Diecast #368: Same Old New Classics

By Shamus Posted Monday Jan 17, 2022

Filed under: Diecast 61 comments

And so we begin the new year with a bit of positivity and a whole lot of mailbag questions. Also, we got at least four different emails asking me to comment on Walmart’s proposed virtual mall. Given my history, do I have anything new to say as this idea re-appears after vanishing for 20 years?

I don’t know. I might make a video about it.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:
00:00 Phishing attacks getting worse, or better?

06:39 Jimmy Webb’s Deluxe Space Looky-Loo

This is the real time tracker I’ve been following since launch.

14:13 Google has Concerns about BitBurner

So Paul told me about BitBurner, but I forgot to ask what the “Google has concerns” thing was about.

22:57 Mailbag: Watching Instead of Playing

Dear Diecast,

What are your thoughts on watching no commentary playthroughs of a video game to get its story, whether the watcher has played the game entirely, partially, or not at all?

All the best and a Happy New Year,

26:06 Mailbag: Plot Holes

Dear DieCastles,

When looking back on the history of this site, one could make the argument that the most prominent content is the analysis of plots, with a strong focus on identifying and questioning the existence of plot holes.

What plot holes do you find to be the most annoying? Those which are easily avoidable? Those which are most obvious? Or those which are less noticeable, but risk the complete breakage of immersion in the story once discovered, the kind that once seen can never be unseen?


Zeta Kai

32:35 Mailbag: Question for Paul

Dear Diecast,

I hope you’re doing well! As I was watching a stealth section in the latest stream of Batman Arkham Origins with Chris and Shamus, I realized how integral vents are to a lot of action franchises. From the vents of Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard, through the numerous vents found in Half-Life, all the way to the vents Batman crawls through while sneakily downing mooks. Indeed, the moment I see a vent in real life, the first thing I think about is how I can pry it open and sneak undetected through the whole building!

All that being said, though, I really want to ask Paul’s opinion as an engineer who’s actually worked in HVAC: how realistic are the vents we see in video games and action movies? E.g. what do you think of the ones in the Batman games (if you’ve seen them, that is)? Are vents really the Achilles’ Heel to every single security system in the world, as they seem to be portrayed in media?

Keep Being Awesome,

44:44 Mailbag: Respecs

Dear Dicecast,

How do you feel about respeccing, the process where RPGs let you reallocate all your ability points/perk choices/whatever else? It seems like all points on the spectrum of respec availability have drawbacks (respecs too liberal and you lose the satisfaction of making long-term decisions, too conservative and your build ends up unfixably suboptimal) so where do you prefer things fall?


50:07 Mailbag: Mess Effect Audiobook

Dear Diecast,

I’ve been trying to get my friend to read Shamus’s retrospective on the Mass Effect series, but he refuses because he’s one of those audiobook over reading types. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be an audiobook alternative for him. So I was wondering if Shamus had any plans of ever doing one for his Mess Effect book? Or have someone else do it? And if so, if there is any estimation on when it might become available?

All the best,


From The Archives:

61 thoughts on “Diecast #368: Same Old New Classics

  1. tmtvl says:

    Ah, instant full respec, for when you want to have your cake and eat it. Why play the game a second time to experience it as a mage, thief, or cleric; when you can be any of those any time you like?

    1. Mattias42 says:

      Honestly, does respec or no respec really matter in pretty much any game out there that lets you pick character stuff in the first place?

      A lot of games just doesn’t make your character build choices matter on that level in the first place, anyway. Does it really matter if you had a rogue with MAX 1-handed an hour ago, now you have Warrior MAX two-handed instead, if the actual plot, story & characters is only going to talk about how you’re The Chosen One™ and what a meanie Dark Lord™ has been towards The Kingdom?™

      So… why not have that convenience for your player? Why force them to freakin’ restart or quit the game, if they’re not enjoying themselves—or far worse, have accidentally made a build so bad that they CANNOT finish the game?

      Actually happened with me in Fallout 1 AND 2 like… 2-3 times each, and I cannot BELIEVE how patient my younger self was with that, to be blunt, crap. There’s just no reason outside of sadism to leave a skill like throwing, gambling or traps in your game instead of dumming them out, if such skills are going to be usable 1-2 times per campaign.

      1. tmtvl says:

        A character with a lot of diplomacy skill can talk the gang boss into giving them an access pass to the secret lab in exchange for an unspecified favour later on.
        A character with a high bluff skill can pretend to be sent by the superiors and get the access pass that way.
        A character with high pickpocket skill can steal the pass.
        And so on.

        Of course any one of those choices could have an effect later in the game, so now you need to advance the game in x different lines at once. And then you have to split your saves for the next choice as well, making x squared. That’s exponential growth in the amount of saves you have to make and the amount of playthroughs you’re juggling. That’s just unsustainable.

        1. Thomas says:

          This all seems like an extremely hypothetical problem. I’ve never heard of someone who ruined their fun by respeccing, but I’ve personally had times where respeccing helped my enjoyment.

