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"Music"



Diecast #218: British Panel Shows, Prey Ending

By Shamus
on Monday Jul 16, 2018
Filed under:
Diecast

 
 

Heads up: In the final segment of the show we spoil the end of Prey 2017. Also: Next week I plan to have SoldierHawk on the show again. If you have any questions for her, the email is in the header image.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:

00:00 Too Many Projects

Like I said in the show: My game and my novel have been stalled for the better part of a year, but then they both got un-stuck last week. That would be great, but I’m already in the middle of a big writing push and I can’t stop to work on either one of them. So my only hope is to power through this project as quickly as possible.

12:26 Sound Problems

Well, that was alarming.

16:11 British Panel Shows

Would I Lie to You, QI, and 8 out of 10 Cats are the ones I’ve discovered so far. Any others I should know about?

25:38 Voiced Protagonists


Link (YouTube)

Hi!

Promise it will be a short one. Unlike the last time.

I’ve started to watch this video, but I’ve got a question on my own.

It’s about voice -d/-less protagonists. When the usage of either of them is justifiable/preferable? For example – would voiced protagonist improve System Shock 1/2, and what will it look like? Would removal of the voice of JC Denton make Deus Ex much worse? Do you have examples on your own to ponder on that question?

With best regards, DeadlyDark

40:12 Prey Ending

Dear Diecast,

I finished Prey (2017) for the first time a few days ago. I loved it,
despite some flaws. I know you wrote a couple of posts on it back when
it came out, but would you mind discussing it a bit more, especially the
story? I’m curious what you thought about the ending twist; I liked it
but can see why some might not. Thanks!

Kestrellius


 
 
Comments (74)

  1. Phill says:

    Not a panel show, but it has a certain degree of overlap: Taskmaster.

    A bunch of comedians (a different set of 5 for each season) get given a variety of weird tasks to do by the task master. Such as “paint a horse while riding on a horse”. Or “fastest time to get all these gym balls on the top of that windy hill”.

    IMHO the best comedy show on UK TV at the moment.

    • sofawall says:

      I second Taskmaster. Absolutely fantastic.

    • Tizzy says:

      Two shows I’d recommend that have not yet been mentioned: news-related, “The Last Leg” because their genuine outrage at the world cannot taint their deeply rooted optimism and good humor (Aussie host Adam Hill helps tremendously here).

      Also, the clips I’ve seen of “Argumental” were funny. A short lived series were the two teams of comedians argue opposite sides of an argument with the “help” of a slideshow (or other supports) that they haven’t seen before and that contains bizarre unhelpful illustrations that they must incorporate in their arguments. Sean Lock is very good at this exercise.

    • Thomas Steven Slater says:

      One show I like is Mock the week, a topical one.

      Something that would be a panel show if it was on Tv is Tom scotts citation needed. The format is host has Wikipedia article from an strange and obscure topic and the guest win meaningless points for getting the info on it. Britishness ensues and many tangents. The “prize” is always a pun.

  2. DW says:

    I can very much recommend “Have I Got News for You?”. It’s a topical panel show focussing around current news events. Some of the people you’ll recognise from the other shows you mention (like Andy Hamilton, to name a prominent example), and is still going to this day.

    And also, considering you talk about the the score in the typical panel show being irrelevant, I should also recommend an old show called Shooting Stars, probably my favourite panel show. It’s very absurdist, and takes the “more about entertainment than competition” aspect that you talk about to the extreme. During question and answers rounds, said questions and answers are often non-sequiturs (see clip linked below), and the scores at the end always seemed to me to be made up at random. It features a more general mix of celebrities rather than solely drawing from comedians like the shows you mentioned, and chances are you won’t recognise most of the comedians involved because most of them are UK-specific. A representative clip of that show, featuring jokes that should make sense to an international audience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57PTxe2hEqc

    Shooting Stars is a lot easier to find on Youtube than full episodes of HIGNFY (Debut episode here – if you don’t enjoy this the show’s probably not for you), which is a shame, but that’s the way these things often are.

  3. Asdasd says:

    British panel shows..

    Have I Got News for You is a very popular current affairs comedy panel show. Possibly too British skewed for a wider audience, but I’m not sure.

    Mock the Week is a more raucous youth-oriented alternative to the above.

    If you’re okay with radio shows, I would recommend I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which is an irreverent and not remotely serious parody of the panel show format.

    Also on the radio, Just a Minute is nothing short of a British institution. It’s based on a parlour game where the contestant tries to speak on a given subject for 60 seconds without hesitating, repeating a word or deviating from the subject. Great fun.

    Rounding out the radio shows, The Unbelievable Truth is a David Mitchell-hosted vehicle about hiding truthful statements into short essays constructed otherwise entirely of falsehoods. I think it served as the genesis for Would I Lie to You.

    Never Mind the Buzzcocks is (was?) a music focused panel show which has had some serious comedy talent on it through the years. If you can find old series I would look for the ones where a combination of Phil Jupiter, Sean Hughes, Bill Bailey, Simon Amstell, Noel Fielding and/or Mark Lamarr were in the regular seats.

    Shooting Stars featured the talents of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. It was extremely anarchic and contrasts heavily with just about everything else on this list in that there’s not a shred of that British politeness or reserve in evidence anywhere, with celebrity guests often looking on aghast at the eccentric behaviour of the hosts. Nevertheless it still holds status as a cult classic over here.

    A Question of Sport is a, surprise surprise, sports themed panel show that is best known for being something nobody really likes.

    And now I believe I’ll download and listen to the episode!

    • Kathryn says:

      Repeating a word? I assume it’s okay to repeat words like and or the, but you’d be trying not to, say, give brief variations on the same 5-second description? Like, talking about car racing for a minute without resorting to recapping the last 4 races or something. Would you have to use a different word for car each time? That sounds like a fun challenge.

      • Phill says:

        Generally there is an unspoken agreement to let really common words slide. Unless jumping on it would be funny (as a BBC program, people occasionally get buzzed for saying BBC – repetition of ‘B’). But people will get pulled up for repeating ‘like’ or ‘the’ if it is too obvious, if for example someone said “the taste, the smell, the texture…” I’m pretty sure they’d get pulled up on it for using ‘the’ three times in quick succession.

      • MrPyro says:

        The rule for repetitions is also that you can repeat the name of the subject without penalty: so talking about car racing you would be allowed to repeat ‘car’ and ‘racing’ (but not ‘wheel’, ‘road’, ‘brake’ etc.).

    • Phill says:

      In fairness to “A Question of Sport”, it dates from the 70’s and started out, quite reasonably for the time, as a quiz show with a panel of guest sports people. But the focus was on the questions and answers, with an occasional bit of humour, rather than the modern idea of a panel show quiz being essentially a necessary framework to give the comedians something to work with. But “A Question of Sport” is a show that hasn’t changed as rapidly as audience tastes have, so it’s been left behind really, but is probably still enjoyed by the over 50’s

      Seconded on recommending The Unbelievable Truth (and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue) if you can get hold of BBC Radio 4 programs.

      Buzzcocks used to be good in the 90’s and 00’s. But I don’t think I’ve watched it in the last 10 years – it stopped being funny when it replaced snarky humour with just plain snark and mocking people.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Might have to agree about Have I got News For You. It’s good fun and very topical, but also deeply rooted in British politics/culture. So unless you can tell you Jeremy Vines from your Jeremy Corbyns*, it might not be for you.

      *and Jeremy Hunts

    • Boobah says:

      Have I Got News for You is a very popular current affairs comedy panel show. Possibly too British skewed for a wider audience, but I’m not sure.

      I was listening to the podcast and realizing that while I’d never really seen any of these British shows, I was familiar with the format, right down to the quirky title (also an answer to Have I Got News for You‘s Britishness): NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

      • MelfinatheBlue says:

        Yay, someone mentioned Wait, Wait! Seriously, go listen to it, it’s free via podcast on the NPR site. Scores don’t matter and if it doesn’t make you laugh about some portion of the week’s American news nothing will (imho).

