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Diecast #219: Andromeda, Dark Souls, Spec Ops

By Shamus
on Monday Jul 23, 2018
Filed under:
Diecast

 
 

As a reminder, if you want to see SoldierHawk’s Dark Souls Funtime Joyride of Adventure Merriment, check her YouTube page.


Direct download (MP3)
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Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: SoldierHawke, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:
00:15 Mass Effect Andromeda

I do have nice things to say about this game. It’s just that when I say them, they’ll be wrapped in 40,000 words of criticism.

18:06 Dark Souls


Link (YouTube)

29:25 Spec Ops: The Line

Heads up: SoldierHawk hasn’t played through to the end yet, which is why our conversation didn’t include those revelations.

48:58 Mailbag: Games based on real conflicts.

I know this topic skates around political-ish hotbutton topics. If we stepped on your toes, please try to be cool about it.

Hello Diecast!

How do you feel about games that depict real-world wars and conflicts?
Does it make a difference if they’re historical, recent or ongoing?

Personally, I find it pretty tasteless to use ongoing conflicts as a
backdrop for some heroic power fantasy, because it seems too close to
propaganda.

Spec Ops is a different beast of course, but as far as I know, there
really aren’t any other games like it.

Going back in history, I find it strange that I’m uncomfortable with the
World Wars as settings, but not with anything before. They were extremely
brutal, of course, but so was the 30 Years War. I don’t know why it
should matter how far back you go, but it does seem to matter to me…

RFS-81


 
 
Comments (79)

  1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    You guys found infiltrators to be weak in Andromeda? I played one and crushed everything in hardcore, I thought they were almost OP.

    • Attercap says:

      The problem I had with sniper-heavy characters in Andromeda is that one of the reasons I play snipers is to be able to sit back, hide, and take pot-shots. The games maps didn’t often allow for that, preferring a bit more running and tighter combat. That said, the sniper rifles were very powerful and once I got used to the idea that I’d be running and gunning, playing an “aerial-lift sniper” was fun.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Does infiltrator have cloak like in 2 and 3?Because thats how you sniped as infiltrator in me2:clump enemies around you,cloak and reposition,then snipe at them while they deal with your squad.When they reach you again,cloak and reposition elsewhere.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        This–I always played Infiltrators in the previous MEs, and having to adapt to a more Vanguard style at the beginning of Andromeda was a bit of culture shock. That said, there was a point, I think shortly after you first meet the angara, where suddenly the Infiltrator approach became super viable. I guess it was a combination of upgraded skills, finding/crafting better sniper rifles, and maps that facilitated that playstyle.

        • Attercap says:

          Some maps were better for infiltrators/sniper-style play, but then you’d get into certain maps (or those Architect fights) and the playstyle wasn’t so much about stealth and sniping from an unseen distance as it was about leaping around while firing a sniper rifle. To be fair to ME:A, most games that offer sniper options (including ME2 & 3) had this issue.

    • DeusIrae says:

      That all seems fine, but compared to say a Vanguard, who can win a fight against an arbitrarily large number of baddies by spamming charge-dodge-shockwave two or three times, without ever having to worry about aiming or reloading or taking cover, the Infilitrator approach seems relatively if not absolutely weak.

  2. John says:

    I have two controllers that I use with my PC; one is a Logitech F310 and the other an XBox 360 pad. The Logitech is arranged like a PlayStation controller. I won’t claim that the PlayStation layout is objectively superior to the XBox layout, but I do prefer it for fighting games. When the d-pad is directly above the grip, there’s a symmetry to, say, quarter-circle-forward and quarter-circle-back that isn’t present when the d-pad is located off to the right. In other words, the PlayStation layout means that it’s equally easy to throw a hadoken at the other guy whether he’s on the right or the left.

    That said, as much as I’ve heard people disparage the d-pad on XBox controllers, the build quality of the XBox controller, including the pad, seems much better than the build quality of the Logitech controller. I’ve also found that you get used to the alternate pad arrangement with some practice. I bought the XBox controller because the right shoulder button in the Logitech pad stopped working. I have since managed to repair the Logitech, but I’m still using the XBox controller. Despite the odd d-pad placement, I do as well or better in Street Fighter with the XBox controller than I do with the Logitech.

    • RFS-81 says:

      I really like the XBox controller, the stick placement doesn’t bother me at all, although it looks weird. I do have a small issue with the d-pad though. I don’t know if that’s the same thing that you heard people complaining about. It works well for the purposes that modern games use it for, which seems to be item selection, but when I tried to play an SNES game on an emulator, it was really bad. I ended up using the thumbstick for moving, which was better, but still not optimal.

      • John says:

        I don’t actually know why the d-pad on XBox controllers is supposed to be bad. Most of the articles I read about PC game controllers mentioned it but none of them went into specifics.

