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This Dumb Industry: Violence and Science Fiction

By Shamus
on Tuesday Feb 6, 2018
Filed under:
Column

 
 

Mr. BTongue (also known as Bob Case around these parts) just released a new video on videogame violence as a follow-up to his first video on videogame violence. This new video pokes at some longstanding flame wars regarding the American military, politics in games, the supposed obligations of artists to the societies they operate in, and diversity. But it’s also got some stuff about The Iliad in it and that’s always fun:


Link (YouTube)

I’m wary of pulling on any of the threads in his video. I think there are a lot of interesting discussions to be had here, but this ain’t my first visit to the internet. I know that before we even get started we’ll end up with some partisan announcing, “I HAVE STRONG OPINIONS ON AMERICA AND THE MILITARY AND I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU AGREE WITH ME BY DROWNING YOU IN OUTRAGE AND LINKS TO SOURCES IDEOLOGICALLY ALIGNED WITH MY POSITION.” And then we’ll end up in the same old Red vs. Blue ditch where all internet discussions go to die. As usual, a few people ruin it for the rest of us.

So let’s just skate past that stuff and talk about…

Spec Ops: The Line: The Discussion: The Return

It’s funny that Btongue brings up Spec Ops: The Line now, since we were just talking about it in the comments of the most recent post of Wolfenstein II. Some people disliked the game. In their view, the game traps you in contrived scenarios where you only have one option and many seemingly reasonable alternatives aren’t available. Then it turns around and condemns you for those actions, and seems to condemn you for wanting to play the game in the first place. I really liked the game, but I also understand where the critics are coming from.

Is the game really condemning the player, or just genre conventions? At some point we’ll end up in a quagmire arguing about authorial intent, but I don’t think the position of “the game is hostile to the player” is an unreasonable reading of things. The game even pointedly introduces you, the player, as part of the opening credits.

Gosh, thanks Spec Ops. I really feel like part of the team now.

Gosh, thanks Spec Ops. I really feel like part of the team now.

So when the game starts chiding the protagonist for “wanting to be a hero”, it’s not hard to see that this condemnation might also be aimed at whomever is holding the controller. And this rubs people the wrong way because it makes all sorts of assumptions about how the player views the game.

I enjoy jumping the curb and running over people in Grand Theft Auto. That doesn’t mean I want to do that in real life or that I don’t know it’s wrong. I enjoy punching bad guys in the face as Batman, even though I’m fully aware that vigilantism is a terrible idea in practice. I’d be pretty pissed off if I started up a Batman game and the developers spent the whole time sneering at me and insinuating I’m some sort of violent thug because I enjoy being Batman.

Just like Batman exists in a world where Bat-themed vigilantism is a viable solution to crime, military shooters often exist in a world where military conflicts are simple good vs. evil, the lines are clear, and you can make the world a better place by shooting all the bad people. No, the real world doesn’t work that way, but that’s what makes this an escapist fantasy. I actually enjoy SOTL’s deconstruction of the genre, but I can’t really fault people who signed on for something else and didn’t like what they got.

The developers (seem to) have the position that people who enjoy typical military shooters are all sheeple:

"None of you actually THINK about the games you’re playing. You’re just mindlessly gunning down dudes."

And I’m sure that’s true for some segment of the fanbase. But I’m betting lots of people who enjoy these games have the introspection to recognize them for what they are and realize the real world doesn’t work this way. And for them the rhetorical position of SOTL comes off as presumptuous, sanctimonious, hypocritical, and unfair.

If nothing else I liked SOTL just for being different. If all shooters were grimdark “Apocalypse Now” styled explorations of no-win scenarios and we suddenly got a one-off game where you get to play as a righteous hero in a conflict that has clear sides and an unambiguous bad guy then I’d probably celebrate its novelty as well. “Finally! A game that understands we’re here to have fun!”

We Could Use More Science Fiction Right About Now

No. Wrong. You're doing it wrong.
No. Wrong. You're doing it wrong.

Personally, I’d much rather they tore the labels off of things by placing their story in a sci-fi setting where we can consider whatever the point the game is trying to make without getting caught up in what political tribe the game is coming from. Rather than argue that games should advocate Ideology A or Group B, just take whatever part of that debate you want to talk about and transplant it somewhere that isn’t going to map to the American Red / Blue paradigm.

But I guess the public prefers the “realism” of modern settings. This traps writers into using existing armies for their shooters, which means reducing complex geopolitical conflicts into good guys vs. bad guys. And if you’re doing that, then it seems financially smart to make the home country of your biggest customer base the explicit good guys, and make villains of some small country that would never buy your game anyway. People refer to Call of Duty as “Propaganda”, but this implies a deliberate attempt to spread a particular view or manipulate public opinion. Having casually played a couple of these games, to me they come off as more pandering than propaganda. That doesn’t make it any more acceptable to people that dislike the designer’s rhetorical position about who the bad guys are, but I think the distinction is still important.

On the other hand, does the public really prefer “real world” settings, or has the industry just been bad at creating science fiction? It’s hard to tell public preferences from creative inertia, particularly since AAA publishers are obsessed with chasing trends in a way that entrenches familiar ideas. I know one of the big tentpole shooters went to space recently, but it was still space over Earth with the familiar roster of Earth-based armies. If you really want to get out of the shadow of the Red v. Blue fight then you need to go to a world where they’ve never heard of America. (Or so far in the future that they no longer care.)

This would be a win for me as well. I’d love to have the debate of “Did the Alliance actually bring peace to the Jondar homeworld or was that just an excuse to exploit their natural supply of quantum crystals? And even if they were there to take the crystals, wasn’t that kind of justified considering the external threat proposed by the Khildar Dominion?” Sure, people that like to argue about partisan politics will try to map this to the real world so they can write snarky clickbait think-pieces, but (assuming the writer did their job) an honest reading of the world will prevent a simplistic mapping of that world onto this one and we’ll all be obliged to consider the setting on its own terms without worrying about which team represents “our” party.

Okay, I really dig this world. But the shooting is just terrible.

Okay, I really dig this world. But the shooting is just terrible.

The other benefit to sci-fi settings is the availability of “Orcs”. Shooter gameplay requires you to shoot a lot of dudes. This isn’t necessarily a problem if the game is comedic or overtly bombastic in tone, but the closer we get towards “realism” – the more straight-faced and somber the work tries to be – the more people will naturally see the world through a more realistic lens. If you’re fighting in a “realistic” modern-day setting, then once your body count hits the triple digits it’s hard to not look at what you’re doing and start wondering if all of this death is necessary. Sure, the bad guys need to be defeated. But don’t some of these guys have families? Aren’t they just human beings that have been brainwashed by the bad guys? Maybe these guys are conscripts who have no choice but to fight. Maybe they’ve been lied to their entire lives. Maybe they don’t really hate me but they had to sign up for the military to feed their families. Suddenly I’m not feeling very heroic. Even if I really am making the world an objectively better place in the end, it’s still a crappy job to mow down these poor slobs.

But in a sci-fi world we can create a strawman villain explicitly to facilitate gameplay. They can be bloodthirsty space-Orks that have no redeeming qualities. They can be robots. They can be insane bloodthirsty cannibal psycho killers. They can be vat-grown super-soldiers with no other dreams or aspirations in life except to kill. They can be a multi-racial band of cruel pirates or cultists so it doesn’t feel like the writer is singling out a real-world group. Or maybe they’re inter-dimensional demons of pure evil. Once we take a step or two away from realism we can facilitate copious amounts of fun shooting without turning one group of real-world humans into cannon fodder. Some people will still dislike the focus on violence, but that’s fine. Those people probably aren’t into shooters anyway.

Wait, Wasn’t This Supposed to Be About Violence?

One final thing I’ll add is that I think Campster hit on an important point back in 2012 when he made the case that violence-based gameplay isn’t just a creative habit, but also a natural result of having a computer running the game. Computers are good at simulating physical conflict and bad at simulating (say) dramatic conflict:


Link (YouTube)

Campster’s explanation is kind of depressing because it’s harder to see a solution. Computers aren’t about to get any better at running a tabletop-style roleplaying session. AI is making huge strides, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point where your home computer can hold up a conversation that isn’t constructed from a canned dialog tree imposed by a writer. And even if we solved that problem, we don’t have the means to have the AI perform that dialog like a proper actor. Thus violent conflict can be resolved using formal rules that the player can master, and dialog-based conflict is still trapped in the “Choose Your Own Adventure” model of guessing your way through a tree of predetermined choices. Violence wins because it suits the hardware.

Sure, you can come up with games that aren’t centered on violent conflict. We’ve got The Sims, Cities Skylines, Crusader Kings, Rollercoaster TycoonYes, there are occasionally violent exceptions to the normal gameplay., Papers Please, The Witness, and hundreds of other games with no violence, or where violence is only a small part of the experience and often not directly controlled by the player. And many of those games sell incredibly well. But a lot of the really big flagship titles are still built on shooting and stabbing, and I doubt that will change anytime soon. The hardware is well-suited to that sort of thing, and so that’s what gets made.

Just make a little more of it with Sci-fi, okay? Right now sci-fi fans have to pin all their hopes on BioWare, and that doesn’t seem to be working out.

Footnotes:

[1] Yes, there are occasionally violent exceptions to the normal gameplay.


 
 
Comments (277)

  1. Matt van Riel says:

    “Right now sci-fi fans have to pin all their hopes on BioWare, and that doesn’t seem to be working out.”

    lol… anyone doing that will get burned. Bioware’s done at this point, they’ll be the next big profile shut down for EA simply because not only is it impossible to hit whatever ridiculous expectations EA have for the game, it’s also a Destiny-inspired game… when Destiny is busy going down in flames itself.

    Maybe the idiots at EA should stop chasing others’ ideas and try coming up with their own. I wonder who they’ll try and acquire next so they don’t have to… Bluehole, perhaps? Heh.

    • Galacticplumber says:

      I mean, to be fair, any given AAA studio with proper shooter experience could make a game with similar ideas and do well on the grounds that the reason the current version is going the way of the dumpster fire is due to horrid business practices. It was a promising game with promising ideas that turned INTO a shitshow. Just do the same thing without that last part.

    • Christopher says:

      Granted, if you’re looking for sci-fi shooters, you’ve also got Destiny, Halo, Quantum Break, DOOM, Gears of War, Overwatch and Titanfall just in recent memory. It hasn’t been all that long since Killzone, Crysis, Resistance and Dead Space, either. One-offs like Bulletstorm, Hard Reset, Singularity, Binary Domain and Vanquish come and go. You’ve even got your post-apocalypses covered with Fallout 4 and Horizon Zero Dawn as long as you can dig some RPG elements.

      It’s just, none of them do nearly as well as Call of Duty. And even that series isn’t what it used to be. Modern Warfare 3 apparently did 30 million in sales. Infinite Warfare and WW2 “only” did 12. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds kinda seems to have taken up that torch, having sold 24 million.

    • BlueBlazeSpear says:

      I was hoping that it wouldn’t be true; that Bioware wouldn’t be the next body tossed on the official EA corpse pile. But Anthem isn’t exactly inspiring confidence.

      I’ve been troubled by the Kotaku article that suggests that Anthem is Bioware’s make-or-break moment. The implication being that EA is holding Bioware hostage and if we don’t cough up $60 for Anthem, we’ll also lose Mass Effect and Dragon Age along with everything else that once made Bioware great.

      But the reality is that is Anthem sells well, the only thing that it buys us is more Anthem and Anthem-like games. That’s not what I want from Bioware. I don’t want MMO Action RPG game-as-service Shooters from them. I want a deep story and engaging characters. And every indication is that that’s gone forever whether Anthem fails or not.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        A week or so ago it occurred to me that if Anthem fails, it could kill Bioware. Then I realized the thought was giving me the warm fuzzies. Their entire studio direction has been moving firmly towards the 100-hour collectathon full of empty “content” and they’re making noises about how they want DA4 to be even more of a zillion-hour game-as-service affair. As for Mass Effect… well they abandoned the setting, Andromeda and swaths of 3 suggest the writers have lost their touch, and the shooting was never exactly great. Bioware doesn’t have any hostages, everything that made them great to me is already gone.

        If Bioware dies, some of those developers will move on to other companies, and maybe their productivity will end up put towards games I care more about. At this point it’d be hard for me to care less.

        • BlueBlazeSpear says:

          My wife’s been a long-time Bioware game fan and this reminds me very much of her hot take on the situation. She played roughly the first hour of Andromeda and gave up playing it, proclaiming that Bioware was already dead. And I can’t dismiss the notion.

          Her read on the situation is that it’s probably in the best interest of gamers and future video games that Anthem actually fails instead of succeeds. It would free up the people who were making good Bioware games to go somewhere else and maybe start making good games again, and perhaps even send the bigger message to game makers/publishers that Anthem and its ilk aren’t what gamers necessarily want. I’d say that this view is optimistic, but I can’t say it’s “wrong.”

          • Liessa says:

            I feel pretty much the same way, sadly. On the one hand, obviously I don’t want people to lose their jobs. On the other… I have no interest in Anthem, none whatsoever, and it’s obvious that Bioware are never again going to make the kind of games I like with EA breathing down their necks. If Anthem were to fail, maybe the talented people at Bioware (or what’s left of them) could go and form their own studio or something, and start making more traditional RPGs again.

            …Or maybe not. Watching how their games have developed over the past few years, I get the feeling there’s been a distinct cultural shift at Bioware, and I don’t think all of that is to do with EA. I got into Bioware RPGs around the KOTOR / Mass Effect 1 era, and I’m honestly not sure whether there’s anyone left who even wants to make those kinds of games any more.

            • Zaxares says:

              I came to a similar conclusion a few years back. I think the turning point was basically somewhere between ME1 and ME2, and it was exacerbated by the two founders David Gaider and Greg Zeschuk leaving the company. Corporate culture is ALWAYS derived from the leaders, and with them gone, the company will slowly start to adopt the ethics and attitudes of whoever is the new person in charge.

              It’s indeed a tragic state of affairs, but also one that I’ve seen play out over and over. The only thing we can do as consumers is look for whichever up and coming studio is making the new enthralling story-driven RPGs, and with our support, make them into the next Bioware.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          I’ve long since given up on Bioware. When DAII was being launched it was easier to think that a big enough backlash could push them back into another direction, but at this point it’s clear that Bioware just isn’t interested in making actual RPGs anymore, and no longer even has anyone working there who has the sense of what the audience wants in one. They want to make action games interspersed with dialog trees, and those dialog trees are only a technicality away from being cutscenes.

          It would just be silly at this point to continue to bemoan their newest projects for not being Baldur’s Gate. They’re no more the company that made that game than they are the company that made Halo. They’re a completely different studio, and deserve completely different expectations. They can go ahead and make a mediocre version of Destiny if they like. It doesn’t matter. They just aren’t capable of making the kind of games that I used to enjoy, so why bother asking them to?

          • Teddy McCormick says:

            I think the reality of the situation is a lot sadder than you think. There are tons of people at Bioware who want to make actual RPGs, they’re desperate for it. But they have to make what their boss tells them to make, and the boss has to make what will make EA happy, and actual RPGs don’t make EA happy.

            My mother-in-law worked at a game developer from a bit before EA bought it, up until shortly before EA shut it down; she saw the whole process. Her studio went into it thinking they could still be themselves, just with EA’s money behind them, but EA wound up with more control than the studio had expected. Then before they know it, they’re making all these terrible choices that they know are terrible choices but were handed down directly from above. They would try to do something gamer-friendly, but EA would get mad at them for it, and they’d have to change it. They would try to do something original, but EA would get mad at them, and they’d have to copy whatever was hot that week. She went from loving her job to being miserable.

            The worst part is knowing that they were right and EA was wrong about all those choices – because, you know, the studio shut down. Like, if they’d at least made bank they could’ve been like, “Well, EA knows what they’re doing.” But they have even less of an idea what they’re doing than it looks from the outside – and the outside view doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

            • Redrock says:

              When we talk about Bioware, the question remains: why not leave? It wasn’t a viable question a few years ago, because finding a job in this market is tough. But today? Imagine, a new indie studio founded by ex-Bioware developers announces a Kickstarter for a new, original story-driven RPG. We see that Obsidian is doing well, Larian is doing well, inXile is doing well. Hell, I think Obsidian and inXile could hire quite a lot of Bioware refugees if they turned up.

              So I don’t think that Bioware’s developers are really trapped by the vicious EA. Maybe they genuinely want to make Anthem. All in all, with the rise of indie cRPGs in recent years, I can’t say I actually miss the Bioware of old all that much.

            • Hector says:

              I’m not sure if it’s true that there’s anyone who wants to make RPG’s at Bioware anymore. There were certainly there once… but so many of the Bioware vets left already.

      • djw says:

        That’s fine. I am more than willing to say farewell to both Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I enjoyed both of them at the beginning, but I don’t trust Bioware and/or EA to make any more good games in that series anyway.

        I’ll buy Anthem if its good, but not until its $20 (even if that means a 5 year wait).

        • Durrican says:

          Dragon Age Origins was an amazing game, and it gave me a satisfying ending that showed me the consequences of my choices thoughout. It didn’t leave me feeling I wanted a sequel, but rather that I wanted to replay it to experience the alternatives. Maybe I’m the exception, but I didn’t feel it needed to be a franchise, and I’m fine with the series ending.

          Sadly I can’t say the same for Mass Effect. The resolution that was built up from the first two games never happened, and the feeling I was left with after completing the trilogy was “What was the point?” The Extended Cut ending at least gave me a slideshow of consequences like I’d come to appreciate of old western RPGs, but too little, too late.

          So I’m fine with both Dragon Age and Mass Effect ending, because as far as I’m concerned they ended a while ago.

        • BlueBlazeSpear says:

          I’m with you in the sense that I would rather see no more Mass Effect and Dragon Age games than see some EA studio cranking out bad Mass Effect and Dragon Age games.

  2. Galacticplumber says:

    Wait that was the EXCEPTION to how Roller Coaster Tycoon was played?! Since when?

