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Diecast #69: Bulletstorm, System Shock 2, Games Writing

By Shamus
on Friday Aug 1, 2014
Filed under:


This episode is a continuation of the same session as the previous Diecast. A side note about the recording of this episode is that – time zones being what they are – the sun was coming up for Jarenth when we finished recording this show, and at the same time it had only recently gone down for Josh. This might also explain why Jarenth isn’t as chatty as you were hoping.

Again, thanks for staying up so late to make these episodes happen.

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

Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Jarenth, and Krellen.

Show Notes:

0:30 Shamus is playing Bulletstorm.

Due to poor planning on my part, my full review of Bulletstorm already appeared earlier this week. So now you get the more rambling, less organized, I-haven’t-finished-it-yet version.

6:00 Krellen has played Unrest.

This section is spoiler-free.

7:00 Krellen is also playing Saints Row IV Co-op.

10:30 Krellen played through System Shock 2 for the first time ever last week.

27:00 Jarenth has been playing Frederic – Resurrection of Music.

Here is his writeup over on Ninja Blues.

33:30 Jarenth is also playing Magic 2015.



Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect and Too Human were all reported to be trilogies and long term franchises during their respective pre- and post- release press hype. Ironically, the games also were announced/released around the same time. How do you all feel about Too Human suffering the best fate?

Thanks for the podcast/show,

What do each of you think is the most prevalent problem affecting stories of games?


Comments (127)

  1. Kana says:

    I find it interesting that Shamus didn’t find the psi powers all that damaging. I played SS2 with a friend and we found that, outside of her exotic weapons, I was doing a huge portion of the damage. It would get really inconcsistant, though. Some levels I’d be drowning in hypos and get to spam psi powers, and others I’d be utterly starved and almost useless for the majority of the it.

    Maybe it was neither of us picked the military start (she was almost pure tech, I was almost pure psi). Some of the powers were just broken on a utility spectrum. I also invis ran past the last couple levels to cheese the end game, and security cams almost became a non-issue on levels where I had a spare hypo.

    I realize the difficulty broke because we co-op’d it, but even with that the psi powers felt really strong to me against a lot of the enemies.

    The worst thing about it though, is that playing SS2 retroactively made me really sad about what was lost going from System Shock to Bioshock. I still adore the original Bioshock, but I can’t help wondering what could have been. ;~;

    • fdgzd says:

      psi powers are very inbalanced. Mostly though, it helps to think of them as buff powers rather than pure damage dealers.

      also, i don’t understand the platforming complaint. Unless my memory is severely impaired, there are a total of 3 jumps you need to do the entire game: the hull breach on the rickenbacker, the chasm near the chapel, and jumping from the missile/torpedo thing to the ladder. Not really a long list. I’m going through the levels mentally, and I don’t think there is any jumping necessary at all in the rickenbacker.

      • Kana says:

        Yeah, there was a looong gap between upgrading my main damage skill from psi. There were a ton of utility things, it feels like it was supposed to be a support tree, so to speak. But it was magic brain powers, and I will break a game if it means I get to kill things with my mind the whole time.

        There was some platforming on the second last level with the Many. I hated that because the whole thing looked the same to us and we were constantly getting lost. That level was were our infatuation with the game started to fade. Game could have been a little shorter.

      • krellen says:

        You don’t have to platform to finish the Rickenbacker, but you do have to platform to get some of the goodies.

        You also forgot the Many’s digestive tract.

        • While I would love to believe what you propose would constitute a menu of ending choices for a modern-day System Shock 2, I would point out how many “endings” Bioshock gave us.

          For those playing at home, it’s 2 of them disguised as 3. “Good,” “Bad,” and “Bad ending read in a sad voice instead of angry.”

        • You defamed ST:TMP, so I must nerd-rant. Keep in mind that I’m enough of a Trekker that I will happily list off all of its worst nitpicky points, especially when it comes to TNG, Voyager, and DS-9 which, while enjoyable, I see as mostly a knock-off of Babylon-5 (don’t test me on this; I saw both shows when they were originally aired in syndication, and it was really easy to see that one aped the other).