    • Sven says:

      I’m going to second Never Mind the Buzzcocks. It’s possibly my favorite panel show, along with QI, though only the older seasons.

      Buzzcocks was at its best when Mark Lamarr and Bill Bailey were on it, in my opinion. Simon Amstell and Noel Fielding were okay, but not the same. When they started using random hosts, I lost interest.

  4. DGM says:

    Regarding the personality issues in Prey:

    I don’t think neuromods themselves were causing personality shifts; that didn’t seem to be a problem for anyone else who had them. My understanding is that Morgan’s personality changed because the constant uninstalling and reinstalling of neuromods was causing minor brain damage.

    • JakeyKakey says:

      I feel as though the “mystery” of the personality shifts was left somewhat open ended to further tie into the game’s ongoing existential/identity themes.

      Brain damage being the answer puts a relatively definitive answer as to which version of Morgan was the “real” one.

  5. TreuloseTomate says:

    Duke in DNF doesn’t work because, unlike in DN3D, he is interacting with other characters and he got turned into a douchebag. In DN3D he was just a funny action hero. The humor was different. And Jon’s delivery was better.

    • Stu Hacking says:

      I loved DN3D at the time it came out because it was more comically over-the-top than DoomII, the setting was more recognisably Earth, and Duke was basically an everyday Joe. He had a caricature personality of several 80s action heroes rolled into one, but seemed to me he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up having to deal with an alien invasion. A lot of the really lewd stuff in DN3D was either suggested, or hidden behind innuendo, or played for laughs; but in the end it was an action game.

      I only played the first 2 hours of DNF, and everything about it felt incredibly squicky. The humour was less about playing on 80s movie stereotypes and a lot more gross (literal toilet humour?); Duke felt less like a charismatic action hero, and more like a creepy uncle (Those 2 jailbait girls, really?) (which you are forced to endure in first person, yuck!).

      To me it felt like the writing team who eventually finished DNF didn’t really understand the character or tropes. DN3D was violent and gory, lewd and over the top, with a wise-cracking protagonist, but it managed to do that without overshadowing the action game aspect. DNF constantly interrupted the action to remind me how slimy it felt.

  6. Joe says:

    Will the Pseudoku protagonist have a voice, be silent, or just captioned?

    And you raised an interesting point when talking about cable channels and such. Basically, why are there so many of them? From the few free channels in Australia, there just isn’t enough content to have something good on all the time. More channels means more filler. There’s no point in having a zillion options if all of them suck, is there?

    And yet, every so often, when good stuff comes along, it’s spread all over the bloody place. In a couple of years, Disney will have a Star Wars live-action series. Amazon will have LOTR, and Netflix will have the Witcher. To someone geeky but poor like me, it’s cruel to spread out the stuff like that. If I could just buy a season pass to each of the shows and nothing else, I would. But I suspect that each company wants *all* my money, not just some.

    On another note, YT algorithms. I find that they mostly work. If I watch a bunch of videos on one subject, I’ll get lots of recs about that thing. Usually that’s good, but I accidentally clicked on a few videos knocking TLJ. They have nothing to say, but I don’t want to stop seeing Star Wars videos. And every so often, I’ll get reccomendations for something totally different. I don’t think I’ve ever clicked on a single soccer video. Why are you suddenly suggesting three different channels?

    • Nessus says:

      It’s getting worse. Sometime in the last few months, Amazon switched a bunch of its streaming new releases from rental to secondary subscriptions parted out between HBO, Starz, and a bunch of other companies. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between which service gets what movie. Now instead of being able to just rent the 4 or so new releases I’m actually interested in in a given quarter at maybe 5 bucks each, I’d have to pay 10 bucks a month to each of multiple secondary subscriptions respectively just to see those same 4 movies a single time.

      I’m already paying 100 a year for prime, and the streaming subscription was a huge part of what justified that, so this move feels super smeggy. They try to softball it by giving you a free first month trial for each of these, but it aint fooling anyone.

      It’s exactly the sort of greedy chain-yanking that people can point to and say “See: THIS is why piracy happens”.

  7. Arkady English says:

    If you enjoy 8 Out Of 10 Cats, you might really enjoy 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

    Countdown is a very old British quiz show around making words from a jumble of letters, and a maths game. The 8 Out Of 10 Cats version uses that skeleton, but has comedians playing it with varying degrees of skill, while the regular Countdown staff remain – only the host is changed. The end result is inexplicably brilliant. The 30 second counter while contestants actually play the game is used to do short sketches, and it’s not unusual to have a “bonus round” to allow a talented contestant to show off their skills. Johnny Vegas comes off particularly well in these rounds.

    I think it’s one of the best things on British TV (and I am a native Brit).

  8. Simplex says:

    Dumb question – how do I subscribe this podcast in an app like Podcast Addict? I tried manually adding the RSS feed URL, but it does not work.
    Also, clicking on the feed link ( https://shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?feed=podcast ) gives this error message:
    “ERROR: This is not a valid feed template.”

  9. Lee says:

    Regarding SNL’s level of funny, your 17 year old self might have had an overly positive opinion of the humor, but that would not invalidate the statement “SNL hasn’t been funny since 1982”. It might not have been funny then, either, but your statement only refers to the period after that.

    Regarding Youtube, I use the deprecated https://www.youtube.com/feed/recommended link. This used to be something you could jump to from a link on your main youtube page, but they removed it. The link has continued to work alone though. Unfortunately, the recommendations seem to reset occasionally, so I’ll get weeks of tabletop RPG videos, then suddenly weeks of tech videos, then later weeks of maker videos. It’d be nice to have a decent mix of each of those, since I don’t generally want to binge the same content all day.

    Youtube also forgets when I’ve already seen a video. Unless I’m searching for a particular video, I never want to re-watch something I’ve already seen. Youtube will show a red bar on videos I’ve watched recently, but this disappears after a week or two. It’s very frustrating.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Just yesterday, after finishing watching a video on a channel I usually watch on the day it updates, I thought to myself “The recommended section on the main page has become less and less useful, and I still have hundreds of videos in my Watch Later list, but let’s see what Youtube’s algorithm recommends.”

      Sure enough, one of the first recommendations was the video I just watched.

      Oh Youtube Algorithm, I feel sorry for you. It’s not your fault that the people trying to teach you are idiots who constantly make you worse.

    • Steve C says:

      I wish there was a way of telling Youtube “no” to a video. I often don’t want to see a video as a recommendation or whatever anymore.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        There is a “not interested” button in the home page of youtube.You have to click the three vertical dots that appear next to the title of the video when you mouse over it.You can also use it in the sidebar that appears next to a video you are watching.

  10. Richard says:

    Kaselehlie Shamus,

    Ahi tungoal en wahu ong komwi oh ahmw peneinei, my respect to you and your family. Thank you for your blogs, podcasts, and more.

    With regards to your request for British Panel Shows, in Micronesia my friends and I are prone to listen to Just A Minute, The Unbelievable Truth, and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. I strongly urge you to look into all of them.

    Looking forward to your Mass Effect: Andromeda posts.

    Kahlangan, kulo, kinisou, kammagar, dimi bolo goe, oh ni wahu oh karakarak

  11. Ninety-Three says:

    The camera cuts to him as if he has a line but he just stands there
    People just talk to him and the camera’s on his face and then it cuts back to the other person as if he responded and nobody notices

    I see you’ve played The Secret World then. They did fully voiced quest cutscenes in a game with a silent protagonist and it was weird.

    • modus0 says:

      Bungie did the same thing for Destiny 2, poked fun at it in one of the missions with a character begging you to say something, and referenced your sudden silence (your character was voiced in cut-scenes in Destiny) repeatedly. But just about every cut-scene with your character has the camera lingering on them as if there had been dialogue written for them to speak, and the NPCs to react to, but your character remains mute.