    • Droid says:

      While we’re on a similar topic: Did you hear that Magicka supposedly has a Coop mode? I tried searching for it, but I could only find “Versus (in Arena)” and “Versus (in the campaign levels)”.

      • Philadelphus says:

        A friend and I played Magicka 2 for the first time recently after watching Let’s Plays of it and somehow blew up enemies more often than each other. I think our copies might be bugged or something.

  3. BlueHorus says:

    Well, that’s one solution to Shamus’ habit of posting an article in the comments section: just take that post and put it in the next article!

    On topic: Another benefit of the sci-fi shooter is a range of enemies; in your average military shooter, your enemes don’t really vary too much from:
    Dude with gun/dude with other gun/dude with knife/dude in body armor/dude with really big gun/tank/helicopter.

    But with sci-fi, you can get creative. Off the top of my head: claw monster, acid-spitting claw monster, shapshifting backstab monster, mob of small monsters with hive mind, screaming zombie monster, fireball-throwing monster, enormous tentacle boss, squeaky-voiced midget, flying robot with stabby bits, wall-crawling hit-and-run monster, sarlac pit…
    and so on and so on.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Sci-Fi also allows you to do things like have enemies that explode into smaller enemies when they die (swarm of insects; robot made up of smaller robots). You can extend that by having them re-form if you don’t kill all the little bits within a short time (swarm of insects; liquid-metal / T-1000 robot). Similarly, enemies that can keep fighting with bits destroyed, like a (giant) robot, or a zombie.

  4. Asdasd says:

    I appreciate your thoughts on SO:TL, Shamus. I feel like I was kind of lazy in neglecting to come back to that thread in the other post. Sorry about that. I’m just not a responsible citizen when it comes to internet commenting!

    ” I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point where your home computer can hold up a conversation that isn’t constructed from a canned dialog tree imposed by a writer.”

    Have you played Galatea, by any chance? I don’t think of it often, but when I do, it seems to be an artefact from another universe where this problem got a lot, lot closer to being solved.

    To be clear, it’s still a dialogue tree, but one rendered in vastly greater fidelity than anything found in even the most celebrated CRPGs. And of course it takes full advantage of the scale: no graphics, no voice acting, and nothing else really to the game other than this setpiece conversation.

    But it’s well worth experiencing just to see how far clever application of current tech and design paradigms can take us. And it does bring its own innovations, such as one-way gates that mean anything you choose to discuss can impact how future subjects will be responded to, if at all.

    • Echo Tango says:

      That game’s cool, but it’s all still manually-created dialog. Shooters (and other 3D games, like racing games or city sims) benefit from having a large portion of their interactivity generated by a well-defined system. Bullets follow physics + simple health mechanics -> shooter. Basic tax laws + land zoning + electricity and jobs to manage -> city sim.

    • Jennifer Snow says:

      Has it occurred to anyone that you don’t really need to have the AI “hold a conversation” with you?

      It is RIDICULOUS how bad games are at using non-verbal information given how much they spend on graphics and animation. It’s like paying to have Uma Thurman in your movie and then giving her no lines and having her only scene be sitting in the corner wearing a burka. You could have replaced her with a coathanger and nobody would have noticed.

      You know what contributes to this problem? They make the player deaf and dumb and give them like, TWO interaction options. Maybe even one! What can you do to interact with things in the game world? You can move up to it, and click “interact” and get whatever canned interaction the developer programmed in.

      This puts 100% of the load on the game developer to CREATE the interest in the game. They have to take your ONE BUTTON and make it do enough different, interesting things to make a viable game. The player is INCREDIBLY passive, which is silly because the player is the one with the brain and the free will and stuff!

      Older text-based games at least had the interaction part where you could try large numbers of ways to interact with situations. They also kind of sucked, because of the “use toothpaste on frog” problem where there was still only one real interaction and you just had to guess until you figured out what insane combination the writer came up with THIS time–or, with the advent of the Internet, look it up. But that doesn’t mean that the *interaction* model was bad.

      And it doesn’t necessarily have to be text. Look at all the crap lying around in a standard Bethesda game, for instance. Look at how much people COMPLAIN about not being able to interact with things. You can really only interact with all that STUFF in two ways: You can loot it, or you can steal it (assuming it’s “owned”). If you have enormous patience and are super-bored you may be able to pile it up in an interesting way (which will probably be destroyed when the cell resets). Or, as a remote option you can put it in a Junk Jet and launch it at enemies for lulz.

      You can DO that for conversations. Don’t give the player a list of canned lines. Make them ASSEMBLE their side of the “conversation”. Have a lot of varied potential responses, most of which don’t involve real lines of dialog. Put most of the real “dialog” behind a wall of skilled assembly techniques. You know, like in life. Actually getting people to “talk” to you should feel like an attainment.

      The problem is that a lot of the design choices in games prevent this kind of thing or make it prohibitive–and people aren’t really even aware that there are design choices involved. It’s just “the way you do things”.

      What do I mean? Well, how about this one–the fact that in RPG’s, you almost always get ONE QUEST PER PERSON (or “questgiver”). That right there means that you’re going to have very few interactions with any given character. That makes a system where you do a lot of trial-and-error to get access to dialog prohibitive due to the expense and the fact that each individual interaction is a lot lower in value–you just want to get the quest and move on. Deciding to have a lot FEWER characters would enable many MORE interactions with EACH character.

        • Jennifer Snow says:

          Lol.

          I like awesome buttons fine, I just want there to be more of them!

        • Alex says:

          The Awesome Button as envisioned by Saints Row 3 is actually a good way of doing it, by having Shift be a modifier to more than just movement. Reloading taking too long? Use Shift+R to just drop the half-empty mags (wasting ammo) to speed things up. Stealth attacks feeling feeble? Use Shift+LMB to unload your shotgun into the back of their head instead. Need to open a door in a hurry? Shift+E to kick the door down.

      • Echo Tango says:

        Games could definitely do with more Moira characters, or more Goodsprings / Megatonne locations. Too often it’s, as you point out, single-quest-then-move-on for people or locations, which necessitates them being very shallow, so their cheap to make. :)

        • Jennifer Snow says:

          This is probably also a major contributor to why, say, Bethesda’s open world titles are generally well-received despite inept writing of the first order, whereas Bioware’s much better writing is often not remotely as well-received. Bethesda’s games have a larger scope of interaction options. Not HUGE, but much, much larger than Bioware, which is 100% canned ham. Flaws in the latter are going to stand out dramatically.

        • Asdasd says:

          I think everyone rues the necessary compromise of shallowness in bigger world adventures. The problem might be that if you strike out in the other direction, narrowing your scale but increase the depth, people will accuse you of cheaping out on your asset-building.

          This won’t map perfectly, but Zelda: Skyward Sword eschewed the size of world and variety of locations compared to earlier instalments, opting instead in parts to return you to previously-visited environments that were different in some way (one sunk under water, another under hostile military occupation, etc). You’d meet the same inhabitant NPCs too, which meant that they’d have more than one quest to give you, more lines of dialogue and so on.

          This really fleshed the world out, giving a greater sense of places as places – as opposed to one-and-done locales in a theme park of a world. But it came at a price. In-game, it made the world feel small, and that smallness pulled some people out the experience, becoming suspicious that assets were being reused out of cheapness, or laziness, or lack of time. There’s a reason ‘backtracking’ is a dirty word among gamers, be it fairly or no.

          That’s probably the one thing outside of the waggle combat that people remember about the game today: that it was the small one, or the one Nintendo rushed to market. Unsurprising then that for Breath of the Wild they went in completely the other direction.

          (I will go to my grave defending the waggle combat. And the silent realm quests. Oh my god, the silent realm quests. Now there’s an example of compelling non-violent gameplay – a fantastic blend of scavenger hunt, obstacle course and hide and seek.)

          I guess the more meaningful comparator would be Dragon Age 2, but I haven’t played that game.

          Also, I always liked how in City of Heroes, there were less quest-givers but each offered a whole chain of quests. It gave the writers a lot more time to round out their personalities, goals, speech habits and so on.

          • Jennifer Snow says:

            Fewer *characters* doesn’t necessarily mean that the game world needs to be small, btw.

            Also, with very sparing use of canned dialog lines you can actually fill the game with mostly procedural characters who can have a wide range of possible interactions (because they’re using a procedural system) but are not so time-intensive to make.

            You don’t necessarily have to end up with a situation where the world population is 95% goons that you mow down. :)

            I’m not necessarily aiming this concept toward AAA games or major releases, either.

  5. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    it’s still a crappy to job mow down these poor slobs.

    Probably should be “crappy job to mow down”.

    Anyway, I’m all for more sci-fi, cause realism is boring.

  6. Hah. Well this is pretty relevant to where I am right now with games. It’s been a pretty shitty start to 2018 for me, and a previous comment thread here recently reminded me of Halo: Combat Evolved, a game I played back in the day and had fun with. “Just what I need right now! Low-context, guilt-free violence in a sci-fi setting!” I thought to myself. Except…. no, because after I dug out my very elderly (and yet apparently unopened?) Halo disc, it choked horribly on install under Windows 10 and I haven’t found a resolution that works. ::sadface:: (If/when I feel up to the challenge, I may try installing it under Mint w/ Wine instead.)

    So…. now I’m playing Crysis instead as a substitute (shush, yes, I know, it’s seven years old now, I know). Except it’s not really a perfect substitute because I’m having to mow down all these North Korean chaps to get to the “shoot the gribbly aliens” bits. Not quite the guilt-free carnage I was hoping for! I kind of want an, “Excuse me lads! Please could you point me at the OTHER horrific alien killing machine that’s currently wrecking all your shit? Ta muchly!” option. ‘Cos right now I just feel like the worst bully…

    • PPX14 says:

      I think that might be 10 years old… :D

      I know! Poor hapless NK soldiers

      • XD 10 years old! Blimey, even worse than I thought! I was going on the ZP review I looked up on YT after I started playing, I think that was from 2011. (And is pretty much on the nose, so far…)

        I think what makes it even worse is that in the back of my mind I’m perfectly aware that the stuff with the NK soldiers is basically a tutorial zone. And it’s right on the heels of that pornographic introduction of the nanosuits. Can it really be more overstated how unequal these first fights are?

        • PPX14 says:

          It really is a poor man’s Far Cry (original) I’m afraid. Often fun in a similar stealth/traversal/choose your approach way and with some fun environmental manipulation I guess.

          Not sure how well it actually escalates come to think of it :D The nano-suit cannot be stopped.

          • Yep, pretty much that. I recall enjoying original Far Cry up until maybe the last 1/3-1/4 of it, when it just kind of went wibble and deluged me with silliness and crap escort missions.

            I have started trying to avoid pockets of NK chappies if I can:

            Prophet: “Hey! There’s a bunch of NKA on the other side of the river.”
            Me: “Then I just won’t go over there, bro.
            (And it actually worked that time. Woo.)

            It’s my Thief heritage showing – the mark of the true professional is no one knowing you were even there!

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              This is why Im saddened by modern stealth games.You can just sneak around knocking out everyone from the shadows,and youll still get top marks.Even though theres a huge difference between going in and disturbing nothing and going in and having everyone know you were there once they wake up.

              • Oh, for sure. Trouble is, most modern “stealth” games are also action games and shooter games, so they tend to assume certain things about the protagonist that Thief went out of its way to counter (you are not a combat monster, you will likely die if you attract too much unwanted attention) and the setting perfectly sold a “softly, softly” approach that might be a harder sell for a setting that is more open to other approaches. No-KO ghost runs in Thief were still a thing I had to work up to and learn to appreciate, even so. They take a lot of patience and a penchant for delayed gratification that isn’t everyone’s cuppa – heck, sometimes *pokes OP re Halo* it’s not mine either!

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  You can still make a game that rewards perfect stealth and is very actiony.The (good) hitman games prove that.Stealth is not just crouching in the dark waiting for enemies to move away.Especially if you include fantastical elements like in dishonoured and deus ex.

                  • I’ll confess right now that I never could get into the Hitman games. The whole “hide in plain sight despite being a 6’4″ slap-headed chap wearing a uniform nicked off a 5’4″ Asian chap” was a bit tricky to swallow, plus the DIAS thing of stealing the wrong uniform or carrying the wrong rifle into an area meaning either insta-fail or (effectively the same thing) everything getting abruptly very loud.

                    I know it doesn’t have to be, but I don’t think either Dishonored or Deus Ex (any of them – even the first*) incentivise a total ghost approach in the same way that the early Thief games did.

                    * Love it to bits, top game, etc., but the stealth could be fairly painful at times.

              • PPX14 says:

                Haha that’s how I play Thief! Clear out the level and browse at my leisure. (No killing of course, Expert difficulty)

                …Then I discovered the guards with helmets. Clang!

    • Galacticplumber says:

      Why not dead space one instead? Everything you kill is unambiguously a horrible not even alive abomination against nature for which every moment of continued existence may well be it trying to kill organic life to reproduce, and the shooting mechanics are pretty fun.

      • I’ll add it to the list! Deciding to play Crysis was mostly a case of failing to install Halo, then skimming through my GoG library and remembering that I’d picked it up recently in a sale. Seemed a good moment to give it a red-hot go.

        • Galacticplumber says:

          Two quick warning before you start. One batteries that need to be placed into ports have to be shoved in with gravity gun style kinetic manipulator. This can be finicky so you may have to wiggle it a bit instead of just expecting it to go smooth. Also if you like the look of the flamethrower just remember that the game is hard enough sci-fi not to let that work in a vacuum. Also not strictly necessary but good to know, the game also puts refills for your time stop juice near puzzles where it’s needed. Don’t be stingy with it because you think you’ll be out when you need it to progress.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I suggest going through far cry 4.Not only are there a bunch of mooks for you to kill guilt free,but theres also plenty of good humor in that game,and the gameplay is refined enough.The radio towers are dull though,but there arent that many of them compared to carnivorous badgers and drug fueled quests.

      • Tuck says:

        Far Cry 4 is even more fun if you play it co-op with someone (although the requirements for single player progress suck).

        • I thought Far Cry 3 was where it was supposed to be at? I played Far Cry way back in the day, haven’t really bothered much with the franchise since. Alas, coop play isn’t really my jam!

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Gameplay wise,they are practically identical.4 has a bigger map,you get the flight suit way earlier,it has more interesting animals,and better humor.Also 4 has its funny villain be the main villain,instead of just the first third part.

            • Redrock says:

              But it should be pointed out that Far Cry 3 actually has a decent story with an arc for the main character. I just never managed to get into Far Cry 4 because I had zero investment and it felt too much like a checklist. Far Cry 3 manages to add just enough narrative push to avoid that, I think. But 4 does have more verticality and early access to the wingsuit, so… whatever sails your boat, I guess.

      • PPX14 says:

        Woah woah woah, it’s the complete opposite! After killing a few hapless seeming soldiers under a crazy dictator, the first mission is to find and kill a den of wolves! Forget that. And it looks like most of the game is killing either animals or soldiers that are basically the same as the NK ones in Crysis – slightly scared dimwits under a mad regime.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Ah,but you arent killing just any animals.You are being assaulted by the most vicious creatures of them all:The honey badgers!

          • Honey badgers are legit scary (heck, even a regular badger can be legit scary if you meet one in a bad mood).

            I flip-flop on killing animals in games – I think it’s a bit tacky (mostly because game-animal behaviour is usually nothing like real-animal behaviour) but then otoh I spent hours running down deer in Oblivion, so…… I’d be a hypocrite if I claimed it was a deal-breaker!

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              I wince every time I see a road kill,or an animal limping,but Im not bothered by it in video games ever.With one exception.Postal 2 had such realistic cat growls and whines that I used the “silencer” mechanic only once,and it legit freaked me out.

  7. ElementalAlchemist says:

    Just make a little more of it with Sci-fi, okay?

    Good news! It would appear that Obsidian’s secret project headed by former Interplay/Black Isle/Troika alums Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky is going to be of the sci-fi persuasion. Someone over on the official Obsidian forums dug up a fresh trademark registration for “The Outer Worlds” – https://forums.obsidian.net/topic/95951-the-outer-worlds-trademarks-obsidians-aaa-rpg/

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    Spec Ops sets up expectations in an unfair way by first presenting you with several avoidable problems (the woman who jump-scares you in an attempt by the developer to make you reflexively kill a civilian, the angry crowd), then hits you with the white phosphorus situation where you’re not just railroaded down one path, the game outright cheats to get the outcome it wants (it’s possible to take a shot that hits the remaining hostiles without killing all the civilians, except the game magically changes your previously-established area of effect and burns them anyway). That seems pretty deserving of criticism, but it’s not the biggest problem.

    Whether or not the game is condemning the player or the genre, it doesn’t want to be played. Responding to criticisms that there’s no way to avert the white phosphorus incident, the developer said something to the effect of “You can turn the game off” and that’s an answer that a lot of people find to be bullshit. Not just because they paid $60 for a game that doesn’t want to be played, but because it’s kind of dumb artistically. The game is linear, if I stop playing, that doesn’t prevent its story from happening, it just prevents me from seeing it. I’m not averting anything if I stop reading a book where bad things are happening.

    • I have started to refer to this genre as, “Fuck you for playing.”

      ETA: Most vexing example I’ve encountered so far was “Even Cowgirls Bleed,” a Twine intfic. AFAICT, basically whatever you do, it all goes to shit and then you are berated for being there. At least with Spec Ops, you know going in that you’re going to be shooting (representations of) people – an act that most people acknowledge is a Bad Thing IRL. Whereas with Cowgirls I felt like I was being berated for…. showing up to be told a story.

      • Joshua says:

        There’s a trope for that.

        :)

        On a tangent, I must confess I also tend to dislike Shaggy Dog Stories, Shoot the Shaggy Dog stories, etc. Basically, anytime where the most insightful conclusion the author could come up with to end the story was, “none of this mattered, everything sucked, there was no point in telling this story at all except to point out how everything (you) sucks.”

