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Wulf
16-11-2011, 11:15 PM
Does this matter to you?

Before you answer this though, let me try and explain the mess I have storming around in my head surrounding this, as I'm not sure whether I can do so eloquently, but I will try.

I'm going to use Skyrim as an example here, but I'll preface this by saying that Skyrim isn't a terrible game, it's actually good, it's quite fun, but it's also tremendously dull. And before there are any claims of not substantiating that, give me a chance to explain myself, because I'm sure that this will be all over the place, since this is something that's been bothering me for a long time. It's been a whisper in my mind that's been trying to find its own expression. And it's slowly taking shape.

I seek identity in a game.

I've played a few games lately, as I do play games. I like playing games. There are two in particular which I'd like to put up on a pedestal and direct people toward as instances of identity, they're not the usual suspects I harp on about because they're relatively new games. Those would be Gemini Rue and To the Moon. Indie games of little consequence, and I am certain that they'll largely be overlooked, and that's a shame.

When I play a game, one thing I hope for is that I'll be so immersed in the imagination of another person, that some sort of symbiosis will occur, without base manipulation, it'll affect the way I think, feel, or both. It'll have me look at things differently than I otherwise would, and it would challenge and task what I believe I know, even what I believe. This is so important, to me, it's the most important thing I think a game can do.

You can become immersed in a game in a way that films or books can't offer you, due to the heightened level of interaction. There's a level of interaction with other mediums, yes, but it's much more easy to become entranced by a world you can walk through, where you can direct your gaze, and choose whom or what you want to listen to. There is a potential in this that just isn't tapped often enough, and that's to take us out of our comfort zone and put us in a place where we'll experience elements that are entirely alien to us.

These elements may be in choices, consequences, the story, and/or the world surrounding us. It can be in some or all of these things, but the point ultimately is is that for a time your mind becomes reshaped to think in ways which are suited to these new experiences. And then, when you are given a choice relevant to that world, with consequences relevant to that world, you have to call upon what you know, what you feel, and how that world has changed your perceptions in order to make a decision. In this way, the game has branded you with its identity.

If you're just doing what you do in every other game, or you're calling upon past experiences to answer these questions, then the game doesn't have as much of its own identity as it could do. When I was in New Vegas, I thought of New Vegas. My mind and heart were weighed by the knowledge I had of that world and its people, I was immersed to a point where somehow New Vegas had left a part of itself in my mind. And the memories I had from that game, because of that, were potent.

I feel that a game should have a character, a personality, a mind and will of its own which may sometimes be contrary to your own, it should be charismatic, and it should be as talented as a brilliant hypnotist. It should be able to halfway convince you of many things, no matter how far outside your realm of experience they might be, and it has to show you itself. The game should show you itself as a person, it should have an identity.

You know Morrowind's identity, because you remember it.
You know New Vegas' identity, because you remember it.
You know To the Moon's identity, because you remember it.

But in Skyrim, you may go and rob people blind, or you may concoct potions, or create hats, but ultimately I feel that Skyrim, as a game, is a boring person. What I'm trying to say is that Skyrim is a typical person, average. Fun, sure. Reliable? Yeah. Good at what they do? No doubt about that in my mind. (Some of the dungeons showed ingenuity.) But boring. We know people like that, actual people, but we also know games like that, too.

The games I value most have been charismatic, enigmatic, and eccentric. Sometimes they haven't always been friendly, sometimes a friend, sometimes an enemy, sometimes we agree, and sometimes we disagree, and the interactions with a game in such a way matter. Or at the very least, said justly: They matter to me.

I'm going to remember Gemini Rue because it was a clever person of a game. There were a few moments where I found myself just shaking my head and muttering 'you magnificent bastards' at Wadjet Eye Games. Mostly because of how they'd tricked me, fooled me, hit me with philosophical conundrums, ethical dilemmas, and just fucked with my head. Brilliant stuff. Simply brilliant. And in this way, Gemini Rue was a person, sometimes perhaps a person I wanted to punch in the face, but a person nonetheless.

Now we get to why I think Skyrim is a boring person.

I'm sure that this will raise anger, but it's really not supposed to. It's just my opinion, and I'm sure that many of you think of me as just some loud mouthed idiot on the Internet already anyway. So don't let it bother you, okay? Right. This isn't about Skyrim's quality, this is about Skyrim as a person.

I'll warn now that what follows will be riddled with spoilers, so you may not want to read it, but you really won't understand my position until you do. Yet if you've played Skyrim for a few hours, you'll probably have found yourself at this point, or not, I cannot say. It revolves around Ulfric's axe. If you know what I mean there, you'll know whether to read on or not.

Ulfric's battle at Whiterun. For a moment there, I thought Bethesda had hit me with a real decision. I was amazed. ...could it be? Might I have to choose between the Companions or Ulfric? Oh, what a let down that was. See, what I'd wondered was if I sided with Ulfric, would it result in Whiterun in ruins, and would that create bad blood between myself and the Companions? Would I have to choose between that or living under elven 'supremacy?' Would I risk losing the home (and my actual property) that I'd come to love? Would Whiterun be destroyed?

Sadly, Skyrim is a boring person, so the only thing that happened was the leader of Whiterun being deposed. There was a new face, but ultimately Whiterun was the same. I was not forced to think differently, I was not forced to stew in my own indecision as I was presented with an impossible choice, because ultimately, it didn't matter which answer you chose. If a person poses to you a question and that question has a limited number of answers, then you wouldn't really be too impressed with them if both questions had the same answer, would you?

And that's the same all the way across Skyrim. I've never been forced to make a difficult choice, I've never been presented with something that is distinctly Skyrim. I've seen dragons, which I've seen before, I've seen vikings, which I've seen before, I've seen stuff from Morrowind, which I've seen before. But Skyrim has nothing about it which really makes it a person. It's the sort of person you don't notice at a party, the person with no aspirations or desires, not even a simple person, just one that's... dull. No personality, then. No identity.

