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Diecast #46: Irrational, Europa Universalis, Assassins Creed Black Flag

By Shamus
on Tuesday Feb 25, 2014
Filed under:


As announced on the show, I’m vetting the diecast@shamusyoung.com emails now, and I’m going to try and be a little better about answering them. Also, we might use Diecast questions to fill slow moments in our Skyrim series. Protip: If you want the question to appear on the show, keep it short. Two or less sentences is ideal.

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Hosts: Josh, Chris, and Shamus.

Show notes:

1:30 Chris has been playing Thief (1998) in preparation of playing Thief (2014).

5:00 Ken Levine and Irrational.

Here is the announcement, and here is the Leigh Alexander piece that Chris mentioned. (Protip: The latter is really good.)

27:00 Josh talks about Europa Universalis IV.

Specifically, we talk about the way the game portrays a world in which only Europe invented stuff.

44:00 Shamus talks about Assassins Creed: Black Flag.

Spoiler Warning: He’s not delighted.

Comments (95)

  1. Chris says:

    An Update on Thief (note that I’m probably going to talk about this game a lot in the next few weeks, so if you don’t want to hear me repeat myself and/or aren’t comfortable with the idea of me changing my mind as I get further in the game, skip this whole post):

    So, uh, a lot of the trepidation we express in this episode is based largely on the press vibes pre-release. None of this was helped by the trailers that show a chinless emo Garrett lamenting the loss of a Woman In The Fridge.

    But while the new Thief has some serious problems with polish and narrative, I can safely say that (at least for the first few hours) it plays pretty okay. Not amazingly, but pretty okay. Taken as a reboot of, say, Deadly Shadows without the greater context of the Thief universe, it’s actually pretty good. Body awareness is even more pronounced here, which is sort of cool. Light and visibility remain your biggest allies/enemies. Sound is downplayed, but I sort of expected that in a modern console game. Combat is still something to be avoided rather than rushed into. And the difficulty/GUI configuration options really do let you shape this into something that looks acceptably like the original Thief; that’s not just a marketing/PR move. I’m enjoying sneaking around and robbing people blind – I’m just trying hard to ignore the reasons the game gives me for why I’m here doing so.

    It sort of feels a bit like FarCry 2 – you get out of it what you put into it. If you go into the stock Thief thinking you’re getting a Thief 1998 game you’re going to be pouty faced and angry. But if you’re willing to see where they take the new Garrett and the new universe and futz with the settings until you have something you find acceptable, you might find something enjoyable to play with some really rough edges.

    • Chris says:

      That said, if you want to hear me rant about things:

      • The contextualization sucks. Sucks. It’s a horrible system and I’m sort of shocked they left it in. It makes some seemingly surmountable things become impassable objects and some iffy jumps become a button press away. And it’s the platforming equivalent of Mass Effect’s Awesom Button. It’s not very awesome. It’s sort of dumb.
      • I like Erin, but we get to know her for all of 30 seconds before she’s shoved in a fridge.
      • This version of Garrett feels more like he has a case of kelptomania. Where the Garret of games past would steal only the finest in gold, crystal, and gems, this game asks you to ransack every drawer and cabinet in search of sciessors, heirloom rings, and inkwells. You’re stealing everything that’s worth more than a gold, apparently.
      • The PC version really carries some of the obvious signs of a console port. Investigating paintings and bookshelves for clues and hidden secrets or lockpicking or looking through keyholes all slow down mouse input in that clunky way that says “THIS WAS DESIGNED FOR AN ANALOG STICK”
      • Even ignoring the game’s terrible narrative in the abstract, there are rough points where the dev hell shines through. For example, the abrupt and confusing jump between “one year ago” and “present day” after the prologue ends. Garret gets whacked by a falling piece of rock, the cutscene abruptly ends, then a loading screen shows up. After the loading screen is finished Garret is now in a cart. How did he get there? How much time has passed? What happened? Who found him? None of this, including the passage of time, is even inferred. It literally feels like the cutscene ended 30 seconds too early and the game dumped you into the next level without context.

      And if you want compliments:

      • I actually dig the new Garret voice actor. No one can replace Stephen Russel, and the no, the new cutscenes don’t justify replacing him. But if we had to get a new voice actor, it’s good to hear that it’s someone that “gets” the delivery the way Troy Baker gets Mark Hamil’s Joker.
      • Swooping is a really interesting mechanic. Yes, it’s lifted more or less verbatim from Dishonored’s Blink, but while it solves the same game design problem in some ways it’s also distinct due to how restrictive it is. By locking it down to horizontal movement it’s a genuine “hop from shadow to shadow” move that reinforces stealthy play, not Dishonored’s “hey you can go anywhere at any time” move that empowered players. I dig it.
      • Like I said, it’s mostly Thief, mechanically. It’s not perfect (I’d prefer a bigger emphasis on sound) but it’s mostly there. It’s about as good as you could hope for…
      • …If you turn off crap like Focus. BUT, the options are fantastic. Turning off focus, turning down movement speed, turning off upgrades, increasing the cost of upgrades, futzing with guard awareness indicators… there’s a lot you can do to make this feel like home, and I totally respect that. Honestly, more games without historical baggage need this kind of thing.
      • Helios Apollo says:

        Are Hammerites and Pagans in the game at all? 50% of the atmosphere of the previous games came from those delightfully awkward people.

        • Chris says:

          I’m only a few hours in, but no, not so far.