    • default_ex says:

      I’m one of the people that love the Xbox 360 controller for PC. It has 3 shortfalls. The first being the d-pad, hold your controller upright and look at the axis on it. It’s rotated slightly in the counter-clockwise direction which makes it very awkward when the stick axis perfectly aligned with the controllers case. Second is the cheap plastic analog sticks. It is very easy to twist and break the plastic, easy enough I’ve repaired more than a few sticks. I replace broken sticks with the analogs out of a PS2 dual shock controller, perfect match and significantly better construction. The cord’s sheath is not glued to the wiring, they used wax instead of glue. I have trimmed my cord enough that it’s probably a foot or so shorter than stock. This last time I used a combination of the grommet, heat shrink tubing and high quality electric tape to really build up stress relief.

      I noticed last time I had my controller open, a couple months ago that some of the solder joints outside of my repair areas were beginning to yellow. That’s not a good sign, normally don’t see that in solder until 20-30 years of use. I’m expecting a well taken care of controller would last around 20 years before it fails to the point where every solder joint will need to be removed, the board cleaned and fresh silver bearing solder put in. Not sure if at that point I’ll resolder everything or just toss it and find a new wired controller (I don’t care for the weight of wireless).

    • PPX14 says:

      I like the F310 but my only complaint is that the triggers are so springy – my fingers get tired holding them down, unlike the much gentler PS4 controller.

  3. Ninety-Three says:

    You’ve got guys coming in on all sides

    Shamus, this is Mass Effect, the lore-appropriate term is “Enemies everywhere”.

  4. MadTinkerer says:

    I do have nice things to say about this game. It’s just that when I say them, they’ll be wrapped in 40,000 words of criticism.

    And by that time, the popcorn will be ready!

  5. Mephane says:

    How do you feel about games that depict real-world wars and conflicts?
    Does it make a difference if they’re historical, recent or ongoing?

    As a German, what crosses the line for me is when I would have to play on the German side of WW1 or WW2 (e.g. in Battlefield 1). Nope, no way. We were the bad guys both times, we started those wars. I could never side with any of that, even in the temporary, make-believe fashion of a game.

    • Decius says:

      Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia because of the actions of Serbs and a Bosniak seems like an odd thing to credit towards Germany. Or were you talking about the invasion of Belgium and Luxembourg after an opportunistic France declared war on Germany, or maybe the interdiction of weapons shipments that helped cause the US to declare war instead of merely profiteering from it?

      Not gonna argue with the assessment of WW2.

      • Kamfrenchie says:

        France joined war because it was allied with Russia, who was supporting Serbia’s independance, and Germany supported Austria Hungary. I’m not even sure about ho it’s that opportunistic. The alliance system had been set up earlier because countries were wary of each other, and Germany was a huge powerhouse at the time, especially population wise.

        There was the question of Alsace Lorraine, but if say, Germany had offered France the possibility to buy it back, that could have been avoided.

        In the end there were still plenty of warmonger on both sides.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          And let’s not forget that Russia was the first of the major powers to mobilize, and it was their actions that put Germany in a “now or never” situation.

          The only country that was part of WWI that was entirely innocent was Belgium.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s funny how this works. I’m cool with playing the Germans in games based on those wars, but if someone made a game about our “wars” with Native Americans, I wouldn’t be able to stomach it.

      • SolidierHawk says:

        That’s a great point, and I’m in total agreement. I wouldn’t have any issues playing a German soldier in WWII (the Nazi iconography and uniforms might make me wince, but it’d be easy enough to remind myself, ‘yeah, but the foot soldiers were NAZI Nazis’)

        But yeah. You give me a game where I’m a Union soldier shooting Apaches, and it’s just awful. I very nearly quit [the old PS2 game] GUN because of a specific leve very muchl like that. It was done about as well and ‘respectfully’ as such a thing can be, but it was still a horrible feeling. Which maybe actually makes the level a GOOD moment, I don’t know.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I’d think it would depend on the battle. I wouldn’t want to play Wounded Knee for the same reason I generally don’t like playing No Russian. Something based on the Red Stick War or Fallen Timbers could be interesting. Actual wars, basically, not massacres.

          What’s interesting to me is the extent to which people hold on to long ago wars in countries they are far removed from. I have had students who were thoroughly American, but they were Irish descended. Still haven’t forgotten Cromwell. Irish descended American Protestants still think the Republic is a terrorist sponsoring hell-hole. The anti-Cromwell students was non-traditional, but the Ulsterman was born in the USA and was under 22. Which is to say they don’t actually remember a time before the Good Friday Accords.

