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Kollega
28-10-2011, 05:18 PM
For those of you who might not know, "retcon" is a term from comic book fandom, short for "retroactive continuity". It means the times when some event is later redefined in the manner of "Actually, it was not really that, but another thing". "Orwellian Retcon", as defined by TVTropes, is when authors go beyond that and alter the earlier work so that it's in line with the later one, named after what Whinston Smith was working on in the Ministry of Truth.

Many of you have played Portal, i think. And many of you should be familiar with how Valve have altered it's ending to segue into Portal 2 when it was close to release. That fits the classification for "Orwellian retcon", since it changes earlier material to fit with what comes later. Note that i'm not saying that it's somehow objectionable in and on itself, despite the connection to Orwell.

The potential for misuse seems all too high, however. For example, imagine the situation: you kill the main villain in Spess Mahreens: Medal of Duty, and the storyline is closed appropriately, but when the sequel is announced, the ending of the first game is altered via mandatory patch that makes the villain escape your grasp even after downing him to zero hitpoints.

On the other hand, imagine another situation: in an ongoing game series, you play as a unique-looking alien and don't see anyone else like him. Then, eventually, the authors decide that your character's species were all either killed or chased away by vicious enemies that are now coming for you, and a few new cutscenes are added to the previous parts where your character reflects on growing up in an orphanage and never seeing anyone like him. Do such moments mandate the addition of new plot details to the older installments?

All in all, i don't think the practice of retconning games is ever going to cease now that it's possible, but do you think it will bring more good or bad? Discuss!

Tikey
28-10-2011, 05:36 PM
Pedantic mode: Portal one "retcon" didn't change the ending, just expanded it a bit more. It's not exactly the same.

Now that's off the table. I don't think it's fair that relevant or established plot points can be changed. If I killed someone in the game i expect him to be dead on the sequel. I shouldn't have to play the game again to see what did the developer changed before playing the second.
Now I'm fine if we're talking about polishing things, maybe add some things that couldn't be put in the game because of time constrains or stuff like that. As long as no one changes a character into Hayden Christensen.

Kollega
28-10-2011, 05:50 PM
Pedantic mode: Portal one "retcon" didn't change the ending, just expanded it a bit more. It's not exactly the same.

Well, i understand that the change wasn't really that drastic, but it's still an example of the game being changed. Most likely it's the harbinger of bigger things to come.

Smashbox
28-10-2011, 05:53 PM
I'd like to mention one of the best-ever examples of retconning: Marathon Infinity's Blood Tides of Lh’owon campaign (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon_Infinity), which plays with multiple realities and consequences of your actions, both in realities canonical with Marathon, and realities that could not exist in that timeline.

It's ambiguous and open to interpretation - a great game story. More impressive, too, as all the story is conveyed through text on terminal screens found throughout the levels.

Giaddon
28-10-2011, 06:07 PM
What's this about changing Portal's ending?

vinraith
28-10-2011, 06:09 PM
What's this about changing Portal's ending?

Valve retconned you getting dragged back into the testing facility into the game, which (IMO) completely changes the tone of the ending (and also squelches all the more interesting possibilities for a sequel, but that's neither here nor there).

As to the topic, this shit is exactly why it's a bad thing that Steam doesn't let you roll back patches. This kind of thing simply can't happen (or at least, isn't a problem) if people have an option as to which version of a game they play.

Tikey
28-10-2011, 06:10 PM
Around the time of Portal 2's announcement Valve "patched" Portal, adding the radio frequencies AAR and also added a bit after the ending where Chell is carried away by a robot.

Edit: ninja'd by vinraith

Vandelay
28-10-2011, 06:17 PM
I'm with Tikey that it wasn't really a retcon. They just added a few more seconds onto the ending. They didn't go back at actually change any of the story to something that didn't fit in with what we had been previously told, they just showed you what happened immediately afterwards.

deano2099
28-10-2011, 06:21 PM
With the Portal ending, you can get the original ending by just closing your eyes at the point the original ending finished.

Portal 2 could have opened with that scene instead - it's not a big deal as it's just adding stuff. In fact I'd say that generally, if it's adding things in, I don't mind (caveat: that doesn't mean it can't go wrong by screwing up pacing or changing the tone of other things - see Vinraith's comments on Portal).

But I've never been a big continuity obsessive. If you can tell a better story by retcon'ing something then go for it.

Giaddon
28-10-2011, 06:26 PM
vinraith's point is valid: it changes the ending. It doesn't make a difference in the "story" of the franchise, but it does significantly change how you experience the ending of Portal 1. Interesting.

golden_worm
28-10-2011, 06:56 PM
http://i.somethingawful.com/u/garbageday/2011/Photoshop_Phriday/starwarschanges/frumpsnake_01.gif

westyfield
28-10-2011, 09:00 PM
(.gif removed because it was misaligned to golden_worm's post but still in sync and the effect was quite strange)

Oh goodness, that's incredible.