          However, they seemed to kind of keep the thematic content alive? There’s this thing where the Baron is trying to modernize the city with lights and pipes and technology, but then in the year between Erin’s Refridgeration and Present Day a lot of the engineers of those works died. No idea why yet, though – will have to finish the game and see what’s up, if anything.

          • Helios Apollo says:

            This saddens me. The corny, campy dialog that Hammers and Pagans muttered to themselves was so (for lack of a better word) adorable and added so much personality to a mission or area.

      • Benjamin Hilton says:

        HAHA I love when chris writes novels in the comments. and that’s not sarcasm, I really do.

      • hborrgg says:

        So what score out of 10 do you give it and how many consoles should we buy it for?

      • RTBones says:

        The contextualization is something that really turns me off about this game. One of the beautiful things about the original series was that you could essentially solve problems ‘your own way.’ Everything I have read so far about this game seems to indicate that while there may be more than one way to solve a particular puzzle, you are limited to the ways the developers want you to solve the puzzle. Particularly, the rope arrow limitation comes across as something that tells the player – hey, if you see one of these applicable spots, this is what we want you to do. Further, as a predominantly PC gamer, the vestiges of Thief’s console origins will, I suspect, annoy me.

        I’ll be interested to hear how you feel about swooping as you get towards the end of the game. The mechanic (as its been described, anyway), seems like something you could possibly spam – as in, I can envision Josh playing this at some point and breaking the game by swooping, well, nearly everywhere.

        • modus0 says:

          Swooping uses a near-invisible “Stamina” mechanic, which is finite, so you actually can’t swoop everywhere.

          Not that you’ actually want to, it’s rather easy to blunder into a guard while swooping.

          And swoop really felt more like the Silent Roll perk from Skyrim, without the roll part, to me than it does Blink, probably due to the rather limited range.

          • aldowyn says:

            Is it like a stamina bar or more like a short cooldown? I’d guess the latter…

            • Chris says:

              It’s sort of an invisible stamina bar? Like, you can swoop about three times in a row, but any more than that and you start panting and your swoops are about 4 feet long instead of ~10 feet long. They also seem to employ the same stat against running, where after a while you get tired and pant. Basically they want to give you brief moments of speed bursts to escape or dodge awareness but don’t want “Har har let’s just run past the guards to the next load screen the whole game” to be a legitimate strategy to beat the game with.

      • rofltehcat says:

        Still waiting to play it myself… it doesn’t release until the 28th in Europe for whatever reason :(

      • SyrusRayne says:

        Swooping, eh? I guess Garrett took a level or two of Shadowdancer.

      • Rosseloh says:

        The contextualization sucks. Sucks. It's a horrible system and I'm sort of shocked they left it in.

        Yeah. It’s awesome that I can’t drop from a rope to the ground at will (unless there’s a nearby ledge to jump to). And that I can be lining up a jump, and go for it, and Garrett instead decides to fall to his death because the designers didn’t think maybe you’d want to leap that particular gap.

        Context-sensitive movement makes sense in some situations (leaping from rooftop to rooftop in a fast-paced chase sequence ala Assassin’s Creed) but don’t remove the basics of jumping in the process. Even AC had jumping, useless as it was (that was made up for by being able to climb just about everything).

    • Benjamin Hilton says:

      I’ve never actually played the original (Blasphemy I know), however I did play the second and really liked it just for the mechanics…point being, I may actually be at the “sweet spot” mentally where I will be able to appreciate this game without the changes to original bothering me too much.

      • ET says:

        I too, only played the second game, but unlike you, I’ll probably be unable to enjoy this game, unless I buy it on sale.
        Mostly because of the limited rope mechanics, and the contextual jump/whatever/awesome button.
        Like, the rest of the mechanics (from what I’ve read) seem like they really let you solve the problems in very organic, natural, real-feeling ways.
        …but then you run into a waist-high wall that you can’t climb over. :S

        • Chris says:

          Actually jumping/vaulting over stuff isn’t that bad. It sucks when you’re a little far away from a crate or something and you’re not sure if hitting space will swoop you the rest of the way into its protective cover or haul you up on top of it for all to see. But generally speaking “Why can’t I climb up on this?!” isn’t as bad as it has been on other games. There’s a fair bit of verticality here, and it works 90% of the time – which is why it’s frustrating when something *seems* jumpable but isn’t. The sort of small crevasses that in Dishonored would represent a wholly new path here are just decorative, and seeing that you “should” be able to go that way in other games and knowing that’s not how this game works is frustrating, but it’s not horrible.

          But what really what gets me is corners. It seems somewhat fickle about what corners are peek-able and which ones aren’t, especially when the thing you want to peek around isn’t a formal wall but, say, a cart or a chair or other bulky object that you can hide behind but that doesn’t have a set 90 degree angle hold on to and lean out from. A non-contextual, stand alone lean mechanic (like what’s been in, say, every other Thief game ever made) would alleviate this problem.

    • Y’know, the general reactions Im seeing towards Thief is reminding me an awful lot of Deadly Shadows.

    • krellen says:

      Do you think the game would have benefited from keeping the setting but having the protagonist not be Garret?

  2. Helios Apollo says:

    Are Hammerites and Pagans in the game at all? 50% of the atmosphere of the previous games came from those delightfully awkward people.

  3. kanodin says:

    Hearing Shamus talk about grandiose cutscenes and needing to cut back got me thinking about titanfall. Titanfall is interesting since it’s being billed and marketed heavily as the evolution of Call of Duty and it’s eschewing the spectacle in favor of pure multiplayer. I swear I’ve read somewhere, but can’t remember the specific article, one of the designers talking about how they wanted the epic moments be in the gameplay itself and designed the game around that, which seems promising.

