The Witcher: Hearts of Stone, Part Two

By Bob Case Posted Friday Nov 9, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 29 comments

The setup of the main chunk of Hearts of Stone’s story goes like this: Olgierd von Everec, who first put up the contract to kill the monster in the Oxenfurt sewers, has made a deal with the devil-like figure Gaunter O’Dimm. In order to fulfill his end of the deal, O’Dimm enlists Geralt to make three of Olgierd’s wishes come true.

I get the distinct sense that the writers were given more of a leading role in this expansion, because this is the perfect excuse for them to do all the stuff they’ve probably always wanted with this setting and cast of characters. Olgierd’s wishes can be (and are) as off-the-wall as CDPR would like, and they take advantage: show Olgierd’s (now-dead) brother “the time of his life,” steal an entire house, and a third which is left unrevealed until Geralt has completed the first two.

I would say the writers chose their wishes well, because the first two are clean and promising setups for long set pieces featuring a body-swap comedy and an elaborate heist, respectively. In the first, Geralt attends a wedding while intermittently possessed by the spirit of Olgierd’s late brother Vlodimir, and in the other, he recruits a crew of charming sleazebags to steal a will (the “house”) of a wealthy merchant.

I had to capture these screenshots on a different computer than usual, which is why they're either strangely cropped or, in this case, featuring a helpful windows update message in the lower right corner. That was a huge pain to get rid of. Thanks for that, Microsoft.
I had to capture these screenshots on a different computer than usual, which is why they're either strangely cropped or, in this case, featuring a helpful windows update message in the lower right corner. That was a huge pain to get rid of. Thanks for that, Microsoft.

Rather than try and do a blow-by-blow of each of these two sequences, I thought I would just point out a list of things that I enjoyed, and which I think illustrate some of the unique advantages an expansion can have over a base game.

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “The Witcher: Hearts of Stone, Part Two”



Grand Theft Auto V: Explaining the Joke to Death

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 8, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 38 comments

And so this series comes to an end. Not with a bang, but with a shrug. Eh. It’s pretty okay I guess. I mean, I had fun sometimes.

For as crazy as this world is, Grand Theft Auto V is surprisingly short on laughs. The main story often occupies this strange space where absurd things are happening and everyone is expressing intense emotions, and yet there are almost no jokes. The dialog constantly feels like it’s in the setup phase for a punchline that never comes. While this franchise has been pretty hit-and-miss with regards to comedy, I think the humor has gone downhill over the last decade or so. A lot of different factors contributed to this.

First and most obviously, as the games grew closer to Hollywood they drifted away from the wacky brand of adolescent humor they were built around. Toilet humor and dick jokes work in a world of outrageous cartoon absurdity. They don’t fit so well within a Scorsese movie. On top of that, the games have intensified their attempts at satire and social commentary, which has made them increasingly heavy-handed and mean-spirited. As I said at the start, a lot of the attempted satire is so far off-base that the jokes don’t land. But here in GTA V there is yet another force working against the humor: The writer has stopped trusting the audience and so they keep stopping to explain the joke.

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “Grand Theft Auto V: Explaining the Joke to Death”



Experienced Points: Denuvo – Four Years Later

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Nov 7, 2018

Filed under: Column 78 comments

A funny story about my column this week: I finished writing it on Thursday. While polishing / proofing, I wanted to hunt down some citation links. And by accident I stumbled on an old column of mine that had exactly the same thesis. I had no memory of writing the original column.

As a result, I needed to re-write my column at the last minute. I changed the focus of the article but kept a few of my supporting arguments.

For years I was laser-focused on this argument. Let’s call it my Opening Salvo:

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “Experienced Points: Denuvo – Four Years Later”



Andromeda Part 4: Habitat 7

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 6, 2018

Filed under: Mass Effect 163 comments

In Mass Effect Andromeda, you can play as either Scott Ryder or Sara Ryder. Unlike Commander Shepard, you’re not hot-swapping the gender of the protagonist. If you play as Sara then you have Scott as your sibling and if you play as Scott then you’ve got Sara for a sibling. Your sibling ends up stuck in the fridge for most of the game and they’re not really relevant until the very end, but the Ryder twins really are two different peopleThey still have a lot of identical dialog, but you know what I mean. and not just a Maleshep vs. Femshep aesthetic choice.

For the purposes of this write-up, I’ll be discussing the plot in terms of having Sara as the main character. As with my series on the Mass Effect trilogy, it’s just easier to pick one sibling rather than juggle neutral pronouns and use slashes to refer to Sara/Scott or Scott/Sara.

It Begins

Come on, the loading screens in this game aren't THAT bad.
Come on, the loading screens in this game aren't THAT bad.

Sara wakes up in the Cryo Bay at the end of their 600 year voyage. The dialog does a pretty good job of explaining the premise to the player without dropping into heavy-handed exposition mode. I mention this now because while some of the dialog in this game is shamefully bad, there are spots like this where it keeps things reasonably brisk and efficient by the standards of the genre.

The ship has just arrived in the Heleus Cluster, which is part of the Andromeda galaxyWithout the mass relay network, we can no longer have a galaxy-wide adventure. I really appreciate that the writers stuck to this and didn’t feel the need to go “big” again.. Sara is on the “Pathfinder” team. Her Father, Alec Ryder, is the Pathfinder for the human ark and is in charge of scouting out their prospective home. 600 years ago they picked out several promising planets in the Heleus ClusterThe story explains that scientists used a mass effect relay to “look” into the distant galaxy, which is how they were able to see so much detail over such insane distances. This is one of the details I’m willing to handwave as part of establishing the new premise. that could be suitable for settlement.

Alec Ryder is an N7, which is the same designation as Commander Shepard. I’m sure this is a deliberate move on the part of the writer, to have a Commander Shepard stand-in to hand the franchise over our new hero.

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “Andromeda Part 4: Habitat 7”



The Witch Watch Setting

By Shamus Posted Monday Nov 5, 2018

Filed under: Random 37 comments

This week I talked to my podcast-mate Paul about my book The Witch Watch. Paul is interested in writing a sequel. Here’s an excerpt if you want to get a feel for the original.

Spoilers for my 2012 novel below.

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “The Witch Watch Setting”