OT: I didn't mind the Portal retcon (or whatever it was), because it was only one scene. Adding in lots of scenes like the OP suggests would annoy me more, because I might not want to replay the entire game. With Portal it was only a few seconds that I could watch on Youtube, and if I couldn't it was only two-and-a-half hours of game to see the change. In a 40+ hour RPG it might annoy me more (depending on the quality of the RPG, of course).

Taidan
28-10-2011, 11:18 PM
"Digital Retcons" are an everyday reality of MMORPGS. It's not a bad thing by any means, as these game-worlds benefit the playerbase a lot more when they evolve and change, rather than remaining stagnant and theme-park-ish.

It can still be a little jarring though, when one of your favourite zones changes in a big way, or a character or quest you'd enjoyed dealing with a few times disappears into the ether, literally never to be played again.

Even if that particular issue is avoided, something as simple as an expansion that raises the level cap can suddenly render entire parts of a MMO "obsolete". Certain content that is designed to keep larger groups of players happy will usually be abandoned by the majority of players, making it nigh-impossible to play through certain areas in the way that they were originally intended to be played.

Usually in both cases, most players will be so damn bored of the content that they don't actually care, and are just happy to have new areas to play in. There is always a minority however, that clamour and beg on the forums for the developers to find a way to let them experience the "old game" that they enjoyed so much. (Usually, but not always, in vain.)

In terms of more traditional story retcons in gaming, Homeworld 2 annoyed the living f**k out of me. That's a sad tale for another topic, though. (Three Hyperspace Cores my arse.)

Kollega
29-10-2011, 08:11 AM
"Digital Retcons" are an everyday reality of MMORPGS. It's not a bad thing by any means, as these game-worlds benefit the playerbase a lot more when they evolve and change, rather than remaining stagnant and theme-park-ish.

I don't know about you, but to me retconning plot in the single-player game and retconning a quest in MMORPG seem like two different things. MMORPGs aren't really big on delivering a pre-written story: their biggest strength is player-driven content, not story quests. Losing a quest chain or location in the open world is objectionable, but i feel that retcons of games with strong story element is what we should seriously watch out for. Again, there are positive opportunities, but the potential for misuse seems all too high.

sabrage
29-10-2011, 10:31 AM
Poisonhttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d7/Poison_SF.png
and
Birdohttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/ce/Birdo2.jpg

'nuff said.

metalangel
29-10-2011, 10:40 AM
vinraith's point is valid: it changes the ending. It doesn't make a difference in the "story" of the franchise, but it does significantly change how you experience the ending of Portal 1. Interesting.

I haven't played Portal 2 but just reading about that makes me very angry!

Unaco
29-10-2011, 12:30 PM
Depends on the game, and the change. It's not necessarily a BAD thing... could see it, perhaps, being a GOOD thing. Most of the time it's going to be a GOOD thing I reckon (allowing the 'artists' who develop games to tell the story want to), although I can see it being a MEH thing aswell alot of the time... especially with RPGs, adding in new quests, or new ways to do quests etc. Every body is going to have played the game so differently that there is no definitive plot/story.

It isn't a new thing though... the ability for devs to do this through patches has been around for ages, probably as long as patches. There is the mandatory thing now. But, it HASN'T been abused in the way the OP says. There aren't any truly grievous examples, changing the Boss Fight of part I so he escapes or what have you. The biggest example is probably the Portal change, which was a genius move by Valve, I reckon... it barely changed the story (just added a few seconds), set up the sequel, and got everyone involved in their 3 or 4 year old game, playing it again and talking about it and anticipating the sequel.

Taidan
29-10-2011, 01:54 PM
I don't know about you, but to me retconning plot in the single-player game and retconning a quest in MMORPG seem like two different things. .... i feel that retcons of games with strong story element is what we should seriously watch out for.

That would entirely depend on the MMORPG in question, but the idea that MMORPGs don't tell good stories is one of those enduring myths of gaming that should have disappeared a long time ago.

Fumarole
29-10-2011, 05:45 PM
I blame Lucas. (http://redlettermedia.com/half-in-the-bag/the-people-vs-george-lucas-and-star-wars-discussion/)

Kollega
30-10-2011, 10:18 AM
That would entirely depend on the MMORPG in question, but the idea that MMORPGs don't tell good stories is one of those enduring myths of gaming that should have disappeared a long time ago.

Well, okay, perhaps i should've said it differently. Actually, scratch "perhaps" - i definitely should've said it differently. Better point would be that MMORPGs are inherently shared universes that are shaped and changed by developers and all the players, but singleplayer games are for one player only (d'oh) and thus shouldn't be retconned as readily.