  4. Humanoid says:

    There’s another Thief for sale today, Criterion are having a one-day flash sale and you can pick up Michael Mann’s Thief for $20, which would probably be by far the better purchase. :P


    I’ve never played any of the Thief games myself (and don’t intend to start), as someone even more jittery than Chris even the notion of it was too terrifying to contemplate. On the other hand, I’d love a literal Thief game that dropped largely dropped the story (and supernatural elements) and just let you be an unapologetic Carmen Sandiego-style master thief. A new version of Covert Action where you’re the criminal? Yes please.

  5. StashAugustine says:

    On the subject of buying bad games: I was waffling about buying Bioshock Infinite on release, and the day before I ran into a guy who said he’d seen the leaked ending and everyone was mad about it. I asked if it was Mass Effect bad or Metal Gear Solid 2 bad, he responded MGS, and I decided I was getting in on the ground floor on that one.

    • Axe Armor says:

      Metal Gear Solid 2 bad is better than Mass Effect bad. Mass Effect 3’s ending felt like ten people were trying to write it, and then they ran out of money part way through. Metal Gear Solid 2’s ending felt like one person wrote it while spiraling into madness.

  6. Gravebound says:

    Protip: If you want the question to appear on the show, keep it short.

    Good luck with that. Have you guys ever gotten a Diecast question that didn’t have several paragraphs worth of setup?

  7. meyerkev says:

    So even though Renaissance Europe v. China is probably in china’s favor, there IS a point where Europe takes off and just leaves EVERYBODY else in the dirt (or honestly shoves them there).

    Malta, Lepanto, British East Indian Company, conquering of the New World, Plassey, Napoleon in Egypt (where Nelson had to go in and get him out because the Arabs couldn’t). And that’s just the “in-game” list. That next century was just nuts.

    It *sounds like* they were trying to have “Hey, Europe DID conquer the world and sorta zoomed”. It’s just that most of the zooming happened at the very end of the game or the century immediately thereafter. And I don’t know how fun “Oh by the way, you’re going to get to play 400 years, and only get the really world-breaking tech at the last century.” would’ve been.

    • Zombie says:

      Thats kinda evident in the game mechanics too. The Eastern Tech group can stay near the same tech level as the Western tech group for a while, along with the Muslim tech group, but then the Western Tech Group starts to just get a little ahead, then it just snowballs. The Horde, Indian and Chinese tech groups, I have no idea about. But the African and Native tech group are already like three techs behind at the start of the game, and it only gets worse the further on it goes, to the point where it’s almost laughably behind.

      • StashAugustine says:

        I haven’t played much of them, but I really like what CoP did with Native Americans. It gave them something to do other than ‘wait for the Europeans to show up’ and when they do show up, they still lose but they put up a fight- half-heartedly westernizing or adapting Western tech, and generally slowing down the rate of colonial expansion, and in the hands of a human they can kick out the colonizers. The two issues with the tech system are that colonization and overseas invasions is way too easy and that non-western (or eastern/ottoman/muslim) tech groups aren’t very much fun unless they got specific dev attention (ie China and Japan).

        e: also on the historical accuracy issue- if you get too angry about it I’ve got some screenshots of a Byzantine America, Ming Russia, or Japanese California to calm you down.

        • Zombie says:

          Its even better when your a Daimyo of Japan and have vasalized the Shogun. Or you reunify Italy in the 1500s.

          • aldowyn says:

            reunifying italy looks really hard to do in EUIV. Might want to give it a shot.

            • StashAugustine says:

              Up until a recent patch, Italy’s ideas were worse than most of the nations that could form Italy, so it wasn’t a great move.

              • Zombie says:

                I did it as Tuscany when the small northern Italian states just had the base national ideas, not the special ones like German or Indian. So I really didn’t care all that much about racing for the really bad national idea group.

            • Zombie says:

              I got Italy reunified by either the late 1490s or the early 1500s. Really you just had to fight the small one or two province states around you, build up your strength and then fight the Papal States. Getting a couple of vassals diplomatically didn’t hurt either. After that you just had to smash Milan, and you really just had to hope France or Venice didn’t start hating you.

              The biggest problems were war exhaustion or over-extension just getting everyone mad at you, or having one of the other powers declare war on you before you were ready.

          • Endymion says:

            Well my favorite ‘screw you history’ style would be Korean exploration. Done right you can meet up with Portugal along the banks of west Africa around the mid-to-late 1500s in order to westernize early. Once you’ve gotten that done and over with you’ve a nation ready to conquer massive swaths of the east and the western side of the new world. It also helps if you managed to get into a personal union with Ming during all this.

            This does, however, run into the other big euro-centric problem of EU4 that is its trade system. All the trade routes are 1-way and directed towards Europe, making it an absolute nuisance for any expansive nation anywhere else. For Portugal the odd province in Kongo is useful because its trade power sends gold towards Europe. For Korea that same province is useless.

      • Ateius says:

        Also interesting, and in part answering some of Josh’s criticisms, in the early game western europe is A) several levels of tech behind their neighbours, particularly the Muslim nations, and B) has utterly useless military units. Early game Western units suck outright and it takes several tech levels before you so much as draw even with, say, the Ottoman Empire.

        Just like IRL, at the start of the given period Europe is only just starting to pick itself up from being a backwater collection of bickering nascent nation-states, begins to advance in technology and industry at a rapidly increasing pace through the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and by the late-game can basically curbstomp the entire world through superior firepower.