        • There is always a trope for that! :p (Except that apparently there isn’t a trope for “There’s a trope for that” – unless it’s literally the entirety of tvtropes by definition…)

          Thing is, games definitely do have room for exploration of the terrible (or amazing) things that humans can do – it’s just that there are better or worse ways to present such questions and handle the responses. F’example, in Sunless Sea there are quite a few storylines where you might do the right thing, but much more likely is that things will go Terribly Wrong and then you will Feel Bad – even if you were trying to do the right thing. Two that spring to mind are the Hunter’s Keep story with the three sisters and Pigmote Island. Once I realised that Hunter’s Keep tended to go bad if I poked it too hard, I consciously limited my interaction with the sisters to avoid triggering that scenario. Similarly, while I understand that it’s possible to achieve a peaceful outcome for Pigmote Island, it also seems to require quite a lot of luck and pretty high stats in the relevant attributes, so again I tend to avoid it early on in any playthrough because screwing it up makes me sad (may have something to do with my RL fondness for both guinea pigs and rats!). Conversely, a friend of mine (who has been quite scathing about SO:tL’s “Press X to commit atrocity” despite not having played it at all), freely admitted to trying the Hunter’s Keep storyline over and over despite the fact that generally it ended in Badness. He had rather an “…….OHHH. Crap.” moment when we were discussing it and concluded that it was just a differently shaped X for a different-shaped atrocity.

          • Paul Spooner says:

            Perhaps you’re thinking of Genre Savvy?

            I think the reason we’re willing to conscience atrocities in games is the same reason we play games in the first place. A game is a way of gaining experience without imposing cost. Violence has the highest real-world cost associated (as human life is so valuable) so we like playing games about violence because we can get a semblance of the experience without paying the cost.
            Committing atrocities are the same way in games. It’s a low-cost avenue to exploring “what if I…” where such actions risk an outcome that would be terrible in real life.

    • shoeboxjeddy says:

      It doesn’t cheat the AoE, you are directed to hit an explosive object. That object than spreads the damage out farther than you might have expected. This would be a real world concern that a trained user of that ordinance might expect but… Walker only understands how to use it, not when it would be best NOT to use it.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Eh, it’s a pretty postmodern view of things, but it’s definitely artistically valuable.
      “Leaving the theatre” for a movie you don’t want to see the end of, not watching a show or turning away from an installation, stopping reading,…
      They are all valid ways of (inter)acting with a piece of art. It may not be what you’d consider a valid interaction, but it *is*. There have been quite a few conceptual art experiments/instances where the whole *point* was to get the audience to intervene and stop it, or to get the audience to turn away (in disgust). They’re ways of trying to make you think about your own actions and your own decisions. Where do *you* draw the line? What is or isn’t acceptable? These are actual questions you have to think about, sometimes.
      I remember something similar in a “game” where school children were asked to react to bullying, and one about graffiti. In both cases, they were led along the slippery slope, starting off with something innocuous and innocent. In both cases, even right after lessons in what is or isn’t acceptable, children were way too willing to go far too far. And the same holds true for adults, of course.
      Such pieces of art can be educational. They can be thought provoking. And they’re definitely confrontational.

      Does this work in a game, I’m sure it *can* work well in a game. Whether or not SO:TL is a perfect example, I can’t judge on, being not really the target demographic.

      • So….. Milgram-experiment-as-game? I kind of see what you mean, but I don’t think it maps quite as neatly as that. Not least because most people now have an understanding that “game universe” != “real universe”. I am quite sure that ALL the commenters here would cheerfully admit to doing things in games that they would absolutely NEVER contemplate doing to a real person. Games are, to most people, a playground where they can explore behaviours they would never contemplate IRL – and test the boundaries of actions as permitted by the creators of the game. Playing a game, to many people, is a chance to challenge the “authority” of the game creator by finding unexpected loopholes and emergent behaviour. I do wonder how much of the ire at the WP bit in SO:TL is down to a lack of an in-game way to say, “Fuck this noise, let’s go home/find a different route.” (Which is something the game does really well at other points, and it’s a shame that those bits get drowned out by “That WP Bit.”)

        • Paul Spooner says:

          While engaging in a dialog with the game creator is certainly a draw for some people, and in some games, I think the less meta desire to learn about the subject as presented is more prevalent. You say people explore “behaviours they would never contemplate” but I feel the last word might be better as “risk”. There are lots of behaviors that I would never contemplate in real life, and which I also don’t contemplate in a game context. The really fun stuff is what I do contemplate in real life, but which I consider too risky to act on, when they aren’t downright prohibitive.

      • Echo Tango says:

        Re: the artist trying to make me disengage with the art piece.

        So, what if my response is to ignore the artist entirely? i.e. My counter to the “Just stop playing if it’s an atrocity, player.” attitude that Spec Ops: The Line presents me, is “No, I’m finishing this; Don’t tell me what to do, game!”[1] Is that a valid way to interact with the art piece? Authorial intent only goes so far.

        [1] For me this remains rhetorical, since I actually became bored with the game’s trite message, on an otherwise broad, meaningful topic.

      • Tektotherriggen says:

        I assume that the artist him/herself still expects someone to interact with (i.e. pay) them.

        • Galacticplumber says:

          And I expect to pay for art that wants me to engage with it in some manner, and that I want to engage with, and guess what? Engage with it. The specifics of what that means will vary with genre and medium, but one thing remains constant. If my life is made directly more unpleasant in a general sense by your art I will criticize you for it quite vehemently. Doubly so if you sold the art to me in the first place as a pleasurable experience. That’s both bad business, and hipster bait-and-switch hack artistry.

    • Alan says:

      Many modern games “cheat” rampantly to accomplish narrative goals, stealing control from the player in various ways. Gamers commit virtual atrocities every day. I don’t find any of this particularly remarkable.

      There are plays, novels, and movies about protagonists who do entirely the wrong thing for what they believe is the right reason, destroying things, killing people. Tragedies and antiheroes are part of our culture. People enjoys these stories, and again, I don’t find it particularly remarkable.

      SO:tL doesn’t do anything new; it mixes existing, pervasive ingredients together in a slightly different way. But something about it makes it different, makes it remarkable.

      I find that fascinating.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I’d hazard a guess that most of those plays / novels don’t condemn the viewer / reader for interacting with them. Spec Ops: The Line, however, is definitely condemning the plaer.

        • shoeboxjeddy says:

          Again, Walker is condemned for his badass hero complex driving him to do ever worsening acts to prove that he was actually in the right, he was FORCED into causing some bad to right a bigger wrong.

          The player is criticized for wanting this but in a different context. “You’d be okay with this if you weren’t killing US troops or civilians, right? If the violence was less graphic, it’d be more fun for you, right? Why is that? That’s kinda fucked up. Are you defending yourself right now? You just blew that guy’s head clean off… that’s messed up!”

          Presuming yourself to be above critique is really the most messed up thing of all.

          • Echo Tango says:

            I believe Shamus already pre-emted this, though. He posits that most players are to some degree self-aware, but still play games which are violent. Doing violent things in a game doesn’t necessarily equate to endorsing them in real life, which is the assumption that Spec Ops: The Line makes about its players. That assumption there, is the part that made so many people annoyed with the game.

            • shoeboxjeddy says:

              Spec Ops is making the point “why is Call of Duty okay but many people think “Hatred” or “Rapelay” are not okay? What is it about the latter two that makes them unacceptable? The framing? It’s all fake no matter how you look at it, right?”

    • Redrock says:

      I don’t think it doesn’t want to be played, as such. The “then don’t play it” response is more of a half-hearted attempt on the developer’s part to get rid of people who are offended by the game railroading them into the WP thing.

      I still don’t get why people get upset about it, as I mentioned before. That overwhelming desire to maintain that you are so much better than Walker is really intriguing to me. Personally, I believe that any human being is capable of any act of violence or unspeakable evil, given the right conditions. It’s by admitting to that inner darkness, that potential within us that we can actually gain enough reflection to keep those impulses in check. So I’m always a bit hesitant to proclaim that I would have done better than a character in a certain situation. But that boils to my original idea – I don’t think that SOTL blames the player for their actions as much as invites them to think on what they would have done and if there is a smidge of a chance that they would have screwed up too.

      By the way, a stupid question to long-time comment lurkers or to Shamus directly, whoever can be bothered: what’s the stance on the f-word in these parts? It may be silly, but, well, stances on profanity vary wildly from culture to culture and demographic to demographic, and it’s always best to be safe and ask. Because screwed up is a very weak word in the context and writing it that way made my teeth ache.

      EDIT: What the hell is wrong with me, I keep writing write instead of right. It’s not like I mix those two words up, either. I know the right word, I really do, but my fingers just do their own thing. So weird.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        This works as a reply to several comments in this thread.

        I still don’t get why people get upset about it, as I mentioned before. That overwhelming desire to maintain that you are so much better than Walker is really intriguing to me.

        Because it goes against the rules of the videogame. The game sets up situations designed to bait you into doing an avoidable bad thing, and then fairly assigns blame if you don’t avoid the bad thing. But then you’re railroaded and cheated into the WP incident and it wants to present that in the exact same “I can’t believe Walker did the bad thing!” light as the previous two incidents, despite them being different because the player didn’t cause it (except in the much weaker sense that I caused Dumbledore to die by turning the page). For those things to be the same, you have to factor our player agency, and if you’re doing that, then why is Spec Ops a game and not just a movie?

        • Redrock says:

          Ah! I think I’m starting to get it. Maybe the problem comes from some people assigning too much meaning to the other choices in the game? Because, frankly, I don’t identify with Walker all that much, he doesn’t really work as a player stand-in for me, so I don’t differentiate too much between the instances where you actually have a choice (like the crowd thing) and the WP segment. So I don’t really feel like I’m personally being condemned there. But I can see how others may react differently. Interesting.

        • shoeboxjeddy says:

          You’re not cheated into the WP scenario. Walker decides to do it and ultimately he has more agency in this story than the player. Walker decides using the WP is necessary and the player isn’t given the option to make a different decision because this is a linear storytelling game with limited player agency. It’s shown later in the games that if you thought you were outwitting the scenario, you really, really weren’t. Being mad about this one time in the whole game is really odd to me.

        • ehlijen says:

          I admit I’m just making guesses here, as I never got very far in the game (I just couldn’t bothered by the shooting galleries).

          From Shamus’ earlier post on the game, I got the impression that Walker at several points pushes on with his perceived mission despite the more useful option being to head home and report the mess he found.

          To me, that sounds a lot like a player continuing to play a game that successively ramps up in unfairness even though they don’t want to experience that unfairness: It’s an expectation of vindication that surely must come, because that’s how things are supposed to be.

          The game says “you followed walker past the point where he should have stopped, past the point where you should have stopped”. Was there a ‘return to base’ option? No, because there isn’t in walker’s mind, either. To be better than walker, the player had to do the thing walker couldn’t: leave.

          Again, I haven’t played the game, so this is a guess. I don’t claim that this makes it a good game or worthwhile experience, but I do think I see the intention behind it. And when contrasted with the many games that bend their plot over backwards to celebrate the player character, I think it was an interesting direction to go.

          If nothing else, I think SOTL will be talked about for longer than any given Call of Battlefield Warfare. So while it may be a worse game, I feel it is better art.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            The game says “you followed walker past the point where he should have stopped, past the point where you should have stopped”.

            Something like that.But at the same time,there are two more squad mates that follow walker despite their better judgment due to the chain of command and trusting their commanding officer.You are thrust in this unfair situation of military guys having to trust their leader even when they disagree with him,and you just have to deal with it like those two other guys.In the end,this trust ends up killing them,while you are the only (unlucky) one that can survive the whole ordeal.

            • ehlijen says:

              Do you, though? You are playing walker, the guy in charge of the team. And his orders are, if I understand things correctly, to perform recon, not to get involved. So the player isn’t following orders, nor is the protagonist. Nor is the player subject to walker’s authority.

              Nothing in or out of character is forcing the player to continue except for the desire for a story conclusion and/or more gameplay. In this, walkers drive onwards to find answers/meaning is mirrored. How long are you going to keep playing before you log off/bug out?

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                But you arent actually walker.The game starts by introducing you as a guest star of the game,and its in third person.So while you are controlling walkers body(most of the time),he is still autonomously issuing orders*,both to the two companions,and to you,the player.The only time you get actual meaningful control of walker is in the end,when you decide on his faith:Whether he lives,dies,goes back home or is utterly broken.

                And sure,you can always decide to turn off the game just how the two npcs can decide to tell walker to fuck off and go back.However,if they do that,theyll probably be court martialed,and if you do that youll lose the continuation of the story you started involving yourself in.The longer those two wait to mutiny,the harder their trek back will be,and the longer you wait to disengage,the more involved in the story you are.So what is mirrored is the two guys sense of duty and trust in their commander with yours sense of immersion in the game and its story.

                *other than the simple “go there,shoot that guy” orders you get during the shooting segments.

                • ehlijen says:

                  Walker has no power over the player other than what the player assigns him. The player can walk away far more easily than the NPCs (at all, in fact).

                  The question to the player is: How long are you willing to follow along, hoping for a better outcome than you deep down know this is going to get? Yes, if you log out you won’t get to see the end, but do you really still want that? What about after the next level? When does this feel wrong enough to make you stop?

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Sure,its easier for the player to disobey walker than the two squadmates,but at the same time the player is less invested than them.The player is just playing a game,being immersed in a story,while the two are fighting for their lives,killing people.Im saying that the “push forward vs the option to disobey” ratio is the same.Lower stakes vs easier quitting for the player and higher stakes vs harder quitting for the squad mates.

              • Nimrandir says:

                I experienced this same sort of “Can I keep doing this?” feeling as I made my way through Shadow of the Colossus back in the PS2 era. I loved virtually everything about the game, but I couldn’t escape the sense that Wander’s quest was just . . . wrong. I describe it to friends as ‘the best game I will never play again.’

                Folding Ideas did a video on the morality of Shadow of the Colossus, describing the player’s role as that of a viewer rather than a participant. The crux of the issue with Spec Ops is how it approaches that same line (no pun intended).

          • shoeboxjeddy says:

            Spec Ops is a very nuanced situation in regards to “following orders.” The guy Walker is sent to check up on disobeyed his orders and stayed in Dubai to try to provide disaster relief for civilians, putting his own men at risk. This is often a path of nobility in military stories, the commander who disobeys orders to protect “the people.” The game then colors that by casting the motive in doubt, was that commander just after glory in doing this? And did he ORDER his men to stay with him or was it a “everyone volunteers to do the thing” situation like The Alamo? In any case, things went terribly wrong from there. Walker is ordered to simply do recon, but is shocked and horrified by what he finds and insists in breaking HIS orders to continue onwards. Walker uses the rhetoric that he “has no choice” but to continue and to use banned weapons and to attack non-military targets and so on. He also ORDERS his men to continue with him, creating a conflict in the chain of command for his subordinates. As Walker’s group of three continues on, they become traumatized by the things they do and Walker’s second in command begins using “I was ordered to do this” as a moral shield, just as real life Nazi troops tried to do following the end of WWII.

    • Disc says:

      I’d say if you’re really going in with this mindset that “the player should just deal with my bullshit or fuck off”, when developing a game, then you should at least have an option in-game to just walk out from the situation. It’s a lot more powerful and meaningful way to make almost the same statement. I don’t know that it’d make the game any less aggravating for me, but I don’t see a reason why Walker & Co. couldn’t just have an option somewhere in there to actually leave the AO. The start would be the most obvious and and easiest to justify. Walker follows his mission, does the recon and then backs off.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The reason is that thats not walkers character.Its his stubbornness and propensity for heroics that made him decide to give the order to push forward.And the reason why the two npcs follow him is also given.The only unknown is why the player decides to follow walker.

        • Disc says:

          This metathinking really doesn’t work in favor of the game in my view, it just makes it that much more annoying that you’re supposed to view it from this fairly obscure angle to “get it”. My annoyances aside, tha game feels a bit like looking at some weird piece of post-modern art and instead of finding any tangible meaning in it, it just makes you wonder how and why did it even get made.

          I’d just rather have something tangible over vague. Or in this case, more aggressive over the passive-aggressive.

      • shoeboxjeddy says:

        The point of the game is NOT to present an easy choice that the player can make from comfort and then feel superior about. It’s all about trying to do the right thing and the horrible consequences that can result. Players who want a good ending where they never do anything wrong have missed the point completely. That’s like saying “make a Moby Dick game where you can choose NOT to be obsessed with the whale and nobody dies and the ship doesn’t sink.” Wow, what amazing art you have made there.

        • Shamus says:

          Actually, I don’t think that’s what people want at all. The problem isn’t that the ending wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, the problem is that the critics believe the designer was condemning them for even engaging with the work. And that’s exactly the kind of reaction you’re going to get if you make something provocative like this.

          Have a shitty ending. Have a shitty protagonist. But don’t accuse me the player of being a shitty person.

          You can try to tell these people they’re “wrong” (like DL did earlier in this thread.) or that they’re just interpreting the game wrong, but you’re essentially arguing with authorial intent. Spec Ops spends a lot of time talking to “You”. Some of it is even in the snarky loading screens. I didn’t feel particularly condemned by the game, but I think this reaction to the game is perfectly understandable.

          People were okay with The Last of Us. Or they got mad at Joel. The loading screens didn’t ask you how many people will die of zombie plague because “you” wanted to save your friend, thus blaming you for the actions of the protagonist.

          • shoeboxjeddy says:

            I guess I have a couple of responses like that. If the criticism applies to you (aka, you play a lot of military shooters and think they’re fun and have zero worries about the “meaning” of such an action) you’re of course allowed to be offended, but maybe consider the substance of the critique first rather than freaking out and saying the game is bad and poorly written and this and that.

            If the criticism DOESN’T apply to you (for example, you actually NEVER play military shooters and only tried this one out of curiosity or if you’re already very thoughtful about the role of violence in media or for whatever other reason) then just like… appreciate what the game is trying to do even if you think it has some flaws getting there?

