After Morgan deals with the mess in Cargo Bay, she moves on to Life Support. Here she bumps into ex-girlfriend Mikhaila Ilyushin.
Mikhaila is currently slumped on the floor, paralyzed in her extremities. She has a rare neurological condition called Paraplexis. She’s fine as long as she gets regular medication, but with the station in disarray she’s missed her dose and is thus helpless.
People with this condition are excluded from orbital duty, but Mikhaila faked some paperwork to get around that. She began dating Morgan at one point, and eventually Morgan found out.
Morgan broke off the relationship because she was about to enter the testing program where she would be memory-wiped over and over, and you can’t really maintain a relationship while that sort of nonsense is going on. At the same time, she never gave Mikhaila a reason for the break-up, so Mikhaila sort of assumed she was being dumped because of her condition. So the entire situation was mostly awkwardness all around.
We need Mikhaila’s help right now because Alex has locked down the entire station. She has a plan to shut down the entire reactor and start it up again to clear the lockdown. I don’t know if we should be using Windows 95 troubleshooting techniques on a nuclear reactor, but Mikhaila is the expert and she seems to think it’ll work.
The Old Morgan
Over in the adjacent RPG genre, players usually expect to be able to choose the sexual orientation of their character. For example, having a Mass Effect game where the main character could only be a straight woman would be a huge no-no. Gender / orientation is really important to a lot of people. It’s one thing when you’re watching a movie, but it’s another thing when you’re inhabiting a specific character within the story. Some people will get uncomfortable if you force them into the shoes of someone with a different sexuality alignment and then shove them into a romance. Other people will feel excluded if you don’t include their alignment. Others don’t seem to care one way or another and are happy to go through whatever pairing the game throws at them, as long as it makes for a good story. Still others don’t care what the rest of you horny teenagers do, as long as there’s a way to opt out of the entire romance thing.
Even if the player is aligned with their character on the gender / orientation matrix, there’s still the chance that the player just won’t take a shine to their romantic partner. Again, it’s fine if I don’t agree with a movie character regarding who they decide to smooch, but it’s another matter entirely if I’m going to be the one doing the smooching. This holds true even outside of the RPG genre. Designers need to be careful with what sorts of things they make the player do, because there’s a huge difference between watching a character kiss someone and being a character kissing someone. This distinction cuts to the heart of the difference between games and movies.
I ran into this problem in Metro: Last Light. In that story, the protagonist Artyom hooks up with a woman named Anna. I strongly disliked her as a person and wanted nothing to do with her, so I really hated sitting through the first person scenes of their romance. Artyom, I don’t care if you want to make out with this obnoxious jerk, but please do it when I’m not riding shotgun, okay? Just let me out here and come pick me up when the two of you are done.
It’s complicated tracking what people are willing to do, what they’d like to do, and what it’s possible for them to do. A game designer probably can’t reflect every choice people want to make – particularly when operating on a AAA scale with AAA assets – but in general it’s nice when a game offers players lots of choices so most people can find something they’re comfortable with.
Here in Prey, Morgan is always Mikhaila’s ex. Which means that if you’re male Morgan you’re straight, and if you’re female then you’re a lesbian.Or bisexual or whatever. You can see what I’m getting at. I don’t need to map the whole thing out here. Normally this would violate the above idea by shoving you into shoes that potentially make you uncomfortable, as it were.
But Prey has an interesting way of dealing with past-Morgan. Within the game, past-Morgan is very much her own person, and she’s explicitly different from the player’s Morgan. Past-Morgian is supposed to feel alien to you. It’s fine if the player objects with “Hey! I’m not a lesbian!” You’re probably not a murderer either, but past-Morgan totally was, and coming to terms with that is part of the struggle that present-Morgan has to deal with. In fact, I think a version of the game where you’re uncomfortable with the orientation or preferences of past-Morgan makes for a more interesting story because it turns up the volume on the central questions about who Morgan is and how the neuromods have changed her.
The game leaves you free to define present-Morgan however you like. Maybe past-Morgan was into her, but you’re free to decide that Mikhaila isn’t your type.
Time to Take Your Medicine!
You’re free to leave Mikhaila to her fate and let her disability kill her, or you can backtrack a bit, go on a spacewalk, and recover her medicine. The game offers this choice without comment, which I really appreciate. Then again, the developer feels the need to put their thumb on the scale. From inside the station you can see some juicy neuromods floating just outside her office, thus giving you an explicit reward for taking the high road. Like, even if you don’t care about Mikhaila and you’re happy to let her die, you’re probably not going to want to leave that loot floating out there. And if you’re going to get the loot, then you might as well take an extra six seconds and grab her medication floating in the next room.
I think this is actually a pretty sloppy move on the part of the game designer, but I’ll come back to this topic when we get to the end of the game.
And speaking of doing the right thing, let’s jump ahead a bit. If you save Mikhaila, then she will eventually make her way back to Morgan’s office. Then later, once things have stabilized a bit, she’ll give you a sidequest. The entire reason she hid her disease was because she wanted to be stationed here on Talos-1. Her father was sent here as a political prisoner and she wants to know what happened to him. She seems to suspect that he’s long dead, but she still wants the messy details, which should be available in the archives in Deep Storage. (This sidequest is available once you’ve cleared the lockdown and can return to Deep Storage without worrying you’ll get locked in again.)
If you choose to do the job, then January will phone you up quietly to let you know that, “Hey, by the way. You might not want to pull on this particular thread. If you do choose to go to Deep Storage then it would really be in your best interest to delete these records.”
The record in question is an audio recording of Morgan running a Cerberus-style test where she feeds people to the Typhon to test the effects of feeding them to the Typhon. You can hear Papa Ilyushin, knowing full well that he’s about to die, demanding that his captors look him in the eye and acknowledge the evil they are doing. After the test reaches its incredibly predictable conclusion, past-Morgan makes some perfectly clinical comments and wanders off. This is no big deal to her, and you get the sense that she’s done a lot of these.
Like I said, past-Morgan was not a nice person, and coming to terms with that is an important part of the game.
Assuming present-Morgan – the Morgan piloted by the player who is most likely not a closet Nazi researcher – is not okay with Morgan’s past deeds, this puts the player is a bit of a pickle. You can be a total bastard and delete this incredibly damning evidence, thus concealing your crime and denying Mikhaila the closure she deserves. Or you can be a total dumbass and send her the recording, thus earning her hatred forever. She even promises not to play the recording until you get back to your office, so the two of you can listen to it together.
I’m not sure what she’s thinking here. She knows this is a recording of her father’s death. Even if Morgan was blameless, the gruesome death of your father in a twisted science experiment isn’t a hallmark greeting. This isn’t a sharable moment.
If you give her the recording, then she turns on you. She promises to see you brought to justice once everyone gets back to Earth. I think it’s rather sporting of her to wait until everyone is safe, and doubly so that she’s willing to take the high road. Realistically, I think Morgan ought to spend the rest of the trip looking over her shoulder. There’s so many ways to die out here. You never know when an equipment malfunction might incapacitate you, like your space suit failing to stop the bullets when your ex-girlfriend shoots you in the back a few steps shy of your escape pod.
The game only gives you the option to send the data (thus telling her everything) or delete the data (leaving her with nothing) even though it ought to be possible to weasel out of this. Morgan’s voice doesn’t show up until the very end, so it ought to be possible to exonerate your past self with some judicious editing. You might argue that it would strain credulity that Morgan could do real-time audio editing like this, but that ship has already sailed. We did exactly that back when we needed Danielle Sho’s vocal samples to bypass that nonsense she pulled with the door to Deep Storage. If we can synthesize her voice from vocal samples, then trimming the last six seconds off an audio recording ought to be super easy.
Even if we can’t tamper with the recording, we’re once again faced with a situation where our silent protagonist would benefit from the ability to talk. You ought to be able to delete the record and then make up some bullshit to tell Mikhaila.
Oh, according to the records, he was assigned to the Adorable Children and Puppies Division, where he spent his days teaching games and folksy wisdom to the next generation of cosmonauts. Then one day he hit his head while cleaning out the Zero-G Ball Pit. You know how he was. We had janitors for that sort of work, but he cared so much about the kids that he insisted on doing everything himself. The blow to the head was really sudden. Instant death. I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe the springs on the door were too strong.
Everyone was so gutted. We had a great big funeral for him. The kids cried their eyes out. I’m sure if the rest of the crew was alive they’d tell you that papa Ilyushin was like a dad to us all.
Or whatever. The point is that if you’re willing to delete the data to escape justice, then there’s no reason for you to leave Mikhaila with nothing. If you’re a big enough weasel to lie to the woman, then you’re probably also smart enough to cook up a satisfying lie. If you can devise a story to give her some closure, then maybe she’ll stop digging and your secret will remain safe in the future. Then again, since you’re planning on turning the place into a big firework when you leave, I guess your secrets are pretty safe either way. Still, why not soothe her with an impossible-to-disprove story that offers closure and doesn’t implicate you?
Anyway, jumping back to where we left off…
You can get her medicine, or you can leave her to die. But either way, she walks you through the steps of restarting the reactor. I have to say that the nuclear reactors of 2035 are amazingly turnkey.