        Also, I’d just like to point out that Josh’s 20,000 Tercio scenario doesn’t happen. Units aboard ships take very high attrition damage and ships themselves take attrition damage heading into unexplored waters and for being distant from their own ports. You’d lose half your army to sinking ships and the other half would be so reduced from disease and hunger they’d break at first contact with the Chinese armies. It takes a lot of time and a chain of friendly ports and colonies to be able to effectively invade China.

  8. StashAugustine says:

    Is Assassin’s Creed 4 good if I absolutely fucking loathe everything about the metaplot and setting but really wanna play Master and Commander: The Videogame?

    • Chris says:

      It’s less “Master and Commander” and more “Let’s merge Sid Meier’s Pirates! with Assassin’s Creed land missions.” Like, you’re not going to be getting 3 month chase sequences around the bottom of South America. The Carribbean on display here is comically small, like compressing the entire region down to about 1/3 of Skyrim’s landmass. Sailing a boat from Florida to Jamaica can be done in about 10 minutes. It’s not a world designed for realistic sea faring at all.

      But if you don’t mind arcadey naval battles and just want to be in control of a ship on the high seas, it’s alright. Again, Pirates! does it better – it has a genuine morale system for your crew and limited ammo of each type rather than just “AIM AND FIRE THE INFINITE AMMO GUNS.”

      But in terms of feeling like you’re on a boat rocking in the waves with a typhoon in front of you and an enemy ship baring down from behind? Yeah, no game captures that feeling of being in that situation in the moment quite like this.

      • Brandon says:

        Glad I’m not the only one who felt the influence of Sid Meier’s Pirates! in Black Flag.

        The seafaring and combat mechanics all feel very heavily inspired by it. Same with sacking forts and boarding ships. In a lot of ways it’s Pirates! except with third person action swordplay instead of rock-paper-scissors style quicktime-ish event swordplay.

        I actually went and played Pirates! for a good week or so again after beating Black Flag. Still a fun game.

      • aldowyn says:

        Did the original Pirates! have limited special ammo? Because the 2004 remake doesn’t, as far as I remember.

        I think I was saying before AC4 came out that I’d really like a new pirate game. I guess basically just another Pirates remake XD

      • Mersadeon says:

        Any judgement on the weird “Kenway’s Fleet” minigame? I can’t figure out what to think of it. It seems to useless since it doesn’t seem to have any impact on gameplay, all the while feeling like a bad tablet game. But it’s not bad enough for me to feel bad. It’s just bland and neutral and useless.

        • Chris says:

          I’ve honestly never gotten it to work – it wants me to log in with my Ubisoft account on the PS4 and honestly I just care so little about uPlay that I’ve never bothered.

          • Mersadeon says:

            Really? It’s been letting me in without a UPlay account. That’s weird.

            But I get that you don’t even bother. There is nothing to be gained. Any ressource you get in the minigame can only be spent for stuff IN the minigame – which would be fine if the Kenway’s fleet was any fun and not just a chore. Especially since the interface has so many swoops and effects that have to play completely before it takes the next button press. Argh. I’m really just playing it to see if it ever has any impact.

            • Andy says:

              I pretty much maxed out Kenway’s fleet (every ship is a former pirate-hunter Man-of-War). At that point you don’t even have to fight the stupid battles, every mission is 100% success with no effort. I figure i’ll send ships until I run out of resources, and then forget it. The only impact it had was earning me a LOT of money (40k?) a day towards the end, and some cosmetic collectiblez. Made the ship and hideout upgrades easy to buy. Though given the time throttle on it, I think my “play an hour or two every day or so” style maximized the fiscal gain.

            • Axe Armor says:

              Eugh, the minigame is awful, but it is making me so much money. It’s not too hard to do if you’re multitasking something else (for example, listening to Diecast), but it’s giga-tedious and it can take kind of a while to complete when you have all of the routes and docks unlocked. If you don’t get bored of plundering ships, I recommend getting your spending money that way and letting the fleet collect barnacles.

  9. Nimas says:

    OK, not sure how many people will agree with this (none of my friends really do :D) but I honestly felt the refinement of mechanics in Assassin’s Creed kind of hurt the narrative (Only played up till the final Ezio game).

    In the first one, even though it was kind of ridiculous having a dozen guards stand around Altair and wait patiently for their turn to die, it never really felt to me like I could really take on more then 1 or 2 or possibly 3 guards at a time. The advantages I had over them were surprise and agility, not raw killing power.

    Come even the 2nd game, but especially the third, and groups of guards ceased to be anything more then a minor speed bump, one that seemed to get smaller with every new release. I stopped feeling like an assassin and started more feeling like a one man army.

    I mean, the scene where Ezio gets the apple and uses it to wipe out guards should have been a really powerful scene, but honestly I felt it was actually slowing me down as opposed to feeling empowered.

    Ugh, so in conclusion to that long rambling 4 paragraphs, the increase in Player Character power I feel harmed the narrative of an assassin that hid on the fringes.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Asscreed was always more like a game from back in the 80s and 90s.You get a blurb as a setup,and then you get to enjoy hours of your fun arcade staby/shooty time.Only the blurb in asscreed is stretched through the whole game,and is more verbose,but still as meaningless.Its a great series of games if you really dont care about the narrative,and just want to faff around.And the more it moves in this direction,the better it gets.

      Though there are a few characters that pop here and there that are actually interesting,like original ezio and haytham(also fuck you game for having both haythams son and father be prominent protagonists,but not the dude himself).

