Archive for the ‘Thoughts and Musings’ Category

My last post had been sitting in my “Drafts” folder for well over a year, mostly forgotten in the press of other matters. I went ahead and posted it without finishing because it was sufficiently complete to make the point. Not so for the six or eight other items in that folder, which were completely irrelevant by this point. I still have a massive write-up on Mass Effect and the Hero’s Journey in the folder, but am on the fence about finishing it. It seemed like a good idea four or five months ago, but seems a bit too scholarly upon rereading today. I will continue to let it sit for now. Maybe I’ll finish it, maybe not. Time will tell.

But its existence does bring to mind the hazards of writing in the digital age. Where hard-copy writers might stick physical drafts into a filing cabinet somewhere (I’m reminded of a scene from “Finding Forrester”), digital essays just end up as bits on your hard drive somewhere and are much easier to overlook. On the other hand, letting those bits gather virtual dust does tend to weed out the significant from the insignificant as evidenced by the stuff that didn’t survive the “Delete” button.

C’est la vie à l’ère numérique.

NOTE: This has been gathering dust in my “Drafts” folder for more than a year and I never got around to finishing it. It’s good enough to get the point across, though.

Talk about a title that’s almost guaranteed to start a war…

This little rant was prompted by a couple of vlogs at YouTube. The discussion was initiated by Samyoulonline about 6 months ago and followed up about three months later by Jingles1215. In his video, Samyoulonline made several points:

