The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for I-don’t-know-what. We haven’t decided yet, but we’re going to go outside and I hope I eat a nice sandwich.

Simon Roth spoke this past week about the changes to Steam reviews, but he also wrote about decisions he made (or didn’t make) with his game Maia and how they made development longer than it might have been.

Before moving into the office I was working from my bedroom in a shared flat. My bed was directly behind my desk in my dark little concrete apartment in South Oxford. I did push local indies to co-work in cafes and other workspaces, but I spent a lot of time quite alone. Needless to say that’s not good for anyone’s mental or physical health.

Alice posted this as its own story earlier this week, but here it is again for those who missed it or didn’t have time to read it before: Toby Fox, creator of Undertale, wrote about his thoughts on the game and its success a year after release.

Not only did I not expect this level of popularity, but initially, I was afraid of it. I didn’t want UNDERTALE to become tiring for people, or become spoiled before anyone even got a chance to play it. Early on (this was probably excessive) I even tried to contact certain Let’s Players to tell them not to make any content about it.

BioShock 1, 2 and Infinite were re-released this past week, remastered for current-gen consoles, and as such sites have been running new interviews with the developers. Chris Suellentrop at Rolling Stone spoke to Ken Levine:

For you, it’s an experience that you play. For me, it’s the five years making it, and all the things that happened while making it, and the health problems I had during it. I saw a picture of me when we first announced it. That was 2010. And then I saw a picture of me after I did an interview on NPR when we shipped it in 2013. And I look 10 years older.

It changed my life in terms of what it did to my health, and what it did to my view of making games, and my relationships with people.

While Ed Smith at Vice spoke to Jordan Thomas, lead on BioShock 2 and level designer on 1 and Infinite.

“What I should have done is two things,” he explains. “First, commit to making a stripped-down horror game. My original pitch was that you’d play a former Little Sister, in an underpowered return to Rapture, full of fertile trauma that would be uncovered as you went. Very Silent Hill. But I was told – I don’t even remember by who, it could have just been Marketing Person X – ‘We think BioShock can be a big shooter franchise like Gears of War or Call of Duty.’ And I thought, ‘Good Lord… Why did you hire me?’ So the second thing I should have done is learn to say no. Going from a level designer to a creative director is dizzying. I wasn’t ready to say no. And that is just the worst. If you don’t know how to say no, especially to yourself, you are, at best, a rookie director.

Joel Goodwin wants to do away with the numbers from games – skill points and stats screens in RPGs, in particular. I mostly agree.

But not every game is Dark Souls and I worry that the undying fetish for numbers is the main reason we still have them, rather than any contribution to a meaningful game experience. I was brought up on the streamlined Skill/Stamina system in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and that seemed good enough. I graduated onto D&D and Call of Cthulhu where the numbers were a necessary backdrop to the actual “role-playing”. But with computer RPGs, naked numbers feel like a vestigial organ that take on undeserved prominence. At best, I tolerate them.

At The Guardian, Kate Gray wonders why romance isn’t a valid selling point in videogame marketing? Except The Guardian put “video game” as two words because they’re wrong. The piece focuses on the details released so far about Mass Effect Andromeda but it’s broadly true across games.

In a Bioware game, the romance isn’t a side-quest or an optional extra – it is a central component of the action. In a Bioware game, your lust is as important as your weapon ammo. I mean, you can avoid romance if you absolutely must, but you’ll have to turn down a whole bunch of amorous suitors in the 30 hours it takes to finish a game, and that’s really mean spirited. Romance is a part of everyday existence. You go out there, you fight the monsters, and then you come back for a snuggle with your extraterrestrial paramour. It’s a metaphor for working life if ever there was one.

Adrian Courreges does really detailed studies of graphical elements of games, which have been linked in this column many times before. He looked at a single frame of the new DOOM this past week, breaking it down render pass by render pass, and it is typically illuminating for even dummies like me.

Unlike most Windows games released these days, DOOM doesn’t use Direct3D but offers an OpenGL and Vulkan backend.
Vulkan being the new hot thing and Baldur Karlsson having recently added support for it in RenderDoc, it was hard resisting picking into DOOM internals. The following observations are based on the game running with Vulkan on a GTX 980 with all the settings on Ultra, some are guesses others are taken from the Siggraph presentation by Tiago Sousa and Jean Geffroy.

Dead End Thrills has been taking screenshots of No Man’s Sky and they are gorgeous. I particularly like this one.

Music this week is the album Hollowed by Ital Tek. Big electronic sweep.

From this site

80 Comments

  1. daphne says:

    “I’m playing Dark Souls for the first time and find it very much anti-Zen. It requires your full attention and shoves you into a constant sense of anxiety, an adventurer on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You cannot make your way through Dark Souls without making mistakes, yet mistakes always feel costly due to the potential loss of experience and being forced to fight your way again to the point YOU DIED. It’s Stockholm Syndrome: The Game, where players openly declare their love for a consumer product that imprisons them for hours and tortures them throughout.”