      They claimed the reason was to keep costs and file sizes down because they were translating into far more languages than the first game.

    • Nessus says:

      Ha! Yes. i haven’t played TSW in years, but I clearly remember that.

      It had the weird effect of making every “conversation” in the game feel like your character was being subjected to a villain monologue, no matter who you were “talking to”. Like everyone in this world, good and bad, large and small, was an obliviously rambling egomaniac.

  12. John says:

    I really liked Netflix up until about 2009 or 2010, whenever it was that they split up the DVDs-by-mail and streaming into separate services. The price was more than reasonable–I think it was about $10 a month–and the odds were really good that Netflix had whatever it was you wanted to see. You didn’t need to rely on an algorithm to find content, you just typed the name of the show or movie you wanted into the search field and, lo and behold, there it was. I almost never bothered with Netflix’s recommendations because I didn’t need recommendations. I watched stuff I’d already heard about.

    We recently resubscribed for a while and the service has really taken a turn for the . . .uh, I don’t want to say worse because I don’t think that it’s appreciably different in a structural sense. The problem is that Netflix has far, far less content I’ve heard of now. I type the name of the thing I want to see into the search field and instead of the thing I want to see I get nothing. Or maybe I get a bunch of garbage. The consequence is that if I want to find something to watch I have to use the recommendations and all the recommendations are for things I’ve never heard of, most of which look awful. Half of them are the same Netflix Original Whatevers that get recommended no matter what it is you told Netflix you wanted and the rest are sub-B level efforts by producers who aren’t major media companies with their own, competing streaming services.

    The point, I guess, is that Netflix’s recommendations have always been awful and that if you aren’t interested in Netflix’s self-produced stuff then Netflix isn’t worth the money. It’s funny because way back when, we liked Netflix so much that we cancelled our cable and just watched stuff from Netflix. It felt like we could use it to watch whatever we wanted without having to pay for the vast quantity of stuff we didn’t want. Now it seems like Netflix is effectively cable. There are a few good shows and a whole lot of drek and why am I paying for all this stuff I don’t want again?

    • Echo Tango says:

      Netflix is good enough for my cousins, but not for me. What I mean, is that the few times I thought I’d sign up, I looked up if they had some movie I was interested in at the time; They did not. However, when I visit my cousins for Xmas, Netflix has enough random movies, that we’ll be able to pick something decent out, that we can all watch, and which is relatively interesting. I just can’t watch a specific movie in a specific year, so I don’t subscribe myself. ^^;

  13. Ninety-Three says:

    I hated the Prey ending, and you just happened to touch upon why in an earlier part of this very podcast. You were talking about how a game like Skyrim shouldn’t be voiced because the player character is just a floating sword, an avatar of the player’s will, and that’s how I felt about Prey. I was never thinking “What would Morgan do here?”, just “I’m going to 100% pacifist because I like challenge and that’s normally the most challenging route”. At the end I picked blowing up the station because as a person who cared at least a little about the world of Prey, that seemed like the best way to save it. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the story, or even my effect on the world, I just didn’t care about my role in the story. Then the ending comes up and goes “Haha, none of that happened, all the work you put in had no effect, and by the way this whole thing has been about your role in the story.”

    Prey put me in entirely the wrong mindset for its ending to work, and while some of that is me, at least part of the blame lies with Prey. The Gordon Freeman style of protagonist who gets talked to but never talks back doesn’t exactly scream “This is a Real Person full of thoughts and rich internal experience”.

    • Decius says:

      You seem to have missed the point, then. The entire game was about you, not the alien you played who played Morgan. The epilogue was a bunch of characters talking to you, the player, using the alien as a vehicle for the conversation. They admit that they don’t understand you.

      That bit about them (the videogame characters/humans) trying to put bits of you (the player/alien) into them versus putting bits of them into you? That’s the same thing as some of Sans’ speech at the player/Twitch stream in an Undertale Genocide run.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        If Prey was trying to bend the fourth wall then it didn’t have anything to say to me. The real reason I saved all those people is because I wanted to 100% the videogame I was playing. If there’s anything there to talk about, it bypasses narrative entirely and exists at the extremely high level of “what makes challenge in videogames appealing” and that was definitely not the level Prey was trying to engage on.

        Imagine if Dark Souls tried to pull an Undertale after the player went through the entire game without talking to a single NPC because they’re just here for the combat, and it assigned great narrative significance to the fact that the player spent all their time using the Zweihander when really they just love the thunk sound it makes. That’s how badly miscalibrated Prey was to me.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          But if you didnt care about its story,why do you care about the resolution of said story?

        • Decius says:

          What fourth wall? Prey never pretends that you-the-player don’t exist, and interacts with you-the-player directly.

          The game doesn’t understand why you do the things you do, and when it asks you why, that’s for your benefit.

          • Hector says:

            I don’t accept that. Your point of view only works if that’s the way you’re already playing. Which, in that case, sure. But it probably falls flat for anyone else – like myself.

            The game can only ask a question about your values or thoughts if you choose to answer for yourself, in the first person. The thing is, despite the game’s chosen POV, Morgan Yu is not you. [No pun intended.] There’s certainly a fair amount of flexibility in how you want to play the character, certainly. But it may be nowhere near enough for the player to put themselves purely into the game’s thing psychobabble, particularly as your options end up being quite limited. This isn’t to say that your experience is inauthentic. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to experience the game, or even the most predominate way to do so.

            For example, I couldn’t really get “into” the character, and the game’s attempts to ngage my emotions fell completely flat. I did the “good” things (except when I started the endgame sequence by going to a place the game didn’t expect, but that’s another issue). But there wasn’t much reason to play a “bad” guy so it was sort of a default.

  14. ccesarano says:

    I think the secret sauce to silent protagonists is based around the atmosphere you want to convey to the player. I’ve not played Thief, but it sounds to me like Garrett’s personality is consistent with the game’s tone and, importantly, what kind of personality a thief might have. I think in the first-person perspective especially you want the player to be able to be comfortable in the “skin” or “head” of the game’s protagonist. What I’ve watched of Thief, its universe is one in which every figure of authority is rather unlikeable, and therefore being a rules-breaking loner that picks the pockets of others is easier to relate to. The character is able to be a product of the universe without the player feeling as if they’re somehow dirty for being a pick-pocket.

    Contrast to Stu Hacking above says about Duke Nukem Forever, where interacting with other humans only takes those once “endearing” traits of a character and now makes you feel like some sort of accomplice.

    With DOOM, the developers did a good job of conveying how a player might feel through an empowered marine character. They made a couple mistakes here and there, but otherwise DOOM guy manages to maintain a distinct personality that is also an extension of the player.

    This is mostly first-person, though. Growing up on JRPG’s and other console titles, I have to wonder about third-person games. Is Samus better without a voice or did Nintendo just screw up the personality players have been depicting for years? Do we need to give Link… um… dialogue, seeing as he has a very clear voice already (HYYYAAAAUGH!!!)? In some cases I think same rules apply, though you have more room for expression in third-person. You can extend DOOM guy’s personality from hand-motions to facial expression if he’s in third-person. Link in The Wind Waker has a very distinct personality.

    At the same time, the writing is very careful to never really require Link to say anything. He’s able to have personality, but not so much as to interfere with the player’s personal desire to step forward and empower themselves into heroic actions. Which brings me back to what you said of System Shock (and even ties in with Metroid). If you can’t see expressions, then you form an idea of the character in your head. The second the character breaks from that, it’s like glass mirrors shattering. It’s loud, and whatever was on your mind is now gone. You’re distracted, and you can only focus on all the shards now littering the floor.

    The way I see it, decide early on if the character is voiced or silent. If they’re silent, decide on first or third person, because that’s going to determine how much you can express that personality.

