The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on February 5th, 2012 at 10:16 am.


Sundays are for recovering. Whatever the week dealt, you can sit back with a cup of hot drugs and have a rest. Ah, that’s the stuff. Time to collect ourselves, and also, perhaps, collect some writings about the state of videogames in the 21st century. That’s the right century, right? Sheesh.

  • Eurogamer look back at a game that is fairly regularly reminisced, Grim Fandango: “The story of Manny Calavera – a grim reaper brilliantly reimagined as a travel agent – uncovering a web of corruption in the Land of the Dead is part Mexican folklore and part film noir. Given how well Grim Fandango blends the latter with a traditional adventure game template makes it a wonder why this hasn’t been done more, since both genres are predicated on crafty problem-solving, deception and wry humour.”
  • This is the most I have ever seen written on the subject of Creatures: “One day, when I was visiting my adoptive mother in Texas, I sat at the old computer and shuffled through old floppy disks. I was looking for things I had written as a teenager; I had saved all those stories to disks too. And this was how I found all of these labeled disks, one after another: a name and a date. A name, a date. A name, a date. I realized these were all Norns.”
  • Nightmare Mode has a piece about the history of game audio: “Having acoustic effects in games is important even if you might not pay any attention to them. If the sound doesn’t match what you’re seeing you will subconsciously sense that something is wrong, or you just won’t connect with what you’re seeing. That’s why most games go to great lengths to have different acoustic environments to create the correct sense of space even if the effect is often subtle. This wasn’t the case before the first EAX sound card came out, however.”
  • RPGs and the problem of sympathetic characters. On Fallout 3’s character creation process: “By all accounts you should connect to this character the most, after having experienced literally everything they have as well. But you don’t. Walking through Fallout 3’s wasteland, I’m more struck by the sense of loneliness and despair than I am any type of grief when I’m killed by a fellow raider. Why? What is it that whenever my character is killed or damaged, I have absolutely no concern for his wellbeing? It’s because the character building aspects of role-playing games are fundamentally broken and prevent sympathy from the player.”
  • Dan talks to the guys making The Sims 3 expansions: “It’s a pretty organic process. One of the fun things about working on The Sims is that you can reflect on your own life and the ideas you find are totally relevant to the game. Very few people have fortunately been at war, so there aren’t that many human beings who can relate to that experience. Everyone can relate to the idea of wanting to be a star or basically to being a human being with basic human needs, so the first step is we look inward, at ourselves. What kind of things we want to explore.We look for the absolute ideas, the things that encompass human truths within them, like the desire to be recognised is and have your worth reaffirmed, that’s at the core of showtime.”
  • On Defender’s Quest. On Piracy: “AAA is doing a terrible job, period. They are focusing their efforts on people who are not their customers. If they poured all that effort into pleasing their own customers – the people actually paying for their games – I think they would see a major difference in sales. The only DRM anyone seems to tolerate these days is Steam’s, and that’s because Steam goes out of its way to provide a pleasant, customer-focused experience. When my brother bought Dragon Age II, it took him several hours just to wrangle with all the DRM verification. When a close friend who worked for EA bought a copy of Spore for me from the EA campus store, I couldn’t even run it because it thought the copy was pirated.”
  • I’m not sure whether I linked this exhibition before, but anyway it’s part of a positive trend for how museums treat.
  • Pat went on adventures in Finland’s games industry: “We arrived to start our tour of the Finnish games industry the previous evening to find Helsinki black, freezing and bizarrely dead. December 6 is Finland’s independence day, a celebration of the country’s official split from Russia in 1917, and a night residents apparently sit at home in a grump over a grand party held at the presidential palace for Finland’s great and good.”
  • Why videogames are good for you. Do we need still these articles to be published?
  • Are modern DLC systems a bit like cheat codes of old?
  • RPS chum Richie Shoemaker is making a magazine about sci-fi gaming, and there’s a serious PC focus.
  • The 20 most beautiful bookshops in the world.

Music. Here’s something electronical, thanks Kad.

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139 Comments »

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  1. Metonymy says:

    Will people EVER stop whining about Fallout 3?

    If you want to pretend you’re some guy, go play dungeons and dragons, or the type of game that develops the main character. Some of us still prefer the silent protagonist.

    • LionsPhil says:

      They’re not really silent when they have dialogue, even if there’s no voice acting for it. Freeman is a silent protagonist.

    • Archonsod says:

      You know you’re onto a winner when they begin the article by essentially stating they don’t like sandbox RPGs, and then spend the rest of the article complaining about a sandbox RPG.

      I mean you’d think by the time he’s brought in HL2, Deus EX : HR et al he may have spotted the dichotomy between player freedom and narrative imperative, but no, the issue is with how the game works rather than him attempting to redefine what makes a good game.

    • JackShandy says:

      It’s an interesting article. He complains that he doesn’t empathise enough with his character, then goes on to say that it’s because he IS his character: “When I respond to the Megaton sheriff asking me whether I can diffuse the bomb in the middle of tomb, I’m not responding whether my character can do it. No, instead, I’m wondering whether I, Patrick Stafford, can do it.”

      That’s rubbish for a start because defusing the bomb is entirely decided by how much points your character has in Explosives, and Patrick Stafford’s real-life bomb-defusal expertise is useless. But assuming Fallout 3 did just scan you straight into a virtual reality machine – is it really possible to empathise with any character more than yourself? Is this man really suggesting that separating a player from their avatar would make them care more about that avatar?

      it’s interesting to see a protagonist vacuum analysed as if it were a character in a movie.

    • Mattressi says:

      Yeah, I really couldn’t see the logic in it. It seemed the author was basically saying that he doesn’t roleplay when playing open-world character-creation RPGs, therefore the whole sub-genre is flawed. He also insists that the choices we make reflect the decisions we would make, since we roleplay ourselves. Which is weird, because I must have bipolar (is tri or quadpolar real?), since when I play a good character, funnily enough, I make good-guy decisions and vice versa for playing an evil character.

      Really, the author should just stick with games where you don’t have to make up your character – where instead of roleplaying, the game does it for you.

    • Acorino says:

      I do think it sometimes needs a non-fan of a genre to criticize its conventionalized flaws.
      I can’t think of a better example than adventure games. Limbo of the Lost, a terrible terrible game in every regard, got pretty good reviews on fansites. Even some of the best adventures feature some ridiculous puzzles. I can’t believe that adventure fans describe the puzzles of The Feeble Files as “hard, but fair”, because often enough they’re anything but fair.

      I disagree that not liking something makes you unqualified to talk about it. But in every case you need the patience and will to understand what you’re dealing with.
      The criticisms in this article are rather misguided. If he wants to sympathize with his avatar in an RPG, he should play something like The Witcher. Also, sympathy is mostly reserved for you party members, not for your avatar.

    • Apples says:

      Yes, his complaint is that he’s not role-playing, but isn’t that the appeal of Fallout? It’s you, but in a post-apocalyptic world where you’re a badass! It’s wish-fulfillment stuff for people who like Mad Max, there’s no point making up some elaborate backstory for your character, and the opening sequence is just a trendy way of letting you choose your skill points and getting you slightly attached to your ingame dad. Nothing to do with getting to know your character.

      He doesn’t seem to really understand game genres (sandbox games have mostly uncharacterised PCs for a reason) or the difference between sandbox games and mostly linear games like Deus Ex, which is embarrassing.

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      ffordesoon says:

      @JackShandy:

      Interesting point! I didn’t catch that, but you’re right.

      @Acorino:

      I agree. However much fanboys may whinge at the complaints of non-fans, there is usually something there. No criticism is valueless.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I do think it sometimes needs a non-fan of a genre to criticize its conventionalized flaws.”

      He’s not criticising a conventionalized flaw, he’s criticising one of the defining aspects of the genre. At that point it’s not so much criticism as simply explaining why you dislike the genre. I’m sure I could make some pertinent criticism of Championship Manager as a non-fan; however the fact it’s a football management game wouldn’t be a valid one, remove that and you remove the entire purpose of the game.

    • Acorino says:

      Yeah, I know. I only disagreed with your implication by saying that this article already didn’t bode well when he stated that he isn’t a fan of sandbox RPGs and then goes on to complain about sandbox RPGs. For me this reads like non-fans shouldn’t complain.
      But that’s not the article’s problem.

      I disagree with his assessment anyway, so…

    • InternetBatman says:

      I also think that this article was terrible. He criticizes a game that’s pretty emblematic of an entire genre just for having the characteristics of that genre. That’s like me saying I don’t like Street Fighter because you have to memorize button combinations. Fallout 3 has many areas where it can be genuinely criticized, but his just suck.

      I also believe that he’s absolutely, 100% wrong about voiced main characters. When you play these games the main character is supposed to be a cipher, an avatar. A voiced main character at best creates a dissonance between yourself and the game that should not be there. In the worst cases you end up with a main character you hate or find silly, Shepard and the guy from Gothic respectively. The author may like that, but he’s wrong.

