Prey 2017 Part 7: Who Are Yu?

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 19, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 104 comments

Morgan Yu has a tough job. Her goal is to blow up the Talos-1 space station, and optionally find some way to escape the blast, and even more optionally find some way for everyone else to also escape.

To blow up the station, she needs her arming key. To get her arming key, she needs to reach Deep Storage. To reach Deep Storage, she needs to go on a half dozen detours through the malfunctioning, infested, haunted guts of the station.

While she’s working on that, let’s stop and talk about…

The Face of a First-Person Character

Understanding Comics, Page 31.
Understanding Comics, Page 31.

In his book Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud talks about “amplification through simplification”. The idea is that as you simplify a cartoon character down to the essential details, they become more generalized. As their details become so broad that they could represent anyone, they effectively come to represent everyone. When you strip away age, gender, body type, ethnicity, race, and that stupid haircut you really need to change, all we’re left with is the humanity of the character. And wouldn’t you know it, we have that in common! We’re more able to identify with this kind of simple design. We can see ourselves in them. As a face becomes more stylized, it gradually becomes a mask representing either people in general or ourselves in particular.

But the one thing it doesn’t do – indeed, the one thing comics can’t do – is get you to take the final step and put the mask on. At that point the transition is complete. You can no longer see the mask at all. The character becomes you, specifically. Only videogames can do this.

Sure, movie scenes are occasionally presented in first person. There was even one that did the whole movie that way. That’s pretty close, but it’s not quite the same as controlling the camera yourself. You don’t have to extrapolate in order to see the world through the eyes of your character because you literally have the same eyes. You aren’t aware of the mask because you can’t see it. This makes you the main character in the most immediate, intimate, and yes immersive way possible. The game designer has left a you-shaped hole in their story, and all the player has to do is drop themselves in.

And then some dingbat comes along and demands the designer give the character a face and a voice and third-person cutscenes and a strong personality the entire effect is ruined.

I can inhabit Gordon Freeman. I get to decide what he’s thinking and feeling at any given moment. I decide if he likes Dr. Mossman. I decide if he thinks of Alyx in a romantic sense or if he sees her as a buddy / little sister. I decide if he thinks Dr. Kleiner is annoying or endearing. If he thinks Dr. Breen is more Neville Chamberlain or Adolph Hitler. It’s a bit like the old RPGs where the designer left a text box on your character sheet where you could fill in your character bio. Sure, it doesn’t really impact the gameplay, but it does leave a little room for you to take authorship over your character. The experience becomes a collaboration between designer and player. If I’m having a great time mowing down Combine soldiers, then so is Dr. Freeman. We’re always in sync.

But what if he had a voice? In the middle of my gleeful killing spree using the gravity gun to pulverize troopers with toilets and radiators, suddenly Gordon’s voice floats out of my head, “Damn it Alyx! Hurry up and get that gate open! I can’t hold these guys off forever!” Or conversely, maybe I’m enraged at the soldiers and wiping them out with teeth-gnashing fury when suddenly Gordon chimes in with a lame dad-joke level pun.

In either case, my character and I are abruptly at odds. I don’t like how he’s talking to Alyx, I don’t agree that the situation is dire, and his tone of voice is dissonant with my mood. That sense of effortless immersion is gone and I’m suddenly annoyed that I’ve been booted out of the experience to make room for the game designer’s puppet.

This is not to say that silent first-person protagonists are superior to other types of viewpoints or that voiced protagonists are somehow wrong. The point I’m making is that this is an experience you can only get from games. It’s not done often, and even when it is done it’s often not done properly.

But What About My Cutscenes?!

This is the closest we get to cutscenes during the course of the game. A video plays on a screen without stealing the camera from you, and you're free to walk away whenever you like.
This is the closest we get to cutscenes during the course of the game. A video plays on a screen without stealing the camera from you, and you're free to walk away whenever you like.

On the other hand, I’ve written about this often enough to know that there are some people that just can’t connect with the silent protagonist. It turns out they expect the game to provide a distinct personality for their character, and the game feels empty without it. I’m sure this difference comes down to a difference in the personality of the playerI blame extroverts. But then, I blame extroverts for lots of things..

Going by prevailing design trends, I’m willing to bet that the fans of silent protagonists are hopelessly outnumbered by people who want a fleshed-out character. That sucks, but that’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to immersive sims. It feels like this genre is an island of misfit games that happen to give me exactly what I’m looking for. When an immersive sim comes out, the mainstream audience shows up and says, “This is nice and all, but why can’t it be more like all the other games?” Or someone will ask “Do Silent Protagonists Still have a place in modern videogames?” and I’ll get so mad that I’ll argue with my screen out loud like a crazy old man.Actually, the article is pretty reasonable, despite the slightly provocative title.

I can’t escape the sensation that my particular design preferences are besieged by an industry of talkative, PvP-focused, gregarious, cutscene-loving jerks.

ANYWAY.

Prey has a very interesting approach to this problem. In the game, Morgan has no lines during gameplay, but is characterized in audiologs and Looking Glass videos. I’m not sure how well it worked for the fans of voiced protagonists, but it let me get my silent protagonist fix without ejecting me from the game with spontaneous dialog that was dissonant from what I was feeling in the moment, so I’m mostly a fan of how this was handled.

Then again, silent protagonists only work well if you never need to speak to anyone. The whole thing falls apart if the player finds themselves unable to tell people important things or ask reasonable questions. Later on we’re going to run into some situations where this becomes a problem.

Build Your Own Morgan

Like most immersive sim games, Prey has a lot going on in terms of mechanics. This is a complicated game. You’ve got common combat elements like firearms, stealth, and magic powers, but you’ve also got a ton of non-combat can openers. There are a lot of different ways to approach the game.

You can make Morgan more directly powerful in combat by improving her skills with firearms. You can make Morgan indirectly stronger by boosting her health and stamina, which help you consume fewer resources over the long haul. You can make Morgan stronger by investing in engineering, allowing her to build more powerful weapons. You can make Morgan better at opening doors and containers so you can collect more resources. You can invest in psi powers, which give you tons of additional options in combat, from blasting foes with your mind to mind-controlling Typhon to fight on your behalf. On top of all of this are a handful of random nice-to-have bonuses like inventory expansion or improved sneaking.

The trick is that all of these upgrades draw from the same pool. Prey doesn’t have traditional skill points or a leveling system. Instead, you buy upgrades using neuromods you find in the environment.

I can’t say if any of these branches are overpowered or underpowered. As someone who is pathologically incapable of walking away from locked containers, I have a terrible habit of putting my points into the many various can openers the game has to offer. This means my Morgan is usually physically frail but swimming in resources. I’ve tried to do runs through the game where I focus on combat, but then my Looting Anxiety kicks in and I end up dumping all my neuromods into repairing stuff, hacking computers, and circumventing blockadesThe Leverage skills let you move heavy stuff out of the way, and the athletic bonus allows you to jump like an NBA player. Both are useful for getting into hard-to-reach areas. because I can’t tolerate leaving behind locked rooms and containers. This is true even when I’ve played the game often enough that I know I don’t technically need the resources in a given container. It’s not that I’m afraid of running out, it’s that I can’t bear to leave anything behind. By the time I’ve satisfied my need to Loot All The Things, the game is nearly over. I can’t help it. The incentives to loot are too strong for me to resist.

This is probably because of the way the looting ties into the leveling…

The Machine Shops

On the right is the recycler, which will dissolve your items into raw materials. On the left is the fabricator, which will turn raw materials into stuff.
On the right is the recycler, which will dissolve your items into raw materials. On the left is the fabricator, which will turn raw materials into stuff.