    So according to Joel Goodwin, enjoying that a game deserves one’s full attention, and that mistakes actually matter is now pathological. Considering that he’s a quant in real life (according to his bio on-site), I’m not particularly surprised by this verdict.

    But I’d urge him to take a step back and a deep breath. Some of us appreciate the complexity and the numbers, even though, yes, it does initially overwhelm. He himself refers to mastering Armageddon Empires, as good an example as any. His article is weakest when he goes into shaky infinity territory. Yes, nearly every game, numeric or not, is based on repetition of the same activity. Just about every game is based on “grind.” Numeric upgrades mask this, as well as weapon and character upgrades in FPS, random maps in strategy games, different maps in team-based-shooters, hero comps in DotA/LoL/Smite, new cars in racing games, a new city in a new Assassin’s Creed. Tell me something new.

    Anyway, he’s not one of the no-combat-in-Dragon Age (FTFY) crowd, as he worries, but from here it reads more like he’s burned out on games in general, something that could happen to any forty-year old that’s been gaming since nearly most of that time.

    • SMGreer says:

      I do agree with his general point, numbers are a chore that feels unnecessary now. Dark Souls itself has systems in place that communicate valuable differences between weapons (weight, reach etc.) that could’ve been the focus of the RPG mechanics and simply determined your “build” entirely upon what equipment you use. It’s obvious why the numbers are there but it feels time for RPGs to adopt a more elegant and natural system. That feels like where RPGs ought to be by now.

      His specific comment on Dark Souls and it being “anti-zen” though is daft. He does indeed seem tired of videogames which is fine but I think projecting his reluctance to engage with the game onto those who aren’t is just a wee bit silly. Not least of all because frankly, I find Dark Souls very zen. It requires all my attention, it shows me when I’m doing something right or something wrong. I can get sucked in an ignore all the noise. Most important of all, I can use all I’ve learned to help others through the game. I genuinely play it to unwind.

      • GameCat says:

        I too find Dark Souls very zen.

      • Turkey says:

        RPGs have been trying to move away from numbers for years now. The most “elegant” solution they’ve come up with so far are perks.

        I always kinda liked the system in Bloodlines, though. It’s just like a traditional stat system, but an XP is much rarer and has a much bigger impact on the skill you’re upgrading. So basically just cutting out the fat.

      • criskywalker says:

        Numbers should be banned from games, replaced by more organical graphical representations.

        When you buy a t-shirt in real life do you check the percentage of cotton, thickness of the fabric or do you simply buy it because it looks pretty and you FEEL it’s what you need? Why should a sword in a game be any different?

        • Baines says:

          I do, because the percentage of cotton and the thickness of the fabric will give me a better idea of how comfortable it will be to wear in the summer (when I’ll want something that breathes well and doesn’t make me sweat) than just the feel of the material will tell me.

          Those numbers can also give you a good idea of how much clothing might shrink, and various other really important details. Those numbers are really useful, and tell you a lot more than you can figure out from just sight alone.

        • freedomispopular says:

          Because what shirt I wear in real life is almost always an aesthetic choice, but the sword I choose to use in a game is almost always based on what I objectively deem to be the best fit for my fighting style, which can only be determined if there are hard numbers involved. Until we can physically feel the sharpness, hardness, weight, or grip of our in-game weapons, numbers are going to be a necessary evil.

          And yeah, as the other guy noted, some people do indeed check the percentage of cotton or the thickness of the fabric when shirt-shopping.

        • aepervius says:

          It is different because we have progress , at least in most rpg. How do you show progress from the lowly-chosen-one-trope to the might-heroe-trope ? Inorganically I have tried that *multiple* pen and paper rpg as master and player, including a few one on PC (lightly wounded, wounded, heavily wounded, on death door), and by organic description alone , we do not work that well. Just to take an example out of what I am playing, one player says to me the cleric, I am lightly wounded. Yeah. Soooo for this character , is this a cure light wound, a cure serious, or a cure critical I should do ? No idea without numbers, and trial and error you can’t do. How do you feel you are gotten stronger ? You can’t really without numbers. An abstraction layer with a name instead of a number is just really using numbers but adding the difficulty to translate numbers “internally” in your brain without really adding anything to the gameplay. I remember a rpg which did that showed you name without numbers like idiot-average human-genius like style of progression. It did not add anything except looking in FAQ what name correspond to what.

          TL;DR Basically numbers are so sucessful because they are great to represent the abstractions we use for rpg. Alternative have been tried and found to be wanting.

          • Frank says:

            Those tropes make for painfully bad stories; and the “progression” (that is, grind) that goes with them are a blight on the RPG genre, which is badly in need of some new ideas.