  1. You can’t fail
    1. I pretty much have to give him this one. Aside from dying and its attendant loading of a saved game, this is pretty much the case. Stepping up to Bethesda’s defense, this is something that has been building since Daggerfall, where it was exceptionally easy to fail. In TES2, 12 days meant 12 days. If you took more than that, you failed. On the other hand, the consequence for failure in Daggerfall was merely the loss of a couple of points of reputation with whichever faction assigned the quest. But still…failure was definitely an option in earlier games.
    2. On the other hand, it’s pretty much the same across games. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in the “Halo” games. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in the Bioshock series. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in Baldur’s Gate. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in Deus Ex. This is not something where Bethesda stands apart from the rest of the industry, so I don’t see the point, other than to be bitchy.
    3. In trying to look at this from Bethesda’s perspective, this seems to be “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. If they heed the complaints of their customers, especially about the quest system, gameplay and the like, they’re dumbing down. If they don’t, they’re deaf to the fans. Can’t win either way. Tell me, do you still beat your significant other?
  2. There are no consequences for faction membership.
    1. True and not true. In Daggerfall, you could join all factions. The only thing limiting your membership were (a) your skills and (b) your patience. Many quests impacted your reputation with factions (most notably the shadier ones). Vanilla, unpatched Morrowind (which Samyoulonline seems to revere) also allowed you to join opposing factions. This proved to be glitchy, especially with the Great Houses stronghold quests, so was patched to exclude membership in some factions if you had joined others.
    2. Morrowind (of which Samyoul is so fond) only had a few factional conflicts:
      1. If you joined one of the Great Houses, you were excluded from joining another (patched version – it was possible to join more than one in the unpatched version)
      2. If you joined the the Thieves Guild, the Camona Tong hated you. But you couldn’t join the Camona Tong, so I don’t see the big deal.
      3. If you joined the Morag Tong, the Dark Brotherhood hated you. But you couldn’t join the Dark Brotherhood, so I don’t see the big deal.
      4. If you joined an Imperial faction, House Redoran disliked you, but you could do neat things for them (quests) and they didn’t seem to mind anymore.
      5. If you joined the Mages Guild, House Telvani disliked you, but you could do neat things for them (quests) and they didn’t seem to mind anymore.
      6. Seems to me that consequences for faction membership were, at worst, a bit superficial, so I don’t see the big deal. Well, aside from an opportunity to be bitchy.
    3. If you play on PC, you get a Construction Set/Creation Kit and the ability to mod your game. This strikes me as something along the lines of “if you don’t like it, feel free to change it”, which kind of moots the whole point, so “kwitcherbitchin”
    4. If you play on a console, you’re stuck with whatever Bethesda chooses to give you. But this is not something that is unique to the Elder Scrolls series; it’s the same for every console game out there. And console gamers accepted that limitation when they chose their platform. Since the whole point of the vid was that the series had been dumbed down to accommodate console gamers, this strikes me as being just a touch inconsistent.
  3. You have little impact on the world
    1. So what? That’s been true in every TES game since its inception. Your reputation might have an impact on how NPCs respond to you, but the world didn’t change, no matter who/what benefitted from your completion of the main quest in TES2, TES3, TES4 or TES5. This isn’t anything new, so “kwitcherbitchin”.
    2. Yes, there are some inconsistencies within the dialogues of the quest system. It does strike me as a bit weird that, after completing the Dark Brotherhood quest line in Skyrim, the Legion has you recite an oath to a dead emperor. But I have a hard time believing that this was something placed in the game to accommodate the wants of console gamers. Rather, it strikes me as a quality assurance issue that fell through the cracks during development. It happens. The only way to fix it would be to have the voice cast come back in, record new dialogue and push it out in a patch. Since it breaks nothing other than immersion, Bethesda seems to have taken a sensible approach. To mangle the Bard, this is such stuff as YouTube videos are made on.
  4. The quest and journal system holds the player’s hand too much (which seems related to #1)
    1. Pretty much true. This seems to be a holdover from Oblivion and I’m not sure that I’m particularly fond of it, either. In TES2 and TES3, you actually had to read your journal and figure out where you were supposed to go based on in the information in there. This is not so much the case in TES4 and TES5. Whether this is good or bad is kind of a matter of opinion and opinion is definitely divided, so Samyoul loses on this one due to subjectivity, even though I tend to agree with him.
  5. Reduced NPC conversations
    1. True, but neither Daggerfall nor Morrowind were shining examples of this, either. In both TES2 and TES3, NPC conversations were integral to completion of your quests. However, outside of quest-related stuff, they were pretty boiler-plate and hardly worth the time to read. This is not depth. It is merely the illusion of depth and most players were quite happy to dispense with it in favor of focusing on quest completion. Is it any wonder the Bethesda pared it down to its essentials? “Kwitcherbitchin”
  6. Oversimplified puzzles
    1. This is nothing new. Daggerfall and Morrowind had some decently designed puzzles. They also required an FAQ to provide the answers to those puzzles for those who didn’t want to (or were incapable of) engaging their gray matter. If players want to be led around by the nose, it is not Bethesda’s fault for catering to it. You write/design with your audience in mind. This should not be a complaint against Bethesda unless you’re going to the logical conclusion that the developer knows what its players want better than the players know what the players want. “We’re born in the Vault, we die in the Vault. All hail the Overseer.”
  7. Reduced value of items
    1. So-fuckin’-what? In Daggerfall, a quick trip to the Rusty Ogre Lodge (with saves and reloads to force respawning) could net you millions of septims in a few minutes. Ready access to cash could be a game-breaker. But I think the devs recognized this and tied access to better quality stuff to your character’s level. Yeah, leveled loot. What a radical concept.
    2. Morrowind and Oblivion tried to address this problem by limiting the amount of gold each merchant had for purchasing the player’s stuff. But players spent incalculable amounts of time trying to figure ways around this limitation. PC players could fire up the Construction Set and mod it in about 2 minutes. XBox players were kind of stuck (see point #2). Skyrim simply continued this trend, but it presented a problem in the minds of some (many?) players.
    3. Contrary to Samyoulonine’s view, items have absolutely no value outside of whatever the developers say that they do. Why does the Cuirass of the Savior’s Hide have a value of 150,000 septims in Morrowind? Because the devs said that it did. Since no merchant had that much money (short of modding it), you either took 30,000 by selling it to a museum or 5,000+ by selling it to a merchant. Of course you could keep it, but if you’re role-playing a class that wouldn’t/couldn’t use it, what’s the point?
    4. It apparently sticks in Samoulonline’s craw that a lot of players have no use for some of the loot they acquire and want to sell it off. But they’d also like to get something approximating the base value of the item. Another one of those “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” issues. Would you rather get 10% of what the game tells you is the base value of an item or would you rather get 50% of what the game tells you is the value of an item? Remember that the item has no value outside of whatever the devs say it has, and I’m back to “so what?”
    5. In one of my recent play-throughs of Skyrim, I gave up the Skull of Corruption. My character wouldn’t have used it if it had been presented on a silver platter (it’s a role-playing thing), so my only options would have been to either never acquire it in the first place or sell it. I opted for the former (I let Erendur destroy it), figuring that the potential benefit of a a follower was greater than the gold-piece value of an item that I would never use. So I’m back to “so-fuckin’what?”. It’s my game and my character. Why does the Skull of Corruption have to be worth hundreds of thousands of septims, aside from the fact that it was worth that in TES2, I mean?