          I’m Protestant; I have many Catholic friends. They still remember the sack of Rome and the expropriation of the English church lands. (They conveniently do forget things like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.) And my French ancestry is so remote the name is actually the Anglicanization of it, but I join with my Catholic Friends in seething over the Vendee Massacres.

          Oddly, no one is particularly exercised by the 30 Years War. We make jokes about that one.

          Anyway, don’t really understand it. But do find it interesting.

    • Gresman says:

      As an Austrian, I do not mind playing the Axis/Central Powers in games.
      I certainly agree that there is the danger of being in poor taste given the topic. Same goes for ongoing conflicts.
      On the other hand I am all open for portrayal of controversial subjects in video games. The games have to stay away from the ideology to avoid being propaganda. I personally would say there was quite the divide between the lowly infantrymen and the SS in ideological identity in WW2.
      WW1 is just intriguing given the fact that all sides were equally disgusting and “evil”.

      I have to try to get my hands on Attentat 1941. Heard interesting things about it.

      • Viktor says:

        Axis in WWII(or Confederacy in the Civil War, US vs American Indians), would be very hard to do well IMO. You have to make it very clear that the protag is still on the side of evil and the player should really be rooting against him, and 99% of writers can’t pull that off*. WWI is of course a different situation, since everyone was the aggressor. An older conflict with a protag of a bad guy who wasn’t that bad(British during the American Revolution) could be interesting, and the costs for getting it wrong won’t be nearly as severe as “Game Dev wanted the Nazis to win”, but I don’t expect to see it in the near future.

        A more modern conflict? The dev has to pick a side to say “these guys were right, these were wrong”, just for narrative convenience. The instant you do that, you piss of a huge chunk of your audience who disagrees with you. Now, is it possible to thread the needle, focus specifically on a subset of one side** as being truly awful and letting you dodge any larger statements about either side? Yes, especially if you show civilians on both sides who just want the war to be over, but again, that will be difficult, and games are not a good medium for really complex nuance.

        *Any writers. We rag on game writers here, but there’s award-winning authors who I like who I wouldn’t trust with that subject matter.
        **Think Captain America using Hydra rather than Nazis as a whole, but applied to a modern war.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I don’t know that the story would need to moralize that hard. There’s plenty of good stories written about good men in bad causes, or bad men in good causes. It also might depend on the level of abstraction. I’m playing through Civil War Generals 2 and Ultimate General Civil War (both strategy games) -and I’m playing as the Union. Probably since I’m from a Union state, and various other psychological effects. But I don’t have any particular revulsion to playing as the Confederacy.

          All Quiet on the Western Front doesn’t hinge on demonizing Germany, even though Germany was the aggressor and cause of the War. It’s not even the best book ever written on the subject -so I don’t know that a game couldn’t pull the same basic plot.

        • John says:

          There are many, many war and strategy games where you play as or can play as the Confederates or Nazi Germany. Think hex-grids and tiny pictures of tanks. They’re gameplay driven rather than story driven. They’ve got unit-counters moving around on maps rather than player-characters moving through an immersive game-world.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Now I wonder what you(and everyone else)thinks of story light* games like empire earth,where while you are playing as the nazis,all the bad stuff was tossed away.Heck,you dont even get to have a hero unit in the ww2 missions like you do in ww1 missions where you get the red baron.

      *Medium?

    • Smejki says:

      Hey, I thought it was common in my country to indirectly blame German for two world wars, not in Germany as well. My elementary education in the 90s (fucking 90s!!) was trying really hard to teach me that Germans are somehow evil, a threat and shouldn’t be trusted (and yes, we are one of your neighbors).
      Yes, Axis was definitely the evil empire in WW2, there’s no doubt about that. Yes, the Prussian way of life made Germany into a highly militaristic entity even before WW1. But WW1 was just a clash empires – a type conflict that happened countless times throughout European history. Everybody was about as equal asshole in it.
      I really think you shouldn’t be blaming yourselves for WW1. We should collectively blame imperialism and colonialism.

  6. Will says:

    I try not to draw any of my opinions from or look for any serious commentary on war and warfighting in video games. The early MoH/CoD entries just tried to ape the imagery from their movie contemporaries. Starting with Modern Warfare, the movie aping was still there, but now most games in the genre have morphed in to amusement park fun house rides showcasing the violence without all the drudgery and misery. Is it propagandizing or jingoism? I suspect that’s giving the creators far too much credit.

    It probably comes down to sloth and writing what you know (or at least have easier access to). Would it be cool to see a game written around Spetznaz special operations? Sure. But you’ve set yourself up for a lot of extra work when the exploits of Rangers, Seals, PJs, etc. are (relatively) more accessible and more likely to draw an audience and sell pixels in the West where all the Whales live.

    Everything I’ve heard about Spec Ops makes it sound like an awful lot of forced navel gazing, unless you just shut it off. Then all they’ve done is stolen your $60.