    No hard or fast rules, just ways to make it artfully done.

    • Syal says:

      “Will you save the world?”

      -Yeah!
      -Of course!

    • Viktor says:

      Breath of the Wild made Link canonically not speak. It’s been a while since I read through everything, but Zelda’s diary entries in that state that Link basically can talk, but when he’s stressed he loses the ability. Link as a non-verbal autistic person, with that trait being carried through all of his reincarnations, actually makes like 90% of his character throughout the years make perfect sense.

      • Mark says:

        > Link as a non-verbal autistic person,

        I wouldn’t go overboard reaching for modern terminology in this case. Quoting Zelda’s diary:

        “Bit by bit, I’ve gotten Link to open up to me. It turns out he’s quite a glutton. He can’t resist a delicious meal! When I finally got around to asking why he’s so quiet all the time, I could tell it was difficult for him to say. But he did. With so much at stake, and so many eyes upon him, he feels it necessary to stay strong and to silently bear any burden. A feeling I know all too well… For him, it has caused him to stop outwardly expressing his thoughts and feelings.”

        I’d also argue that this is lampshading a video game convention, similar to Alyx Vance calling Gordon Freeman “a man of few words.” In “reality” Gordon would talk, as would Link. That they don’t talk *at all* is an artifact of this being a game, similar to how Gordon can fracture every bone in his body and then just bang his head into a first aid station on the wall to get better, and if you put too much headcanon into it you’ll just disappoint yourself.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Since you mentioned Doom 2017’s missteps, I have to get my complaint in. The Doom Marine’s attitude drove me up the walls because the game stops the demon killing to force you into a scripted story segment about how much scripted story stuff sucks and how you wish you could be killing demons. While the Doom Marine was emoting “Fuck this plot, Imma kill some demons”, I was shouting furiously at my screen “Fuck your plot Doom Marine, now let me kill some goddamn demons!”

      I can kind of forgive the average game having unskippable cutscenes: they’re trying, they think their cutscenes are good and worth watching. Doom knows players hate that shit and it forces you to put up with it anyway, all the while taunting you with reminders of how much this makes you want to do like the Doom Marine and put your computer through a window. Even the games like IWBTG that kill you for no reason feel like they’re trying to be funny, Doom’s wasting of my time just felt malevolent, and it’s the angriest a videogame has made me in years.

      • ccesarano says:

        I’m not sure I recall any particular scene you may be describing. Most of the scenes in which DOOM guy does his thing are brief or shortened specifically because he’s apathetic to the mumbo jumbo. On the other hand, the scenes I remember being confused were when the She-Bad-Guy is monologuing behind a bullet-proof window and the DOOM guy just sits there listening, or they locked the doors on you. For some reason I remember thinking “DOOM guy should either just try and shoot through the glass or keep walking on”, and it felt like there was no solid explanation for why neither happened. Instead, I sat and listened to the monologue. This sort of thing happens one or two more times and it seems like the developers forgot what sort of temperament DOOM guy was supposed to have.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I mean precisely the scenes in which Doomguy smashes a terminal that was talking mumbo-jumbo at him. They were mercifully shorter than the average game’s cutscenes, but that’s like the game saying “We recognize you hate brocoli, so we’re only making you eat a half-portion”.

      • BlueHorus says:

        While the Doom Marine was emoting “Fuck this plot, Imma kill some demons”, I was shouting furiously at my screen “Fuck your plot Doom Marine, now let me kill some goddamn demons!”

        So I’m playing DEUM now, and while personally I don’t find the story or Doom Guys’s antics particularly grating, I do get where you’re coming from.
        I genuinely think at least a few people on the dev team couldn’t really conceive of a game that didn’t actually have a story, so they felt they had to put one in. They’ve included the ‘Doom Guy doesn’t play along with the story’ sections as a joke/nod to the original, but it’s more like “Haha, there’s no story! …okay, seriously, here’s the story.”

        Of course, why ‘DEMONS INVADED MARS, SHOOT THEM IN THE FACE’ needed a ‘story’ in the first place is a valid question in and of itself…

  15. Ardis Meade says:

    Speaking about panel shows and YouTube, might I suggest Citation Needed by The Technical Difficulties? It’s a side project on Tom Scott’s channel. 4 English dudes riffing on Wikipedia articles(or arguably 3 English dudes riffing and one hopelessly trying to keep control.) Link to playlist of all episodes so far; http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLObUs3BMGN1SlxaRLCl9Gn9L0kgIo87gv

  16. default_ex says:

    Shamus you really should open up some of your stuff that has access panels to clean it out, like Paul did with the coils on his fridge. Especially devices with heat exchangers and fans. Since you open your computer you have seen the dusty mess that builds up over time regardless of how clean you keep your home. All of your electronic devices are succeptible to the same laws of physics that make dust statically clump to the surfaces. This is why so many newer devices fail so fast compared to older devices. The older devices generally had more surface area inside to collect dust before it built up enough to damage electronics and control mechanisms, take care of the good ones and the electric and mechanical parts should last 10-20 years.

  17. evilmrhenry says:

    For figuring out which streaming services have a show, I usually use
    canistream.it

  18. DeadlyDark says:

    Ok. Just add another example to ponder about voiced/silent protagonists.

    KOTOR. If it was voiced like Deus Ex, would it work?

    • Syal says:

      This brings up the difference between silent protagonists and just unvoiced ones. Mr. and Mrs. KOTOR talk quite a bit, it’s just all limited to text.

      The answer is, KOTOR would be improved by voice-acting the main character. I want to hear my character dramatically tell their mentor that Handon is lying because fat people always lie.

      • John says:

        I see your point, but I’m glad it wasn’t voiced. I read all the choices. I know what I picked. I don’t want to wait until some actor finishes reading it before I can proceed.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Deus ex remakes did that in a nice way.Yes,the actor will read out what you just read,but you can skip it,and the conversation afterwards continues with both jensen and the other person speaking a few lines before you get to the next branch.Thus avoiding the ambiguousness you get with the mass effect wheel,while there still being a purpose to jensen being voiced.

  19. Wiseman says:

    Max Payne wouldn’t be without its voice acting. The game just wouldn’t exist.

  20. Ninety-Three says:

    So Shamus, in the Mass Effect stream you mentioned that you intended to do another stream with more focus on playing the game, is that still happening? The last one was great fun and I’m eager for more.

  21. The Rocketeer says:

    The ending of PREY is complete shit that ruins the whole game, and here’s why.

    Let’s just start with the beginning. Busting through the Looking Glass windows of your fake apartment is a neat moment. It’s also the moment when anyone with a three-digit IQ says to themselves, “Oh, so the whole game is a computer simulation.” Or maybe not. It’s likely you followed up that thought with, “But there’s no way they would do that,” and held on until reaching the Arboretum for the first time. When you get Alex’s key, save the game, and use the escape pod just to test what non-standard Game Over you’ll get, you see what is clearly a computer screen with Alex’s voice saying, “this one didn’t work, start it up again with a new guinea pig.” Alright, so that tells us for certain that this is, exactly as foreshadowed by the beginning of the game, a test sequence of some sort carried out in a virtual reality. It also makes explicit something implicitly certain in the premise, but more on that in a moment. If you still didn’t get it through your head when you found the Oculus Rift and detailed plans to simulate an entire setting in that one guy’s apartment, I’d like to welcome you to the world of narrative fiction and concede that, as your first game ever, PREY might actually be the best-written game someone played in their life. There are plenty of other clues— the various times when “Morgan” starts to rouse from their reverie— but those are the important moments.

