Diecast #377: Xbox Desolation

By Shamus Posted Monday Apr 4, 2022

Filed under: Diecast 71 comments

I forgot to mention it on the show, but I got a community award from Steam this week. I didn’t even know that community awards were a thing? The award also came with a prize! I received 100 Steam points, which were added to my 177,085 total. I’m rich! Or something. More details below.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

So about that award. Is it for some content that I made? Maybe the Portal 2 level I posted a few months ago? Or those Distance tracks I made back in 2016? Who nominated me? Who voted for me? I’m flattered, really. This is just so…


Apparently, the award was auto-generated by the system because I posted a review that got lots of upvotes. So this isn’t an award given by people in recognition for an artistic creation, this is just some output from the social-media server because I did some bitching and moaning that played to the momentary mood of the crowd.

“Such poetry!” Steam tells me. Shit, Gaben. If you think THAT dashed-off whining is poetry, I got 186,000 words of bellyaching that will knock your socks off. I got nitpicks for days. I’ve got more grievances than General Grievous. I’ve got enough salt to make Canada drivable in winter. I do this shit for a living.

So… thanks for the 100 points, I guess?

Anyway, here are the show notes:

00:39 Aria

I forgot to ask Paul if Aria IS Omega. Missed opportunity.

04:06 Xbox for Windows doesn’t understand either Xbox or Windows

Game pass is financially a good deal, but it wouldn’t be a Microsoft PC gaming product without an imperial assload of jank and metric arseload of terrible UI.Damn it, Microsoft, why are you mixing units like this? Now I need a conversion table to figure out the assload total!

09:54 Beautiful Desolation

Link (YouTube)

20:06 Penny Arcade Remix

How fun.

24:31 Mailbag: Migrating Mojang accounts for Minecraft

Dear Diecast,

Have any/either/all of you on the show this episode tried migrating your Mojang account to a Microsoft account so you can continue playing Minecraft, as required after March 10? Might make some great fodder for another of Shamus’s rants! (No fewer than five emails from Microsoft [including three different one-time codes], and the process got stuck on the final “yes I really do own this email address that was already tied to my Mojang account” verification step and had to be manually restarted…)

May your diamonds be ever plentiful,
Daniel “Philadelphus” Berke

29:13 Mailbag: Shooting in statsdriven FPS RPG

Dear Diecast,

In a statdriven shooter, some games make the guns deal little damage, leading to a situation where shooting someone in the head 5 times doesnt seem to do anything. Others give the player bad accuracy. But these systems can make the gunplay feel bad, which turns off a lot of people (which is why human revolution got better shooting than DX). And if you just have worse sway or something. A skilled player can compensate for it. In the end a character, supposed to be bad at shooting, can shoot very well because the player compensates for it.
How can you make a system where a character not skilled with guns cannot shoot well, but the guns don’t feel like toy guns?

With kind regards,

37:39 Mailbag: Diecast Listening Habits

Dear Diecast,

I know Shamus enjoys hearing about the weird ways we consume his blog content. With regards to the diecast specifically, the first episode I listened to was episode #200. At that point I decided to go through the back-catalogue, starting with the very first episode, whilst also listening to each new episode as it was released. Do many listeners consume Diecast content either out of order, or years late, like me? Does Shamus have access to any statistics?

Now, after listening to every diecast episode at least once, I feel qualified to summarise my entire diecast experience into the following 4 short questions:

After it was suggested to you on multiple different episodes over the years, by both Chris and Paul (and possibly also Josh?) did you ever get around to playing Frog Fractions?
Did the Satisfactory developers ever get around to patching in correct inverted mouse controls for driving vehicles?
Do you have Minecraft open in another tab right now?
And of course, the obligatory question… Hey Shamus, did you hear the RSS feed is broken?
Yours cumulatively,


43:04 Mailbag: Deliberately Subverting the Level Designer

Dear Diecast,

When playing a linear game with collectables or secrets to find on each level, it is not uncommon to find the path ahead split off in more than one direction. At that point I ask myself, “which path is the game designer most likely trying to direct me?”, and I then proceed to ignore that path at all costs until all other side paths have been searched. Just one of those things I’ve found that I have conditioned myself to do over the years, like always checking behind the character when a new level loads in, due to the occasional secret that level designers like to hide behind you at the start.

I find it funny that the intention of good level design is to subtly lead the player in the correct direction through the level, and yet so often I find myself actively fighting against the will of the designer in order to play the game in the optimal way. Have you gentlemen experienced a similar phenomenon?

Oh, and can we all please just agree that when a branching path inexplicably leads to a cutscene and checkpoint that won’t let you backtrack, that is a crime against humanity that should not go unpunished?!?!

Yours contrarily,


48:26 Mailbag: Videogame Logic in the Real World

Dire Deercast,

Have you ever caught your subconscious trying to use videogame logic in the real world?

The best personal example I can think of relates to Metal Gear Solid 5, which had shipping containers in the open world map that your character could capture for resources. For a while after playing that game, whenever I spotted a shipping container in real life, for the first half-second my subconscious would try to tell me to run over and capture it, before my brain would wake up and gently remind me that I am not – in actuality – a legendary soldier.

Another example would be me imagining the best way to rack up points by skating through the local urban landscape (Tony Hawk style), even though in real life I’m sure I would struggle to even stand on a skateboard.

Yours disassociatively,




[1] Damn it, Microsoft, why are you mixing units like this? Now I need a conversion table to figure out the assload total!

From The Archives:

71 thoughts on “Diecast #377: Xbox Desolation

  1. Dreadjaws says:

    Apparently, the award was auto-generated by the system because I posted a review that got lots of upvotes.

    How do you know it was auto-generated? In my experience, only other users can give awards. As a matter of fact, hovering over the award’s icon in your review says “given by 1 person”. Sure, that person might be a Steam bot, but I would assume if it was auto-generated it’d say so.