    • Viktor says:

      “Is it propagandizing or jingoism? I suspect that’s giving the creators far too much credit.”

      A creator not thinking about what their work says doesn’t mean it doesn’t say anything. Unintentional propaganda is still propaganda.

  7. John says:

    Having now listened to the rest of the podcast, I think it’s okay in principle make a video game (or a movie or whatever) about an ongoing war. There’s no reason to think that a game about an ongoing war can’t be mature and thougtful about it, even if there are a multitude of reasons to think that the game probably won’t be. However, I also think that the FPS is the worst possible genre to do it in. The purpose of the story in a FPS is to give the player enemies to shoot and a reason to shoot them. Moreover, shooting enemies is very nearly the only interaction with the game-world that the player has. For these reasons, it seems to me that it would be very hard to make a FPS about an ongoing war that doesn’t come across as propagandistic. But a game about war doesn’t have to be an FPS and the player character (if there is a player character) doesn’t have to be a soldier or military commander. I think there’s a lot more room for nuance and thoughtfulness in other genres.

    • BlueBlazeSpear says:

      To me, this is the answer that makes sense. There are tons of thoughtful and introspective stories to be told through the theater of war, but there’s no way those stories can be effectively told as a first person shooter. The two concepts seem fundamentally at odds – “Stop and think about what’s going on here” and “Shoot everything with brown skin” hardly feel like a good fit thematically.

      • DHW says:

        > “Shoot everything with brown skin”

        FYI, this is an incorrect and unfair way of portraying first person shooter games. Despite people repeating this cliche for decades, when you actually run the numbers the quantity of FPS games where the enemies have “brown skin” are minimal, and often when they do appear it’s for maybe one or two levels before it’s back to gunning down universally white-skinned Americans or Russians.

        • BlueBlazeSpear says:

          Eh – “brown skin” was just a placeholder for any enemy that we mow down by the hundreds. “Wearing a Kaiser helmet” could’ve just as easily gone in that place. I don’t mean to suggest that racism is a driving force here, but I do mean to suggest that what we’re getting are enemies who are all one thing, but that thing doesn’t really matter because our only interaction with them is killing them.

  8. Skuvnar says:

    As one of those absolutely insufferable arseholes who’s completed multiple souls games with self imposed rules, I agree that they offer a unique emotional experience compared to other games.

    I’m not going to say that they’re not that hard, or that their always fair. Because that is nonsense. But they’ve given me some of the lowest lows and absolute highest highs I’ve had playing a game.

  9. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    My biggest problem with the characters of Mass Effect: Andromeda is that they’re completely unnecessary to the story. Remove any of them and replace them with some nameless peon and the game isn’t really affected all that much. Even Jaal could’ve been replaced by a nondescript Angaran. What’s weird is that the characters are supposed to be the face of this whole new world and they don’t even meet the minimum requirement of fleshing out the world. Compare what we learn of Andromeda’s world-state from these characters over the course of the entire game versus what we can learn about of ME1’s world state right at the beginning of the game in walking the deck from Joker to the comm room.

    Their jobs barely seem to even line up with the goals and tasks of the Andromeda Initiative. We take on Vetra because she’s a smuggler, but as far as I can tell, we never use her smuggling skills. PeeBee is all about the Remnant tech and all that comes of that is a secondary drone and a “core collection” quest that doesn’t lead anywhere. Drack… I guess we have the mutual goal of wanting to kick ass? The more I played, the more I got the feeling that the Milky Way was just purging its losers and it was proven true by having the Initiative immediately implode upon arrival. I liked that Alec Ryder seemed competent and he wasn’t always cracking wise like everyone else, but then spoiler he dies off screen and his child – for whom he died – doesn’t seem particularly broken up about it.

    There were tons of possibilities here too. Jaal could’ve been our window into this new and exotic life that we’re only just now discovering. But instead, his people are pretty much like us and their problems look a lot like ours and we have to believe that they’re hyper-emotional because they keep telling us they are without ever showing it. They suffer from what in fantasy writing is called “the elf problem.” Because in that case, if the elves are just humans with pointy ears, then why make them elves at all other than because they’re all sizzle and no bacon? And it’s a pretty big deal that there was a mutiny on the Nexus and a sizeable portion of the people were thrown off the station. We had characters that could’ve exemplified both sides of that conflict, but it feels like it’s barely touched upon, despite it being a defining moment. Often, I found myself wondering “Why are these characters even here?” and I never came up with a compelling answer.

    The Andromeda menu system was such a mess. It was impressive the number of clicks it took just to do the simplest of things. The “research and development” of weapons and armors was an unintuitive slog that I still don’t think I fully understand. And I never used the profile “favorites” because it was just cumbersome enough to not be useful. It was amazing how deeply buried even the most basic information always seemed to be.