          Also, regarding the Enterprise in spacedock scene you referenced in the first Star Trek movie: You’re far to young to understand why that was so effing cool for us fans of the TV show.

          1. In the show, we saw the same stock views of the ship over and over. The ship was cool, but it was also a cheesy special effect. This time we got a frickin’ cool fully-lit refitted Enterprise with aerodynamic warp nacelles and details the camera could zoom in on and it wouldn’t look all fakey and everything! It was nerd porn, and for those of us of a certain age, it still is. We didn’t have the internet where we could download photos and vids of our favorite bits from genre movies. We needed that 10 minutes of awesome to be carried with us until we could see the movie on VHS in a year or two. Also, the theme music during the shot was frickin’ amazing, especially when you get the main theme as you see the ship head-on.

          2. The whole movie was slow. Robert Wise wasn’t exactly James Cameron, and sci-fi wasn’t exactly action-movie fodder, Star Wars notwithstanding. Also, Star Trek was supposed to be more cerebral or have more of a message other than “blow it up,” so the story didn’t go for the jugular. Combined with other conventions of the time, you end up with a big, slow-moving science fiction film that tries to give you a 2001-esque sense of wonder along with your photon torpedoes.

          3. V’Ger was a lot more than just a cloud. Seeing it take out the Klingons in the first scene (with more amazing music that set the standard for Klingon “themes” through today) was genuinely chilling for those of us who were used to seeing things just sort of light up and fade out on our TV sets. Again, you probably have to understand a lot of the fandom for this movie is hard to appreciate unless you do something like watch nothing but TOS straight through and then watch ST:TMP on a widescreen TV to see the quantum leap in effects, sets, sound design, etc. As for V’ger itself, it was made up of some horribly complicated models and designs which were a bear to film, which might be why the concept of a living machine the size of a solar system wasn’t fully realized as hoped.

          For a tongue-in-cheek but still affectionate view, you could look at Red Letter Media’s Harry Plinkett as he compares Abrams’ Star Trek to ST:TMP.

          Now get offa my lawn. :)

          • krellen says:

            You know that first point was the point I was actually making, right? When I said that was the film’s big special effects shot, that’s exactly what I meant. I grew up in a Trekkie household. My father was at the march on NBC when the series was cancelled.

            When I said “no one would do that today”, I wasn’t saying it was bad that it was done then, I was saying that it was a different era that cannot truly be understood by those so far now removed from it.

            But V’Ger was a frickin’ cloud, because they used the cloud to hide the fact that they couldn’t make as cool a V’Ger model as they made an Enterprise model (money being what it is, I’m sure most fans are glad the blew the budget on the Enterprise instead.)

            • silver Harloe says:

              When the Enterprise entered the cloud, they gave us a tour of the exterior of V’Ger, I thought? So they had a model, they just didn’t want to reveal it too early?

          • evileeyore says:

            Damn meddling kids! We’d have gotten away with it if… wait? Oh, we’re not being arrested? Right.. ahem…

            /shakes cane

            Get off my lawn!

    • ET says:

      The game needed a good balancing, for all the weapon damages. I think it was more or less balanced if you used the wrench, light sabre, pistol, shotgun, or laser pistol. Everything else was underpowered, except the grenade launcher, which was a bit overpowered, and the assault rifle, which was basically TroLoLoLoL-mode. Heck, if you know where to look, there’s even a unique version of the assault rifle, which does like 5% more damage, and degrades at like…quarter speed? Never needs repairing? It’s been a while since I played.

      But, yeah, most of the weapons were insanely expensive to buy ammo for, or buy the research for. Or their damage was like coughing on the enemy. Like the crystal wrench does technically do more damage than the wrench or light sabre, but it needs so many level-up points, that you could have just boosted your strength to get more damage with the normal wrench.

  2. Raunomies says:

    Now that the Mass Effect scars have been re-opened, how about you guys write (or make video(s) about) a proper Mass Effect trilogy postmortem to grant it a sweet release of death? It is a tender subject but I’d say enough time has passed to discuss key things objectively.

    • Thearpox says:

      I loved this week’s episode until you guys started talking about Mass Effect again. Way to beat a dead horse. (Albeit granted, it was in the context of a legitimate question. Mostly.)