    So why does it matter? Well, I think a lot of this talk about the ending actually focuses too much on the finale itself. Starting back at the beginning of the narrative, it’s in constant conflict with the game as it progresses and with what seems like is supposed to be the actual meat of the game. The game starts with a very direct presentation of the famous Trolley Problem, asking you directly what your response would be to the classic scenario. This is when everyone not bothered by anything in the above paragraph says to themselves, “This is a totally incidental prompt with no greater thematic significance to the game which I am now playing.” Really, a player should intuitively grasp— even if they don’t make the conscious appraisal— that the entire premise of the game and setting as presented to them is an expansion of the Trolley Problem: Talos I is the individual, the potential sacrifice, and all Earth and the human race is the five, the purported greater good, with the Typhon as the trolley and you with the lever in your hand. The game is always at its best when its working from this premise, placing you in a position to adjudge the ethical response when the stakes of this or that sacrifice are toyed with, and how direct or abstract your involvement in the dirty work must be— whether you’re pulling a lever or pushing them onto the track, so to speak. And, ultimately, it demands a response to the ultimate framing of the problem: if you would jump onto the tracks or not.

    So it would be a very bad idea to take the single greatest thing about the game’s writing and the thematic underpinning of the overwhelming bulk of the game and undermine it for no real purpose. But that’s exactly what the ending— and, much more importantly and immediately, the obligatory foreshadowing of the ending do to the experience. The goal of the Trolley Problem is to place the individual in a position beyond the reach of concerns aside from their own ethics, and to cleave as closely as possible to how the individual relatively values the lives under threat against their personal culpability. The entire goal necessitates the elimination of external factors that would distort or compel the individual’s actions beyond their own sense of right and wrong. In this respect, PREY finds a golden opportunity to hit a truer answer than normal; a person being asked the Trolley Problem by another person directly, or even as a hypothetical in a survey, has some temptation to moderate their answer according to what they think the evaluator would want to hear. PREY, supposedly more free of such judgment, liberates the player to act as they will. But the moment the player realizes that the game, as presented within the setting, is itself an artifice, a hypothetical scenario created by a third party for unknown purposes, the entire game is colored by this knowledge. The knowledge that the setting of Talos I cannot be taken at face value and exists for the purview of an external judge— for Alex Yu in particular, as the game makes rather clear even as events are still in the offing— necessarily abnegates the Trolley Problem and its expression in Talos I as a philosophical conundrum for the individual and recontextualizes it as an exercise in anticipating the will of an interested observer and acting with accordance with or defiance of this will in mind. Even if subconsciously, a player who understands the presence of a third-party observer necessarily informs all of their subsequent actions with this knowledge. And it’s hardly by accident that I call Alex Yu an interested observer, not a disinterested one. The game establishes a pre-existing personal relationship between the player-character and Alex that would, in itself, invalidate the integrity of the simulation as a disinterested ethical dilemma. More importantly, Alex is a character present within the scenario with his own clear bias and will regarding the course of action you must take. Nevermind anything that actually happens during the ending, outside of the scenario itself; the knowledge that the person in charge of your apparent reality expresses explicit direction for you to obey or defy necessarily must, in the moment, color your actions and expectations according to your theory of the simulation’s purpose and your expected role in it. And it is unimportant that that role is not made explicit; there is more than enough context available to lead the player-character to an assumption, which, in the context of the game as a Trolley Problem, is already enough to invalidate it even if that context is misleading and those assumptions incorrect. For the player, the knowledge that they’re playing a game is enough to infer the existence of a win state and a lose state and/or multiple endings contingent on their actions, an inference bolstered by the presentation of player avatar Morgan’s test of resourcefulness and character prior to taking a position of importance within the family’s company. The heavy implication of all the game’s context, in the setting and outside of it, is not that you are at liberty to act in accordance with your morality but that you are acting for the benefit of a third party to be judged for reward or censure, and that is a tragic shortfall of the game’s clear potential. What was built to so very nearly serve as a novel and detailed expansion of the familiar premise of the Trolley Problem instead becomes a game about kowtowing to your fat jerk brother, Alex. What a fucking waste.

    But that’s hardly the end of the manifold category errors created by the game’s conception as a simulation, revealed and exemplified in its ending. What most people tend to say about the ending, and what most people would say about the premature (i.e. ten minutes into the game) realization that the entire setting and scenario as presented is artificial, is that it makes immersion into the setting of Talos I and the suspension of disbelief prior to genuine feeling for the inhabitants of the station difficult to impossible, and is all the more disappointed, treacherous, and unpleasant for those who had had that immersion and felt it taken later on. What you absolutely have to understand is that these people are 100% correct and you can’t somehow discount or counterclaim their antipathy and disappointment by spinning some bullshit interpretation of the game where their feelings were wrong and didn’t matter, or weren’t on the right level, or whatever people have to claim to defend this flop. Where do you get off criticizing someone’s visceral emotional response to art? No person on this planet was born to praise any game no matter how you feel about it; it’s the other way around. Art and entertainment is created for an audience, and when the work loses or fails to gain that audience’s respect or approbation, that’s a problem with the work, not the audience, and the reflex to try and excommunicate dissenters from the “real” audience or intellectualize away someone’s earnest emotional response as invalid is such a jaw-droppingly selfish, small-souled, and heartbreakingly common response that I’m not accusing anyone in particular of perpetrating. I haven’t even read the rest of the comments so if you think this is about you in particular, maybe dwell on that. But while the game totally did fail a large portion of its audience on an emotional level in this fashion, I’m taking this a little bit farther in my prior line of going after its failure to follow through any kind of thematic framework.

    See, the fascinating thing about PREY isn’t just its exercise of the Trolley Problem writ large, which totally fails, but in the great elbow room for interpretation as a criticism of hypothetical thought experiments such as the Trolley Problem. These kinds of thought experiments, and the Trolley Problem in particular, tend to work by attempting to quarantine ethical dilemmas in a hermetically-sealed bubble free of personalization and context. PREY can easily be taken as a large-scale dismantling of the usefulness of this entire approach as a means of revealing anything of value about the individuals tested by them or any greater truths about ethics, morality, etc. as a whole, for their total lack of meaningful analogs to reality and their lack of practical applicability to anyone’s real life. Though the Talos I scenario is presented very neatly in accordance with the hypothetical at the outset, factors just keep cropping up to complicate it and distance it from the archetypal Trolley Problem. For instance, take the entire screed above about the corrupting influence of an observer or judge on the scenario. For the hypothetical to work as a question strictly of the subject’s individual ethics, and not merely their expectation of reward or punishment, the hypothetical ignores those factors and focuses solely on the relevant variables of the lives at stake and the individual’s responsibility. But even aside from Alex above, Morgan is hardly free from consequences and judgment from his actions, both from their practical consequences and the reactions of others around him. The divergence from a clinical, sterile hypothetical is clear: there is always personal consequence putting its thumb on the scale. And even the entire idea of Talos I as the creation of an external observer with respect to whom you may never act with real impunity could have enhanced, rather than negated this reading of the game: Alex’s presence gives the setting a god. Even if, or especially if, its motives are unknown and unknowable, and if their very existence or presence is an unresolved ambiguity, how can any practice of one’s morality not be informed by the uneasy uncertainty that God isn’t watching? But of course this just gets chucked in the shitter with everything else since Alex’s hand is so visible and certain, and since his goals and purpose are made perfectly plain when all is said and done. Then there’s the idea that the onus to act is solely on the individual, intended to press the individual into confronting and revealing, rather than evading, their own ethical stance as revealed by their response. This is basically in jeopardy from the outset due to the presence of several other survivors on the station, all of whom could theoretically take the situation into their own hands… unless you intuit that this is a simulation ready-made to test your personal response and that none of them will act of their own accord to invalidate the primacy of your own agency in the outcome. But even that only lasts until the intercession by the corporation and their hatchet man Dahl late in the game. Taking this in view of the Trolley Problem, it’s as if we’re now fighting someone else for possession of the lever, when their very presence has contaminated the hypothetical by relieving the individual of sole responsibility. Even if you stipulate that what they would do with the situation and what would become of Talos I, Earth, you, or anyone else is worse that what you would do with it, letting them take possession of the situation places the outcome in an entirely separate category, a sin of omission, rather than a sin of comission, something the Trolley Problem is intended to weigh, but which you are obliged to reject in order to receive a full ending of the game either by defeating Dahl to stop his plans or actively helping him (before being betrayed and obliged to confront him). The longer the game goes on, totally realistic and foreseeable consequences of the setting distance the reality of Talos I further and further from the sterilized hypothetical ideal, and begin making what can be construed as a clear case against the worth of the Trolley Problem and against all similar thought exercises: that ethics don’t exist in a depersonalized vacuum free of context or consequence, and that such thought exercises are the equivalent of the infamous “inelastic spherical frictionless cow in an agravitic vacuum” of elementary physics questions. Events and actors interposing themselves unpredictably into the scenario as the plot advances is itself another angle, demonstrating the inherent uncertainty of situations and outcomes in real-life situations that thought exercises often seek to eliminate as an extraneous variable, even though human uncertainty and the need to weigh probability of outcomes and the possibility of individual ignorance and error is a fundamental aspect of evaluating ones options ethically, which can’t be reduced to arithmetic terms without fundamentally recategorizing the dilemma. Postulating such hypotheticals is essentially trying to force Buridan’s Ass, a hypothetical so unrealistically freed of recognizable and realistic complication and nuance as to serve as a practical fallacy by its very conception. What’s more, the entire formulation of such thought problems begs the question by conceiving of ethics as a sterile, theoretical, utilitarian question idealized in a depersonalized, decontextualized vacuum in the matter of a physics problem, rather than ethics as a pragmatic and situational human practice informed by supposedly inelastic principles but praxeologically necessitated by, not corrupted by, the personal context in which the discipline is inescapably demonstrated by non-interchangeable beings of complex and unpredictable character and values.