The station goes dark and loses gravity while the reactor is down. It’s actually kind of unnerving. The weightlessness and darkness aren’t new to Morgan, but it’s kind of alarming to realize that all of the survivors are going through this, and most of them have no idea why. For all they know, the power is off for good.
Getting it all going again is a huge relief.Until you notice all the technopaths that spawned when the lights were out. Yikes. Once the power is on, the station returns to normal operation. The lockdown is cleared and all the doors work again.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping Alex from initiating another lockdown. Luckily, he calls you up and offers congratulations and promises to stay out of your way. I guess that’s better than the two of you playing tug-of-war with the station, where he keeps locking everything and you keep resetting the reactor. I imagine that would wear thin quickly for the rest of the crew, sitting there while the lights blink on and off and the Yu siblings bicker.
I think this moment is something of a relief for Alex. Sure, you circumvented his lockdown, but you did so by doing something dangerous, creating a bunch of additional structural damage, and putting the rest of the crew at risk. That sort of move reminds him of Old Morgan, his amoral pre-mindwipe sibling who wasn’t afraid to break a few eggs and murder a few trifling political prisoners in the name of gathering banal metrics on Typhon predation habits.
Just like old times, Morgan!
 Or bisexual or whatever. You can see what I’m getting at. I don’t need to map the whole thing out here.
 Until you notice all the technopaths that spawned when the lights were out. Yikes.
Games and the Fear of Death
Why killing you might be the least scary thing a game can do.
The game was a dud, and I'm convinced a big part of that is due to the way the game leaned into its story. Its terrible, cringe-inducing story.
How to Forum
Dear people of the internet: Please stop doing these horrible idiotic things when you talk to each other.
Programming Language for Games
Game developer Jon Blow is making a programming language just for games. Why is he doing this, and what will it mean for game development?
A programming project where I set out to make a gigantic and complex world from simple data.
121 thoughts on “Prey 2017 Part 14: The Ex-Girlfriend”
Read it already.
That beats “Whole article on the front page”, right?
By which I meant a week early, when you posted the article by accident.
JRPGs have always defined the sexuality and in general romantic interests more than Western RPGs, and I think how they can get away with what they do shows that the approach really does matter a lot. In Western RPGs, the player was always able to customize the character more, and so expects that they can define and play the character the way they want to based on the character they’ve created (this doesn’t have to be them playing as themselves, as I know for myself I create a lot of characters that are not me and even are based on other fictional characters and try to play as them). Then if there are romances, they expect to be able to romance the characters the character finds interesting and not romance the ones they wouldn’t. In JRPGs, on the other hand, the lead characters tended to have a more defined character and so are less customizable, and so it’s easier to play the game AS them rather than as a player-defined character. Given that, it’s more reasonable to go along with the romance the story says that character would like than the one you prefer. So it’s a function of whether the game defines the character you play or whether it lets you define it, and it sounds like here you kinda get both: the game defines past Morgan, and the player defines present Morgan to at least a great degree.
Of course, the modern Persona games gave a fairly defined character and then built the S-link system around the idea that you define who the character is friends with and dates, so you can probably do both.
That’s pretty much my definition/split between “Western” and “Japanese” RPGs.
In a JRPG you will be playing the role of this particular character in the game’s script. This predefined character generally has a lot of likes, relationships, allegiances, etc. and you can sometimes choose which of them to pursue and to what degree, but a lot of things are generally predefined for you.
In a WRPG there will be an overarching story (to a greater or lesser extend) and you will bring your own created character to it. I think this owes more to tabletop roleplaying games than the Japanese style; I don’t know what those stem from, I’m not a JRPG fan or player at all. Lately I’ve found the strength of the overarching stories to be getting weaker and weaker in this genre in favor of dumping more sand into the sandbox, and I feel like it’s a bad direction for the genre as a whole, but you’re still given freedom to pick almost everything about your character.
As far as I’m aware, Ultima and Wizardry were the core influences on Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, which set the standards for that genre. But any deeper than that and I have no idea lol.
The 1st Final Fantasy game had you creating your party in much the same way contemporary western RPGs (Bards Tale, D&D gold box games) did, and the protagonist of the 1st Dragon’s Tale was aggressively generic. Phantasy Star is the first JRPG I can think of where your character is a *character*, not a blank slate, but I’m sure I’m missing a forerunner.
The Western RPG thing where your (singular) blank-slate character becomes a *character* technically started with Ultima, but the first one I can think of where your character build could radically change how you got through the game was Fallout – again, I’m sure I’m missing something (though I’d argue Wasteland failed to really deliver different content due to technical limitations the same way Ultima did).
TLDR: The JRPG/WRPG split didn’t really crystallize until RPG games were about a decade old.
Whereas Ultima and Wizardry games had a big influence in Japan (for example the Wizardry series continued in Japan after Sir-Tech went bankrupt), influencing the first JRPGs, the next generation of ‘Western’ RPGs, like Baldur’s Gate, Fallout and Arcanum, had very little impact in Japan, so the JRPGs were never influenced by those games, where the character is an actual character (with player input) and not just a walking pile of stats that murders monsters in dungeons.
As I understand it TTRPGs never really took off in Japan (I’ve heard stories of people trying to license Japanese properties for tabletop games and finding the IP holders actively hostile to the concept). JRPGs do owe some lineage to D&D but only indirectly through early CRPGs. The earliest ones were effectively second-order copies of D&D to the point that the first Japanese Final Fantasy had Illithid and Beholders in it, but as time went on they became more of their own thing and started taking more from things like anime than their early western influences.
I though RPGs did take off in Japan, but perhaps in a different niche that the one occupied in US/Western Europe. I mean there’s D&D got localised versions, as well as Call of Cthulhu, they have homegrown TTRPGs, like Sword World RPG and even a franchise (Record of Lodoss War) that started of as transcripts of RPG sessions (which might be familiar to the owner of this website ;) )
There are quite a few Japanese tabletop RPGs, actually (also, I believe Call of Cthulhu is quite popular there). They just tend to be somewhat different from western games (at least, the ones that get translated are). For instance, there’s Ryuutama (a “comfy” RPG about travelling to distant lands, there’s no combat and it’s all about making a story about friendship) and Nechronica (a game where you play young girls who were turned into undead monsters. Oh, and everyone else is dead/undead as well).
Honestly, I kinda wonder why Atlus keep doing the silent protagonist for Persona. They seem to be ACHING to make ’em so dang detailed and fully fleshed out, just like the team and social link characters.
Like, you have family. Some decently defined hobbies and interests. Even a past and moral compass that shaped ’em in five.
Heck, if you watch the stuff like the animes and such? They even have official names.
Maybe this is just one of those things they used to do, so they keep doing it out of obligation for that they feel the franchise should be to remain a Persona/megami tensei game. The earliest game in the franchise I played is 3 so I don’t really know, but Catherine had Vincent so I don’t think they’re opposed to it as a principle or anything.
My opinion is that if they took away the silent protagonist then it would potentially impact the freedom the character has to pick and choose Social Links and activities. The protagonists they have have enough backstory so that they can use them in the stories and define a canon character while in-game you can still like and dislike the characters you want without feeling that you’re going against the opinion of the character. Which is doubly important for the love interests.
I don’t think that’s a big obstacle. It’s easy to write a protagonist who may or may not do a social link or relationship and it’s been done in lots of other games. Shepard has a voice and semi-defined personality but it still left you free to not make friends with all your crew and choose your romance.
My (perhaps very cynical) theory is that a not insignificant chunk of Persona’s audience is teens and kids who are extremely socially awkward and have a lot trouble making friends, and a lot of the series’ appeal to them is projecting themselves onto the main character and being able to live out the fantasy of actually making friends and hanging out with them (also, having every girl fall for them). As someone who was like that through most of school, I could imagine playing the games for that reason in my teens, myself. The more of a blank slate the protagonist is, the easier it is to project yourself onto them in that way. I do think of Commander Shepard as “me” to some extent, but when he has Liara and Ashley swooning over him it’s very clearly them swooning over Commander Shepard, not the geek sitting behind the keyboard. It’s also why I don’t think an adult protagonist (fairly wished-for for Persona 6) is very likely.
I’d LOVE an adult protagonist take on Persona.
Honestly think there’s a lot of drama to mine there that you just wouldn’t get from another teen protagonist. Having to balance a job you WILL get fired from if you screw up hard enough versus saving the world. How you need to cook yourself or waste tons of money eating out, or you go hungry. Just how little time a lot of adults have to themselves per day, and the genuine social push-back you get if you try to make more time for your own interests and needs…
Really wish we’d get at least a copy-cat that tries focusing on that sort of stuff. Think it would be really compelling if done right.
Haven’t played much of We the Revolution, but my take was it was mostly about balancing your social bars. No dungeons, though, just perverting the justice system for political gain.
Hee hee, social pushback in Persona.
“Can we talk? I’ve got a big decision to make.”
“Ok, sure. Just not today, let’s talk in… uh… three months. Maybe four.”
“Sounds good, I’ll pause my life until then.”