Prey has these machines called Recyclers. If you have resources you don’t care about, then you throw them in a recycler and it will break the objects down into their component substances like plastic, metal, and organics. Then you can take those resources to a Fabricator machine and use them to build resources you do care about. So if you’ve decided you want to focus on the pistol and you don’t want to lug the shotgun around, you can break down the shotgun shells you find and turn them into pistol bullets instead. You can turn food into medkits, grenades into bullets, bullets into weapons, or whatever else you need. The conversion isn’t 100% efficient but it’s still enormously helpful.

One of the happiest moments in the game is when you find yourself in a room with both a recycler and a fabricator, since it means you can clear your inventory of junk, and at the same time turn all of the junk into resources.

The Recycler is effectively a place to “sell” items, while a Fabricator allows you to “buy”. This is a great way of creating what is effectively a traditional RPG “shop” without needing to contrive literal shopkeepers looking to engage in commerce mid-disaster.

The interesting thing is that you can fabricate additional neuromods. You need to acquire the recipe, and then you need to disable the in-world DRM to allow you to make an unlimited number of them. I love it. TranStar really is the sort of obnoxious company that would put DRM on their physical goods. Since neuromods are your primary way of gaining power, this means you never “outgrow” the economy. In a more traditional RPG, you’ll often reach a point where you have the best gear in the game. At that point there’s nothing left to buy, which means you can safely stop collecting junk to sell in town. For some players this represents a point where they feel liberated from the tedious trash-picker loot cycle. For other players this is where the game gets boring, because there’s no longer anything left to strive for.

Regardless of which kind of player you are, Prey never has this moment where the economy becomes irrelevant to you. The economy yields neuromods, neuromods unlock skills, and skills are your primary way of gaining power. You’ll eventually have all the gear you’ll want, but it’s unlikely most players will ever fill in the entire skill tree.Having said that: I did. I spent ages farming Typhon in order to build neuromods. I did manage to fill in all of the non-Typhon abilities in all three skill trees in a single run.

This is a great system for keeping the scavenging relevant, although it has the side effect of making me a slave to the resource collection gameplay.

Inventory Tetris

You can throw junk in the recycler for resources. You can also throw away unwanted weapons and ammo, which feels sorta decadent. I bet some of these other survivors would lynch me if they knew how many weapons I dissolved to make more neuromods.
You can throw junk in the recycler for resources. You can also throw away unwanted weapons and ammo, which feels sorta decadent. I bet some of these other survivors would lynch me if they knew how many weapons I dissolved to make more neuromods.

I’m a big fan of inventory tetris. That’s where you get a big ol’ grid to represent your inventory and you can shuffle items around to make room as needed. The Diablo games popularized it. System Shock 2 had it. All of the “real” Deus Ex gamesMeaning, all the games except Invisible War. had it.

For years the conventional wisdom was that this was a lame, boring, dumb way to do things and only those boring spreadsheet-loving PC nerds would tolerate that sort of thing. The hip young kids in console land were too cool for that nonsense.

And then Resident Evil 4 gave console players an inventory grid to play with and many players embraced it as the Greatest Thing Ever. I actually saw people call it an “innovation”. And I suppose that’s what it felt like if you’d never seen it before. It turns out console players like making complex decisions regarding resource allocation, just like PC players. Go figure.

 

Footnotes:

[1] I blame extroverts. But then, I blame extroverts for lots of things.

[2] Actually, the article is pretty reasonable, despite the slightly provocative title.

[3] The Leverage skills let you move heavy stuff out of the way, and the athletic bonus allows you to jump like an NBA player. Both are useful for getting into hard-to-reach areas.

[4] You need to acquire the recipe, and then you need to disable the in-world DRM to allow you to make an unlimited number of them. I love it. TranStar really is the sort of obnoxious company that would put DRM on their physical goods.

[5] Having said that: I did. I spent ages farming Typhon in order to build neuromods. I did manage to fill in all of the non-Typhon abilities in all three skill trees in a single run.

[6] Meaning, all the games except Invisible War.



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104 thoughts on “Prey 2017 Part 7: Who Are Yu?

  1. RFS-81 says:

    I see the Leverage skills as a kind of scam. You can clear out any blockades with Recycler Charges and that already gives you most of the benefit. All the other stuff (stuck doors etc.) can be circumvented.

    I picked up Leverage I early for convenience. I think I eventually went further with it because I played human-only and ran out of useful skills.

    1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      If I remember correctly Leverage allows you to throw fridges at bad guys, which is surprisingly powerful, and a ton of fun.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        Yeah, the nice thing about Prey’s skill tree is that even the “non-combat” abilities tend to have combat applications (Repair can be used for turrets, Hacking can turn hostile mechanical enemies over to your side, Leverage offers a ranged attack that doesn’t use ammo…)

      2. FluffySquirrel says:

        Yeah. Throwing boxes at typhon means you save ammo! I might need that for later!

        Later: *throws fridges at final boss probly*

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Leverage II is doubly a scam, because all of the level 2 and 3 obstacles can be moved by simply throwing level 1 obstacles at them.

      1. Lino says:

        Don’t they do more damage, though? Or am I remembering wrong (I never used Leverage on account of how goofy it looked)?

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Yeah, if you want to throw fridges (I am absolutely delighted to see the proliferation of “fridges” as the shorthand for this kind of thing) the higher ranks have combat value, but the main advertised can-opener utility is pretty low.

  2. Cannongerbil says:

    Fun fact, any items you can lift with leverage can also be affected by recycler charges, so there’s really no reason to invest in leverage other than forcing open locked doors or if you really really can’t live without flinging a tape drive at a phantom’s face.

    1. Coming Second says:

      That is something that is very satisfying to do, to be fair.

    2. Zekiel says:

      I did find Recycler charges sometimes didn’t work on big obstacles…. Maybe I didn’t place them properly?

      Tangentially, I think fully 50% of my deaths were self inflicted by recycler charges…

      1. Fizban says:

        I feel like the ability to place recycler charges rather than throw them is there not because blah blah traps, but because that’s the only safe way to shchlorp an obstacle. You *plant* the charge, and then set it off from a safe distance.

        But where’s the fun in that? (It’s in the part where you pass your limit on lol died to my own actions and just want to continue)

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          There’s a spot near the end of the game (like, literally, right before the ending) where I seem to hit a wacky bug every time. And not even the same wacky bug each time.

          One of these bugs involved me running up to an open doorway and not being able to pass through it. After trying several different angles, I thought, “huh, maybe there’s some invisible obstacle here” and got the bright idea to throw a recycler charge at it.

          I was right, which meant that the charge bounced off of nothing and went off at my feet. Thank you, Second Chance upgrade.

      2. RFS-81 says:

        I found a suit chipset early on that made me immune to the charges. That made it easy!

        In my experience, if you can pick a thing up, recycler charges get rid of it.

  3. Mephane says:

    I can’t tolerate leaving behind locked rooms and containers. This is true even when I’ve played the game often enough that I know I don’t technically need the resources in a given container. It’s not that I’m afraid of running out, it’s that I can’t bear to leave anything behind. By the time I’ve satisfied my need to Loot All The Things, the game is nearly over. I can’t help it. The incentives to loot are too strong for me to resist.

    Same for me, more so in games with a set, predetermined amount of loot. This has indeed killed some games for me that are actually pretty good, but messing with that sense of leaving things behinds ruined them for me.

    Case in point A Plague Tale: Innocence. At some point I could not immediately collect a resource needed for upgrading gear, because the inventory for that resource was full. So I went further forward to the next available upgrade station, spent some resources for an upgrade I was planning to get anyway, and then… failed to backtrack to the resource I left behind because the game turns out to be brimming with arbitrary points of no return. Yes, the game is probably balanced around this, and perfectly doable without using all the resources placed throughout the game. My brain does not care. I ended up unstalling and never touching the game again. A shame, I know, but I cannot enjoy a game under such circumstances.