    Which brings me back to icky, mucky feelings. In the view that PREY is either an application or criticism of the Trolley Problem, the genuine personalization of the inhabitants of Talos I is a matter most critical. As always, the Trolley Problem hypothetical attempts to excise a meddlesome and distracting factor: empathy, which, as it turns out, is something rather important to the game. As with most other aspects of Talos I-as-Trolley Problem, the scenario is presented very cleanly at the outset and complicated as events unfold. In this aspect, the complicating factor is the personal relationship the player, though their player-character, forms with the denizens of the space station. And, as in other aspects of the game, these natural, realistic and ineffably human circumstances highlight the absurdity of the sterile Trolley Problem formulation as a practical bellwether for human ethics. At the outset, you are assured that in order to save Earth and all of the human race, Talos I must be destroyed with no one aboard allowed to escape the destruction, yourself included. From a utilitarian survey of the consequences, nothing that happens to the inhabitants of Talos I in the interim is of import because they will all die anyway if you intend to pull the lever— to save Earth by annihilating the station and preventing the escape of the Typhon, any knowledge pertaining to them, and anyone that might harbor knowledge of the Typhon or bear their DNA markers in themselves subsequent to neuromod use. But throughout the bulk of the game, the player is presented chance after chance to prevent and alleviate human suffering and to value human lives that may already be necessarily forfeit in the grand scheme of the player’s own plans. This is part and parcel of the Trolley Problem, which concerns itself less with the value of human life (which it assumes; more on that later) but with the individual’s comfort with direct or indirect responsibility in sacrificing life for the greater good; even if one is comfortable taking the lives of everyone aboard Talos I in the abstract for the greater good, they may have to confront the apparent contradiction of their discomfort with pulling the trigger on any of them personally— pushing the individual rather than redirecting the trolley towards them, as it were. But merely by presenting the opportunity, PREY diverges from the clinical impersonality of the Trolley Problem and gives the lives at stake human faces, emotional responses, needs, goals, and direct and indirect relationships with the player-character apart from their role as theoretical ballast in a thought experiment. A masterstroke, really; the Trolley Problem exists in part to highlight to the surveyed their own unexamined or irreconcilable relative valuations of human life through their (dis)comfort with selectively saving and denying it in the abstract. How much sublime to highlight the discontinuity between what one is willing to sacrifice in the abstract, in the soulless rational context of the thought experiment, versus what one is willing to do in a human, pre-rational empathetic context demanded by putting abstract theory into personal practice?

    Of course, that only works if the player/player-character isn’t aware that the whole thing is a fucking simulation. My God, I really can’t overstate the extent to which the premise of this game takes all the most interesting thematic and philosophical aspects and just tosses them into the fucking garbage. Nevermind the player’s own immersion into the setting; the knowledge that Talos I and its inhabitants aren’t genuine even in the game’s own internal logic is just fatal to everything worthwhile here. Sure, you could have a game where the concatenation of empathy in personal interactions into the cold impersonal logic of a depersonalized ethical conundrum drives the player to live differently through their player-character, but only if the either the player and/or player-character don’t realize: that the other entities around them are, in-universe, simulations with no genuine feelings or personalities; that the setting, in-universe, does not pre-exist the player-character and exists only to facilitate their direct involvement in its affairs; that your situation is, un-universe, deliberately curated by an interested third party to judge the character and attitude that you actions may be inferred to express; and that, in-universe, the judgment of your actions may be easily inferred to result in some ambiguous reward or punishment. Again, this is not a game about ethics. This is not a game about empathy. This is a game about assuming what Alex wants from you.

    And, as it turns out, what Alex wants is for you to be empathetic, because he needs you help to save the human race. As he mentions, the test administered— and, by extension, the Trolley Problem itself— can’t actually determine whether you are empathetic and value human life, because they can only view the results of your actions without directly understanding your motivations. And he’s right. The Trolley Problem begs the question of whether the subject values human life at all, assuming that the subject does ascribe some relative value to human life. If the subject does not, the responses to the problem cannot actually reveal this. It is assumed that the respondent refuses to pull the lever not because they are totally indifferent to the threat to the five, but because they rate the direct termination of the one— the sin of commision— more grave than the passively-allowed death of the five— the sin of omission. Likewise with pushing the fat man in front of the trolley: it is assumed that the respondent deems it a necessary sacrifice for the greater good, and not that they merely take greater interest in directly killing a single human, for whatever reason, than indirectly allowing the deaths of others. And likewise with sacrificing oneself to save the others or not: while the problem assumes that one who would not throw themselves in front of the trolley is given pause by some ambiguous response, perhaps fear of death or valuing oneself as more valuable than any five people, in assuming that there is a value judgment being made in the first place it assumes the recognition of some sort of dilemma, which would not be the case to one absolutely indifferent to the lives at stake. I have the tiniest inkling of a notion to give the game some credit for acknowledging the limitations of their means, but instead I am again shocked at the discontinuity between the enveloping premise and the setting of Talos I: having set out solely to determine the empathy of the test subject, they go to incredible lengths to simulate an ethical conundrum incapable of addressing the question.

    And one can, of course, protest that even if the player realizes that the whole setting is an in-universe simulation meriting only the most jealous and conditional suspension of disbelief, that their player-character doesn’t have to know that and can just act as if they accept the world as real. Okay. So now that we’ve driven an irreconcilable cognitive and experiential wedge between the player and the faceless, voiceless vessel for the player’s experience and will that exists only to serve as their agent in the world, are we then supposed to also feel the genuine empathy for the other characters that give personal weight and meaning to the bedrock themes of the game and the container story with the real Alex, aka the most important part of the entire fucking game? How many different levels of meta-cognition am I supposed to be selectively suspending to make allowances for this shitty script and its purposeless container story? Look, I’m a fucking dumbass. My immersion has two settings: ON and OFF. Tell me to care or tell me not to care. PREY told me not to care about anything that was happening, then made caring about everything the pivotal element on which the entire in-universe setting was supposedly built around facilitating and the key to resolving the unforeshadowed final problem, which I’ll get to.

