Borderlands Part 21: Absolutely Badass

By Shamus
on Dec 21, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

Before I take this sharp stick and begin poking at the story parts of the Pre-Sequel, let’s talk about one of the odd mechanical quirks of the Borderlands series.

Weapon Proficiencies

This is the weapon proficiency screen in Borderlands 1.

This is the weapon proficiency screen in Borderlands 1.

In Borderlands 1, we had Weapon Proficiencies as a system of long-term power building that was completely decoupled from the looting and leveling stuff. It wasn’t very interesting. Basically, every time an enemy dies (regardless of cause) you gain some sort of special XP for the particular weapon you’re currently holding. Occasionally this XP will cause you to rank up in that particular weapon type. This incentivizes focusing on a couple of weapon types rather than just using whatever seems fun at the moment. Or it would, if the game ever bothered explaining it to you.

What happens is that once every few hours you’ll gain a rank and get a tiny text notification will appear on the screen for a few seconds. Every rank will give you a miniscule bonus to weapon accuracy, damage, fire rate, reload speed, etc. for the given weapon. Odds are you might not even notice it amid the chaos. And even if you did notice it, the game didn’t tell you what it meant. It wasn’t interesting, it wasn’t ever explained, and once you do figure out how it works the only thing it accomplishes is to make the game less interesting by pushing you to stick to a couple of weapon types. It was one of the many strange half-formed ideas in Borderlands 1 that hinted at how the design doc was never really nailed down.

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Dénouement 2017: The Year of the Loot Box

By Shamus
on Dec 19, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

I’ve always assumed that the point of these end-of-year lists is to look back and appraise the year as a whole. Was it a good year for games? Any new trends? What was good? What was bad? What are we looking forward to?

That’s a good thing to do. The problem I’m having this year is that I didn’t play very many titles released in 2017. A lot of the games I played this year are actually more than two years old. I put a lot of hours into old favorites like Kerbal Space Program and FactorioWhich won my #1 spot last year., and I spent a lot of time chipping away at my Steam backlog.

Which brings me to a question that’s been bugging me for the last few months:

What’s the cut-off date for a “game of the year” list?

If a game comes out in December 2015 it’s obviously too late to make the 2015 list and should belong to 2016. But where do you draw the line? Or is the entire concept of annual delineation an archaic leftover from the days of retail and our end-of-year lists should just focus on what we played that year, regardless of release date?

The idea of games belonging to a specific year is the result of a world where games have firm release dates for retail sale, and that’s not the world we live in anymore. Sure, that’s how AAA titles work, but since the one-two punch of the indie revolution and the retro revival, AAA blockbusters don’t quite have the dominance they used to. These days you might play a game for a year before its official release date due to Early Access. After release, the game might get numerous patches and free content updates that might keep you around for two or three years after launch. On top of all that, on the PC you’ve got Steam sales that discount games and pull in new players even after all the mods, updates, and expansions have come and gone.

So our relationship with a game is no longer anchored to a single release date, but spread out over a period of months or years. So I’m thinking it makes sense to relax the rules about what games can make “the list”.

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Patreon Backpedal

By Shamus
on Dec 17, 2017
Filed under:
Notices

I did not expect this. Last week I said that Patreon was rolling out a horrible and nonsensical fee system. After a few days went by with no response I said:

Lucky for all of us, I was wrong. They’re not just delaying the rollout or adjusting the policies, they’re scrapping the entire concept.

Their apology isn’t long, so I’m going to reprint the entire thing in full:

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Overhaulout Part 10: Bury My Heart at Little Lamplight

By Rutskarn
on Dec 15, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

When I started this series, I said I was keeping all the major story beats. All the major characters. All the major locations. Every mile of Bethesda’s extensive worldmap and groundwork. Even if I don’t like it, even if I can’t stand it, even if remembering it exists makes my teeth itch. Yes, in fact: even Little Lamplight.