    My first attempt at the game was me trying to be a tech-based sniper and I quickly learned how un-viable and not-fun it was and I quickly abandoned it. Maybe it becomes more viable as you unlock skills? I just know that in the few places that I used it, I virtually never had a good scoped shot and I did all of my firing from the hip and did most of my damage via powers. To me, that’s what can make the action in the game fun – finding the right powers that feel fun and satisfying and getting to a point where you can spam them pretty regularly.

    • Matthew Collins says:

      Part of the problem is that they just replicated the original Mass Effect setting in Andromeda, so we got a cheap knock-off of the Milky Way rather than something new stemming from that old reality but distinct from it. We have a Citadel (sorry, Nexus) with the Council races there, and the krogan are exiled and independent now with simmering hostile relations, and there’s the Terminus Systems (I mean Exiles), and the minor races are still minor (in fact they don’t even show up even though their arc supposedly still made it). It’s the exact same dynamic and set-up. Even your squad is the same — two human soldiers with different experiences/outlooks (though I’ll admit having one be an Asari Commando was a nice touch), an asari academic, a turian who is a little maverick by turian standards while still living up to their ideals, an elder krogan warrior, and an “outsider” alien with a sexy accent. The angara and the Kett are basically just the quarians and the geth, arguably, at that…

      • BlueHorus says:

        …the minor races are still minor (in fact they don’t even show up even though their arc supposedly still made it)

        So is that why I never hear anyone mention the Hanor, the Salarians or the Elcor when they talk about ME:Andromeda?
        But they were the aliens that actually felt, y’know, a bit alien – and they already existed in the setting!

        If they weren’t in it, that’s sad/lazy. Even though they were often used as comedy relief*, they did seem like the writers were being a bit imaginative.

        I’ll always miss an Elcor or Hanor crew member in the ME series. Potentially one you could romance, though not successfully.
        [flat voice]’Commander. I was being sarcastic. How could you not tell?’

        *I would totally pay to see an all-Elcor production of Hamlet. Or a Blasto: The Jellyfish Stings! movie.

        • JBC1187 says:

          “If they weren’t in it, that’s sad/lazy. Even though they were often used as comedy relief*, they did seem like the writers were being a bit imaginative.”

          That’s part of what killed Mass Effect 2 for me. It was too human-centric, and that includes the focus on bipedal rubber-forehead aliens. In the first game the non-humanoids were characters in their own right, with merchants and smugglers and religious types. The Volus all dressed alike, but Barla Von the information broker is different from Din Korlack the ambassador is different from Doran the nightclub owner.

        • BlueBlazeSpear says:

          I would add just one minor correction to this: There are Salarians in Andromeda. It’s just that the only two of them that we get any significant screen time with don’t exactly exemplify the “alien” way that we’ve learned Salarians process information and act on it.

          These Salarians – like all of the other alien races in Mass Effect: Andromeda – behave and think in a disappointingly human way.

          But, nonetheless, it is worth noting that there are no Quarians, Geth, Volus, Hanar, Elcor, Batarians or Drell anywhere in the single-player game, though a couple did show up later in multiplayer.

      • BlueBlazeSpear says:

        I think this is what it really comes down to. Even while they were making the game, they were saying that they were looking to ME1 for inspiration. But I think the problem is that they took all of the wrong lessons away from it. Cosmetically, Andromeda seems very much in the vein of ME1. They copied all of the things that made ME1 look interesting for its time, but they didn’t copy the things that made it a good game.

        And I expected that this would be the case because they were saying that they wanted to get back to the exploration feel of ME1. The first game never struck me so much as being a game of exploration as it was a game of wonderment and the haunting emptiness of space. Every planet we went to already had buildings and things set up, so we weren’t exploring anything new, at least until Ilos. I guess that Andromeda copied at least that much in that you don’t really explore anything new in the Heleus Cluster either. But it’s utterly devoid of that wonder and that haunting quality that space offered in ME1.

        If they wanted to copy something from the first game, they should’ve copied how to worldbuild. They should have copied how to land story beats and how to parcel out information. They should’ve taken note of how none of the characters were constantly quipping or undermining Shepard’s decisions.

        They just seemed to handle virtually every aspect of this game wrong in some way. I’ve said this elsewhere, but they needed to make this game with the attitude of “We need to win back the Mass Effect fanbase” instead of “Mass Effect is too big to fail.”

  10. DeadlyDark says:

    I don’t think about I care about games about modern conflicts. And even if I care and find them tasteless, I just wouldn’t play them. Don’t think I have the right to even demand them to not do this.