And i still maintain that MMORPGs shouldn't tell pre-defined stories. Even if they can, it dosen't mean they should: i imagine that impact of killing the final boss might be undermined somewhat when you have a go at farming him for gear... again and again and again. It's much better for a MMORPG to tell emergent stories based on players' actions, like EVE Online does. But i feel that this is a discussion for another time and another place - if you feel we can proceed further, PM me.

soldant
30-10-2011, 11:20 AM
That would entirely depend on the MMORPG in question, but the idea that MMORPGs don't tell good stories is one of those enduring myths of gaming that should have disappeared a long time ago.
In general though they don't. I mean a single player game can be unique to a player and thus can have closure, but it doesn't make sense in a persistent world where every single player does the same thing but in the same game world as every other player. There can't be a million heroes of the Alliance all in a single world who all did exactly the same thing. It's a good thing that MMORPG plots are fairly nebulous. It also encourages player-driven stories. Look at EVE. Who cares if the game's got a plot or not, the player actions are far more entertaining.

deano2099
30-10-2011, 01:08 PM
There can't be a million heroes of the Alliance all in a single world who all did exactly the same thing.

Except in WoW, there are. And it works. A certain suspension of disbelief is required but it works. Yes, good stories come out of EVE but frankly, most players are playing a tiny, boring role in those stories. That's why it's more fun to read about than play. Letting everyone pretend to be the hero might make less sense but it's more fun.

And MMOs are a good example in relation to the original point because, EVE and the like aside, most of them do attempt to tell a story. WoW has actually got really bloody good at it now, and although I'm bound to get responses from a ton of people who last played it five years ago and are sure it's shit, the Cataclysm leveling content does story pretty damn well. At the expanse of exploration and world-building I think, but each area has its own arc that your quests build towards and they flow into each other.

But you can't play the original stories anymore. They're gone.

soldant
31-10-2011, 01:15 AM
Except in WoW, there are. And it works.
It's also very much downplayed. The storyline text exists pretty much only as something to go before an Accept button and to give you some sort of vague reason to kill 25 Kobolds or whatever. The story experience from an MMO compared to an SP game is very different, because without the story being downplayed at least somewhat the suspension of disbelief is a lot harder to achieve.

Taidan
31-10-2011, 09:08 AM
It's also very much downplayed. The storyline text exists pretty much only as something to go before an Accept button and to give you some sort of vague reason to kill 25 Kobolds or whatever. The story experience from an MMO compared to an SP game is very different, because without the story being downplayed at least somewhat the suspension of disbelief is a lot harder to achieve.

I think we're back to that "Urban Myth" thing I mentioned earlier.

The problem is that when it's downplayed, it's done so by the audience, not by the writers. A lot of people do skip the quest-text and just "get on with it". On the flipside, a lot of people actually bother to read the stuff and discover that there are some good stories being told there, regardless of whether or not you're interested. (Interestingly, originally in WoW you couldn't actually skip the quest-text, as in an attempt to get you to engage, the game forced you to wait for the text to slowly "write itself" across the window. They changed it to its current design after a couple of months in response to overwhelming demand.)


The storyline text exists pretty much only as something to go before an Accept button and to give you some sort of vague reason to kill 25 Kobolds or whatever.

You could apply that criticism to any game. And most Hollywood movies, while we're at it. The story exists as a mechanism to help drive the action. It doesn't automatically make the story itself good or bad.

Within World of Warcraft itself, as the example given, there are a lot of bad and uninteresting mini-stories. There are also a lot of quite good stories, some of which can cross multiple zones and last for weeks of gameplay. It's a big game, y'know? And as Deano said, Blizzard are getting better and better at doing this. (At least they were. I quit late last year, after finishing all of the Cataclysm "single player" content and the first tier of raids. No idea what state the game is in right now.)

On topic, one of my favourite questlines (http://www.wowwiki.com/The_Great_Masquerade_quest_chain) was completely taken out of the game a couple of years back, and I'll never be able to go back and play that again. Remember the really long one about the Black Dragons' infiltration of the Alliance, when in the course of your investigations you wind up freeing that guy from prison, escorting him through the streets of Stormwind to the castle, (while all the guards snap to attention and pay various complements) before getting involved in a big scrap? Gone. Deleted from existence. "Digitally Retconned".

Also, MMORPGs don't solely provide repetitive kill/collect X quests. That is also an urban myth. Still on WoW, the variety of gameplay that Blizzard have managed to get out of that engine is quite staggering.