      The author also just misses the key reason he’s not attached to the characters in Fallout 3. It has shit writing. As soon as you finish a few quests in Megaton the writing is just bad. In Fallout 3 the choices are too hamfisted and the world has so little internal logic that it presents a clear barrier to characterization. Instead of playing like an RPG it pretty much turns into an FPS loot runner.

      Instead of just looking at openworld games with successful characterization of the main character, Baldur’s Gate being a prime example, he just assumes that it can’t happen as a feature of the genre.

    • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      Aye, does seem a rather odd article. He’s either completely missing the point, or hasn’t written the article well enough to get across what his argument actually is.

    • Jumwa says:

      Acorino expressed what I’ve tried to say in the past better than I have.

      As much as it irks me to see people like this who don’t like the genre, come out and unfairly complain about it, that doesn’t mean an outsiders perspective is useless. It just was in this case, and many others.

      My friends and I have debated this in the case of game reviewers in the past. There it’s more irksome, as I think gamers expect professionalism from reviewers. That a reviewer, fan or not, will approach a title with some modicum of objectivity, and a knowledge that stems from either experience or research. That’s not, of course, how it works in all cases.

      Which, as an aside, is part of why I think gamers get so up in arms about review scores. Slapping a numerical rating on a review tends to add that air of professionalism, as if they have things worked down to a science. It perpetuates this idea of reviewers as professionals, with method and so on. So when the curtain gets tugged away we’re all annoyed at seeing the little man behind it that’s just another gamer like us arbitrarily dishing out praise or criticism based on their own fancies with little or no method to their madness.

    • Caleb367 says:

      Great comments, people, and right on the spot.
      I’d add that it seems to me the author isn’t exactly familiar with the very concept of role playing – unless being forced in a character’s shoes and presented with problems your character CAN solve.
      Taking the Megaton example: yes, Patrick Stafford can’t defuse a bomb. So Patrick Stafford either learns how to defuse a bomb or give up. Patrick Stafford, in real life, probably can’t solve quantum physics problems in three seconds or cook a decent Turkish meal or win a gold medal in the Olympics. So what?
      The entire point of sandbox RPG’s that you choose a role and play it. If I’m playing a warrior character, I’ll solve my problems with violence, probably; if I’m a thief, I’ll bypass my problems and steal their money while I’m at it. I’m not complaining about not being able to pickpocket a deathclaw when I’m a power-armored plasma-wielding maniac, nor not being able to hit the broad side of a barn when I’m a sneaky burglar wielding a laser minigun as big as I am.
      tl; dr version: sandbox RPG’s a’la Fallout 3 are focused on the world at large – you have to make the best of it. Story driven RPG’s are focused on YOU THE HERO – the entire world is tailored to have you overcome its challenges.

    • Strontium Mike says:

      I’ve just finished playing RAGE this morning and Baldur’s Gate 1&2 earlier in the week, and noticed something similar to the Fallout 3 article. I felt absolutely no connection to my character in RAGE whereas I totally cared about what my Paladin got up to (not that he lived or died that was just an annoyance). Now this isn’t a shooter vs rpg thing, I’ve noticed the same in rpgs, going from Dragon Age 2 back to Dragon Age Origins or playing the custom modules for the Witcher. In Rage my character has no voice, he doesn’t even have feet or hands (unless holding a weapon) things appear and disappear or open themselves as if by magic, in Dragon Age my character again has no voice outside of combat and though I can see him his face is wooden compared to the other characters. In the Witcher custom modules there’s no voice acting (in those I played) compared to the fully voiced main game.

      I think that’s where the problem lies, in first and third person games we’re up close and personal to the world and characters, it’s much more noticeable when our character doesn’t act in the same way the npcs do. In the old 2d games we were distanced from the world but the characters weren’t distanced from each other, they might have some voice acting but mostly they used text just like your character, unless they were a special sprite they used the same animations available to your character. When you have fully voiced and animated npcs, then having a totally silent or inanimate character just causes a disconnect (for me at least).

      As for this cipher business, developers keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means. If the protagonist of Fallout 3 and similar rpgs are meant to be ciphers why define so much about them, why tie them so deeply into the plot? The last RPG I played that truly had a cipher for the protagonist was the Neverwinter Nights OC, the character wasn’t a chosen one, a dragon born, a jedi exile, the last best hope for humanity. They had no predefined family, no amnesia, no secret history or connection to the big bad.

    • merseybeatnik says:

      Just like the actual brow width and nose height sliders on character creation screens you could say there was a RPG player involvement or choice slider with a sweet spot for everyone. At one extreme end you have the Skyrims of the world further still you may get into dwarf fortress and Minecraft territory, not rpgs but extreme in terms of the freedom allowed the player and lack of any characteristics imposed on you.

      Going along the other direction of the slider we may find The Witcher and then Bioware fare and on the other end of it you come to the Final Fantasys and even more extreme visual novels and of course films, i.e no player involvement whatsoever.

      To move either way on the slider a game will gain certain qualities and lose some too. The more player involvement or choice it gains by having for instance; a vast array of possible characters to play as, multiple choice trees forcing multiple consequences, huge land to explore multiple progression paths (like Bethesda) it may lose other possible qualities; the lovingly crafted cut-scenes the less deviating but more tightly scripted and dense narrative structure, the greater space inhabited by your character in terms of back story and reputation in the game world (like Bioware and Square Enix)

      For instance if you consider the dizzying array of quests and side quests and different methods of accomplishing them in Skyrim and imagine the work that would need to go in to crafting a perfect little reward style cut scene for each like Mass Effect does you begin to see why a game has to choose carefully, like attributing points for strength or intelligence, where on the RPG slider it wants to be.

      For some cuts scenes are a dull waste of time which don’t let you, you know ‘play’ the game which was supposed to be the point, for others it is an essential tool for consolidating that emotional connection, there is no right answer it all depends on where your sweet spot it is.

      If I might make a stab at why some RPGs really stand out from their peers it is because they act like an electron in Young’s experiment, one game appears to take both paths. They some how manage to give you the choice, involvement and scope (or a convincing enough illusion of it) while not seeming to skimp at all on the narrative or character development. One candidate, of course The original Deus Ex.

      This is a rather over elaborate way of defending TPWS’s article, I do not think the judgement of Fallout 3’s lack of character sympathy is wrong the author seems to define more acutely their position on the RPG slider.

    • bill says:

      As someone who has a hard time getting on with most RPGs, I still found the article rather odd. (especially saying he couldn’t associate with himself). But that was mainly down to the examples.

      Mass Effect: I’ve basically given up on ME1 after a reasonably short time because I hate my character. She’s an annoying stereotypical us marine and I kept hoping people would kill her. If she’s been silent maybe i’d have had a better time.
      Half Life: I love the half life games, but i have NEVER really felt like gordon freeman… i feel like myself, ad that’s fine because that’s why i play first person games. I felt like myself in morrowind and daggerfall too, and generally got on with those games more than most other RPGs, and felt much more immersed in the world (not the character, there was none).

      I have discovered a rather strange thing about RPGs – I only like 3d ones. Maybe that, and the examples above, mean that I play RPGs much more for the immersion in the world than for my “character”…. and I tend to find it much easier to feel “in the world” when I’m in the world, rather than looking at it from far above.

      So maybe he has a point about RPG characters being cyphers after all… but maybe that’s as it’s supposed to be.

    • dsch says:

      I think he actually hits upon the crucial point he wants to make in the article itself without realising it: character creation. The reason he empathises with Jensen in DXHR is not because he can hear his voice/see his face, but because Jensen is a character he did not create. Jensen has a strong personality outside of any player input, which, narratively, is an entirely different kettle of fish from games like FO3 where there’s basically (and intentionally) no effort to give your character a personality.

      Edit: One of the wonders of HL2 is, of course, how Freeman’s (pre-existing) character is conveyed without his saying a single word.

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      PoulWrist says:

      Way to miss the point :D

    • Mr Rud says:

      This is the comment I wrote on the FO3 piece

      Personally I think that the traditional concept of RPG clashes with the concept of story-telling: while the former emphazises choice and conseguences, the latter is more hierarchical and it excepts a narrator to choose some kind of story, which is player-indipendent to some degree.
      If we take into consideration RPGs (in the modern sense), we can see 2 types of characters: the blank state character (like the Courier of Fallout: New Vegas), which is simply an extention of the player, some sort of “link” between the player and the enviroment (he exist merely to provide a virtual projection of the player) and the full character, like Shepard (Mass Effect), Jensen (Human Revolution) or Hawke (Dragon Age 2). This characters do have a personality on their own, and they do have a place in the narrative which is player-indipendent: yes, we can decide to play Shepard like a total douche, but in the end the plot still expects him to be the hero of the Galaxy, in this case, the story takes over the RPG and limits the choice possibilities of the player. Fallout 3′s Lone Wanderer stands in between this types, providing some sort of stiff narrative (the main quest is character-defined, not player-defined), while giving an open-world with enviroment-affecting moral choices.
      At the end of the day, it comes down to personal taste: do you want to play an RPG or a more story-driven open world game ? In the first case you choose to disregard story as much as possible, while living YOUR adventure, in the second case you want a story with enough choices to seam “original”

      Addendum: I’m not an RPG player myself (even though I played the main ones: Fallout series, Torment etc) and I think that non-fans can add a great value of critizism on a particular genre (for example, the character creation system are still flawed as they require you to have some knowlendge of the game to make good choices, IMO). Than again, trying to judge an RPG like a story-driven game is borderline idiotic

    • Urthman says:

      This article is a game-lover’s nightmare. It’s like a Call of Duty fan complaining about Deus Ex because the game didn’t tell him exactly where to go and what to do.