    Also, since your review apparently has comments disabled, someone might have just wanted to say they agreed with you and didn’t think a mere “like” got the point accross.

    1. Amstrad says:

      Yup, those points weren’t just arbitrarily granted by some Steam bot algorithm. They were deliberately awarded by another Steam user who genuinely agreed with what Shamus was saying and wanted to show that appreciation. This is a feature that Steam copied from Reddit and in general I think is a good one, even if the points aren’t super useful if you don’t care about making your profile pretty.

  2. Rariow says:

    There’s a fancy hotel near where I live which is built by some famous architect and is very angular. Its gimmick (or maybe an accidental effect) is that when viewed from several angles it looks flat – it’s angled in such a way that when you look at its corner the side closer to you hides the side behind it, which you would be able to see if it was a more normally shaped building. I’d drive past it on the way to school each day, and then took the train past it to university each day, and I lost count of how many times I’d see that seemingly flat, paper thin wall and for a split second think something like “huh, the other wall hasn’t loaded in yet” or “they’re using sprites, that’s a bit cheap”. Truly gaming-poisoned.

  3. Syal says:

    The last few times I’ve shot a gun, my hand immediately started tingling like it had fallen asleep, and it took me several seconds to realize “Oh right, my hand still works and I can still keep shooting.” So, adding an animation to your firing sequence where the character shakes their hand after the first/second/Skill LV shot would leave guns effective and players ineffective.

    Otherwise, firing rapidly will damage the shooter, because you’re holding the gun wrong. The stronger the gun, the more damage; the faster you fire after moving, the more likely to cause yourself critical injury. If a bullet costs HP, the player will take shooting seriously.

    Firing rate, is what I’m saying. Mess with the firing rate.

    1. Lino says:

      You could also mess with the steadiness (or pre-shot recoil? I don’t know how you call this effect, actually).

      As someone who very rarely shoots, I always forget to squeeze the slack out of the trigger before firing, resulting in wild inaccuracy. Although now that I think of it, that would feel awful to play.

      Even worse than messing with the fire rate. I mean, yeah it’s annoying when you press the button 5 times, yet your character executes the command with a delay. But it’s even more annoying to think that your shot is going to land only for your character to lurch the gun down and miss.

      I don’t really know how you can make clumsiness feel just as good as skill. Unless it’s a comedy game like Octodad where being clumsy is the point…

      1. Joshua says:

        Yeah, media definitely makes firing a handgun look easier than it is. Apart from one time in the Boy Scouts 30 years ago, I’ve fired a pistol at the range only one time, about five years ago. I think at least most of shots at least hit the paper target, even if they weren’t anywhere close to the bullseye center mass, lol. This was from only 7 meters away.

        Obviously, a person who routinely trains will do much better than I did, but the slightest imprecision in your hand or not holding the gun sturdily enough will send the bullet widely astray to your embarrassment. I can only imagine trying to imitate Gordon Freeman in real life by being a relative novice firing a pistol one handed at a target several hundred meters away. Good luck with that.

      2. ShasUi says:

        The issue with using sway mechanics is people will learn to correct for them; if you look at a game like counterstrike, the recoil/climb patterns for each of the guns are predictable (to keep it balanced for competitions), and so a high-level player is supposed to have practiced enough to move the aim over the burst to perfectly counter the climb; there’s tools to help you practice that. Randomizing the sway will help, but even then it becomes a matter of fighting/timing it, because as you say, the player will always want to maintain a video-game hero level of proficiency, even if the story is intended to be otherwise, because clumsy is rarely fun.
        The easy way to get the sway to apply is to not tie it to the aimpoint, but then it feels like the weapon is to blame; expect complaints about how the guns feel unrealistically inaccurate.

        1. Thomas says:

          I don’t think it matters if people learn to overcome sway in any kind of single player RPG system. By the time they’ve mastered mechanics to that extent, they’re well past the point where they’re interacting with the game in a normal way. The challenge runs it enables would be interesting

        2. Fizban says:

          Personally I think it would be quite fun to have a game where knowing the real-life fact that you’re supposed to aim for center of mass rather than try for trick shots was the correct play. Lining up a spread circle for body coverage and knowing that you’ve now optimized that shot for best effect is plenty rewarding, just not in the same twitch aim headshots only way that every other game expects/demands. But even in games where some of the guns might do this, they always shove in the perfect sniper rifles, so anyone with enough basic skill will still be massively incentivized to do that instead.

      3. Fizban says:

        You could also mess with the steadiness (or pre-shot recoil? . . .I always forget to squeeze the slack out of the trigger before firing, resulting in wild inaccuracy. . . .But it’s even more annoying to think that your shot is going to land only for your character to lurch the gun down and miss.

        I don’t really know how you can make clumsiness feel just as good as skill. Unless it’s a comedy game like Octodad where being clumsy is the point.

        Having your character suddenly lurch before the shot is actually fired so the player can’t compensate would do the job, but as you say, probably piss people off more than make them feel immersed. However, we already have a mechanic that allows this without being so blatant: spread circles. With low skill, you have a huge spread circle that you need to line up with center of mass just to get good odds that your shot will hit somewhere on the target. With higher skill levels, it narrows until you eventually get the Pinpoint Gam3r accuracy that lets you turn game skill into constant headshots because the circle is smaller than a head. The problem is most games that have this mechanic put most of the spread on the gun rather than the character’s skill, if any, so instead of an actual skill spread you have perfect sniper rifles (which when zoomed will “sway” instead of using proper spread anyway) and shotguns that shoot a full 180 degree half circle right to left.