          1. Rariow says:

            The ability to respec provides a safety net that makes the texture of making build decisions different. Decisions that you know can be reverted are easier to make and invite more creativity, while comitted, irreversible decisions will probably make the process of levelling up more solemn and encourage you to min-max a lot more. I enjoy both types of play, but being able to respec in, say, Dark Souls (Drink!) would definitely diminish my enjoyment of that game, just like being unable to relearn moves in Pokémon would mean I only ever use tried-and-true strategies over and over and get bored out of my mind. Agonizing over every decision I make and having to live with my mistakes is part of the fun in some RPGs, just like coming up with wacky builds is part of the fun in others.

            As for “never having heard of someone ruining their fun by respeccing”, I think it’s more that people don’t realize the game is less enjoyable for having the ability to respec. Removing convenience and quality-of-life options changes the way you approach games almost on a subconscious level. While I’m sure no one’s ever seen a respec option and said “I am no longer having fun”, I’m equally sure people have at some point seen respec options and started playing fast and loose with how they use their level ups when they would’ve enjoyed carefully thinking through every decision more.

            I just don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all solution here.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              As for “never having heard of someone ruining their fun by respeccing”, I think it’s more that people don’t realize the game is less enjoyable for having the ability to respec.

              Ah, I thought I was having fun, but I’m actually not! Thanks for letting me know.

              Alright, I jest – the above comment comes across as far more confrontational than I actually feel. And it ignores the top paragraph of your post.
              Plus you do have a good point about the ability to respec changing the dynamic of a game. Personally I think it changes it for the better, but everyone’s different…

              The game that really sold me on respecs was Divinity: Original Sin 2. It allows you to respec for free, whenever, at no cost ebyond heading back to your ship/base. Which is fantastic for me, as I’m very prone to going ‘Ah, I really should have taken feat X last level up instead of feat Y!’ after I’ve completed a level up – once I see the new abilities in action, I get a better picture of what would work better with them.
              And making such tweaks in D:OS 2 is trivially easy.

              (Honestly, any game that expects me to delve into a complex ruleset / character builder and NOT make mistakes when I start out or level up irritates me. No, I don’t want to memorise the rules before I start – I want to play the damn game!)

              But there is, naturally, a cost to the situation – your character’s power is a plot point, but it can’t be more specific than that because you can be anything. There are no classes (Well, none that mean very much), no specialist Guild-style factions. The game does a pretty good job of making your character’s flexibility fit the plot, but it wouldn’t work for every story.
              And there’s always the temptation to abuse the ability: ‘Oh, I need 5 Persuasion in this situation, but only have 4…I could always leave, rebuild the character with 1 extra Persuasion point, and come back…’

              I do get why people don’t like respecs, even though I think they’re great.

              1. Rariow says:

                I understand you’re being tongue in cheek, but just to be 100% clear (because I hate coming across as elitist when it comes to these things – I was incredibly obnoxious in that way through most of my late teens and have spent my twenties feeling bad about it), my point isn’t “Games become less fun with respecs because of filthy casuals”, but more something along the lines of the old “Given the chance, players will optimize the fun out of a game” idea. Part of the fun of games is fighting against limitations, and I think there are games where the compulsory commitment to your build choices can be part of what creates that fun, so I don’t think a hard “every game needs the ability to respec!” rule makes any more sense than a hard “no game should ever have the ability to respec!” rule.

                That said, your point about very complex systems is one that I do agree with, and a setting where respecs definitely belong, especially when those systems are part of hard games. I remember my first playthrough of Dragon Age Origins back when it was new, which was my first tactical RPG ever. I just picked the abilities that looked the coolest and wound up practically softlocking myself twenty or so hours in (at least until I figured out I could just reduce the difficulty). It sucked, and I don’t think that’s a state games should allow the player to themselves get into. Being forced to trudge along with a suboptimal build is only really fun when suboptimal builds still work – accidentally building a character who does lots of damage, can only equip the slowest melee weapons and is super frail makes for an unusual dynamic and forces you to think differently about how you play, accidentally building a character who takes five years to kill people and dies in one hit is just frustrating.

                I think the point I’ve seen further down this comment section – that the way to get around the need for respecs is to just make every build fun to play – is pretty much on point here. That’s obviously easier said than done, and there’s obviously still room for respec systems in these perfectly balanced games, but I think it’s a lot less frustrating to realize you made a mistake in the level you picked six hours ago when all it does is make the fun thing you’re doing less efficient, rather than make it unfun at all. I brought up Dark Souls as an example in my previous comment because I’ve never had a run through Dark Souls that I didn’t enjoy, even when I made very bad decisions in building my character. There’s a unique sort of joy in limping across the finish line with a misshapen bundle of stats that doesn’t make any sense, and I think that there’s something to that.

            2. Dues says:

              I’m going to super disagree with you and say that I enjoyed Dark Souls 2 and 3 much more because I could re-spec. I spent hundreds of hours tracking down all the spells and weapons, and the only way I had to try them out other than respecing would be to try to trade the items to other accounts or grind to a super high level where all of the balance of the game would be gone. I could also restart the whole game and get the weapons/items/spells I want for a different character, but I just don’t have that kid of time for a video game anymore. I have kids. Respec lets me try things out that I just would have not tried at all. I would have just played a different game.