I’ve talked before about how Bethesda can’t be trusted with immortal NPCs. Not because it’s some objective sin of game design, because it really isn’t, but because nobody in the company knows how to write for NPCs that have privileges the player character lacks. If you create NPCs that relentlessly taunt and belittle the player, there should be a way to serve them comeuppance. If there isn’t, there should be a way to ignore them. If one can’t, they should be basically immaterial to the player’s success or failure in the game. If they aren’t, that feeling of all-too-familiar disempowerment at the hands of an unassailable bully better be what the game is about, heart, soul and center. It’s an appropriate emotion to convey in a game about the horrors of tyranny or man’s inhumanity to man. Slipping it in like a pinch of sand in your triple-decker victory sandwich is just bad writing.

Sure, the bullying dorkuses of Little Lamplight aren’t really sinister. I was myself only moderately bullied in elementary school, but I have trouble imagining even the most tender souls are genuinely reduced to tears by Mayor MacReady or his snotty authoritarian goombas. I would characterize them as “annoying.” You know what, though? “Annoying” is bad enough. “Annoyed” is not an emotional goal of Fallout 3 and I will aggressively roll my eyes at anyone who argues otherwise. We can do better.

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Borderlands Part 20: Deadlift

By Shamus
on Dec 14, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

I know earlier I praised several aspects of the Pre-Sequel gameplay. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is a brilliantly constructed game. This is a very uneven game, and for every brilliant idea they had to balance it out with something annoying, broken, or terrible.

And then you run into something like the encounter with Deadlift, which is all three.

The Setup

Janey Springs is kinda cool but she`s no Mr. Torgue, much less a Tiny Tina. Like a lot of the things in Pre-Sequel, she`s serviceable yet not as good as what came before.
Janey Springs is kinda cool but she's no Mr. Torgue, much less a Tiny Tina. Like a lot of the things in Pre-Sequel, she's serviceable yet not as good as what came before.

Early in the game you make friends with Janey Springs. She’s your tutorial questgiver and her job is to introduce the new mechanics (oxygen management, low-grav jumping, laser weapons) while also giving a little exposition and maybe telling the occasional quasi-joke.

She sends you to kill the banditHere on the moon they’re not bandits. They’re “scavs”. Which is apparently what moon people call bandits. Whatever. They’re people who shoot player characters without provocation. Doesn’t matter what we call them. boss Deadlift. She has a few reasons, but none of them really resonate. She wants him dead because he’s “a dick”, and because he has “something” you’ll need to get into Concordia. Getting into Concordia is the real goal here.

This feels a lot like the old lazy Borderlands 1 design where you have to kill a bandit king to get a key to enter a city that shouldn’t be locked in the first place. This is totally fine if there is a steady supply of jokes and lampshading to keep us engaged, but… there isn’t. Janey’s reasoning isn’t funny, Deadlift himself isn’t funny, and this setup isn’t funny.

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Doing Batman Right 7: The Way Forward

By Bob Case
on Dec 13, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

Based on my googling, it appears that Toby Emmerich is the closest thing the DC Cinematic Universe has to someone in charge. I assume he’s been hitting F5 on this page all day, eager for my expert advice. If not, one of you should hit up his home phone or something.

My advice on how best the manage DC’s menagerie of superheroes is handicapped by my relative absence of interest in comic book characters who aren’t Batman. Don’t ask me how to get the 18-35 demographic interested in Shazam or Cyborg, because I couldn’t tell you. But when it comes to making a good Batman movie, there’s a body of work to draw on, which makes it slightly confounding that none of the high muck-a-mucks at Warner Brothers have drawn on it.

Well, hopefully at least one of those muck-a-mucks is having this post read aloud to them by an intern while they get a manicure or snort their afternoon cocaine. Let’s start with Batman himself.

Ben Affleck is Fine

Ben Affleck is fine. In fact, when I ran down all of the live-action Batmans in my head, I was surprised to find that I think Affleck’s may be my favorite.

If nothing else, they got the stubble right.

If nothing else, they got the stubble right.