And that's what bothers me about mainstream games. I want to see more games that have their own identity. I want a game to get inside my head like that, to the point where I'm so immersed that I feel like I'm talking with a charismatic person who halfway has me seeing their points of view, and their perceptions on things. I want games that can do that. That's what I long for. My favourite developers give me that, but I've never been quite able to explain why that was.

I think today, in a roundabout and clumsy way, I've managed it.

The opposition of identity is homogenisation, to have no identity, and that's safe. I know that if you have an identity, you risk offending someone, you risk 'being someone' whom others don't want you to be. You can't please everyone. But crowd pleasers are often boring people, they say what everyone wants to hear but they have no opinions of their own. They can't risk being their own person, or having their own voice, they're just the voice of everyone. Well, they want to be the voice of everyone, but no one can be.

If you try to be the voice of everyone, you're then the most generic, average elements of everyone, the poitns that everyone shares. And if you're that, then you're not of much interest because most people who are someone find these elements (sometimes of themselves) to be a bit boring anyway.

I feel that there are a lot of games currently trying to sell to as many people as possible, and thus in the process they're trying to be a voice to everyone, but in the process they lose their own voice. They lose their own identity. You can't know who they are because they don't know who they are. Sometimes they might try to have a little identity, but it feels schizophrenic, or like the person has multiple personality disorder, because they haven't settled on whomever it is they are.

And games can be like this, too.

I want developers to stop being afraid of low sales. I want them to give their games an identity. That's all I've ever asked for, and it's all I'll continue to ask for. I want to see that someone has poured passion and imagination into something, to make it distinctly theirs, to give it that sense of identity.

I feel that identity is important, possibly the most important thing. More important even than the ephemeral notion of fun. (I do believe fun is of grand importance, but that identity comes first.)

This, I suppose, is my gamer's philosophy.

What about you?

pakoito
16-11-2011, 11:29 PM
Tl;dr

_____

Wulf
16-11-2011, 11:31 PM
Disappointed but not surprised. :p

Heliocentric
16-11-2011, 11:46 PM
I don't own skyrim but I think i get your point, Some worlds make you want to understand them and soak into them, others couldn't give less of a damn and you know their is nothing more than you see on the surface.

Issue being most gamers look good and hard for hidden content because we are conditioned to expect secrets and in jokes, when a game has nothing more beyond the obvious, no real choices, no ability to meaningfully have a footprint on the world? Its disappointing because you see the wasted potential.

Keep
17-11-2011, 03:38 AM
I think I'd pick up what you're throwing down, sure.

It's like conversation - the guy who's conscious about not offending you is dull. The guy who doesn't care about that but just dives in to expressing his own hobby horse, even if he's a dick, is at least entertaining.

Alright.

But how do you make sense of games having a personality/identity? How can you cash out that idea?

sockeatsock
17-11-2011, 05:58 AM
I'm inclined to agree Wulf.

Funnily enough it's this that draws me towards linear games. Sandbox games are often bland, homogeneous affairs.

Metro 2033, The Void, Darksiders and Devil May Cry 4 all have well a strong sense of place. I want to go and 'explore'. These games are all linear, but as long as I want to 'explore' down the path the game has set then I'm in for a hell of a ride. I'm yet to play Skyrim, but my time with Oblivion was forgettable. Although attractive the environments lacked any personality.

In all honesty, I don't think the industry has become any worse of late. There are still plenty of interesting games being made. It's just the high profile games like Skyrim and COD that are so derivative yet get so much of the attention.

Saints Row 3 seems to have some personality... there not all bad!

Nalano
17-11-2011, 06:46 AM
Saints Row 3 seems to have some personality... there not all bad!

So awesome.

JackShandy
17-11-2011, 07:38 AM
Hm. Well, I read through your long set-up, then found a spoiler warning right before the bit where you said you'd explain why Skyrim was boring. So, I can't really actually go against any of your arguments , because I don't know what they were.

Skimming past the first sentence, it seems like they were to do with the main plot - which, honestly, what does that have to do with Skyrim's personality? Skyrim is about the world. If you weren't talking about that at all, then don't worry.

The only thing I can say certainly is that, to me, Skyrim has a wonderful personality. It's the Arctic, Scandinavia, Russia, Mt Everest, bits of Wales, and every cold place in the world exaggerated to fantasy and rolled into the one world perfectly. There hasn't actually been a game like that before. I'm certain there's been a book, movie or play like that, but I've never personally seen one. Either way, it certainly has it's own thing going on.

Nalano
17-11-2011, 07:47 AM
If you weren't talking about that at all, then don't worry.

He wasn't talking about that at all.

JackShandy
17-11-2011, 10:06 AM
Then don't worry.

Rii
17-11-2011, 11:03 AM
The only thing I can say certainly is that, to me, Skyrim has a wonderful personality. It's the Arctic, Scandinavia, Russia, Mt Everest, bits of Wales, and every cold place in the world exaggerated to fantasy and rolled into the one world perfectly.

Fuck sake, this is the first thing I've read that's made me want to play it.

QuantaCat
17-11-2011, 11:31 AM
Quick! Someone make a king arthur game in Skyrim!

c-Row
17-11-2011, 12:53 PM
Quick! Someone make a king arthur game in Skyrim!

Quick! Someone make a roleplaying game in Skyrim!

</wizardry>

gundrea
17-11-2011, 01:09 PM
I seek identity in a game.


You summed up your point so eloquently in this line that the rest of your post was unnecessary. I will mercifully skip your off-hand insults and attack your point.

You value the uniqueness of a gaming experience without understanding that every experience is unique. You look for game worlds that are fantastic without realising that every world is a fantasy. You are a skimmer, running your fingers across a game to sample its surface without delving into its depths. An admirable philosophy, if all you seek is pretty colours.

I am a mechanic, interested in the components that make up an experience. How does the weather set the mood. Do these carvings hint at the lore of a living world or are they an allusion to a later plot point. How does this level contrast with the theme of the game. All these little pieces to analyse and explore. Again an admirable philosophy, if all you seek is moving parts.

