Eh! Steve! Game Engines and Meta

By Shamus Posted Friday Apr 23, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 23 comments

Chris and I have been trying to make this happen for a couple of months, and this week finally pulled it off. If you were missing my droning voice for lack of a Diecast this week, then check out the Eh! Steve podcast where we talk about Capcom’s engine and games with an evolving meta-game.

That was fun.

This podcast is an hour and forty minutes long, and we only covered two topics. That might sound like overkill, but in reality I think we could have given either topic more time. I forgot how much more discussion there is when you have more than two people.


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23 thoughts on “Eh! Steve! Game Engines and Meta

  1. DeadlyDark says:

    Oh, the Volound video was mentioned. Didn’t expect this

    The best part of that video, is a digression about mechanical downgrade between Dishonored and Dishonored 2

  2. DeadlyDark says:

    Since it was mentioned. What I find fascinating about Doom Eternal design philosophy, is that it divides people. Some love it (e.g. that Mayo youtube channel), others dislike it (and I get why). I, reluctantly, probably in the first category. By the end of the main campaign, I had fun dancing with Marauders. Still need to play dlcs, though.

    Still. I respect the lead designer for going into this territory and, apparently (from what I’ve heard about dlcs), he committed for this choice. Good for him

    1. Geebs says:

      I find YouTube coverage of “pro” Doom Eternal very off-putting. Apparently “playing it right” is a combination of doing the exact same weapon combo each time they encounter a particular enemy, and exploiting the AI into repetitive behaviours. Neither of those is Doom, for me.

    2. Olivier FAURE says:

      I think there’s some room for argument for Doom Eternal’s gameplay, but for me the Marauders are as close to objectively bad game design as you can find.

      You can’t just put an enemy in your game that ignores every single game mechanic introduced before and after it.

      Every Marauder fight is the same as the first Marauder fight. You can’t use new items against them, learn new tactics, use the environment against them, etc. Every weapon is roughly as effective against them so you can’t even vary things that way.

      Seriously, screw the Marauder.

      1. RamblePak64 says:

        I didn’t even get so far as the Marauders myself, but the way you describe it makes me think of Mr. X from the recent Resident Evil 2 remake. He’s not something that the game prepares you for. Instead, he’s more of a disruptive force. All the tactics you may have relied on to get around the police station don’t necessarily work when he’s around. However, the game does not overstay its welcome and therefore you don’t have encounters with him over and over and over again. In addition, how you deal with Mr. X himself largely depends on the room and situation you’re in. How you avoid him when there are zombies around is different than how you avoid him when Lickers are around, and different still than when it’s just you and him in a single room.

        The Marauders sound like a disruptive experience, but they’re a disruptive experience designed as a boss fight with very specific tactics required to take them down. If what you say is true, then there’s no additional elements added on whenever they show up, which goes against conventional design wisdom. If you’re going to keep throwing a foe at a player over and over, you’ll typically want to do something that varies the situation up and therefore encourages the player to adapt. Sort of like the Mr. Freeze fight in Arkham City, but stretched out for each encounter in an entire game. Again, let’s look at how Nemesis is handled in the Resident Evil 3 remake, or William Burkin back in the Resident Evil 2 remake.

        But, it’s possible that the environments or other enemies are intended to create that sense of “new tactical approach” in the mind of the developers, or “Now you must fight two at once!” In which case you’re partway there, but… still not quite, and in a game whose combat arenas are already challenging enough…

        1. GloatingSwine says:

          The Marauders are disruptive because they require you to largely stay still, and everything else requires you to move at full speed all the time.

          If you can stay still and duel a Marauder he’s screwed, super shotty as soon as his eyes flash green, quick swap to arbalest and smack him in the stun, then quick swap back and do it again because if you’re at the right range he’ll immediately go for an axe swipe again and that’ll mean another stun. You can just cycle those two weapons and he’s got no answer.

          But if you’ve got loads of other stuff you have to avoid at the same time then he’ll be super annoying using his projectile and sending his dog after you because you can’t stay in his sweet spot and he’ll no sell anything that doesn’t hit him when he’s doing his axe attack.

    3. Lanthanide says:

      I really liked Doom 2016, a lot. A lot lot.

      But Doom Eternal sucks. I slogged through it just to get to the end. Glad I didn’t buy the season pass thing that gave access to the 2 DLCs, since they take what I didn’t like about DE and double down on it – specific enemies with really annoying abilities that force you to attack them in specific ways, using specific weapon + add-ons and abilities that I really don’t like being forced to use.