    Like, there was a russian shooter game (not a good one as well) about squad in Afghanistan (or MGS5 for that matter), and I, as a russian myself, I didn’t care. I didn’t care about “that mission” in Modern Warfare 2. May be it’s just me, but I never had problem with shooting russians in games, both in real/imaginary conflicts.

  11. TMC_Sherpa says:

    Huh. It was strange listening to Hawk without Emmitt armchairing in the background.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You are projecting onto walker?Uff….I already feel so sorry for you.

  13. RFS-81 says:

    Glad you picked up my mail. I actually sent it when you announced that you were planning this episode, and it was inspired by SpecOps.

    That realistic army simulation you were talking about towards the end could actually find an audience, I think. I mean, there are all sorts of job simulators out there that somehow have a fanbase even though they seem boring to almost everyone.

    • Syal says:

      Morning Muster Minigame (1): Find The Fart!

      Someone in morning muster won’t stop farting. Catch the culprit within the time limit, before Sarge blames the whole squad!

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You know what we need?A realistic boot camp simulator,that comes with all these attachments that will punch you in the gut,kick your shins,blister your feet,spray mud in your face,and all the while scream at you for being such a worthless worm that cant finish even a single obstacle course.

  14. NoOne says:

    Hello, guy who worked on SpecOps: The Line multiplayer again. Your question about who the audience for SpecOps is a good one. It was an open question during development. 2K wanted to revive the SpecOps franchise with the hope they could get a slice of the Battlefield/Call of Duty market. They allowed Yager to go with the Heart of Darkness adaptation as the storyline because it was something that would standout. I don’t think they really considered how that kind of story would drive gameplay and level design or make the multiplayer mode (which 2K was dead set on and Yager was vocally against) kind of antithetical. Development of the game was troubled. It took 5 years to make and the multiplayer mode was farmed out to multiple third party companies (first with Arkane then with DarkSide). On release, casual military shooter fans gave it a miss because it didn’t control as well as BF/COD, the story is powerful but depressing and not the kind of thing that usually sells well to a general audience, and the multiplayer mode, while decent, wasn’t anything new so hard core players weren’t attracted. (As I said, I worked on the MP mode so factor my bias in) The game wasn’t made for jaded games journos, but ultimately, they really were the only group that really dug the game, which probably explains the sales numbers.

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    A game designed for people who play those games and hate them.

    I highly recommend the book Significant Zero if you’re interested in the thought process of the head writer for Spec Ops: The Line. It’s 1/3 autobiography, 1/3 insider talk about the stuff he worked on prior to SO:TL, and 1/3 about the development of SO:TL. He goes into a lot of detail about exactly how and why he came up with the story of the main game. He also explains some of the story of the planned but never-produced expansion.

    He was also partly responsible for Ken Levine revamping the morality system in Bioshock. I won’t spoil what happened, but I found it hilarious.

  16. Bloodsquirrel says:

    The “power fantasy” angle of military shooters is what largely drove me away from them, because it was having the exact opposite effect as intended. Having my agency constantly taken away to make me call in an airstrike when the game wanted it to happen or pick up *that* missile launcher to blow up *that* tank wasn’t empowering. Set piece action sequences felt constraining, not exciting. Give me an open-ended approach to a battlefield any day.

  17. Cybron says:

    Love your comparison of Dark Souls with myths, SoldierHawk. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that angle before and it resonates. I’ll be sure to check out your playthrough.

    • Christopher says:

      Same here. It’s not something most people talk about in Dark Souls(’cause there’s so many other things to talk about in Dark Souls), but it does capture that atmosphere in a way that few other games do.

      Like if you break it down, there’s nothing mystical about Dark Souls. It’s an action RPG, essentially a 3d version of an old fantasy beat ’em up with some stats, a ton of enemy variety and a lot of big bosses. It’s videogamey as hell. But Dark Souls is that in the same way that Shadow of the Colossus can be described as just a boss rush you go through to rescue your girlfriend. The way they’ve made these games is… I dunno if I can coherently explain it without spending a lot more time thinking about it, but they really do feel like ancient myths. I don’t think it’s as crushing as Soldierhawk does, so we may be relating it to different myths, but it definitely gives me something that feels like a mythical ancient adventure in a way that very few games do.

      • SoldierHawk says:

        It’s less that I think it’s SO crushing (I mean it kinda is, but that’s another topic I think), and more that it just–at least if you get into the right mindset and let it–feel some of the crushing despair and failure that a hero of myth, even one who wins in the end, must feel during the journey. (I didn’t really have a specific myth in mind; I just cited the first ones that came into my brain.) After all, if you DON’T feel those things, the journey doesn’t matter; anyone could have done the quest.