  4. ShasUi says:

    Microsoft store fun: just installed Forza Horizons 4 on the new computer; windows helpfully gives me a fancy multitone ding to let me know the Xbox app finished downloading & installing!
    It then dings again once the first DLC is done.
    Then for the second DLC.
    I bought the “ultimate” edition, which just bundles a bunch of the DLCs, most of which are themselves bundles of cars you can buy individually. The Xbox app considers each part a separate install.
    The dings continued as it chewed through the tiny downloads.
    Overlapping the dings wouldn’t be right, each one needs to play its course, then the next can start. Sure, the ding takes longer than the download, so there’s a backlog forming, but we’ll make sure you get each notification!

    There are ~50 DLCs by their count.

    1. Lino says:

      Leave it to Microsoft to make their highest-paying customers feel special!

      Most companies make sure that if you buy the premium version you experience as little hassle as possible. After all, the last thing you want is to piss off the guys who paid the most money!

      But no, Microsoft want to make sure that their customers are making the best decisions possible! So when the next game comes out, now you actually have to think: “Do I really want to go through all that trouble again? Maybe this time I can just buy the Standard Edition, and start playing the damn game already!”

  5. Lino says:

    I was the one who recommended Beautiful Desolation, and yeah, it’s kind of a weird game. Stylistically, I think it’s got some really strong Zef influences. So, it’s kind of like Chappie, but also mixed with District 9 (which I’m not 100% sure can be considered Zef).

    What I found the most interesting was the aesthetics of the different tribes. Especially the less technologically advanced ones. I found that to be the most unique. But overall, it definitely wasn’t an uplifting game. Most of the time, you’re either choosing between the lesser evil and the lesser crazy. I definitely wouldn’t play it again.

    The only reason I got through the game was because the particular parts of the aesthetic I hadn’t seen before. And I also thought it was weird how lots of game journalists talk (or used to talk) about how they want to see more diversity in the cultures game stories represent, yet when this game came out, no one even mentioned it. Even though it was something very different from mainstream stories at the time. But then again, maybe I just wasn’t following the right gaming circles…

    Regarding realistic-feeling guns, a good example from recent years is Holdfast: Nations at War. It’s a Napoleonic-era multilayer shooter where the teams are different nations, and each of you controls an individual soldier. Every shot is lethal. But good luck hitting anything with those crappy muskets!

    The game created some cool RP moments, like this one, for example *WARNING: I strongly advise French people not to watch this. Unless you’re OK with seeing your language get butchered by someone doing a bad French accent.*

    But since the game was more simulationist, it didn’t capture most people’s attention. I don’t see anyone streaming it anymore. Although it does seem to have retained a somewhat stable community – it seems to be holding at a steady 1k over at Steam Charts.

    1. Joshua says:

      It makes me wonder how one could be a sharpshooter with a musket. Besides the guns being imprecise, I would think the reload time makes it hard to make necessary corrections to adjust.

      1. Lino says:

        I guess that’s why they relied on having hundreds of guys firing at the enemy. With that many bullets, at least some of them are bound to hit.

        But now that I think about it, your question still stands. I mean, people also used to hunt using muskets. And theybsure didn’t do it using hundreds of guys!
        Famously, those hunters were even used as part of elite infantry regiments. Although it should be noted that their muskets were longer and more accurate than the ones used by normal infantry. Maybe that was the key difference?

        1. Profugo Barbatus says:

          You also didn’t usually hunt with a musket a few hundred feet from your target – People were smart enough to position their block of musketeers out far enough that the enemy musketeers would have trouble hitting them even if they were good – and most of them were likely untrained peasants.

          The reason that Jagers were effective with their hunting skills was they were skirmishers – they didn’t stand out in larger formations, and often wouldn’t have been exceptional in a hollywood style field battle. They excelled in smaller conflicts of patrols and scouts encountering each other, where you were not facing down massed fire and could more easily close to effective musket range, and then put your experience to use in actually landing the next shot. The larger musket helped some, but was just as much a liability, being much more sensitive to the delay between the trigger pull and the powder igniting in black powder guns. Giving the bigger rifle to a conscript would likely just have them miss harder when they struggle to keep it steady.

        2. ShasUi says:

          Something else to consider is the acceptable accuracy varies greatly based on range & target; if you need to hit a deer at 50 yards, you can have a much greater MOA (minute of angle) dispersion than trying to hit a 12″ circle at 1000 yards.
          While the sights may have had ranging up to 1200 yards, most of your musket era shooting is going to be done at ranges approaching pike-waggling distance.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    “Welcome to Beautiful Desolation. An African sci-fi- adventure like no other”, it says right after showing such familiar imagery that I was constantly confused into thinking this was an established franchise. Is this Star Wars? Wait, no, is it Alien? No, is it Dead Space? Wait a minute, is it Stargate? Shit, is it Fallout?

    I complained about the Korok Seeds the other day too. Yes, it’s nice that you don’t have to get them all (unless you’re a completionist, in which case sucks to be you), but there are still way too many. This is actually the major problem I have with the game: the content overstays its welcome. Too many similar shrines, too many similar sidequests, too many outfits and weapons, too many collectibles, etc. The game would be much better if it was tighter: less weapons with more durability, less shrines, less items required to upgrade your outfits, less collectibles, etc.

    The problem with the game as it is is that at some point the gameplay turns into busywork. The flow of combat is constantly interrupted by the need to swap for a new weapon. The urge to upgrade your outfit to the next level gets lower the more items it requires you to farm. The emotion of discovery is crushed whenever you enter a shrine and realize you have to redo the same puzzle or battle you already did, with minimal (if any) variations. Cooking is cute the first few times, but having no way to save recipes and having to manually pick all the ingredients every single time turns into a chore.

    I too am suffering of the lack of patience that comes with age. Being young and full of free time this sort of thing didn’t bother me. Being an adult full of responsibilities and with very little time to play games I’m not happy when a game demands more time from me than it has any right to. Please don’t take this as self-deprecation. These are all, objectively, problems existent in the game. The fact that younger (or wealthy) people have more tolerance for them doesn’t mean they’re not problems, just that they don’t matter to them subjectively. Just because I’m wearing an umbrella it doesn’t mean it’s not raining.