Nalano
17-11-2011, 01:18 PM
I will mercifully skip your off-hand insults and add my own.

Fixed your post.

gundrea
17-11-2011, 01:24 PM
Fixed your post.

That was the point.

Okami
17-11-2011, 01:29 PM
While I have to agree with Wulf on some of the points he made regarding Skyrim, I don't quite see how Morrowind was any different in regards to them. Nothing you did in any of the quests had any consequences at all - or to be more precise: the consequences of your actions were not displayed by the game. In Morrowind, like in Skyrim, the game gives you the ability to do things that do have wide and far reaching consequences. Or should have them. It's easy to imagine that a lot of the stuff the game let's you do (or even makes you do) have a real and lasting impact on the game world. The game just fails to display them to the player. Neither in terms of gameplay changes, nor in incidental detail nor in conversations with the local population.

What I don't agree with him on, is his general assumption. Skyrim has identity, much more than Oblivion had. And you could argue that it has a stronger identity then New Vegas, though this is a purely subjective matter. I've put dozens of hours into NV and really enjoyed myself for most of that time. But while the dialogue is better written and better designed then in Bethesda's games and there are more quests that are better designed and give you more options of solving them (within the rather limited constraints the game design offers), this doesn't necessarily mean that the game has a stronger identity. There are a lot of different themes and moods in there and they don't always blend together to create a whole. And for all the well written text in NV, it's just that: text. A lot of the atmosphere in that game comes from things the game tells you, not from what it shows you. The locations in themselves seldomly manage to tell you stories, you always need someone to explain to you, what you're experiencing at the moment.

Skyrim's forts, caves, mines and strongholds have little to offer outside of combat. They're the classical old school D&D dungeon crawl dungeons. You go in there, kill all the guys in there, collect all the loot and then move out. But that doesn't mean they don't tell stories. It's just not stories about you (well except the one story where you come along, murder anyone and then steal all their stuff). But every bandit hideout is a little different. There's the one, where you find a door at the end of the dungeon and if you walk through it, you find yourseld at the bottom of a spiked pit. Bodies are impaled on the spikes. So their tactic was to rob travelers who fell down their trap.

You will encounter dead bodies of treasure hunters in dungeons and the deeper you get, the more gruesome the scens of their killings will get. And if you follow one side path you'll find the body of another one of them, this one with a strange arrow you've never encountered before sticking out of it. And some time further down the dungeon you'll first encounter the creature that used that arrow and the deeper down you get, the more signs of these creatures you will encounter.

How is that game not dripping with identity?

I could make the same case Wulf makes against Skyrim and in favor of New Vegas the other way round. Because for all the different characters in New Vegas, with all their dialogue options, I struggle really hard to remember any one of them. Too many of them fall within comfortable archetypes, too many of the supposed twists in their story lines have been too well tread before. If not in their specific narrative, then in their underlying structure. Too much of New Vegas relies on endless walls of texts, that have little to do with the visuals around them.

I'm not saying that NV (or Morrowind) have more or less identity then Skyrim. They just have different ones, expressed by very different techniques and means.

Nalano
17-11-2011, 01:49 PM
That was the point.

Then you're not doing your argument any favors. Point being, not only are you being disingenuous by reducing his point to "I like spectacle, therefore everything must be as shallow as Hollywood blockbusters," but that shoe can quite easily be put in the other foot.

Simply put, mechanics are a means to an end, not an end in itself. You can craft nice setpieces, but you need to do a lot of writing and puppetry to make them alive. To use a non-spoilery example for Skyrim, every tavern in every town gives you bounty quests to go clear out local bandits. In each of these places - which are nice places visually - all bandits are named "bandit," they all have the same three stock phrases (and if they say anything else, they're really only signposting that there's a mechanic nearby to exploit), the quest is a simple kill quest, and you basically just farm loot and experience. Thing is, after you finish out the side-quests of, say, Whiterun, you look at your game statistics and realize you just killed three hundred people to defend a town of less than one hundred.

That's not simply highway banditry. That's an insurrection. That's a popular revolt. You've just murdered the majority of the region. You're a genocidal maniac, and the Jarl you've been working under is a horrible tyrant. But never is that acknowledged in the game, nor can you ever parley with these bandits to understand why there are so many of them and so little in the way of enforcement. This is an Endor Holocaust-level oversight, yet mechanics-wise, there's absolutely nothing wrong here.


You will encounter dead bodies of treasure hunters in dungeons and the deeper you get, the more gruesome the scens of their killings will get. And if you follow one side path you'll find the body of another one of them, this one with a strange arrow you've never encountered before sticking out of it. And some time further down the dungeon you'll first encounter the creature that used that arrow and the deeper down you get, the more signs of these creatures you will encounter.

The problem is that's every dungeon. Hell, that trope's been used so much that in Dungeon Keeper-type games and the Dungeon series of comic books by Trondheim, the "dead adventurer decor" has a lampshade hung on it and is deconstructed as a trope.

At this point it represents lazy writing, because it basically describes an unrealistic world - or more accurately, the "fantasy universe" is a world that is not recognizable by how humans react. I'm speaking, of course, of the idea that there are an entire class of people whose lives involve wandering and getting themselves killed. "Adventurer" becomes the primary occupation in these worlds, despite the fact that the vast majority of them get killed and such a system is untenable by any stretch of the imagination.

gundrea
17-11-2011, 01:56 PM
Then you're not doing your argument any favors. Point being, not only are you being disingenuous by reducing his point to "I like spectacle, therefore everything must be as shallow as Hollywood blockbusters," but that shoe can quite easily be put in the other foot.

Simply put, mechanics are a means to an end, not an end in itself. You can craft nice setpieces, but you need to do a lot of writing and puppetry to make them alive. To use a non-spoilery example for Skyrim, every tavern in every town gives you bounty quests to go clear out local bandits. In each of these places - which are nice places visually - all bandits are named "bandit," the quest is a simple kill quest, and you basically just farm loot and experience. Thing is, after you finish out the side-quests of, say, Whiterun, you look at your game statistics and realize you just killed three hundred people to defend a town of less than one hundred.