            Anyway, I agree with all your points for why numbers are necessary; and suspect they would be central in any RPG. I am no board game connoisseur, but every one I know of has numbers in.

        • P.Funk says:

          “When you buy a t-shirt in real life do you check the percentage of cotton, thickness of the fabric”

          I actually do. Its a great way to immediately dismiss a product on empirical basis without the need to spend several minutes groping it like some weirdo. I can find out if the jacket has any poly in it and where it is, the liner, the outer bit, and decide immediately if its not up to my standard.

          Honestly I think to say we need to turn our backs on empiricism when judging the value of products is daft itself. To say we need to find a more elegant way of creating a sense of value and purpose to objects in RPGs is not flat incorrect but I think the stat value of a tool is useful and perhaps it needs to be less exact in its use.

          Maybe RPGs should create effects based on a cavalcade of numbers, such as the percentage of a material in the mixture of the blade construction which will tell an experienced player if its harder, holds an edge better, if its heavier, and that affects the behavior of the weapon, as it would in real life. Then again that’s a very heavy list of things one needs to know in order to use it and most would like a simple number to skip it.

          Then we have to ask if replacing numbers with nouns is any different. Isn’t that just a very thin veil of obfuscation? If its functioning as a number in a number machine what difference does it make then to call it a +5 or say instead “really really sharp/heavy/light”? Seems like that would wear off pretty fast and by the time you get to end game you’d be treating nouns as equivalent to numbers.

          There’s also the fact that in real life quantifying things empirically through numbers is a thing. Just go look at Moneyball. Sports are all about measuring performance by numbers. So in the end, what are we running from? Eschewing numbers altogether seems strange since its numbers that have given us accuracy in estimating the value of things in real life as mathematics and science has progressed and replaced wishy washy and inaccurate guesses. On top of that the player can’t feel the weapon, can’t sense the advantage they have as a real person would. Communicating this advantage without numbers is therefore a challenge to say the least.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            “Just go look at Moneyball. Sports are all about measuring performance by numbers.”

            This is so on the money. If you had computers and investment banks in your fantasy land they’d have teams of quants analysing which adventuring parties to invest in (and which Dark Lords to take out insurance on).

      • malkav11 says:

        A “CRPG” that determined your build based solely on your equipment would not BE a CRPG. The core identity of the genre is based around the progression of your character’s abilities. Gear is one facet of that in many such games, to be sure, but it cannot be the sole aspect because gear is not intrinsic to your character and is both disposable and arbitrarily granted. This is why Zelda isn’t a CRPG, for example, despite a fair number of people seeming to think it is (the same people never seem to identify Metroid as a CRPG even though the two games are extremely similar in their approach to progression. Maybe it’s Zelda’s fantasy setting.)

        It might well be a fun game, mind you.

    • Monggerel says:

      There are some games out there that are not “about the numbers” per se, because the only numbers they care about are 0 and 1.
      Like Nidhogg. You’re alive or you’re dead. You win or you die. (actually you still die if you win)
      What happens on the way there is drama. What happens at the end is catharsis.
      You can make games like this, but not too many of them – without a more robust numbers game in the background, the variety of things you can do while staying within the “game” frame is limited. Of course, there’s always point-and-click adventures and Walk ‘Em Ups.

      • pepperfez says:

        Keeping the numbers game in the background is the thing, though. Obviously, every practical choice in a game is, at bottom, about numbers. The difference between Doom’s pistol and shotgun can be exactly and explicitly quantified, but the game doesn’t do it anywhere. There’s no multilevel min-maxing metagame.

        Even in the most conspicuously numbers-obsessed games, early arcade games, the numbers exist totally outside the game. They don’t need to be managed, they just point out what is good or better.

    • Geebs says:

      At some point in the future, the first generation of gamers are going to be pensioners and we’re all going to have to go back to numbers because everyone’s reflexes will be completely shot.

      Simulationist games which use dice rolls instead of hand-eye coordination are in many ways more inclusive.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Removing numbers might work for a single-player intense combat game.

      For most RPGs it’s a terrible idea. For one thing, a big part of the fun of ARPGs is seeing the numbers go up. For another, when you’re controlling a party that type of observation is very difficult. Also, many people enjoy stat heavy combat. Not every game has to fit every person. Finally, from experience not showing certain attacks makes things worse. BG never managed a great explanation of attack speed in three games. Not having that number visible certainly changed how well you could understand combat.