    And bonus negative points go to games that make the amount of loot finite and random. I bounced off hard of Bioshock Infinite for that reason. I don’t remember when the contents of chests, boxes etc are generated (maybe it was even save-scummable, which would be a whole extra level to this problem), but at that point I was like fuck it, not going to bother with this. I know it sounds petty, but nope, I am not going to deal with that headache.

    I could probably generalize this and say that resource management in video games is more often than not an annoyance for me, and the more I have to worry about it the higher the risk I lose the will to play.

    It’s why I am a huge fan of regenerating health, for example, and have a penchant for picking healing abilities if health does not regenerate, to the point where my purchase decision of a game is sometimes directly influenced by the answer to the question “how do you heal up”.

    I generally don’t care if the game designers meticulously placed every single healing item in the game, carefully balanced enemy damage output and your defensive abilities. I cannot enjoy combat when my risk of failure directly depends on whether I found enough healing items in the previous room, and when I never know if my use of healing potions was “as intended” or needlessly wasteful/stingy, until it is too late and I die because I run out of the stuff or used one too late. And this is assuming the game designers actually did balance this all just right, or even in the player’s favour. Too many games release with horrible balancing decisions that I can’t just expect to be able to trust a game on this front in the first place.

    A positive counter-example is Jedi Fallen Order, by the way. I know the system borrows from the soulslike genre, maybe Dark Souls itself, but the way you can replenish health and stims at every save point at the cost of respawning all enemies is a good compromise. Health effectively regenerates to full every time I reach one of those, they are plentiful, and I could quickly develop some amount of trust into the game that the encounters between those points are indeed fair and manageable.

    For years the conventional wisdom was that this was a lame, boring, dumb way to do things and only those boring spreadsheet-loving PC nerds would tolerate that sort of thing. The hip young kids in console land were too cool for that nonsense.

    I think the reason why inventory tetris has become so unpopular is because while there is a time and place for this (for example a slower game such as Prey), you encounter this far too often in games where it just ruins the pace and becomes a senseless annoyance.

    ARPGs are notorious for showering you in loot but being stingy with inventory space to collect said loot. They establish a fast pace of slaughtering monsters by the hundreds, but then expect you to stop every 2nd room to pick out right there and then which items to keep and which to throw away, because the inventory does not allow you to just kill and loot now and then sort it out later in town.

    1. Daimbert says:

      So I went further forward to the next available upgrade station, spent some resources for an upgrade I was planning to get anyway, and then… failed to backtrack to the resource I left behind because the game turns out to be brimming with arbitrary points of no return. Yes, the game is probably balanced around this, and perfectly doable without using all the resources placed throughout the game.

      In my experience, such things are so hard to balance that this is almost certainly never true. Yes, for players who do things in the normal and more efficient way that might be true. But God forbid if you see things differently or do things differently or make mistakes. Then you’re suddenly out of the resources you need — items, money, XP, etc — to advance and have made things a lot harder for you than they were meant to be, and so either have to grind or, in the case of set resources, try to muddle through with an inferior build. And you usually discover this when it’s far too late for you to go back and correct it through your save files. So I’m not a very obsessed looter, but it will annoy me if I can’t take stuff that I know exists and can get easy access to, just for the fear that I’ll leave myself short of things I need.

      I generally don’t care if the game designers meticulously placed every single healing item in the game, carefully balanced enemy damage output and your defensive abilities. I cannot enjoy combat when my risk of failure directly depends on whether I found enough healing items in the previous room, and when I never know if my use of healing potions was “as intended” or needlessly wasteful/stingy, until it is too late and I die because I run out of the stuff or used one too late.

      I am also a bit paranoid about that sort of thing, because it happened to me in I think Suikoden V. In one section, I was locked in and couldn’t figure out where to go, and kept hitting random encounters. Which took up healing potions and mana points for abilities. And you couldn’t restore either in that section. When I FINALLY figured out where I needed to go, I was light on both and worried that it would be difficult to get through the section, and I recall that it was a bit touch-and-go, although I got past it. Because of that — and other games — I also like auto-healing and healing abilities.

      I know the system borrows from the soulslike genre, maybe Dark Souls itself, but the way you can replenish health and stims at every save point at the cost of respawning all enemies is a good compromise.

      Lord of the Rings: The Third Age restored your health and action points at every save point, but didn’t respawn all the enemies. So it was a viable strategy to fight your way through some of the monsters and then return to a save point to save and restore everything before carrying on. I think that works in at least one way for self-balancing gameplay, because people who are less efficient can still carry on at the cost of having to backtrack more often, while those who are more efficient can just cut their way through the enemies and follow the “normal” progression.

      ARPGs are notorious for showering you in loot but being stingy with inventory space to collect said loot. They establish a fast pace of slaughtering monsters by the hundreds, but then expect you to stop every 2nd room to pick out right there and then which items to keep and which to throw away, because the inventory does not allow you to just kill and loot now and then sort it out later in town.

      I hit that issue with Dragon Age: Origins and it really frustrated me, as I had to decide in the dungeon what to keep and what to toss, or else had to return to town to sell things off which broke up the flow. I can imagine that it’s worse in ARPGs where you want to move on to killing the next thing, and better in less story-focused games since when you’re wandering in that dungeon you might indeed be doing nothing more than the expected “Wander through a dungeon and gather some loot up to sell” thing. In a story-driven RPG, you’re there to do something specific and it breaks immersion to stop to go back to sell loot and come back later, with whatever it is you were rushing to do still waiting for you when you come back.

      1. Syal says:

        I was locked in and couldn’t figure out where to go

        My preferred solution is the Dragon Quest/ NES Final Fantasy solution of “here’s a spell to leave the dungeon any time you want.” Running out of items? Leave, restock, start the maze over with higher levels and better knowledge.

        Torchlight 2 solved Inventory Tetris twice over; everything takes one space, and you also have a pet that can sell things in town, so instead of leaving you just play without the pet for a minute or two.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Interesting. The former option is also in the Persona games — although it’s an item, not a spell, although I think some Personas might get it as a spell? — and the latter option is in The Old Republic.

          1. galacticplumber says:

            Persona has both. In item form it’s Goho-M. In spell form it’s Traesto.

            You’ll never use traesto, because Goho-Ms are buyable starting early on, are common loot, and are dirt cheap.

            There’s no limited inventory beyond simply not allowing stacks higher than two digits. Honestly it’s more about making it more convenient to get out after getting particular sidequest items, or having a simple get out button when you’re low on resources to recover health, and mana.

            Fun fact, while health items can generally be bought as much as you want, mana items are generally finite purchases, or random drops, or based on a mana vendor whose prices get cheaper as you increase their social link.

            Resources aren’t exactly scarce per se, but they aren’t free enough that an attentive player shouldn’t actively thinking about resource efficiency for killing enemies in the early game. Gaining access to any of the various ways of cheating this system is where the player is meant to start feeling powerful.

        2. bobbert says:

          The whole ‘train your dog to negotiate with the scrap-metal dealer’ mechanic has always made me giggle.

          1. Smith says:

            I like to think the dealer could cheat the dog, but not looking at its adorable face.

            It would be funnier if the dog actually got better deals than the human did in person. Especially if it was some kind of upgrade you can buy; “The Dogs Do Bark” or “Payhound” or some other clever upgrade name.

            1. Mr. Wolf says:

              “Who run Barkertown?”