That's not simply highway banditry. That's an insurrection. That's a popular revolt. You've just murdered the majority of the region. You're a genocidal maniac, and the Jarl you've been working under is a horrible tyrant. But never is that acknowledged in the game, nor can you ever parley with these bandits to understand why there are so many of them and so little in the way of enforcement. This is an Endor Holocaust-level oversight, yet mechanics-wise, there's absolutely nothing wrong here.

Wait, what?

I was attacking Wulf's opinion and contrasting it with my own interest in how constituent components of a game contribute to its atmosphere while reflecting that for all my dismissiveness my search for identity was probably no better.

Where did all these bandits come from and what have you done with my hat you miscreant.

kyrieee
17-11-2011, 02:11 PM
Hm. Well, I read through your long set-up, then found a spoiler warning right before the bit where you said you'd explain why Skyrim was boring. So, I can't really actually go against any of your arguments , because I don't know what they were.

Skimming past the first sentence, it seems like they were to do with the main plot - which, honestly, what does that have to do with Skyrim's personality? Skyrim is about the world. If you weren't talking about that at all, then don't worry.

The only thing I can say certainly is that, to me, Skyrim has a wonderful personality. It's the Arctic, Scandinavia, Russia, Mt Everest, bits of Wales, and every cold place in the world exaggerated to fantasy and rolled into the one world perfectly. There hasn't actually been a game like that before. I'm certain there's been a book, movie or play like that, but I've never personally seen one. Either way, it certainly has it's own thing going on.

But there's more to the game than just the landscape and the forests, there are people too and I agree that they don't have much personality. Skyrim is a cold place, yet the people don't reflect that. They aren't cold, they don't wear winter clothes, they don't care if there's a blizzard outside. Look at Dune, which is set in a similarly extreme climate, and see how much the identity of the people, their settlements and their technology is shaped by the climate. In Skyrim it's inconsequential, the setting matters about as much as how a board (for a board game) is painted.

I didn't read all of Wulf's post because of spoilers but unlike him I didn't get immersed in New Vegas, although I probably never got to the really good parts. I've made my own peace with Skyrim though. On a podcast I heard someone praise a certain quest line in the game, one that I found terribly written. I realized that when he played it he filled in all the blanks with his imagination and I think that's what you have to do to enjoy a lot of the content in Skyrim. The characters you meet aren't fleshed out, the quests you go on aren't epic, you have to bring something to them yourself, like pen & paper RPGs. That's why it's not for me, I can't get immersed in it.

Okami
17-11-2011, 02:36 PM
The problem is that's every dungeon. Hell, that trope's been used so much that in Dungeon Keeper-type games and the Dungeon series of comic books by Trondheim, the "dead adventurer decor" has a lampshade hung on it and is deconstructed as a trope.

Fair enough. I'll try to save my argument by pointing out that identity doesn't mean the same thing as originality.

Okami
17-11-2011, 02:43 PM
I realized that when he played it he filled in all the blanks with his imagination and I think that's what you have to do to enjoy a lot of the content in Skyrim. The characters you meet aren't fleshed out, the quests you go on aren't epic, you have to bring something to them yourself, like pen & paper RPGs. That's why it's not for me, I can't get immersed in it.

Acutally that's something that I realized at some point during the last few days: I'm filling in a lot of blank spots. Which is what I did in Morrowind as well, by the way. It's funny though, how in Morrowind I didn't mind it as much. Probably because of the difference in visual quality. A lot of the stuff in Morrowind was already abstracted, NPCs only had two idle animations and spent most of their lives rooted to the spot, so you automatically started filling in blanks. Since Skyrim abstracts less then Morrowind, you tend to notice the blanks a lot more. Uncanney valley stuff, I guess.

And funny that you should mention Pen&Paper RPGs, because I was reminded of them as well, while playing. I spent many a year playing them, so I'm quite ready to fill in the blanks.

Wizlah
17-11-2011, 02:52 PM
I agree with the basic concept. distinctive, well-crafted worlds for your games to take place in are a good thing. Atmosphere is often horrendously neglected - case in point for me is Baldur's Gate 1, which took ages to get into because it was just the somewhat tedious forgotten realms world. After a while of sticking it out, I managed it, because the game itself is quite compelling. Again, I couldn't tell you why exactly the world of STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl works, but it had me sucked in within an hour, and the zone is a clearly defined place in my memory now, somewhere I often yearn to return to (but don't have time).

But Wulf, I believe you are substituting own personal opinions about Morrowind, Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim for an actual critical framework of what does or doesn't help define those senses of place. I've only played one out of the three, and I agree Morrowind's mythology, landscapes and concepts are all very well realised, and in some cases, stunningly visually unique. But I can't help but think of Quinns review of Fallout: New Vegas - a reviewer who hungered after the individual and unique felt that NV was more of the same, that the setting did not paper over the almost inevitable problems - the game engine didn't do justice to the characters, and the characters themselves were instantly forgettable to him. For me, the key to that review was at the end, when he said that if you wanted more Fallout, then FO:NV was the thing for you. Clearly, the place that so resonated with you singularly failed to do so with him - so to some degree, the sense of place did fail, and although you felt the writing and quests were solid, they weren't good enough for someone else, someone more than happy to sample the strange and distinctive.

So, setting aside the individual exampes you raise, can you suggest anything which helps better define a visually unique coherent identity? Nalano mentions that endless nameless bandit fetch quests cause a problem if the procedural content doesn't help to make them more individual, and I would agree that poorly thought out procedural content which doesn't reflect production values elsewhere do contribute to breaking that sense of place. Endless shoot and fetch quests with competing gangs in Saints Row 2 would work fine for me in that game (although its telling that Violition didn't really go down that route - all the quests were scripted to some degree - the sandboxy stuff was often just hold-ups, hostage taking and the like), but then Stilwater is a facsimile of a big metropolis, so it's not exactly game breaking.