    • False Prophet says:

      No, I agree. I appreciate the improvements in all other aspects of gameplay, but combat was nerfed far too much. Being able to eliminate your wanted level by killing two dozen guards seemed contrary to the game’s message.

      Especially because of the lack of villainy. In AC1, the guards were either Crusader knights (i.e., foreign invaders) or Sunni Muslims who considered the hashashin to be heretics. I felt Altair had pretty good reasons for killing either sort if he had to. Whereas the city guards in the Ezio trilogy always felt like cops just doing their jobs. When they attacked you in groups, they’d try to coordinate and their foe chatter included talk about tactics they’d used previously–I was basically mowing down a band of brothers.

      And AC2’s sequels just gave you more and easier ways to kill tonnes of dudes! I never felt the panic I did in AC1 when the guards were alerted to my presence.

      • Axe Armor says:

        Yeah, I particularly hated killing Janissaries and Florentine guards, since they were sort of supposed to be allies. I ran or punched them out when I could.

        At least in the Caribbean everyone I meet is complicit in the Atlantic Slave Trade. I super go out of my way to make 100% casualties on sugar plantation raids.

    • Axe Armor says:

      Super agree. Ever since kill chaining was introduced, you’ve had the choice between spending ten minutes to sneakily eliminate the guards one by one or just noisily filleting them all in five seconds. It detracts from the stuff that makes the series unique: Running and climbing and hiding. That’s the stuff that should be emphasized; open combat should be your last resort, and your way of resolving open combat should be running, climbing, or hiding.

      I think the game should be balanced like this: Your priority is always assassinating a target, so most of the game is then going to be sneaking and running into and out of a guarded area. Guards are obstacles; their goal is to box you in and keep you from getting away. If you try to run past an alerted guard, he impedes you and you stumble or you get thrown back. The combat mechanics would then be geared towards helping you escape from combat; for example, your basic combo is useful for pushing a weak enemy out of a circle of guards, or a successful counter could end with you standing behind the enemy. Once you’re no longer encircled, you’re expected to then run away.

      The escape itself could also use some tweaking; even in the first game back when just murdering an army wasn’t quite as viable an option, you were sort of encouraged to do it anyway, since the ease with which guards could traverse rooftops and the difficulty in finding a hiding place meant that a chase could last quite a while and end with you frustratingly off-course. Being able to quickly and stealthily move between the ground and rooftops would help a lot here. Those swashbuckle ropes are an improvement, but they’re hard to spot and not very common; it would be better if you could just walljump up to the roof in a second if you’re in a narrow alleyway. Caltrops would also be a nice addition (they were in Revelations, but as part of the boring and time-consuming bomb mechanic, and you could carry very few of them).

  10. Humanoid says:

    Shamus’ description of AC4 made me imagine the protagonist as a bumbling Frank Drebin-type character who wanders around without a clue and successfully solves problems without being aware of them.

  11. kanodin says:

    In regards to the pirate setting and how successful it was, Ubisoft is at least seriously considering spinning that off into it’s own franchise according to a survey they sent out after the game was so popular. Source: http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/12/06/ubisoft-surveying-fans-on-assassins-creed-5-pvp-naval-combat

    I really liked the naval combat and hope they go for it. I especially hope they take it as an opportunity to flesh out their existing systems and give us a more complex sailing based game now that they’ve seen that can actually sell.

  12. Karthik says:


    The story of AC: Black Flag is mostly contrived and rubbish, but it comes together in the last few sequences in a way that actually made me experience an emotional reaction to the ending. I liked the ending. It was affecting. So stick with it!

    (To the possibility you raised that they might do an Ezio with this Kenway guy and string him along for a few more games: It can’t happen, at least without a major retcon.)

    After Brotherhood, I’d decided I was pretty much done with the Creed series, because the plots were forced, the meta-game with the animus was tiresome, and the gameplay, besides being extremely shallow, had this paradoxical open-world-game problem where the missions are completely devoid of freedom, scripted to within an inch of the designer’s prescription and fenced in by failstates. And ugh, this one’s metagame with the employee at Abstergo entertainment is particularly smug and self-congratulatory. They’re not as clever as they think they are.

    But Black Flag, despite following this recipe, offered so much variety in the things you could do that it somehow bypassed the cynicism and eye-rolling. It’s a sensory delight. There was something gleefully exploratory about parking your ship by a small empty atoll, jumping off and wading to it just because you can.

    The single best thing about the game is that whether docked or sailing, ships have a physical presence and aren’t relegated to a sailing minigame bolted onto the AC framework the way Ubisoft did in previous ACs. To leave a town you get to the port, climb onto your ship’s deck, walk up to and take the wheel, and shout at your crew to unfurl sails. You can anchor the ship in the middle of the sea, let go of the wheel and just walk around your ship, or climb the mast and watch the sunset. It brought back memories of walking up to and through the Normandy airlock (“XO Presley stands relieved!”), a simple thing that added so much verisimilitude to the first Mass Effect. Black Flag one-ups this because you also get to fly the Normandy, as it were.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      The sailing is pretty cool, though I still think I enjoyed the actual sea battles more back in AC3 for some reason (though at this point I may already be misremembering it).

      However, I can’t say I really got into the plot (either the Black Flag one or the meta one) at any point in the game. Especially the period plot has, in my opinion, been shifting through the series away from any serious undertones more towards shoving “cool stuff” at the player.

  13. Duneyrr says:

    Is anyone else getting an infuriating G+ video ad popping up on the page? This is what I’m getting: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15095297/GooglePopup.png

    • Shamus says:

      I’ve never seen such a thing.

