, y’know, wanted to talk to me.

      1. Geebs says:

        I think it might be more accurate to say that the characters in KOTOR2 wanted to talk at you…

        1. Asdasd says:

          Forcesplaining!

      2. BlueHorus says:

        This is a very good point.
        Boone from Fallout: New Vegas is a good example of the same thing dine differently. Dude didn’t want to talk, and shut down any attempts to chat – so I just stopped bothering him. Still a good companion, with a decent perk, and – crucially – smart enough to NOT try and fist-fight a swarm of Cazadors.*

        Then, after a bit, Boone realised that I enjoyed shooting Legion goons in the head as much as he did, so he started to open up. Fit the character perfectly; guy talked on his terms, and his trust was earned.
        And it’s perfectly possible to go through the entire game without interacting with him, if you don’t like him.

        * *cough*VERONICA*cough*

  11. Khazidhea says:

    I’ve thought for a while that having just the first sentence of a paragraph or chain of responses voiced would be the ideal for a text heavy RPG. It’d add to the realisation of the character, but avoids wasting money on assets that aren’t of use to the player (if they skip the text), or avoids the player slowing down just to hear the dialogue (if they read faster than the character speaks).

  12. Mr. Wolf says:

    Ah, the original Bioware romances. Do you want the creepy one, the annoying one, the evil one or the male one?

  13. TLN says:

    I’d actually be very interested to hear how much Disco Elysium earned, because while it definitely turned out to be a sleeper hit I’m still not sure how well that transfers to sales in a genre that will always be a bit niche, and that’s before you also take into account how Disco Elysium is unusual even for the genre (no combat etc).

  14. baud says:

    For long, text-heavy RPGs (KoTOR, ME, DA:O), I’m not sold on full voiceover, since most of the time I just end up enabling the subtitles and reading faster than the dialogue. On the other hand, for those games with a rather cinematic presentation, I don’t think voice can be skipped, since the expectations of the public are to have full voiceover.

    Still I’m in favor of having some voiceover, perhaps for the main cast and/or the most important conversations.

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