I don’t think any Persona game is going to give you those things, there’s a lot of power fantasy even in the time management; an adult job would get skipped just like school, except for when you get weird questions that are vaguely job-related. (Maybe during boardroom meetings, featuring eccentric presenters?)
Maybe the monthly time limit is just… rent. Like, every month there’s a demonic invasion in your building, that startsright after rent gets collected, and if you miss your payment they revoke your building privileges and none of the heroes can get to the fight.
I definitelt think an adult protagonist would make for a more interesting time managment system. Maybe it’s my fault for having played all the games since 3 several times, but the system they have going is getting a bit stale. If you’re trying to max every S-Link the decision making process is very simple, something like
Is there a highly time-sensitive Link (ie Aigis, Naoto, Haru) available today? If not, do I feel confident about my social stats? If I do, what’s the lowest level and least common Link available today? If I don’t, what’s the most efficient way to work on my most underdeveloped stat?
An adult protagonist would probably play more like “Do I have my life sorted out for the week? If I do, I can try to hang out. If not, how do I get the money to be able to sort my life out?”, with whatever mechanics they chose to put into “sorting my life out”. I don’t think it would be strictly better, but it’d be nice to see the formula shaken up a bit after three games with very light changes.
You see, I actually gave Mikhaila the recording, mostly to see what would happen, and while she did get angry at me the very next line of dialog she gave me when I tried to talk to her was as calm and friendly as they were before. I don’t know if I hit a bug or something, but I found the whole thing pretty unsatisfying because she kept being friendly after her initial outburst. Then, after a few more hours of playtime she suddenly was angry again. It was all a mess.
But yeah, the game really needed to give the player the option to say “Look, I’m sorry but I don’t remember any of it. I’m genuinely as horrified as you are” or to make up some BS. Games like Mass Effect, Dishonored and Deus Ex all have similar missions where being honest doesn’t work in your favor, so you can lie to get the best personal outcome, at the cost of a moral hit (which doesn’t affect gameplay).
As a matter of fact, the neuromods you see floating around near her medicine should have been moved to the end of the mission. Mikhaila could have offered them to you as a reward for giving her some closure, but she would refuse to give them to you if you told her what you did. That’s a more interesting moral choice. Are you honest and lose the reward or do you lie and keep it? Maybe have January hint at these outcomes so you know there’s a choice to be made.
Which mission of dishonored has that moment where you can be honest? Do you mean the pistol duel at the house party?
I liked the fact you couldn’t third way the Mikhaila decision. It’s pretty rare for a game to be brave enough to look you in the eye and say “Doing the moral thing here will only impact you negatively. So what’s it going to be, champ? Are you a hero or are you not?”
As far as coming up with some comforting lie for her instead, I think if you decide to delete the recording you can fill out that blank for yourself. She more or less do it on her own iirc.
Yeah I kinda like being forced into one or the other. MOST games are like ‘Pick option A or B, these two are interesting and contrast one another, represent loss for one side or another, may have consequences down the line….buuuut here, hack this computer for Option C that resolves everything nicely for everyone with literally no downsides.’ (Looking at you New Vegas and basically every other RPG in the last 5 years)
I kinda like the idea that if you have a certain skill or ability you might be able to find a third way, as long as the consequences for A and B aren’t too damning relatively speaking. Otherwise, the choice becomes a punishment for not taking the “right” skills, which is annoying. But the idea that a certain type of character — if the third option makes sense — can resolve things in a better way than other types of characters can works well in an RPG where the player defines and develops their own character and plays as that character.
Wasteland 3 had it set up so you had two main choices for how to resolve the main conflict, but they both kind of sucked and led to different varieties of downer endings. There were other alternatives, but they tended to have even worse endings.
Turns out, there is a good ending, but you have to pick all the right options and use the right skills in the right places. The achievement rate for this good ending currently sits at 1.3%, so mostly people are just having to pick between two shitty choices.
So, I think there’s a fine line of allowing the player to Take a Third Option that isn’t too obvious or easy, but not being so difficult that there might as well not be an option.
Yeah, a lot of time the ‘third option’ choices in Wasteland 3 hit me by surprise. Wait, why is this security guard babbling at me about how dangerous the air conditioner is? I don’t care, I’m in the middle of something here.
What? *I* don’t want that malfunctioning Reagan AI! Why would I even think about stealing it?
And those are solutions for ‘optimal’ ways out of parts of the game. Maybe I’m bad at taking hints, but given the limitations of a computer game I tend not to approach it like real life. You’re not solving a problem, you’re trying to work out what actions the developers allowed you to take, similar to an old point-and-click adventure game.
All that said, I think there’s a lot to be said for the game’s ultimate ‘good ending’, because you have to
figuratively hold your nose and go out of your way to befriend the corrupt Marshals faction. And stay relatively friendly with the Patriach – which is often the ‘bad’ thing to do. But they’re the people with the power; they just matter the most. Such is politics. Of course, you don’t know about the possibility of staging a coup until long after making your impression on the Marshals, but still, it’s a neat juxtaposition between ‘doing the right thing here and now’ and ‘thinking long-term’.
Aren’t romantic entanglements with subordinates a fireing offence in most organizations?
But then, so is murdering people. So I guess things are a little lax at Transtar.
Speaking of murder, can you shoot her in the face when she accuses you of being a murderer?
Seems a bit dumb either way. If you think someone is Mengele, maybe don’t tell them you intend to destroy them? And maybe don’t do that when they’re armed with a shotgun and you are alone together?
This is one of those obvious bits of logic I wish people would consider more. Case #1: Your accusation is false. Therefore don’t make your accusation. Case #2: Your accusation is true. Which means you have a high likelihood of dying. Therefore don’t make your accusation.
There is no npc invulnerability in this game. Alex stays locked in a panic room until the point where the game’s plot can handle you killing him, Danielle only talks to you from the other side of the wall, and most other characters aren’t strictly necessary beyond their initial appearance.
(The intro avoids the problem by simply not giving you a weapon)
Morgan’s brother is the head of the facility, her parents are both on the board of directors, and her father is the chair. She’s also performing lethal human testing along with other problems brought up in earlier posts.
It’s possible someone would have objected anyway, but they were actually fairly tight-lipped about the relationship. Most of the discussion of it is found on Morgan’s various computers, and there is one email exchange that basically ends with “She came to my apartment to discuss engineering concerns. Stop asking questions.”
EDIT: Ah, while looking for the email I was thinking of I found a different one that confirms Alex suspected, but didn’t have proof, of their relationship, which means that it probably never raised above the level of suspicion for anyone else: https://prey.fandom.com/wiki/Mikhaila_Follow-Up
I always figured Mikhaila did not try to kill you because;
A) You did come clean with her, so that’s an obvious sign that you are sincerely sorry.
B) Killing you won’t bring back her father, and you are helping out the survivors (on the surface). She seems moral enough that hurting the survival chances of the others just to get revenge is not her style.
C) Lingering good feelings. You two WERE genuinely in love, once. (Even your past self, as ruthless as you were, seems real upset about ending things.)
And yes, it is clever to set up the emotional disconnect between the you now who is freshly mind-wiped and the past you who is a stranger (and semi-villain). It is a cool plot, and I usually like it. It works in videogames pretty well because the player is somewhat expected to be on the outside looking in.
Games and gamers seem to forget this, but killing someone is a big deal. ‘I’m angry, I’m going to shoot you in your stupid face’ is a level of transgression that realistically barely anyone will go towards. Besides, Mikhaila -has- the recording now. In her eyes, all she needs to do is hand that over to the proper authorities once she makes it back to Earth and Morgan is sitting in front of a court facing years, possibly life in prison.
100% this. While I wouldn’t hold it against the game if Mikhaila pulled out or grabbed the nearest implement and assaulted you it is entirely within the realms of both possibility and probability she wouldn’t. Honestly, while I understand we thrive on nitpicking on this site I find the comments kind of much in this regard with many people demand she’d be either so shaken she resorts to murder herself or in control enough she plays it cool and doesn’t threathen Morgan.
This is obviously leaving aside the
post-credits scene which recontextualizes the whole game.
Which is why, back when we had conscription, virtually everyone washed out as unsuitable.
A US Army study found that, during WW2, only a small minority of infantrymen actually fired at the enemy. This finding revolutionized military training, which now works on the assumption that people’s inherent reluctance to kill has to be carefully overcome before they’re actually sent into battle. It is also, I suspect, a part of why the US military is now all-volunteer.
Even in Vietnam, I believe it’s estimated that something like 80 or 90% of soldiers were just shooting in the general direction of the enemy (as opposed to aiming to kill), and I’m not convinced that the ratio is much better in modern wars (after all, most deaths are caused by indirect support – it’s much easier to launch a missile or an artillery shell at some people you can’t see than it is to shoot someone). It takes a LOT of training to turn a normal person into a cold-blooded killer.
Also, it’s not as if you can actually test to see who does and doesn’t shoot to kill short of having every conscript/recruit shoot a person.
It took years of constant training and multiple deployments to Iraq to get there, and then years of therapy to transition somewhat back to normal
I seem to recall that having been debunked, but I don’t have any sources on hand one way or the other, at the moment.