      2. Addie says:

        I’d just about give Fallouts 1 and 2 a pass on less-useful skills. As an old-school RPG, it lets you play the game as a role of your choice, and if that role is an aging quoits champion who rose to the top with a keen eye and a lot of luck gambling on himself, but who was brought low by a compulsive need to consume all the narcotics he can get his hands on; well, it’s got you covered. Yes, it’s a much easier game if you min-max speech, small guns and intelligence, but that’s a little boring.

        Worse are the perks that just don’t work, or don’t work as advertised. You might want to take a sub-optimal choice for the challenge, or a laugh, or to fit your character, but the early Fallouts have a few unfair pitfalls there.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          One irony is that Gambling is actually broken if you’re willing to put a book on the keyboard in a casino and then go to (real-life) bed.

          A slightly less absurd version of accomplishing the same thing is powerleveling Barter early. Even tagging Barter as a skill is enough to make most NPCs value your goods higher than their own, allowing trades in your favor until you’ve cleaned them out. And combined with skill books being purchasable in the Hub…

          That said, I do think getting rid of that dynamic has been mostly positive. I’ll even grant that I think Bethesda getting rid of percentage skill scores in Fallout 4 was a good idea even though I think the system they replaced it with was a turd.

          Another point specific to Fallout games: While they don’t allow respecs, the earlier games do something that’s arguably worse in that they allow you to do everything but only if you set up a precisely perfect build that you’d only know about with foreknowledge. So instead of ruining your fun by shuffling your stats around, you’re ruining your fun by reading a strategy guide and setting all your stats such that you can just barely pass all the important stat checks if you take the exact right drugs at the right times.

        2. RFS-81 says:

          I don’t give Fallout 1 a pass. It’s not about “less useful” or “unbalanced”, it’s about skills actually doing things. Someone thought it would be cool to have skill X in the game, then nobody bothered to actually flesh it out, but they leave it in because more stuff = more good.

          My first character had a high science skill, so I could lecture farmers about crop rotation for XP. Also, I could always hack computers on the first attempt (WTF?) but you have unlimited attempts, so who cares. I thought there would be some pre-war tech I could play with. I don’t care if it’s less useful than speech or small guns, just give me anything to do with it!

          But hey, I can “roleplay a scientist” by having a high Science number.

      3. ContribuTor says:

        So… why not have that convenience for your player? Why force them to freakin’ restart or quit the game, if they’re not enjoying themselves—or far worse, have accidentally made a build so bad that they CANNOT finish the game?

        IMO the more important question is why a developer would create options that aren’t fun to play or (as you say) so bad that a player can’t finish the game.

        Giving players a choice to nonobviously cripple their character isn’t fixed by later allowing them to undo that choice. You fix it by making the original choice not break the character. Or, if it’s going to lock them into one playstyle, by making that obvious.

        “Oh, I guess we’ll let the players respec” is a terrible crutch for a developer who is too lazy to make a balanced game where all the supported options are fun to play. Rather than make our game interesting to all options, we’ll let the player switch to the one option that’s “correct” whenever we couldn’t think of how to make this quest/encounter/boss fight work for anyone other than our brawler class.

        One of the big reasons I hate FO4 is for one of the earlier boss fights, where you have to recover the memory core from that guy with the cigars. I like playing sneak-and-snipe computer havcker fallout characters in 3 and NV, and enjoyed both games. For this boss fight, though, they lock you in a fairly small room with no opportunity to hide and make you duke it out with a melee focused fighter.

        After 10 tries, I decided they’d basically built a fight my preferred build couldn’t win. Apparently they decided that too – I found out they hid a fat man near the fight, which is basically a “kill anyone free of charge” weapon. I noped out of the game (from one of my favorite franchises) and didn’t look back.

        Could I have survived the boss fight if they’d given me a respec option to change to a shoot-em-up tank instead of “wasting” so many points in sneak and hacking? Sure. But it would have required me to play the rest of the game as a different character because the one I wanted to play wasn’t “valid.” It also would have killed any role playing attachment to my character (not that RPG’s care too much about that these days).

        The RIGHT decision from Bethesda would be to fix your gorram boss fight so it doesnt require a respec.

        I’m not saying every possible combination of skill numbers has to be completely equal. But if you allow and encourage certain broad categories of play, and then force everyone down a narrow path, then “ok, fine, we’ll let you respec” is a lazy and bad fix.

      4. RFS-81 says:

        You want to see real sadism? The Realms of Arkania trilogy has a spell named “Banish Ghosts” or somesuch. It’s used in two places in the entire trilogy. In 3, you can use it to get some XP. In 2, there’s a dead-end room with a treasure in an optional dungeon. If you take it, you’re stuck forever if you can’t cast the spell.

        “Conjure Ghosts” literally doesn’t do anything ever.

        It’s an interesting series, though. Many of the skills that you might expect to be useless at least give you some income or let you save costs. Others are even more useless than they sound.

    2. GoStu says:

      I’ve found the classless games where you can simply level anything to be a little odd when it comes to guilds/factions/etc. Example, Skyrim: because you can level up anything and join everyone (except the binary irrelevant choice between Stormcloak/Imperial) you get these bizarre moments where you’re the head of the Dark Brotherhood and the head of the Companions and the top of the Warrior’s Guild… and you’re getting sent through menial entry-level quests for the College of Winterhold.