              “This bloke won’t howlggle!”
              “It’s woof ten if it’s woof a shekel.”

              1. Mr. Wolf says:

                For those knick-knacks, paddywhack
                Give that dog a loan

            2. bobbert says:

              My dog just leveled-up. hmmm… Do I want to give him ‘improved bite’ or ‘improved bookkeeping’.

              You could have interesting equipment decisions, a dog-wagon for better load size or a dog-abacus for better prices.

    2. Geebs says:

      What about something like System Shock 2, where the benefit from looting is really marginal over the expense (in bullets, lost health and weapon degradation) of exploration?

      I found System Shock 2 incredibly stressful throughout my first (and only) playthrough due to this mechanic. I’m still not sure whether I enjoyed it, exactly, but it was definitely a unique experience I could only have got from a game.

      1. Daimbert says:

        I HATE that sort of thing. I know that I hit it in a game somewhat recently, but can’t remember what it was. But it annoyed me because, again, if you get things wrong or get lost or do things inefficiently you put yourself at a huge disadvantage that you can only overcome by increasing that disadvantage by exploring and looting more. Ultimately, a bad enough player ends up putting themselves in a position where they couldn’t win if they were a better player, and could only get into that position by being as bad a player as they are, pushing them to quit the game in frustration. And that never works.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          I think this particular problem is the mechanical reasoning behind the Operators in this game. Finding or unlocking an Operator dispenser means an effectively infinite source of health/armor/psi which lends itself well to avoiding running out of resources. So in most parts of the game if you’re thinking “damn, I’m running low on stuff” can always get into a loop of looting some stuff (using the wrench on enemies if you’re low on ammo), then rushing back to heal, until you’ve scrounged enough to fabricate whatever you need to get back on your feet.

      2. Terradyne says:

        The Anti-Entropy psi power is really your friend in basically removing weapon degradation as a mechanic from the game. If you can grab that and regenerate you’re basically only reliant on Psi-hypos and bullets.

      3. Echo Tango says:

        So, the thing with SS2, is that it’s pretty poorly balanced. You can actually farm up resources fairly easily if you invest in the right skills and weapons – pretty much the ‘normal’ skill tree. Heavy and exotic weapons are pretty weak compared to their costs, and psi powers are all over the place. The laser pistol is decent because it can be recharged, but other than that, the regular pistol, shotgun, and wrench will keep you healthy and productive. You also really need to be good with melee in that game, just so that you can come out net positive by not spending ammo, and not taking damage while doing so. Later on, you can use the assault rifle (uses pistol ammo, so…technically an SMG I think), and the grenade launcher is only the first level of ‘heavy’ weapons, so you can use it without spending too many points on the other weapons in that category. :)

  4. Joshua says:

    While I love a silent protagonist in a game like Half-Life 2, I dislike it in an MMO that have cookie-chtter quests with specific outcomes.

    There were a few times in LOTRO (later in the game) where it broke from this and actually tells you how your character feels, but this is actually the worst of both worlds: I’m not playing a character where I can decide how they feel about a situation nor am I playing a specific character that has a consistent emotional arc like a traditional movie protagonist, I’m playing a character who feels random according to the whim of whatever that particular quest designer thought I should feel at that moment.

  5. Cannongerbil says:

    You need to acquire the recipe, and then you need to disable the in-world DRM to allow you to make an unlimited number of them. I love it. TranStar really is the sort of obnoxious company that would put DRM on their physical goods.

    That’s actually not a base part of the design, the lead engineer in fabricator had a freak out upon discovering what neuromods are made of and hacked the system to limit production of it before stabbing himself in the brain to try and get it out, and of course this all happened minutes before the Typhon killed most everyone in the station.

    It’s actually a bit of a thing that goes to show that the station is falling apart as is. Between the half dozen dead people who were already dead before Typhon broke loose, the various crew members in various states of realising what’s going on and taking matters into their own hands, and the whistle-blower, one gets the distinct impression that even if the Typhon hasn’t broken loose, the station would’ve imploded in on itself within a few weeks.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      The lead engineer in fabricator had a freak out upon discovering what neuromods are made of and hacked the system to limit production of it before stabbing himself in the brain to try and get it out

      Yep. And Alex Yu is furious at the guy who did it, too, according to the logs – presumably because he can’t stand someone else deciding important things on other people’s behalf without asking them. That’s HIS job!

      Given the sheer lack of trust on display within the station, ‘it would have fallen apart even without the Typhon’ is a pretty good assumption.

      1. cannongerbil says:

        It’s not an assumption, there’s a guy who discovered the escape pods don’t work who was on his way to rig the billboards to display that message when the outbreak broke out. At the exact same moment there’s a guy stuck in a crate with a thumbdrive full of evidence who would’ve been on his way back to earth had the outbreak not happened, and Sarah, the security chief, was actively spying on Alex and was about a week or two away from launching an armed coup.

        Had the typhon not broken out the station would’ve fallen apart due to all those things coming to light.

        1. Smith says:

          Assuming, of course, all of that isn’t just part of [spoiler].

          1. Echo Tango says:

            WHAT’S THE SPOILER? :O

            1. BlueHorus says:

              [spoiler], obviously…

            2. Chad+Miller says:

              Serious answer is that he’s surely talking about the post-credits twist ending, and understandably doesn’t want to go into too much detail about that yet.

  6. Pax says:

    All of the “real” Deus Ex games had it (Meaning, all games except Invisible War).

    Hey! That’s just, like, your opinion, man…

    Sorry, it’s just that Invisible War was actually my first Deus Ex game, and when you’re coming in on the ground floor, it’s still a huge step up…

    1. Mattias42 says:

      I’ve been saying this more or less since Invisible War came out, but:

      If it had had any other name on the cover other then Deus Ex, I genuinely believe that that game would still to this day be considered a true classic.

      Same thing with Thief 3 & 4, honestly. If they’d been ‘spiritual successors’ or ‘inspired by,’ I honestly think they’d be held up as games that ALMOST got it but that genuinely tried measuring up, instead of, well, the close but far more negative view that they’re games that DIDN’T get it and just paled in comparison with their predecessor.

      Sad, but, well, that’s the price for standing in the shadow of giants. Unless you’re hot shit like, well, Human Revolution? You’re just going to pale a bit in comparison.

      1. Geebs says:

        I genuinely loved both Thief 3 and Invisible War. I probably need to hand in my 0451 badge.

        1. Shamus says:

          I’m also a pretty big fan of Thief: Deadly Closets. Yes, the tiny levels were directly at odds with what the game needed. But other than that? It was a pretty good entry in the series.

          1. PhoenixUltima says:

            TBH I feel like Thief 3 is better than the original, mostly because 1 just didn’t believe in itself enough. Like, there were too many levels where you had to wade through a horde of monsters – the catacombs full of burricks and zombies, the haunted cathedral full of ghosts and zombies, the lost city full of fire elementals and those weird giant-headed crab people (and as a bonus, burricks in ridiculously tight corridors), and so on. It was usually possible to stealth through them, sure, but if felt like the game was going “we’re not sure if you really love the stealthy stuff, so here’s an action-packed level full of monsters to shoot! It’s just like Doom!” The subsequent games dropped that shit like it was on fire, and they were all 10x better for it (except Thief 4, which was just too much of a hot mess).

      2. FluffySquirrel says:

        Yeah, that’s pretty much what I think of Invisible War too. It was a poor Deus Ex game, but it was *good* game. I enjoyed it

  7. Lino says:

    Typolice:

    You can also throw away unwanted weapons and ammo, which feels sort a decadent

    Should be “sorta”.

    Another great entry in the series. Also, really happy to see you’ve fulfilled your weekly Yu pun quota! Yu’re doing a great job, keep it up!