That’s a great moral dilemma. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do. Its easy to worry that if you tell her she’ll kill you – and is this really the right time to add more chaos in a crisis? You can even tell yourself that it’s not helping her to tell, because is it going to help her survival chances to mentally unbalance her in a life and death situation.
It’s very rare for a game to get you to do a morally wrong thing, not because it’s incentivised in game, but because it’s a morally wrong thing that a lot of people would do on real life too.
It is missing a few obvious options – telling her her dad was killed but without sending her a video that you were involved, or keeping the recording and giving it to her when you get to Earth (if you don’t choose to blow everyone up).
But I also think it’s impossible to present a difficult choice to players where they feel like all the options have been covered. It’s human nature to try and find ways for a difficult choice to not be difficult and people try to argue they exist even when they don’t.
That’s why practically every other episode of OG Star Trek revolves around Kirk being given a binary morally difficult choice and then he decides not to pick either because actually you can just choose to have everything.
I really hate that ‘star trek’ thing. It feels dishonest on the part of the authors.
I understand why they do it. “Dick the daring has to make a hard call” is an engaging story. “Dick the daring actually making a hard call” by definition is going to turn off part of the audience.
It didn’t take long after the mission to give Mikhaila the recordings for her to call me up apologizing, saying she’s now aware after talking to January that current-Morgan isn’t the same as past-Morgan, and thus her anger at Yu isn’t entirely justified. After that she doesn’t actually seem angry at all, and continued giving me ‘rewards’ for visiting the office
One interesting tidbit is that it was Igwe who told me to delete the data rather than January in my playthrough. If the ‘advice’ had come from January I would’ve probably not even considered it, given how insane past Morgan was
Yeah, both these things happened with me. It makes me wonder if Shamus never got the reconciliation dialogue from Mikhaila, because that seemed like a nice little capstone to choosing to do the right thing, at a very real cost to yourself.
Like others above have mentioned, this choice was a real great inclusion in the game.
I don’t know if I buy that as a reaction a real human would have though – not without a few months to mull it over.
If you saw a video of someone killing your father, and then told you they were an amnesiac 1) you’d think that even if they can’t remember they’re probably the same kind of person still and 2) you’d have the image of your father dying whenever you look at their face.
Even if it’s rationally fair, burying that emotional response and understanding that personalities are mutable enough for this amnesiac to be a fundamentally different person are big big things to get your head around, and I doubt someone is going to manage that in a few hours in the middle of a catastrophe.
Honestly I like the dilemma much less now I learn that’s how they dealt with it. It’s gone from a difficult choice to one with a cheap ‘right’ solution.
Now you can do the right thing for your own validation knowing it turns out dandelion and daisies, instead of doing the right thing that disadvantages yourself because you’re willing to do that to be good
I don’t think the ultimate resolution cheapens the choice. You don’t know what the consequences will be at the time, but you have every reason to think that giving her the recording is going to strain your relationship, maybe even prompt a violent reaction, for no tangible benefit. And indeed, doing so does result in a rather tense confrontation. Knowing what the consequences are likely to be, and taking that risk anyway, is the heart of making that decision.
Does she forgive too soon? Eh…maybe. I bought it, though.
Okay, fair warning, I’ve avoided it so far but I’m talking post-credits spoilers under the tags because it’s pretty much impossible to explain my position without this.
To be clear, I don’t like this as a be-all and end-all for every single thing that may be off about the game but I think Mikhaila is
a very direct lesson/test/reinforcement of the entire empathy teaching process. It’s essentially positive feedback: you made yourself vulnerable and you were forgiven, or at least as close to it as possible. It is a bit rushed but the storyteller (both the extradiegetic game developer and the diegetic Alex) wants to give this arc some resolution. As a player we can initially accept it as something that they want to do within the scope of the game, then later we learn there is an actual diegetic author.It is also important to remember that NPCs do not have magical plot shields, while the choice between “give or delete” is framed as a binary the player can (implicitly if not explicitly) decide that the moment she says she’ll bring the recording to the authorities is the time to end her life.
It did seem a bit quick to get over her dads murder to thst extent.
But hey, its a sidequest in a video game, and a late one at that. We dont have hours of time and pages of script to explore this relationship.
…well, I think it would also take time to actually come to grips with the video. Any delay that applies to the amnesia can also apply to the event, especially here where you already know the person and have positive feelings toward them. And it’s not out of the question to waffle between them.
So basically any reaction at all is somewhat believable here.
This is also a person who is presumably pretty smart and thinks about things a lot. They faked their way into Talos 1 as part of their own self-directed infiltration mission to get this information. The conclusion they already knew and had presumably come to grips with, the infiltration being their method of coming to grips with it. And yet, they also entered a relationship with someone at the top of the chain in the place they’re sure killed their father.
If anything, the past relationship should be more questionable than forgiving current Morgan. If they really cared about each other, then why wouldn’t Mikhaila start immediately grasping for a way to reconcile the two facts they’re now aware of. And hey look, this Morgan has apparently saved her life (at some risk to Morgan’s own), handed her the evidence she needs (to no benefit for Morgan at all), and the robot points out that this Morgan has been mind-wiped over and over. Clearly past Morgan killed her father, but also clearly current Morgan cares enough about her to face it head on.
Is it so hard to believe that given all the evidence, the same evidence we have, that Mikhaila would decide to accept current Morgan? A bit convenient for the player and perhaps a problem if the dialogue before the escape doesn’t reflect it (suggesting the “I’m cool now” call was added later), but well within the limits of a sci-fi story with mind-wiping.
To be fair, they are in a very pressing situation where time and cooperation are of the essence. Wasting time fighting with the one person in the entire station who might be able to get you out of the place alive is a terrible idea. Even considering to kill her is outright ridiculous. And considering Mikhaila’s history (managing to get a job in the station despite her disease just to investigate her father’s fate) she seems to not be one to make irrational, unthinking decisions, even when motivated by personal feelings. She’s clearly capable of critical thought under pressure. I don’t think she’d just lose it and bury a wrench in Morgan’s skull, and her decision to leave the issue aside to focus on the present, much worse problem is a logical one from a character perspective.
Granted I only played through the game once and thus don’t know how this dialogue can go in different scenarios, but she only said she was bringing Yu to justice on Earth during the “sorry to blow up on Yu” call, and Shamus does allude to those. Maybe he just didn’t trust her words and never visited her again, or just considered the fact that she still keeps giving you neuromods and chipsets more a gameplay thing than a story thing
Which, now that I think about, could be a pretty simple way to handle the ‘being altruistic gives you less rewards’ thing. If you show her the evidence, she might forgive you in the short term considering the station’s future, but she won’t outright help you giving you resources, whereas if you don’t, she won’t know what a horrible monster you once was, and keeps helping you
I dunno, I can easily see her continuing to give you resources. Maybe she rationalizes it as “I’m helping everyone left alive, not just Yu.”
Giving the player tangible rewards for taking the taking the ostensibly altruistic option is something that was an issue at least as far back as Bioshock, where the long-term difference in resources gained between the options of saving or harvesting the Little Sisters was negligible. I think it all boils down to the developers being reluctant – justifiably so – to make games truly challenging by adding actual resource scarcity that would make players really weight their options. If the trip to get Mikhaila’s medicine carried the actual risk of having long-term negative consequences, then it would have been an interesting dilemma.
Thing is, a game has to be willing to genuinely frustrate and punish players at times for any choice like that to feel truly meaningful. Pathologic and Pathologic 2 are a great example of that. Choosing whether or not to save anyone is a huge dilemma every time, because resources are scarce, hunting for them is a gamble, and sometimes even making the trek to wherever the NPC in need of help is holed up is a huge risk in and of itself. Guess what? Players hate that, myself included. Pathologic is extremely stressful to play, but that tension is in service of giving the player meaningful agency. Papers, Please and This War of Mine exhibit a similar philosophy. I respect the hell out of those games, but I’m not about to dive into either of them after a day’s work.
Bottom line, I don’t think you can put genuine moral dilemmas in games and have them be consistently fun at the same time. You have to make the player feel the weight of their choice, not just the characters.
I think a lot of people feel like that. Reading pathologic 2 reviews painted the same picture. Most reviewers just wanted to glide through the city like a god, no need for food or water, and helping others being an option you make because of roleplaying, not a difficult choice that can screw yourself over. And I would say i feel the same. However, one of the things I most vividly remember of my years gaming was in dragon age origins. At one point in the werewolf questline you have to pick a way to resolve the conflict. However, because i was too weak, i had to side with the werewolves, as the alternative gave me an impossible fight. While that is not what i wanted, the situation forced me to do so. That moment stuck with me a lot longer than choosing who would kill the archdemon at the end.
Actually, I think mechanical punishments for moral choices is a bad move, because you can end up with players trying to metagame the choices. If doing the altruistic thing leaves the player with significantly less resources, then the player has to ponder whether they can complete the game or whether they’re willing to put up with the extra time or difficulty if they take the “good” choice. That forces them to think about the metagame instead of just asking what their character would do. If instead the mechanical consequences are roughly the same and only differ in terms of the characters that will give things to you (for example), then the player can decide totally on the basis of what their character would do. So, for example, a player can take a moral choice that results in the death or dislike of one character but what that character provides is provided by someone else who approves of it (or doesn’t know about it) and then the decision boils down to whether they want to lose or tick off that character instead of being afraid to lose the mechanical benefits they might provide.