  7. Chris says:

    I also dislike what happened to penny arcade’s art. Their first stuff was a bit stiff, then they had this nice stylized art. But then they kept exaggerating the art until they just look weird. Like the pointy spike of hair of gabe slowly turned floppy, and now its absolutely massive and weird. I guess this is easier to do since you wont notice so easily if a line is wobbly or anatomy is weird if everything is very warped.

  8. tmtvl says:

    When I tried to migrate my Mojang acct to a MS acct it failed because they had server problems. I tried again the next day and it worked fine.
    As much as I love to dunk on MS, they aren’t horrible 100% of the time.

    1. pseudonym says:

      They published Age of Empires, and that has earned them some baseline sympathy in my opinion. They can never go to absolute zero because of that.

      And then they released the definitive edition, which automatically reseeds your farms for you earning my basic goodwill for years to come.

      I have to say though that we use linux at work,so I am hardly ever frustrated with windows in my daily life. Windows is just a vehicle for me to play games. In that capacity it is quite capable.

      1. MelfinatheBlue says:

        Yeah, I go back and forth on Microsoft. On the one hand, my Zune did not require me to drink the Apple Koolaid (at a time when that REALLY mattered to me) and played the mp3s I got in college for 10 years faithfully (it finally drowned in a tragic coffee accident, I was sad). On the other, my mom met Bill Gates and said he smelled. On the gripping hand, those are both not great reasons to have strong opinions on Microsoft one way or the other (especially since my mother’s intel was from the early 80s and I’d guess he’s showered by now and is doing good things with disease prevention).
        I think they go in the middle bunch of evil corporations (there’s three categories, evil but I have some good will for whatever reason like IBM giving me a scholarship, evil but not actively so to me, and evil and actively so to me/actively annoying me) but can wander into the last category pretty quickly depending on what win 11 decides to do.
        OOOH, I finally figured out where the third hand/gripping hand thing comes from, btw. A Mote In God’s Eye.

      2. tmtvl says:

        My experience may be tainted by my only interactions with Windows since 2012 being familial tech support.

  9. John says:

    I have mixed feelings about collectibles. It seems strange to me that a game about doing one thing–shooting dudes, say–would periodically encourage me to stop doing that thing and do some unrelated thing–perhaps looking through strangers’ closets for vintage knitwear–instead. But I sometimes enjoy collectibles despite myself. The best collectibles are strictly optional. They might be nice to have, but not having them doesn’t hurt you in normal gameplay. The worst collectibles are not only quasi-mandatory but require you to deviate significantly from normal gameplay in order to acquire them.

    My favorite collectibles are the various artifacts and knickknacks in Shadow of Mordor. They don’t matter at all. To the best of my recollection, you don’t get anything for your effort but a paragraph or two of lore-text. But looking for the artifacts gives you yet another excuse to sneak about Mordor, dodging patrols and shanking unsuspecting orcs–and sneaking about Mordor, dodging patrols and shanking unsuspecting orcs is the very heart of the game! Looking for collectibles may not advance the story, but neither does it require you to deviate from the core gameplay loop.

    My least favorite collectibles at the moment are the Riddler’s trophies in the Batman: Arkham series. They’re required in order to unlock various combat and predator challenges, and may also contribute toward unlocking upgrades. While they aren’t strictly mandatory, they still feel somewhat that way. To make matters worse, a large number of them require significant deviations from the core gameplay loop in order to acquire. The Arkham games can be characterized as either combat punctuated by traversal puzzles or traversal puzzles punctuated by combat. Either way, the games maintain a sense of forward momentum by making sure that the player never spends too long doing one of these things at the expense of the other . . . except when they imply the player should drop everything to find some Riddler trophy. I think that the Arkham games would be better if they had confined Riddler content to some sort of New Game Plus mode and left it out of the initial playthrough.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      The part I always hated about Riddler trophies is how they interacted with the Metroidvania elements. You would frequently encounter a trophy that can’t be gotten until you find the mithril can opener in act 2, but you don’t even know there is a mithril can opener yet so you spend five minutes bashing your head against an impossible puzzle. Then once you internalize the lesson that some trophies can’t be gotten yet, any time you get stuck on a puzzle you think “Oh I bet there’s a pair of demonbane tweezers I need, I’ll come back to this later” even though this time you have all the equipment you need and you just had to spend another thirty seconds thinking about how to use it.

      1. ContribuTor says:


        I still remember the first trophy locked behind something the code sequencer is the right can opener for. It’s in a cage-like area where you do a lot of platforming. I got right away that the door wasn’t one I could open, but since I hadn’t seen the code sequencer bit I didn’t realize the “this is a lock you can pick!” element. So I spent at least 30 minutes climbing up on top of the cage, flying around it, trying to figure a way to get through what looked like a little hole in the floor, etc. Then I got frustrated and quit for awhile, came back after dinner, and eventually gave up.

      2. John says:

        My experience was similar, except that the lesson I learned was to not care about Riddler trophies. If I can’t see how to get one or if I can see but it would require me to use a gadget I’m bad with, like the laser-guided Batarang, then I just don’t bother.

        I have a certain fondness for the Riddler himself because I’ve really enjoyed the actor’s performances elsewhere, but I figure that the best way to thwart him is ignore his stupid trophies. After all, who’s smarter, the man who spent who knows how long crawling through filth to hide question marks everywhere or the man who recognizes that crawling through filth to get question marks is a complete waste of time?

        1. beleester says:

          Getting all of them allows you to capture the Riddler, though, which is a pretty satisfying revenge for all the BS he’s put you through.