I do think sockeatsock's point is a good one - although a sense of place helps the big exploring sandboxy games fine, they can get by without. But if it's not carefully crafted for your scripted manshoots, they're no fun - Half-Life 2 and Bioshock too other AAA classic examples.

I think it's good to cast the question wider as well. Think how well or badly it works when realising a strategic game. Vinraith points time and again to the unique nature of Sword of the Stars, and how much the mechanic of the starmap contributes to the character of the game. I've not played the King Arthur Role-Playing wargame, but I've always thought that it looks like it might be a good example of a strategy game which makes the familiar (post-Roman britain) more compelling. Paradox work their socks off to make the history of their various games come alive, and again I would argue this is much the same thing - you're not just strategising in japan or the middle-east - you're recognisably involved in the game's version of that piece of geography and history.

One final point, specifically aimed at Wulf. I've a background in genre publishing, and still do freelance work on fantasy and SF now. And here's a blunt and simple fact. The vast majority of genre stuff is desperately similar. An individual writer might raise characters or their specific storyline above the average, but most of the settings are just the same as each other with minor points tweaked. genuinely unique breathtaking fantasy and SF is a lot harder to achieve then you might think, and that's in a business (publishing) which produces far more books a year than the games industry is ever going to manage. You can argue that they're all just chasing the same audience, but I've seen more than my fair share of slushpiles and rejected manuscripts sent by agents - there's only so much really good original stuff out there. Claiming that the AAA companies of this world are strangling creativity by chasing a very mainstream generic audience might be true, but truthfully, all the creativity going is not going to create that much more fresh, different and evocative games.

JackShandy
17-11-2011, 03:14 PM
They aren't cold, they don't wear winter clothes, they don't care if there's a blizzard outside. Look at Dune, which is set in a similarly extreme climate, and see how much the identity of the people, their settlements and their technology is shaped by the climate. In Skyrim it's inconsequential, the setting matters about as much as how a board (for a board game) is painted.


I think you're being a bit harsh. For a start, the people in Skyrim interact with the environment more than any game I've actually seen (Barring, let's say, dwarf fortress and co). They hunt for food, buy it, make weapons and armour, chop wood, sing songs, everyone's earning a living in some way.

I can't actually remember how warm the clothes people wear are - I'll assume you're right and they don't cover up enough. That's a shame. But complaining that they don't react to the weather is a bit much. You just can't simulate everything in a game. So yeah, you've got to let your imagination paper the cracks a bit, I guess.

Vexing Vision
17-11-2011, 04:05 PM
Keep in mind that Nords have a natural resistance vs Frost of 50%. For them, fur-bras actually make sense. :D

Nalano
17-11-2011, 06:08 PM
Wait, what?

I was attacking Wulf's opinion and contrasting it with my own interest in how constituent components of a game contribute to its atmosphere while reflecting that for all my dismissiveness my search for identity was probably no better.

Where did all these bandits come from and what have you done with my hat you miscreant.

Ah, in that case, carry on. :p


And funny that you should mention Pen&Paper RPGs, because I was reminded of them as well, while playing. I spent many a year playing them, so I'm quite ready to fill in the blanks.

That's kinda the crux of the issue, in my opinion. In a computer game, the game provides not only the ruleset and mechanics, but also the scenario and characterization - ie: everything the DM would do in a P&P campaign. The gameplay in P&P then becomes the DM's and players' collaboration on just that sort of "filling in the blanks" bit.

Computer games can't do that unless they're multiplayer sandbox games (not to be confused with multiplayer theme park games like most MMOs), and while for years I've loved me some MUDs and Forum RP and those little chat programs people made that had maps and die rolls integrated, as they provided opportunity for me to "fill in the blanks" in a meaningful way, that's not really something that can be accurately reproduced in single player RPGs: You always lose something, as the world must in a number of important ways be static.

Berzee
17-11-2011, 08:34 PM
I feel that there are a lot of games currently trying to sell to as many people as possible, and thus in the process they're trying to be a voice to everyone, but in the process they lose their own voice.Just so! A better alternative than trying to put a bit of every voice into a world, is to put every bit of one voice in. Identity very often comes from incidental details -- from things you thought were important enough to include, which nobody else would have considered worth a passing thought...until they saw what you did with it. It has me thinking of (what else?) a G.K. Chesterton quote:


Shakespeare, being interested in everything, put everything into a play. If he had lately been thinking about the irony and even contradiction confronting us in self-preservation and suicide, he put it all into Hamlet. If he was annoyed by some passing boom in theatrical babies he put that into Hamlet too. He would put anything into Hamlet which he really thought was true, from his favourite nursery ballads to his personal (and perhaps unfashionable) conviction of the Catholic purgatory. There is no fact that strikes one, I think, about Shakespeare, except the fact of how dramatic he could be, so much as the fact of how undramatic he could be.
....
This is not a freedom to think what one likes (which is absurd, for one can only think what one thinks); it is a freedom to think about what one likes, which is quite a different thing and the spring of all thought. Shakespeare (in a weak moment, I think) said that all the world is a stage. But Shakespeare acted on the much finer principle that a stage is all the world.

cjlr
18-11-2011, 01:31 AM
No one thinks of you as loud mouthed, Wulf. Nobody that verbose could ever be loudmouthed - they'd lose their voice!

The problem is in defining identity. This seems likely to be very subjective; hence the fertile ground for no small disagreement. So it's worth asking: how do you (Wulf or anybody) define that identity? In the plainest sense everything has identity - because it exists. There it is. I am a pedant so I shall consult a dictionary: "the condition of being itself and not another" seems the most relevant definition. And there we actually see a useful qualifier. Being ... not another. Some degree of distinction, individuality, personality, originality (yes that word is appropriate, thanks), or what have you.