    1. BlueHorus says:

      We believe in Yu, Shamus! Yu can do it, you’ve got Morgan enough talent!

      1. Daimbert says:

        Now we DEFINITELY need to get him to play Persona 4 and talk about it so that he can maintain the tradition.

        1. galacticplumber says:

          Oh I would be HERE FOR IT! Tense stories with a focus on establishing rules, and solving mysteries, turn-based complex rpg combat, with an obscenely high skill ceiling for collectors, and an entire mechanic related to getting stronger for learning more about the supporting cast.

          I won’t try to say for certain whether he’d like it, that’d be presumptuous, but it’s definitely the kind of thing that would be fascinating here one way or another.

        2. tmtvl says:

          Oh no, the pun war would be unbearable.

  8. Chad+Miller says:

    Re: unvoiced protagonists, I feel compared to share this from a Discord conversation I had just last night:

    something I only very recently realized annoyed me about [Fallout 4]: near the beginning of the game, you find a weapon locked in a container that you can’t possibly have the perks to open it yet. You click it and your character says “nice. coming back for you later.” Now, even the first time I played this bugged me, like “yes, this is something you’d say if you were desperately looking for your kid, assuming that you’ll come back here because you know you’re a character in a video game whose job is apparently to shill the game’s loot to the player”. That’s not the new revelation

    the new revelation is that there are people who complain about unvoiced protagonists and think this is more immersive

  9. Chad+Miller says:

    I bet some of these other survivors would lynch me if they knew how many weapons I dissolved to make more neuromods.

    I had this exact thought when I released Ingram from his cell, then, after he unlocked the Security Station for me, ransacked it for guns that I absolutely didn’t need and left him to fend with his bare hands.

    There is one spot where the game notices something like this. In the Cargo Bay, there’s a table with a pile of food collected by security. If you take any of it, a nearby employee says something like “Hey, that’s for the group!”

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I had this exact thought when I released Ingram from his cell, then, after he unlocked the Security Station for me, ransacked it for guns that I absolutely didn’t need and left him to fend with his bare hands.

      Hehehe. He’s so pathetically grateful to you* as well, even after you’ve taken all the guns in front of him. But then again, you’re armed and he’s not, so he presumably doesn’t want to make too much of a fuss…

      *Or grateful to Yu, hohoho

  10. Philadelphus says:

    Was “The Machine Shops” a play on “The Machine Stops”? If so good play, sir!

  11. Zaxares says:

    I, too, am a major fan of the Silent Protagonist, especially in RPGs. That’s because a voiced protagonist will slowly but surely develop a personality of their own. It arises due to the way the voice actor recites their lines, the way their animations are mapped to their voice files, and through the cutscenes. All of this means that inevitably a voiced protagonist will become “Not My Character”, the same way that characters like Hawke in Dragon Age 2 is essentially a pre-generated character, except you can decide if their primary personality is Diplomatic, Snarky or Aggressive.

    For a Silent Protagonist, on the other hand, you’re free to infuse whatever tone and inflections you like into your responses, and because the lines you say are exactly as they are written on the screen, you can’t run into situations where you pick a response and then the conversation continues to banter for several more exchanges before you can pick another line of dialogue.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I think that the character being voiced lends itself to that, but silent protagonists can have similar “problems” as well. As an example, in Persona 3 the male protagonist is the personality-less sort of hero, but the female protagonist in P3P has more personality but is unvoiced. The real determinant is how much the game lets the character act as per player input and how it lets the other characters and the world react to that. So what we end up with is a sliding scale between protagonists that respond like the player wants them to but it doesn’t matter, versus protagonists that impact the world with what they do but act only out of their own personalities. Both sides of that scale have detriments and benefits depending on what you want.

      I actually really liked the DA2 approach because it did feel like if you tended to choose one set of options more than another statements that were made in the world without your input reflected your character, and so it did, to me, feel more like the character I was playing than like a preset character. Then again, I rarely play as myself and so invent characters for myself to play, so that might explain why I felt that way. Wizardry 8 did something similar, but gave the player the choice of a number of basic personality types and a couple of different voices at character creation, and then used that to generate even the in-game and combat voiced quotes. This meant that you could indeed get lines that were remarkably in-line with what the character you created would say in that situation. I’d like to see that expanded for RPGs to allow for players to build a character with a more determined personality, while since the options are limited allowing for the world to be able to react to the wider varying personalities without making that overly onerous with having to record millions of responses based on an expectation that they couldn’t know about in advance.

      1. Thomas says:

        I ran into a good example of that in the Gacha game Princess Connect: Re Dive (not a game I would recommend for it’s story. It’s also a bit creepy).

        The main character is mostly silent (and mostly non-existent). But all the other characters have strong opinions of the main characters personality and are constantly telling him who he is. It’s the worst of all worlds. You can’t imagine the personality of the protagonist and you don’t have a way of controlling their personality, but the character is also incredibly bland and boring.

        1. beleester says:

          It’s possible to do “silent but has a personality” well. Ace Combat 7 gives you a pretty clear personality – characters are constantly talking about how Trigger pulls crazy stunts, is eager to get into the fight, will put his life on the line to protect others, and so on. But it doesn’t break your immersion because those character traits are basically just what the player in an Ace Combat game is like. You play the game because you’re looking to do crazy airplane stunts and shoot down bad guys, so if you’re playing the game at all, you’re doing it in-character.

          (They even manage to do the whole “illustrate the central conflict as a duel between rivals with opposing philosophies” thing despite the fact that one of the rivals literally never speaks.)

          This probably applies to a lot of silent protagonists – the fact that your character is following the game’s objectives implicitly gives them the personality of someone who follows the game’s objectives, so a game can make use of that without breaking your idea of what your character is like.

    2. Stanislao Moulinsky says:

      A “non-voiced protagonist” isn’t the same as a “silent protagonist”… The MC of Fallout 3 is non-voiced, Gordon Freeman is silent.

      Personally I don’t mind silent protagonists per se, but the more involved and more personal the narrative the more ridicolous they are. I also never found compelling the argument that they help immersion because to some degree the context communicates the personality of a person and “never talks unless he has to, and even then he doesn’t talk at lenght” IS a personality trait (in certain games when you interact with someone the response implies that you did say something).

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        A “non-voiced protagonist” isn’t the same as a “silent protagonist”… The MC of Fallout 3 is non-voiced, Gordon Freeman is silent.

        Glad to see someone else making this distinction. “Voiced” and “not silent” are correlated for the obvious reason that a silent protagonist is less likely to need a voice actor, but you can have voiced/silent in any combination:

        Non-Voiced/Non-Silent: The Vault Dweller, The Nameless One, The Unplanned Variable, The Last Castoff (really anything in a particular WRPG tradition)

        Voiced/Silent: Chicken Chaser. Link in some games? This one’s rare but it has happened.

        Non-Voiced/Non-Silent: Tons of characters from before when voice acting was feasible in most games. Early Solid Snake, Ryu Hayabusa, many adventure game protagonists (generally from the period after they started having graphics but before they started being fully voiced)

        Voiced/Non-Silent: The present-day default, at least for the games with the highest budget.

      2. Syal says:

        The worst version of silent protagonist is when you switch viewpoint characters and suddenly the new character is silent and the old one is jabbering away.

        In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a viewpoint switch respect the silence of the silent protagonist.

        1. Fred Starks says:

          In the Chronicles DLC for Metro: Last Light, you play as some of the other characters in the story accompanying the silent protagonist you usually play as, Artyom. In these, he remains silent and only communicates through a few simple body gestures, as he normally does in the game.