          1. John says:

            I just imagine that I did that later on in a more sensible way. If you didn’t go through with the BS, you don’t need the revenge. A respectable crime-fighter should never divert from dealing with the Joker’s latest attempt at mass murder merely to spite an insecure man in a green hat.

    2. tmtvl says:

      I kinda liked getting the time trials in Sly Raccoon. They were tricky to get and the only thing you get is a bonus movie.

      Also the Dark Souls 2 invisible weapon/shield rings.

    3. Lino says:

      At first, I loved the Riddler trophy puzzles. Especially in the first game. I always like it when an action game gives me some quiet time. That way I can better appreciate the excitement of the action bits, without getting desensitised from overexposure.

      But I think the Riddler trophies in City took it way too far. There was just so many of them! And the ones in Arkham Knight were EVEN MORE numerous! How’s that even possible?!

      I think both games would have been so much better if there were half as many trophies (and even then I would be at the limit of my tolerance).

      1. Thomas says:

        This could be faulty memory, but I remember City’s riddles being much less naturally integrated into the environment too.

        The trophies in Asylum I enjoyed the most were the ones that asked you to view the environment in a particular way because it made you pay attention to the detail of the setting

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    The really weird case of videogame logic I got was Desktop Dungeons. It’s a puzzle-RPG thing where unexplored dungeon space is a valuable resource because you regenerate lost HP on exploring new areas, so before you go to a new area you have to think to yourself “Do I want to use up this resource?” After playing a hundred hours of the game I noticed that my internet browsing was slower than normal for some reason and I eventually pinned it down to the fact that I was taking a long time to click links: specifically unvisited blue links, because apparently my brain had generalized the “think for a second before committing to visiting an unexplored area” reflex.

  11. ContribuTor says:

    Regarding weapon skill, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for most games, you shouldn’t try and make this “more realistic.” In many cases of games with skill structures and firearms, you’d be sacrificing fun and engaging gameplay for some notional “realism,” and I would guess most players wouldn’t thank you.

    I’m thinking here of recent-model Fallout and similar games (in all of which you can choose to play as a character who might never have held anything bigger than an air rifle before).

    Thought exercise – you give someone who’s never held a gun before an AK-47, and send them through an abandoned subway station, in which they have to shoot a set of 8 paper human-sized targets. Then, you send a Navy SEAL through the same course with the same objective. Would the main observable difference between the two runs be the tightness of the groupings of shots on the targets?

    Even leaving weapon accuracy and damage aside, there are many things about “amateur carrying a firearm” that aren’t simulated:
    * Can move around carrying a gun unencumbered by it in any way, even when running/jumping. Never drop it, never catches on anything, never gets tangled in your pack.
    * Can reliably draw/holster a firearm without taking appreciable attention to look down. Can reliably set the safety on/off without shooting yourself in the process.
    * Can instantly recognize which bullets go with which guns (even guns you don’t currently have). Can reliably load magazines (so quickly we don’t even show it taking time) for every gun, without ever jamming them or dropping the mag or bullets.
    * Can reliably (and while under fire) eject spent magazines, catch them, swap them with the correct magazine from your pack (while carrying mags for multiple weapons) without ever grabbing the wrong one or an empty, and insert the new mag, all while not requiring your attention to waver from whatever you’re looking at.
    * Never burn yourself on the hot parts of a firearm.
    * Can carry a firearm in a fireable position while running, jumping, moving around. No need to stop and set or take a stance before firing.
    * Even if we introduce the idea of weapon jamming, know how to clear the jam, and can do so reliably without looking down.
    * Firing a weapon with no vision or hearing protection never affects ability to hear, never gets grit in your eyes, never affects your night vision.

    All of the above are exceedingly unrealistic for someone who’s never held a gun before. But we generally accept them all as gameplay tropes, because the alternative in any gunplay-heavy game is to introduce new mechanics to manage that will make the “fun” thing (running and shooting mooks) harder. And if you want to say “that’s the point! You need to make sure everyone gets weapon skills,” then you’re effectively introducing “mandatory” skills into your skill tree – you need to be at least this skilled with weapons before you can consider buying any other skills (or you’re giving your player the opportunity to break their character).

    So getting back to accuracy and damage. The “do less damage” or “weapon sway” models are both somewhat unrealistic (weapon sway less so, but again hardly the only major issue an inexperienced shooter would have). But they at least do the job of conveying the fact that “more skill” makes shooting easier/more effective.

    Hit power is extremely unrealistic – someone who’s a better shot won’t somehow do twice as much damage. But I like it as a proxy for “better shot hits twice as often.” Making half the shots of the less good shot miss might actually be worse – “I fired perfectly but my stupid character missed half of them! This game cheats!” Or “My stupid character just randomly dropped my only spare mag for this gun trying to load it – now I’m screwed!” I think Ruts discussed this in his Elder Scrolls series – deliberately introducing a divide between the skill of the player’s action and the character’s skill is really bad in a “role playing” game.

    There are a ton of items on my list you could mess with if you want for “firearm skill.” That might be appropriate in a game where using firearms is a rare thing, or a non-core way to play the game. But in a lot of games, I believe trying to make this more realistic will likely make the game less fun to play.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I think the fundamental problem is that “realistic unskilled firearm use” means “sucking” and it is generally not fun to suck. If you’re on an RPG thing where the player has to invest points to be good at shooting I think the best approach is to simply say “No, you can’t use this gun until you put more points into rifles”, rather than letting them use it and making the experience suck.

      1. ContribuTor says:

        Perhaps controversially, I’d say the best approach if you want to go this way is “don’t have skills in firearms.” You start with largely the skill level you’ll have during the game.

        Skill point barriers are incredibly artificial, and draw attention to your highly artificial “earn points, ding at some arbitrary threshold, suddenly be good at one new arbitrary thing” nature of the beast.