The whole point is that their character would also be thinking about having less resources! Interesting moral choices aren’t “Puppy-kicking: pro or con?”, they ask you whether you need those resources badly enough that you’re willing to kick a puppy.
Yeah, but that only works if the sacrifice of resources really only impacts the CHARACTER not the PLAYER, and the original comment talked about making the player feel the consequences of those choices. If taking the altruistic choice could mean that the character could in theory finish the game with the resources available but that a less skilled player couldn’t, then the player is forced to choose between “Finish the game” or “Don’t finish the game”. And any actual loss of resources could get the player thinking “Do I take the resources now or commit to grinding a bit more to get them later?”. Again, that’s not what we want. So it has to be the case that the character is risking losing things, but not the player, which means limiting it to characters or having the character at the end not being able to fix everything or get everything they wanted.
I mean it does if the player must always get what they want no matter their choices. But if the goal is to make an interesting narrative experience and not simply Shoot Guy 4: The Shootening, then perhaps the developer should be less of a coward.
If you’re trying to make an interesting narrative experience, you REALLY shouldn’t be doing things that encourage OOC thinking. It’s like Shamus’ comments about death in horror games, where you should be feeling fear for the character and not thinking “Oh, no, I might die and I haven’t saved in an hour!”.
So then we have to ask the question about what it means to say “the player must always get what they want no matter their choices”. Should they be able to get sufficient mechanical things no matter their choices so that they aren’t encouraged to make narrative decisions on the basis of what game mechanical things they need to complete or enjoy the game? I’d say yes. Should they be able to get all of the narrative things they want, such as romances, good endings, and so on no matter what they choose? I’d say no. Narrative choices should impact the narrative, not the mechanics.
What’s the point of making something with both mechanics and narrative if they’re not going to interact with each other? “Story and gameplay locked in separate rooms” is not generally viewed as a desirable outcome in game design.
The two should be consistent with each other and facilitate each other, but narrative points should not, in general, turn on mechanical considerations and vice versa (with some cases where it can, like picking attributes and skills based on how your character would interact with the world). They are complementary, not the same thing. Again, do you think that a narrative can work at all if the player is constantly thinking in terms of how that narrative choice will impact gameplay for them instead of how it will impact the narrative given their character?
If the player sees mechanics while they aren’t engaged with the narrative they’ll pick mechanics sure. I think I have a post on this very site complaining about how ME2’s geth mission did that for me. But Pathfinder Kingmaker has a character so obnoxious that I told him to fuck off and that choice was more interesting for the fact that I had to give up a huge quest reward to do it. I like that and I am satisfied with getting rid of the annoying prick precisely because it cost me something, that gives the decision weight.
Games that want to have a narrative focus should make you care about the narrative enough that you won’t kick a puppy just for the mechanical benefit.
I’m not totally opposed to this sort of thing, but the sort of approach I’d like to see is at least one that CAN play out in the narrative, such as “This guy really bugs me, but he’s incredibly good at this one thing, which will make things harder if I keep him. So I have to decide between the annoyance and the skill”. In that case, the player and the character are probably in sync (and if the character bugs me but not my character if I’m roleplaying I’d likely keep him) And if the player decides to keep him because they think they won’t be able to win the game without him, the game is unlikely to call them immoral for doing that. That’s not the case for some of the other examples here.
The problem here, is you’re assuming all games need to be built in a way that losing resources makes the game unplayable or unwinnable. That’s often how games are built, but good games will give the player different outcomes when they pick the “bad” options, instead of a game-over screen or making future progress impossible. For example Fallout 1’s diversity of peoples to save, and the Telltale Walking Dead game(s).
Well, I’m not saying that it HAS to result in that, but just that either the player, at the time of the choice, can see that it has a significant impact on their later ability to play the game or they don’t. If they know that it can, then it’s really difficult to find a penalty that for some player won’t make the game unplayable for them. If it can’t, then they won’t take that into account when making the choice and so won’t care about it. And if they don’t know that it can, then they can end up “walking dead”. As noted, players are different enough that something that isn’t even worth thinking about for one player is something that will make the game unwinnable for another.
Your examples sound more like what I’m after, so less mechanical penalties and more narrative ones. If you make the choice to not take the resources, then maybe you can’t do something later that you could have done, such as save both people or get the best ending. But I don’t want it to be the case that it impedes the player in gameplay because it could impede them too much and so they are forced to take the “bad” choice of accepting the resources that then causes the game to call them a bad person for only wanting to play the game.
This whole discussion makes me think of, of all things, Fable 3. The mid to end game revolved around running a kingdom, including making major budgetary decisions. Which sounds like, and is, the setup for making a lot of difficult tradeoffs where the most pleasant decision was also the most expensive and you may not have the cash to support your lofty goals while also maintaining the defense budget (against an existential threat who you know is coming, no less)
There are a number of problem with how this plays out, but one of the worst is that the player can donate their own money and use the game’s regular mechanics to buy their way out of all the dilemmas. As I’ve seen it put elsewhere, “the moral of this story is, place all your faith in philanthropic robber-barons.”
I don’t think the Telltale Walking Dead games work for your argument. The entire reason the moral choices are good in those games is that they absolutely don’t impact the difficulty of the gameplay, only the story. This game has no resource management to deal with, no ammo, no combat whatsoever. The game works by virtue of introducing you to characters, make you appreciate or dislike them and then putting you in a place where you have to make though decisions regarding their fate. The moral choices weigh on you because the characters are well developed, but none of those decisions will rob you of a special item whose absence will make the game harder later or make you lose money that you could spend on items or weapons to make your experience easier.
@Dreadjaws – The Walking Dead does have resources; They’re just not as you say impactful to difficulty. They’re few and far between, and usually only impact one or two decisions, but they exist. It’s been a long time since I played, but there’s at least one section where you have to choose who gets food or not, and more I’ve forgotten or not played in the later sequels. That’s the whole point – when your resources don’t soft-lock you in the game, that’s the goal!
Man, I deliberated for a while if I should mention the scene where you have to choose who gets food or not but then I decided against it because I figured no one would actually mistake that for resource management.
No, that doesn’t count as “resources”. This is like saying that the few parts where you have to swing an axe to an enemy counts as combat. That’s not how it works. This is nothing but story flavor. Also, there’s only one scene where you do this and no way to get more or less food: what you’re given in the story is the same amount every time. Plus, it doesn’t affect gameplay whatsoever, not just on difficulty. Maybe you get some angry faces, but that’s it. The game will go on the same way and the decisions made by others later won’t really be affected.
There are almost always practical considerations people need to weigh when making major decisions in real life.
Having the player think about how their decisions are going to affect their ability to progress the game is modeling the sort of behaviour you’d see in a real person. It’s a valid choice
The problem, though, is that a game is “unreal” enough that it doesn’t work as a real moral decision that we’d introspect over. So the player is going to decide what to do simply based on the tactical impact and ignore the moral implications. So if they like grinding, they’ll take an XP/gold loss and do more grinding. If they want to push through the game, they’ll take the benefit just to be able to finish faster. If they have lots of gold, they’ll take the one where they get less. If they are hurting for gold, they’ll take the one that gets them that gold. In all of these decisions, whether or not the choice is “moral” won’t really factor into their thinking, so they won’t really get that their behaviour in the game maps to real life. It will feel very artificial, which is the opposite of what they wanted.
I fundamentally disagree with this statement. To be clear I’m not saying that every game should or that the games that do are somehow better but there are definitely games that present to the player choices that are morally engaging. I mean, it’s clearly still thought experiments but on this very blog we multiple times had discussions of in-game choices in terms of their moral value or justification.
Obviously player out-of-character mechanical considerations add a layer, which is always a problem with thought experiments (for example there is literally no ethical way to perform an experiment verifying how many people answering “yes” to “would you sacrifice your life to save X number of people” actually would) but stating that that’s the only thing that determines the decisions is, I think, selling everything involved short.
Sure, but usually we do that from the perspective of the character in the narrative, not from the perspective of the player deliberating over mechanical advantages and disadvantages (unless we’re debating whether what they’re doing is cheating). If a player is considering the mechanical advantages and disadvantages for them specifically, they’re thinking of this as a game and not as any kind of “real life” choice beyond “What would I do when playing a game that gave this choice?”. And any attempt to make it a moral or real life choice will be responded to with “But … this is a game and this choice is a game choice, not a personal or personality or moral choice!”.
The only way to tap into the same mechanisms that we use for thought experiments is to make the player and the character the same, or in sync, so that the player is deliberating over it with pretty much the same reasoning as the character. For moral choices in a game, that’s really hard to do because the player will always be thinking of it as a game, and so won’t accept the consequences as moral ones.