      This guy has played so many games that wanted to be movies, games that wanted to show you a story rather than let you create and experience one, that he has no idea how to play a game like Fallout 3. Sad.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      Unless I completely misread that, the guy is saying he doesn’t like Fallout 3 because he can’t be bothered to imagine his character’s personality and needs the game to do it for him. On top of this, he also can’t be bothered to play with the third person camera and have a look at his character, see what they look like in that new outfit and so on. I just can’t explain how his problems with the game are so ludicrously shallow.

      I mean, to me, the whole character creation sequence was basically the game giving you ample chances and encouragement to imagine for yourself a character, personality, backstory, set of attitudes and thought processes for the character you were making. The lack of voice acting was, for me, an elegant way to avoid making the game six times the size due to audio files while also avoiding having actors and actresses who don’t sound the way you imagine your character does. I don’t know, I went into Fallout 3 with a character already in mind, and simply crafted an appearance and chose a set of responses that fitted that. I thought that was what everyone did with this sort of game; I can’t imagine playing any other way.

      In a way I’m really surprised by this article, as I thought Fallout 3 did character creation better than almost anything else I’ve played. My character in Fallout 3 was probably my favourite created game character ever. I’m still really fond of her, because I was her, in a way I never was my version of Shepard. I simply acted as a sort of movie director/autonomic nervous system for her; it was Odokumi Shepard’s face all right, and her pistol and biotics went where I pointed them, but Jennifer Hale’s voice came out when she opened her mouth. That wasn’t quite right. Enjoyable, certainly, and well executed, but not what I really wanted.

    • PopeJamal says:

      Will people EVER stop whining about [people who whine about] Fallout 3?

    • Lemming says:

      Am I wrong in thinking none of it makes sense because, by definition you can’t empathise with YOUR character because you are playing him? it’s a Role Playing Game. You can’t empathise with your own character because empathy is feeling for others.

      I feel like the guy missed the entire point of a Role playing Game. It’s not just Fallout, his ‘argument’ applies to D&D onwards.

    • Wizardry says:

      Why do people make a distinction between “sandbox RPGs” and “story RPGs”? It’s retarded. All RPGs are effectively sandbox RPGs. What people call “story RPGs” are JRPGs and games they have influenced such as BioWare’s games and Obsidian’s games (through Planescape: Torment).

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      Wisq says:

      I rather liked the article, and I found it matched my own experiences.

      Once I threw in a bunch of mods, Fallout 3 was pretty good — although that reliance on good mods does tend to be a recurring theme with Bethesda games (for me). But aside from a few traits that actually do open up new dialogue options, you usually have to actively work hard to stay in character. If you don’t, you can still have plenty of fun, sure. But as the article rightly says, you’ll be playing yourself, not your character.

      The disarming the bomb thing is an interesting example of the lack of consequence in modern games (aside from the usual moralistic karma-revenge crap). As I recall, you’re never given any indication of how tricky the bomb is. It’s pure binary — either you have enough skill points, or you don’t. There’s no eyeing it up beforehand to get an idea of your odds. There’s no chance of failure. Game designers these days are so allergic to “game over” screens as a direct consequence of your actions in RPGs — “the game must go on.”

      And during conversation, there’s no gauge of your certainty that you’ll be able to disarm it. Would it kill them to change the dialogue options based on your skill level, considering that you’re a non-voiced protagonist? “No way, bombs aren’t my thing” through “sounds tricky, I’ll see it’s anything I can work with” all the way up to “no sweat, I’ve never met a bomb I can’t disarm” based on your skill level?

      Instead, we (as the player) know that we can do no wrong. We can promise the world to anyone, and they won’t think any worse of us if we just never get around to doing what we said we would. We can walk up to something and instantly know whether we’re capable of doing it safely or not capable of doing it at all. When faced with a reality so fundamentally warped as that, dialogue becomes a series of wishes and empty promises rather than real decisions, and a fledgling trainee can complete an action with just as much confidence as a world-class expert just because the option to perform that action appears on their screen, none of which is particularly immersive or conducive to playing your role.

      While I agree with some of the criticisms of the article, I do think it raises a few real issues with these sorts of games. They could still be doing more to enhance and reinforce your roleplaying, even without changing the fundamental sandbox RPG model.

    • dysphemism says:

      I think the article makes a solid point, but articulates it poorly. What it seems to be getting at is how often the avatars in sandbox RPGs can feel soulless, giving the sense that you’re controlling a mannequin rather than inhabiting a being.

      And I think, but only in part, that the writer is correct. These games require too much imagination on the part of the player to imbue their characters with any sort of life — in fact, it takes at least as much effort, if not more so, than for pen and paper games. Because the whole time you’re trying to write a story on this tabula rasa, you’re constantly confronted with NPCs who possess expressions, animations, and audio that convey their personality. So the contrast between lifeless you and vivacious everyone-else serves to actually undermine whatever sense of character you’ve invented in your own mind. The more detailed these worlds become, the more disappointing it is that our characters remain blank and static; we can invent all the backstory we like, sure, but it’s depressing that we’re given almost no way to express it in the gameworld.

    • DocSeuss says:

      It’s like the guy’s missed the point–that Fallout 3 is more of an immersive sim than a JRPG, and he keeps wanting it to be a JRPG.

      Also, and this may just be me, but why do people think Gordon Freeman is a character? He’s literally the player. He doesn’t even have a voice. In fact, one of the reasons I dislike Half-Life 2 and its sequels so much is because that game tries to force a personality on him while trying to keep the freedom to be who you wanted that Half-Life had. It just ends up being a mess in between.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      I think the problem here is that he’s comparing games that all fall under the label of “RPG” or “Western RPG” that ought rightfully to be seen as being apples and oranges.

      Games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim are games where your character is utterly a tabula rasa. He/she has no backstory, no past, and not even any real connection to the game world outside of their origin. Yes, they may have a father who’s part of a conspiracy or something, or they may be the Chosen One, but by design their personality and past is left largely blank so that they become a cipher by which we, the player, experience the game world. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, it’s just a particular type of experience.

      It seems to me that the writer of that article simply prefers an RPG where the protagonist has a certain amount of baggage coming into the story, such as Planescape: Torment, KOTOR II, Fallout New Vegas, and more recently Deus Ex: HR. While it’s still up to the player to determine the character’s development, there is already a foundation to build upon, which in a well-written game (which all the aforementioned examples are) is slowly revealed to the player in small but realistic ways. In a sense it’s a sort of reverse dramatic irony — rather than the audience knowing more than the characters, the characters (even your own) know more about their past than the audience. It can be very compelling because it means the player character is very much a character, not just a cipher or a blank slate, whose development we ourselves shape.

      But that doesn’t mean one is better than the other. The protagonist of Morrowind was me, in various different guises; the protagonist of Deus Ex was Adam Jensen. The beauty of video games is that I can vicariously live through all sorts of different scenarios with varying degrees of closeness to my own experience, and I don’t always have to stay within one range.

      EDIT WITH FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Interesting question I just thought up: is it possible that a game with the “protagonist with baggage” is more “novelistic” than the tabula rasa type because it involves learning to empathize with a fleshed-out protagonist? Or is this just a piece of inter-media equivocation that doesn’t actually follow from our gaming experience?

    • Wizardry says:

      But that doesn’t mean one is better than the other.

      Yes it does. At least in terms of RPGs. The blanker the slate the better.

    • Urthman says:

      the avatars in sandbox RPGs can feel soulless, giving the sense that you’re controlling a mannequin rather than inhabiting a being.

      The whole point of an RPG is that the player provides the soul for the protagonist. That’s one of the central game play mechanics. If you don’t want to do that, you don’t want to play RPG’s.

      It’s like this guy is complaining about how the player has to do all the jumping in a Mario game. “Why can’t Mario just jump automatically like Link does?”

      “How come I have to do aim my gun in Half-Life? Shouldn’t Gordon Freeman do that for me? It’s like he has no brain of his own.

    • Gira says:

      I do wonder why DocSeuss seems to believe all stat-based RPGs are JRPGs, which makes very little sense considering their pedigree.

      At any rate, the true Fallout games were proper RPGs, while Seuss is probably right in saying the third (which I wish people would stop referring to as “Fallout”) is more of an immersive sim. Not a very good one, of course, since Bethesda couldn’t simulate their way out of a paper bag.