            The game is more of a “it makes you think” than a “EAT SHIT AND DIE, YOU PLAYER SCUM” type experience. When the game talks to YOU, it’s more meant to be shocking than deeply offensive. I’m pretty leery of the perspective that would cause someone to BE deeply offended. What about you makes you (the common you, not anybody in particular at all) so precious exactly? The game said it was messed up to do what I was doing in it and I responded “Huh… yeah it kinda is. I wonder where this is going…”

            • Disc says:

              Well I think you’re kinda oversimplifying how the game can affect a person. I’m not against having thought-provoking games or media in general. I’ve consumed enough war movies and books to appreciate some dwelling in the horrors of war and such. War is all kinds of hell and madness, and yeah some people end up doing horrible shit in them. Trying to transfer that reality to be part of a video game is commendable effort in itself. But when you mix with constant passive-aggressive fingerpointing and a bunch of binary choices where they often go out of their way try to provoke you to do the monstrous thing, you’ve got a mix I’m surprised not more people got angry at.

              What personally made me resent the game was becoming aware what the game is doing with its writing and doing it so poorly and with such a throw-in-your-face mentality, that I literally just wanted to punch the writer in the face toward the end. It’s not like I hated the game from the outset, but somewhere along the line it just devolved into a race to see if I can throw a spanner in the works and not to do what I deem the asshole of a writer is expecting me to do. The snarky loading screens are something I forgot even were there, but I imagine they didn’t exactly help with trying to see the game in a more neutral light.

              The “Laws of War”-DLC for Arma 3 is a lot better example of how you can make what is essentialy a “military shooter” (I’d call it a milsim game, but I digress) into something thought-provoking and still have it be a good experience.

              • Disc says:

                Post Edit: And by good experience I mean “enjoyable”, gameplay and storywise.

              • shoeboxjeddy says:

                This response just leaves me with more questions. Why did detecting the writer’s goals (among them, to provoke an emotional response) lead you to “want to attack the writer in real life” and “made me try to sabotage the story” rather than engage with it? That… is saying a shit ton more about YOU than about the game.

                I also want to comment about the “binary choices” line. The choices may be A or B (or occasionally C) but what the choices SAY is not so much. For example, at a certain point you can shoot a CIA agent who is mortally wounded. He’s given you enough reason to want him dead and there is NO chance to save his life. But the choice to shoot him or not has a TON of conflicting motivations! You could shoot him because he asks you to and you believe that no one should suffer as he will if he has to slowly die from his injuries. Conversely, you could leave him to die to MAKE him suffer. Or you could kill him out of anger, because you want to kill him for what he did. Or NOT kill him for the same reason. You could even, from a meta sense, not kill him because you want the achievement for shooting a deer a few moments later. Calling that interaction simply binary does the game a disservice, imo.

                • Disc says:

                  I don’t know how I’m supposed to engage with a story that keeps pulling me out of it. And why… Because the game treats you like an abusive spouse? Because I’ve got a strong aversion to comply when I feel like I’m being manipulated? Because of the heavyhanded attempts of trying to make you feel bad, even when it’s not technically your fault, because there’s no alternative? Because the writer seems to treat his audience like they’re 12 and don’t know any better?

                  How densely do you want me to break this down? Also, what does it matter? Besides, Shamus already said more than needs to be said about why people might feel negative about the game.

                  “That… is saying a shit ton more about YOU than about the game.”

                  Right.

                  My emotional response was what it was, because “engaging” with the story is what left me with that reaction. I engaged until I couldn’t. The rage I described was just what I felt at the time. There’s no deeper meaning to it if that’s what you’re looking for. Rationally I obviously don’t want to punch the writer (because what does it really benefit me or him in the long run?) and I know trying to derail what is a linear story is silly, but I’m sure you’re aware, that when a person gets angry, you’re not fully your rational self.

                  If there’s anything where I’d be willing to give ground, it’s the choices, since it’s been a few years and I honestly can’t remember all of them. Just that most them were between shitty option A and shitty option B and the general feeling that the writer’s trying to yank yet another response out of me. And that it kept repeating, scene after scene that tries to make some poignant point or pull on my emotions in some usually aggravating way and it fails to impress me. That particular scene with the CIA agent I barely remember beyond being annoyed that it’s obviously yet another scene that tries to play on your emotions.

                  If you’re gonna push this further, you need to remember this is all subjective. Despite my negativity, I don’t wish to make it seem like other people are wrong for enjoying it. This was just my subjective experience, and I hope you can see and respect it as such.

            • krellen says:

              “If it’s not about you, it’s not about you” is a lazy form of argument that forgives shorthand on Twitter, but there’s no excuse for lack of nuance in your video game narrative. The designer has all the space they need to make their point, and it was very, very clear to me that the point was “you, player of this game, who gave me money to play it, are a bad person for wanting to play it”.

              Telling your customers they are bad people for buying your product is bad business, and liable to get you assaulted (and possibly worse) in many situations.

              • Nope says:

                Yeah Krellen, like, maybe you expressed it too aggressively (In deconstructions to friends, that’s the way I put it though).

                But the answer the game posits is you’re doing bad things and should probably stop, rather than, the media is replicating the bad things we already do, and we are incapable of stopping.

                It allows an out for the sufficiently detached, by criticising the player, ignoring themselves, ignoring the system they participate in. To get political again (I hope you forgive me Shamus), the game asks you to stop if you disagree, or continue, and I guess a lot of people justified it as a lesson they could preach, without condemning the complicity of everyone in our society, of our whole world. It tells you, you are bad for buying this (Though let’s face it, that broad a criticism should make any gamer ashamed-that it doesn’t is solipsism), and they’ve shortchanged the literature that inspired it (But you’re still clever for consuming it-hypocritical much?) Without going into as much good detail why. You can assume things of another person. You’re smarter, you’re better, you get the message. (It’s ok to shoot them). You’re Walker.

                There are great moments, great scenes, great bits of commentary. All are ignored by “fans” who want to dehumanise an other, to justify their own righteousness. I’d ask them-what makes you different from Walker?

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  But the answer the game posits is you’re doing bad things and should probably stop, rather than, the media is replicating the bad things we already do, and we are incapable of stopping.

                  Not true.The game is criticizing media for presenting war in a glorified manner,and then presents you with all* the awfulness an actual war,and asks whether this real depiction makes you feel heroic.Not because it thinks you are an awful person for enjoying a fantasy,but because all other shooters are calling you heroic while making you do the same awful stuff.Medal of duty gives you a plane to bomb the shit out of some faceless people running around miles below you and then tells you “Great job bombing those faceless guys down there!You are awesome!You are a hero!”,and specs ops responds by giving you a drone to bomb the shit out of some faceless people and then tells you “Most of those were defenseless civilians.Thats fucked up.Do you feel like a hero now?Yeah,because you shouldnt.”.It does not condemn the player for following a linear path,it condemns the genre for presenting such a linear path as something good.

                  *Ok,not literally all.But as an abstraction,its close enough.

          • I am quite fascinated by a comparison of the reception of SOTL versus the reception of Doki Doki Literature Club – both upend baked-in tropes and assumptions in their respective genre and both are grimly determined to confront the player with the most brutal consequences of their actions. SOTL has you as the Guest Star and has all those jabby loading screen comments; DDLC upfront warns you about the content you may find inside (given some of the stuff it contains, that might even be a legal requirement) and even expects you, the player, to get busy with the game files to unlock the next content-nugget. Both have Horrible Stuff that will happen if you insist on playing – no dodges, short of turning off the game. Both games have presented me with some of the most uncompromising and uncomfortable game experiences I have ever had. Both had brilliant moments that had me questioning everything I thought I knew. The protagonists in both go through an actual character arc (whether it’s one the player approves of is a different matter). Neither is a genre that I would normally go for, but I felt like both had something to say to me regardless. I cannot say whether the fact that I in no way identify with Walker or DDLC Guy made it easier to step back a lil mentally (my first impression of DDLC Guy was that he was an insufferable jerk who absolutely DID NOT deserve a friend like Sayori – and if you’ve played it you know how that ends).

            However, SOTL is still, as exemplified here, a very divisive game, whereas I can’t think that I’ve seen anything like the same amount of to-and-fro over DDLC. Ok, perhaps I haven’t looked in the right places, and DDLC is orders of magnitude smaller in scope and presence compared to SOTL – perhaps if as many people had played it, a greater variety of opinions would fall out?

            For my money, SOTL might be the bigger, better known, earlier example of a game that questions the foundations of its existence and the player’s expectations of the genre, but DDLC seems like a more refined version.

            (Hah – and I literally just noticed that there’s a new ZP episode on…….. Doki Doki Literature Club. Maybe it’s about to hit the big time after all?)

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              DDLC does give you a happy ending after all.If it stopped after the first big shock,it wouldve been received very differently.Spec ops,on the other hand,never lets go.It just pours more and more shit,even in the very ending where you get to choose walkers faith.Because no matter which of the four endings you get,all of them are horrible.

              Also,I suggest everyone to watch Jesse Cox and Dodger play through doki doki literature club.Listening to her doing all the voices is adorable and makes the game such a delight.

              • Yeah, that’s a fair point.

                Also, realised belatedly that “for my money” probably doesn’t mean much when one of the games in question is literally, legitimately free! (And somehow I had completely forgotten that until I watched the ZP. Braining I cannot into this evening, clearly.)

              • Syal says:

                DDLC is also goofier throughout. There’s some haunting stuff in it, and questioning of genre conventions, but there’s never a point where it stops making jokes.

              • Ander says:

                In the previously-mentioned ZP, Yahtzee argues the game would have been stronger had it just stopped at the first big twist. Ending there could have been quite effective if the game wanted to be primarily about depression, isolation, and friendship. I enjoyed the more existential stuff, but the game is strongest on this level. People wouldn’t spread the word as much, but I think they’d appreciate it.

                DDLC is less focused on genre criticism than SpecOps is. DDLC was all deconstructive, sure, but it wasn’t as determined to make you feel bad for playing it, and I don’t think that would change much if the game had ended even as late as the endless date. The game as a whole is less focused, with its thoughts on determinism and purpose, not to mention the very concrete and nuanced presentation of depression in act 1. The lack of focus may even be a weakness, but it’s a trait that, I think, protects it from some hard backlash from fans of dating sims.

            • Redrock says:

              The difference is that DDLC represents a much more niche genre. And also that, I think, most people that play visual novels/dating sims kinda understand and admit to themselves that it’s all more than a little gratuitous and exploitative. But military shooters are percieved very differently, take more seriously. So DDLC doesn’t really blow anyone’s mind in respect to the genre. Not as much as SOTL intends to, at least.

              And the cookier horror elements of DDLC also kinda undermine the seriousness of it’s message. In the end, it wants to be closer to Pony Island than SOTL.

          • Redrock says:

            While I agree with DL that SOTL doesn’t necessarily condemn the player all that much, I still find it oh-so-interesting that some people would balk at the slightest suggestion that there might be a hint of shittiness in them. That’s what bothers me about the negative responses to SOTL. That desire to argue that no, I’m a human being with perfect morals and not a smidge of weakness or bias or whatever, and how DARE you suggest otherwise, you piece of software. I know I have a number of flaws, just like anyone, but playing SOTL just makes me shrug and say “nah, game, I suck in slightly different ways than you assumed, good try, though” and move on. That a person would fell such indignation at a video game for suggesting they might be less than perfect is truly fascinating. So I’d say I get why people may think SOTL is condemning them, but I don’t get why they would be bothered by it.

          • Nope says:

            Exactly. And I think a lot of the resistance to that is sort of macho bullshit, much like Walker. “You shouldn’t be offended”

            I’m not. I’m looking for Kurtz being corrupted by his experience, not into something that tells of what he’s been through, but of a baser instinct of man. The game tells me I’m probably a jerk for playing it, and the only snarky response is “You’re a jerk for making it and profitting from it too, sorry bruvs, that’s capitalism”.

            When the game talks to “You-the Player”, it is far less convincing and cutting than when it makes you act AS Walker, or includes the criticism in narrative. The game assumes you picked it up not knowing what an old af book on literature courses with a Hollywood adaptation was about. AKA-it treats you like an idiot. I’m sad that those points are the most loved.

      • ehlijen says:

        The reason, I believe, there is no ingame option to walk away from the obviously deteriorating situation is because the game represents Walker’s world view. He doesn’t see going home as an option, therefore, there won’t be a visible option to go home.

        The way out requires that the player look outside Walker’s narrow worldview, in this case being represented as needing to look outside the game world to find the ‘Quit Game’ button.

        I see this as part of the point the game is trying to make (whether you agree with it or me or not is up to you, of course):
        Expectations of ‘the way it should be’ can blind us to obvious answers outside the carefully presented field of view. The game is trying to convince us of walker’s viewpoint, but he is wrong. It us up to the player to see the solution walker is never considering. Clicking ‘Quit Game’ means the player broke through walker’s blinders as represented by the game itself.

        • Locke says:

          The problem with the “you could always just turn the game off” answer is that it’s an out of game answer to in game atrocities. From an out of game perspective, yes, you could just stop playing, but the “lives” of video game NPCs mean nothing, so who cares? They aren’t sapient, they aren’t sentient, they aren’t even actual distinct entities. They’re component parts of a video game, and when you “kill” them, all you’re really doing is switching them from one state to another. Both states are equally lifeless and the entity actually responsible for switching them from one state to another is actually the video game, which they are component parts of. The actions of the player amount to a digital haircut – and the hair can be regrown instantly by reloading the level if we decide we don’t like it. The actions are only bad from an in-narrative perspective, and from that perspective we literally have no choice. No course of action within the narrative will cause the game to play out any way other than a bunch of civilians getting horribly murdered, and no amount of actions we can take outside the narrative will change that. The story of Spec Ops: the Line is exactly the same whether we decide to complete it or not.

  9. Isaac says:

    If you don’t want harsh, divisive political discussion on your blog then why would you pick Wolfenstein 2 as a game to write about for your retrospective series?

    • Shamus says:

      Because I have lots of things to say about that game that have nothing to do with the obnoxious virtue signaling coming from The Usual Suspects.

      I’ve always got the delete button and banhammer if things get out of hand.

  10. John says:

    Personally, I’d much rather they tore the labels off of things by placing their story in a sci-fi setting where we can consider whatever the point the game is trying to make without getting caught up in what political tribe the game is coming from.

    I sympathize, but sometimes the point a game is trying to make requires those labels. SpecOps is a contemporary military shooter because it has things to say about contemporary military shooters and being a contemporary military shooter itself is the best way to do that. If, on the other hand, a game’s point, message, or theme is a little more general, then picking a fantasy or sci-fi setting (or any setting, really, that can’t easily be mapped to the here and now) is probably a good idea. Tolkien once said (I think) that he strived for applicability rather than allegory, and that strikes me as a pretty good rule of thumb.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I think, in this case, Shamus is on the side of SO:TL when he says to try to avoid politics. I don’t think he’s saying that SO:TL should not have been political. I think he’s saying that if shooters had avoided politics in the first place no one would have made SO:TL to criticize them, that the critique is valid, and that an obvious way to avoid such critique in the future is to avoid political pandering.

      • shoeboxjeddy says:

        It’s impossible to avoid political messages though. If you make up a modern shooter but make all the participants fictional, you can still easily send messages like “war is necessary” or “war is awesome” or “combat is heroic” or etc. All points that someone could easily dispute, despite your fictional premise.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          The point is to get the discussion of the topics without invoking the bundled conclusions of contemporary ideologies.

          • shoeboxjeddy says:

            If you want to discuss (for example) whether war is good or not, a lot of people would naturally drift the discussion towards which current political party might be saying exactly that thing. Shamus’ policy is his policy, but a lot of times, talking about philosophical ideas without getting political is like talking about nutrition without ever mentioning food.

            • John says:

              I would very much like to disagree with you, but I’m not sure that I do. I would like to believe that people can disagree with a game’s politics, a game’s perceived politics, or the politics implied by the game’s story and systems without that game generating a lot of partisan discussion because I would also like to believe that people can be political–which is to say have opinions–without necessarily being outraged about the game or viewing it in partisan terms. I suppose that depends on just what the game’s politics are. But I think it also depends on the extent to which people who disagree with the game’s politics view the game as actively hostile to their own politics or to them personally. And I think that the less overtly topical or nakedly allegorical the game is the less likely it is to be perceived as hostile.

              That said, I don’t personally have a problem with politics in games, at least in the abstract sense. I don’t care for partisanship or mean-spiritedness, but if someone has something political to say and thinks that they can communicate it most effectively in game form then I say go for it.

              • BlueHorus says:

                I think you’ve put it quite well in that you put ‘have opinions’ in italics. People aren’t just interested in politics, they care. And once emotions get involved any discussion can easily get out of control.
                It’s entirely possible for human beings to discuss anything – including politics – in a calm, constructive way; they just don’t. Which is sad, but such, it seems, is the nature of the Internet.

                [shoeboxjeddy]…talking about philosophical ideas without getting political is like talking about nutrition without ever mentioning food.

                This seems very true…but, no-one’s throwing the food at each other or screaming, which is a plus.

                On a related note, I’d love to see the article Shamus has mentioned wanting write on Twitter and its cultural effects.
                But he’s right, the chances of the comments section turning into an angry shitshow are pretty damn high…

  11. MichaelG says:

    Speaking of SF, can anyone explain Star Trek Discovery to me? I have watched off and on, and it just seems depressing, nonsensical and about as close to the “anti-trek” in spirit as they could have made.

    Last episode, the cruel emperor (shouldn’t that be “empress”, guys?) who eats intelligent species brains for dinner, has been made captain of a ship she’s never been on, in a universe not her own, with the intent of sterilizing the Klingon home world or something. Sheesh!

    Also, as far as I can tell, they wrote the main character as “male action hero”, and then told them to use an actress at the last minute or something. Oh, and add another female captain and a female admiral, also without a line of dialog that couldn’t have been written for a male actor.

    And the main male characters so far are the evil captain, the “turns out he’s a Klingon and murderer” boyfriend, and the irritable gay engineer who talks to fungus. Is there any character that is even remotely likeable?

    Makes me want to shoot mooks in a video game.