      To a large degree “I’m not playing the game properly” – I hardly ever used the flamethrower or grenades for example and one I found a weapon mod that I liked I stuck with it and didn’t swap, and put all of my upgrades into ammo capacity as soon as I could. But I was playing the way I wanted to play and so don’t enjoy Doom Eternal’s proscribed way of playing, especially since Doom 2016 had no such constraints at all.

      I also found it weird that they claimed they tried to make the non-combat arenas more interesting, but actually they’re far less interesting than Doom 2016. D2016 had quite a few monsters spaced throughout the levels with some arena set pieces, where as DE actually has much fewer monsters between arenas, and is chock full of crap jumping puzzles – they’re kind of interesting the first dozen or so times, but after that it’s just the same shit with different scenery.

  3. Geebs says:

    I suppose DmC is the archetypal example of development shifting from a Capcom internal engine to Unreal and ruining performance. Not that the performance is even the main issue with that game.

  4. Lino says:

    I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet, but so far I like it a lot. I especially appreciate the lack of background music. Hope it didn’t create too much work for Steve (I think he’s the one who edited it?).

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      Nah, I (Chris) am the one who edits. I mostly used the name “Eh! Steve!” as the gimmick since it was just going to be a casual conversation between the two of us each week. He basically contributes himself and, most times, his house for us to record at, but all other work is done by me since I’m kind of leading the charge on it.

      1. Lino says:

        D’oh! As embarrassing as it sounds, I had always thought YOU were Steve! But in my (kind of crappy) defence, I am extremely bad with names!

        But now I’ll remember – the host is named after the protagonist from Resident Evil 5, and the co-host is named after the podcast!

  5. Zeta Kai says:

    I really enjoyed the discussion, and I would like to see Shamus talk more with those guys. Unfortunately, I had an audio issue when listening to the podcast, which partially marred the experience: I could’ve sworn that I heard Chris say that Goldeneye was trash. I don’t think that such a thing is even a grammatically-valid sentence in English, but I listened to it several times, and that’s what it sounds like he said. Very weird. Otherwise, it was a great conversation, and I really enjoyed it, but Shamus might want to tell Chris about that audio issue so that he can correct it.

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      Erm, yes… I’ll… I’ll look into it…

    2. Azzmo says:

      I also thought that I’d heard him say that, so at least it wasn’t an equipment issue on your end. Very strange.

      On a serious note, I’ve read and heard enough reconsideration from former players and general disparagement of Goldeneye 64 in the last five years that I’m inspired to hunt down an N64 and replay it the way that I used to. Could my memory of hundreds and hundreds of hours be so tinted with nostalgia that the things people say about its clunky controls and combat are a truth that I’m just unable to imagine?

  6. Chris says:

    Meta being “most effective tactics available” is a backonym. I’ve read a lot of forums and stuff and I only saw it the last few years. Before that it was always explained as being derived from metagaming in tabletop. You see that with more words that people use without understanding them. Like DPS now meaning “damagedealer/hero focused on dealing damage”.
    I think the big problem is that now devs try to make the meta, rather than make a fun game where people develop a meta for. As soon as people don’t play the game as they want to, they nerf things until it does work the way they want to. And sometimes they bend things so far out of shape it breaks and then they scramble to change it again. For example in league of legends you had supports, which were good as preventing people from dying. Early on they would prevent a lot of kills (since the killer heroes didnt have the levels/items to overcome a support’s ability to heal/shield and blow someone up), so riot would nerf them over and over until early kills were possible. But at this point a support was so weakened people would quit using them at all. So Riot started to nerf their replacements. And While I don’t know about overwatch, I do know that blizzard in the past was notorious for letting something fester for months, patch after patch, and then nuke the hero/build/item from orbit.
    Also I see starcraft often mentioned as a game which doesn’t get patches but instead is balanced by people figuring out new stuff. It’s like that at all. SCBW did have patches which took out some truly broken stuff. Starcraft without broodwar is broken too, broodwar was one big balance expansion. Island maps are impossible for zerg (unless they give zerg an extra vespine geyser via map editor trickery), in 2v2 a double zerg team is banned since that’s too overpowered, and all maps must have a chokepoint you can wall in 3 buildings or zerg auto-wins those. For years they only played lost temple, and all maps need to copy key parts of that map to be playable.
    The halo 1 pistol was good since you start with it and you could triple tap people in the head. Other weapons could be more effective but you didn’t start with those and you could be very quickly deleted by the pistol even if you felt like you should win because you picked up a stronger weapon.

    1. Geebs says:

      You’re not thinking “meta-“ enough. Companies like Bungie and Blizzard deliberately break the meta, leave it long enough for everybody to get really riled up, and then nerf if and quietly break the balance somewhere else. It’s all done to drive User Engagement and it seems to be devastatingly effective.