      What I think a lot of modern (read: younger) gamers seem to believe is that, due to the fact that BioWare has always been hopelessly inept with stats and combat systems, stats are wholly unnecessary in RPGs, and if you just have a Cinematic Story with Moral Choices you’re apples. But this isn’t the case – the level of player agency in Mass Effect is so far below Fallout, or Dark Sun, or even Arcanum, that it’s kind of pathetic. And the same actually applies to Fallout 3, which presents as being somewhat non-linear (it has a big sandbox world, after all!) but is actually deeply funnelled with regards to player behaviour and agency within both the set narrative and the ludonarrative. And, of course, its combat system is terrible. (People whine about turn-based games because they probably haven’t ever played any, but I guarantee you’ll have more fun in a single JA2 mission than by experiencing the entirety of Skyrim’s paper-thin combat mechanics.)

      Stats actually facilitate player agency in RPGs far and above any modern hamfisted attempt at replacing them precisely because the level of abstraction involved gives designers a meaningful and measurable framework with which to facilitate player agency. If a character is a high-strength, low-intelligence, high-beauty dwarf in Arcanum, for example, that opens up a vast amount of interactions without even taking player actions into account. Compare with Skyrim, where your character is defined by one or two descriptors (can use swords, is orc) and is never reacted to in any meaningful way, ever. It’s the problem of the meta-character – the more granularity you remove from both character creation and character action thereafter, the more the game caters to a single meta-character rather than providing for interactions for all different types of characters. In Skyrim, you can do any quest, finish the main quest just like anyone else, and so on – there’s no breadth of interaction in there.

      And that’s understandable – because no technology currently exists that can actually effectively replace a decent character system. Maybe it’ll be possible at some point in the future, but would it be practical, even then? I mean, is a simple 1-10 CHA scale not a lot simpler, more accessible, and easier to play around with than some arcane graphics/physics engine calculation?

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      Ha ha! That’s our Wizardry, everybody! Thanks for tuning in!

      In all seriousness, these are the crucial comments from this thread, to me:

      Strontium Mike: “In the old 2d games we were distanced from the world but the characters weren’t distanced from each other, they might have some voice acting but mostly they used text just like your character, unless they were a special sprite they used the same animations available to your character. When you have fully voiced and animated npcs, then having a totally silent or inanimate character just causes a disconnect (for me at least).”

      To me, that’s the crux of the issue, and it’s why I think fully voice-acted games are always going to provide an inferior experience from a roleplaying perspective to games where almost all the dialogue is in text. It’s just plain harder to record reams of dialogue with various actors who have to try to provide a convincing performance of each line and blah-de-blah than it is to add a new choice and outcome into a text file the moment it strikes your fancy.

      Mr Rud: “Fallout 3′s Lone Wanderer stands in between this types, providing some sort of stiff narrative (the main quest is character-defined, not player-defined), while giving an open-world with enviroment-affecting moral choices.”

      Which was a big problem – maybe the big problem – with Fallout 3. you can do whatever you like in the sidequests, but even if your Speech is at 100, you can’t convince Fawkes that maybe he should go into the room that will kill you, the player, and do absolutely nothing to him.

      Wisq: “Instead, we (as the player) know that we can do no wrong. We can promise the world to anyone, and they won’t think any worse of us if we just never get around to doing what we said we would. We can walk up to something and instantly know whether we’re capable of doing it safely or not capable of doing it at all. When faced with a reality so fundamentally warped as that, dialogue becomes a series of wishes and empty promises rather than real decisions, and a fledgling trainee can complete an action with just as much confidence as a world-class expert just because the option to perform that action appears on their screen, none of which is particularly immersive or conducive to playing your role.”

      And that’s the other big failure of F3. It wants to be a touching narrative, but it also wants to be a Bethesda-ian Mary Sue simulator, and it sort of fails at both as a result. I’d argue the failure is noble, but it’s still a failure at the end of the day. Detonate the bomb, and Moira’s still there and willing to give you the Wasteland Survival Guide quest. Sure, she says she’s angry at you, but you the player don’t lose anything, because everything just works out for special-snowflake you, dunnit?

      And then you have the main story, which is, as I said, locked pretty firmly into place. You can’t save yourself from dying at the end, you can’t save your dad… There are choices within the narrative, to be sure, but as a whole it just works out as a massive series of “you are free to do as we tell you” scenes. Which is bizarre, given the emphasis on how much more amazing you are than anyone else. It’s not just a Mary Sue sim, but a weirdly inconsistent one.

    • laskasdo says:

      The cheapest the tablet PC, so perfect, so cheap!

      Ainol Novo7 Basic Tablet PC 7 Inch Android 3.2 Dual Camera 8GB HDMI 1080P US $ 125.99

      I think this is a great computer! What’s New Tablet PC! Prices are favorable!

    • dysphemism says:

      @ Urthman:
      Yes, the idea of an RPG is to roleplay. What I’m saying is that current-generation “sandbox” RPGs actually make that exercise more difficult than in RPGs of yesteryear (basically just chipping at what Strontium Mike already said so well). The complaint isn’t “oh man, I guess I have to roleplay now, what a drag.” It’s more that the developers hand you a blank sheet of paper and say, “Go nuts!” But then they forget to give you crayons.

  2. qrter says:

    Walking through Fallout 3’s wasteland, I’m more struck by the sense of loneliness and despair than I am any type of grief when I’m killed by a fellow raider.

    Regarding the last part – isn’t that because my character is basically immortal-by-proxy, what with my ability to reload a previous savegame?

    Regarding the first part – the writer says that as if it’s a bad thing.. I always felt the creeping accumulation of loneliness and despair was one of the stronger points of Fallout 3.

    • Flobulon says:

      I think you make an interesting point, and I wonder how much of a connection we can really feel to these sorts of characters when we have a god-like control over their timelines; if they die, you just reload. Which only makes scripted deaths (like at the end of Fallout 3) only more absurd.

    • Strontium Mike says:

      Well I’ve never felt a connection regarding unscripted deaths of my character. All death means is I’ve got to do that bit over again, even if the game scrubs all my saves I’d just recreate the same character and start over. This is why I don’t like checkpoint based games, and why I actually liked the Vita chambers in BioShock, I don’t see the point in making someone replay from the last checkpoint instead of the last quick save. That’s not to say I don’t feel any connection to my character, I’ve just finished replaying Baldur’s Gate 2 and when it went into Throne of Bhaal I stopped playing, there’s just no way my Paladin would do the required act to proceed with the game. Or at the beginning of Deus Ex Human Revolution, I was all ‘no, no, no you can’t do that to me. I thought all upgrades would be optional.’

    • JackShandy says:

      Player death is non-canon. How can it affect you? It didn’t happen. It’s like crying because you heard an author once considered killing off your favourite character.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I think that’s true in every video game but there are a couple ways around it. One is that your death can have narrative consequences, like Planescape Torment where each death represents another person being killed or another shadow created. Another is particularly gruesome deaths that you want to avoid, this was the primary feature of Limbo. Finally, you can lose stuff when you die, and a lot of games take that option. There are a few more, but the point is that Fallout doesn’t have any penalties for player death, so of course you don’t care when your player is hurt.

    • dsch says:

      “… isn’t that because my character is basically immortal-by-proxy, what with my ability to reload a previous savegame?”

      The solution to this is of course to build the mechanics of immortality into the game narrative in an intelligent way, to realise that there are things with more emotional impact than the virtual death of your character. The only time I’ve seen this done intelligently is in Braid.

    • sinister agent says:

      Meaningless death is definitely a big part of it. When I played a game of Fallout 3 with no saves (and modded to be bastard hard, so that almost anything hostile had a fair chance of killing me), I became very attached to my character.

      The lack of threat only compounded this. In the vanilla game, the first time I came across some super mutants I practically soiled myself. Then I ran into them again, and again, and quickly realised that for all their shouting, hulking footsteps and enormous weapons, they are about as dangerous as a slightly too-hot cup of tea. I singlehandedly wiped out the entire “warzone” of DC, complete with entrenchments, with only a hunting rifle and a shotgun, wearing civilian clothing instead of armour.

      Whatever I did, wherever I went, it felt like there was nothing at stake. The only exception I can think of is in rescuing the rangers from the roof, when I was pleasantly surprised to learn that being too slow or careless (or just unlucky) would get some of them killed.

    • Wizardry says:

      You can’t shove in “narrative resurrection” into every single RPG. It’ll be stupid. The way it should be handled in all RPGs with a resurrection spell is the Wizardry way. If your whole party dies then you have to form another one. If you reach the corpses of the previous party you can resurrect them or haul their bodies back to town to get the healer to resurrect them.

      This way you end up having a pool of characters sitting in town, waiting to be used. This prevents you from re-rolling the same character again and again, and you end up with a bunch of individuals who you can use when you feel like. It’s sort of like the BioWarian camp fire/ship/inn thing where all the developer crafted party members sit and wait for you to take them on a mission, except you’ve made all the characters yourself, and they all serve a purpose.

      This also makes character deaths part of the story because you don’t reload.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      I actually kind of agree with Wizardry. I like the way Dragon Quest does it for exactly this reason, and I’m assuming that system was copied pretty much wholesale from Wizardry 1.