      Anyone else? Very curious about this.

      • X2Eliah says:

        Huh. Never seen it (Neither here nor elsewhere). And I’m using Chrome (google’s browser) which is almost always logged into G+, so you’d think I would get all of the targetted adverts.

        Is it a genuinely G+ ad, or is it one made to look like a google ad?

      • ET says:

        I only get the static-image ads at the top and side of the page, not any video thingies.

        • I’ve began noticing in stream ads now and again on Youtube, looks like they are slowly rolling it out.
          My guess is that the entertainment companies/labels/publishers are squeezing for more money which means Youtube has to show more ads.

          It also varies by region what ads are shown and how often you see them.

          That being said, I have not noticed it with spoiler warning yet. If you watch it embed (and the page it is embed on has Google ads) then it is less likely you will see video ads/ads.

          If you watch on youtube directly the behavior changes.

  14. Amnestic says:

    Something that concerns me for the AC series is the sailing mechanic as a whole, actually. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and found capturing Man o’ Wars a bunch of fun. But pretty much everyone agrees it’s “the best part” of AC4, and that’s the problem. How do they continue the series from that? Any move away from the naval combat back to the more “normal” city-based stuff is going to feel like a step down mechanics wise and doubtless they’d be lambasted for it.

    With the goofy metaplot about making video games they can essentially stretch this series out for forever if they want to, but I’m very curious as to whether they drop the naval stuff with Assassin’s Creed 5.

    Suppose if they’re feeling really ambitious they could do the Sengoku-era Japan with the entire nation to let you keep your sailing. Be a big project though, no doubt.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “How do they continue the series from that?”

      Assassins creed 5:The pirates of the japanese seas
      Assassins creed 6:Somalia
      Assassins creed 7:Pirates of digital seas
      Assassins creed 8:Pirates IIINNN SPAAAAAAAACCCCEEEEEEEE!!!!!

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      That’s a very good point I haven’t really thought of. What’s more, I think most people agreed that it was the best part of AC3 (not that there was that much competition from other new mechanics, especially hunting) and I think Ubi got caught between “we struck gold” and “the rest of the game is not so stellar” and their only concern was getting a period and location where they could use the sailing as much as possible. And if they want to replace sailing they better have something pretty strong, which may be difficult since novelty mechanics tend to be hit or miss (and what are the odds).

      • Axe Armor says:

        They should just spin it off into its own series. I mean, Assassin’s Creed is just Open World Prince of Persia. The AC series could afford to lose a few pounds in the time-wasting unrewarding base building and the underdeveloped new mechanic areas.

  15. bucaneer says:

    Speaking of Paradox games, could somebody please tell Josh that he’s getting almost two months late with the Crusader Kings II succession game writeup? Unless the new head of Cuftbert dynasty turned out to be immortal and he’s still busy conquering the world that is.

  16. Shamus makes a good point about how the movie industry has learned how to recoup its losses on bad movies when they bomb at the box office. Mostly, this is done via video rentals, DVD sales, and licensing the films to cable/broadcast TV and/or showing them on pay-for cable channels with and without advertising.

    In addition to spending far too much money on game production, the games industry doesn’t seem to want this secondary model to exist for the most part. They always want their sixty bucks for their game, now and forever, and only if it’s become impossible to squeeze one more full-price purchase out of their title do they seem to deign their output to be sufficiently spent so it’ll go on sale for a discount on Steam or other such service.

    Games also seem to not understand the reason people will shell out for a theater ticket on opening night is because they’re also purchasing an experience: Bigger screen, snacks, social interaction, etc. Buying a game on release day gets you: maybe some preorder bonus that’ll break he game, all of the bugs, and slow download speeds. What you do get is to be the “first” to be able to review, snipe, praise, and discover the spoiler-y stuff in a game, but that seems to be a really steep cost for just waiting to see if the game is any good, gets the fixes it needs, and the DLC drops in price.

  17. aldowyn says:

    You can’t colonize all of Africa, a lot of it is terra incognita. But yeah, a lot more of it ends up being colonized than is historical. Also, muslim and eastern tech group units are pretty much on par with Western until around gunpowder units. It is pretty bad, though – It’s hard for China to westernize reasonably, because they don’t have a border with a western nation until/unless muscowy/russia manages to push that far. The Ottomans westernized nearly as quickly as I did (Playing Russia, who is Eastern) though.

    Re: Machine guns – machine guns are an actual tech in Victoria 2 that makes it a lot easier to colonize Africa, along with anti-malaria vaccines and… something else, I forget. It’s a little weird because in like 1860 there’s a really sudden arbitrary gate that gets passed and ALL of Africa is colonized within a couple decades.

    • Zombie says:

      If I remember Victoria 2 correctly you really couldn’t even start colonizing anything in the interior of Africa until you got Machine Guns. The one tech your thinking of is one of the political ones I think, nationalism? I think that’s a tech.

  18. Jeff R. says:

    Well, if EU did treat the Rest of World ‘fairly’, the population differential would make almost every game “Europe gets curbstomped by China and/or India”. Which is not a particularly good thing when your game is primarily about variant European histories.

    And I don’t think it’s particularly wrong of them to approach their simulation in general with the assumption that our history is fairly typical and should, in broad terms, happen more or less the same most of the time. The alternative view that holds that China and India just happened to roll a dozen critical fails in a row and would have dominated in most other worlds isn’t terribly well-supported.