    • Shazbut says:

      “I’m playing Dark Souls for the first time and find it very much anti-Zen. It requires your full attention and shoves you into a constant sense of anxiety, an adventurer on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

      As a formal lay Zen student of 9 years, I can confirm this is what Zen is actually like

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      phuzz says:

      I’m not sure what he’d think of people like me who install mods for Kerbal Space Program that give us more numbers (because knowing your apoapsis is useful).
      Personally I find more numbers to be calming. It’s easier for me to look at a weapon in an RPG and see that it does 8 damage not 7 and is therefore better, rather than having to guess from how quickly things are dying when I hit them.

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    Serrit says:

    I suspect the Great Treehouse War of twenty-sixteen never will determine whether or not a space should be there…

  3. Morgan Joylighter says:

    Marketing Person X – ‘We think BioShock can be a big shooter franchise like Gears of War or Call of Duty.’

    Go away suit-people. You don’t belong on our planet.

    • Monggerel says:

      Suit people are the reason money gets both made and spent. They’re morally bankrupt but they catalyze creativity and for the most part they are the ones bringing actual hustle to the table. (there are exceptions, of course – suit people are not the only morally bankrupt ones. *cough*timschafer*cough*

      • Monggerel says:

        They also often stifle creativity and shoot their own companies in the foot. That can be deliberate too. *cough*ricitello*cough*

        Nevertheless, they are an important part of the ecosystem, one way or the other.

      • Monggerel says:

        I mean, I don’t think Strauss Zelnick would be the one to personally order Bioschok be turned into a shooter franchise, but I very much doubt the idea was misaligned with his interests.

      • P.Funk says:

        “They’re morally bankrupt but they catalyze creativity”

        That’s debatable. To say that they have all the capital backing them is factually correct. To say that in our existing system we need this capital to be permitted to create certain creative things in the manner we do (big budget games with high production values) is true. To say they’re responsible for catalyzing creativity is I think giving them too much credit.

        Creativity is a basic human impulse and it manifests regardless of whether there is or isn’t wealth. What wealth does is make it possible to pursue creativity in place of subsistence living as most people would do if they could. Crowdfunding has indicated that its not suits which catalyze creativity or development as a result of creativity, but merely the money which they hold hostage.

        Yours seems to be a pretty mainstream capitalist attitude about money and its amazing effects on people. I think its putting the cart before the horse. If anything what the suits do is try to second guess what the market wants whereas crowdfunding seems to be a purer expression of the classic economic statement of the market decides the winners and losers. History has actually shown that suits are pretty bad at picking winners that haven’t already been shown to be winners. Successful films often have a story to go with them about how many studios turned them down.

        • CaptainDju says:

          Couldn’t agree more, provide me with a shelter and food and let me write as much as I want and I’ll churn out a lot of books. Probably crap, but creative.

          Money’s just an arbitrary way of saying “You’ve done this much so you can enjoy (meaning buy) this much”, and it’s not very good at that either.

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        kfix says:

        )

    • criskywalker says:

      Suits are the reason EA is almost entirely Electronic and almost completely devoid of Arts nowadays.

      • Monggerel says:

        Titles like Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect, Crysis, Brutal Legend, Saboteur and Dante’s Inferno didn’t pop into existence without the knowledge or consent of EA’s resident Lizardmen.

        They do make more on FIFA though.

        • Sin Vega says:

          Rather telling that even in its defence, the most recent of those games was six years ago.

        • ElementalAlchemist says:

          Mass Effect had nothing to do with EA. The buyout of Bioware didn’t happen until about 2 months before ME1 was released in 2007. Although EA did mandate that a PC version be released, which wasn’t originally planned by Bioware, so there’s that to thank them for at least. It all went downhill after that though.

  4. daphne says:

    Also, the Ken Levine interview links to the fantastic 2009 LRB article on BioShock and videogames in general. A lot has changed since then, but it remains a great read: link to lrb.co.uk

  5. laggyluk says:

    Love those frame dissections :D

  6. subedii says:

    With the recent stuff about Atlas Reactor (another simultaneous turn-based tactical game), I’ve been watching dev diaries from Mode 7 games recently regarding their development of Frozen Synapse 2.

    link to youtube.com

    It’s really interesting the directions they’re taking the game. I was thinking there wasn’t much to really add to the first game except maybe updated visuals, but what’s clear now is that they’re basically implementing a whole XCOM style (more along the lines of Apocalypse) meta-game around it.

    That said one interesting thing they’ve shown (for me, I was never that into the singleplayer) was the idea of single-turn matches, against literally everyone else who has ever taken on that map. It’s the kind of thing that I could only really see working in a game like FS. It can allow for COMPLETELY skewed maps, and that doesn’t even matter, what matters is how well you outhought everyone else who was in your position. As long as they refine it enough, I could see myself taking to a mode like that

    It’d be interesting to see the analytics for something like that as well, what kinds of plans people like to go for in different scenarios.

    • Frank says:

      Thanks, didn’t realize they had a video dev log. I’ve never been crazy about their games, but the concepts and design decisions are very interesting.