      And to reply to Raun, why and what would be the postmortem? What is there to discuss? And there is no need for a sweet release of death because it is as dead as it ever is going to get. I don’t see how such a postmortem would possibly change that situation in any way.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Smudboy did it.All with the extended dlc.

    • Henson says:

      Mass Effect is the great Ouroboros of game criticism. It will never die. It is already dead.

      Hey, you know what? I guess this means Mass Effect was about ‘cycles’ after all!

    • The Mass Effect Trilogy is pretty awesome, there are a few characters I could do without, Miranda, and that Leng guy in ME3 and the “new squadmate guy” in ME3.

      I could easily nitpick a ton of stuff but in general it’s an awesome trilogy.

      I do not even have an issue with the (extended) ending.
      I just wish they’d instead gone with a single canon ending instead of the three colored one (but kept the rest of the extended ending the same as now).
      Instead I’d want 1 or two alternative endings ala Knights Of The Old Republic which had a Light (canon) and a Dark (no-canon) ending.

      I was kind of hoping to do a darkside Shepard takes over the galaxy ending but alas not.

      I’m glad BioWare made Mass Effect as it sets a pretty high bar for other developers when it comes to Sci-Fi “Space” games, and we need more good RPGs in space.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Mass effect is the high bar?Damn,things are worse than I thought.

        • Shirdal says:

          Those are pretty much my feelings on the subject. I really don’t mind that people like Mass Effect. There is stuff there to like. But I get frustrated when it is held up a pinnacle of videogame storytelling.

          • 1. I ever said it was the high bar.
            2. I never said it was the pinnacle of videogame storytelling.

            You two said that, not me. Those are your words.

            Also even if the Mass Effect trilogy was set as the high bar, personally I’d prefer to call it the low bar as I’d like to see other Sci-Fi game series use the ME trilogy as the level they must match or pass rather than stop at (high bar).

            PS! The term is “set the bar high”, not high bar.

            If ME trilogy was the high bar then none would need to exceed that, and I surely hope that is not what you meant?

            Please list me any Sci-Fi games (and in particular Space RPGs) better than the ME trilogy?
            I can’t think of anything close besides maybe Jedi Outcast an Jedi Academy but he ME trilogy is still better than those two.

            The only game I’d dare say is better than the ME trilogy with confidence is Knights Of The Old Republic; but it’s really getting long in the tooth. Widescreen isn’t working that well, and currently I’ve got a few hacks to make it look/play properly etc. And BINK video bugs up (surprises surprise, I believe I’ve ranted about BINK video in the past so I’ll avoid that here).
            But that game ain’t perfect either.

            I want the ME trilogy to be the minimum standard, is that so bad?
            Today any A or AA or AAA or AAAA (puke) game should be able to achieve the texture quality, polygon count, the music, the voice acting an the plot and story level of the ME trilogy.
            That is where the technical bar is set.

            The closes thing in the Space Opera/Space RPG general are is X2: The Threat, X3: Reunion, X3: Terran Conflict, which interesting is a trilogy too. But the production values is way below BioWare obviously.

            And StarCraft II is a RTS. Sins of Solar Empire does not even have a story at all nor even a character.

            I guess Freelancer is pretty close, but you still did not get to walk around nor improve your character.

            Now if you mean “the one to surpass” in all game genres then I’d lump ME trilogy together with Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines, KoTOR I and II, Deus Ex, Deus Ex HR, Bladerunner The Game, Monkey Island 1 and 2, and several others that either score high on charts or are cult hits.

            But if anybody says, “We’re gonna make the next Mass Effect” I’d say “Go for it.” if you aim for that an get close or even manage to surpass ME then you got a guaranteed customer right here.
            But the majority of stuff I’ve seen has been a disappointment (*cough*X Rebirth*cough*).

            The upcoming Elite Dangerous is a semi-multiplayer thingy and so is Star Citizen.
            What else is there on the horizon besides Mass Effect “4” ?
            I like the ME Universe but I also like diversity, Star Wars 1313 was canceled for example, I guess there is Star Wars: Battlefront (2015) but will you even have a “character” ? *shrug*.

            The list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Space_opera_video_games is sadly very anemic.