    The ending’s problems in this vein continue. So after all is said and done, it’s revealed that the player is a Typhon wearing an Oculus Rift, and that the entire Talos I setting was a test of their experiment to implant the mirror neurons necessary for experiencing empathy into a Typhon, and to inculcate that sense of empathy into the engineered Typhon with the simulation. This revelation alone completely recategorizes the foregoing narrative and the player’s relationship with their player-character. Firstly, it rewrites the central dilemma of the game from What do you choose in this complicated situation to Did Alex’s dumbfuck brain machine work? You could really re-title the entire game to Alex’s Dumbfuck Brain Machine, because in the end, that’s what it really comes down to: whether or not their experiment was a success. If you ran around and murdered everyone, they rule the experiment a failure and kill you on the spot. But if not, they acknowledge the answer to this question is ambiguous due to their lack of means to evaluate your motivations and, therefore, the extent to which your actions were motivated by genuine empathy. They essentially punt the question to the player. You’d think they could have just made a completely different simulated scenario that would make the necessary inference much more reliable, if still not certain, but I’m not a genius like Alex or the people that wrote this game. Now, there are various ways you can evaluate this question. One, you have the response of an immersed player, one who bought the Talos I setting as genuine and acted as they felt in the moment, regarding the risks at hand and the persons involved as real. This isn’t actually a question, because it’s answered by the fact of whether you, the player, are or are not an actual clinical psychopath, capable or incapable of feeling empathy; if you can feel empathy and you regarded and treated the characters as real, you acted with empathy in the simulation and Alex’s dumbfuck brain machine worked, although perhaps not to the extent he would have hoped and perhaps not with the desired follow-on results for his ultimate goal. If you are an actual psychopath incapable of feeling emotion, you probably didn’t get a lot from the themes of this game and you can reason that Alex’s dumbfuck brain machine didn’t actually work, regardless of appearances. Then again, I’m actually not certain of how capable psychopaths incapable of empathy are of projecting themselves into a virtual avatar and acting with a sense of immersion and a sense of disbelief in a fictional reality, something I’ve only just realized I’d be interested to know. At any rate, we’re now inferring after the fact from our feelings whether or not the practical, rather than personal, question of whether or not Alex and his dumbfuck brain machine were up to the task they had set for themselves, a question which serves retroactively as the primary determinant of what had appeared to be the purview of your own agency. So what? This is a story about the farcical nature of agency in a deterministic reality now? We are at a very strange level of emotional investment when we are making post hoc practical inferences of how, not if, our actions were all but predestined by a third party. If not making an evaluation based on your sense of immersed emotional personal fulfillment through the vessel of your avatar, you can arbitrate that the engineered Typhon, your player avatar defined solely as you choose to define them, was or was not motivated by empathy to any degree whatsoever. With sole authority to project this motivation, you may, to any extent you select, be divorced from or restricted by your actions themselves or the motivations you genuinely felt at the time. This is a very bizarre form of post-hoc characterization by player fiat rather divorced from the kind of immersion necessary to give the characterization any meaning. It breaks my heart, really. The accommodation of player agency and the immersion it lives through are gaming’s unique contribution to the artistic universe, and we’re supposed to bend it into a hairpin to make allowances for this shit?

    Following the abrupt demise of the audience’s ability to feel anything, anything at all but the icy-hot kiss of the razor on their forearm, the game closes with a choice: the choice to help Alex fight the Typhon or not. This choice is realized by not murdering Alex or merdering Alex, respectively. It’s also, in a very direct fashion, the choice of whether to SAVE MANKIND or DOOM MANKIND. Not exactly nuanced, is it? What had been, for so much of its runtime, a rather ingenious and natural examination of an ethical conundrum in the heat of personal and emotional duress is now subsumed by and recontextualized in service of the most extreme and black-and-white binary choice conceivable. Theoretically, this choice is informed by the player’s previous determination of whether or not Alex’s dumbfuck brain machine worked or not, and by extension whether or not what had been your player-character is sufficiently brainwashed by Alex’s rigorous experimentation to agree to work for him and drive off, kill, or brainwash the rest of the Typhon for mankind’s sake, or if Alex failed and the engineered Typhon is insufficiently/ineptly brainwashed and doesn’t, for whatever of a variety of reasons. This choice, at best, serves as an out-of-character evaluation of the foregoing narrative and your role in it. Without question, it would have been better not to close the game with a preposterous binary choice of planetary scale. But stipulating that we must end with some grand, singular choice that all other foregoing choices are subsumed by, would it not have been better to have something that actually leveraged the apparent themes of the game? The question of letting the Old One end existence or seal it away forever worked for Demon’s Souls, but that was a game with a heavy motif of the ugly nature of mankind, so empowering the player to accept or reject it worked. The question of whether to SAVE MANKIND or DOOM MANKIND isn’t in keeping with the motif of the Trolley Problem; the problem demands balancing sacrifice against personal culpability. In terms of the problem, this is like choosing to run over everyone or not run over anyone, while you’re driving the trolley. It’s like… it’s like pushing a lever to kill or save all humanity, except it’s not like that, that’s literally what you are doing! Fuck! From the standpoint of exploring the role of empathy and personal attachment in ethical dilemmas, it fares hardly better. From my perspective, the empathy angle is now dead and voided, having been consumed headfirst and whole by the post hoc practical question of whether or not Alex’s dumbfuck brain machine worked or not, a totally arbitrary out-of-character determination by the player. But sidelining that somewhat, this final question is not an interesting choice of weighing one’s empathy in a fraught ethical dilemma. Firstly, there is no ethical dilemma. Second, there is no empathy to weigh. The Talos I we knew is gone, and has been gone since before we actually came into existence; our attachment to it and anyone on it is null and void. The Earth at stake isn’t a personal question to us, but depersonalized, as in a simple hypothetical once more; we have seen nothing of it, and we know no one at stake upon it. Given that we cannot know whether the Operators present are merely simulated personalities or real people speaking remotely through them, the only individual with whom we share real experience in the ending is Alex. Though Alex was present in Talos I, we know logically that the Talos I we saw was a simulation only imperfectly according to whatever actually happened there, rewritten to serve Alex’s purposes; we can hardly take the representation of the persons depicted therein as trustworthy fact, and even if we could, Alex is often not the most sympathetic person portrayed in the simulation. And even at that, Alex himself says that he was a different person then; we can only guess at the implications of that, but it drives home yet further that we have a real personal connection with no one after the simulation has ended— and thus no real basis for empathy. There’s also the question of whether you or especially the engineered Typhon can trust the simulation’s portrayal of humanity at all; if it was not clear within the first ten minutes of the game that the setting of Talos I is constructed with an agenda in mind, it is made explicit in the ending that it was all presented for the purpose of coercing your cooperation. While neither we nor the engineered Typhon can know how faithful this reconstruction of Talos I was factually, only we, the player, can assent with confidence that its representation of mankind is not totally misleading to the end of successfully brainwashing the engineered Typhon. Whether the Typhon, with no foreknowledge of mankind outside the simulation, views this uncertainty in a suspicious light is, along with the question of whether the revelation of its own inhuman nature and any suspicions it might hold regarding its place in Alex’s (and mankind’s) schemes to come are acted upon are again just circled back to the question of whether or not it was sufficiently brainwashed away from these lines of thinking by Alex’s dumbfuck brain machine.

    Rather than any actual thematic chords of the foregoing game, what most resembles the final choice of the game is the option to just shoot the Star Child at the end of Mass Effect 3, and no, this is not a flattering comparison. Far more than any narrative or thematic conclusion to the preceding game, it’s real primary use is a completely out-of-character concession to or rejection of the developers themselves and their vision, rather than the events preceding or to come in the world’s own internal reality. Hard to feel like much of a “Fuck You” when it’s something explicitly written into the game and the only other option besides the option that isn’t unspeakably evil. A well-written game can let you express a host of nuanced or conflicted motivations and views even with limited options. PREY has this.