That’s not much of a bar to clear, though. Christian Bale is the most prestigious dramatic actor to play the role, but to honest there’s not that much about his Batman that I found memorable or character-defining, with the possible exception of his two-packs-a-day-habit “Batman voice.” Val Kilmer and George Clooney I barely remember, and Michael Keaton was notable mostly for being an unexpected choice. I suppose Adam West was better, but that’s such an apples-and-oranges comparison it’s barely worth making.

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Oh Hi Mark Hamill

By Shamus
on Dec 12, 2017
Filed under:
Random

I was planning to start my end-of-2017 series today, but it needs another editing pass. I’m dealing with a bout of conjunctivitis. If you’ve never heard of it, then you may know it by the more formal medical term “Icky eye”. I’m not up for that much staring at the screen. So in order to appease your voracious appetite for content, here’s this random thing from the internet that made me really happy:


Link (YouTube)

The footballs to the head. Gets me every time.


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New Patreon Fee System

By Shamus
on Dec 10, 2017
Filed under:
Notices

If you support my Patreon, then you probably got a notification recently that Patreon is changing how they process fees and pay creators. This change is being universally panned. I follow a lot of other creators, and I have yet to see a single person endorse this change.

Reader James asked on Friday:

Hi Shamus,

With the recent changes to Patreon, what’s the best way to support you and your content? I know you have Paypal as well but maybe there’s some fees there that you pay that you now don’t on Patreon…

Maybe a blog post about this might be useful to clarify things.

Kind regards,
James.

The best way to support me is still on Patreon. I guess? It’s the most convenient, and I’m a big believer in the idea that convenience is king.

This entire controversy is completely fascinating. At first I thought it was an understandable move, poorly explained. Then as I looked into the details it looked like a foolish move, dishonestly explained. And now that I’ve been looking at the numbers for three days it looks like an insane move explained by an idiot. The longer I stare at this mess the more strange it seems, which would make for fun analysis if it wasn’t directly tied to how I provide for my family.

Before I can discuss the change, let me explain how Patreon has worked in the past.

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Borderlands Part 19: The Vault Hunters

By Shamus
on Dec 7, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

Each new game has a new slate of vault hunters. As with Borderlands 2, there are 4 canonical or “core” vault hunters, and two additional ones as DLC.

Let’s meet the new crew…

Wilhelm

So when you switched to cybernetic parts did you replace your... you know... Wilhelm?

So when you switched to cybernetic parts did you replace your... you know... Wilhelm?

Wilhelm is a boss in Borderlands 2. He’s Jack’s right-hand man, and Jack basically sacrificed him to make sure that the player would get their hands on the trapped power coreAccording to the wiki, there’s an unused audio log in the game assets where Jack states that he poisoned Wilhelm prior to his fight with the player, which was probably intended to explain why the player was able to defeat him when the combined might of Roland, Mordecai, Brick, and Lilith had failed to damage him at some unspecified point in the past.. Here we’re sort of playing through his origin story where he meets Jack.

In Borderlands 2 he was (or will be, if you see what I mean) 90% robot. Here he looks like a mostly normal guy. He’s addicted to cybernetic implants, and apparently between now and the events of Borderlands 2 he’s going to have an extreme metal makeover. If you spend points in the right skill tree you can kickstart this process yourself, making him half-robot in the process. I love this integration of character and gameplay.

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Doing Batman Right 6: The Joker

By Bob Case
on Dec 6, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

I’ve mentioned earlier in this series that I don’t necessarily care for the practice of elevating the Joker so far above the other members of the Rogue’s Gallery in focus and importance. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a top-shelf villain – in fact, to me, the Joker is not only one of the best comic book villains, but one of the best villains period.

One thing the animated series could do, and often did, to good effect, was to make the Joker physically large. Very often Batman, usually the burliest mook in the room, could seem like he was at a disadvantage.

One thing the animated series could do, and often did, to good effect, was to make the Joker physically large. Very often Batman, usually the burliest mook in the room, could seem like he was at a disadvantage.