Wulf thinks New Vegas is miles apart from Fallout 3. Okami says that to him (?) they were pretty close together. Quinns sure thought they were a lot of the same. That's clearly a matter of opinion, but what are the factors being taken into consideration? We all agree that there are similarities and differences between the games. Clearly we just weight different factors differently. And so, identity being a given, the distinctiveness of that identity is a matter of subjectivity. Which is what I said to begin with.

I wouldn't consider gaming any better or worse than any other medium, and I wouldn't consider the state of media in general to be any better or worse than it's ever been.

I'd love to stay and talk (I could say a lot more if I tried - and clarify the muddle I dashed off above) but it's getting on evening here and I've got pubs to hit. Pubs! To be continued...

Nalano
18-11-2011, 01:36 AM
Quinns sure thought they were a lot of the same.

Quinns got a loooooot of flak for that article.

archonsod
18-11-2011, 03:13 AM
At this point it represents lazy writing, because it basically describes an unrealistic world - or more accurately, the "fantasy universe" is a world that is not recognizable by how humans react.

Erm yes. That would be indicated by use of the word "fantasy" rather than "realistic".


Just so! A better alternative than trying to put a bit of every voice into a world, is to put every bit of one voice in.

It's not. Or rather it's a different thing altogether (a more traditional heroic saga RPG like The Witcher perhaps). The problem with Wulf's argument is that he's basically saying he's the kind of guy TES isn't supposed to appeal to in the first place. TES is ultimately intended to be a sandbox, hence why you can't affect the world - their core fan base would much rather be playing a game where you can do anything and everything at any point rather than being restricted because of what you've done previously. In order to meet that requirement, you have to compromise on the extent to which you show or allow player consequence.

Nalano
18-11-2011, 05:09 AM
Erm yes. That would be indicated by use of the word "fantasy" rather than "realistic".

But that's just the thing! Humans should act like humans! Everything else is open to whatever.

archonsod
18-11-2011, 06:39 AM
The more you have things acting like they should do, the further you go from fantasy and into "cod-medieval with pointy eared people" territory.

Nalano
18-11-2011, 08:55 AM
The more you have things acting like they should do, the further you go from fantasy and into "cod-medieval with pointy eared people" territory.

Because people act like they should do in CoD?

Hell, there's a trope for all this, called the Second Order Idiot Plot.

Quite frankly, the most rational action in traditional fantasy universes isn't dungeon spelunking, but setting up shop (http://store.steampowered.com/app/70400) right outside the dungeons, selling wooden swords and lengths of rope at extortionate prices, and buying priceless artifacts (in case anybody actually survives long enough to use your equipment - which means that returns and complaints will also be rare, so don't worry about the quality of your merchandise) for pennies on the dollar.

QuantaCat
18-11-2011, 11:09 AM
Keep in mind that Nords have a natural resistance vs Frost of 50%. For them, fur-bras actually make sense. :D

I dont know why, but this post means immediate love from me.

Berzee
18-11-2011, 02:55 PM
TES is ultimately intended to be a sandbox, hence why you can't affect the world - their core fan base would much rather be playing a game where you can do anything and everything at any point rather than being restricted because of what you've done previously.

I don't mean a game that only focuses on one type of target audience or only lets one voice within the game be heard. I mean that you can have a sandbox game but the design and the feeling of that particular sandbox can be obviously created with a distinctive and recognizable personality (and I think Skyrim does a moderately good job of it, actually).

On a smaller scale, I'm pretty sure everything in and around Falkreath was designed by one madman working in seclusion.

Berzee
18-11-2011, 03:12 PM
But that's just the thing! Humans should act like humans! Everything else is open to whatever.

Yeah, even in fantasy most of the time it is important to establish a baseline of normality. "The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal."

In Skyrim, where the hero isn't really quite a person (unless you're internally roleplaying very enthusiastically) -- the "normality" is probably best provided by the Common Folk around you. The moments when they do provide it (by cowering from a dragon, banding together to fight a pack of wolves, commenting on that idiot dressed in the fancy robes who's running around with fire in his hands or rooting through the garbage barrels) are excellent.

Actually -- Skyrim is perhaps at its best when it reverses the old fairy tale somewhat. There is no real hope of making a Player act like a normal human person in a sandbox game...but my favorite parts of the sandboxy-ness here are when the game world accurately reflects how, for example, a sleepy rural outpost would react to a hyperactive, self-styled Hero who cures evil by means of theft, violence, and rare attempts at persuasion. Of course it's hard to simulate; there are moments, though I fear they're largely up to the right line coincidentally being triggered at an appropriate time. =)

archonsod
18-11-2011, 04:55 PM
Quite frankly, the most rational action in traditional fantasy universes isn't dungeon spelunking, but setting up shop (http://store.steampowered.com/app/70400) right outside the dungeons, selling wooden swords and lengths of rope at extortionate prices, and buying priceless artifacts (in case anybody actually survives long enough to use your equipment - which means that returns and complaints will also be rare, so don't worry about the quality of your merchandise) for pennies on the dollar.

Rationally you wouldn't have dungeons in the first place, the entire thing is rather silly.

Nalano
18-11-2011, 04:55 PM
In Skyrim, where the hero isn't really quite a person (unless you're internally roleplaying very enthusiastically) -- the "normality" is probably best provided by the Common Folk around you. The moments when they do provide it (by cowering from a dragon, banding together to fight a pack of wolves, commenting on that idiot dressed in the fancy robes who's running around with fire in his hands or rooting through the garbage barrels) are excellent.

The Skyrim thread is currently on a kick about how quickly that breaks down due to NPC stupidity and Bethesda's unfortunate weakness in writing.


Rationally you wouldn't have dungeons in the first place, the entire thing is rather silly.

Hey, hey! I was giving the "there are more dead people than live people" thing and the "the sewers are larger than the whole city" thing and the "who makes all these elaborate tombs, anyway?" thing a pass - we can, I suppose, assume that all fantasy worlds are post-cataclysm, and the ancient civilizations (which were invariably superior to contemporary dirt farmers) did everybody a favor and buried themselves with proper rites - and focusing on what you'd do if the world was peppered with 'em.