    I think the worst indictment of the ending is that the game would just be immeasurably improved by excising it totally, removing all reference to some sort of enveloping context and just letting the world of Talos I stand on its own, in-universe, as genuine and immediate. The best ending would either to be to let the choices you make lead to unambiguous, minutely tracked and interlinked outcomes, emphasizing for contemplation the causes and outcomes of your decisions and the effects (or lack thereof) of the empathy (or lack thereof) you expressed on the definite outcomes, thus fulfilling game-as-Trolley Problem writ large; or, you could conclude ambiguously and without definite resolution, letting your actions stand without external judgment, paying greater deference to your motivations and reasoning for the choices you made in the moment, more strongly emphasizing the role of unreviewable empathy and personal circumstance and further undermining the inflexible certainty of outcome inherent to ethical questions as controlled and self-contained thought exercises. If they really absolutely had to go with some dumbass “all a dream” ending, they could have more strongly emphasized the idea that you are judged for your actions and results regardless of your motivations or intentions in the moment, and that you are never truly free from external judgment— maybe not even at death— since this is ultimately and largely the effect of the ending as it stands and somewhat more strongly relates the ending context to the foregoing thematic context. For real bonus points, they could create some distinctive visual tell for the transition from simulation to reality in certain non-standard Game Overs, simulation errors, and the final transition to the ending scene, let you make your choice, and then play that distinctive transition again as the credits begin to roll, ending inconclusively and emphasizing the capital-A Absurdity of the ineradicable doubt with which one must regard one’s perception of reality and the inscrutability of the purpose, if any, of our existence and the unknowable criteria upon, or context within, they may or may not be ultimately judged.

    But you know who’s really at fault for all this? Me. I went and got my hope up just a tiny, tiny speck that the same clown college that wrote that Dishonored schlock could write something that wasn’t shallow, insulting tripe and a complete waste of the player’s intellectual and emotional resources. Because I am a complete tool, I have this persistent moronic fantasy that games are an art form capable of expressing complex ideas and timeless questions through the intuitive, emergent necessities and impulses of the player as an agent in the intentional world in which they have momentarily consented to believe. But that’s a crock.

    Still, I really enjoyed PREY. It’s a very well-made game, hardly like anything out there today, and I’d recommend it to basically anyone. A real steal at twenty bucks.

    • Shamus says:

      Slow clap.

      Thanks for this. I laughed. I nodded my head. I saw the game in a different way. I laughed again. Brilliant points all around.

      To my mild, halfhearted embarrassment: I didn’t think I was in a simulation until near the very end. I thought those voice-overs were flashbacks, hinting at something sinister that happened during the great big blank spot in Morgan’s memories.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        Anytime.

        I am undeniably exaggerating a few percentage points for effect. To disclose the progression of my own grip, it didn’t really stick in my mind as more likely than not that the world was a simulation until either the non-standard Game Over of trying to use the escape pod prematurely, first touching the coral, or first unlocking a Typhon power, whichever came earliest in my playthrough (I reverted my save immediately after unlocking the Typhon power; bad, bad vibes from the reaction).

        But to tell the truth, it might be the uncertainty, even in the face of all the evidence, that was more heartbreaking than knowing. I was caught in this half-life of dread, not wanting to believe that the entire setting was a fiction of an inscrutable third party beyond the veil of apparent reality, and unable to try and evaluate the game coolly in this light even long after it became unmistakeable… but also unable to connect fully with my heart to anything or anyone in the game, too strongly suspecting their inevitable evanescence into tools used and discarded.

        There were moments on Talos I that I dearly wanted to love and to just soak in completely. Clearest in my mind is the long, quiet countdown after hitting the self-destruct, wandering the bridge to pass the time as doom ticked down. But I could never make that full connection, because even as I recognized the beauty of the moment, I was filled with resentment at the certainty it would be snatched away from me— most strongly at that moment, when there was nothing left to look forward to but the hard discontinuity between the austerity of my demise and the abrupt revelation of its greater purposelessness.

        It was this game-long sense of unease and jealousy, of being held back at arms length by the writer from the immersion I was desperate to feel, that I most strongly hold against the game. Like two magnets being held apart by a Necco wafer, not to get arty on you. But if you talk about how a game makes you feel, people that disagree just shit on you. So you get… this.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I’ve seen the “activate self destruct and quietly wait to die” once before and it was beautiful, but in Prey it really didn’t work for me. I knew that the countdown was meant to give the player a chance at getting to the escape pod, and with that in mind I couldn’t just wait it out. It wasn’t a choice between “Destroy everything to make sure Earth isn’t contaminated” vs “Save your cowardly hide”, instead there was a ticking timer asking me “Are you a bad enough dude to complete the timed objective”? If I had chosen to stay onboard, there would’ve been a part of my brain I can’t shut off that was still doing the math: 20 seconds to make it out of this room, a minute to the zone transition, another thirty seconds to the elevator… you can totally make it out! They didn’t outright say “(Optional) Reach the escape pod” but with an eight minute timer no one needs that spelled out for them, I could see the message clear as day.

          The moment it’s trying to create, the stark calm of waiting for the inevitable end is ruined by the fact that there’s a great big videogamey timer imposed on your vision, reminding you not just of how long you have, but that you don’t need to be here, come on man, there’s more #content, don’t you want to 100% the game by doing the optional escape challenge? It is the worst possible design choice because in a moment that wants to be an immersed appreciation of what’s going on, the game takes a great big reminder labeled THIS IS A VIDEOGAME HERE IS SOME STUFF TO DO and glues it to your eyeballs.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      It’s clear we have multiple fundamental disagreements on the nature of reality and morality. I’d really like to deconstruct your implied philosophy and the assumptions on which it is based, but that would essentially be leaning into religion discussion. If you’re interested, message me on the forums and we’ll have the conversation in private chat.

  22. Greedy Spectator says:

    I wrote this on the Spacebattles Prey thread, but I think I’ll post this here too, since I think it’s relevant in discussing Prey’s ending:

    The stinger ending is a pretty decent exploration of the P-zombie problem. Is Typhon!Morgan doing things out of genuine empathy and conscious thought, or is he only acting that way like a machine that mimics human behavior but does not really have any consciousness? Is Typhon!Morgan actually empathetic, or is he just a glorified alien chat bot? There is nothing stopping Typhon!Morgan from not having any empathy yet behaving exactly as if he does. Dayo Igwe himself pointed out that although they can observe the actions Typhon!Morgan took, they can’t actually observe the reasons behind those very same actions. Why did Typhon!Morgan destroy the station or save it with the prototype nullwave transmitter? Why did Typhon!Morgan retrieve Dayo’s Leitner connectomes, even though there was no practical use in doing so? The choices and the consequences are observable, but the reasons behind those choices are not. Typhon!Morgan is a black box, so is it really human empathy and morality inside the box that’s encouraging empathetic behavior, or is it actually something else that’s spitting out the same outputs?

    It’s also an amusing shot towards the player. The game knows the choices the players took, but it can’t actually know the reasons behind those choices. Is the player expressing in-game empathy or the lack of it out of out-game morality? Is the player simply trying to complete all possible objectives in a completionist drive? Did the player do things out of genuine care/hate for the characters, or is it out of the desire to see the good/bad ending? Is there a difference? What are the reasons the player took the choices they did? The game cannot know any of this. Dayo Igwe’s fetch quest is illustrative: If you recovered the Leitner connectomes, Dayo at the end stated that there was no practical use to doing so except that it was meaningful to him. Did the player do that because he or she cares about Dayo? Is the player expecting some kind of reward in the end? Or maybe the player is simply trying to complete everything? The game can’t actually know any of this, so the game can’t actually judge any of your choices.

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