      Bonus points for when the level scaling kicks in and the aforementioned “entry-level” quest now involves a SERIOUSLY nasty enemy. Bonus bonus points (because magic is Crap in Oblivion/Skyrim) that the final threat in the magic college is trivially beaten up by a guy with (A) few spellcasting talents and (B) a sharp stick.

      I find it weird that the game will neither have these factions recognize each other (I guess that would be hard) nor have the stones to ever gate any content off based on past choices.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        In one playthrough, I became the head of the Mage’s Guild in Skyrim by casting two apprentice-level spells, to gain entry. After that I hacked all the enemies to death with a sword.
        It was an enchanted sword, mind you, so I guess that counts?

        Still, it was better than Oblivion, where I cast a total of 0 spells, and snuck through all the faction mission shooting necromancers in the back with a bow.

        Amusingly, both games would have been better with a respec option IMO…if only to help people who think that relying on magic skills is a fun way to play the game.

        1. GoStu says:

          Skyrim put the nail in the coffin for my hopes that Bethesda will make Magic in the Elder Scrolls any good. Eliminating a few lesser-used schools of magic was a start, but otherwise trying to fight anything as a wizard was terrible.

          Last time I really enjoyed a magic-user playthrough of an Elder Scrolls game was in Morrowind, and that’s because I built my character very carefully to be almost a Vancian caster. I left town with enough magicka to cast maybe 6-7 really, REALLY hard-hitting spells and hoarded them carefully.

  2. Steve C says:

    I *strongly* doubt that phishers and hackers care about intellectual property law while they engage in their fraud and criminal computer trespass. Hell, that might not even be an offense in the country the spam is coming from. Trademarks are not universally protected.

    It is more likely that spam filters have gotten better. Remember that Google is scanning the entire content of the message anyway so they can advertise to you. So a hyperlinked graphic on file has to match the correct domain on file or the whole message gets trashed as spam. IE: Image does not match the white listed domain? -=DELETED!=-

    BTW I shave bi-weekly now. Not going out much for obvious reasons. Plus a mask covers my 3.5 day beard when I do.

    1. Moridin says:

      As I understand it, these kinds of scammers often make their scams deliberately easy to spot. They don’t want to have to waste time on people who are gullible enough to contact them after receiving the email (thus potentially wasting hours of the scammer’s time) but not gullible enough to actually send them the money.

      1. RFS-81 says:

        I heard that too, but this seems to only apply to Nigerian princes and such. If you’re a phisher, then the gullible people will just fill in their password in your fake website and you can just ignore the rest.

  3. Steve C says:

    The reason the James Web has to spend fuel is because it is not going to the L2 Lagrange Point. More accurately it is going to orbit the L2 Lagrange Point. That’s the unstable part. This is because L2 is in the shadow of the Earth and perpetual darkness. Darkness is very good for a telescope that requires an operating temperature near absolute zero. But perpetual darkness is not so great since it is powered by solar panels.

    Therefore James Web will have to correct its orbit periodically because it isn’t actually in the L2 proper. An orbit that allows it to peek out of the shadow of the Earth to get just enough sun to operate without overheating. Which takes fuel. Plus the cooling system keeping it near absolute zero has a maximum lifespan. Fun fact: It’s not going to cool down enough to operate properly until some time in the summer.

    1. ContribuTor says:

      It’s even a little more complicated than that.

      As you point out, L2 isn’t stable. If you’re below it, you fall back down. If you’re above it, you drift further and further away. The most efficient way to stay at L2 would be to try to hit it as exactly as possible, and occasionally use thrusters to adjust up or down as appropriate as you drift slightly off.

      The Webb is NOT doing that. Instead, the Webb will always stay below L2, using thrusters to push up towards L2 periodically but never getting to L2. Which requires more fuel than trying to keep station right on L2.

      The reason for this is that it’s a telescope. The Webb has two sides, separated by its sun shield. The “cold” side always faces away from the sun and has the telescope and the delicate optics. The “hot” side faces the sun.

      The Webb can only have thrusters on the “hot” side. Throwing rocket exhaust on the “cold” side would damage the delicate optics. And the Webb can’t simply turn 180 degrees to point its thrusters back at the earth if it overshoots. Like the McDLT, it has to keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool. Exposing the telescope optics and instruments to the sun would be much worse than the dust from rocket exhaust.

      More on JWST’s orbital mechanics:


  4. Joshua says:

    As far as the air vent question, most media is unrealistic. Vents are usually too cramped, traveling through them would be extremely noisy, and they might collapse underneath the weight of the person. See TV Tropes article on them.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Also related: Shamus mentioned the first thing I thought of: the Mythbusters section where someone tried to crawl through a vent.
      Yep, it’s noisy.


      1. Rho says:

        Would have been hilarious to see a reference joke in a Marvel Movie had Thor ever tried to sneak some place.

  5. Steve C says:

    Andrew’s and Zeta Kai’s questions intersect for me. I also don’t see the point of Let’s Plays without commentary. One of the few games I watched the Lets Play of was Walking Dead. This was due to an unforgivable plot hole that made me abandon the game. (Namely stealing a battery for a boat.) Every aspect of that was fractally stupid. I just couldn’t play anymore. I was still curious how the game ended so I watched along with Spoiler Warning. I would not have bothered without commentary though.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Is that really a plot hole or just lazy writing? They’re not the same, you know.