I decided to replay the entire Mass Effect series rather than continue with my return to the Mojave Wasteland. I decided on a completely Renegade playthrough, but more or less abandoned that after completing Mass Effect. Being a complete and total asshole really isn’t in my nature, although I made a heroic stab at it for the sake of the story. But I racked up entirely too many Paragon points in Mass Effect and more or less turned Paragon for Mass Effect 2, although I did not pass up the opportunity to give the Illusive Man a piece of my mind at almost every opportunity. In the end I blew up the Collector Base and then moved in to Mass Effect 3.

As much as it galls me to admit that the Illusive Man was correct, I took the Control option for the ending of Mass Effect 3. But I did it because it was the only option that fit with all of the decisions I had taken up to that point and then started a New Game Plus with the same character (male Shepard with an Infiltrator Class).

In following up on that choice, a thought dawned that perhaps my dissatisfaction with the ending of ME3 might be more related to the failure of the Hero’s Journey than to any major inconsistencies in the ME3 story itself. I’m still trying to digest that idea and will have more to say on it later, but I haven’t changed my opinion on the ending. I’m just trying to get a better handle on why I’ve been dissatisfied. The quest for clarity will bear some interesting fruit, I hope.

I don’t know whether it’s just that time of year or what, but I’ve had dozens of new user registrations, but no comments being held in the queue. Just as a reminder, ALL comments get held for admin approval. It’s not that I particularly want to censor anyone, but I’m certainly not going to turn this into a running advertisement for pharmaceutical sites, which is typically what happens when unmoderated comments are allowed. Consequently, I’ve turned off new user registration. Existing registrations are still there and comment approval is still on. If anyone else wants to register, you can PM me on either the Bethesda forums or on the Nexus. I’m not that hard to find and don’t mind doing that manual creation thing. Just make sure you give me a valid email address.

A Destructoid interview with Pete Hines of Bethesda Softworks raises a bugaboo for the used games market, especially with regard to developers. The basic issue is money or the lack of it.

A developer spends a huge amount of money to develop a game. They reap their profits from the initial sale of the game. But when the original purchaser trades in that game and it is sold to a second party, they get nothing. As with any argument, there are multiple sides. To keep it simple, I’ll focus on three: the used game seller, the new/used game buyer and the developer.

The developer essentially claims that they should receive a share of any secondary sales. It is their work, after all, so leaving them out of any future transactions is tantamount to theft in their eyes. My problem with this argument is that game developers are trying to distinguish themselves from other entities in the secondary market, such as used books, used records/CDs, used videos, used golf clubs, and the like. Leaving aside the issue of higher up-front costs, this is a distinction without a difference in my mind. In all cases, we are dealing with a situation where the original purchaser no longer wants the product and seeks to recoup some of their initial expense. The difference, at least in the case of the books and golf clubs, is that the producer can be relatively certain that the original purchaser did not make an extra copy somewhere along the line. For the books, records/CDs or movies, that’s just the way the business works and you knew that when you went in. Why are game developers any different?

The used game seller, on the other hand, rightly points out that in accepting a used game for resale, they are assuming the risk of not being able to sell it. That’s not a bad argument when you’re talking about niche games like Leisure Suit Larry, Spellforce, Alan Wake and such, but completely bogus when talking about AAA games such as Skyrim, GTA, Assissin’s Creed, Black Ops and the like. No one is going to ever convince me that a used copy of Assissin’s Creed 3 is going to sit on the shelf and gather dust unless it’s already 2020 or something.

Gamers also have a fair point. Games are an expensive habit. Top games will set you back $60 or $70 for the initial game, plus however much the developer tacks on for DLC or micro-transactions in online play. Consider a game like Dishonored or Bioshock Infinite that has some, but not much replay value. Figure $60 for the basic game and figure that I’m going to be done with it in 10-15 hours (I’m assuming no second play-through). I’ve forked out enough for a few new-release DVDs and received essentially the same entertainment value. If someone is willing to take my game in trade for something else that I’m going to get 10-15 hours of entertainment from, then I’ve significantly offset my initial expense and I have no problem chalking up the remainder as the cost of being able to play it first. Expensive bragging rights, but worth it to some gamers.

On the whole, I think the gamers and game resellers have slightly more compelling arguments. Were the developers to step in and say, “OK, we’ll knock $20 or $30 off of the initial price of the game in return for a cut of any secondary sales”, then I wouldn’t have much of a problem. But it’s a system that can be manipulated. “Sale!!! Was $100, but take 67% off!” Was it really $100 or was it $100 from 8:00 to 8:01 so that they could legitimately claim that a 67% price reduction occurred? I also find the argument that “if we don’t get bigger cut, we just won’t make quality games” to be bogus. There’s a $20+ billion market out there (for PC games as of 2011) and it’s money available to whoever wants to produce a game that players want to pay for.