        If your intent is to have the player run around and shoot things with rifles, let them run around and shoot things with rifles from the jump. Might be somewhat unrealistic, but it’s way more realistic than having them pick up a discarded rifle from the ground and progressively teach themself to use it over the course of a few hours of running carrying it. Or somehow learning how to carry it from opening chests and killing rats with a knife for the local rat catcher guild. The new Skyrim/FO4 style of “learn by doing” is a little better than “random point threshhold,” but even that’s built on a “you can do anything you want – you’ll just get better and better over time!” artificial start point.

        If you want to gate some weapons to characters with specific skills in them, start some characters who take the appropriate pre-built character/perk/backstory to use them, and forbid them to others.

        Over the course of most video games, where the timeframe stretches from a few hours to a few days of “real world” time, there isn’t a fit for a realistic progression path on this (or, really, on most skills). If the goal is making it “more realistic,” then only let someone learn at a realistic pace – gradually, often requiring a skilled teacher, requiring focused time and training on that specific skill, and unhurried practice where your life doesn’t literally depend on it.

        That’s not to say I don’t like skill systems – I like them fine. I just feel like they’re pretty artificial as a construct, and trying to make them “realistic” isn’t really possible without confronting that artificiality.

        1. ShasUi says:

          The big picture here is that if your main way of interacting with the game is “Guns” than a firearms skill is actually a “UI” skill in disguise. Not high enough level to use the sniper-rifle/tab key? You can work around it by using the spacebar/pistol a bunch, but it’s a chore. Sure, having a game be easier to beat as you progress, level up is a time-honored tradition, but nobody enjoys grinding to get to the point where you can play the game “as intended”.
          Maybe it’s a matter of perspective; if you start with the intended firearms skills, then add in special abilities/bonuses for leveling up it’d work better than having penalties for being underleveled; sure, there’s less need to invest in the skills if you’re already super great at twitch-aiming, and you’re assuming unrealistic competence of the character, but nobody* complains about how unrealistic the physical fitness of most characters is, so why not make it bonuses for those who invest, rather than penalties for those who don’t?

      2. tmtvl says:

        If something is not awesome, we cut it out of the game.

        I forget what that’s a reference to, but it just bubbled up from the primal chaos that is my mind.

    2. Trevor says:

      The original Rainbow Six games (1998/9) went hard in the realistic direction. Your characters are identified in the story as the most badass soldiers ever, so it can get around a lot of your amateur objections like “never burning yourself on the hot parts of the gun.” It did limit you to having one primary weapon and one pistol, and the dudes who had sniper rifles did not move as fast as the dudes with SMGs. You could not shoot accurately on the run, and certainly not while jumping. The game used a reticule system and the reticule got HUGE whenever you tried to shoot in a situation where you weren’t prone. Also if you got shot you either died in one hit or were grievously wounded such that your reticule was gigantic and you moved at a crawl. But it was realistic.

      The game made the choice that the gunplay was going to be realistic and not empowering, and so it moved the fun into the planning section. The fun was in figuring out how to get your guys into positions where they could surprise the enemy and have the most advantageous set of shooting situations. The joy was in seeing a plan come together with no casualties on your part, not from mowing guys down. So you can go realistic, but you seemingly can’t keep the fun in the gunplay if you do.

    3. beleester says:

      Most games that have a firearm skill are games where shooting is one of multiple options. Think Deus Ex where your firearm skills are basically the backup plan that you use when stealth, talking, and hacking fail. Or they’re games where you need some kind of gun but the game doesn’t really care what kind you specialize in (like how Fallout expects you to have some weapon skill but doesn’t care if it’s small arms or melee or energy weapons). Those games could probably benefit from having better ways to communicate that your character barely knows one end of a gun from the other.

      I bet a lot of the things on your list could be communicated by increased animation delays (perhaps accompanied by clumsy-looking animations to justify it). If it takes your character a few extra seconds to draw a gun, reload it, or start aiming down the sights, they’ll feel a lot clumsier in a fight without feeling ridiculously incapable when they’re trying to hit a stationary target with no pressure. Then as you level up, they’ll start to feel more “snappy” like a normal shooter. That would be especially good for a stealth shooter like Deus Ex, where you can compensate for your lack of skill by using stealth to line up easy shots.

      1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

        I bet a lot of the things on your list could be communicated by increased animation delays (perhaps accompanied by clumsy-looking animations to justify it). If it takes your character a few extra seconds to draw a gun, reload it, or start aiming down the sights, they’ll feel a lot clumsier in a fight without feeling ridiculously incapable when they’re trying to hit a stationary target with no pressure. Then as you level up, they’ll start to feel more “snappy” like a normal shooter.

        Another thing you can do is to put some weapon handling skills behind unlockable traits or level requirements. The only example I have is Hunt: Showdown having a trait for revolver fanning, which gives you a big rate of fire boost and changes the animation when you’re rapid firing (I suppose you could also think of it as unlocking the ability to rapid fire, since most of the revolvers fire pretty slowly without fanning). I can’t think of anything similar for most modern firearms though.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        The new Fallouts (at least 3 and NV, don’t remember 4 all that well) actually have this as a mechanic for low quality of a weapon. Don’t remember if it happens under other circumstances but you can definitely can have trouble reloading a heavily damaged weapon and it might need a whack or two to get going, which is effectively a delay on the reload timer.

        Swords rather than guns and I haven’t played it but I heard in Kingdom Come: Deliverance you’re pretty abysmal with your weapons until you get some training?

      3. Syal says:

        Yeah, skill progression for basic use of weapons is only good if you have other types of progression. Fallout 1 can be completed without firing a shot, so you can have your guns feel bad at the start because they’re totally optional. Even a solid melee option makes it work; your baseline guns don’t need to feel good if swinging your hammer can solve everything and feels great on its end.