@Daimbert (the comment pyramid has capped)
I think we agree on the principle of how games work we just seem to have different opinions on the interpretation of the player’s behaviour. In essence “if you were the Hero of Ferelden would you spare the mages or let the templars kill them” is not that different than “if you were a person standing next to the tracks and a trolley was…*” and to claim that discussing the trolley problem cannot lead to introspection or trying to make determinations on morality is clearly absurd, despite it being used as a poster child for ridiculing thought experiments as a notion. While I’m sure some people make a choice about the circle mages purely on grounds of mechanics (you get either mages or templars for the final sequence of the game) in my experience that definitely seems to be a minority case and I’ve definitely seen** a lot of, sometimes very heated, discussions about the morality of either choice and I’d go so far as to say that it’s a minority consideration.
*Which is a thought experiment that Prey actually references in the introduction sequence.
**I know, anecdata but that’s all I have.
In a game where the only cost is XP or Gold and the player has no investment in the setting, yeah, the consequence would have no weight. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Like, there’s bits in Pathologic where you can get supplies you desperately need as a wanted man in a plague ridden town so long as you’re willing to do deeply unethical things, and if you’re invested in the game those dilemmas work really well.
That assumes the player isn’t able to suspend disbelief and get invested in the simulation, and I don’t think that’s an accurate assumption.
In a game where the only cost is XP or Gold and the player has no investment in the setting, yeah, the consequence would have no weight. But present a compelling story, and mechanics where resources are valuable enough that turning them down or giving them away matters, and I think players can get invested in the decision. It doesn’t have to be “real”, just compelling enough that a player can immerse themselves in the situation as the game simulates it.
Like, Pathologic tries to do this. You’re a wanted man in a plague ridden town, resources are scarce and you have to make difficult choices. I haven’t played that game myself so I can’t speak personally to it’s effectiveness, but I’ve seen a lot of people who thought those dilemmas worked for them, who were able to immerse themselves in the simulation.
I’m not saying I’m entirely against purely narrative-based choices in games. Indeed, I can name a few examples where supplementing choices that should be purely narrative with gameplay-related rewards was to the game’s detriment. Pirahna Bytes games, such as the Gothic series, Risen, and Elex are some of the worst offenders here. In those games your factions choice pretty much determines what kind of character build you’ll get to pursue, which leads quite a few people to choose a faction based solely on the skills and equipment they’ll get access to, ideology and character motivation be damned.
My argument is pretty much restricted to games that attempt to present you with moral dilemmas concerning altruism vs egoism. You can’t test for altruism without real, actual sacrifice that the player is going to deeply feel. Without that, the player would be, for lack of a better phrase, metagaming the morality of the situation. Meaning, they would go “huh, there’s no real downside to being a nice and altruistic hero, might as well do that”. That’s where all those statistics that show the vast majority of people being Paragon as hell in Mass Effect come from. Being a hero costs nothing. Now, present the players with some genuine Peter Parker vs Spider-man dilemmas, those statistics are likely to shift significantly.
My take on this, though, is that such moral dilemmas should not be testing the altruism of the PLAYER, but instead the altruism of the CHARACTER. Yes, it’s pretty hard to find something that you can give to benefit the character that doesn’t also benefit the player, but that should be the goal. So taking this choice as an example, the idea that if you choose to give her the recording you would give her peace but make it so that you’re likely going to face legal consequences for what you did after the game is one that works, because deleting the recording is clearly in the self-interest of the character but a more altruistic character might want to give her peace, especially if it was someone they once loved.
In Mass Effect, I was fairly Renegade in my first run, because I was playing the character and not thinking about the points or benefits at all, and my character would have been a lot more nasty than a Paragon would have been most of the time. So I think that Mass Effect was fairly good at providing Renegade options that a lot of characters would have found satisfying, if not necessarily beneficial. And so I’d say that if you can’t cast an altruistic vs egoistic choice in terms of the altruism or egoism of the character in a game, then you shouldn’t put that choice in there at all, or else it will only encourage OOC thinking or possibly turn a game into a walking dead situation for some players who took the altruistic choice and now can’t get the resources they would have needed to finish the game.
You can’t really test the altruism of a character, because characters aren’t real. That’s just asking the player “what kind of character do you feel like playing as today?”. Which isn’t bad or anything, just not the type of experience I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the type of game that speaks directly to the player and aims to trigger genuine introspection. Those games are rare because they should be willing to alienate some players by not being all that fun from time to time.
Which is fine. Movies and books that aim to trigger introspection are rarely pure entertainment too. But I do think that we need more games like that, games that wield mechanics and narrative in equal measures to really push and prod the player.
Well, okay, we are then talking about different types of games, as I was talking about it more in the sense of RPGs and so what you’d be talking about would be an RPG with the player as a character in my model, which isn’t what you mean. I’m not opposed to that sort of introspective game, but still hesitate to say that pushing it through mechanics is a good way to go about it. The problem is that you can run into an issue that came up in Spec Ops: The Line or in an Extra Credits video, where a choice is forced on the player and the introspective part ends up forcing the player to take one option or else stop playing the game, and no game should ever want to force that choice.
Take this specific example: in RPGs, gold/money is necessary to upgrade weapons and armour, which is needed to defeat the later challenges. So one thing that a game could do in that case is make the altruistic choice be giving up gold while the egoistic one is accepting it. But as a player, I’m always cash-strapped. If I don’t take the gold, maybe I can’t finish the game because I won’t be able to get the needed upgrades, especially if I am not as good a player (which is usually true) and so need the upgrades more to complete the game. So I decide to take the gold to ensure that I can complete the game, and someone else who is really good at gaining gold decides to leave it behind because they don’t need it (and in some early games, it had weight and so they might even ditch because they CAN’T carry any more of it). So we both hit the game. And the game chides me for not being altruistic and praises them for being altruistic. And we both roll our eyes at the game having no clue why we were doing things. That doesn’t seem to be the desired effect [grin].
Shamus said the same thing about I think Mass Effect 2 (or Mass Effect?) where you can decide to do things to help your allies by taking more combat on yourself and that being considered a Paragon choice, when he was really doing it to get more XP which seems like it should be more Renegade. Players are just too diverse in personality and motivation to really make playing with the mechanics work, and if you try to motivate through mechanics and fail it really blows up in your face. You don’t want to ask the player what kind of person they are through the mechanics and have them respond “The person playing your game as you designed it”.
Honestly, I’m willing to go as far as saying that RPGs aren’t really good vehicles for what I’d call introspective choices. Because RPGs are, or, at least, should be, as you correctly point out, all about role-playing as a character. They have to accommodate the idea that the player and the character are two separate entities with different motivations. Hence, the innate requirement of balancing narrative consequences with gameplay rewards. Like, refusing a material reward would in most cases give a different kind of reward – XP, a companion’s approval, which in turn would probably feed into some sort of relationship system that grants combat bonuses for deepening your friendship. Or, perhaps, an awkwardly animated sex scene down the line. Likely both.
The best introspective choices (think I’m gonna stick to that nomenclature) come from games that don’t explicitly present choices as these big, emphasized moments, but rather those that weave moral choices into moment-to-moment gameplay decisions. I’ve already mentioned Pathologic, and bobbert mentioned FTL, which is a great example. Frostpunk is another one. It’s a city-builder, not something that can be considered much of a narrative game. And yet, you’re making tough decisions all the time, and the game has no karma system to waggle its finger at you. Decisions that should have a moral component are stripped down to purely practical considerations of making sure your community survives in the frozen apocalyptic wasteland. You might even think you don’t have a choice – why not send children to work in the mines if the alternative is death? Why not hold the occasional public execution if it helps – just barely – to maintain order, the breakdown of which would lead to much greater loss of life and, ultimately, a game over screen?
And then, after countless failures you manage to barely crawl through the campaign, go on YouTube and realize that it actually was possible to beat the campaign without using the “Child Labor” edict, without the executions and the inquisition marches and the state-sanctioned cannibalism. You just had to be smarter, faster, a better leader and organizer. The decisions you thought weren’t choices actually were, and you always had alternatives, you just couldn’t see them. That’s the kind of player-game interaction I’m talking about, but it’s certainly not for everyone, nor is it for every game or even genre.
Most people play RPGs as a character that boils down to “Myself with superhuman competence”. As for your ‘Spec Ops: The Line” comparison… “Put the game down and walk away” is one of the intended choices. Spec Ops was written by someone who hated the genre and its jingoistic glorification of the murder of “the other”. Call of Duty didn’t give you a choice on your mission, so Spec Ops didn’t either. It just chose to emphasize the other side and deconstruct your actions. The entire point was to make you think differently about the entire genre.
And for RPGs.. “You lose. The hero died, and the villain triumphs” is a valid ending. The game is meant to be played, not necessarily won. “The player chooses not to help the poor victim because he can’t beat the game otherwise” is the same narrative as “The hero withholds aid at this juncture in his story, because he would not be able to triumph over the villain if he did”. Without the mechanical gameplay cost, it becomes merely “the hero didn’t help because he didn’t feel up to it, the bastard”.
Likewise, “The player found himself without enough resources to win the game” is the exact same narrative as “the Hero failed in his quest, because his generosity and altruism wrote a check his strength couldn’t cash”. You don’t get to be the invincible Mary Sue Savior of The World. And gamers apparently hate that.