            I do have a soft spot for Advent Rising, Star Trek: Voyager ““ Elite Force 1 and 2, and the Homeworld series although they aren’t exactly RPGs in the same way ME and KoTOR are.
            (Which makes me wonder why KoTOR isn’t on that list, as it surely is a Space Opera).

            So. What other Space Opera RPGs are there? (that hasn’t been mentioned here, and we’ll use the term RPG loosely, as long as there is some story and plot/character progression it counts).

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Im not against the idea of making games better than mass effect trilogy.Im against the idea of making games with the idea that mass effect is something good that should be emulated.Yes,the playing field for space RPGs is sad,but that doesnt mean any crap should be used as a measuring stick.

              Ill ignore the subjectiveness of the quality of the overall story and pointless discussion about the ending here,and Ill focus on why mass effect trilogy doesnt work as a concise work and should not be used as something others should try to emulate in any way.

              Sure,the visuals and style of the entire series were nice.Music and voice acting were also good across the board.

              But the quality of the game noticeably went down in the third one(as can easily be seen even by just watching spoiler warning).Not just in the terms of bugs,but mission structures,enemy composition,companions,hub,quests,…Which is baffling,since they shouldve had the most money by that time.

              Gameplay got a bunch of reshuffling from game to game,both for better and for worse,leading to a messy universe.This should not be copied by other games.Sure some improvements and fixes should be introduced here and there,but you should not overhaul the whole system with every new part of the trilogy.

              Sidequests got an even worse treatment in 3.Its not just creepy and stupid,its extremely messy and hard to follow.This was just bad,even when not compared to the previous two installments.

              While plenty of NPCs were good,most of them also became very inconsistent from installment to installment.And the less we say about that photograph,the better.

              The main story itself is mired with bunch of inconsistencies,dead ends and tonal whiplashes,and the main character jumps from place to place,even if you try to play him as a consistent pure paragon/renegade.

              And,of course,there are the dlcs.These went from pointless in 1,to annoying in 2,to downright infuriating in 3.Having a whole companion,one whose very existence is so closely tied to the major plot and a bunch of subplots,modeled so that he actually impacts nothing,and then selling him as a dlc is a major “Fuck you” to all the fans.This should under no conditions be emulated by any future game.Ever.If it werent for (the rest of) EA,ubisoft and capcom,biowarEA would be the worst money grubbing bunch of assholes for their dlcs in mass effects and dragon age.

              Taken separately,yes you could hold me1 or me2 (minus the dlcs crap) as a good game that can be used as a model for future works,and me3 (minus the dlcs crap) as an average game with some really good ideas.But as a whole,nope,not a chance.It was not well planned as a trilogy,it was horribly executed as a trilogy,it simply does not work as a trilogy.

              • Point me to something better then?
                Problem is there aren’t. (unfortunately)

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Thats not an excuse however,because:

                  1) Something better didnt exist when pong came to be.Or pac man.Or any other original idea.
                  2) Something better does exist in other genres.You dont have to emulate just games of similar genres.Or just video games.

                  And of course,you dont have to emulate the whole work.Just take the best stuff.(basically,dont be nival and neglect everything from a game just because it had significant problems)

                  • “Thats not an excuse”
                    for other developers? No it’s not, if they think they can do better they should instead of putting on the brakes saying they don’t need to do better (“We don’t need to outdo ME do we?), then yeah that is no excuse to stop polishing.

                    If you meant that comment to me then…excuse for what?
                    That there isn’t any better Space Opera/Space RPGs out there? I already said I wish there was more and Especially better ones or at the very least on par with ME.
                    How is that an excuse?

                    I’m not saying ME is the best, I’m saying there isn’t any better or close to equal, and that’s an unfortunate thing.
                    Do you mean I’m excusing the crappy games that developers are making thinking they are making something good? Hell no, are you insane?
                    Have you seen all the Greenlight or Pre-release crap these days? It’s actually degenerative. Games shipped without an executable for example, no idea how that can be outdone.

                    I want developers to look at the ME franchise and say “That’s what we gotta beat, at the very least we need to match that or if possible outdo that”.