Wulf
18-11-2011, 10:00 PM
The Skyrim thread is currently on a kick about how quickly that breaks down due to NPC stupidity and Bethesda's unfortunate weakness in writing.

I frequently get told by guards that I have fur coming out of my ears. Of course I do, I'm a frickin' Khajiit! There are so many contextual issues with the whole NPC babble that it just doesn't work at all. One of the things I really would like to see done is a whole bunch of contextual rules layered on top of what NPCs can say. Because otherwise it all ends up being very uncanny valley, I'm surrounded by robots saying lines they're given, and not really making any personal observations at all.

This is the thing that bugs me most about Skyrim. I can tell that somewhere deep inside it has an identity, but it's going to take a lot of digging, fixing, and mods to bring it out. You can tell that they were going to be brave, they were going to do something interesting, and then they decided against it for homogenisation reasons. And these are all the things I would see reversed, so instead of it being half-arsed because of homogenisation (because Bethesda are worried that they'll offend their customers), it becomes something with an identity of its own.

There ARE good ideas in Skyrim, there actually are, but they're buried beneath design stupidity.

Nalano
19-11-2011, 12:31 AM
Because otherwise it all ends up being very uncanny valley, I'm surrounded by robots saying lines they're given, and not really making any personal observations at all.

[...]

...they were going to do something interesting, and then they decided against it for homogenisation reasons.

Thing is, that's all Bethesda games. You almost immediately see the workings underneath. You're never allowed to get immersed, despite the clear care taken to the scenery, thanks to the cardboard cutouts they call NPCs.

I think you like Morrowind more than Oblivion and Fallout 3 and Skyrim not because Morrowind was all that different mechanically - indeed, you still have to ignore the main plot in order to get any fun out of it, and the NPCs were just as stupid - but because the world itself was sufficiently alien as to gloss that over a slight bit.

Oblivion was pure pseudo-Tolkien bullshit, Fallout 3 basically stole every single scene and plot element straight out of Fallouts 1 and 2, and Skyrim is Oblivion with Vikings and Dragons. Morrowind was the only one where you could look at it and say, "this has stuff that you can't find in every other fantasy universe ever."

That said, no matter the scenery, the depth is still barely inch-deep. The foreign nature is still superficial, and despite having put dozens of hours into Morrowind, I can't remember a single character's name from my own travels, and only vaguely remember places, because places is all Bethesda does well. (In fact, of all those games I only remember Maiq the Liar because he's mentioned in every single fluff piece written about Bethesda's games, and I remember Moira and Three Dog mainly because I wanted to kill them so much for being so dumb)

DigitalSignalX
19-11-2011, 03:02 AM
The problem is in defining identity. This seems likely to be very subjective; hence the fertile ground for no small disagreement. So it's worth asking: how do you (Wulf or anybody) define that identity?

This ^

However, its really puzzling to me how Fallout Vegas can somehow fulfill that niche for Wulf but Skyrim doesn't. For me, Skyrim is superior in literally every single element. With the exception of the forked main quest and changes due to Karma, the games could be mechanical twins. What makes it superior IMO is that it takes those mechanics and then polishes the crap out of them. Towns don't feel deserted, NPC's have random interactions now based on your race/stats. Tons more random encounters. Much more complex skills, crafting, combat and world lore. You can still bribe and persuade your way through some quests (albeit not as many as FO). My character feels so much more "present" in game as a person then simply a click to go here and fetch automaton.

Perhaps the key to his "identity then is sandbox + forked quest?" Don't get me wrong, I loved FO:Vegas, but Skryim feels so much better to me in every way. If I had to pick one game to play for a year, Vegas or Skyrim - there wouldn't even be a choice.

DarthBenedict
19-11-2011, 11:00 AM
Then you're not doing your argument any favors. Point being, not only are you being disingenuous by reducing his point to "I like spectacle, therefore everything must be as shallow as Hollywood blockbusters," but that shoe can quite easily be put in the other foot.

Simply put, mechanics are a means to an end, not an end in itself. You can craft nice setpieces, but you need to do a lot of writing and puppetry to make them alive. To use a non-spoilery example for Skyrim, every tavern in every town gives you bounty quests to go clear out local bandits. In each of these places - which are nice places visually - all bandits are named "bandit," they all have the same three stock phrases (and if they say anything else, they're really only signposting that there's a mechanic nearby to exploit), the quest is a simple kill quest, and you basically just farm loot and experience. Thing is, after you finish out the side-quests of, say, Whiterun, you look at your game statistics and realize you just killed three hundred people to defend a town of less than one hundred.

That's not simply highway banditry. That's an insurrection. That's a popular revolt. You've just murdered the majority of the region. You're a genocidal maniac, and the Jarl you've been working under is a horrible tyrant. But never is that acknowledged in the game, nor can you ever parley with these bandits to understand why there are so many of them and so little in the way of enforcement. This is an Endor Holocaust-level oversight, yet mechanics-wise, there's absolutely nothing wrong here.

You know how RTSs have armies of thousands represented as three guys on the screen?

I figure FPSs and RPGs do the opposite - the five hundred orcs you slaughtered represent just one in the narrative.

Nalano
19-11-2011, 07:29 PM
You know how RTSs have armies of thousands represented as three guys on the screen?

I figure FPSs and RPGs do the opposite - the five hundred orcs you slaughtered represent just one in the narrative.

Heh.

Tho nowadays, thanks to the folks who do Total War, you actually do have thousands. :P

QuantaCat
19-11-2011, 09:24 PM
Perhaps the key to his "identity then is sandbox + forked quest?" Don't get me wrong, I loved FO:Vegas, but Skryim feels so much better to me in every way. If I had to pick one game to play for a year, Vegas or Skyrim - there wouldn't even be a choice.

even the characters? or where you just talking about immersability?

Nalano
19-11-2011, 09:42 PM
even the characters? or where you just talking about immersability?