Pete Hines’ idea in the article that led to all of this is the best one put forward thus far. If game developers were to produce games that people didn’t want to trade in, then the issue becomes a non-issue. It’s difficult to buy a used game when there aren’t any to be had. That’s not going to happen (remember the old saw about not being able to please all of the people all of the time), but it’s certainly the best starting point in the argument. In the meantime, if developers want their arguments to hold water, then need to distinguish themselves from other copyright holders who do not get a say in secondary markets.

I started writing a post going over some of the oddities I encountered during my first play-through, that made sense the second time through. The problem was that by the time I got done editing out all of the spoiler stuff, I was left with a page full of stuff that made no sense. So rather than go into the story stuff, here’s a short YouTube video from minutephysics explaining the basic premise underlying the story.

This is probably not big news by this point and the “Many Worlds” theory gets a lot of use as a plot device in a lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction writing, but it might help some people get their heads around the ending.

For a couple of reasons, I argued long and hard with myself about pre-ordering Bioshock Infinite (it will release on Tuesday). The original game, released back in 2007, was a marvelous game. I caught it on-sale at Direct2Drive (now GameFly) and played through it a couple of times. There was little about the game that I didn’t like and even my dislikes were more of minor annoyances than “what were you thinking?” kinds of things.

Perhaps my biggest complaint was that, because it was a fairly linear story, it didn’t have a ton of replay value. After all (spoilers follow, but for a six-year-old game, who cares?), once you’ve saved the Little Sisters and harvested them, there isn’t much else to do. But catching it on sale kind of offset that little problem. People who spend $10 or $15 on a movie  they’ll only watch once or twice will understand the logic of that.

Bioshock 2 was on my radar, but I never got around to it due to the resounding “meh” from all corners. It wasn’t produced by Irrational Games, the makers of the original, so I didn’t hold it against the series and pretty much just waited for Bioshock Infinite to roll around.

On the other hand, Bioshock Infinite is at it’s full $60 glory, so pre-ordering it was a tough call. I’m not expecting that the game will have much more replay value than the original, although I did note the existence of a Season Pass, which would seem to indicate plans for something beyond the game itself. The first review to hit the presses was from IGN where it garnered 95/100. I normally take reviews with a heaping tablespoon of salt, so that was merely intriguing rather than decisive.

No, what pushed me over the hump were the Steam pre-order bonuses: the original Bioshock (which is handy to have in my Steam library rather than sitting zipped up somewhere on my hard drive), an XCOM game (I’ve never played anything in that series, so a freebie as an intro do a different series was a major plus), and some Team Fortress 2 junk (which, frankly, I couldn’t care less about). There is also, allegedly, a puzzle-based add-on called “Industrial Revolution” which goes along with all pre-0rders, but Steam made no mention of it and I only found out about it by taking a gander at the 2K Games forums. So “allegedly” remains until such a time as it either pans out or not. We’ll see.

In any event, it looks like I’ll soon be taking a break from Skyrim for a few days thanks to Steam resorting to outright bribery to gain some preorders. I’m such a slut when it comes to bribery.

Playing through Dishonored again. After escaping the prison and jumping down into the water, I guess I slipped up because the three guards behind the barbed wire started shooting at me. I decided to see if I could get to them and climbed up the rocks and over the barbed wire at the right side of the big wall. I’m thinking that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do that, but the game let me, so I’m not going to complain overmuch about it. At any rate, after taking care of the guards, I went around the corner looking for loot that I might have overlooked in previous play-throughs (I’m still coming up about 90 coins short of what the game says should be there) and didn’t find any, but did find this:


A good indicator of this being a non-player area, no?

A friend recently retired and will soon be moving. He dropped by to have a chat and brought a few brewskis with him. The brews were an odd selection of porters, wheats, and lagers and were meant with the best of intentions. I’m kind of vocal in my characterization of mass-produced American lagers as being on a par with carbonated horse piss, but always with the qualification that there is no such thing as bad beer; there is only beer that you enjoy drinking and beer that you do not enjoy drinking. The major domestic brands fall into that latter category – I do not enjoy them and would frankly rather go without than slog one. Hmmm. A Bud or a Diet Dr. Pepper? The Doctor wins that contest every time.

Anyway, he brought a couple of sixes of odd stuff and it was a thoughtful gift that left me on the horns of a major dilemma. I figure the stuff must have been in the clearance bin or something because all of them turned out to be absolutely flat. Not even so much as a hint of carbonation, flocculated yeast on the bottom of the bottles and all that. Older guys will understand the idea of never wasting wood. Younger guys, I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but you’ll understand eventually. So what does one do with a dozen brews that should never have been sold in the first place?