    • Premium User Badge

      c-Row says:

      That’s one of the advantages of pen&paper RPGs their digital counterparts rarely manage to recreate – no savegame, no safety net, no going back after your party failed, so you really start to care about your character and try to avoid his death at any costs. Unless you play Cthulhu, which should come with a tear-off notepad of character sheets…

  3. Creaturemagic says:

    I’m quite glad about the Space/Sci-Fi magazine :) Can’t Wait!

  4. mrwout says:

    Mmm nice link to the pretty bookplaces. Somehow, I really like pretty places full of books.

    • merseybeatnik says:

      I enjoyed the the beautiful book stores too and of course immediately imagined a FPS level based on one of those places. It would look amazing but be horrible to play due to constantly trying to avoid damaging all the lovely books while trying to get the head shots. I would not last long either as I probably rather die than use first editions as cover. Games may have partially desensitized me to images of civilian death as collateral, not sure I could bare to see the lovely books riddled with bullets though.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Next up in Obligatory Shocking Moment in FPSes:
      Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4—shootout in a maternity ward.
      Battlefield 4—flamethrower duel in Shakespeare & Company.

    • merseybeatnik says:

      ‘Oh…oh the literacy…’

    • John Brindle says:

      Makarov and his men step calmly into the packed auditorium of Shakespeare’s Globe. He turns to them briefly. “Remember – no sonnets.”

    • Premium User Badge

      Oozo says:

      I actually visited two of the mentioned bookstores last year… the one in Amsterdam, which was, as they said, full of surprises. But Livraia Lello in Porto just blew me away.
      (It wouldn’t make for the greatest FPS-map, though, what with the one choke point, the stairs, in the middle, and probably all people just taking aim at it from the corner with the kids’ books, or whatever…)

    • Tams80 says:

      The Beijing Bookworm bookshop is my favourite. Their other branches look great as well. The Suzhou one looks homely and the Chengdu one more café like.

      The Cafebreria El Pendulo also looks nice, but those plants must need water and water and books? Yes, yes, I know it’s possible.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I was under the impression that Film Noir has influenced quite a lot of adventure games, I never regarded it as under-used.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Obligatory comment about how excellent Discworld Noir is.

      Also Beneath a Steel Sky and Under a Killing Moon, doing the FPAdventure mostly-right-ish long before that Penumbra thingy.

      Full Throttle touches a lot of the same themes too.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      The real influence on most adventure games was Kafka’s The Trial.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Anachronox started out very film noir.

      Until the game went completely batshit crazy with superheroes and miniature planets.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Don’t know about Kafka influencing them but Tim Shafer sez that a book that inspired him was The Crying of Lot 49. Which makes more sense to me.

    • iisjreg says:

      Under a Killing Moon.

      Classic.

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      “The real influence on most adventure games was Kafka’s The Trial.”

      Advancing slowly, frustrating, and seemingly with no point?

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      Not funny if you explain the joke.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      It’s an especially bizarre comment when you consider the extremely high-profile (and successful?) L.A. Noire was released just last year.

      Leaving aside its many flaw, it certainly managed to dress up a pretty traditional adventure game, and it had a few nice innovations that it really didn’t get much credit for.

      Chief among them, and something that is underutilized, is its episodic structure. I don’t mean something like what Telltale does, but a singe game that divides itself into many discrete sections that can be played through in (relatively) short bursts and which offer more-or-less complete narratives. The only other games I can think of that have done that are Legend of Mana (on the PS1) and the Sly Cooper games (on the PS2). Where’s their article?

  6. Apples says:

    Creatures changed my life as a kid. I first played it while I was in primary school, despite the shop assistant telling my mum it would be ‘too complicated’ for me, and it was mindblowing to get into GCSE Biology class and realise that all this ADP/ATP stuff wasn’t just a game abstraction, it was what was really happening in living creatures. Like the author of that article, I would desperately wrap my Norns in cotton wool, keeping them in the safe garden and house, transporting food and toys to them so that they barely had to move, weeping with fear and calling my parents over for help whenever a Grendel got near.

    Worth mentioning that Steve Grand, the creator, is one of the few people working on ‘real’ A-Life (as opposed to just weak AI), has written several books which are fairly accessible to non-expert readers, and is working on an extrapolation of the Creatures concepts called ‘Grandroids’. Also do not buy on good faith the new Creatures-branded game that is being made, it is likely to be a dumbed-down virtual pet game.

    • Noodlemonk says:

      Every time I see Creatures mentioned somewhere I get fond memories of the amazing Commodore 64 jewel, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ3CeHrPzxk . I have no idea what this “new” one is though…

    • SiHy_ says:

      Hooray for Clyde Radcliffe!

    • DuddBudda says:

      I only had a demo of Creatures on a two CD collection of demos and shareware called something like ‘1000 games’

      It was the best looking game of all of them, but it had no read me, no tutorial and I had no idea what the ‘game’ was about

      Now I feel like I missed out on a great thing q.q

    • rclesham says:

      I read the article on it and thought “man I wish I’d played it” with some nagging sense of familiarity. Then my brother assured me that we had in fact owned it as kids. A quick image search later and it’s all come back. Not sure I ever realised how deep it was when I played it. Would like to try it again – there’s a listing on amazon marketplace for it…wonder if it would work on my laptop though…

    • Skabooga says:

      Ah, Creatures. Most of my exposure comes from the second and third installments. It was always so heartbreaking when you had a norn who was just a little too inquisitive, or adventurous, or plain stupid, and you just knew he was going to die, and you would do all you could to keep him out of harms way, but then after a momentary distraction, you get back and find him curled up on the ground and cold.

      That, and I learned through the injection machine just how potent the poisons cyanide and belladonna are.

    • Azeltir says:

      Creatures is fairly easy to find these days through the stellar Good Old Games.

  7. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    I have some energy this Sunday. Does anyone want to say one bad thing about Grim Fandango? Just one thing? Anyone?

    • LionsPhil says:

      Sure.

      The controls were godawful.

    • Apples says:

      Sometimes Manny would run into the lift above the Blue Casket even when you were nowhere bloody near it! That used to drive me mad! Also, ‘Tuesday is kitty hat day…’. You all know what I mean.

    • N'Al says:

      Controls more suited to a game controller. They should re-release the game on XBLA in lovely spruced up HD.

      That should do it, no?

    • LionsPhil says:

      Folly, folly I say! A demake down to beautiful hand-painted 2D, backported to ScummVM, is clearly what’s called for!

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      As good as it is as an adventure game, it is pretty horrible to play.

    • JackShandy says:

      Yup, they tried to do something immersive and cutting-edge, but they would’ve been better off in 2D with a classic point-n-click interface. And a proper inventory screen while they were at it, instead of that godawful coat.

    • MD says:

      Its female characters were underdeveloped and occasionally insulting.

    • Acorino says:

      >>As good as it is as a story, it is pretty horrible as an adventure game.

      There, fixed it for you. ;)

    • MD says:

      Its female characters were underdeveloped, and at times insulting.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jackablade says:

      I think that’s a side effect of the Film Noir trappings.

    • Apples says:

      Er, what? I’m a huge feminist and the first to point out things that might be offensive, but Grim Fandango is not one of those things. All the female characters had lives, jobs and relationships outside of interacting with men; they were not all the same passive, sexualised, posing stereotype; they were all at least partially sympathetic and likeable; they all had a personality. I guess it fails the Bechdel test, but since the whole story was from Manny’s perspective and about a woman, I’m finding it difficult to figure out where they could have placed a Bechdel-passing conversation that was relevant. There were certainly problematic characters and aspects present, but as a whole they were balanced out by their portrayal and by the existence of less problematic characters, and the whole thing did not come across to me in any way sexist.

      Or were you just trolling, I don’t even know

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Much of the story makes little sense? Manny is a salesman, yet the gold prize is having a guy just walk through his door to be handed a free ticket on the Number Nine. Manny is treated as being crap at his job, despite all the lost souls being assigned to the reapers nullifying any element of skill. Sales are initially based on how much money someone was buried with, which ties into the theme, but then becomes a question of morality as soon as Meche turns up, further killing the salesman angle. Hector is supposedly stealing tickets to sell, yet we subsequently find out that he’s selling counterfeit ones, and therefore has no reason whatsoever to do so – to the point that he still has four year old ones just sitting around the place by the time Manny defeats him. And of course, he has no particular reason to give a crap about Manny or for Manny to be bothered about him, leading to the need for a last minute plot barrier at the end of Year Three to get the two to face off. Manny has to work at the DOD, but absolutely nothing stops him just walking off to run a casino in Rubacava and even moving onto the Ninth Underworld… even though the blameless Meche herself is stopped at the end of her trip…

      …yeah. It’s a great, beautiful game, and Rubacava especially is an awesome location, but it’s kinda a mess as far as the main plotting goes.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      Any story with byzantine bureaucracy can get away it not making sense because all holes can be interpreted as the in-universe system not working, not the storytelling not working. It actually enforces the sense of being trapped, so such logic flaws as you describe actually make the game better. *cough*

      Also classic Noir plots like The Big Sleep make no sense either, so the game is just being even more awesomely true to its roots than normal when it makes no sense. *cough*

      So while I am being facetious, there is a serious point here: stories are experienced viscerally and emotionally. the details of the plot are secondary.