          Though, he’s not entirely without a voice, he just never says anything in response to dialogue (something the game even lampshades at a point). Metro is in an odd place in the Silent/Voiced Protagonist situation.

        2. Elmeri says:

          There’s Half-Life Alyx. Voiced protagonists are annoying for me in normal first person games, never mind VR games, but Valve’s good writing mitigated the problem and Alyx never said anything that was completely contrary to my thinking.

          There’s a brief glimpse of Freeman in the game, and sure enough, he doesn’t say anything. But it’s done in a natural way so it doesn’t stick out.

      3. Philadelphus says:

        I rather like how CrossCode handled its silent protagonist Lea. For reasons relating both to the plot and in-game lore she’s mostly mute, but can speak a (very) few words which get slowly added to over the course of the game. All this is very much addressed in-game, with other characters remarking on it and the difficulties of communication when you can speak less than 10 words coming up in a realistic way. She’s definitely her own well-defined character, but the extremely limited ability to communicate gave me a lot of latitude to identify with her as well.

  12. Ninety-Three says:

    A video plays on a screen without stealing the camera from you, and you’re free to walk away whenever you like.

    Well not quite, they lock the doors and lower the blast shields on the windows so that you’re stuck in a room with nothing but the video. You are free to walk, but there’s nowhere to go.

  13. RamblePak64 says:

    For years the conventional wisdom was that this was a lame, boring, dumb way to do things and only those boring spreadsheet-loving PC nerds would tolerate that sort of thing. The hip young kids in console land were too cool for that nonsense.

    And then Resident Evil 4 gave console players an inventory grid to play with and many players embraced it as the Greatest Thing Ever. I actually saw people call it an “innovation”. And I suppose that’s what it felt like if you’d never seen it before. It turns out console players like making complex decisions regarding resource allocation, just like PC players. Go figure.

    I feel like I’ve just been called out.

    The funny thing is you could look at the inventory grid in RE4 as a more mainstream friendly version of the incredibly limited inventory in the prior RE games. Not only does it allow more storage overall, but key items and treasures are stored outside of this inventory and capable of being held on infinitely. For some players, this itself is a simplification that removes the interesting choice of having to hold onto that key item or treasure or drop it for another weapon, more ammo, or healing.

    Personally, I feel it depends on what the game is going for, and RE4 is going for such an experience that it selects just the gear and item types that most effectively fit into that inventory Tetris. I think, for me, I just balk whenever someone claims inventory systems like on a bunch of PC games are inherently better, or where the inventory system of Mass Effect 1 is blamed on being designed for consoles rather than keyboard and mouse. It’s an insult to the years of JRPG’s preceding it that had a far better inventory system. Mass Effect 1’s was just plain awful regardless of platform.

    Regarding silent protagonists, I find it odd that people have such a hard stance on them either way. For me it’s all about execution, and there are some character I’d prefer remain silent. I don’t want Link to be a voiced character. Look what happened when Samus got a voice. Heck, I feel like another classic character was rebooted with a voice recently and it was terrible. Third- or first-person, I don’t mind a character being silent or voiced so long as it’s done well.

    What does “done well” mean? A lot of things, and the article you linked feels as if it only scratched the surface. In the end, though, I find it odd that there’s such hard stances for or against.

    1. Also Tom says:

      Mass Effect’s inventory was fine for your items–weapons, armor, et al. The problem was the weapon and armor upgrades, and for the life of me I cannot understand why that part of it was so utterly broken.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        Mass Effect I is the poster child for inventory systems so bad that I willingly ran around with suboptimal gear just so I’d have to think about it less often (going on an Omni-gel spree when I got close to the inventory cap). I played through The Witcher III and Final Fantasy XIII much the same way.

  14. The Rocketeer says:

    As someone who is pathologically incapable of walking away from locked containers, I have a terrible habit of putting my points into the many various can openers the game has to offer.

    Fun to hear that Shamus plays these kinds of games just like I do, although I might be even more single-mindedly focused on access. More than once I’ve played a game with the aid of a little Notepad file titled “CAN’T KEEP ME OUT” detailing all the places I’m not meant to be and things I’m not meant to have, and all the ways to be there and get them.

    One of a few reasons I’m much more fond of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided than the apparent consensus is just how much I loved exploring Prague and crowbarring my way into every place I could, every way I could. Jensen might have been the only lad in Prague with his nose pressed up against the locked gate to the Red Light District for reasons solely related to the Eigth and Tenth Commandments, rather than the Seventh.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Also, I infer Gordon Freeman knows as much about history as he seems to know about theoretical physics. Breen as Chamberlain, not Pétain?

      1. Pink says:

        He is as entirely capable of picking up and throwing history textbooks as any other rectangular object.

    2. Mye says:

      Mankind divided does something dirty in that if you accidentally go somewhere/loot something/hear something that will be an objective in a side quest you acquire later you don’t get the exp you would have normally gotten. As someone who strive to play these game by getting 100% of the exp possible (I make sure I always knock out guard in pairs for the insignificant bonus exp) it really annoyed me with that since some of the quest in Prague are only obtainable much later in the story.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        It and Human Revolution before it both had problems regarding EXP squeezing. For instance, say you have three ranks of hacking, and before you stands a Lv. 4 terminal, which you can open with a password you found. What do you do? Why, you take another rank of hacking with your next Praxis point and come back to hack it; you NEVER give up the EXP you’d get for hacking something by using a password!

        Whether the frequent but small instances of EXP squeezing like that or the larger, less foreseeable instances like your example are worse (as those quest EXP rewards are few but extra chunky) is up for debate, but I will say I did really like the (often incredulous) responses when Jensen already has or has done the thing he needs to do for a quest.

        In any case, these are things that bother completionists and optimizers but I’m not sure how much it really matters; by the end of either of the Jensen Deus Ex games, you’ll typically have everything you ever wanted and more if you’ve played the way people bothered by these things typically tend to. And if you aren’t scouring the game for every last drop of experience, money, and loot, you don’t have these problems in the first place!

        1. galacticplumber says:

          It’s the principle of the thing dammit. Just gimme the accursed number popup when I complete the pre-done quest. Actively taking extra time to program that mode of completion not to is just hateful.

        2. Pink says:

          It is actually worse that they account for you having already done it but don’t give the xp at that point. Feels rude, in a way.

  15. MelTorefas says:

    I enjoyed reading your take on silent protagonists vs. protagonists with voices/personalities. I have been thinking about this myself lately as I make another attempt to play (the current early access version of) Baldur’s Gate 3. I don’t mind silent protagonists like Gordan Freeman et all, and I don’t mind playing fully fleshed out characters with their own personalities, thoughts, and agendas. The thing I can’t stand is Bioware style games that give you a character and then make you “build” them via dialogue options.

    This honestly feels like the worst of both worlds to me; I can’t make this character my own because inevitably there will be scenes where none of the dialogue options are “right” for me, but I also don’t get to watch a fully developed character go through the story and experience character arcs. The only Bioware game I truly liked, KOTOR, did a pretty good job of giving your character a narrative arc, but I still ended up liking the game IN SPITE of the dialogue system, not because of it. I would have preferred to pick “Light Side, Dark Side, or Neutral” at the start of the game and then let that character’s story play out.

    Which is actually why I am excited for the FUTURE of Baldur’s Gate 3. On the character creation screen the only option currently available is “custom”; but you can see that all of the game’s “core companions” are listed there as options as well. Which means, presumably, that when the game actually launches you will be able to choose one of the pre-made characters and play through their story with them still being a full character. I am definitely looking forward to that.