Option one: save ‘em and pass them off to someone else. I simply could not bring myself to unload them on some poor unsuspecting soul, even someone I didn’t like very much. Yes, I must save you from the curse of “beer that you will not enjoy” even if you’re one of those people who deserves to wake up with coyote-ugly (that’s a level of heinous where you’re willing to chew off your own arm rather than wake her).

Option two: pour ‘em down the drain or toss ‘em. That’s kind of like wasting wood. Beer is Northern Europe’s answer to the mini Ice Age (lasted from the ninth century to the nineteenth century). Kind of a giant extended middle finger in the face of Nature, who deprived them of their vineyards. Like wasting wood, simply disposing of the offending beverages would be an affront to the ancestors and all of those man-rules. While it’s possible, it simply isn’t done.

The only remaining option? Drink ‘em. It is a decision that I will probably end up regretting on some level because this is beer that I DO NOT enjoy drinking. But sacrifice in the name of friendship is what is required in cases like this. Cheers.

Having taken care of hardware and OS upgrades for Skyrim, I thought I’d drop back to the Mojave to see how well New Vegas is handling the change. The short answer is “not well” as the game has a nasty habit of freezing and crashing every few minutes. I’m surviving because of the CASM mod, lots of quicksaves and sheer stubbornness. I’m not sure why this is presenting such a problem, but I’m guessing that it doesn’t thrive in my 64-bit environment, although I’m at a loss to explain why.

At any rate, in spite of the crashing and restarting, I’ve been reminded of a major complaint regarding the Legion faction. I’m not sure that there is any way to fix the problem, but it’s something that I’d love to see avoided in any future games (Elder Scrolls, Fallout or otherwise). If some kind modder can successfully resolve the issue, I’ll be your #1 fan.

Backstory: I typically don’t start out to ally with any particular faction. In fact, I’d like to remain friends with all of them for as long as possible because it lets me do my wasteland wandering with a minimum of fuss and bother. Somewhere up the road from Nipton and down the road from Novac is an overpass where three groups spawn. One group is Legion, one group is NCR and the third is a a couple of trading caravans headed for Novac. I like to catch the caravans early (mainly because I’m trying to build my Caravan deck and they usually have cards at the beginning of the game and I’ve also got junk from Nipton that I’d like to unload), but they inevitably get attacked by the Legion almost as soon as I get there. Since I like to do my trading in peace, the Legion ends up on the losing end of the fight and I get a bad rep with the Legion, basically because I defended myself.

Alternatively, while looking for lost supplies for Forlorn Hope, finding the supplies gets me attacked by a couple of Legionnaires. I defend myself, they die, I’m on Caesar’s shit list.

A little while later, I start getting attacked by Legion assassins, which always pushes my Legion rep down to “Vilified”. Game over as far as Caesar is concerned. So along comes his frumentarii when I grab the chip, inviting me to visit with Caesar at his camp at Fortification Hill. I obligingly do so since most of the quest lines pretty much require it. Whereupon Caesar comes up with the stupidest comment ever to come out of the mouth of a reputedly intelligent guy: you kill my Legionaires and ruin my plans. You got a lot of balls to show up here.

I want to be able to provide a truthful response: You declared war on me, fucktard. What else did you expect? That I should roll over and die for your pleasure? Not gonna happen. Your people picked the fight, so they also picked the consequences of losing. Get over it. If you had left me alone, I would have left you alone.

The developers didn’t provide anything even remotely resembling that response, but it seems to be mostly applicable to the Legion. NCR, the Khans, the Kings, and the rest don’t go hostile on you unless you go hostile on them first. Of course, they’re not prone to shooting at caravans, merchants and the like. Not so for the Legion. Also not true for Vipers, Fiends and the rest of the bad guys who are hostile to everyone on general principles. But Caesar’s folks just have an unerring tendency to piss me off at the first opportunity and then seem genuinely surprised that I don’t just fall down and die for them. This could easily explain why it took me five full months from the game’s release before I picked up the “Render Unto Caesar” achievement.

There is an apocryphal story told by the older brother of one of my high school buddies. The older brother served in Vietnam (Vietnam ended while I was in high school). Marines from the Republic of Korea served in Vietnam alongside American Marines and were reportedly majorly badass. Badass to the point of firefights stopping when they were in the area because neither side wanted to piss them off. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil because I’m the meanest sonofabitch in the valley.” My wasteland philosophy in a nutshell. Too bad the game doesn’t really support it and mods don’t really implement it other than to give me neat toys.