    • Lee says:

      You’re missing several characters. The doctor was likeable. The alien first officer is mostly likeable. The talkative bestie who’s a killer captain in another universe is likeable.

      Though that may all be differences in who you consider likeable. I like the spore guy, too. Michael goes through highs and lows. I’ll admit that I’ve never liked the captain or the Klingon, though there are others that do. (I follow the Trekyards channel on Youtube, and one of the two hosts really liked Lorca.)

      That said, it is very low on the Trek scale of eutopic futures. I’m still hoping they do one more time jump and put us back before the first episode. I’m not holding my breath, though

    • Matt Downie says:

      It’s not a show to be watched on-and-off. It’s a serial with an ongoing narrative, full of characters with carefully foreshadowed secrets (that then get spoiled on the internet).

      I don’t know you want from the female characters to prove that they’re written differently from male characters. They’re Starfleet officers doing professional Starfleet officer things.

      (I kind of agree about the style, though; it’s more Westworld than Star Trek.)

    • Um, first, spoiler warnings would have been nice (I haven’t seen anything of the second half of the season)!

      Discovery (again first half of season, I cannot speak to anything after Jan 1), has some awesome moments. (First spoilers are quite vague, likely safe. I use no character names nor descriptions, and neither bit is a huge plot bit. Second are Lorca-specific, but are spoilers if you’ve not seen the first half of the season.)
      We have a gay relationship that’s normal, no one makes anything of it, nor it is anything odd or strange! YAYS! We have people showing PTSD signs when they should. Okay, not very Trek, as that’s fairly dark, but it’s nice to see semi-realistic mental health issues. Captain is screwed up royally, well, I know of very few people who could order the death of their ENTIRE FREAKING CREW and not be screwed up. Yup, he was saving them from a worse fate, but still… Okay, yeah, that WAS DARK.
      I’ve kinda been thinking of Discovery as newTrek. It’s grown up a bit, gotten a bit more angsty and dark, but is also going to interesting new places. Hey, they used FUCK! AND IT WAS AWESOME! (Yes, they did, and it was at a moment of great scientific awesomeness and was used in the fuck yeah sense and was a brilliant moment!)

      Can’t help you with Michael, I watch it (and will watch the second half of the season in a binge when it’s all out but the cash I was using for CBS All Access for the first half has been earmarked for the “Melfina’s Teeth Are FUCKED” fund) for the other characters. I don’t hate Michael, but I don’t find her interesting or likeable. Jason Isaacs is well, I’ve had a crush on him since his Lucius Malfoy days so I love him as Lorca, I like the chief engineer and doc, the red-haired ensign is adorable and brilliant, and Mudd(spoiler warning for occasionally occurring character not in pilot) was exactly right.

      • MichaelG says:

        Sorry about the spoilers. Wasn’t thinking of that! I found the whole series a deranged mess, so I wasn’t considering the fans. Nice to know there are some.

        As for PTSD, it should be a lot more common. Michael takes insane risks again and again in the series, and should be practically catatonic after all the near death experiences. So should the spore guy, since he’s actually hacked his brain with alien DNA and nearly died.

        The alien first officer is the only character I’ve found tolerable, but we don’t get any back story on him or his species, so they haven’t done much with him. The gay doctor is similarly brief.

        But I insist this is the “anti-Trek”. Take away all the optimism and problem solving and humor, make all the characters one-note and grim. Lots of unreasonable orders barked out by macho characters. Add modern fight sequences that go on forever (no one gets tired.) I find it actually dull to watch and speed it up to 200% with subtitles, just to see if anything interesting happens.

        Other than the red-headed engineer, do you find any of the female characters realistic?

        • The admiral reminds me of an old shrink of mine, actually, though my doc was never military. So yeah, she seems very normal and believable. I honestly can’t think of a single female character who seemed wrong to me, actually. They all just seemed like humans, some tougher than others, some more RRR, fight WAR than others (like a hallmate who played rugby and ended up breaking her nose twice in one season and loved it). Maybe since a) I am female, and b) I spent several years in a single-sex environment (Mount Holyoke, we aren’t a girls college without men, we’re a women’s college without boys), I’ve seen more uncommon women and thus don’t blink when they’re shown to me in media?

          I’m giving Michael a pass on the seeming human thing, given her backstory. I’m actually kinda impressed she hasn’t had an emotional overload and breakdown.

          • Oh, also, my critical emotional brain turns off with most media. I never did notice Captain Janeway’s inconsistent characterization until I tried to write a fanfic involving her and could not get a handle on her character. Thankfully that was several years after Voyager was off the air and doesn’t seem to have stopped me enjoying episodes since.
            I think it’s a self-defense mechanism like my turning off my physics brain, history brain, lore brain, and occasionally all thinking not related to “ooh, pretty booms/persons/scenery/tech/whatever!” Makes it a lot easier to enjoy bad movies as I just enjoy the shiny. Does tend to confuse people as I can explain to them why x, y, or z are acting the way they are in RL, what they’re likely motivated by, and what might be going on in their subconscious at the drop of a hat, but need a bit (less or more depending on how well put together the characterization is) to do the same for a movie, book, show, or play character.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      To me,std is the perfect example of wasted potential.So they had the endings of ds9,tng and voyager to build on:
      a world where federation is licking its wounds after a serious war,a newly uncovered secret part of the federation with sinister intentions,klingons are under a new,kind of controversial rule(which would justify “remain klingon” so much),borg may be coming back from the delta quadrant,and a plethora of great cameos they could use(a black vulcan,a female captain to promote into an admiral,a bunch of “on the cusp to be promoted” officers that they can use as a captain of a new ship in order to pass the torch,…),and they used NONE OF IT.Instead,they went with a prequel.But not a prequel,because the tech is more advanced than in the stuff its prequeled to,and the “familiar name” had to be recast in order to find a younger actor.Also,they killed off one of the best actors they had in the pilot episodes just to show how this is serious.

      • ehlijen says:

        Commercially, the post-DS9 ST universe was more or less dead. Nemesis was a steaming hot pile of garbage, Voyager basically killed any chance at continuity by dumping oogles of silly future and borg tech in the UFPs lap (almost as bad as the ‘no more death, no more starships needed’ endings of the reboot movies). What video games where set in the aftermath didn’t do too hot and engaged in a mess of cross continuity garble that would not have been able to survive being put back on TV.

        I think a spin-off was the correct way to go, James Bond or Doctor Who style. They needed that free hand.

        As for the actor that got killed off: The entire season is building up to a moment similar to Michael’s mutiny in the pilot, except everything mirrored (or so it seems to me). This was not a series of episodes, but a full arc, and Shenzhou’s death was an important part of that. She did not just die ‘to show how serious things are’. (My apologies if I guessed wrong on who you meant by ‘best actor’).

        Is it a good show? I dunno. I’ve been enjoying it a lot more since the return from the mid-season break, but it made serious blunders all the way through, in my opinion. I think I need to see the finale before I fully assess my feelings on it.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Ehh,the final continuity of those three shows couldve been ironed out.The continuity of the original was a big mess as well,but they managed to straighten that one out into something (more or less) coherent in tng.Theres a bunch of stuff that they did not keep(like the rich miners),and some stuff that they did(like the federation/klingon peace).Same couldve been done here.In fact,same WAS done here,only it was made into a prequel instead of a sequel because…..making a prequel is IN these days,I guess.

          • ehlijen says:

            Or maybe they wanted the Terran Empire in the mirror-verse to still be around (remember that it got overthrown by DS9 in the timeline), forcing a time setting before then.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Has that theory actually been confirmed by the show?Small kudos are in order then.

              Even then,there was upheaval in the mirror universe in the end of ds9 as well,so it too couldve been used.Not to mention that having the show set in mirror universe,the entirety of voyagers trek couldve been erased,and you could only have the characters remain as they are but with different back stories.

              • ehlijen says:

                Oh right. Sorry. Major spoilers (and some guesses on the final episode) below:

                The show is set in the prime universe, but they go to the mirror universe where the Terran Empire is shown off as the worst the Federation could become. They collect mirror Shenzhou and now the stage is set for Michael to have to mutiny against her again, a she did in the pilot, only everything is switched around: This time she is defending Starfleet ideals against her captain. The Terran Empire as seen in the TOS episode was important for this, as the shock of that encounter mentally prepared the Discovery crew to reject some the measures Prime Universe Starfleet seems ready to take in the face of utter destruction.

                Non-spoiler version: No, the show is not set in the mirror universe, but they needed it to exist as it was in the TOS and ENT episodes.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Ehh,the same couldve been done in a sequel.Even with the empire fallen,terrans are not the good guys in the mirror universe.Heck,nothing says that they cant rebuild after their victory over mirror worf.

                  Also,the sequel would offer an opportunity to do that kind of a story without the need for a mirror universe,simply by making section 31 a more public thing.

                  • ehlijen says:

                    Ugh, no. Please no more section 31 ever! Section 31 is a cancer on the setting in my opinion.

                    It undermines the very setting of the show if the ideal driven Federation only exists because 31 has bailed it out repeatedly through dirty dealings. The Federation was supposed to represent a bright future, but any regime held up by the likes of 31 is a dystopia through and through.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      The entirety of std is section 31,only public.Even the lighting of the sets is dark like every time sloan was on screen.The only difference is that ds9 constantly presented section 31 as the bad guys.

        • krellen says:

          To be honest, Star Trek Online did a valiant effort to continue the storyline post Voyager and the TNG movies. It might have gone a bit silly in some ways, but it’s a pretty interesting ride and it does Trek a lot better than virtually anything that’s been on screen since. The Iconian War actually ends in a very Trek way.

    • DeadleDark says:

      You know, today I finally realized, what Discovery reminds me of. Mass Effect 2. Similar changes in tone (aren’t we edgy ones?), some good stories with some terrible plots. Only real difference – crew in Mass Effect 2 is likeable, for the most part

  12. Galad says:

    It sounds like an unsolveable problem to me – unless you turn to the genres that do not include violence by definition, like puzzles, adventure games, sims/management sort of games. Sorry, I’ve got nothing more, except to say that it’s good to see MrBTongue continue making videos, and even doing a shoutout for the blog here.

    • Echo Tango says:

      You could still have a game with minimal violence from the player, but which still includes violence. Many survival-horror games have the player be very weak, so that fleeing is usually the best option, instead of fighting the monsters. For another example, imagine a game where you’re a beat-cop, patrolling a bad neighborhood. Most of the time, you’re handing out parking tickets and telling kids to get their bikes off of the sidewalk. At one point, you encounter a mugging, and have to arrest the perpetrator. In a typical game, you’d be gunning them down; In this hypothetical example, you’d be using minimal force, to avoid a lawsuit and paperwork. :)

      • Syal says:

        In this hypothetical example, you’d be using minimal force, to avoid a lawsuit and paperwork. :)

        The Papers Please of violence sounds weirdly intriguing.

      • Asdasd says:

        Police Quest isn’t exactly what you’re getting at, but it was a game that required you to observe police procedure, so while the player sometimes had to be violent with criminals they could only do so in a highly regulated way. A very interesting game. Sadly a recent attempt at kickstarting a spirtual successor didn’t work out.

        I guess LA Noir would be an example of a game that did the exact opposite, cramming scads of traditional game violence into an otherwise refreshingly non-violent police procedural adventure game.

  13. Redrock says:

    Sci-fi, unfortunately, is hard to do and harder still to sell. People don’t seem to be into it these days, be it space operas or cyberpunk. And, well, cyberpunk doesn’t really solve the problem, because it’s not removed enough from the present to avoid triggering people. See the critical reception to the excellent Altered Carbon Netflix series for an example.

    Creating a compelling space opera universe, on the other hand, requires a lot of commitment,not to mention talent. The otherwise great Titanfall 2 barely manages to introduce two completely non-descript human factions. So I don’t think we’ll be getting decent a lot of decent far-flung sci-fi in gaming any time soon.

    Oh, and a PSA : if you’re gonna watch Altered Carbon, don’t read the book first. Otherwise, the changes they made will seem really silly and simplistic. But absolutely do read the book afterwards – Richard Morgan is quite good.

    • Lee says:

      Are critics panning Altered Carbon? That’s a shame. I’m 7 or 8 episodes in, and it’s great.

      I read the book years ago. I kinda assumed that the add-on plot(s) were in a sequel I’ve never read. Though as I type this, I’m not sure there are any sequels (or prequels).

      I’m really hoping it gets picked up for a season 2, and I’ve been wondering what a PC game adaptation would look like.

      • Redrock says:

        There are three Takeshi Kovacs books, but the other two are very different – they ditch the cyberpunk style for something more similar to military sci-fi. But the changes keep the books fresh, the other hand. Yeah, I enjoyed the show a lot too, but to my taste it adds way too much banal philosophy and screenwriting shortcuts (i.e. protagonist is the center of the universe) which really dumb down the novel and run against genre conventions that make both noir and cyberpunk strong.

        And yeah, a game could be cool, especially since it has an in-universe excuse for respawning.

      • DHR says:

        > Are critics panning Altered Carbon? That’s a shame. I’m 7 or 8 episodes in, and it’s great.

        They’re mostly moaning about “whitewashing” because an Asian character sleeves into a white body. Even though that is a major part of the book.

        • Redrock says:

          It is and also isn’t, mainly because book Kovacs was resleeved so often he doesn’t really care. That’s one of the problems of the show, actually, the low-level philosophy and politics. That’s actually the difference between good and bad sci-fi and, to a lesser extent, between literature and simpler storytelling formats like film and TV. A good novel, like Altered Carbon, wouldn’t just introduce one central gimmick, like resleeving, and use it to very blatantly explore banal questions like “Is potential immortality good or bad? Is resleeving moral?”. No, a good novel builds a world, and no living world is built around a philosophical debate about a single piece of technology. Instead, it’s just a part of the world like any other, with a myriad implications and repercussions. Good sci-fi might speculate on some of those implications and their morality, but it would focus on timeless themes – you know, human nature, good and evil, that sort of thing. The novel isn’t obsessed with resleeving, it’s just there. The TV show is, and becomes lesser for it.

          Make no mistake, still a great show, easily my favorite in a year at least. But, well, hard to beat a novel, especially for a mediocre screenwriter.

          • Paul Spooner says:

            My reading of Altered Carbon seems to point in the other direction, that it wasn’t as good a book as it could have been because it was obviously written for ease of conversion into a screenplay. My review was originally posted in the forums, but here it is so you don’t have to click through:

            This guy wants to write movies. In fact, he’s already sold several of his books for production, so maybe that’s his thing. But there’s a downside to movies. You can’t write anything that’s too expensive to shoot and produce, or it will never make money. Now, this is not a bad book. In fact it’s downright enjoyable. But a lot of the author’s effort goes into creating a “futuristic” and “gritty” and “forward looking” world, while at the same time always asking “could I turn this into a moderate budget sci-fi flick?” For this reason it has a very Dresden Files feel. Crazy things are always happening under the surface, but the actual environment is… LA, with fairly normal people walking around, doing fairly normal things. It succeeds as a story, but it fails as innovative fiction compared to, say, “A Fire Upon the Deep” by Vernor Vinge. Now, no one is clamoring to make movies of Vinge’s work, so I’m not faulting Morgan for knowing his audience. But I do rather feel as if I’ve been sold a bill of goods. “This is an amazing book” is not the same as “this is an amazing screenplay” by any stretch of the imagination. He toys with Singularity style trans-humanism, but doesn’t really go anywhere with it, because he needs it to be filmable with normal looking actors.
            Plus it’s got the gratuitous sex and the the gratuitous matrix and the gratuitous clones so you can give actors multiple death scenes. Bluh. But again, I read all the way through it; It engaged me at some level. The tone was remarkably optimistic for a “cyber-punk” setting. Overall though, I wouldn’t recommend this book. If you’re looking for cyberpunk, read Snow Crash or Neuromancer. If you want singularity read Vinge. If you want screenplays, watch a movie instead.

            • Redrock says:

              Well, I think it was a good book, but I agree with you as well, actually. It could be easily converted into a good series. And the bits lifted straight from the pages work really, really well. It’s the changes that make little sense and the focus on certain ideas that weren’t there originally. It would have been much better if it just embraced the pulp instead of going for socio-political commentary and blockbuster screenwriting. Let me spoil some things to explain. Those will be spoilers of the pilot and the beginning of the book, characterization and not big plot points, but I’ll hide it nonetheless.

              So. In the book, Kovacs is an ex-Envoy – a type of commando for the Protectorate (the galactic government) who specializes in being effective after resleeving. See, sending someone’s digitized consciousness across space is the fastest way to travel, so Envoys are needlecast into new bodies via cortical stacks wherever there is trouble and must be combat ready ASAP. They are also expert infiltrators, saboteurs, manipulators, etc. Kovacs is originally from a distant colony planet called Harlan’s World, which, some centuries ago, experienced a violent uprising led by Quellcrist Falconer. It was crushed byt the protectorate and she disappeared. Her teachings, known as Quellism, are still popular among people in violent professions, and Kovacs is something of a fan, even though he’s never met her and the whole thing was ages before his time. At some point he left the Envoys after a particularly nasty op, has been a merc ever since, got in trouble, got his concsiousness put in storage, and that’s when the story begins.

              Now, in the TV series. Kovacs is still an ex-Envoy, but these time around Envoys were the revolutionaries under Quell. Kovacs knew Quell personally and they were in love (of course!). The uprising wasn’t some distant colony thing, no, it was The Uprising, one of the main galactic events. They were fighting the whole Protectorate and stack technology itself, because potential immortality is bad, I guess? In the end the Rebellion was crushed and Kovacs isn’t just an ex-Envoy, he is THE LAST ENVOY ever. There is more, but enough spoilers.

              TV series has the cyberpunk, but not the noir, not in terms of story structure. Because you can’t have noir if you make your protagonist extra special. Imagine if Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon was an ex-superspy who almost killed Hitler, but was stopped at the last moment by Cairo, who also murdered his girlfriend. And now they face off again and the Falcon is actually the key to destroying the Nazis and Spade gets clues sent to him from his dead girlfriend. That sort of nonsense.