        The point of Dark Souls seems to be that yes, ANYONE could have done the quest. It’s not a secret. It’s not even that “hard;” after all, everyone in Lodron is undead like you. Crestfallen, if he had gotten off his ass, could have rung those bells. He’s immortal, so to speak, and has unlimited chances.

        You’re the hero of myth in Dark Souls not because you’re the best, or strongest, or chosen. You’re just the one who doesn’t give up. That’s the root of all true heroism I think; a hero stands up and keeps moving forward when everyone else stops or starts going the other way.

        Like the old ASOIAF nugget, right? “Father, can a man be afraid, and still be brave?” “That is the ONLY time a man can be brave.”

  18. bigben01985 says:

    Since no one has mentioned it yet (probably because it is a really minor point): The current US military slogan is “Army Strong”.

    Made me immediately think of “Hulk Smash” for some reason.

    • SoldierHawk says:

      Oh duh, of course it is. God knows I’ve shouted that stupid slogan enough. I forgot it was still officially-official though.

      Jeeze. Between our ugly-ass uniforms and terrible slogans, it’s no wonder everyone loves the Marines more than us. :(

      On the upside, I don’t eat crayons, so I got that going for me.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Is there a pause between the army and strong?Because “Army…strong” sounds weird,like you are missing an “is” there.But without any pause,army becomes and adjective,making it into a different wording of “strong as an army”.

  19. Crimson Dragoon says:

    I think that people get too hung up on Spec Ops’ loading screen messages. I never felt like they were ever an actual attack on the player as much as they were another jab at the genre. If you ever look at the marketing for these kinds of games, the Call of Duties and Battlefields and so on, they always want to treat you the player as a hero. Its all part of the power fantasy those games create, by making the player feel big, important, and heroic, when all you’re really doing is shooting some guys and following onscreen orders. Spec Ops also has you shooting some guys and following onscreen orders, but it uses those loading screen messages to enforce the idea that maybe these aren’t always heroic actions after all.

  20. Chris says:

    Blight town was feared because on the PS3 it would give you insane FPS drops. So you would have to wade through poison and enemies while the game was dropping frames like crazy.

    • Cybron says:

      It’s also a pretty intimidating area for a newer player. It’s super easy to get lost and the omnipresent fall risk means the specter of instant death is always hovering over your shoulder. I don’t have much sympathy for new players who get mad at undead burg and associated areas, but I feel for the guy ranting about Blighttown. The visual design is intentionally confusing which leads to a great deal of frustration if you don’t already know the layout.

      • Droid says:

        Don’t forget the Toxic blowpipe dudes who are in perfect sniping positions, and one in particular can shoot you from like 20m after the Blighttown bonfire where you’re already fighting 3 dudes and then 2 more dudes who have pretty good moves to inhibit your movement (grab flushes you out, jump attack has really good spacing, and the fire-breathing dogs are basically the same).

        There is no good way to kill that Toxic dude until you’ve fought your way through that roadblock. And once you get to him (about 10 enemies and platforms later), you probably forgot about him, and he immediately blowdarts you from the side once you get up the ladder.

        Add to that the fact that most people wouldn’t have a spider shield (the only shield that can block Toxic) at that point on their first playthrough and those guys are just the worst.

        • Cybron says:

          Therr’s enough cover that the only thing I found particularly frustrating about the snipers is how hard they are to path to, which is again down to the visual design of the area.

  21. Smejki says:

    Spec Ops doesn’t try to pin the guilt on the player. It pins it on the character you are controlling and tries as hard as possible to create a disconnection between the player and the protagonist. The further down the game you are the more you should be disgusted by the character you’re controlling while at the same time the game is trying to reach out to you, the player, and tell you that you are not the same person, that you didn’t do the shit he did. This is his story and you are merely watching as is practically the case with every linear cinematic game. After all “There isn’t always an option.”
    All of this is alluded in the very first seconds of the campaign where your username is listed among “starring” characters.

    • RFS-81 says:

      I don’t know. “You’re still a good person” definitely feels sarcastic to me. Why would they feel the need to point this out?

      Though if they wanted me to feel disconnected from the protagonist, they achieved it. There were many occasions where I just wanted to ask Walker How did you expect anything good to come from that?

      Interesting point on the “starring” thing! I understood that also as blaming the player, but the star doesn’t usually control the script, so maybe you’re right.

      • Nessus says:

        That’s kinda the way I read that line too. Not sarcastic, but not straightforward either. It seemed like it was meant to be a self-reassuring lie someone like Walker might find themselves repeating to themselves (see how the further he gets off the rails, the more strident he is about the moral necessity of all he’s done, and that self-deception in turn leads him even further off).

        Many of those loading screen messages seem to be things that apply first to Walker, and then only to the player through Walker (“How many Americans did you kill today?”).