There are two “tricks,” so to speak, that his various writers and performers have used to pull this off, one minor and one major.

The minor one is to take advantage of the Joker’s time in grade as a villain. He’s been such a big name for so long that the usual genre rules don’t always apply to him. Some second-string antagonist is probably not going to beat Robin to death with a crowbar, or shoot and paralyze Barbara Gordon, because that’s not the sort of thing that happens. But the Joker might, which means that his mere presence on page or screen puts the audience in a heightened state of danger.

I’d even say that the only person in the entire Batman universe who could be considered safe when the Joker is around is Batman himself. Alfred? Gordon? Anyone else? All of them are potential victims. Whenever the Joker is present, everything seems a little wilder, a little more unpredictable. That’s the minor trick.

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This Dumb Industry: Wilson Boxes

By Shamus
on Dec 5, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Last week I linked to this video by Skill Up, which talks about how the concept of loot boxes developed inside of EA and how we got to where we are today. This time let’s talk about it in detail.

Synopsis

EA CEO Andrew Wilson.

EA CEO Andrew Wilson.

Like I said last time, it’s an excellent video and worth a watch, but if you’re not inclined to hit the play button then here’s a breakdown of the key points. And just to be clear, everything in the next section is from the Skill Up video and not commentary by me, so if you see something you disagree with make sure you know who you’re arguing with before you jump down to the comments. Also, this is a synopsis, not a transcript. It’s a long video with a lot of information and I’m just boiling it down to a few key points for the purposes of discussion.

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Avengers: Infinity War Speculation

By Shamus
on Dec 3, 2017
Filed under:
Movies

So the Infinity War Trailer dropped this week. It’s pretty good. I really like the angle they’re taking with Thanos, our villain. He’s not just some boring sadistic space monster. He’s a big dude with big goals, but he seems to enjoy the prospect of mopping the floor with the heroes. His design is interesting as well. He doesn’t look cruel or insane. If anything his design makes him look thoughtful.

It’s interesting the movie is called “Infinity War”. Originally it was titled “Infinity War Part 1”. We know this movie and the next were shot together and form a single story. Maybe the sequel will be called Avengers: Infinity Plus One War.

It’s been a long road to get here. The Marvel Cinematic Universe turns 10 next year, and a lot of the old guard are preparing to leave. I’ve been wondering about this since the whole MCU plan was announced. It’s a remarkable opportunity: The chance to introduce a superhero, grow them for a decade as they experience multiple character arcs, and then kill them off for good. TV shows can’tIt’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but what are the odds of making it this long without getting canceled, the public losing interest, the key creative people moving on, or the meta-plot dissolving into nonsense as it passes through multiple writing teams? do these kinds of long-running stories, and in comics you can’t count on anyone staying dead. In a lot of ways, this is exactly what I’ve always wanted from superhero stories. Stories that are long but not unlimited, with characters that die when the writers run out of interesting things to do with them. It’s a shame these things are so expensive to make, because I’d love to see a lot more heroes explored in this format.

The Marvel movies are to the box office what John Cena is to wrestling. It’s almost boring to see them win all the time. Sometimes I wish they would fumble one of these things just so we can see how they’d handle it.

But that’s silly. We’re getting two or three incredible movies a year and that’s more than enough entertainment for me. Rather than wishing Marvel would fail, it’s probably more sensible to wish DC would pull it together and start giving us a rival series of similar stature.

Anyway, we’re about five months from the first Infinity War movie, and so I’d like to engage in a little speculation as to what they’re going to do, who’s going to die, and how things might play out.

I have no insider knowledge so nothing we discuss here can be considered “spoilers”, but I will be spoiling some earlier Marvel films and comics and such. For the record, I’m all caught up on the Marvel movies except for Thor: Ragnarok, which I plan to see in February when it comes out on video. 26 years ago I read the Infinity Gauntlet comics, which is what this movie is loosely based on. So if you’ve fallen behind on your Marvel-watching and you’re shy about spoilers, then maybe give this post a pass.

Still here? Great. Let’s do this…

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