      The makers of The Big Sleep asked Chandler about the details of the plot. Chandler said ‘They sent me a wire … asking me, and dammit I didn’t know either”.

      Is there a point in Grim Fandango when you are not clear of the stakes, or emotionally involved in the task? Moment to moment i’d suggest there are very few times either of those is the case – a fair achievement in any story, and bloody amazing in a game. Possibly miraculous in an adventure game.

      Thus, in conclusion, if such logic-wobbles destroy your enjoyment of the game you are big smelly poopyhead. *cough*

    • JackShandy says:

      Ok, this I’ll fight for.

      There’s no skill to grabbing clients because Hector has rigged the game so that all the best clients go to his cronies, leaving the previously-successful Manny to languish. That was the point. You’ll notice the big shiny give-clients-to-salesmen machine in the basement is new.

      Hector was desperately hoarding all the tickets he could for himself instead of selling them because he reasoned that having a million tickets might get him through the gate despite his crimes. That might have been a very stupid idea, or it might have worked; no-one actually knows how the tickets work, so it’s impossible to tell.

      Manny and Hector had to face off because Hector had Meche’s ticket, and Manny had a suitcase full of stolen ones from Hector. Oh, and working for the DOD was a way for Manny earn a ticket through to the ninth underworld. No-one was forcing him to do it but it was the only way he could get through, due to lousy living.

      Here’s a good plot hole, though: You send the customer from the first cutscene out the door on foot, fiddle around a bit, drive to Rubacava by demonic hotrod and find him already keeping down a janitor job at the diner there.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “There’s no skill to grabbing clients because Hector has rigged the game so that all the best clients go to his cronies, leaving the previously-successful Manny to languish. That was the point. You’ll notice the big shiny give-clients-to-salesmen machine in the basement is new.”

      Even if it was installed the previous day, Manny’s still not so much a salesman as a guy who hands people the ticket they’re deemed worthy of, whatever it is. The system completely changes between the first guy and Meche walking into his office because being rewarded for living a good life makes more narrative sense. And if it is a question of money, the only valid reason not to spend every last cent you were ‘buried with’ on the best ticket you can afford is if the Eighth Underworld uses the same stuff as currency… in which case he’d be far better off looking for successful leads amongst the already dead.

      Really, the only way it works is for someone like Meche to arrive and find herself the equivalent of a millionaire heiress due to her good life, at which point Manny would be in a position to say “So, you could buy yourself a nice life here, but how about taking a cruise to Heaven instead?” But that’s not how the system works. As it is, a Number Nine winner is the worst possible client to enter through the door, because they’re not going to give him a damn thing for his trouble. He’s just printing off their ticket and wishing them a good day. It’s like someone manning a booth at Disneyland talking about getting a good lead because a season pass holder just showed up with his kids.

      Also, Manny’s boss goes absolutely ape-shit when Meche gets screwed out of her ticket. He’s not noticed that absolutely nobody seems to be getting one getting their rightful rewards? Fair enough, nobody sees the train take a dive, but Domino has to be giving them something, since everyone knows they’re his clients and he can’t just yoink the tickets. (And if it’s counterfeits he’s giving them instead, are they all being plunged into hell too? That seems rough.)

      “Hector was desperately hoarding all the tickets he could for himself instead of selling them because he reasoned that having a million tickets might get him through the gate despite his crimes. That might have been a very stupid idea, or it might have worked; no-one actually knows how the tickets work, so it’s impossible to tell.”

      He actively says “I’ll need all of these to get me out,” but there’s no reason whatsoever for anyone to assume it would have worked. Aside from anything else, with a huge empire, he doesn’t need the Number Nine – he can just pay for the trip. The train just gets you through the Eighth quickly, it’s not like it’s the only way to move on, and Hector owns the damn city by the end – he’s rich enough to be taken to the gate by chauffeur or luxury liner or probably some kind of airship if he decides he’s had enough of the place.

      Hoarding the tickets just doesn’t work on a metaphorical level either. It’s a train ticket. Tickets are one-per-person. The only reason he’s hanging onto them is that Meche needs to be able to get hers back at the end of the game, which wouldn’t be possible if someone had dived into hell with it after taking a trip on the Number Nine years earlier. And the only reason she even needs that after making the journey anyway is as an author’s saving throw for Manny to return to El Marrow. And there are other ways that could have been accomplished, especially after seeing the hell train.

      (Hell, for starters, it could have reversed who got blocked. Meche can go through, ticket or not, but she decides to wait while Manny redeems himself for skipping town by returning to Neuvo Marrow and stopping Hector. Done. And with Hector gone, the DOD goes back into its records, apologises to everyone who got screwed, and puts them on the first train out.)

      “Manny and Hector had to face off because Hector had Meche’s ticket, and Manny had a suitcase full of stolen ones from Hector. Oh, and working for the DOD gave Manny a chance to earn a ticket through the gate. It wasn’t enforced, but it was the only way he could get through, due to lousy living”

      Except that’s not how it works. He drops his job, and the gate’s quite happy to let him through anyway. It only stops Meche because she arrives without her ticket. At most, you could say that the DOD will eventually give him a leg-up on his trip when he’s done (or in fairness, that he doesn’t know that the universe doesn’t give a damn if he finishes his purgatory or not), but I got the feeling that he’d be heading off with a walking stick afterwards anyway.

      And Hector having Meche’s ticket just opens up more problems, in that the universe is now implicitly weighted against someone who it has actively recognised as worthy. That’s not a critical problem, mythology is obviously very dickish, but it’s still a fairly cheap way around the fact that Manny otherwise has no particular vested interest in what Hector’s up to any more.

    • Randomer says:

      You run all over the place clicking on things until you find the thing that advances the story. Then you run all over the place clicking on things until you find the next thing that advances the story. Then…

      Which was a shame. I enjoyed the story, but not the lengths the game made me go to to see it.

    • Acorino says:

      I can’t recommend this strongly enough:
      http://lparchive.org/Grim-Fandango-%28Video%29/
      It’s a Let’s Play of Grim Fandango without any commentary and much more entertaining than playing the game…

  8. NathanH says:

    My goodness, that article about RPGs and Fallout 3 is utterly horrible. The worst thing I’ve read online for some time. And I sometimes read fanfiction and foot-to-ball forums, not to mention arguments on here about the definition of an RPG. The amount of twaddle oozing from that article is shocking.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      Enh, I thought it was an interesting point. I don’t agree, really, but it’s nice to hear that there’s someone getting something out of voice acting and looking at a virtual man.

      What strikes me as the real problem in terms of attachment to my character is that I don’t really lose anything when my dude dies, except maybe the last five minutes of my time. Which is a much more difficult thing to counteract from a development perspective, because what can you do that won’t make people quit playing the first time they run into a Deathclaw? I mean, the original Fallout has no autosaves, and I can think of at least five separate times I’ve started a game, forgotten to save, been murdered, and quit to desktop out of frustration. I’m not saying that’s the game’s fault, necessarily, but it is a problem.

    • Mattrex says:

      I don’t think it’s that bad. I wouldn’t call it great, and the writing suffers from some obvious, classical errors in premise and judgement. The author is not terribly knowledgeable about his subject, for one, which leaves him taking one example (Fallout 3) and extrapolating it out onto an entire category of loosely-related confederates.

      However, he’s hitting on a kernel of truth in there, even if it’s articulated poorly and in bad faith. Games which provide for a completely player-designed protagonist do not elicit as much emotional investment in those protagonists as games which leave some degree of narrative or design control up to the creators of the game. You may be able to select dialogue options in Fallout 3 and Dragon Age, sure, but the character is still essentially a faceless cipher, completely interchangable with any other permutation of the protagonist archetype. These “player avatar” characters are essentially empty of emotions and devoid of personality, because they are intended to be empty vessels into which the player pours himself. They are designed to be transparent to the player. So who can be surprised when the player doesn’t “see” them?

      Whether you think this is a good or bad thing would depend on whether you prefer player avatar characters or predefined characters, I’d wager. There’s not much room for value judgements in that vein, since entertainment is fairly subjective. And there’s no reason why a person couldn’t find both of them entertaining for different reasons, at the same time.

    • Apples says:

      His writing is straight-up not very good, to begin with. Very clunky and a lot of simple sentences and short paragraphs that barely expand on the point made in them. He never comes to any conclusion, just skirting around wishy-washy things like “Could it be the use of first-person perspective? Perhaps.” (then goes on to point out why it probably isn’t) and “Is that a problem? Probably not.” Probably not? Oh, good thing you wasted everybody’s time in this article by talking about something that probably isn’t a problem, while titling the article “…the fundamental PROBLEM of sympathetic characters.”

      Also the actual content is tosh and he doesn’t sound like he’s taken a lit crit or film crit class ever. He might have but I can’t tell from his shallow analyses.

      edit: are these all by the same guy? I read his one about 5 games and what they mean to him, and none of them were ABOUT the game, just about how they provided escapism in various times of his life. Is that a love for games as a medium, or a love for being able to ignore real life? Bit creepy really, rather than meaningful or inspiring. All the games that mean the most to me mean things because of what the game made me feel, or what it tried to say, not because I’d had a bad day at school when I first played it. No wonder he has a problem with a game that makes him act as himself, rather than roleplay as someone else!