    • Axe Armor says:

      Europe was rubbish for like a thousand years while the Eastern Roman Empire, the Caliphate, and China were busy inventing everything and being awesome modern nation states. I suspect that the Columbian Exchange is entirely to thank for Europe’s rise from complete irrelevance in the second half of the last millennium. The Americas lost 90% of their human population to Old World diseases within a hundred years of contact, leaving the native peoples in no way prepared to prevent the European powers from enslaving everyone, forming giant empires, and becoming stinking rich. If it had been China or India colonizing California in the 1500s, or if it had been American diseases wiping out the Europeans (as was the case in Africa) rather than the other way around, or if the Americas had not been a giant paradise full of tobacco and sugar and silver, things would likely be quite different today.

  19. ilikemilkshake says:

    The Eastern and Muslim tech groups can keep up with the Western tech nations well into the mid-late game and in fact they are actually stronger than the Western nations in the early game because their cavalry is so much better.

    Africa being colonised is kinda dumb, it would make more sense if they just hadwaved it as establishing a trading post or something for ships to stop off at. In Victoria 2 which is another Paradox game, you can’t colonise Africa until about 1870, so it is odd that they let you do this in the EU games.

    China being gimped technologically has been covered by the devs, to paraphrase “China is odd because it was a country that could have been a world super power but never really was, in game terms if it were on equal footing with europe it would dominate 100% of the time” so definitely not a perfect solution, hopefully they’ll come up with a better way to balance it.

    As for the example of Spain sending 20,000 men to China and annexing it all is out right false though. There are several ways in which you are limited in your conquests.

    First of all is the peace deals. You get war score from winning battles, occupying land and blockading ports. 20,000 Spanish troops can at most win a battle against 199,999 Chinese troops, (you automatically lose any battle if you are outnumbered 10-1) even with tech advantages that’s going to be tough to pull off but assuming you do, you then have to siege ALL of China with only 20,000 men, which will take years and you have to do this before China rebuilds another army to throw at you.

    Assuming you do somehow successfully siege and occupy all of China, Unless a nation is under approximately 4 provinces/counties you will not be able to conquer it all in one war and you will be limited in the amount you can demand.

    So lets say you do sign a peace deal. You take 8 provinces, costing you hundreds of diplomatic monarch points (setting you back in naval tech) it becomes a part of Spain but now you have to spend hundreds of administration monarch points to legitimise your ownership of the new conquests (setting you back in admin tech). This takes years and until this process is complete you suffer from overextension, too much off which leads to rebellion across your empire and event chains can fire that will completely ruin you.

    Now you have to keep a 20,000 strong army twiddling it’s thumbs in China In order to maintain control over these new territories. Unless you want to risk rebels taking over or China trying to reconquer her stuff.

  20. Sleeping Dragon says:

    What I’m worried about with the whole “cutting budgets” thing is that I think a lot of big publishers may (if they hadn’t already) just jump over the “we can’t afford empty spectacle” to “we can’t afford games” and, rather than look for entertaining gameplay at lower cost, may keep pulling plugs on anything even vaguely ambitious or experimental.

  21. The big AAA shooters are all about the single player spectacle because the single player is basically a Hollywood movie, with minimal replay-ability, the replay-ability is in the multiplayer. The singleplayer also acts as a introduction to the games/world setting and training for the game mechanics.

    The number of AAA games that are single player only are very few, in fact you start sliding over to the RPG related genres then. (Final Fantasy, KoTOR, Fallout: New Vegas, etc.).

    The reason that Infinite did not sell more than Bioshock 1 and 2 is possibly due to a saturation point being reached. (either for that type of game, or because the customers can not afford more games of that type).

  22. Here’s a nice idea for a Assassins creed game.
    Assassins Creed: Viking Wars (I know, not the best title)

    Just imagine it, “Vikings” vs “Templars”.
    With Vikings being seafaring there would even be possibility for some sailing around between Norway,Sweden,Denmark,Iceland,England,Finland,Germany, and even Greenland.
    Vikings even made it all the way to the middle east through european rivers down to the black sea.
    Heck, Viking raiders even managed to blackmail Paris (if I recall correctly) to pay them to not raid the town.
    There’s a pile of material to base a game (or games) on here.

  23. False Prophet says:

    It’s hard to directly compare the games industry to the film industry. Or any other entertainment industry, really. While opening weekend box office is important to film studios, they have a lot of secondary markets: home DVD/Blu-ray release, web streaming, airlines, TV rights, etc. And marketing tie-ins are big and established for films. Music artists, in addition to album/single sales, can tour, play corporate gigs, write or produce for other artists, license their music for soundtracks or advertising campaigns, sell merchandise, promote products as a spokesperson, get residuals from radio or other public music services. Even novelists have multiple formats (hardcover, trade, mass-market, audio, ebook, foreign language rights, film/TV rights) they can attempt to exploit.

    Game profits are pretty much limited to their primary market. There’s no public performance market for games, except for maybe e-sports. I don’t know if games make licensing fees from e-sports events, but even if so, a very small number of titles lend themselves to e-sports.

    There’s not much of a secondary market for games after the first year of release, except for the occasional HD remake or “classic games” anthology, or GOG sales. I can’t imagine those make a lot of money, they strike more as a “let’s try and make a few bucks and turn a few people away from the used games/piracy” option. Anecdotally, I can’t imagine the tie-in merchandise market for games is anywhere near the ones for film & TV franchises, music artists, or comic books. Rovio is a major exception (I can’t go anywhere without seeing Angry Birds merch) and also a lot of the Japanese institutions like Nintendo, Sega, and the FF games (any popular IP in Japan seems guaranteed to exploit at least three different forms of media). But the big Western AAA franchises? Not so much.