              And don’t get me started on the politics of the show because it basically goes “perhaps no one should have a chance at eternal life because some rich assholes will also get eternal life and everyone rich and immortal inevitably becomes a sadistic murderous sex deviant”. I’m not even kidding.

              Whew. There. I’ve vented. Still a great show, though. Really, really great. Joel Kinnaman is a revelation.

              • Mormegil says:

                Plus Quell’s philosophy in the show boils down to I cured cancer but only rich people can afford it so my solution is to give everyone cancer! She deserved being exploded.

                • Redrock says:

                  Hell, the fact that in the show it was Quell who invented stacks made me almost scream at the screen the way Kovacs screamed upon seeing his new sleeve in the mirror.

                  • Mormegil says:

                    Plus can you imagine the horror of a universe where Quell succeeded in her terrorist plot?
                    Sorry everyone, you’re limited to 100 years no matter what. So rich people spend their 100 years in 18 year old sleeves and everyone who can’t afford it ages normally or has to literally sell their body –
                    the same as it stood before but now with absolutely no hope of change. Spend time in storage, well, that’s part of your 100 years gone. Her plan doesn’t get rid of the all powerful gods of society, it just makes you churn through them a little.

                    • Redrock says:

                      Well, to be completely honest there, the show itself doesn’t embrace that philosophy fully. And Tak does mention that he sees doubt in her words. Still, it was a gross simplification, which is a shame.

  14. Alan says:

    “Computers are good at simulating physical conflict and bad at simulating (say) dramatic conflict.”

    I read a fascinating article a while ago arguing that opposite. Not that computers are inherently good at simulating dramatic conflict, but that computers seem good at simulating physical conflict because we’ve grown to accept the flaws in the simulations of physical conflict. Sadly, I cannot find the article, but as a thought experiment, it proposed an alternate world in the form of a review. To crudely summarize what I remember to be better written, it ran something like this:

    “Shoot Dudes is an interesting experiment in game design, and we’re all for it. But it really shows how poorly video games simulation combat. Why should we take virtual combat seriously when a player cannot experience the haptic feedback of recoil? How can clicking a mouse be a suitable replacement for smoothly pulling the trigger back on a firearm? When you shoot someone, they simply fall down, sometimes with a scream; there is no simulation of the nuances of different wounds, of shock, of the rush of adrenaline. The developer couldn’t support the myriad of ways in which a soldier might try to use cover; the crude ‘snap to cover’ system is clumsy, and only works because the levels are incredibly artificially designed to support it. As for the psychological impact of combat, this was apparently deemed too complex and completely ignored.

    “In comparison to a AAA title, like Harem Romance 7: Romance Harder, Shoot Dudes is shallow. HR7 tracks two dozen different emotional stats for every character, hundreds of states, and a nuanced system to simulate other characters interacting with each other and spreading information. This is the sort of thing computers do well, and there is a reason that romance titles have dominated the AAA charts for years.”

    • Redrock says:

      That’s arguing a slightly different issue. If I recall Campster’s argument correctly, it wasn’t really about realistic simulation. It was more about the fact that a representation of violence – e.g. things hitting or not hitting other things – is really easy to do an a computer. It’s all hitboxes, projectiles, an approximation of physics and such. Not realistic, sure, but interactive and believable. But for real interactive dramatic conflict you’d need something really close to a true AI. Because as of now you can aim and shoot a virtual gun in any direction, but conversation is limited to a handful of options and responses.

      • Alan says:

        For a real interactive violent conflict you’d need something really close to a full simulation of human physiology and psychology. Dramatic conflicts are being held to a higher standard than violent ones.

        Conversation in games need not be limited to a handful of choices and responses, and isn’t always.

        • Redrock says:

          Is there any other way to do conversation in games?

          • evilmrhenry says:

            The Sims? Simulate the results, not the words.

            • Redrock says:

              Well, those aren’t real conversations, are they? At least, not in the context of “dramatic conflict”. And, well, I got the impression that Alan is insisting on discussing actual reality-based simulations, and I’d argue that the Sims is a greater abstraction than most modern shooters.

              • Viktor says:

                The Sims is more abstract than COD, but that’s the wrong comparison. The Sims is XCom. Top-down, you control a group, stats for members of the group are tracked individually, and you are working towards long-term goals rather than focusing on individual challenges.

          • Alan says:

            It’s not inherent that one be limited to a handful of choices. A broader selection of choices is certainly an option. If the selection grows large enough, a simple list or wheel of choices may not be enough, but there are other user interface options. There is much to be said for typing. (I’m looking forward to games making better use of voice recognition.)

            Given a large enough selection of topics, some well crafted generic answers, and a player trying to act reasonably in game, it can feel about as free as one is free to explore the oddly constrained spaces of many AAA shooter.

            (I feel it reasonable to ask that the player try to act reasonably in game. In a shooter, when I intentionally empty my clip into an ally, and all that happens is he asks me to watch my fire, or I’m unable to shoot off the mundane lock of an unopenable door, I’m not really bothered; I stopped trying to act reasonably within the game.)

            Options can further be modified by a player chosen tone or posture, a technique dating back at least as far as 1986’s Starflight.

            Responses need not be simple “Ask about A, get answer B.” You can model a character’s emotional responses to you, track what they’ve learned, and use that to influence their responses.

            I’m feeling lazy, so I’ll trot out the usual example, Galatea. http://pr-if.org/play/galatea/ . Facade is, to be charitable, less successful, but it is a fascinating experiment in how a player could additionally interact. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fa%C3%A7ade_(video_game) Both offer a lot of freedom of input, and attempt more complex simulation of the mindsets of the characters.

            For more, this post by Emily Short isn’t a bad introduction; she’s written a lot more since, but it’s not a bad summary many options. https://emshort.blog/how-to-play/writing-if/my-articles/conversation/

            • Redrock says:

              Come now, that’s just arguing semantics. Perhaps an IF game can have not a handful, but a few dozen options? The best text parsers still don’t feel intuitive or natural. You are still limited to the relatively small number of options the writer thought of. And that’s IF. Imagine making a game, with graphics and voice acting and similar conversations. That’s just going back to my original argument – you need an actual AI or the player will feel very limited. But giving a player free movement on a 3d plain, free aiming and shooting and primitive, yet satisfying interaction with the virtual world via the act of shooting? That’s easy. So, as I said, violence in games is technically easy. Drama and human interaction – incredibly hard.

        • Echo Tango says:

          The underlying problem is that there’s many smaller sub-components in a physical conflict which can be simulated very close to reality, but most of the things we’d expect in a conversation aren’t easy to simulate. For a gun-fight in a game, sound effects and visual effects can be recorded to photo-realistic levels fairly easily; Bullet-drop, or even the effects of wind can be simulated very close to reality; The protagonist getting out of breath, injured, or stunned can be simulated to varying degrees.[1] On the other hand, there’s not really anything to a conversation, except those things which are hard to simulate. Tone of voice, intent, innuendo, jokes, sarcasm, despair, etc – those all basically need to be done by hand. The best you can get for a simulation / procedural conversation, is a MadLibs-style fill-in-the-blanks thing, which ends up being cartoonish or uncanny.

          [1] See stamina bars, health bars (or even the damage system of a Mechwarrior game, or Deus Ex), and the stun grenades in Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.

          • Redrock says:

            Again, I kinda think we are talking about the wrong sort of simulation. It’s not like realistic violence is actually the name of the game in the … er… gaming industry. We are talking about fantasy and sci-fi shooters, hack and slashes, platformers, whatever. The thing is, videogame violence is a bunch of kinetic objects hitting each other. Easy to make, easy to learn, and easy to make satisfying to the player. Kinesthetically pleasing as all hell, since we are using Campsterspeak.

            • Echo Tango says:

              Realistic violence is still definitely a part of these games; It’s just not as completely simulated as, for example, the flight simulation of a flight simulator. Blood spatter, gun feel, sound effects, visual effects and models[1] – those are all being simulated fairly realistically. The sort of violence that’s common in games, is farther along the sliding scale towards real-world violence, than say for example, the violence in a Super Mario, Zelda, Diablo, etc.

              [1] Some games(or sims?) also have bullet-drop, wind effects, screaming civilians, prison (if you kill a bystander), etc.

              • Redrock says:

                Realistically? Not sure about that. Cinematically, more like. Hollywood is the model for gunfight realism in games, not real life. Combat sims, yeah, they strive for realism, but they are also a very niche genre. But most shooters? Guns don’t send people flying, gun operation is almost often wrong, etc., etc. Gameplay and style always trump realism in those things, I think.

                • Asdasd says:

                  This is an interesting back and forth. The question that sticks out in the back of my mind is, if games are so good at simulating realistic violence, then why is game violence awesome and fun, when real life violence is brutal and horrifying? There’s a major disparity there.

                  I think part of it comes down to feedback, part of it comes down to consequence, and part of it comes down to stakes.

                  By feedback I mean blood, gore, sfx, vfx – the simulation of the effects of violence in the immediate term. This is the stuff that developers render in higher fidelity with every passing generation. Abstractly a 16 bit portrayal of violence may be less shocking than today’s realistic bullet wounds and arterial spray – or not, if you’re playing Hotline Miami – but the mind seems quick to desensitise to this stuff at any level. Maybe once we’re running games directly in our brains, getting to smell exposed intestines and feel the blood seeping into our socks, we’ll finally be experiencing fictive violence at a level the mind can’t desensitise itself to.

                  By consequence I mean games simulating the wider consequences of violence beyond the gunfight. Putting aside my distaste for SOTL’s ‘fuck you for playing me’ attitude, there were a lot of things about the game I liked, both in terms of broad themes and individual sequences. I have no problem with a game in which you don’t get to be the hero by divine right, or which has a message about how the desire to intervene with the best intentions can carry unintended and disastrous consequences, especially when it comes to the projection of force and the application of violence.

                  SOTL is interesting because it questions the sometimes strange cart-and-horse relationship between videogame violence and videogame stories that require player violence to resolve.

                  There are plenty of games that explore the potentially negative consequences of player violence, but you often have to travel out of the AAA action game sphere to find them. Shiny’s Sacrifice tells a tale about an exiled wizard who flees to a new world as a sort of cosmic refugee. Though he carries a warning of impending peril, to the rulers of the world his value lies chiefly in his capacity to further their own agendas through violence. So he has a choice in terms of who which ruler(s) he serves, but in any case he’ll be put to violent work, and the consequences of those choices are visible and pronounced. It’s a great game and I recommend it to everyone (Tim Curry provides voice work!).

                  There’s a semi-obscure SRPG called Yggdra Union which has a story about a mercenary band on the run. Their very presence as a private warband leads to their inability to shift the context of successive encounters in the places they flee from one of violence, often with tragic consequences. I think the Banner Saga trades in similar themes though I’ve never played it.

                  Lastly, I mentioned stakes. The worst thing a player can lose through videogame violence is progress, be it thirty seconds’ worth or an entire playthrough’s. In the real world of course violence has much higher stakes for its participants. Maybe we could get closer to bridging the gap by some mechanism that caused the player physical pain or loss? Somehow I doubt it would catch on.

        • Locke says:

          We all know how conversations work and will notice and care when they don’t work right. Very few of us know what a warzone is like in enough depth to even notice the differences, and many of the most noticeable differences are (as noted in MrBTongue’s video) designed specifically to make the combat more enjoyable.

    • Droid says:

      A shame that you couldn’t find the article anymore. This sounds very intriguing, and I would have liked to read the original.

    • Alan says:

      My wife happily kept a link to the article. Why So Few Violent Games?

      • Redrock says:

        Alan, dude, you DO know this is a joke article? It’s not arquing anything, it’s making fun of the industry by describing an alternate reality. Or have you been making a little joke of your own all that time? I feel genuinely confused by now, honestly.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          That was the point of Alan’s original post.That violent games are just a default of our world because thats what we chose early in the day.But if that original choice was different,the convention of today could very well be the opposite.

          • Redrock says:

            That’s…not a very compelling argument, especially when it’s based on a half-hearted joke post. Because, once again, games mostly aren’t about realistic simulation. Never have been. They are about satisfying interaction. And that’s moving objects, kinetics, contact. And that easily translates into virtual violence. Space Invaders is much easier to do than even Galatea, which is modern and still needs to be extremely low-tech to even begin to work.

        • Alan says:

          That something is a joke, that it mocks some target, does not mean it has no message or goal.

    • etheric42 says:

      Thank you for posting this. I actually was about to post something similar. It’s like video games have fallen into the same trap that classic tabletop RPGs fell into. Video games actually are not very good about simulating violence, but the abstraction that they use is one we are more willing to accept. Games with melee combat are rarely if ever about simulating physics objects executing real tactical choices and are usually more about waving damage beams in close proximity to hitboxes. Hit points are terrible abstractions of harm, but are basically the only thing we use (even in games with location based damage, each location generally has hit points).

      Why are we more willing to accept it? Is happenstance? We happened to have more violent wargames which beget tabletop RPGs which beget video games so we are used to the abstraction? Is it because of how alien violence is to most of us? We experience other forms of conflict and interaction regularly in real life so we can/could see the flaws of the abstract version more easily? Is it because violence is exotic? We don’t generally “get” to experience it so we are more forgiving of the opportunities to experience it in games?

      Are the same reasons listed above why porn / sex games are popular / have any popularity at all compared to their production qualities and marketing?

      Why is it my classic tabletop RPG can have rich systems for my strength and dexterity stats, but shallow/limited systems for my intelligence and charisma stats?

      The indie RPG revolution is helping on the tabletop RPG side. More games have verbal combat like Burning Wheel, social economies like Monsterhearts or dramatic economies like Hillfolk. Where does that lead computer games? Well it will probably be a few years/decades for them to see fruit outside of their niche like other tabletop games, but it would likely show by games including abstractions of other kinds of conflict/interaction that people start accepting first in niche games and then in their own genre, and then being adopted into mass-market games (like progression systems/leveling was over the past decade).

      What might some of these abstracted systems look like? Maybe like the negotiation-as-valid-combat-move present in Renowned Explorers? Maybe in the iconography of communication present in The Sims? Maybe in the focus of outcome over detail present in Reigns (not a great choice because of its text focus, can anyone think of a better example?)? Wasn’t there a turn-based-tactics game in the style of Final Fantasy Tactics a few years back about campaigning for an election?

      If you were to make a graphical (but low-graphics is okay) game with the focus of creating systems for non-violent gameplay (and not in the puzzle-like graphic novel/adventure game, but in the same way combat is a system in modern games), how would you build it? Wouldn’t it be cool to have a starship command game that was about actually commanding your crew and dealing with relationships, fostering trust, etc. instead of that being abstracted away to the point where you are basically playing AS the ship? Then you could co-opt people’s expectations for violence by making that an event that occurs based on your management of relationships?

      Also, does anyone know if Shamus has played Subnautica yet? I would buy him a copy if he needs one. There’s a sci-fi game of limited violence.

      • Echo Tango says:

        You claim that our abstractions of violence are shallow and easily accepted. I believe however, that our abstractions and simulations span a variety of realism. Hit-points and stun-points are shallow; Individual damage areas, like a MechWarrior game or Deus Ex are less so. The visual graphics of most guns, and explosions are photoreaslistic. The sound effects and blood spatter in most games are fictional, but only insofar as they are the caricature-esque hyper-realism of our fantasies. The guns are more bassy because powerful munitions are more bassy. The blood in games is what would happen if every shot was the one-in-a-million. Melee combat similarly isn’t simply an abstraction, but the best abstraction we have, given our limited inputs, and the assumption that you are a well-trained fighter who hits what they aim at.

        You’ve listed some very good examples of non-violence being experimented with in games, both video and non-video. I hope that experimentation continues, and agree that the industries have spent most of their budget on violence simulation. Saying that the violence was easily built, and easily accepted however, is ignoring the huge efforts that have gone into it thus far.

        • etheric42 says:

          Sorry if I let on that the position of violence in games was easily won. I never intended to claim that they are shallow and I am sorry if I came across like that. The only thing I said were shallow were D&D’s (particularly classic D&D’s) Int/Cha systems (and by comparison their physical systems have more depth). I said they weren’t GOOD at simulating violence, but that’s kind of a wishy-washy phrasing and I’ll try better: they aren’t ACCURATE at simulating violence. I think they are GOOD games, but there is a lot of realism lacking from “realistic” games.

          Individual damage areas like Mechwarrior (derived from a tabletop wargame) is still a simplified abstracted system compared to modeling each circuit board, wire, and armor plate, the force and obliqueness of impact required to penetrate each of which and the way the damage propagates through the system. In real vehicular combat, armor is usually a threshold that has to be met by a certain quantity of force determined by mass, velocity and angle. It also can be pretty binary. Penetrate or deflect with certain rare conditions causing metal fatigue or possible overpenetration. Ships can be killed or just mission-killed. But in games we would usually simplify that to flat damage reduction… and then usually scrap the flat damage reduction because of how “whiffy” or binary it is in exchange for percentage damage reduction with a curve (like the armor system from Skyrim or League of Legends) or a bonus HP system. I could talk about how those other items you mentioned are gamified abstractions of real violence, but I don’t want to come across like I’m nitpicking your argument. I think we both agree that these are the result of decades of R&D and will continue to progress past where they are now.

          I also didn’t intend to claim that they were easily accepted. I am sorry if I came across like that. I asked why we are more willing to accept it in our current world.

          By saying happenstance I was trying to say centuries of wargames followed by years of classic RPGs gave early physical conflict systems a head start and a language to draw from. Whereas there aren’t as many classic tabletop/parlor games about people having conversations (which then ties to my other point about the alienness/rarity of violence… those wargames were often developed to train military officers in the months/years between battles, and we didn’t need to gamify systems to train people for conversation/barter/diplomacy… we just let them practice it on actual people).

          That certainly isn’t easy, it’s the result of a long time of cultural development in game design.