  7. RaunakS says:

    All this talk of video games makes me crave an official RockPaperShotgun Style and Usage guide. I can’t wait to see which random vowels are being banned by John.

    • Llewyn says:

      Random? Are you implying Walker is arbitrary? I think it’s perfectly logical that he will proscribe the usage of ‘I’ and ‘U’, as well as possibly of ‘Y’ as a vowel (as opposed to in ‘yes’).

      Alce, Pp and the Smth twns will just have to get used to it.

    • invitro says:

      So, other than the author, who says “video game” is “wrong”? Does anybody? I entered “videogame” into wikipedia and it redirected to “Video game”, which I have always used and will continue to use. SO THERE.

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        Andy_Panthro says:

        In my day we called them “Computer games”!

        (or perhaps just “games”)

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          Thulsa Hex says:

          Yes. Same. And I tried to remain steadfast for years, but the ubiquity of the “video” bit on the internet won in the end. I also now live in America, so almost all my words are wrong :(

        • invitro says:

          Well… video games include computer games, but also arcade video games and console video games. I suppose the term includes any game played on a screen that lights up with pictures. :) I know lots of people get flustered when someone tries to be correct with semantics, and I certainly understand objecting to semantic nazism/communism, but “video games” is defined clearly, and its component words describe what it means, so it’s a no-brainer using it when that’s what one means. :)

          • P.Funk says:

            The semantics debate in this case would be idiotic as it would ignore the fact that language is not purely about technical accuracy but also about cultural norms. What a term describes is what it describes and you can’t argue its wrong if people acknowledge its meaning.

            A computer game is a game played on a computer. Computers are widely recognized not as just any machine an academic might call a computer but any computer that is running in an office or at home that has a rather broad utility as opposed to the more narrow utility of other computers.

            Phones are computers but their use is narrower. Smart phones have broader utility but they’re not seen as computers per se any different than saying computer means calculator to most people, even if graphing calculators are pretty neat little computers.

            It of course becomes a much more strained discussion as the barriers between consoles and phones and PC games thins greatly but then again this is also maintained by the very divergent development needs of PC and consoles and the fact that the branding of these products themselves and the discussion of their development identifies PCs as separate from consoles regardless of how fundamentally similar they are. Developers recognize this by reassuring the PC crowd that their console versions won’t ruin their PC version. That alone indicates the use of the terms is relevant and acceptable. As ever commerce has a pretty strong value in deciding whats correct as with money on the line romantic sentiment mostly doesn’t enter into it, not from the seller’s point of view anyway.

            In the end use and cultural consciousness makes semantic debates against this grain a load of pedantry.

          • Geebs says:

            @P.Funk

            Quite. After all, the word(s) in question are only a porte-manteau.

      • Alice O'Connor says:

        It’s two words.

        Graham has accordingly been fired, so we’re marking this issue as resolved.

    • Lachlan1 says:

      Basically it involves using ‘are’, incorrectly, when ‘is’ should be used. Eg Valve are….grrrrrrr

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        Aitrus says:

        Thank you! I prefer singular verbs for titled groups. RPS isn’t the only one (see what I did there?) making the change away from that rule, sadly.

      • Alice O'Connor says:

        This is a British/American English difference.

  8. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    With regards to the romance article: Bioware romances tend to get a lot of shit (and often rightfully so), but I have to say that the whole romance arc with Tali is one of my very favorite parts of the trilogy. Other people will have their own preferences, but for me that one works so well in large part because it develops over time–you *can’t* romance Tali in the first game, so by the time you get to the second one and it feels like the characters have actually had a reasonable amount of time to get to know one another, and have recently bonded further over the experience of Tali’s loyalty mission (this avoids the problem with some of Bioware’s other efforts–looking at you, Inquisition–in which you can start flirting outrageously almost immediately after meeting a new squadmate. There’s no emotional context there yet!). Also Kelly actually tell you that Tali has a crush on you, which feels a little more realistic than Shepard just launching himself (or herself) at someone with the blind assumption that they’ll actually be interested.

    This was kinda also how the Liara romance worked for me too–I never got with her in ME1, so by the time ME3 rolled around it felt like a situation where two old friends in extremely stressful circumstances suddenly realized just how much they meant to one another. Worked out really well imo.

    I also like Bioware’s occasional tendency to have NPCs hook up with one another–Tali and Garrus will briefly get together at the end of ME3 if you’re not with either of them; Bull and Dorian have some dialogue implying that they get together in DA:I, etc. It’s nice to have romantic situations that don’t revolve around the player character one-hundred percent of the time. They’ve made some noise about wanting relationships to develop more organically in Andromeda, so we’ll see how that goes.

