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