        Loading screen tips are ALWAYS directed solely at the player, so the obvious point is to imply a blurring between the player and character. Walker’s self-reassuring lie of “you are still a good person” is supposed to make the player question if they’re applying the same lie to themselves.

        This is a potentially neat gag, but as others have noted, it kinda falls a bit flat since the player really has very few choices, and the only way to proceed in the game is to disassociate from Walker. It’s something that would work much better in an RPG or a game with a morality system

        Not something I’m at all tilted about though, unlike some. Just made things have less “oomf” for me than they were clearly meant to.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Loading screen tips are ALWAYS directed solely at the player

          Most of the time,yes.But some games have the characters inside reacting to them as well.At one point,walker actually does break the fourth wall and notices that a load has happened(as well as the in media res of the story).This pushes the loading screens more in the direction of “walker is crazy”.

  22. Nixorbo says:

    100% disagree on the Xbox/PS controller layout – In the vast majority of games the vast majority of time you’re using the left thumbstick and not the D-pad. When holding the controller, your thumb naturally falls right where the Xbox left thumbstick is. Why would you want to stretch your thumb to reach the thumbstick?

  23. ccesarano says:

    I dunno if NoOne up above would have been aware of some of the single player development, or if it would have been mentioned in the Significant Zero book MadTinkerer brought up, but I swear there was an episode of RadioRadar back in the day where they interviewed members of the Spec Ops team and the entire White Phosphorous scene was discussed as if it were a choice. It’s been a while since I looked and I’ve not been able to find that episode again, but I just feel like the game was probably intended to be a lot more reactive to player agency but they just couldn’t get everything done.

    I already wanted to read Significant Zero but now it’s even higher on my list.

    It’s interesting that last week I just watched this video by ThinReaper on the visuals of SpecOps. It’s been years since I played the game, so I think I’ll make some time for it in 2019 maybe (if I run out of PS4 games I want to make videos on…). I remember really enjoying it and listening to this discussion and watching that video really have me wanting to go back.

    I guess that game’s discussion and the e-mail both sort of cross over my next thoughts, which is the difference between the goals of Spec Ops, which is to tell this Heart of Darkness story that psycho-analyzes the sort of character that undergoes such a violent trial, and what old Infinity Ward was going for with Call of Duty. Based on interviews at the time, Zampella and West were very interested in authenticity but not accuracy. They seemed like guys that had a fascination and interest in… I don’t know if I want to say “military culture”, but you guys might have been on to something when it comes to younger folk being interested in the idea of being a soldier. The tactics, the call-outs, diving for cover, the oppressive odds… it’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed the opening of Silent Cartographer in Halo on Legendary, where you storm the beach. It’s not that I wanted to experience something like that in real life, but I didn’t want just a power fantasy. I wanted something that felt risky and dangerous so that survival meant something, and in the case of storming that beach, managing to keep as many weaker A.I. troops alive as possible. I dunno, I feel like anything I say to try and capture the fascination could be insulting so I’ll get back to my original point.

    Zampella and West want their characters to behave like soldiers would, and carry some of the ideas of war, but they also understood they were making entertainment and therefore did some Hollywood style stuff. But when you play the first Modern Warfare, it was Noah Caldwell-Gervais that opened my eyes to the story being a sort of criticism about Shock and Awe, and perhaps being a thesis statement on what Modern Warfare should mean. The team that wins the war are the small British special operations that work covertly (until the game needs a big impressive set piece), whereas the American troops fail at trying to overpower their foe. It’s possible I’m doing too much projection now, but I feel like the first Modern Warfare actually had a point on the part of Infinity Ward that was more than just “Whoo! Military! Ooh-rah!” However, it feels like the legacy of the series and the more subtle nature of the narrative got overlooked in comparison to Spec Ops.

    I think I had other stuff but that’s probably enough outta me.

  24. Yay! More SoldierHawk. Can you just call yourself “Paul” and be on the show every week?

    Your commentary on Dark Souls really resonated with me. I’m the dork who decided to get the game for my 50th birthday. (Because what better way to celebrate half a century of existence than by playing a game where you die a lot, amirite?)

    I started with DS II and spent over a week playing the tutorial section repeatedly while trying to learn how to use a controller. I died and cussed a lot.

    I agree that the Dark Souls games are not necessarily fun in the conventional sense, but they certainly can be rewarding if you’re patient and persistent.

  25. Luka Dreyer says:

    Wow, Soldier Hawk, you absolutely nails the feeling of “Dark Souls” by comparing it to an ancient work of mythology. I have always felt that the closest comparison for the storytelling of “Dark Souls” is that of poetry, given the greater emphasis on mood and theme than on a concrete plot. “Dark Souls” feels to me like a work of epic poetry, translated into the medium of video games and you’ve given me another interesting angle from which to look at it.

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