    (All that said: while I get where this article is coming from, calling out the Andromeda trailers for not showing any romance is a little weird. The trailers have barely shown *anything*–we haven’t even gotten one that features gameplay without a developer talking over it yet–and the ME2 and 3 trailers *did* show the kissy bits, so I dunno if that particular issue is really a problem).

    • Monggerel says:

      Oh, Bioware romances, you are so very wrong.
      Not always, mind you. But in the Mass Effect series and in Dragon Age Inquisition, you’re not just some adventurer hero out to save the world. You’re a military commander with responsibilities, propped up by chain of command. Flirting with underlings is necessarily an instance of pulling rank, because your relative status in a military will dictate *every* interaction you and your underlings can have.
      For Commander Shepard to even entertain the idea of hooking up with Ashley or Kaidan, let alone actually doing it, is a gross violation of ethics. Same for the Inquisitor.

      Admittedly, in both DA and ME you have outside contractors and mercenaries (Tali, Wrex, Garrus, Iron Bull etc.) working under you, who are not actually part of the military brass, so the relative difference in status is on a different basis there. I guess it could still technically be considered prostitution (since you employ them) but I haven’t found a very strong reason to object to that so far.

      KOTOR 1 avoids this because your party members are not your de jure underlings, Obsidian makes sure to steadfastly avoid the trope in their games in general, and in Dragon Age 1 you’re not actually the top of the hierarchy (Alistar is). But BioWare does sometimes forget that romance is basically an ethical minefield.

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        FhnuZoag says:

        Well, in Mass Effect 1, the romance/duty axis can indeed come into conflict via the big dilemma on Virmire. After ME1 I don’t think it’s much of an issue considering that in ME2 you aren’t really part of any real military structure any more, and in ME3 there’s an apocalyptic mood behind everything so any dalliances seem to reflect more people trying to escape temporarily the stress of the situation than anything else. It’s worth noting that technically Shepard is *below* the rank of some of their underlings. I ran my Shepard as a *very* unprofessional hero, anyway.

        Dragon Age meanwhile is more reflective of a medieval style of ethics, where it’s taken as given that the head honcho is fucking around.

        • Monggerel says:

          It was my imperssion that since Bioware never explicitly draws attention to the fact that you’re courting your own soldiers, they either didn’t realize ethical remifications, didn’t care about them, or simply decided that it is a terrible idea to present subject matter this volatile for their audience (which I can certainly understand, but not condone).

        • Archonsod says:

          It’s kind of a silly argument to be fair though; you can always choose not to romance anyone if you think it’s ethically questionable; just as you can choose not to commit genocide or resolve conflict via violence too. Which is kinda the problem – am I supposed to believe that a Shepard who’s committed genocide, murdered his way across the galaxy and been happy to throw comrades into certain death to further his own goals is going to balk at the moral implications of dating an underling?

          • Sin Vega says:

            It’s not just a moral issue though is it? You’re in charge of a group of elite killers responsible for saving all life in the universe. Even ignoring the wider effects it can have on the rest of the crew, getting romantically involved with one of them brings a whole heap of complications that are just a terrible idea all round.

    • criskywalker says:

      If anything games need more romance. The focus on violence is so boring.

      And in real life people get involved romantically out of the blue and have one night stands.

      • Jediben says:

        And STIs. And unexpected pregnancies. And crabs. And they utterly ruin existing relationships for momentary experiences. Should all these things be in games too? I ask because that seems like an awful lot of unappealing shit that ‘relationships’ in games do not currently bother with for some reason. Can you figure out what that reason is I wonder?

        • Koozer says:

          Whe was the last time you saw a war game deal with anxiety or PTSD, or months of physio after recovering from a crippling wound?

        • criskywalker says:

          Suddenly I want a life simulador like The Sims with all that you mentioned! Maybe a futuro Dwarf Fortress update will incluye all that?

        • fuggles says:

          Actually baldurs gate did this. I got arie pregnant and towards the end you have a baby taking up most of your inventory. I suppose that could go down some very dark paths. Bioshock where you need plasmid energy and all you have is your own daughter.

        • P.Funk says:

          “Should all these things be in games too? I ask because that seems like an awful lot of unappealing shit that ‘relationships’ in games do not currently bother with for some reason. Can you figure out what that reason is I wonder?”

          Yes they should. This is why gaming stories are often so vapid and childish, because they in no way resemble real human relationships and as a result when you go back to play games from your youth you often cringe at how idiotic the story is, and yet gaming is not an adolescent pursuit. Its widely recognized as an adult one.

          Its not to say that romance can’t often be intrusive to good media and a good movie with a tacked on romance is definitely obnoxious, but its equally so with the juvenile attitude towards romance we seem to find in so much of games.

          I’m always surprised at how unsophisticated game stories are when I revisit them despite having fonder memories of them from when I was a kid. Now I find I reflect better on movies from my youth than games since the movies had story elements I didn’t understand but came to appreciate later whereas the games had less realistic content and became so very awful when I realized it as an adult.