For my part, when the game ends my character ceases to exist, and any consequences assigned in post-game are like trying to collect money from the dead. Good luck with that, Mikhaila. You sucker.
In that particular case, I would actually be hoping to fight someone later, like with the bounty hunters in Fallout 2; you do a bad thing, someone tells the authorities, and they show up to take you down. Or maybe the Griftlands route, where if someone hates you you’ll get long-term debuffs, that only go away by making them not hate you. I want some mechanical increase to the challenge.
On the other hand, I don’t want to lose resources. If it’s the difference between getting a quest reward or not getting a quest reward, that’s the game picking a right answer. You’d have to build the game around those choices for that to work, and you’d have to have some other resource to prevent always picking the reward route. Something like KOTOR’s morality bonuses; if you take this quest reward, you’ll gain Dark Side points and that will remove your +3 Light Side bonus.
The best dilemmas have no effect at all, and are purely a morality decision. Unavowed ends every chapter with a hard choice. Horizon Zero Dawn had one really impactful choice, on whether to kill an enemy who was fighting to save their family, when there was no reason to think they would stop fighting for their family. Those choices may or may not have any gameplay consequences, but they’re hard because they’re a morality crossroad.
How is Griftlands, by the way? I’ve been eyeing it for a while now, but I have a complicated history with Klei games. More often than not, I find myself liking the idea and the presentation way more than the act of playing the game.
I talked about it in the last post; it’s a lot like Slay the Spire mechanics-wise, but with limit breaks, a surrender option, various character relationships, and a second Negotiation deck with slightly different mechanics,. You can be a diplomat on one run and a psychopathic killer on the next. You upgrade cards by using them, and making people love you gives you both short and long-term bonuses, while making people hate you gives you short-and-long-term debuffs. You can’t attack anyone anytime, but you can provoke people who hate you into attacking you.
I like it but don’t love it; I only really dig one character’s story out of the three (Rook’s, the super spy), and at 2.5 hours per run I wish it was either longer or shorter; it’s too long to play in one sitting but too short for relationships to really start accumulating. Some card builds seem really hard to make work, too; the first character has a Combo deck but I have no idea how you’re supposed to do anything with combos. But I still play it on occasion; the relationships are semi-random, so a lot of the quests seem like they can involve anyone, which leads to fun choices where someone who loves you is on the downside of your quest.
Concerning card builds, I find that some of the more esoteric ones rely on getting a solid buildaround card for the build early on and then picking common and uncommon cards that support it. It’s entirely possible that you haven’t made a build work because you haven’t gotten the card that makes the build work properly yet.
I’m curious about what trouble you had with Sal’s Combo build. You build up combo, and then use it with cards with Finisher to deal extra damage. It’s a bit harder than the Bleed build, I’ll admit, since you need cards that build combo and cards with finisher that can spend it, but not impossible.
It’s the “cards with Finisher” part I never got working; I only had around one, and couldn’t keep the combo going long enough to wait for it. To make it work you have to get the combo card first, then not get hit until you get the Finisher, and cards being cards they like to show up in the wrong order. They ended up just being regular non-combo damage most of the time.
Out of the various ‘card-based roguelikes’ I’ve played so far, it’s probably my favorite. Not perfect, but considering the level of experimentation in making a game where the story *and* the mechanics can vary wildly between run to run, it’s definitely worth its cost. And the worldbuilding is surprisingly extensive. You rarely run into a situation where ‘but what do they EAT’ comes into play.
The choices in Unavowed directly affect the resources you have in the endgame.
Absolutely same. I loved the idea of Papers, Please but the time constraint was not something that was conducive to fun for me. Way too stressful after a day at work. I had much more fun with Return of the Obra Dinn where I could pause, wander off, focus on one particular mystery on my own terms.
This also went for Prey and Mooncrash. I enjoyed the former much more than the latter. My playstyle for Prey was very exploratory and pretty non-combat-oriented. “Let me see if I can get through this next room by going along the ceilings… I wonder if there’s a way around this locked door…” Being forced into one particular play speed (or be punished for going too slowly) made Mooncrash a much more stressful game experience for me and blunted some of the fun I had with what it was trying to do.
Prey pulls a time pressure thing on you when you’re outside and fly by Igwe who is trapped in a container and running out of air. But it only does this once(/maybe a few other times I’m forgetting) and it’s not a question of weighing your options/resources, it’s just that if you do something quickly you get a benefit and if you don’t, you don’t.
I remember only a couple other outright timed quests – Mikhaila’s meds and
Cargo Bay’s oxygen. Alex getting murdered by Dahlisn’t necessarily a timed event, but depends more on the order you do things in iirc
Mikhaila’s meds doesn’t even need to be a timed quest. It’s possible to get her meds before you know you need them.
I have the same problem with Mooncrash. I think Prey is one of my favourite games from the last 5 or 10 years, I was thrilled about the prospect of more of it in the dlc, then I played it for 3 or 4 hours and found it so stressful and frustrating that I never went back.
I liked Mooncrash enough to beat it, but it’s not fun in the same way Prey is fun and I also lay the blame almost entirely on the Corruption system.
The worst part is that it’s not even difficult. The existence of the Time Delay really annoys me, simply because I think that either it was a massive design blunder that forced them to make the corruption timer unreasonable to “balance” it, or it’s a sign that the game was already proving too hard to balance and the Time Delay was the kludge around it. It means that the game’s not actually hard (just reverse engineer the delay item until you find the plans for it, it’s pratically cheating). But it does mean that you’re punished for exploration, especially since your transcribe is wiped between runs so you can’t have fun exploring or collecting all the lore documents.
I can understand why they felt they needed to add some pressure not to have the first character in your run just do everything and line everything up perfectly, but the result is something that requires Prey to play yet fails to capitalize on a great deal of what made Prey fun in the first place.
Yeah, I mentioned it in the “this week I played” post but just finished Mooncrash and I felt like it was designed to basically sabotage pretty much everything I enjoyed about Prey. At the end of the day just bruteforcing my way through it proved most effective and I feel like that also retroactively weakened the base game for me because I am now aware that it probably could have worked just as well there.
FTL also kept its economy tight enough for moral dilemmas to matter.
I remember that my attempt at playing through Banner Saga ended about halfway through because the moral choices combined with the mechanical aspect had me deadlocked.
Eventually, I reached a point where trying to be a hero would stick me in a fight that would mortally wound most of my fighters if I could even win it. There’s another choice to still be a somewhat grey hero and avoid the fight through a method by pissing off an entire other race of people, as well as a choice to merely bail on the situation and keep my people alive and forsake this other group. These latter two options result in the loss of my most trusted and strongest fighter as well.
Never returned to the game since, because while I too appreciate the weight that can be added, it was simply too stressful for me.
Even without the neuromods it’s a flawed approach to game design, because my first thought was “Ooh, a sidequest. Why yes, I would like to play additional content.” She could’ve told me there was a puppy in that room in need of a good kicking and I would’ve gone to check it out because this is a station-exploring videogame, I’m not here to not explore the station.
The core problem is that to Morgan this is supposed to be a dangerous distraction from an important time-pressured task, but to the player it’s fun videogame content with infinite quickloads and no visible timer. The only reason the player has not to grab her medicine is if they’re getting bored with sidequesting and want to focus on finishing the main story.
This kind of disconnect is why I didn’t like the twist ending, it wants to treat you like a dedicated roleplayer when the default mode of engaging with videogames is not that.
This is always a fundamental problem with video games isn’t it? More content is always its own reward. Unless you deliberately make it boring, in which case you’re kind of just punishing players… not sure quite what the solution is there.
It reminds me of the issue of video game characters who always run everywhere. And if a game implements a mechanic where you get tired out after a while – like real life – then it’s just frustrating and unfun.
Well no, some games will balance their resource economies so that going to get the medicine will leave you poorer than when you started, but Prey is so overflowing with recyclable stuff that pretty much any trip to an unlooted area can be expected to increase your net wealth (and you can’t just make one area resource poor without it feeling weirdly sparse compared to the rest of the game’s environments). Other games use less forgiving save/respawn systems to make death cost more than a quickload and two minutes of redoing the last bit.
The standard approach to AAA game design has a serious problem with it though.
Yes, this is indeed another problem I have with this game: it falls into the classic trap of nudging the player into a positive outcome by giving more rewards to those who act in heroic ways. Like, if you save a bunch of people in the station you get the “good” ending where everyone praises your actions as a savior, but how many players saved those people because they felt like being good and how many did it because ignoring those sidequests would result in less game and less rewards?
So many games have a good/evil system but so few of them actually bother to give incentives to play in different ways. Yes, I know I complained before about the game giving you too much power and ignoring those sidequests would definitely result in my power level being lower, but then I’d feel less like I’m making a choice and more like I’m being forced to stop engaging with the game in order to have a different experience. It would be much better if the game allowed me to take the sidequests in different ways and ended up giving me different rewards for choosing an evil path rather than less.
Or just, you know, have some sidequests be exclusive. You can do this sidequest that gives you a reward or you can do this one that lets you save a character. But you can’t do both. This would probably be the better compromise, as it would give the player an actual incentive to think what they value most (rewards or roleplaying as a good guy) without sacrificing gameplay time.