      1. Steve C says:

        Both. When something is ridiculously stupid and has nothing to do with anything, that it becomes a plot hole. Not the only way, but one way for sure.

        For example the map to the secret treasure in the Nicolas Cage movie “National Treasure” is lazy writing. If instead it was a secret map to the rest stop on I-95 then that would be both lazy writing and a plot hole. That’s on par with the battery nonsense. It’s just too stupid. I’m willing to watch a 3rd party engage in idiocy like that (no offense to Josh) only because I’m not the one forced to do it.

    2. Syal says:

      They’re useful for linking to when you want to talk about a certain part of a game. Otherwise you have to listen to the commentary and find one that says roughly what you’re trying to say already.

      Plus some games speak for themselves. (I don’t know what the Citizen Kane of games is, but this is the Big Trouble In Little China of games.)

    3. John says:

      My daughter recently told me that she was watching a Lets Play of Hollow Knight, a game I’m pretty sure she has no intention of ever playing herself, because she thinks it’s pretty. I don’t know whether the Lets Play has commentary or not. If I were watching a Lets Play for prettiness’ sake, I’d probably prefer one without commentary. That said, I rarely watch Lets Plays and when I do the commentary is usually the point.

    4. Steve C says:

      Oh wait! I just realized I lied when I said I don’t watch Let’s Plays without commentary. I do. I watch clips that illustrate tactics, strategies and builds. Like “This fleet composition with these weapons vs this other fleet.” Or tutorials on how to do a boss etc.

      I watch videos where the choices the silent player makes becomes the commentary.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    I always figured that Bruce Wayne would deliberately get architects to design buildings with large, extensive and soundproof ventilation shafts in anticipation of him needing to sneak in as Batman, maybe with the excuse that he was superstitious.

    I’ve seen a few games with respec options, but I haven’t seen one where respeccing comes for free. There’s always some sort of fee. Champions Online had this neat mechanic for it, where the last point you allocated could be recovered for free (provided you did it in the Powerhouse, where you get to test your abilities), so if you weren’t happy with it you could exchange it for something else, but every older allocated point would cost a bit more in-game money to recover (and they had to be done in reverse order, due how the game’s progression system works). Then, once you reached the highest level you’d get a free full respec.

    A curious case is that of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut. Since they stuck the DLC in the middle of the game you have two free opportunities to respec your character. One at the start of the DLC, where all of your augmentations are locked, so you need to re-unlock them one by one, and one at the end of the DLC, where rather than giving you your original configuration the game just hands you a bunch of Praxis points to unlock everything again.

    1. ContribuTor says:

      I always figured that Bruce Wayne would deliberately get architects to design buildings with large, extensive and soundproof ventilation shafts in anticipation of him needing to sneak in as Batman, maybe with the excuse that he was superstitious.

      An even better approach would be to use his influence to get the local planning board to make this a code requirement.

    2. Addie says:

      Just to Dark Souls up this thread (since Shamus loves it so) – 2 and 3 have mechanics for a limited number of respecs.

      Two requires a somewhat-rare item; you’ll have enough to fix a complete mistake or to change your character type round on each new game+, but there’s not enough to change on every boss. (Some of the bosses are absurdly weak to certain builds, and rock-hard to others – it’s not really in the spirit of the game to let you do that.)

      Three required finding an out-of-the-way NPC (the covenant leader Rosaria), each respec needed an item you usually obtained by invading and killing another player, and respeccing at all locked you out of a questline without telling you that it would do that. Very thematically appropriate for the series, but a little bit mean.

  7. tmtvl says:

    A game where you make your own chips that teaches you why assembly language is the way it is? That sounds kinda like nandgame.

    1. Addie says:

      Oh, nice. Also sounds like the output of Zachtronics games; particularly TIS-100 or Shenzhen I/O.

    2. MadTinkerer says:

      Nandgame reminds me of Turing Complete on Steam.

  8. tmtvl says:

    32-bit UNIX time will break in 2038. I believe GNU Libc still has to switch the default timestamp they use to 64-bit. It mostly only matters for systems that don’t have internet connection. Personally I think that if it gets updated by next year it should be fine, for a 15-year lifetime seems long enough for those types of systems.

    1. ContribuTor says:

      You’d think that, wouldn’t you. But the problem is that the longest lived systems tend to be the critical “this is too risky to replace” systems, usually run by a government.

      Case in point:

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        In the late 90s when Y2K was about to hit, banks were actively recruiting my father for his COBOL experience.

      2. tmtvl says:

        Yeah, it’s a little sad, in a way, to see the snowball gain ever greater speed and mass as it heads for the inevitable collision with an immovable object.

  9. Will says:

    Once I got a job at an HVAC equipment manufacturer, the idiocy of stealth vents became hard to ignore.

    Modern buildings (and any building that’s been brought up to code) are full of fire and smoke control systems intended to give the people inside time to get out before becoming overwhelmed by heat or smoke. Specifically, major changes were made to codes and systems after the MGM Grand Fire. It’s a fascinating and terrifying story if you care for that sort of thing.