    The way I am sort of hoping it works is that you get to make pivotal decisions for the character that shape their character arc, but they automatically do the moment-to-moment dialogue based on where they are in said arc. That may be wishful thinking, but I have always wanted to play a game that worked like that.

    1. Gautsu says:

      It’ll play just like Divinity Original Sin 2 in that regard. You will still have to make choices, it will just be with that particular character and voice actor. You can see this because mods already have unlocked it

    2. Joshua says:

      Yeah, Divinity Original Sin 2 allowed you to make a Custom character, but most things worked better if you used one of the established ones, other than losing out on a pretty decent Source skill for custom characters only. Granted, that skill is of limited use in the last fight of the game, which is probably also the hardest or close enough.

  16. Sabrdance says:

    Regarding voiced and silent protagonists -I like them all, but highly depend on the game.

    Voiced protagonists work best for me when the character has a particular arc and the fun of the game is inhabiting a character going through that arc. I enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order because much of the pathos of the game is experiencing Cal’s journey from his perspective. It’s like playing a character on a stage without needing to actually have acting skills. I’m not Olivier, but I’d love to be Henry V. Voiced protagonists approximate that.

    It’s also the only reason I would even consider playing Spec Ops: The Line. I’m interested enough in the “Heart of Darkness” concept -but I’m not going to play it as myself. Being able to play the character to experience the descent I’m willing to do -but given how much the game tries to blur that distinction and claim you are the player, not just playing him -I’ve never picked up the game and likely never will.

    Silent Protagonists are best to me when the main character is more of an Ishmael type. Gordon Freeman is a good enough example -for all he does, he’s really an observer on the rail road Valve has made (represented by the Man in Black). I don’t want to inhabit his character, I want to have my own opinions and feelings about the ride.

    Conversely:

    When I was in High School there was Manhunt, where you played a character forced to sneak through a Saw-like labyrinth of villains you had to murder in various ways. I never desired to play it after a friend showed it to me -but I found it particularly disturbing because the protagonist is silent, and there’s very little distance between the player and the character brutally murdering his way through the maze.

    In the same time period I played Vampire: The Masquerade which has the snuff film arc -but despite the main character being unvoiced, the fact that it did have choosable responses made me feel like I could comment on the arc. I would have found it too uncomfortable to play if the responses had all been railroady “I love this stuff, let’s kill more people for the video market!” I liked that game.

    Anyway -all that to say, there are circumstances where I want the distance provided by the character being a character and circumstances where I want to be the character myself. Silent and Voiced characters can help with that distinction.

  17. Ramsus says:

    Having played the older Resident Evil and Diablo games and such when/near(er)when they came out, that by the time RE4 came out the return of inventory tetris, my immediate reaction was displeasure and still to this point hearing anyone treat it as something good I am left with a feeling of dismay.
    It’s just one of those mechanics that I’ve never liked. Like someone was reaching into my fun space and deciding to harass me with their need for me to waste my time and effort and live my life the way they want me to for basically no reason at all.

  18. Syal says:

    My favorite silent protagonist was the kid in South Park: The Stick Of Truth, who’s completely silent even when it’s really detrimental.

  19. Zekiel says:

    I felt like Yu was a little like the Nameless One (of Planescape Torment) in that (s)he has a defined historical personality (or possible multiple personalities) but you can choose to play the current iteration however you like.

  20. baud says:

    Regarding Half-Life 2, I feel like the story doesn’t really work with a silent protagonist. Like Gordon is supposed to be the savior who’s going to free Earth from the Combine and save everyone, there should be moments in the “cutscenes” where it would work better if he said something. To me, Gordon is just a magic totem, he’s silently moving around, going where he’s asked and things happen all around him. Silent protagonist works better where there’s no one to talk to. Or maybe I just don’t get silent protagonists, as I don’t at all “project” in the character: even if they’re silent, they’re just an avatar I am controlling in-game and still their own character. Or it’s just because I dislike HF2’s writing and story (gameplay is passable).

  21. Fizban says:

    Someone mentioned Link above- I’ve always found the option games like Zelda and Pokemon usually use kinda clever. The protagonist isn’t “silent,” in the sense that people clearly communicate with them. Obviously you’re there to play the game so it can be assumed that you directly or the character you’re roleplaying as are willing to do what the game needs you to do, to play the game, so having the PC “silently” communicate as required is fine. But the game doesn’t screw itself over by giving you more than this/that dialogue choices: when it becomes required by the plot, “you” can clearly communicate as needed, but the game doesn’t put words in your mouth. You can talk to everyone, or as few people as possible. What those people say may or may not be accurate to what you’re thinking or feeling, but it’s what *they* said, not you.

    Even But Thou Must dialogues are still more a reminder that you’re there to play the game (and a pretty refreshingly honest one if you think about it), than putting words in your mouth. The main place this falls apart is when the player wants to ask a question but their apparently communicative avatar can’t- but usually this also comes after a long pattern of the game having you work on low amounts of information, so it shouldn’t be jarring if you’ve already accepted that you’re playing the game.

    1. Steve C says:

      This is really the only method I like- the unvoiced voice. Anything else and I’m watching someone else’s bad movie. Case in point, I liked all the events and quests in Warframe up to and including Second Dream. After that you gain a voiced protagonist. I’ve hated every single quest or special event since.

    2. Pink says:

      I want a Zelda game with a dedicated ‘Well excuuuuuuse me, Princess!’ button and no other firm of communication.

  22. Lino says:

    On the topic of inventory Tetris, I’ve always loved it as a mechanic, and I lament how most games of today have eschewed it. See, systems like inventory and crafting have always been immersion-breaking for me. They require me to yank myself out of the meticulously constructed world I’ve been exploring, and concern myself with menus and meta systems which remind me that of the fact that I’m not exploring an actual world, but playing a video game with video game-y mechanics.

    I don’t know why, but inventory Tetris somehow works to alleviate that. Maybe it’s because it allows me to manipulate the loot I’ve acquired in a shape and form which is more similar to the one it has in the game world. It might also be because it’s a much more involved and challenging system compared to the “Giant List of Loot” most other games do, which makes me feel more like an accountant doing a revision of company assets in a comfy office, rather than an adventurer adjusting their backpack in a dank dungeon…

    Or maybe I’m just nostalgic for playing the old Diablo games. In any case, I love it, and I’m sad we don’t see more of that sort of stuff.

  23. Savage Wombat says:

    Seems to me that the primary advantage of the voiced, pre-characterized protagonist is that it’s easier for the publisher to “own”. A developed persona is an I.P. that the company can merchandize more effectively than a silent one that the player creates.

  24. byter says:

    Likening the experience of being a silent protagonist to putting on a mask is a pretty apt comparison for Prey because (major spoilers for the game/ending:) you are actually a Typhon going through a simulation who has been living as a human by donning a Morgan Yu mask. The probable reason you are a silent protagonist, why no one seems to mind that Morgan is suddenly a mute (and all the other gamey trappings) is that you are actually an alien killing machine that Alex is trying to manipulate.

    Or to put it another way, I have a feeling that Alex Yu would sit firmly in the silent protagonist camp and that he would like to shake the hand of anyone who thought likewise. ;)

  25. Smejki says:

    “It turns out they expect the game to provide a distinct personality for their character”
    I don’t think this is entirely true. I think most critics of silent protagonists like Gordon Freeman feel dissonant every time the writing calls for a proper reaction from him and there’s none. In Half-Life these moments are lampshaded and played for laughs, for example Alyx asks for an opinion and then replies herself with “Still too shy to say anything, huh?”. And some people really dislike that. They would like to respond and they can’t. They are presented with a scenario for self-expression, which is also essential to video games, and they are given no tools to do that.
    Doom guy in Doom 2016 is handled better in this regard imo. He expresses himself mainly through animations on a few occasions and even though other characters speak to him, nobody wants him to respond. He responds through gameplay, which is rip n tear.
    And it was pretty much universally agreed that giving Doom guy a face and voice in Doom Eternal was a step in the wrong direction.