                    Also, Pong and Pac Man spawned a ton of clones, some may be good (if viewed in isolation) but people get emotional about the “first this or first that”.

                    I’m waiting for the nest Mass Effect, I’m waiting for the next Star Wars, I’m waiting for the next Star Trek. It doesn’t even have to be the “next anything”, it doesn’t have to be a new IP, Imagine a HHGTTG game, it could even be Monkey Island (remake) or Walking Dead styles.

                    I’m not sure if I’m making myself understood here. Am I using the English language correctly here? Do I need to use emoticons or crap like that?
                    Would a frowny face after “(unfortunately)” have made a difference, should it have, the words are the same anyway?

                    If you want an argument because I like ME and you don’t then this is not the tie nor place for that.
                    What I was saying was that so far this is as good as it is, and it’s silly that BioWare are leading the pack, they should have competition, but with the budgets involved it’s insane.

                    I’m hoping that DICE can do something. But EA is the publisher and owner for both DICE and BioWare so the two aren’t really “competing” as such, it’s still an indirect monopoly so the two franchises (SW ad ME) will not directly compete under EA.

                    Obsidian has the potential but lack the funding and manpower to do so. Heck I and many others wanted to see Obsidian do KoTOR 3 (and they wanted to do so as well) but well, EA and stuff now you know.

                    Maybe they could do another Space Opera game? Maybe a HHGTG? Or maybe a Blade Runner game, playing as a replicant fighting out in the colonies would be awesome (as mentioned in the now famous monologue near the end of the movie).
                    Or something brand new (their own IP) altogether.

                    Of all the genres out there, the slightly dark, low fantasy, high science Space Opera with RPG elements is my favorite.
                    Can’t I want more, can’t i want better? Can’t I use a point of reference without being flagged a “fanboi”?

                    It’s also easy to point out the negative and ignore the positive (or vice versa).
                    Even the best game in the world (whatever that is) can probably be picked apart until it bleeds.
                    Even the worst game in the world (whatever that is) can probably be polishes until it’s a golden turd, it’ll still be a turd but at least it will be golden.

                    I once tried to rank games starting with 10 as a score then subtracting when in found flaws, I got flac for “ranking too high”, apparently it was too a confusing concept for some to understand (they are used to 7.0 being average, or is that 8.0 now)?.
                    No idea how they would have reacted when I got around to the games that are really horrible, what would they say to a game with a score of 0 because it never managed to run, or going from 10 to 5 because the audio fail for the technical part of the score?
                    I’m redoing that scoring system to something else now for my own enjoyment, and that’s it.

                    I’ll probably do the same here, instead of trying to explain things that people do not understand maybe I should just ignore them ad save some time… It would certainly involve less writing, that’s for sure.

  3. Leviathan902 says:

    I have to say, I actually kind of enjoyed Too Human. It was basically a Diablo-style action RPG from a tight 3rd person perspective instead of the usual overhead. The combat was decent, loot drops were solid, and the co-op was fun as hell.

    It had it’s problems, sure: Dennis Dyack is an @$$hat, the Valkyrie death animation was overly long and unskippable (but tolerable and not nearly the big deal everyone made over it), and the story is confusing and atrocious.

    I also think there was a marketing issue, people though they were getting some epic 3rd person RPG, not a hack and slash looter.

    It wasn’t art or anything, it was dumb, fun, time waster. I regret trading it in since you can’t legally buy it anymore.

    • Tizzy says:

      I’m not familiar with he game at all, but could it be that the fact that it was announced in 1999 and came out in 2008 have something to do with it?

    • Daniel says:

      I liked Too Human, also. The futuristic take on Norse mythology, the action RPG elements, the fun combat.

      It was way too short (obvious that they had dlc planned that never got released and the end was a setup for the second game that was never made) and the death animation was a pain (especially when I got to a section where I was up against foes that killed me repeatedly).

      It could have been something really good (a futuristic Diablo).

  4. Tychoxi says:

    Yes! Woe to Bioshock Infinite! I found it so egregious I wrote far too many words about it.

    On SS2 running and out of bullets… yeah, that’s probably why I used to be VERY conservative with ammo in other FPSs for a while!