My immersion is broken every time a character does something stupid.

This happens quite often in Skyrim.

DigitalSignalX
20-11-2011, 01:53 AM
My immersion is broken every time a character does something stupid.

This happens quite often in Skyrim.

As opposed to Vegas where NPC's don't do or say -anything- except wait for you to click on them? At least in skyrim you get to escort several around, and the whole "I'd do this quest myself but I'm a brainless NPC" syndrome doesn't feel so omnipresent.

Nalano
20-11-2011, 06:45 AM
As opposed to Vegas where NPC's don't do or say -anything- except wait for you to click on them? At least in skyrim you get to escort several around, and the whole "I'd do this quest myself but I'm a brainless NPC" syndrome doesn't feel so omnipresent.

Guard sees corpse. "Who would do such a thing?!" Guard steps over corpse and walks on.

Thing is, I dunno. Take Saints Row 3. As dumb a game as you can get. It's very simple in its mechanics. Very. But they take immersion to a whole new level. They want you to experience something in its best possible light. They'll futz with the soundtrack so you're fighting luchadores with Esposito's You're The Best Around playing, and it feels right. It's fleeting, and it's staged, but for that brief moment it's real.

Yeah, I know, everything I see is faked. There's no substance under the hood. When I drive around, I'll see cops yammering with a pedestrian in what is clearly a staged traffic stop. But. Going 40mph, it looks real enough. That's all it needs to do. Scenery. It's simple, stupid, and serves it purpose, because the game tells you from the get-go that nothing is serious and everything is cotton candy.

But why would you make a guard say "who would do such a thing" if that guard doesn't then follow up on it? I mean, even running to the barracks, grabbing three of his friends, and having them all stand in a circle looking thoughtfully at the corpse would suffice. Clearly you're supposed to pay attention to the NPC reacting to something, and Skyrim is not a fast-paced game. I'm not into such a game to fly by folks in selective ignorance. They go through all the trouble for making NPCs chop wood, hammer iron, have day/night cycles, and trek along the roads from Point A to Point B, but for all that effort, if you pay any sort of attention, it breaks. It's very brittle.

I know that New Vegas suffered from the same thing. I wonder if it's limitations in the engine, because I know that Obsidian at least tries to consider consequences. Some have called it "uncanny valley," in the sense that they're putting so much effort into fooling me that it's real that whenever I come across a point where it's clearly not, I'm repulsed. I wonder if a less realistic design direction might work in its favor.

Yet. I can think of simple, plausible ways you can extend the suspension of disbelief, like my earlier suggestion. Maybe double the guard patrols for the next few days. Then remove the corpse. Possibly even have people mention the absence of said NPC. If the NPC's important, have a mourning phase, where shops shutter. Add a plot to the cemetary. Indeed, I'm still stepping over the corpse of Faendal in Riverwood, despite his (inexplicable) death having been weeks ago. Dear god that town must stink.

QuantaCat
20-11-2011, 09:15 AM
...I can think of simple, plausible ways you can extend the suspension of disbelief, like my earlier suggestion. Maybe double the guard patrols for the next few days. Then remove the corpse. Possibly even have people mention the absence of said NPC. If the NPC's important, have a mourning phase, where shops shutter. Add a plot to the cemetary. Indeed, I'm still stepping over the corpse of Faendal in Riverwood, despite his (inexplicable) death having been weeks ago. Dear god that town must stink.

They built the engine. They must be able to do something like that. Screw the animations, its worth more that they are doing it, than it looks good.

DigitalSignalX
20-11-2011, 10:03 PM
My argument was, Skyrim is so much more immersive then Vegas (see OP post). Your argument seems to be, because NPC's aren't simply inanimate stationary objects anymore, you lose immersion because their behavior isn't life-like.

....

ok. I give up :P

DarthBenedict
20-11-2011, 11:18 PM
NPCs who do nothing is a mild sensation of something being off that only really bothers you if you think about it. Guards yelling 'STOP RIGHT THERE, CRIMINAL SCUM' at a mudcrab will break your immersion every time.

However, I am pretty happy that they're trying to give them complex behaviour - a whole lot of good things were awful at first. Imagine if HDR lighting had been completely dropped because the first bloom implementations made it feel like you were playing as a vampire with a hangover.

gundrea
21-11-2011, 11:10 AM
The real marvel is the human ability to look at a freshly painted wall and the first thing they see is the bit you missed.

hamster
21-11-2011, 01:16 PM
Isn't it just a case of prioritization? Emulate the stuff that is important to the game. Is murder a big thing in the TES games or are they inconsequential acts committed by the PC? If so that is probably why they the devs didn't bother modelling the whole crime scene investigation thing or other NPC's reactions to it. On the other hand, in a 'whodunit' quest these elements become crucial, and you would imagine a more detailed portrayal of the murder.

That being said it is kind of jarring to have dead NPCs remain spread eagled on the floor in their shops for months while NPCs stroll buy to "buy" stuff. How 'bout something simple like a few voiced comments, maybe extra security, and someone to take the NPC's place? (if applicable).

DigitalSignalX
21-11-2011, 06:35 PM
Isn't it just a case of prioritization? ... That being said it is kind of jarring to have dead NPCs remain ... someone to take the NPC's place? (if applicable).

In Skyrim, I killed an innkeeper who had put a thieving bounty on my head. His barmaid automatically assumed the additional duties of renting rooms on top of her normal food/beverage sales. So some thought went into it, at least.

We have to also weigh the volume of ways people could break NPC AI if they were programed to behaviorally respond to things like corpses - so limiting their physical reactions is also likely a way of avoiding larger bugs. Still, having NPC's comment randomly and in dialogs based on your race, gender, armor choice, weapon choice, and skills you have leveled is a superb start. It's something I can't recall any other game doing to the degree Skyrim does. Reacting, even in a limited way, to other stimuli like corpses, dropped items, and your interactions near them is just a bonus, even if it seems to fall short in realism.