  12. Nick says:

    Thanks to Shamus and Paul for answering my deposition and – for some reason – even giving me permission to submit further testimony in the future.
    This may be over-sharing but my new-born came out of neonatal intensive care today and listening to this episode with baby in my arms was a pleasant ending to a stressful day. Thanks.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Oh man. Got me in the feels.
      I’ve got a new baby that I can’t hold right now, though it’s because she’s off with mom visiting grandparents.

      1. Nick says:

        Aww, same back to you, Paul. And congratulations by the way.
        Who knows, if you and Shamus get lucky, maybe you will find the time to get through all of my questions before my baby is old enough to write questions to yours!

    2. Yerushalmi says:

      Nick: Have you played the Stanley Parable? I’m very curious as to whether you listened to the narrator, or purposely disregarded the narrator’s instruction, or suspected that the designer WANTED you to disregard the narrator and therefore listened to the narrator.

  13. Sabrdance says:

    Whenever I have a path split in a videogame, I remember the MacGuyver episode “Tough Boys.” Mac is chasing the quasi-villain of the week through an abandoned building and comes to a corridor split -and chooses the locked door.

    Of course, the villains know him pretty well, and therefore know he will take the locked door, and so that’s where the ambush is -which opens up a lot of possibilities for the level designers…

  14. Philadelphus says:

    I hedged my bets with the number of people because I was worried that if I specified a number (like “both”) it would coincidentally be answered on the day Shamus had a surprise 5 extra hosts on the show or something. :)

    Best of luck with your account migration Shamus! Practically speaking it probably took me less than an hour to migrate mine. It was more the ridiculous number of emails generated and frustration with yet another migration (I’ve been playing long enough to have had to migrate from my original “Minecraft” account to a Mojang account) that caused me to write. I did get it working in the end and haven’t had any problems with it, so…there’s light at the end of the tunnel, at least?

  15. Paul Spooner says:

    I also got a Steam Community Award for… something. Seems like it should be easier to tell what you’re be congratulated for. I can’t even find the award any more. I found the badge that I got for getting an award, but where does the award itself live?

    1. ShasUi says:

      Could be any number of places: you can give one directly to someone’s profile, or to anything they’ve posted: discussion posts, reviews, guides, workshop items, screenshots, artwork, etc. Anywhere there’s a comment box, there’s usually also a button for “award”.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      Yeah, I’ve gotten a number for a fairly popular Noita mod I made, but the only way to tell is to cross-reference with the mod page. I agree it should be trivial for the award announcement email to explain why, y’know, someone gave it to you in the first place. It’s like if YouTube randomly popped up “Someone liked something you did!” and you have no idea if it’s a video, a comment, etc.

  16. Thomas says:

    I realised recently that I’ve internalised the videogame logic of the branching path to the extent that it’s my fundamental approach to the real world. If I go to a news site, I open all the tabs I’m interested in before reading any. If I buy a product I try and look at every single product in that category before making a purchase.

    I figured this was how everyone did things, until I saw my wife looks at each product as soon as she comes to it, and as soon as she finds one that satisfies her needs well she buys that. In practice this seems better because she never gets analysis paralysis from trying to compare more things than can be reasonably compared simultaneously. And it’s much faster for not much worse outcomes.

    I’m sure part of me is naturally methodical, but part of it is because in games I’ve been trained to do everything and to always do the thing that advances the process last.

    1. Lino says:

      Ha! I do the exact same thing! Ever since I can remember! But I never thought it had anything to do with video games!

      Although now that I think of it, there’s nowhere else I could have gotten it from – none of my parents act like this, and neither do most of my friends. EXCEPT FOR MY GAMER FRIENDS!

      I even go so far as to avoid the most obvious choice, just to make sure I’ve explored everything else before progressing on the “critical path” :D

      1. Fizban says:

        It’s almost like video games can teach some useful lessons like “being thorough,” (or indeed, “prioritization” and “time management”) aside from the old “uh, hand-eye coordination?” you’d read in every article trying to justify video games back in the day. All these gamers learning how to optimize systems are let down mostly by the fact that real world systems are never so clear-cut, discerned, and evaluated (unless you’re actually building an artificial system that *is* of course), but fundamentally every optimizer has been honing skills that, if they were in the right position, could be extremely useful. Etc.

        1. Thomas says:

          Mark Rosewater, lead designer for Magic the Gathering, is very big on the idea that a lot of the analysis skills developed by gaming are effective tools for other parts of your life too.

          I wouldn’t list this exact one as an example of an positive in my own life, but he’s often demonstrated that even something like creative work (i.e. concepting a Magic set) can benefit from an analytical approach. Rather than waiting for ‘inspiration to strike’ like many people imagine creativity, a lot of his work is creating lists of all the ideas possible, coming up with criteria for what he’s trying to achieve, and then going through the list and testing each idea against those criteria.

    2. MelfinatheBlue says:

      I do that too! (Looks at the ridiculous number of tabs open to read…)Well, with reading, anyway. With products, I’m a bit more selective…I always just thought it was a combo of my ADD, love of reading, and fast reading, not video games as I wasn’t a big gamer or into RPGs until college and I’ve been reading like this for as long as I’ve had tabbed browsers (college?, right after?)

    3. Philadelphus says:

      I used to do that, but it was more due to growing up with dial-up internet until I moved away to college in 2009. When every page takes 30+ seconds to open, you very quickly learn to open them in parallel rather than serially. That’s also why I didn’t get a Steam account until 2011, despite being an avid PC gamer for over a decade (and aware of Steam for at least a few years): I only really cottoned on to the idea that you could feasibly download more than just a few pages with text and some light graphics on a faster connection around that point.