          • criskywalker says:

            I can’t agree enough with you. At the age 39 I find harder and harder to feel connected to games that mostly have Michael Bay level stories and interaction. At least Bioware tries.

      • JakeOfRavenclaw says:

        “And in real life people get involved romantically out of the blue and have one night stands.”

        True, but in real life one night stands usually involve some level of sexual chemistry or at least desire, whereas in video games one night stands involve watching two character models awkwardly bump up against one another (has there ever been a video game sex scene that was actually sexy?)

        • criskywalker says:

          I think The Witcher 3 has been the closest to tasteful, kinky and sexy sex.

  9. Jac says:

    Simon Roth’s post is a really interesting insight and I really respect his honesty.

    His writing has a real clarity about it, which made the part where he touches on the struggle of isolated development and doubt/pressure over the project really hit home how hard independent development must be. I’m glad him and thus the project seems to be in a good place now.

    If I’m honest I completelty forgot Maia existed as I was very interested in it all those years ago. Anyone played it recently and got an thoughts on whether it’s worth picking up yet? Maybe RPS could deploy Brendan to check it out followed by Clockwork Empires, which I’ve also now remembered as another long in development game I was eagerly anticipating but forgot about!

  10. subedii says:

    Other people will have their own preferences, but for me that one works so well in large part because it develops over time–you *can’t* romance Tali in the first game, so by the time you get to the second one and it feels like the characters have actually had a reasonable amount of time to get to know one another, and have recently bonded further over the experience of Tali’s loyalty mission

    To be honest, that was very specifically my issue with it. There was literally no hint of it in the first, game, and that was fine, because it wasn’t there, nor was it meant to be. Tali was her own character with her own objectives, and they didn’t really involve Shepard in that way.

    Bioware literally retconned her having feelings for Shepard into the 2nd game with an audio log, and that’s just because the fans were endlessly and repeatedly asking for it, not because it naturally evolved out of the first game. I mean as soon as I heard it I thought “gah, I know where this is coming from”. The whole thing felt so forced, and in my mind actually just broke with previous character motivations in order to pander to a subset of the fanbase that was obsessed with “shipping it”.

    What sealed it for me was the whole “Even though macking out with you risks horrendous disease, suffering and potential death for me, I simply MUST have you on the eve of this final mission where we could all die if any of us are not 100% prepared and ready.”

    Because it wasn’t about what was reasonable or even sane for the character’s motivations in that situation, the character motivation was forced because it really was just about pandering to the fanbase that wanted Shepard to “get it on” with Tali before the end of the game.

    Either that or Tali’s just plain an idiot. :/

  11. Wulfram says:

    I do think RPGs can get too obsessed with numerical minutiae. My personal bugbear is critical hit chance in 1% increments. Often this allows the player to optimise in such a way that real tactical choices are hidden.

    Having said that, I don’t like having the numbers hidden from me. Trying to peer behind the developers obfuscation to learn what is actually going on is annoying.

    Having said that, often RPGs nowadays (particularly MMOs, but DA2 was bad at this too) seem to give me numbers but they’re designed in such a way that they mean nothing to me. “Armour +350”, “Attack +200” what does it all mean? If the game isn’t going to tell me that and all I can really do is look for bigger numbers, then perhaps they might as well not give the numbers at all.

    Also, Dark Souls is particular is barely an RPG and might well benefit from ditching most of its gear and stat progression, and the numbers along with it. Most of the real choice is simply picking your gear, often on stuff that isn’t really about numbers.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I completely agree with this. The problem is stupid numbers: numbers that make no significant difference, or you don’t understand how they work.

      The +1 weapon is an iconic D&D-ism because you know exactly how it works (+1 on the die roll), and 1 is a significant number relative to a 1d8 or whatever. When you understand the system, when you’re not drowning in barely relevant details, numbers are good and necessary to your full understanding of how the game works.

      • malkav11 says:

        Yeah, I think there can be too much of a focus on tiny, arbitrary changes in numbers, certainly, especially when there are so many minutiae that it becomes obfuscatory rather than clarifying. But numbers are fundamental to the design of the genre because the whole point is to base the systems around your -character’s- abilities, not the player’s, and to be able to make meaningful choices (and really feel upgrades), you need some access to those numbers and their meaning. Who the hell cared about 10% upgrades to a number Bioware never told you in Mass Effect 2, for example?

        I’d rather be making big decisions about the direction of my character than incrementing some substat one point, but I absolutely want numbers.

      • InternetBatman says:

        This and exactly this.

      • Oozo says:

        Absolutely. It’s also why I think that the Baldur’s Gate games handled it in a way that was a lot less offensively stupid than a lot of games do these days. A +1 weapon is a treat there. A +2 weapon is very rare and something that you might carry through the game. +3? That’s an epic weapon that comes with its own backstory, and something that’s so good that you might train a character to use it.