    The concept of a silent protagonist, if properly executed, comes with all the upsides you mention but also comes with severe limitations as to which types of stories and interactions one can design. Some are simply off the table.

    1. Stanislao Moulinsky says:

      It’s funny because the first game is one where a silent protagonist worked without a problem, and the reason was that the story was simple, it wasn’t personal and most people had no idea what was going on, so even if Gordon could speak interactions would have been like:

      -What’s going on?
      -I don’t know!
      -Me neither.
      -Good luck and try to survive.

      But then in the second game you are left out of the freezer, find out that XX years have passed, earth is conquered by an alien race (a different one, to boot!) and you/Gordon doesn’t/can’t ask what the hell happened? Yeah, sure…

    2. Patrick the average white guy says:

      I still think one of the best RPGs ever is Elder scrolls: Morrowind. It was a silent RPG, but it gave you hundreds, maybe even thousands, of decisions about world shaping events and personal proclivities. It lacked voice acting but made up for it with one of the most complicated and well executed dialogue trees ever. There’s a reason it was game of the year, and it wasn’t graphics or originality. If there were limitations on interactions the player hardly noticed because there were so many other opportunities to Play a Role in the Game. Something most “RPG’s” don’t actually let you do.

      You could choose everything from race, gender, age ect and a dozen other personality defining abilities. You could choose to befriend the downfallen and champion the oppressed or be a murderous cut-throat that stole everything not nailed down. (And lets face it, we all tried that at least once. How many red bowls an earthenware cups did YOU steal?!?) And in the end you could even decide whether or not you actually were Neravar Incarnate or just a total badass criminal with a backpack full of stolen dishes. I still find the final confrontation with Dagoth Ur, especially the verbal confrontation before the fight, as one of the most satisfying and enjoyable endings to a game I’ve ever played.

  26. average inventory enjoyer says:

    I hate tetris inventory, because it lets me carry 500 barrels of oil, but won’t let me pick up 3 differently flavored candy bars.

    I want to try a stack based inventory system, where you can only take out the last thing you put in.
    You want something at the bottom of the bag? Empty it all out on the floor, and then pick it all up and put it back in the bag again.
    (Maybe there’s a dedicated button to shuffle top three elements around)

    Theoretically it would be
    1) realistic (immersive!)
    2) interfaceless, no popup windows and menus, just two buttons, store and retrieve (immersive!)
    3) a thing to manage and worry about (gameplay!)

    But maybe it won’t be that fun in practice.

    1. Patrick the average white guy says:

      The best inventory system ever is Nethack. A blessed Bag of Holding that can fit 30 swords, 3 hammers, 6 suits or armor, 3 apothecary stores inventory of potions and wands and a few metric tons of precious gems is easily the best system ever made.

      People could argue…….. but they would be wrong.

      1. bobbert says:

        Nethack also lets you nest your bags, though you do have to take precautions. :)
        A 1-in-64 chance is practically nothing, after all.

    2. Richard says:

      I like tetris inventory for both gameplay and immersion reasons.
      Gameplay-wise:
      – I can see my entire inventory in a single screen without scrolling. Really big win.

      – I can immediately see how much space I’ve got left, and how much space I’ll gain by dropping something.
      I’m never thinking “I’ve got 500g left, so that’s one 458g candy bar or ten 50g bullets”.
      If I need to make space for an item, it’s always going to be 5 or fewer units-of-space.

      – I can arrange my inventory so I can find important types of stuff easily. (Though other UI things such as a “sell trash” button negates the need somewhat)

      Then on the realism scale:
      – Ammo and weapons are treated as separate objects. I can take the ammo and leave the weapon, or take both and ‘sell’ a spare instance of a weapon.

      – I like that I have to take some account of how physically big items are, but in a simple way. If I want two rocket launchers, it makes sense that it takes up a lot more space than two pistols.

      I do dislike the fact that most make each flavour of chocolate bar a differently-stacking item.
      That’s easily fixed by making all “chocolate bars” stack (unless there’s a game mechanic where some character hates milk chocolate so you need to find the dark). Presumably the game designers think the entire point is to make sure you pick up so much ‘different’ trash that you can’t quite have enough inventory space. I don’t like that.

    3. Philadelphus says:

      I suspect the fun would drop off sharply as the total number of items in your stack-bag gets above 5 or 6. Certainly by the third time you realize you’ve put the thing you need at the very bottom of your 30-item inventory…

      Though for a tightly-built/designed game with a very small number of objects in play at any one time, it might make for a unique and interesting gameplay system if handled well.

    4. Syal says:

      That sounds disturbingly close to Battlespire’s nested bag inventory.

      Also somewhat similar to the Tower of Annoy Hanoi puzzle.

      Also Also similar to Cave Story-esque weapon wheels that only move forward one weapon at a time so you need to memorize the order of your weapons and hit the button the right number of times consistently when something specific is called for.

      I… don’t like any of those systems. There’s a reason real-life pants have several different pockets.

  27. Nick says:

    I don’t think Silent vs Voiced Protagonist is an introvert/extrovert thing. I’m an introvert through and through and I -hate- silent protagonists because they feel like the main character is missing a personality.
    I especially hated it when in Half Life where they start making jokes about Gordon Freeman being a man of few words or the strong, silent type. To me, that feels like trying to hang a lampshade on the thing that’s breaking my immersion in the story.

    It was really noticeable in Dishonored 1. Corvo is a fairly defined character – his backstory with Jessamine, his interactions with Emily, his origins outside Dunwall, his history as Royal Protector… not having him actually react to things or make active decisions felt wrong.

  28. TLN says:

    I think my main beef with the game (and it’s admittedly not a big deal so the game is overall very good) was that neuromods were way too easy to manufacture, so eventually I was swimming in skill points which slightly ruined the feeling in the first half of the game where you need to specialize in a few things only.

  29. Tizzy says:

    May Keurig never be allowed to live down their attempt at coffee DRM!

  30. Tizzy says:

    For the record, see Lady in the Lake (1947) for a much earlier version of the (almost) entirely first person movie. In this case, this was an attempt to capture the film version of the Noir novels narration (the film being an adaptation of a Raymond Chandler story).

  31. Radkatsu says:

    > Loot All The Things

    Dear god, no one let Shamus play Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. He’ll be lost to us forever.

  32. Phantom Renegade says:

    Im somewhat introverted but i dont particularly like silent protagonists.

    The issue for me is precisely one of immersion, if the game is doing a silent protagonist to get me immersed in the game sooner or later someone will be talking at the game avatar and say something i feel merits a response but nothing happens, then they’ll say something that merits a response again and again there is none, sooner rather than later this just takes me out of the game completely.

  33. Alberek says:

    Silent protagonist are hard to pull off in a complex narrative. And letting the player fill the gaps with his owns ideas really helps to add some mystique, specially on those games that revolve around misteries, secrets or horror.

    On the other hand, if you have a voiced protagonist, you can throw it out of the park when the actor nails his role… take Alan Wake, you only need to hear him talking 3 or 4 lines to know he is an asshole.

  34. Dreadjaws says:

    I can see this game is going to be the death of me… but in a good way. I have over 10 hours of gameplay and I’ve spent about 75% of it just exploring, looking for loot and playing around with the inventory. At this point I only remember the main quest when I’m forced to go down that path in order to unlock more maps, which then I’ll spend hours scavenging in. This is the most fulfilling experience.

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