  17. Simplex says:

    “Apparently, the award was auto-generated by the system because I posted a review that got lots of upvotes.”
    Shamus, I love you (as a recipient of your content) but you did not research how this mechanism works and inadvertently wrote misinformation.
    The award is given by other Steam users – they spend their own points accrued on their accounts to “buy” an award to give you. You can do the same – if you like someone’s comment or a review, you can buy then an award.
    So your review was actually appreciated by an actual human being.

  18. Nixorbo says:

    Shortly after the first Crackdown came out, I was staying in a hotel in NYC. I found myself looking out the window at the surrounding buildings and trying to figure out a path to get to the top of a skyscraper I could see.

  19. beleester says:

    Mirror’s Edge made me look for parkour routes everywhere. If it’s a wall, can you wallclimb it? If it’s a low obstacle like a table or a railing, can you reach something by speedvaulting/springboarding off of it?

  20. Lars says:

    Suggesting a different anime. Planets is a low scifi series, kinda like The Marsian. The protagonists are all 22 plus and the anime tropes are toned down. So no teenagers falling headfirst in a girls boobs, no just beliebe in yourself.
    Plot: In year 2075 a new recruit has to work on an station in earth orbit. She’s assigned to section half, the garbage crew, which has to get rid of the junk of the last 100 years space exploration – broken solar panels, tiny screws with insane velocity or memorial plates that might cross the orbit of the station.
    Some episodes are light hearted, some are more sinister, like what happens after a while when living outside the ozon layer. I really like it.

    1. tmtvl says:

      I haven’t watched much iyashikei, but I kind of like Non Non Biyori. It’s set in a tiny village in the Japanese Alps, so it has lots of scenery porn.

  21. Gautsu says:

    When it comes to programming or engineering discussions on the site I have no clue, they are the 5th dimension to me. But firearms are my bread and butter, or how I have earned my paycheck for the last 3 decades. I think there are ways that you could do a skill based system successfully and capture some of the difficulties in shooting a weapon without sacrificing the empowerment most shooters aim for. The three areas off of the top of my head are cheek-to-stock weld, maintaining a steady posture/position, and acquiring a site picture. I could see a game allowing you to ADS by tapping a button but leaving the reticle larger until you hold it down to place your body and the weapon in the proper position (getting a rifle braced in your shoulder pocket, getting a proper position of your cheek along the buttock, moving your off hand up to support a pistol, etc.). Likewise, trying to acquire a good site picture could go faster or slower depending upon skill. It would be possible, maybe even empowering when it goes well, but would it be fun?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Ooh, fascinating! Would site picture be a blur effect? Or the gun slowly moving on to target?
      Out of curiosity, would you include the technical features from Receiver as well? Probably toned down a bit so mechanical failures weren’t quite so frequent?

      1. Gautsu says:

        It could be either I guess, Paul. Unlike scopes in most games you aren’t looking at what you are shooting, that will be blurry based on distance. You are focusing on your poi t of aim which is going to be either the reticle of a site, or the tip of the iron site. As long as everything is aligned correctly you should aim more or less accurately, more or less because everyone’s eyes to facial alignment is different. With proper technique anyone can shoot reasonable accurately (center mass) for about 100 yards/meters. Going over that you would want your site system to be Zeroed to your particular eye alignment. Pretending in a shooter that any rifle or sniper rifle can just be picked up and you can start popping head shots is a sacrifice of realism in the name of fun. Also, for as much shit as Call of Duty games get, their reload animations from Call of Duty 3 on (especially the Modern Warfare remake) are spot on for tactical reloading.

  22. Elmeri says:

    Have you ever caught your subconscious trying to use videogame logic in the real world?

    This is called Tetris effect, although it’s been a thing since well before Tetris. It has happened to me multiple times, but the most vivid case was after marathoning Portal 2. Every large and white surface caused me to think “hey, I can shoot a portal over there, that’s probably where I need to go”.

  23. Fulbert says:

    That sticky key thing ruined too many of my docking attempts in KSP.

  24. Damiac says:

    Shooting skills in first person games are especially tough. You have the reticle saying “This is where your bullet will go” and then you shoot and it doesn’t go there. In a third person game you’re not seeing down the sights so it’s easier to imagine the shooter just messed up.

    But I mean… guns revolutionized warfare partly because they are just so damn easy to use. You give an unskilled shooter a few pointers on how to safely hold a gun and how the sights work, and they’ll put shots through the bullseye with an AR-15 easy. Pistols are definitely harder, the things you’re lining up are closer together so you have to be more precise. Yeah, pulling the trigger correctly takes a little practice, especially with a heavy pull, but even that you get good with pretty quickly with practice. I mean most video game characters are getting nonstop practice with their guns.

    I mean, outside of some special character trait like being really clumsy, nobody should be shooting themselves trying to turn the safety off. I think most people have the sense not to put their hand over the part the bullets come out of (although obviously careless accidents definitely do happen).

    To me, the things that make a lot of sense to affect are more general. How quickly you can get the sights on target, how quick you are with reloading, how to move smoothly with a firearm in hand, things like that. Those things feel good when they improve, but it doesn’t feel as bad as when you just feel like the gun is unreliable. In real life it’s pretty easy to hit a man sized target at the typical engagement ranges you see in a video game. Even with a bb gun you’d have no problem.

    I think there could be something to making auto fire require more skill. An unskilled marksman with a full auto weapon is going to panic and hold down the trigger, at least some of the time.

    I think of Stalker, the early guns in that were just awful. It felt completely random. Eventually you got guns that could hit something at range, but it takes a while. I get what they were trying to do but it just kind of makes the early game suck.

  25. Jamey says:

    So I can provide a data point, albeit a mostly useless one:
    I listen to every diecast exactly once. Sometimes I don’t listen to one right away, this post is as I am listening to 377, and this is about as far behind as I get (I try not to get more than 2-3 queued up). Other factors (season, etc.) are not a factor for my listening.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Hey, it’s more feedback than we usually get, so thanks!

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