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Wait,what?Jumping puzzles in half life were awesome?Ummm,I love the game,even more than the sequel,but I have to ask:When?What half life have you been playing?

    • PAK says:

      Pretty sure Shamus actually says those jumping puzzles were “not awesome.” Though he did swallow the word “not” a bit.

      • Shamus says:

        Yes. Sorry for the confusion. I agree with pretty much everyone that the end of HL was a mess. (I hated everything about it. Combat, level design, puzzles, combat… everything.) I actually quit my first play-through when I reached xen and had to come back later because it was such a chore.

        Also, I have a BAD habit of saying “Half-Life” when I mean “Half-Life 2”. This ALSO leads to tons of confusion.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its a shame what they did with xen,because quite a bit of lore can be found there.About the vorts,about headcrabs,about the combine in general.

          But there were a bunch of jumping puzzles long before that.Remember the crates from the beginning?Or the electricity in the office?Yeah,frustrating.

  6. Bloodsquirrel says:

    Okay, so I’m respond to last week’s segment, but:

    Crytek was a victim of the mobile rush. Back when facebook and mobile games first game out there were guys like Zynga making billions, which was shocking to a lot of people, but was really only typical of a company that got in on the ground floor of a new market. A bunch of companies in the AAA game business saw the incredible profits being made, looked at the expense of putting out AAA game, and made a run for some of those phat mobile lewtz.

    Apparently, none of them understood basic economics. Profits like that attract competition, and in an industry with very lower barriers to entry you’re going to get a lot of competition very fast. Competition will drive profits down to the point where they no longer make trying to enter the market super-lucrative for new players.

    So after spending their time and money to get into the new cash-paradise of F2P, they suddenly found that Zynga was sinking and there were so many players in the market now that getting your game to catch on was really, really hard.

    EA went on the same kind of adventure, expect that they did so through buying up already successful F2P companies, then finding out that they couldn’t actually sustain and grow profits from those companies as such to be worth the money they spent on them. Oops!

  7. ET says:

    Whistle whistle, little bird,
    isn’t eating crumbs absurd?

  8. krellen says:

    All that time talking about System Shock 2 and I forgot to say the most important thing of all:


  9. TMTVL says:

    SS2, Psy Ops, Impossible difficulty, 100% completion. That’s how you learn the value of save and load game.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Of save scumming,you mean;)

      • Thearpox says:

        Is there any point in doing System Shock games on high difficulties?

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          There is always a point in experiencing games high.

          • Thearpox says:

            Unless the higher difficulty makes the game boring and frustrating.


            Subjective, but publicly accepted.

            • Naota says:

              FTL, absolutely, but I would argue Thief.

              While the increased max loot requirements can force you to stick around a level longer if you’re not a particularly intrepid treasure hunter (or just a not a robot in a level or two), playing Thief 1 and 2 on the higher difficulties actually moves objectives around to more challenging places, activates traps, objects, and patrols that weren’t there before, and gives you more objectives to actually complete around the level, most of which are at least as fun as the primary one.

              Aside from that loot requirement sometimes trapping you in a level too long, it does just about everything right with regards to making the higher difficulty actually more fun and worth a second playthrough, rather than just harder. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a game actually add new goals and rearrange enemies/items to more challenging places on different difficulty settings.

              • Isaac says:

                I don’t remember any of the loot goals in the old Thief games being that hard. The only time I had trouble with a loot goal was when it got to 2,800 and that was on the hardest difficulty. Now, the fan missions are where things get ridiculous since that’s when you start running into missions with 5,000 gold as the loot goal even on the easiest difficulty!

        • TMTVL says:

          Personal challenges. Same reason you play Touhou games on Lunatic without using bombs, or do no-shield, no-magic, low-level runs of Dark Souls.

          It’s like why would anyone climb the Everest? Because it’s there. You must live while you’re alive, it’s gonna be too late when you’re gone.

          • Thearpox says:

            Well, the whole point of Touhou is bullet-dodging, so having more bullets appear on screen is a natural extension of the game.

            The purpose of System Shock is exploration, resources management, thinking, combat, and even story. And I don’t even know what is meant by a difficulty change.