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      @Apples:

      Yeah, it’s not a particularly well-written bit of criticism, is it? Smacks of someone who’s only written essays for the grade.

      “Was Stalin a dictator? Possibly. But if he was a dictator, then we’re all dictators! Or maybe not. I mean, who knows? Am I done with this essay yet? I’m sleepy. Or am I? Perhaps.”

      You know?

    • onfim says:

      @Apples
      I find it really hard to believe that you entirely separate media from your in real life events. You haven’t ever had an album that you heard at just the right time and have it become the anthem for your at then life? What he is doing is a fairly common thing. He explains it pretty well in his last few paragraphs.

    • Archonsod says:

      “What strikes me as the real problem in terms of attachment to my character is that I don’t really lose anything when my dude dies, except maybe the last five minutes of my time.”

      That’s through choice though – there’s nothing preventing you simply refusing to load a save if that is what you want.

      I’d hesitate to call it a problem though. Since the character in these games is essentially just a blank avatar for the player even if you did incur permanent loss from death it makes little difference – the next character played is going to be identical (at least in terms of the narrative) as long as it’s the same player who is playing them. As a result there’s little sense in incurring any permanent changes on death – you’d simply be repeating the “go back to start” of early gaming which doesn’t really work well with RPG’s outside of Roguelikes.

    • Apples says:

      @onfim: …no, not really? Out of all the things I like, there’s probably only three that I associate with various times of my life, and only one strongly. Even if I tried to write about how those things affected or were affected by my life at the time, it would involve talking indepth about the themes of those things, what they told me about life – his are just “I played this game with my family so it makes me feel happy! I played AC2 with my wife and that made me think about family and that made me feel happy!”. It’s not the specific games (except Zelda maybe – he almost touches on something there but it’s not a very interesting or original something and he only mentions it in one sentence). He liked the games, but “really, I just liked being able to come home, slip onto the couch, and game next to my wife”. Which is nice and all, but it’s not about games. It could have been any game or film he liked at the time. The game didn’t mean anything to him, even though he liked it – just the circumstances of it and its release date.

      If I wrote about a film I loved as a young teen, I’d have to talk about how it captured the feelings of that time of my life, and how it spoke to me at that age, and what the themes were. It would be unavoidable because that’s why it meant something to me. Not just “I watched this with my friends and I liked my friends and therefore I liked watching the film.”

      I don’t understand his take on games at all, especially when he says things like “The stories given to us in games are not the same ones we remember.” Er, well, they’re the ones I remember! I guess we are different types of gamers but his blog is ABOUT THE STORIES OF GAMES, so if he doesn’t remember them, jesus christ…

    • JackShandy says:

      I think it’s generally a good idea, as a games critic, to assume that you are a boring person and no-one cares about your life.

    • Jumwa says:

      @JackShandy

      As a general rule I assume that in all instances, professional or otherwise.

      I assume people want to hear about my every evening spent quietly at home with my partner as much as I want to hear about their noisy little podlings.

    • qrter says:

      The author’s argument is very muddled, he has a hard time pinpointing what he has a problem with, and then why he thinks he has a problem with it. He sort of runs himself into then ground.

      His complaint has little to do with first person or third person, or voice acted dialogue options or not. It’s just the friction between playing an existing character or playing a player-created character.

      However much computer tech has advanced, it’s still very hard for a game to encompass every possible choice a player could make for his or her own character and create a coherent narrative. Hence the existing character, which takes away a chunck of player freedom in exchange for the ability to tell a much tighter story.

    • Selix says:

      @Apples
      I don’t see any part of the article in question where he refers to his circumstances of life influencing the quality of his experience of games, in the kind of anecdotal manner that you accuse him of. The only part where he refers to his own personality as a part of the experience is to describe the difference between being detached from oneself and immersed in the fiction, as opposed to being oneself and in turn not caring about the player character. This problem is directly antithetical to being focused too much on personal circumstances. No matter what stance you may take to the problem at large or the examples in question, it is a real and valid question of game design or of presenting the player as part of the game world. I think there’s no question that Planescape Torment, for example, creates a better identification with the character than, say, Oblivion, despite the fact that you can be “anyone” you want to be. I also always found Bioware’s protagonists including Shepard a little too stiff for the successful illusion of an imagined character. It’s not an easy problem to generalise (or perhaps it isn’t one depending on your priorities) but I don’t think the stern deniers have said the final word either, despite their easy answers.

      Of course, I also don’t think it’s a “great article”. But that wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Thirith says:

    Grim Fandango may just be the best written game I’ve ever played. (Yes, even better than Planescape Torment IMO.) It’s funny, smart, sad, exciting; it managed to be silly one moment and touching the next, or both at the same time. It evokes perhaps the most creative world ever in a game.

    Also, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, it’s the kind of work that is complete in itself. It doesn’t need any sequels or spin-offs. As much as I miss its world, I think that a follow-up (other than a very conservative remake, perhaps) could almost only take away from the original. And that sort of completeness is very rare in games.

    • Echo Black says:

      “Also, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, it’s the kind of work that is complete in itself. It doesn’t need any sequels or spin-offs.”

      You might be saddened to hear DC Comics seems to disagree, what with seven different prequel mini-series being announced for the Watchmen brand: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Before_Watchmen

      “Moore criticized the project, calling it “completely shameless”, and stated he was not interested in monetary compensation, but rather “What I want is for this not to happen.”[6]”

    • Acorino says:

      I absolutely agree.
      But it’s always such a sad farewell. You don’t want Manny and his friends to go, you don’t want it to end, but end it must.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jackablade says:

      So, how about them Watchmen prequels they’re currently writing, eh?

    • Premium User Badge

      Thirith says:

      @Echo Black: Oh, I’ve heard about the Watchmen prequels. I don’t buy into the moral dimension of the argument that others have brought up; for me it’s almost entirely an aesthetic issue. Watchmen, like Grim Fandango, is complete. Anything else will be tacked on unnecessarily to that near-perfect original. Even the best maraschino cherry is tacky if put on top of a perfectly shaped diamond.

      @Acorino: Grim Fandango is one of the handful of stories in any genre that still gets me sad when I think about the ending. (Just like HBO’s Six Feet Under, which now makes me think of Nate Fisher’s adventures in the afterlife. He’d make for a good skeletal protagonist.)

  10. Loopy says:

    I really enjoyed the article on game sound technology, design and history, and was not at all surprised to see the Thief series featuring so heavily in it. It is still the stand-out game series for me when it comes to exceptional sound design and atmosphere, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the first glimpses of the new one when it finally comes out of developer hiding. :)

    • LionsPhil says:

      It reminds me of an old, old PCG (or maybe PCF) Letters page entry from someone asking if they could download something to provide them with a virtual 3D add-on card (once upon a time, kids, 3D cards sat alongside existing graphics hardware) so they could play some new game that demanded one, and being semi-gently laughed down at the concept.

      We’re getting to the point where we could do with/probably have the power for a DOSBox-alike VM environment that does actually emulate late ’90s hardware accelleration so that retrograming can be done at the best quality you could get at the time. Having to lose out on features since then is just silly. (VirtualBox is great, but doesn’t like Win9X too much, and the 3D virtualization is mooostly passthrough so isn’t bug-for-bug compatable with ’90s 3D cards.)

    • InternetBatman says:

      I don’t know if you’ve seen it before, but this is a pretty interesting video of the evolution of PC audio.

    • John Brindle says:

      Wow, that Metro clip all by itself made me want to play the game.

      I wonder if games employ foley artists? It must be the coolest job in the world to work in a warehouse full of random objects and spend each day finding ways to combine them into sounds for films.

    • RakeShark says:

      I remember Republic Commando used foley artists. If I remember correctly, there’s even a video featurette in the game itself. It’s partially why Republic Commando is one of the very modern few Star Wars games that did not suck.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, the little “Making Of” featurette is quite cool. It also has the animators being mildly trained in doing TACTICAL OPERATOR positioning around doors, in their jeans and T-shirts.

  11. MaXimillion says:

    I thought the DLC article would be about stuff like the extra unlocks for stuff like DXHR and SR3, which you can indeed compare to cheat codes. But online passes and map packs? Hardly.

  12. Shazbut says:

    …”the Land of the Dead is part Mexican folklore and part film noir. Given how well Grim Fandango blends the latter with a traditional adventure game template makes it a wonder why this hasn’t been done more”

    It’s done all the time! It’s done too much!

    • Acorino says:

      Yeah, the guy has no fucking idea what he’s talking about. It had been done many times before, most prominently in the Tex Murphy games, which aren’t exactly obscure, but also in:

      Noir: A Shadowy Thriller
      Philip Marlowe: Private Eye
      Black Dahlia
      The Dame Was Loaded
      Jack Orlando
      .
      .
      .