Moving on to the future, Bioware are about to release "The Old Republic", which is taking the "Everquest-alike" framework and really pushing the storytelling element. I'm sure we've all seen the trailers. The storytelling looks as good as Knights of the Old Republic. The fact that it's an MMO doesn't appear to detract from that. That game is just as subject to "Digital Retconning" as any other online game.

soldant
31-10-2011, 10:44 AM
A lot of people do skip the quest-text and just "get on with it". On the flipside, a lot of people actually bother to read the stuff and discover that there are some good stories being told there, regardless of whether or not you're interested.
WoW does have more story in it than other MMOs but if a lot of people just skip the quest-text then I'd argue that it isn't particularly interesting and still takes a backseat to the game. The story is necessary for context, but it's still not as good as an SP game.


You could apply that criticism to any game. And most Hollywood movies, while we're at it. The story exists as a mechanism to help drive the action. It doesn't automatically make the story itself good or bad.
I could try to apply that criticism to any game but how far I'd get would depend on how good the story was. All stories in games are there ultimately to provide context for the gameplay like you said. A good integration between story and game results in a seamless experience where the two seem completely reliant on each other. Where you've got too much story and not enough game, you end up like these new-wave indie "art" games which have no gameplay beyond "move from A to B at incredibly slow pace." Where you go to the other way, you end up with a storyline that nobody bothers to read and skip it to get to the gameplay.


Also, MMORPGs don't solely provide repetitive kill/collect X quests. That is also an urban myth. Still on WoW, the variety of gameplay that Blizzard have managed to get out of that engine is quite staggering.
I know they don't, I did actually play WoW for a bit before I got tired of feeling like I had a 2nd job where I paid to turn up to work every day (I already had a job like that, it was called clinical practice!). But to be fair a large portion are "kill X to collect Y" style quests.

Kollega
31-10-2011, 12:27 PM
Moving on to the future, Bioware are about to release "The Old Republic", which is taking the "Everquest-alike" framework and really pushing the storytelling element. I'm sure we've all seen the trailers. The storytelling looks as good as Knights of the Old Republic. The fact that it's an MMO doesn't appear to detract from that. That game is just as subject to "Digital Retconning" as any other online game.

Well, okay. At first i wanted to play the "MMOs are persistent so the punch of the story is neccesarily blurrier" card, but seeing how The Old Republic really pushes it's story, it dosen't seem that this card is valid anymore.

And again, even if the story of WoW is not the strongest one, there's also the lore of the game, the background stuff which is just as important as the story, and from what i heard, just as subject to digitally-delivered "Orwellian retcons". I have really overlooked that, haven't i?

deano2099
31-10-2011, 12:42 PM
WoW does have more story in it than other MMOs but if a lot of people just skip the quest-text then I'd argue that it isn't particularly interesting and still takes a backseat to the game. The story is necessary for context, but it's still not as good as an SP game.
And 15% of people skip dialogue in Mass Effect 2


I know they don't, I did actually play WoW for a bit before I got tired of feeling like I had a 2nd job where I paid to turn up to work every day (I already had a job like that, it was called clinical practice!). But to be fair a large portion are "kill X to collect Y" style quests.

So like I said in my original post, you haven't played it recently then? As in, post-Cataclysm? In which case I'd respectfully suggest that you don't know what you're talking about. In that last expansion, Blizzard made great strides towards improving the story, and player engagement with the story, demonstrating that you *could* do it in an MMO. It's not just quest text anymore, there are in-engine cut-scenes, voice acting and so on. They've taken the "show, not tell" approach and there are very few quests left now that are "kill X to collect Y" ones. Now, many quests still actually boil down to that, but they're dressed up in story. Increasingly common are the "kill X then use object Z on the corpse" style quests - essentially the same thing mechanically, but you're more engaged with the story as you're actually *doing* something more than just killing and looting.

Taidan
31-10-2011, 04:50 PM
WoW does have more story in it than other MMOs but if a lot of people just skip the quest-text then I'd argue that it isn't particularly interesting and still takes a backseat to the game. The story is necessary for context, but it's still not as good as an SP game.

I could try to apply that criticism to any game but how far I'd get would depend on how good the story was. All stories in games are there ultimately to provide context for the gameplay like you said. A good integration between story and game results in a seamless experience where the two seem completely reliant on each other. Where you've got too much story and not enough game, you end up like these new-wave indie "art" games which have no gameplay beyond "move from A to B at incredibly slow pace." Where you go to the other way, you end up with a storyline that nobody bothers to read and skip it to get to the gameplay.

Pretty much what Deano said. The fact that some games such as WoW, the Mass Effect series and Portal (as well as many others in all likelihood) attract people who are too impatient to actually enjoy the story still does not invalidate the fact that there are good stories there, for those who care.


I know they don't, I did actually play WoW for a bit before I got tired of feeling like I had a 2nd job where I paid to turn up to work every day (I already had a job like that, it was called clinical practice!). But to be fair a large portion are "kill X to collect Y" style quests.

Hmmm. Something tells me that you're coming to this conversation with certain preconceptions and biases. That's what we in the know refer to as the "Fox News approach to Gaming Discussion". :p