    Anyway, any modern system is going to be full of dampers that slam shut (or less frequently open (it’s a smoke control thing)) when their sensors detect heat and/or smoke in the ductwork. Some are built like a small garage door, crashing closed when tripped by high temps. The fancy cadillac devices (and what you’re most likely to see in the typical stealth gaming destination) use an array of blades more a car air vent that slam shut with a heavy spring. Each damper is installed in line with a literal firewall in the building, and to your average stealth gamer would be prison bars blocking your way.

    When those dampers shut down, it can be quite loud. Almost gunshot loud. If you start hearing noises like that in your drop ceiling at work, it’s probably time to GTFO.

  10. BlueHorus says:

    I love respec options.
    From thinking ‘Oh, I wish I’d bought ability X, rather than ability Y!’, to getting bored with the build I’ve got, to just having the freedom to try out crazy new ideas because you know you won’t be forced to use your experimental build if it’s terrible.

    I’ve gotten to the point where it’s something of a soft requirement of a game for me, and NOT being able to do it is a point against said game.

    1. Joshua says:

      Interesting, because I know you’ve played Wasteland 2 & 3 (although I guess you have clones in the latter?). Not having a respec option doesn’t bother me too badly except for it heavily biases me against taking on many later companions because they’ll seldom synergize with how I’ve specced my existing team.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        This exact type of case is precisely why I limited the scope (or intended to limit the scope) of my own comment to single-player, single-character games designed to be played only once.

        Violate any of those assumptions and fast and hard divergence of builds becomes far more desirable and the situation completely changes.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        The best answer is Save Editors. Kind of fiddly to get working, but so very worth it. Just directly alter the stats of everyone in your party so you can have a competent team of specialist that work well together AND laugh at the dumb things they say!
        It’s particularly worthwhile these games because the companion characters are usually badly optimised, ‘wasting’ skill and ability points.

        Not that they’re essential…’a point against the game’ doesn’t mean I won’t play it at all. But yeah, in the vanilla game, a lof of companions just got left behind because they don’t fit the team I had, at least until I looked up a solution.

        I’ve needed a lockpicking specialist from the beginning, game, why have you only introduced this companion character NOW!?

        1. Joshua says:

          And that was the problem I had with these games. If you differentiate your characters so there’s almost no crossover of skills (except maybe a weapon skill or two), it’s fine to say “Roll with the consequences of your choices” as a theme of this game, except it made many later characters just crappy choices whether their skills/stats were synergized or not (and they often weren’t). Plus, your first choice of a companion in 2 is between two excellent ones (Rose or Vulture’s Cry) who you can customize from the get-go, so you’re not likely to want as much variety later on. The one exception I found in 2 was Brother Thomas, because someone who has skills in Surgery and Field Medic (in addition to a good short-range combo of Submachine Guns/Blunt Weapons) worked with just about whatever else you already had, because having redundancy in healing was actually desirable, unlike having redundancy in lockpicking or something else like you said.

          In Wasteland 3, Pipezi and Scotchmo suffer from some of the same issues as 2, in that “I’d like to take you but my team is already optimized” whereas half the other characters were just psychopaths I didn’t want in my party to begin with.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            What, did you not immediately love the thick-as-shit cannibal raider companion whose first act is trying to kill and eat you for entering his turf?

            Or that unrepentant slaver you find in a prison cell! Why would you not want HIM in your team?

            How about the utterly spoilt psychopath who was torturing innocent people en masse, for fun, before you caught up with him? He’s just a perfect addition to your wasteland police force!

            I get that the game gives you freedom, and embraces an ‘evil’ playthrough. But seriously, even if I WAS evil, and disregarded the game’s premise of being a police force,…I still wouldn’t trust some of the above with a loaded firearm, let alone rely on them in dangerous situations.

            1. Joshua says:

              But seriously, even if I WAS evil, and disregarded the game’s premise of being a police force

              And this is why I don’t tend to like or choose evil options in many of these games, because you have a game premise where the PCs are generally set up to be the heroes, and so evil options tend to come across as random and psychosis as opposed to a consistent world view. If the general premise is that you are a police officer who is working on this entire mission for saving people back home in Arizona, then at worst you should have a Ranger who’s maybe being a little extreme in their methods or even taking a little graft, but a Ranger who’s going around killing babies or doing similar evil acts shouldn’t be on the table, because an individual who does such things likely wouldn’t be doing most of the main plot to begin with. I haven’t played it, but I think Mass Effect covers this well with Paragon and Renegade, which is you’re still a good guy trying to save the universe, but your methods differ?

              Games where I think this kind of openness does work are ones like your above-mentioned D:OS2, Baldur’s Gate series, Planescape:Torment, etc. Those have stories where a completely evil character still makes sense to be going through the main plot because the plot is personal in nature.

              I think Neverwinter Nights 2 had a bad example of it where you can make some totally Chaotic Evil comment early in the game to your farm village friends and they recoil in confusion. The game has set you up for a good story, but still allows you to be evil which oftentimes only makes sense if you have a sudden personality transplant.

  11. Lino says:

    Thank you for answering my question, guys! It was both hilarious AND informative!