          Below I kind of hint at that it may take console generations to develop engines capable of satisfying an visceral social conflict. They can borrow a bit from the existing physical engines, but it would take awhile before the body of work you stand on isn’t actively working against you by making physical conflict so much easier to model/accept by your audience. I hope a lot more development and experiments occur in this field. If I were designing a game today I would probably make that commanding a starship game or that prom king/queen game, but I’m not (I’m working on a tabletop project about corporate power structures in a sci-fi setting, but I already have an audience for that for instant gratification). In the meantime I’m going to go back to stabbing cannibals in The Forest and having a blast. (I guess survival sims are a relatively new genre that are not necessarily about physical conflict that are developing their own mechanics and shorthand?)

      • Syal says:

        Are the same reasons listed above why porn / sex games are popular / have any popularity at all compared to their production qualities and marketing?

        I think this actually touches on one of the problems of conversation simulations versus violence; how do you properly validate multiple approaches while still having a fail state?

        In combat simulations, it’s you versus them, and all the available options assume that; hit them with a shotgun, grenade, or sledgehammer, the relationship is the same. In porn, it’s a fantasy where everyone wants to bone you and all the options assume that. The choices don’t change the dynamic of the relationship.

        But for something based around making friends and whatnot, creating the dynamic is the goal, so you have to have both “make friend” and “make enemy” options, which means some options need to fail. Which options succeed and which ones fail, and how do you telegraph that to the player?

        Plus players have personalities; making a player’s instinctual conversation path fail is going to reflect on the player in a way that making pistols underpowered doesn’t.

        • etheric42 says:

          Combat has multiple approaches and possible outcomes. You end up with more/less health, ammo, time left on the clock, allies alive. These are even smaller defined limits of what is really true in a violent encounter or military engagement. Things like regenerating health and two-weapon/ever-plentiful ammo make things even more single-outcome.

          If every option in a combat simulator helps you achieve the goal of killing enemies and not dying yourself (to varying levels of success), and every option in a sex game involves ASCII porn and not getting caught (to varying levels of success), then a game about manipulation gives you options to help you achieve the goal of getting the target to obey your commands/be your friend/vote for you and not having them take action against you/be your enemy/vote for your opponent (to varying levels of success. The options we have for physical conflict we have spent a long time teaching people how to use and when to use, and we just have not had the same level of cultural education for social conflict. You could say the physical combat is easy to understand because it models the real world, but considering all the games that make assault rifles effective at ranges you should really be using a carbine or CQW in, or that swordplay is a lot different than stringing together heavy and light attacks, I don’t think that’s true. Then there are missteps like the original Halo where pistols are super-powerful weapons and people used to the FPS tradition of pistols being throwaway starter weapons would overlook some of the most potent weapons in the game.

          Exactly what these tools are are the thing that we haven’t really developed yet (at least they are not as widely adopted as the combat heavy attack/light attack paradigm, or shotgun/machine gun paradigm). In Burning Wheel they adopt some familiar mechanics of combat (hit points, attacks, blocks) and flavor it to interact in the manner of an argument. In Hillfolk you trade things you can afford to give away in order to gain the power to take the things you want. In Monsterhearts you have a suite of actions that make people take choose between taking negative modifiers and letting you have power over them. A system like Burning Wheel could be used in some kind action-legal game where you had to win over the jury by skillful trial charisma. A system like Monsterhearts would make a great high-school action-sim. Moves like “put down” or “front” could be bound to keys/controller, and you need to employ them properly to move up the school social ladder without also going too far and getting suspended/detention.

          And remember, you are playing a character, not yourself. Nobody (very few people) complain about stealth kills not working in games which are not about stealth. In a action game about becoming prom king/queen, why would anyone (other than those few people) expect patiently listening to someone’s fears and empathizing be a valid move they could make? Now in an RPG about becoming prom king/queen, sure you have people who put points in empathizing versus people who put points in Prada (but even in RPGs, you get games that have fire and ice magic but no lightning).

          One of the hard parts to work out is positioning. In combat you need to make sure you are close enough for your sword to hit, but not theirs, or seeing enough of their body to shoot, but not exposing too much of your own for too long, etc. Where is the positioning in social interaction? There’s body language and proximity to the person you are communicating with, as well as the social circle you are communicating with at the time. In the prom game a lot of it would be in crowd scenes (parties, transitions between classes, the mall?) where you have to move from circle to circle quickly to spread your influence in addition to your body language/proximity within the circle.

          I think a lot of people when looking at conversation/social conflict games think every single word needs to be modeled, but every parry of the blade / every drop of blood isn’t modeled in physical combat and social conflict games should work at getting to their Rogue or Zelda before they try to get to their Dark Souls.

          • Syal says:

            Are we okay limiting the scope of socializing games to people-as-resources settings about scheming to achieve an outside goal?

            • etheric42 says:

              About as okay as limiting violence games as aggressive uses of violence to destroy others. I mean, there may have been some kind of cop game where you are supposed to subdue your targets instead of kill them, or some kind of game about being a bodyguard and not a bodyguard hellbent on revenge after his ward was killed… but they are kind of rare.

              I mean, these games are about conflict and resources/opposing forces are easier to model with our current cultural tech.

              Please note that in Monsterhearts after you level up (Season 2 and beyond) you get advanced moves like “reach out with empathy” (not actually the name of a move, I can’t remember their exact names off the top of my head) which are positive without strings attached moves.

              If you’ve got some suggestions about how to model games where the conflict comes from the social end where the actors have intrinsic value as human/pixel beings without spending a lot of energy explicitly scripting each one, I want to hear. The best I could think of was dating games. Maybe some virtual town with a procedural relationship network that you interact with without any top-down end state? Something Dwarf Fortressy or Simsy?

              What about a game where you land on an alien planet and can’t understand any of their language (and they are so alien they don’t fit the rules of human language) and you have to learn to fit into their society through observation?

              Maybe an RPG where your relationship with your companions actually had rules and gameplay mechanics. You could beat the game without establishing a relationship (not in a Dragon Age/Mass Effect way) everyone, but the game becomes a richer experience if you do engage in those mechanics with the characters you like? Even that though is carried by it’s core RPG gameplay, that just becomes the icing on the cake… but maybe it’s a start?

              If someone had figured this out already, these games would probably already exist.

  15. Matt Downie says:

    Crusader Kings isn’t centered on violent conflict? It’s mostly assassinations and wars for territory (plus a bit of bribery, political marriage and child-rearing).

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    the position of “the game is hostile to the player” is an unreasonable reading of things.

    Not unreasonable,but not correct either.Yes,the game introduces you as a character in the game,but as a SPECIAL GUEST,as in not directly involved.Which is further supported by not putting you in the first person.

    So when the game starts chiding the protagonist for “wanting to be a hero”

    The game does not do that.It presents you a situation similar to a situation youd be put in one of the other spunkgargleweewees,but it shows you how horrible the situation is.Then it asks you “do you feel like a hero”.Its not the “Ha!You wanted to be a hero.Do you feel like one,asshole?” line,but rather “Other games would lie to you how this would make you into a hero.Do you feel like one when you see it properly?”.

    But I’m betting lots of people who enjoy these games have the introspection to recognize them for what they are and realize the real world doesn’t work this way.

    Which is precisely one of the things that the game tells you.”But this isnt real,so why should you care?”

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Campster’s explanation is kind of depressing because it’s harder to see a solution.

    Thats assuming that there is a problem in the first place.

    • Redrock says:

      Weeell, I’d say there is. At least when it comes to variety and themes we can cover in games. For example, I think I loved Pyre as much as I did partly because it was one of the few non-violent games I’ve played in a while. It was still very kinetic and it had conflict, even physical conflict to a degree, but it allowed for a lack of fail states for one and a unique situation where your rivals weren’t enemies and you could all have a conversation and an ongoing relationship after any given bout. You could win without killing, lose without dying and, more importantly, eventually you could achieve a desired result by throwing a game. All because no one had to die or even get hurt or tranqed at any point. That’s pretty great and we need more of that, but it’s oh so tricky to make in the current environment.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The fact that only pyre appealed to you does not mean there werent plenty of other non violent games out there.Theres the one mentioned here recently,getting over it.Then there is opus magnum,slime rancher,oxygen not included,factorio,doki doki literature club,stardew valley,the witness,the regular bunch of annual sportsball games,….

        Also,violence is a pretty broad spectrum,in that it covers street fighter as well as heartstone,two radically different and varied genres.So there is variety,plenty of it.

        • Redrock says:

          Sure, it’s not like I’m saying that Pyre is the only non-violent game out there. But they are rare, no? Especially in certain genres. Perhaps I should have specified that Pyre was one of the few non-violent games I’ve encountered outside of puzzles and visual novels. I mean, Pyre is very much an action-RPG since you do action and RPG stuff, as well as a visual novel. Which is rare.

          If you want something kinetic with a story and characters, 9 times out of ten, I think, it will be violent. I’m not against violence in games, god forbid. There are a lot os simulators and sports games and puzzles for those who don’t want violence. But non-violent RPGs? Non-violent action? We could stand to have more of that, I’d say.

          • Shamus says:

            Another reason we get a lot of “why are videogame so violent?” discussion…

            Maybe this question gets asked a lot(?) because critics are obliged to review AAA stuff, and in the AAA realm, violence is pretty common.

            Maybe that’s because violence sells, but maybe it’s because you don’t NEED a huge budget to make non-violent games. It’s just not a good fit for a huge studio to make a thoughtful, talky, mood-based exploration game. And number-crunchy simulationist / strategy games are popular, but they’re not always a great for for a controller, which means they stay on the PC.

            Non-violent games are plentiful, but they’re often relegated to the indie market for practical and economic reasons. And then critics obliged to cover big tentpole stuff find themselves spending lots of time shootin’ dudes and wishing they could do something else. And major review sites have to cover those games because that’s what gets the clicks.

            I have no idea what the numbers are like, but it might be true that non-violent* games are more popular than violent games, but they’re more diffuse. 10 people play Call of Shootman. But then 20 other people play a dozen other games not focused on violence. Shootman is the most popular, but most PEOPLE go for non-violent games. (I’m not saying this is true. I’m just saying it’s possible.)

            * For the purposes of this discussion, I’m talking about up-close direct violent. Which means strategy stuff like Civilization would be “non-violent”, even though lots of killing is involved.

            In any case, critics end up spending a lot of time shootin’ dudes and then writing think-pieces bemoaning the state of the industry, when the real problem is that the others games EXIST, they just don’t get the clicks that pay the bills.

            It’s a really complicated web of interactions between publishers, developers, journalists, and players. The whole thing makes me really glad I run my own site and get to review whatever I damn well please. I know a lot of journos would kill for a gig like that.

            Having said all that, I wrote this comment after alt-tabbing away from GTA V where I went on a wild fifteen-minute five-star rampage across the city, so maybe I’m not in the best mental state to be pondering violence in games.

            • Redrock says:

              I might have gotten sidetracked. I was talking more about bringing non-violent games into traditionaly violent genres. Like RPGs, action, etc. Which is a separate issue, of course.

              • Echo Tango says:

                I believe that Shamus’ argument still holds here. The “action” and “RPG” labels are the ones most common for AAA games. That will inflate the numbers on the side of violence, since that’s what AAA studios tend to make. (Or at least what we perceive as common; For the sake of argument, I’m assuming this true, since I have no way to get stats on this.)

                Also noteworthy, is a list of recent (last two years) non-violent RPG / action games in my finished list in Steam:
                – 2064: Read Only Memories
                – Amnesia: The Dark Descent
                – Costume Quest
                – Serena
                – Shovel Knight
                – SOMA
                – The Way
                Out of that list, they’re outnumbered about 2:1, but I don’t think that’s a large enough margin to say that these genres are entirely filled with violence.

                • Redrock says:

                  Shovel Knight IS violent. It’s cartoony, sure, but you spend your time killing things. SOMA and Amnesia is about death and pain and violence,which, I admit, is a different thing, but still worth mentioning. Pyre is neither, which is why I maintain that this game is worth pointing out specifically. But yeah, I concede that there’s quite a lot of non-violent games. Still not enough, though, in my opinion.

            • Hector says:

              I think you’re correct, Shamus. But I’d go a step farther and point out that the most common and popular “violent” games are first and foremost *action* games. They combine lowest-common-denominator appeal, with a high degree of quality, and quite often a strong multiplayer component. These types of games are good value for a very wide audience.

              On the other hand, even really good story-driven games or rpg’s or whatever will tend to appeal to only a smaller portion of that audience. There are other audiences, sure, but its sort of why Game of Thrones became so popular. It’s got something for a very broad audience, so it could be talked about by anyone and everyone.

        • Philadelphus says:

          I’m not sure Stardew Valley really fits there, seeing how “Combat” is one of the (just) five skills in the game and there are in-game rewards for slaughtering hundreds of monsters. It’s like how I was surprised it won the “Can’t we all just get along” Steam award last year. Don’t get me wrong, I picked it up over Christmas and have fallen hard for it in a way I haven’t done for a game in a long time, I’m just saying it’s definitely got its share of violence in it.

  18. Dev Null says:

    Personally, I’d much rather they tore the labels off of things by placing their story in a sci-fi setting where we can consider whatever the point the game is trying to make without getting caught up in what political tribe the game is coming from.

    At the risk of “me-tooing” your entire post, this right here is what science fiction has always done best. You can talk about politics or war or sexuality or whatever your audience might find taboo, and by removing it from reality and setting the question as being about “aliens” or “future people” or whatever, you can discuss the issue without all the baggage. I’m not really sure why this doesn’t seem to work as well in fantasy settings, but my gut feeling is that it simply gets tried less often.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I don’t know why Sci-fi is more popular than fantasy either (if that is, in fact the case), but it might be a temporary fad.

      • Redrock says:

        It really, really isn’t. At least, GoT is way more popular than any sci-fi show. And I’d say that Destiny 2 (the second best-selling game after Call of Duty in 2017) isn’t really sci-fi, it’s science-fantasy at best.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          Oh good! Crisis averted.
          I kinda meant in the context of video games though.

          • Redrock says:

            Well, here is Forbes’ list.
            Call of Duty: WWII
            NBA 2K18
            Destiny 2^
            Madden NFL 18
            The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild**
            Grand Theft Auto V
            Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands
            Star Wars: Battlefront II 2017^
            Super Mario Odyssey**
            Mario Kart 8**

            We got science-fantasy in Destiny 2, we got plain fantasy in Zelda. We have Star Wars which is also science-fantasy, but for the sake of this argument is just Star Wars. No hardcore sci-fi. I dunno. Maybe Destiny 2 counts as sci-fi, but I don’t think so. It’s mostly space magic galore.

      • Dev Null says:

        Not entirely my point. What I meant to say (and mostly failed to articulate) was that both science fiction and fantasy could be used for fun escapism, or for the sort of “what if” speculative fiction that lets you ask serious questions about the world by removing the emotional baggage and placing them in a more neutral setting (or, more usually, some mixture of the two.) But for whatever reason, sci-fi seems to be the tool that gets reached for when the author is trying to do more of the latter than the former. I can’t think of any reason why you couldn’t just as easily ask serious questions in a fantasy, but it doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often

        • Redrock says:

          I get you. May be a historical thing. Sci-fi was largely born as a way to examine various social issues, starting with H. G. Wells. Modern fantasy was different. Historically, it started with books for children and grew from there. It’s not like fantasy can’t be relevant and tackle socio-political issues, it very much can. But it doesn’t really have to. Sci-fi, meanwhile, is by default a study of the possible implications of a given society’s current path, so it’s inherently more political. Doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningless fluff wrapped in sci-fi trappings or some very smart fantasy. But as a broad generalization, yeah, Sci-fi tends to be more “serious”.

  19. Kultra says:

    I dont know how I feel about CK2 being refered as not “Conflict Driven” at its best is a map paiting simulator with a lot of fiddly mechanics that keep you entertained, at its worst its a “How many families/religions/cultures can I wipe off the map?” simulator.

    Dont take me wrong its a super fun game, but a large part of it is the conflict :3

    • John says:

      That’s true, but I think what Shamus may be getting at is that the violence in CK2 is presented rather abstractly. You don’t press a button to make your hi-def avatar stab some other character right in his hi-def guts. Instead, you give marching orders to little army men who march across the map and sometimes make clanging metal noises when they run into another group of little army men.

      • Mousazz says:

        I dunno man. The gut-wrenching bone crunches and screams as you torture or kill or assassinate a person at the very least sound very… violent. And the textboxes detailing how your character got maimed (and, with the Reaper’s Due, specifically had his eye poked out) get to quite gruesome levels.

        I’d say that the abstraction of violence in CK2 is offset by the sheer brutality of the audial feedback you DO get.

        • John says:

          I guess I don’t consider little two-second audio clips “gut wrenching”. The point is that the violence in CK2 is typically implied rather than lavishly depicted.

          • Meriador says:

            I think it’s also a matter of how direct your control of the violence is. You, the player, rarely directly do anything violent. Killing someone isn’t a matter of using the attack button to hit the guy you want dead. You plot, and maybe spread some money around to get the plot going, and eventually the person dies in a scripted event.

            I think I would agree that Crusader Kings isn’t a “violent” game, in the traditional sense. There are definitely violent things happening, but it is ultimately a game about political intrigue and leadership, both of which have implied or abstract violence involved. Violence isn’t what you do — its what your underlings do, I suppose. Though I think that comes down to a semantic argument about what a “violent” game is.

  20. Am I the only person who sees Red Vs Blue and immediately thinks of the Rooster Teeth series? Despite living in the USA my entire life, I’ve never seen blue as a political color. Red, yup, but more in the China communist red sort of way. Huh, wonder why…

    There’s a rework of Euripides Bacchae here in Atlanta where they’re making the conflict connect with today in a non Democrat Vs Republican kinda way. The original conflict of the play, man vs god, is still there, but they’re focusing a lot more on those who follow Bacchus and what blindly following means and what do you do when you’re following something/someone who’s turned from love and joy to vengeance.

    Granted, that’s a bit more complicated than first-person shooters seem to want to do, but there’s a lot of interesting things you could do in that area.

    • Ander says:

      I also thought the Red vs. Blue link would involve Rooster Teeth.