        You know what is averse to such an approach, though? Crafting. Cobbett once wrote a column on that topic, if memory serves — if you allow the player to craft weapons that are better than the ones that are deemed to be legendary, you better make it bloody hard to doing so. I think Baldur’s Gate 2 had a sensible approach there, too: You want an armor that is basically better than any other in the game? Well, you first should kill one of three highly letal dragons in the game — and then bring that stuff to a certified master weapon smith who spent all his life learning to craft such things, not just a player who just so happens to have cobbled together a knife once in his lifetime. I seriously think that the senseless prevalence of crafting is one of the reasons why the numbers game is getting so out of hand in RPG equipment. But that’s another story, I guess.

  12. gwop_the_derailer says:

    At The Guardian, Kate Gray wonders why romance isn’t a valid selling point in videogame marketing.

    I mean, there are certain simulators out of Japan…

  13. Sin Vega says:

    RPGs should definitely ditch the tedious number shit, but above all, levels. Levels need to bloody die already, it’s just a lazy and artificial substitute for designing your monsters properly.

    • malkav11 says:

      Done properly, levels are a great way to hand out meaningful milestones of progress, far more satisfying than incremental piecemeal upgrades. It’s certainly easy to have them be too frequent and/or minor in impact (too many JRPGs just have them bump up your HP and MP a bit, for example), or to screw them up by making later game upgrades cost more than you gain with a single level (a personal design pet peeve of mine), say. And it’s usually not a great move to hard-code things so that you simply can’t tackle an encounter if your level isn’t high enough. But the problem isn’t the concept, as far as I’m concerned. It’s the execution. And plenty of games do it right.

  14. SuicideKing says:

    My problem isn’t with numbers in RPGs, they can be helpful, I only dislike it when weapons or items have a “level”. So level 5 magic gun is vastly inferior to level 10 magic gun, which otherwise looks and operates identically. If you’re not level 10 then you can’t pick it up.

    This is dumb.

    I much prefer the Mount & Blade style of doing things – better items are expensive and may require certain strength or dexterity values, but you’re not prevented from using them if you can (say you min-max your character so have some stats higher than what would be average for your “level”).

    Similarly, things should follow logic – wooden shield can’t be stronger than metal shield, even if metal shield is “level 1” and wooden shield is “level 10”. This should hold for enemies too – Small Monster Rat can’t be more powerful than Large Monster Rat just because it has a higher level, that’s senseless. Stronger “monster rat” should actually look and behave like it’s stronger.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Completely agree. In particular that last part – it irritates me when a game has enemies of wildly different strengths that look and behave identically, especially in full 3d games with a huge budget. You shouldn’t have to save the game then walk into an enemy and see how easily it kills you to gauge its strength, and stapling a number on top is just a cop-out.

      Sort of related, I really wish the Fight Night games were on PC so I could write about them here. In those, you could (and should) play with the HUD completely switched off, and still tell how injured or tired both fighters were just by their appearance and movement. More games should learn from them.

    • ThePuzzler says:

      Level 60 swords that you use to fight level 60 boars and so forth are pretty unrealistic, but it’s hard to make WoW gameplay work without it. (You’re a new player? Have one of my ultramagic weapons. I’ve got dozens of them. Now you don’t need to quest for items any more and all level-appropriate enemies are trivial!)

      There are equally unrealistic things in Mount & Blade games. (And less believable, really – a universe where powerful magical weapons won’t serve you until you prove yourself worthy doesn’t need to be held to a high standard of realism.) I remember defeating armies of powerful plate-mail-clad enemies single-handed and getting loot consisting of one wooden shield.

  15. Shazbut says:

    That Ken Levine interview is fascinating stuff

  16. sabrage says:

    “Video game” is two words. Your inter-editorial squabbling is heinous.

  17. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    Great to see another graphics breakdown by Adrian Courrèges. His GTA series was fascinating, and the DOOM study is equally astounding. How on earth he goes about doing this, I have no idea.

  18. melancholicthug says:

    “I did push local indies to co-work in cafes and other workspaces, but I spent a lot of time quite alone. Needless to say that’s not good for anyone’s mental or physical health.”
    Eh, I spend a most of my time alone and I’m perfecly fine. Most of the time I feel like offing myself, but I’m pretty sure it’s completely unrelated.

  19. Zekiel says:

    The Vice interview with Jordan Thomas is interesting. But the intro blurb really annoyed me. So the thematic link between all three games is “change” is it? So these games are unusually in protraying events, places or characters who undergo change during the course of the story? As opposed to all those other games where nothing at all changes during the course of the story? Maybe just launch straight into the interview next time…