    Regarding Let’s Plays without commentary, I usually watch them for games where I’m interested in the story, but either I don’t have time to play it myself, or it’s just not my bag gameplay-wise. In cases like these, commentary just ruins the atmosphere for me.
    On the flip side, if I’m watching a Let’s Play with commentary, then it’s by a channel I’m familiar with, in which case I’m watching it solely because of the commentary, and the game pretty much doesn’t matter.

    Also, I really like the new photo for the podcast! You should tell Issac he’s done a great job yet again!

  12. lethal_guitar says:

    I prefer no commentary playthroughs if I haven’t played the game myself yet. If there’s commentary, then I feel like I need to pay attention to the game and the commentary at the same time and that feels stressful. But the whole reason I’m watching someone else play is because I don’t feel like playing the game myself because that would require too much energy, so I want it to be relaxed. Having someone talk over the game’s events just takes me out of that. Especially because a lot of YouTubers tend to be constantly overly excited/super high energy, “oh my god did you see that whoaaa” which is just too much for me.

    Now for something like Dark Souls where there’s vastly more gameplay than story, I would also prefer a commented playthrough. But the games I tend to watch are usually more story/dialog heavy, so it works out for me.

    I tend to watch a playthrough if I have started playing a game and would like to see the story, but can’t see myself continuing/finishing it. Although I do also sometimes watch playthroughs of games I’ve never played and don’t really think I ever will, but are still interested in them.

    Some recent examples:

    * The Last of Us 2 – I have the 1st game but never finished it because I really don’t enjoy the gameplay, so I wasn’t going to buy the 2nd installment, but still wanted to see it.
    * Horizon Zero Dawn – I really love the game’s setting and story, but again the gameplay wasn’t for me so I stopped playing after multiple attempts to get back into it after letting it sit for a while, and watched a let’s play.
    * Wolfenstein the New Order. Was planning to play this ever since it came out, but never got around to it. And nowadays, I can’t use mouse controls anymore due to RSI issues and this type of shooter doesn’t feel right with a controller, so I ultimately decided to just watch a let’s play since I still wanted to see how the game plays out.

    All of these games are fairly cinematic/story heavy, so they work well without commentary. I did end up sometimes skipping long combat sections but I do actually enjoy watching exploration.

  13. tmtvl says:

    I like watching commentated playthroughs of games where the player is knowledgeable and teaches the viewers about the game. Things like Minecraft expert modpacks, Factorio (Nilaus), or TheViper’s Age of Empires 2 videos spring to mind.

  14. Chad+Miller says:

    The topic of respecs is highly related to the topic of leveling systems that came up last episode: https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=53456#comment-1314775

    Much like with leveling itself, whether respeccing is a good idea depends at least somewhat on the game or genre being discussed, but I think this question is really most interesting for single-player games that are reasonably long and intended for most people to play only once.

    In this specific context I’ll make an even more controversial assertion: most reasons for not allowing respecs are obsolete holdovers from TTRPGs (starting with the rarely-question assumption that any respec system is somehow “less realistic” than just about any XP-based leveling system to begin with). There are some parallels with character alignment systems, which used to be a lot more common in WRPGs due to D&D’s influence before slowly fading away (Mass Effect alone slowly progressed from “Paragade requires both points in your character build and regularly levelling it up in conversation” in ME1 to “Responses are marked with differing tones which don’t matter outside of that specific conversation and are mostly there for flavor” in Andromeda). It turns out that giving players agency and the ability to make their plot their own doesn’t really require making them fill out a Good/Evil blank on a character sheet, and is in some ways antithetical to it.

    A lot of the reason for non-reversible character decisions in team-based games is because you generally want to differentiate teammates quickly instead of having 3-5 people all playing interchangeable characters. But in single-player video games, demanding the player make irrevocable decision that can make or break their experience at the outset of a new game is generally the exact opposite of good design!

    That said, it’s certainly a spectrum; if you can respec literally any time then it’s hardly even a character build system at all (may as well just find a way to justify it all as swapping equipment or something at that point). The goal would be that respeccing is expensive enough that the player will be seriously tempted not to use it that often if at all, but available enough that the player can go use it if necessary, where necessity is going to vary by genre and difficulty.

    One surprisingly interesting case study is the game being talked about on the blog right now: Final Fantasy XII. The Zodiac Age actually introduced a respec system, but it’s only available by talking to one specific NPC in one specific place. Fast travel exists in the game (itself in the sweet spot of avoiding infinite free teleportation around the map but also being present enough that you’re rarely stuck in the middle of nowhere having to make some ridiculous hike back to civilization) so the question is “Do you ever dislike your build enough that you’ll go hunt down Montblanc specifically to clear it?”

    This was probably brought about by the presence of classes (or as Final Fantasy tends to call them, “jobs”); the original game didn’t have jobs so “changing your build” was just a matter of grinding up some more points to put into your license board. It also didn’t show you spots you hadn’t reached on the board yet so the playerbase was roughly divided into people who made everyone identical tank-mages and people who read a strategy guide. The Zodiac Age system gives you different jobs and lets you look up the abilities they can learn, so that you can actually experiment knowing that if you really don’t like where a character ended up you can hit the Montblanc switch and do something else. This is just better all around.