      1. Chris says:

        Well I do agree that devs shift balance around for the sake of it. It’s also in the podcast.

        1. Geebs says:

          Yeah, but I think you weren’t being anywhere near cynical enough. Live service developers deliberately perpetuate this endlessly addictive cycle of frustration and catharsis, which is why e.g. Destiny’s fanbase both loudly hate the game and can’t stop playing it for hundreds of hours. As a bonus, all of the fan outrage reliably generates free column inches which suck new people into the game.

          Fans of these games often seem to think the balance problems with the meta are blindingly obvious, but they’re making a fundamental error. This isn’t a case of a bunch of incredibly experienced and talented devs making a mistake in balancing their game; this is a bunch of incredibly experienced and talented devs deliberately breaking their own game in the most perfectly irritating way they can devise.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      “Meta” is a Greek preposition, with a range of meanings like “with” and “after”. In Aristotle’s writings, the “Metaphysics”, so-called because it came after (meta) the “Physics”, is a work on existence and the nature of reality and understanding. Over time the “meta” part of metaphysics morphed into a more abstract concept, so you have physics (dealing with the natural world) and metaphysics (dealing “one level up” with the nature of existence itself). Then that meaning got applied in the word metagaming, where you similarly have the rules of the game (gaming) and “one level up” discussions about the rules of the game outside the framework of the game (i.e. out-of-character), metagaming.

      At least that’s my guess, I’ve never, like, sat down and proved this chain of causality or anything.

    3. RFS-81 says:

      The way I think the term evolved is as follows:

      In strategy games, it means making decisions based on knowledge of the other players’ skills or habits. E.g., everyone gangs up on the player who has a reputation of being the best, even if they’re not in the lead. That’s how I’ve seen the term used in tabletop games and Civ.

      If you’re playing a game with customizable loadouts/builds/decks/what-have-you, the number one metagaming concern is “What configurations do you expect to face?”. So those became “The Meta”.

      1. Chris says:

        I think it evolved as follows: meta (greek word)->metagaming (tabletop) -> game meta -> M.E.T.A.
        Where metagaming means you use out of character knowledge. Like a barbarian who doesn’t know about bronze deciding to mix copper and tin together because the player knows that makes bronze. The metagame for something like magicTG would be more like knowing what cards or strategies are popular and thus adjusting your deck (or having some cards in your sidedeck incase you fight a specific strategy) to deal with that.
        Similarly in videogames you have this kind of “game outside of the game”. You know people rush you with weak units, so you build a few units so you can hold them while you build up your economy and pull ahead. Then people might know that everyone does this, so they will decide to not attack at all and go all in on economy (while you waste some on early units). Or people invest in a good unit that unlocks at 11 minutes, so you do a timing attack at 10 minutes when they are at their weakest.
        So in a way you don’t play whatever is mathematically the ideal move, but you play based on how others play, who then also adjust on your adjustments, creating a focal point that might not coincide with the position of “perfect play”.

        1. The+Puzzler says:

          I think the book Godel, Escher, Bach popularised the idea of adding meta- to the start of words:
          Achilles: I wish that I had a hundred wishes, instead of just three!
          Genie: I am sorry, Achilles, but I don’t grant meta-wishes.
          Achilles: I wish you’d tell me what a “meta-wish” is!
          Genie: But THAT is a meta-meta-wish, Achilles – and I don’t grant them either.

    4. Thomas says:

      I think the audience expectations have also changed in a way that forces developers to make the meta.

      Back in the 90’s very few people even knew what the meta was. You had stories about local areas that would have their own metas. One guy in the area was really good and had a particular Magic the Gathering deck and all the other decks either copied it, or were built to counter it even though the deck would never have survived at the highest levels if people knew what they were.

      Now most players know the meta – a quick Google tells you what you ‘should’ play if you want to be serious – and if the meta is ‘broken’ they expect it to be fixed. Can you imagine StarCraft 2 fans being happy if the meta was building mass corruptor to destroy protoss pylons and so protoss having to play Mass Phoenix go counter the corruptors? It would never stand. The fans would complain, the developers would see that, and if they didn’t ‘fix it’ their reputation would be ruined.

      Magic is going through a similar process now, where you can play it easily online and it’s making people much less tolerant of ‘unfun’ meta cards. Wizards of the Coast have been printing a bunch of broken stuff as power creep, but they’ve also banned cards that they admit weren’t technically over powered. They were just very widely used and unpleasant to play against. 10 years ago those cards wouldn’t have been so widely played (because less people would know they’re good) and less people would have expected them to be banned.

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