      Maybe he meant “why hasn’t it been done more in recent times?”, but it doesn’t seem he like is versed in the history of the genre too much.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Man, I forgot “you’re all OVER the place, Orlando” in my earlier list.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      @Acorino:

      Well, to be fair to the guy, it’s not like the history of games is as accessible as the history of, say, films or books. Gaming as a medium – particularly PC gaming, where some crucial but less publicized games just outright refuse to work on modern OSes – has only really made a concerted effort to preserve its history in, what, the last five or six years? Before digital distribution and HD rereleases became viable, how many games older than Steam that weren’t constantly mentioned in game magazines were most people actually aware of? Very few companies treated their older products as anything but obsolete models of the New and Improved thing that was On Sale Now, you know? I mean, you had Blizzard, occasionally EA, occasionally Activision, whoever owns Zork, and a few others. Beyond that, you really only had eBay and the like, and you couldn’t search that for a game you didn’t know the name of. Prior to that, what was there, really? Sure, the grognards kept their memories alive, but until recently, it wasn’t easy for them to share their experiences with others or explain why Game X was important.

      That left a lot of people up shit creek, you know? Take me: I was born in 1987, and I only really got into games when I first played Super Mario Bros. 3 in, like, ’91 or ’92. I grew up in what most people who don’t visit RPG Codex on a regular basis would agree was the golden age of CRPGs (’94 to whenever Black Isle went bust), and I was too young to appreciate most of them on anything more than an abstract level. They were impossibly cool to me, but they were also kind of scary, because they had weird art that made me uncomfortable, my victory didn’t seem assured, and the amount of choice paralyzed me. Similar thing with adventure games and the like, including Grim Fandango.

      Obviously, I now crave those sorts of experiences, but ironically, current AAA games still try to satisfy the sort of person I was in 1995 or 1996. And I think that what contributes to that problem is that a lot of the younger devs in the business grew up similarly befuddled by those games when they first came out, but they never had the chance to easily (read: without being afraid of getting ripped off by an eBay scammer, and without having to do anything other than just grab the old games and start playing) go back and experience those old games and find they weren’t so tough until relatively recently. And GOG and Steam’s catalogs are by no means complete, so it’s not like there’s an easy way to remember every old game that ever came out until now. Which is a shame, because if these things had been treated as the pieces of art they are from the beginning, and officially curated as such, I honestly think the medium would be far ahead of where it is now.

      And that goes for writing about the medium too. Think of all the reviews of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow that called it a “God Of War clone” and “not Castlevania” when what they meant to say was that it didn’t hew to the successful template developed by Symphony Of The Night. Whatever you think of LOS (and there are plenty of valid arguments against it, like that it kind of wasn’t fun to play), you can’t argue that it’s “not Castlevania” when the first four or five Castlevania games were all about a dude moving through a linear series of stages and hitting monsters with a whip while using equipped items. If anything, God Of War was more of a “Castlevania game” in the traditional sense than SOTN. But SOTN was the first Castlevania game that the mass market embraced, and the inspiration for all the Castlevania games that came after it. If the older Castlevania games had been somehow kept in print the way SOTN has been, I bet a lot more reviewers would’ve called it “a failed attempt to go back to basics” or something. SOTN is by far the best game in the series, to be clear, and the I agree with the reviewers that the formula didn’t need to be regressed. But I still think it’s a shame that the game never got its due as a “real” Castlevania game because all the reviewers forgot about the older games.

      All that being said, er, you also listed just five games. That’s not exactly a lot. And of those, how many did it in a way worth remembering? You’ve got the Tex Murphy games, Discworld Noir, Private Eye (which apparently isn’t that great beyond its atmosphere), and… what? LA Noire, the “noir” game that’s actually just a police procedural, and isn’t even all that good at that? Nocturne, which is more horror than noir, and isn’t particularly good either way? What else really nailed it to the point that you could consider the genre overutilized in adventure games?

    • Shazbut says:

      @ffordesoon

      To address your last point, he mentioned 10 games if you include the entire Tex Murphy series. There’s also Discworld Noir, as you mention, and LA Noire is close enough to qualify in my book but even if you don’t think so, there’s still…off the top of my head…The Blackwell series (4 games), Gemini Rue, Blade Runner, The Goat In The Grey Fedora, Rise of The Dragon…just because some of them are set in the future doesn’t mean they’re not still film noir through and through.

      Don’t get me wrong, Grim is a masterpiece. So is Gemini Rue actually, in my opinion. But the continued reliance on film noir tropes and themes strikes me as a failure of the imagination.

  13. Grygus says:

    Thank you for the link to the Creatures article. I never played the game, but that is an excellent piece of writing.

    • sinister agent says:

      Seconded. I’ve a friend who still plays Creatures and was talking about it just recently, too. And she has a 3 year-old son now. I will have to ask what she makes of it.

  14. InternetBatman says:

    I really enjoyed the Sims 3 article. It’s nice to see a developer treat their job with a bit of levity.

  15. Rii says:

    mmm … books.

  16. InternetBatman says:

    Hey, this is probably the wrong place for this, but does anyone have experience updating from an AM2+ processor to an AM3 or 3+? I’ve fiddled around with my computer hardware a bit, but not with Bios and all that.

  17. terry says:

    I found it ironic that every single suggestion that Dan G made for future Sims expansion packs would actually be mechanically and emotionally more interesting than any EA have released to date. This focus on fantasy aspirational nonsense just further divorces the game from any semblance of the original intent and further into EA’s magic fairy playground where no-one dies and the worst thing that can happen is someone pees on the floor at your grandiose birthday party.

  18. sueyed says:

    “AAA is doing a terrible job, period. They are focusing their efforts on people who are not their customers. If they poured all that effort into pleasing their own customers – the people actually paying for their games – I think they would see a major difference in sales.”

    Oh yeaaah. Because we all know how keen the gamer of today is on quality.

    Just kidding. Shovelware does the job, why in the fuck would they bother trying to actually make a good game?

    Call of Duty. Battlefield. Generic Fantasy MMO #12434543984238.

    • DocSeuss says:

      Wait, are you saying Call of Duty and Battlefield are shovelware?

      ’cause I’d have to disagree. In fact, I’m replaying Modern Warfare 3 right now and am absolutely stunned at just how polished an experience it really is. Fantastic game.

      You might not like it, perhaps because of its overexposure, but shovelware it most certainly is not.

  19. Kaira- says:

    The article on Finnish game industry was an interesting read. It’s always interesting to see how foreigners see our country and industry.

  20. MadMatty says:

    Herp Derp- nothing more than speculative navle fondling this week- either a) old or b) too obvious.

    Cheers for the music link its fairly rocking- check out Glass Candy´s earlier hit single:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1rcdPCuWcI

    they also did a good cover of Kraftwerk´s Computer Love

    • Kadayi says:

      Awesome. Might have to hunt down that Glass Candy album.

    • MadMatty says:

      To be honest, the album with those two singles, is shite. – would be cheaper just to pick up the two good singles possibly-

      :0

      Edit: well, its ok, but not up to the same standard- not what i´d say was a solid album, only listened to it like twice. I keep playing Digital Versicolour tho, its ace

    • Kadayi says:

      Yeah I just previewed on Itunes. TBH I’m not that keen on the Kraftwerk cover either however I do like the digital Versicolour track.

  21. Skabooga says:

    I was about to complain about half the games included on the list for the museum exhibition, but then I realized the only chance I would have of not complaining is if I had made the list myself. And even then, it wouldn’t be guaranteed. I might check this out when it is in the area in a couple of years.

  22. Grey_Ghost says:

    Wow, so I wasn’t the only one who bought a retail copy of Spore who’s KEY was pirated already. Unfortunately for me it was bought as an early as a Christmas present, and past the return date. EA would do nothing to help me, except expecting me to pay extra for a new key. Even though I had all the proof in the world that I owned the retail box!

    They wouldn’t even invalidate the key that was stolen! Not that it would really matter, but I was pissed at the time. So I told EA they could to go to hell… I wonder if that account was banned.

    Since then I don’t pay any attention to the bullshit spouted by piraters. That is not to say I believed their nonsense excuses before, but I used to give them consideration.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      Uh, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but surely a bad experience with EA customer support would make you more inclined to listen to the arguments of pirates, not less?

    • Grey_Ghost says:

      No, they are both selfish & corrupt.

  23. Kenny says:

    JIM! ‘A Shallow History of EAX’ does not equal ‘The History of Game Audio’ :(

    • Veracity says:

      Further to that, while it certainly had some merits back when you couldn’t just expect software/CPU load to do its job for you (is there a MIDI parallel here somewhere?), I remember EAX mainly as a lot of pre-baked effects developers could drop into their games regardless of whether they were all that appropriate, making everything sound eerily similar and frequently not quite right.

    • Prime says:

      Seconded, Veracity. I remember turning it off as much as on. YMMV, definitely. In fact if you listen to the end of that Thief 3 piece he did, when he blackjacks the guard, that sound is not quite right either – it has the same thundering echo and reverb as the guard’s voice and footsteps. Horrible.

  24. 0rpheus says:

    This will probably vanish in the comments list, but just a heads up – Play SF magazine hit virtual shelves for the first time yesterday! :)