    I suppose I’m saying, the Las Vegas analogy is even more apt for AAA video games than just about any other media, because you really are pouring millions of dollars and 1-5 years of development into something that basically has to be (deemed) successful in that first week of release, or you’re sunk. After that point, if bad reviews or word-of-mouth have killed primary sales, you really have no way of recouping your investment.

    • syal says:

      Marketing tie-ins are pretty easy for any modern-day setting. Anywhere an ad could go, put a real ad there. Anywhere a tool would go, put an actual product there. The vending machine becomes a Coke machine. The guy in the photo has a shirt with the Nike logo. The flashlight batteries are Energizer batteries. Depending on the tone, you could even get away with putting company logos in fantasy settings as ‘symbols of power’ and whatnot.

      You can merchandize any iconic character, and video games have those. If they really wanted, they could make promo videos out of their games specifically to show off the iconic traits of a character, that people who play the game can show to people who haven’t, to broaden the market and make videogame merchandise more mainstream.

      There’s no secondary market because they’ve gone out of their way to kill it. They’re comfortable forgetting about old releases until it’s time to promote the new one. One thing you’ll notice about movies is they’ll advertise the movie, then they’ll advertise the DVD. Games never do that, but they could advertise price drops if they ever dropped the price, and keep the game in the public conscience.

      Basically, I think the lack of other markets for game companies is their own fault. It’s harder to re-market interactive media but not impossible.

      • burningdragoon says:

        A few studios also get to benefit from licensing out their engines. Granted not every studio could do that. I’m not sure if that has an analog to the other industries.

        So yeah, not completely devoid of alternative money sources.

  24. Paul Spooner says:

    On the “Ken Levine and Irrational” topic:
    I’m with Shamus on hoping that the games industry takes the hint and stops trying to make interactive cinematics and gets back to gameplay. However, I agree with the above speculations that the AAA “game” industry is more movie than gameplay at this point anyway, and if they need to cut their weakest elements, it’s going to be the “game” part instead of the “AAA” part.

  25. Tomas says:

    Thanks for making this podcast! I listen to every episode and really enjoy it.

    Now I’m wondering if there is an RSS-feed for it? That would simplify listening to it from a podcast player.

  26. karln says:

    Sorry to pick nits, but Chris’s description of the meta-plot in Liberation was an outright untruth and it just bugs the crap out of me.

    In Liberation ‘you’ are not a game designer working on the game. You’re a consumer and are playing the game that Abstergo has released. It’s a propaganda piece, cut together to make the Assassins look like naïve bloodthirsty idiots following evil bloodthirsty masters, but has the neat idea that the anti-Abstergo cracker group Erudito has restored some of the cut bits of Aveline’s story that Abstergo removed, showing ‘the truth’ of the story.

    I was quite excited about what a gripping and subtle effect this propaganda-vs-truth idea could produce, so I’m pretty disappointed that (up to around Sequence 4, where the game bugged out on me and became unplayable), the ‘truth’ footage is just Templars twirling their mustaches and guffawing about how cool it is that they’re torturing and murdering folks.

    … yay

    BTW Chris I love your stuff and you’re a very fine fellow indeed, please don’t be mad and stop making Errant Signal or something

  27. Thomas says:

    The balance of EUIV is more complicated than josh makes it out to be. As others have mentioned the units of eastern europeans and ottomans can keep up with western units fine the first centuries. An other factor is the composition of units, if more than half the units in a western army is cavalry they get a penalty, were as eastern european, ottoman and muslim can have more cavalry and are more deadly until gunpowder takes of. There is also the matter of ideas, these are unlocked the same way technology is by spending monarch points and even thou the unlocking of ideagroups are gated by technology levels a few of the military ones can make an nation remarkable stronger than a neighbor with the same tech level. On top of that there are national ideas that are unlocked as a nation pick more ideas.

    Is Europa universalis somewhat eurocentric sure, but its no way near as bad as Josh makes it out to be. And Paradox interactives way of iterating the game over several years has made it better and they will hopefully continue that trend.

    • ProfGoldfish says:

      I agree while it is euro-centric, that’s where all scientific development was going on during the later centuries. The point of the increase cost of tech is not that bad for the first few years but after a while the other countries slow down which is exactly what we find in the real world. Yes eurocenrism is bad but it happened and it happened for a reason, in the game it explains it through technology.

      They could not colonize the interior of Africa is the key part. All of the jungle disease were focused in the center of the continent. Most of the counties are on the coast.

  28. Phantos says:

    Leigh Alexander linked to a critique of sorts to Bioshock Infinite, in that article you linked in the show notes. Both are some of the best writing I’ve ever seen on the subject. More so than even mathewmatosis’ video essay, she has written possibly the most damning condemnation toward Bioshock Infinite, as well as the shockingly low standards we apply to video games to give it such unearned praise and adulation. I don’t think anyone is as strikingly poetic in what they have to say about the state of video games today.

    But Anita Sarkeesian is the one getting awards from the GDCA.

    This industry is a joke.

  29. Vect says:

    Thing is, they can’t really continue Edward’s plotline since his fate has already been discussed in a prequel novel of AC III about his son Haytham, who’s a Templar in that game and the game ends with him sailing back to England to a comfy lifestyle with his daughter.. They have done a spin-off DLC-turned-game about Adewale, Edward’s First-Mate, so there’s that.

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