      I’d suggest that several FPS’s want to be complex; they just might not do it very well, or they might do it in culturally worn-out ways.

      • It’s entirely possible. I like world exploration, and dislike first-person combat, so I haven’t played an FPS since Half-Life (but that’s where I learned about mods so that was great) unless you want to count Oblivion or Skyrim or Fallout, and I don’t think we do.

        You could do an interesting FPS where your superiors orders get more and more, say, outside of mission scope, or start breaking Geneva Protocols, but you have no way to verify them (the orders or that your superiors haven’t been ousted in a coup or something). Sorta like what the Line did, but giving the player far more room to dig their own grave OR NOT. You could try to stay in the middle ground by various tactics, follow your orders blindly, or ignore them completely. Someone above mentioned trying to shoot the napalm so it didn’t hit the civilians and that’d be a great example of a middle ground route. It might not be immediately screamingly obvious, but it’s there, and you can take it. You could even have random rewards (like you obey questionable orders in this one mission, you get a gear drop, but in the next one if you save civilians by going grey side you get some extra food or a nifty shortcut).

        • Ander says:

          Spec Ops itself has a third option event in the shoot or be stoned scene.

          It illustrates one of the difficulties with third options in video games. Trying the “correct” option is, in some ways, intuitive and clever. In a tabletop RPG setting, I have a hard time imagining that none of the players would try it. However, someone playing the game on the computer could easily think of the “solution” but not try it because they figure it won’t register. Maybe they just don’t trust the game enough to allow for those possibilities, so the option never occurs to them. One can say, “That’s the point; FPS’s train us to only see violent options.” To which I’ll point out: there is explicitly no choice in the bombing scene. I don’t begrudge that, necessarily, but the point of the stoning scene is weakened because of the constraint elsewhere. And some constraint is inevitable in a programmed video game. How much can we trust any one game to give us choices? How long should we spend in a game trying things out, in the hopes that the devs provided a path for it?

          Many games that aren’t FPS’s have dealt with this very well, and I am often quite pleased with the active response the game makes to me. Certainly FPS’s could learn something from other genres. It’s just…the essential issue will remain. The more we trust the game to respond to our choice, the more choice the game can offer, but the more we will be disappointed by unrecognized choices.

      • Khazidhea says:

        Yup, same here. Was mildly excited as I didn’t recall Shamus previously writing about Red vs Blue (and thought it was odd that he used the word ditch instead of gulch, or box canyon), but then was disappointed when clicked on the link as saw that it was just (American) politics.

    • Echo Tango says:

      In Canada, the main colors for politics are Red, Blue, Orange, and…Purple? Or maybe Green. I forget which ones are the more local/province-level ones.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    If all shooters were grimdark “Apocalypse Now” styled explorations of no-win scenarios and we suddenly got a one-off game where you get to play as a righteous hero in a conflict that has clear sides and an unambiguous bad guy then I’d probably celebrate its novelty as well. “Finally! A game that understands we’re here to have fun!”

    This is precisely how marvel superhero movies became so popular.

    • Canthros says:

      It’s also what made the original “Star Wars” popular.

    • ehlijen says:

      Unfortunately, it may also be what might hurt the Marvel movies if they don’t diversify more.

      They used to be fresh because they’re different. Now they’re the standard others can appear fresh against. Wonder Woman for example worked best when it was just sincere, something Marvel at times has trouble with, leaving DC to feel fresh and different at that moment.

  22. default_ex says:

    I too would love to see more Sci-Fi with actual world building instead lame poorly thought out psuedo-science nonsense to explain yet another zombie incarnation. It’s astounding to me that still so many so called Sci-Fi stories are hardly recognizable as such and what few actually do try to be Sci-Fi just throw actual science out the window. There is so much bizarre and unbelievable concepts uncovered about the world through science that makes these magic as science stories look so damn lame in comparison. A good chunk of it isn’t even particularly hard to simulate and would make for some fun core game play mechanics.

    I have played a lot of Minecraft adventure/puzzle maps which explore some of the quirks of theoretical concepts. Rarely are they boring, often they are confusing but the kind of confusing that keeps you coming back and leads toward an understanding eventually. The Code III used non-euclidean geometry to a great extent. The map when unwound is essentially one large room with several smaller halls and rooms surrounding it but with that spatial mapping it took some engaging trial and error to determine “if I go down this hall, what side of the map will I be on and in what orientation”. Another that I’m not remembering focused on the concept of observation. Right off the bat your stuck in a room with the only way to get out being to look away and back through a wall because it’s only solid when your looking at it. Yet another had colors, I believe it was called Prismatic where each color had an effect on each room and you had to mix and match colors to get the desired effects to pass through each room. Yet another exploited a handful of rules in quantum mechanics which you could very well make the map unsolvable just by looking at the wrong things in the wrong order or interacting with them in the wrong ways. It was bizarre, frustrating and a lot of fun figuring that stuff out.

    I would love to see Sci-Fi that incorporates these elements. All easy enough to simulate at a game play mechanic level of detail but provide some very real challenge that shooting just can’t do. Of course some more good space operas would be nice, we really haven’t had enough of those in any form and they seem to be picking up as a popular thing lately. I’ve taken a shot a simulating time travel, to the effect of making the player manipulate causal chains of events toward a specific outcome but doing so at a large enough scale for it to become more than a gimmick (ala Braid) is incredibly taxing on modern hardware.

    • Echo Tango says:

      We could definitely do to have more games explore the concepts like you described. Antichamber was one recent(ish) game which did a few of them, but very few games try to explore a world, where the laws of physics differ from our normal world.

      • Droid says:

        Heh, I remember playing Antichamber a long while back, so when I looked up its release date, I was prepared to be shocked how long it has been already, like happened with so many other games. Turns out it came out in 2013, so not even 5 years. Phew!

    • Mousazz says:

      I’ve taken a shot a simulating time travel, to the effect of making the player manipulate causal chains of events toward a specific outcome but doing so at a large enough scale for it to become more than a gimmick (ala Braid) is incredibly taxing […]

      I’d love to see someone try to remake Achron. That game had a lot of gameplay related issues (terrible pathfinding, for one; lack of balance for other; terrible campaign; being boring and not fun in general), but the main time-travel gimmick was really well done. But it wasn’t taxing on modern hardware, oh no – instead, I felt unable to keep up with it mentally. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really wrap my head around how to abuse the time-travel in that game. I failed to keep my head in a state of mind of examining a range of time at once.

  23. Retsam says:

    Did the Alliance actually bring peace to the Jondar homeworld or was that just an excuse to exploit their natural supply of quantum crystals? And even if they were there to take the crystals, wasn’t that kind of justified considering the external threat proposed by the Khildar Dominion?

    I actually think Skyrim did this pretty well: for all of the faults of the writing of that game, the central conflict between the Stormcloaks and the Empire is an interesting conflict that doesn’t easily map to modern partisan politics.

    • Redrock says:

      Neither do the politics of The Witcher. Huh. Pro tip for developers: just base your fictional conflicts on historical conflicts. No one who is into partisan politics is educated enough to actually notice.

      Sorry. I just couldn’t resist.

      • Viktor says:

        All DMs out there, you can do the same with maps. If you need a city, go to historical Ludz or Moscow or something, none of your players will notice and you’ll save a week of coming up with street names.

  24. krellen says:

    Thank you for making this post, Shamus, as YouTube has apparently decided I am NOT, in fact, subscribed to Mr. BTongue despite the fact that it says right under his video that I AM.

    I even unsubscribed and resubscribed and it still thinks I’m not.

  25. Ira says:

    One point that I wanted to make ever since I saw that video was that… um, the Iliad was composed centuries before phalanxes existed. Combat in Mycenaean Greece was much more individualistic and individual warriors stood out more. The idea that the Iliad presented heroic individual warriors as a contrast to the highly regimented and conformist style of combat experienced by its composers is, um, not correct.

    • Locke says:

      MrBTongue’s claim is not that phalanxes were contemporaneous to the actual composition of the Iliad, but rather that they were contemporaneous to the height of the Iliad’s popularity, i.e. people loved hearing about Mycenaean combat more after it stopped being an actual thing that happened to them.

  26. Sudanna says:

    Sometimes, making an uncomfortable political point directly relevant to the real world is exactly the intention. Abstract situational ethics + guilt-free murder ain’t everything.

  27. Sartharina says:

    …. I really, really wish I could have been a game designer. (Curse my middle-through-high-school arrogance, and then mental decay) – I have so many game ideas.Some of them being not-quite violent.

    After playing Stellaris for a bit, I’d love to see a small-focus sci-fi exploration game, set on the temperate moon of a gas giant orbiting a blue star, inhabited by a vaguely feline species torn between the clannish, tribal past yet on the cusp of interplanetary exploration and travel.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Write your game ideas down. Start a blog or something. Worse than not implementing them would be if they were lost.

    • Seconding Paul’s suggestion. Never too late to start, writing is good practice and there’s a good few (or a few good?) tools available now for amateur game designers. Plus you may be able to avoid the murkier depths of coding if you can find someone willing to be your code-monkey. Personally, I’ve chosen to dip my toe with Twine (and am teaching myself Javascript as a result, but that is decidedly not essential to use Twine). No idea how it’ll pan out, but I think I’d be more annoyed at not trying at all than at trying and failing. :) (Feel you on the mental decay, though – I have pernicious anaemia and learned last week that I also have a side-order of autoimmune hypothyroidism to go with – neither does anything much for one’s mental agility.)

    • Kestrellius says:

      Hm. I mean, I don’t know your circumstances, but what makes you think you can’t be? I mean…probably wouldn’t be easy, but unless you’re in your late eighties or have a terminal disease, I would guess that you have enough time to make it happen, with a little luck.

      And I’d certainly like to play that game.

      • Sartharina says:

        I’m almost 30, anti-social, and don’t have a AAA-studio to create the world with the graphical fidelity to actually sell it. 2D or shoddy 3-D wouldn’t be able to sell a game largely built on a sense of exotic wonder.

        And on non-violence fronts (Not sci-fi) I have other ideas as well:
        1. A sandbox crime game set in Renaissance Spain, where you play as a playful thief, con-artist, and general lovable rogue. There are guns, but they’re notoriously inaccurate, only capable of hitting people in the butt, and normally instead hitting whatever sets of the most ridiculous Rube-Goldberg chain reaction. Swords lead to extended duels, but are otherwise non-lethal (And may lose to frying pans and rolling pins). Think the tone of the openings to Aladdin and Road to El-Dorado. Multiplayer available for additional slapstick mayhem. Can’t kill guards/citizens, but you can exhaust or humilate them into giving up for a while.
        2. A platformer/exploration game set in a sprawling forest/jungle. Similar to a walking simulator+collectathon, but with an emphasis on the ‘joy of movement’, with a co-op element. Light, playful narrative about two feline friends exploring the place and seeking out hidden treasures/knickknacks. Starts out with simply climbing a few trees and finding tunnels, and eventually has catching rides on massive bugs, barreling through thickets, crossing chasms, and soaring through canopies.No falling damage, but getting back up to where you fell from can end up being an emergent adventure in itself.

        • Redrock says:

          Huh, your duel system in the Spain one reminds me of Gothic and Risen, where most duels with NPCs would end in knockdown either for the enemy or the player. The winner then proceeds to rob the poor unconscious sod. Works really well, actually.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          These days you dont need an aaa studio to make a decent looking game.You just need artistic talent,or to find someone with artistic talent willing to work with you.Also,anyone can learn to code in unity,you just need will and time.Alternatively,you could also find someone who already knows unity and is willing to work with you.

          So the only hurdles you face are of temporal nature.Do you have enough free time to invest?Or do you have enough money to pay someone else to invest their free time.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          Authors have had a lot of success creating a sense of exotic wonder with just text. Just because you “don’t have a AAA-studio” doesn’t mean that your ideas will be served by obscurity.

        • I’ll see you on the anti-social and and raise you (by about 10 years) on the age. :)

          Sometimes it can be worth “road-testing” elements of an idea before deciding on the fate of a larger concept – it’s useful practise and it can make you refine a concept down to its absolute minimum, from which you can grow it in the direction you choose. I dug this article out because it’s something I’m trying to learn too, perhaps you might find it useful as well? Emily Short has a mad amount of free advice for people looking to create interactive fiction, and much of it has struck me as useful general advice too.

    • Redrock says:

      I still think people are unfair towards Andromeda. These guys are supposed to be wackjobs, I think. This is very much intended to be a privately funded project led by an Elon Musk-like dreamer. You know, the guy who also sold propane torches as flamethrowers and just sent a sportscar to space. Of course it’s a shitshow. The game seems to be conscious of that. Andromeda really, really deserved the benefit of the doubt, of which it got none.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Um,while Musk is eccentric,he is certainly not dumb.If the game was populated by mordin wannabes,then you could say that these are just whackjobs:crazy,but competent.Instead,the game is populated by tims:stupid,but incompetent.

        • Redrock says:

          Well, a bunch of the smarter ones died, didn’t they? The whole thing is presented as a fool’s errand that appealed primarily to people who for some reasons didn’t fit in the galaxy and wanted to flee. That’s dreamers, misfits and screw-ups mostly. This isn’t like a voyage to America in the early days of colonization. This is a one way trip with very unclear possibilities. So yeah, these people are idiots, but that’s the idea.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not really a good point in favor of andromeda.I mean yeah,making a story about stupid people can work,but you then have to do something about it,like in idiocracy or in forest gump.Having them be stupid without it ever being addressed by the story most likely means that the their stupidity is unintentional.

            • Gotta agree with Mr. Diablo here. If they went with the stupid angle they screwed up majorly because they either intentionally made the player character stupid or they forgot to let the player character go:
              “How the hell did you guys manage to survive all these months without me? What do you eat? Where do you sleep?”

  28. Nope says:

    So, some of this is based on my take, and responses to me, and I feel I’m obligated to respond, not to Shamus, but to clarify. I too, love this game. I think it has some great moments, and some hamfisted ones. It’s straddling a borderline, because it does some things great, and some things terribly, in equal measure. The great moments are truly great though.

    People seem to mistake my interpretation as being wishing to be the hero. No. I felt the game hammered home it’s message in the final chapter too bluntly in meta text in loading screens. And they could be so much better.

    I only got the game because I heard the Apocalypse Now/HoD stuff, and because I slogged through HoD in college, I was curious (I wrote my paper on Cormack McCarthy’s The Road instead, my teacher was right, HoD was too dense for the assignment. When I heard it was an anti-war satire, I definitely wanted in. The overall story structure does this well, but the stretching for a video-game loses the character and plotting to centre the story as well as I’d have liked.

    The big moral moments in the game are mostly silly. The big WP scene everyone has heard of, has an instafail if you don’t follow the script. If anything, it’s a parody of bad game design, by emulation. My favourite moment is the mob scene. That actually hurt, and made me consider how the games it satirises work. It actually includes a choice, but the player has been conditioned not to see a choice, not to act as a human, but as a gunbarrel, and anything in your way, as a target.

    The way the game punishes you, by assuming you’re an American frat bro moron by the end, who needs to be beaten over the head with it by literal messages from the devs in loading screens, does the game no favors. They can do better, and do, but that’s not what they get praise for, which is a crying shame, and tells at the perspective of those who see the game as the endpoint of shooter criticism. If bombing civilians is the worst thing, the most extreme, extravangant satire of the foreign policy of shooters, or US foreign policy, I’m sorry, but you’re ignoring the real world. That’s as political as I intend to get.

    If anything, my problem is the game doesn’t go far enough. It’s edgy for an American audience. For the rest of the world, likely half their political spectrum has been saying this since 2001. People marched the streets of my city shouting this to protest my nation’s involvement in America’s wars. The way a few select scenes deconstruct shooter cliches is far more telling than when the game literally tells you it’s message. Because I saw it on placards a decade earlier.

    It’s “The Last Jedi” of meta shooters. It’s simultaneously the best and the worst of the genre, including critique, some great moments, some of the great moments in the genre, but it’s held back by limitations in the execution, and a refusal to go all out.

    I was informed that the game was more vital regarding my take, that I clearly felt the need to be a hero. I’ll answer a question with a question. Considering the game, and moreso, considering the world the game is based on: Do you feel good being a westerner, your tax dollars paying for the real life equivalent? It’s the question the game falls short of, to instead criticise just Walker, just your video game actions. How do you feel about your real world actions? Before you justify them, think about how Walker justifies his, and whether you’re really any different.

    Before you answer in the condemnatory, know that if I bother to respond, I’ll just copy paste the responses of people who thought I was missing the point. I do genuinely like this game, and I’m sure I’ll replay it sometime this year. But it’s the start, baby steps for meta-shooters who condemn the genre, and I’m disappointed people are fine with stopping there.

  29. Nope says:

    I can’t edit this comment because it’s coming up marked as spam (Guessing that’s the editing policy due to the move). But I’d like to place quotations around “It’s Ok-through to-Not me”, and “I can, through to-I am enlightened”

    Sorry, I’ve already been misunderstood once here, and not for the first time on this topic, and I’d like to make myself as clear as possible, because people have motivations to oppose things that might undermine themselves and the sense of who they are, and I’d already had my fill of that for, if anything, praising one of the greatest moments in gaming, but criticising a scene of cutscene experiency.

  30. Jabberwok says:

    I think the perception, which may or may not be true, is that ‘realistic’ games typically reach a wider audience. I wouldn’t be that surprised if shooters set in the modern day, requiring less suspension of disbelief, reach people who probably wouldn’t pay much attention to a sci-fi title. I mean, sports games seem to be eternally the most lucrative, and that’s something you can go do in real life. Then again, Halo was massively popular across the board, though maybe it was just filling a hole in the market. The options for console shooters were pretty slim and clumsy back then.

    As for Spec Ops, I think it needed to be modern day and to take a somewhat accusatory tone towards the player in order to accomplish what it set out to do. Strangely enough, as much as I respected what they were trying to do, I got bored of the game about a third of the way in. Mechanically, it was just too close to its source material to do much for me. The ways in which it needed to be like certain other games in order to make a statement are also weaknesses of a sort.

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