Granted, I admit that it makes me curious about how the game would handle my objectives if I were to, say, destroy January the moment I make physical contact with it, but that’s the extent of the game giving any reason for me to play as a psychopath. As it stands, the only real incentive in this game to be evil is… just to be evil. For the evulz. Frankly, I need a bit more.
Funnily enough, this is the opposite problem Dishonored had; Dishonored’s Chaos system felt like the game was trying to chide you for playing it, which was a key reason I had trouble fully enjoying it. Meanwhile this game stacks the deck so hard in favor of “good” options that you can easily max out the game’s morality score without even fully realizing that it exists.
If you’re curious about the January thing, I actually tried that:
Not much is different. December steps in at some points where January would normally talk, but this was clearly not the expected path and it’s almost strictly less interesting. If you get to the escape pod then it wishes you luck and self-destructs.
Which is stupid, because as a dedicated roleplayer
the twist replaced my roleplaying with a totally different story.
There are a couple of places where there’s a thumb on the scale towards to the altruistic solution.
And, given the post-credits sequence, you can easily spin this as intended by Alex to appeal to even the smallest sympathetic response from Typhon-Yu. You can open the cargo bay and let the Typhon kill all the survivors, but you need to either murder an NPC for the keycard or bypass a Hacking 4 lock. Yu may not have gone all-in on hacking at this point and so the “get lots of turrets and help with the defense of the survivors” is both the more altruistic solution and the more accessible one.
I don’t even think you need the floating neuromods for the Mikhaila medicine, just the map waypoint and an non-completed entry in the quest journal will do. You’ll get more story and maybe loot if you complete it. If my partner – whom I love – asks me to go pick up some sugar from the convenience store literally around the corner because we just ran out, I’ll do it, but probably grumble as I put my shoes back on. If some random NPC I’ve never met asks me to drive all the way across San Andreas to pick up something and puts a quest marker on my map, off I go. I might get cool stuff out of the mission.
I think that for most people in an actual lived experience, coming to terms with your prior self’s sexual preference being different than your own would pale in comparison to finding out your prior self SECRETLY KILLED DOZENS OF PEOPLE. But within a game, we’ve all played so many casual murderers and experienced so little romance (and that being so limited and stilted) that it’s what stands out.
I don’t know what the game designers could do to address this, but it’s an issue.
I remember a point in Mass Effect 2 where one of my companions made some “Oh my god, that’s horrifying” comment at a piece of environmental detail I had passed over and my instinctive reaction was unironically “What? It’s just a blood smear leading to a dead body.”
I remember a moment in a tabletop RPG horror campaign where I was attacked by a monster in a room full of mutilated corpses, and having already passed through so multiple horror-dungeons I wasn’t even curious as to who these people were or what killed them. I had no emotional response beyond wondering if the corpses counted as difficult terrain.
The “moral choice” of whether to get Mikhaela’s medicine is even goofier with some light sequence breaking. If you clear out the Technopath in the elevator, you can easily get to her before Alex triggers the lockdown. Meaning that you are under no time pressure nor really any pressure of any kind while she’s paralyzed on the floor, insisting that she’s a goner and you shouldn’t waste your precious time trying to help her. You can even launch yourself right outside the nearby airlock without having to hoof your way back to the Cargo Bay.
Another fun fact: looting those neuromods outside doesn’t make those visible ones disappear as they’re two separate locations. This can lead to a confused person making multiple trips, desperately trying to find those neuromods they already looted.
I’m not sure if you intended to reinforce your point in the footnote about human sexuality being complicated like this or not, but male Morgan could also be bisexual and interested in Mikhaila. So, yeah. It’s complicated!
is this a “good” example of a character with a disability? its an important, but not sole defining, characteristic of her and (sort of) makes sense in the story, and she’s not a helpless damsel or evil villain either. seems a bit trite that she is essentially “cured” with medication, but otherwise seems better than most representation.
Fwiw the medication doesn’t solve all problems; I assume one reason why they bothered to make up this fictional disability is because people with the condition cannot accept neuromods. This is also part of the reason why such people are banned from this station; most of the crew is voluntarily modded, and because of the memory loss side effect it gives the company a backdoor method to wipe inconvenient memories from witnesses to wrongdoing. Part of Mikhaela’s cover story includes having to come up with excuses why she won’t accept any mods.
The in-game literature even has some handwringing about the implications of this miracle technology that a significant fraction of the population can’t ever use.
Does Mikhayla’s condition qualify as a disability, though? It’s a chronic illness that’s completely manageable with medication, but can quickly turn dangerous without, not unlike diabetes or asthma. I honestly don’t know if it counts, but I lean towards no. Way I see it, a disability is something that actually reduces a person’s, well, ability to do something on a consistent basis.
Saving Mikhaila should have costed neuromod because of some made up disease only curable by neuromod. Maybe at first she just ask for one but then say it wasn’t enough because it’s been too long since she got her last dose. Then you need to give her another one and she says something like “almost there, just one more”. This way the player doesn’t really know how many they’ll need to sacrifice and it’ll make you pause and wonder if you really should keep giving her more. Maybe also leave some hint around the station that some people are actually addicted to neuromod so some player will wonder if she’s not just an addict that will keep asking for more. This also give the added twist that Mikhaila need the horrible experiment to continue so she can survive, giving some sort of altruistic reason for the player not to send her the recording.
Also, small annoyance, the neuromod floating in her office you can see from inside the station don’t disappear if you pick them up from outside, I guess the inside and outside area are two different instance and they didn’t bother linking the two.
Maybe-addict-maybe-medicine Mikhaila seems like a far better character and situation than what was actually presented. An actual choice to make! :)
This seems reasonable to me. In present-day the new thing is Small Modular Reactors, that need no maintenance for their rated lifetime, and you just bury them underground for that time. Even up here in rectangle-province, there’s a small town that’s going to be trying one of these out. (Or maybe that’s part of why they’re getting it – far enough away, and low-density enough, that if anything leaks it’s not catastrophic like a dense population area.) I can totally believe that there’s a reactor in sci-fi land that can be turned off and on again. :)
Completely, totally unrelated but just in case Shamus hasn’t heard about it yet: an update to the Steam version of Fallout 3 has finally removed Games For Windows Live. It also broke a lot of mods. So I guess one step forward…
That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure the GOG version never had it and mods work fine.
For all the hatred of Gorfawel and Fallout 3, I don’t remember ever having to log in. It was always there nagging me to, but wasn’t actually required to play.
As a gay man, I’d like to suggest that sexual orientation probably doesn’t work that way. But then I’ve never had my memory wiped (as far as I know).
I think the comment wasn’t about sexual orientation in general, but about the specific appeal Mikhaila has for the player. If all your memories were wiped out and your personality was changed, you likely will still be attracted to the sexes that you found attractive, but it might well be the case that based on your new personality you don’t care for her personality or even her specific body type.
The thing is… it’s not just memory wipe. The extensive neuromodding apparently caused drastic personality shift, and things we think are immutable about a person’s psych may very well not be. It’s part of the horror
At the risk of getting even more political for an already political subject, I’m pretty sure that’s not Arkane’s intent. Dishonored 2 never revealed the gender of identity of Emily’s beau, so she’s also Schrodinger’s Bisexual, so to speak. And Deathloop?
Plus, a lot of people would be pissed off if neuromod brainwiping changed someone’s sexual gender preferences, which are generally regarded as an innate, fundamentally static thing. And in this case, the point of divergence would be after the relationship, right? (EDIT: No, wait, got the timeline wrong.)
Also, isn’t this the same game that makes you listen to tapes of a lesbian couple’s relationship issues? Unless you happen to find the workaround?
Well, Alex is a scientist and executive. Not a game designer. Because Alex doesn’t want it that way.
Seriously, I wonder what they’re going to do without that ‘get out of plot holes free’ card in Prey 2?
The thing that feels unsatisfying about the whole thing to me is that Mikhaila dated pre-mind-wipe Morgan. i.e. dad-murdering Morgan.
That setup is..odd. Mikhaila came here with forged credentials specifically to look for info on her dad. Because she suspects he was murdered on this station for research purposes.
Then she starts dating someone who’s just about at the top of the VIP hierarchy in the station. Is her judgement so incredibly bad that she can’t tell pre-wipe Morgan was at best massively indifferent to killing people? Didn’t she suspect Morgan hd a role in her father’s suspected death at the time?
Or, alternately, was she using Morgan the whole time? She cozied up to Morgan not out of any genuine attraction, but because she hoped Morgan could help her get the info she wanted (either by directly asking for help, or stealing Morgan’s credentials).
It sort of defies belief that she just happened to fall in love with Morgan with no pretense, was totally unaware of Morgan’s possible role in her father’s death, and is blindsided completely by Morgan’s role here.
Also, “you’re not the same person as the pre-wipe Morgan” is a deeply unsatisfying resolution to me. Wasn’t pre-wipe Morgan the one you were in love with? It’s like she’s reading the script and understands the player character is a different person. The setup for the whole Mikhaila situation is premised by her assuming post-wipe Morgan has feelings for her, and in that Morgan is in fact helping because of that.
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