    1. Syal says:

      Respec options are sort of like a Job system; you’ve got the build you use for the main game, and then some challenge comes up and you can swap to a solution to that challenge. Job systems being great, respeccing is also great.

      Although I’m pretty sure I’ve never used one extensively. I’d usually rather start over; if I’m switching builds I want to see how the new build deals with the old content.

      1. Rho says:

        Also, and this is a major point which is often significant when gaming, it’s not always about *power*. If spending a limited selection of points really matters, and if players need to spend them blind, well, there’s a problem. Curiously, most such systems don’t have any allowance made for testing or experimentation.

        This becomes a problem for several reasons. The first that a “bad build” can make ordinary challenges a struggle. Second, players will often try things the designer never thought about in the first place. And finally, base descriptions of an ability don’t make it clear how it will be used or useful in context.

        To expand on the last point, this could mean that some abilities have stronger effects on certain kinds of monsters or environments – which could be limited to one section of a game. Or perhaps there are abilities that deal with avoiding or disarming traps, but all the traps were designed as pinprick annoyances that hardly mattered in the first place. Or some abilities might even involve mechanics that were effectively dumped and are now more or less irrelevant in play.

        There can also be meta-problems, commonly in multiplayer titles. Some gameplay styles might be valid on their own, but gaming with other people can invalidate those styles (maybe another class does the same thing, but better) or make other options superior in all cases (option A has good damage but option B offers unique party-wide benefits, so all groups pick B because there are other DPS). And there can be the degenerative effects of grind – there’s a clear tendency in most games to favor high damage outputs over time because players get tired of doing the same content and want to just get it over with.

  15. Philadelphus says:

    I came down here to write that to me the perfect respec system is “infinite, but not trivial”, but while listening to the relevant Diecast section I realized I’m thinking of a slightly different system than Shamus and Paul described. For convenience I’ll call the type of system described in the Diecast a “mixed” skill tree because it involves mixing combat and non-combat abilities in the same system, buyable with the same skill points. I don’t play a lot of games with those types of systems, so it turns out I don’t really have many thoughts about them.

    For non-mixed systems, by which I mean, systems that only involve combat*, the first example that comes to mind as a solid respec system is Pokemon**. Once you unlock the move relearner person you can bring any Pokemon to them to relearn a previously-forgotten move, which allows the casual player (who hasn’t looked up the movelist ahead of time and plotted a course from levels 1–100) to switch their tactics if they discover something they want to change up later on. This allows players to respec any Pokemon they want to infinitely, but since it’s not trivial due to the time cost*** players won’t go switching moves between every battle.

    For another example, CrossCode might have the best respeccing system I’ve ever seen. Respeccing costs a special respec item, which you get given a handful of throughout the game for completing significant plot points. That’s probably enough for the casual player, but if you want more, you can also grind for resources to buy them. But the best part is, there’s a special room wherein you can, upon using a respec item, change your build around as much as you want until you leave the room. You can also trigger various enemies while you’re in the room to test your build on, allowing you to experiment and find something you like before locking in your build again. It’s kind of a gold standard in my mind for how games should do respeccing (which also describes a pretty high fraction of the systems in CrossCode, honestly, it’s that good).

    Basically, I think allowing the player to respec infinitely for whatever reason they want (at least for strictly non-mixed combat systems) far outweighs any potential downsides. Unless your combat system is perfectly, immaculately, balanced, players will at some point pick a sup-optimal option and want to change. Or maybe they realized they prefer a different play style to what they started with, or just want to try something else out. On the other hand, analysis paralysis is bad, so initially limiting access to respeccing can be good too, such as by only unlocking it at some point in the game where the player is comfortable enough with the systems to find it useful without being overwhelmed. And make it too easy, and players will simply respec between each fight for maximum optimization potential. Thus, to me the ideal system would allow it infinitely, but with some sort of time cost to discourage doing it too frequently: either a direct time cost like needing to travel to a specific place to do it, or by requiring some sort of currency which is infinitely available but time-consuming to grind/collect.

    *Or non-combat, it might be interesting to have a game where combat and non-combat had two distinct trees; but that’s outside the scope of this comment.
    **Which is technically mixed with HMs and some moves having effects outside of battle depending on the generation, but let’s ignore those for now since all moves do have combat effects (and I think they essentially phased HMs out in Sword and Shield).
    ***And possibly in-game material cost? I can’t remember, though if it was I think it was something you could find randomly in the world.

  16. Philadelphus says:

    Argh, messed up a closing tag in my comment and my rapid attempts to edit it apparently got it marked as spam.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Ah, it’s back! Thanks for pulling it out of oblivion Shamus. (And the edit took, hooray!)

  17. Paul Spooner says:

    Google’s concerns come in with my altering the system clock and thereby invalidating everyone’s security certificates.

    1. Rick says:

      I have this a try for a few hours and found it really fun and very easy to get distracted trying to script things.

      Thanks for letting us know about it.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Sure thing!
        If you ever get bored waiting for things to happen, here’s the code I used to break the game open:

        1. Rick says:

          Thanks! I only just saw this… I think I’ve been playing it wrong since I see people discussing seemingly endgame stuff along side things I dealt with a while ago.

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