            Do the enemies take more bullets to kill and re-spawn more often, or are the secrets harder to reach? Is there more static in the voices?

            If someone is having an easy time with Touhou, it is logical to say that higher difficulty will be more enjoyable. With System Shock? I’m asking you.

            • PeteTimesSix says:

              I’d say SS2 handled difficulty levels well enough. Enemies dont get more bullet spongy, the player gets less. Weapons degrade faster and ammo prices go way up, making thorough exploration relatively much more valuable. Revive chambers and healing beds go up in price so you cant rely on them quite as much and cameras detect you faster so you have to be careful turning every corner.

    • kaypy says:

      System Shock + permadeath + no revive chambers + no surgery machines

      What is this ‘save and load’ you speak of?

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Is it fair to call a game pretentious for not doing anything with something that is not its core theme?

    Ok,religion is one of the core theme of bioshock infinite(the other one being cycles;)),and it doesnt address it well,I agree with that.But it was never about slavery or nationalism.Those were just background most of the time.Yeah,they blundered by shoving the OMG!RACISM! scene in the very beginning,because it was so in your face,but afterwards,it was never used like that.It was used as the background of the conflict,nothing more(and a bit of info about booker in the wounded knee segment,but only slightly).

    Expecting it to do something meaningful with racism is like expecting every single WWII game to do something with the holocaust,simply because it was one of the reasons behind the conflict.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Aye, mentioning something without really doing anything with it isn’t itself pretentious (although it can perhaps be a warning sign). Pretentiousness involves pretending to a depth of meaning you don’t in fact possess – I don’t know if that applies to BI as I’ve not played it.

      This is why Errant Signal is never pretentious – inter alia, however long the words might be, they are always backed up by genuine depth – and why my comment certainly is pretentious, for the spurious use of italicised Latin earlier in this sentence… :p

    • Josh says:

      See I’m not really convinced Infinite had a core theme. I’m not even convinced the writers knew what their core theme was. The story jumps all over the place. First it’s about hyper nationalism and religion, then it’s about class warfare, racism, oppression, and whether it’s ever morally justifiable to use force to end an oppressive regime (Binfinite goes on to say it isn’t, and Binfinite is wrong). And then, finally, it’s all about the multiverse and timeline shenanigans which never did and probably never could be pulled off in a satisfying way, all apparently because the game didn’t yet have an “Andrew Ryan twist,” and we couldn’t go making a Bioshock game without one of those of course.

      Looking back at its development and how different the final product is from the early demos, I think that at one point Infinite was a game about nationalism and religion and class and race but was completely changed at the behest of other interests. And with how disjointed it is, this might have happened more than once.

      • Tizzy says:

        That’s the problem with games that want to tackle Topics. Assuming you don’t completely botch the treatment, there is always a good chance that your publisher will freak out and deem the content too controversial, gut it from the game and leave you with a senseless mess. I wonder how often that happens.

        • Benjamin Hilton says:

          I don’t so much think tackling the topics is the issue. I think it’s front loading them in the design.
          Games by their nature have a lot of iteration. If you write a story first, then by the time the game is done it may not look anything like what you thought it would. so you either now have a story that doesn’t work at all or a story that is changed speedyquick to try to make it fit.

          Consequently it is also a reason why showing people features that may end up getting cut before the game is done is a fast way to get your fans feeling betrayed, a la the “you can just walk away from fights” system from infinite that was.

      • Corsair says:

        I would disagree that it says using force to end an oppressive regime is wrong. The Vox Populi are bad people yes, but not because they are resisting, they’re bad because they’ve swung so far from the Columbians that they’ve come right back around to crazy. Revolutions turning sour from moral beginnings is historically pretty common.

      • Shirdal says:

        I’m inclined to believe that somewhere at the beginning of developing Binfinite there were core ideas behind the game, but I get the impression that the game went through its share of production hurdles (especially in terms of writing and rewriting) that would have left whatever ideas it had lost and jumbled in the resulting mess.

        I also think that by nature of being a big Triple-A shooter in an existing franchise, Binfinite could only go so far with its ideas before straying too far from being a “gamey” shooter murderfest that follows the existing formula of its predecessors.

        I don’t dislike BioShock Infinite. I had my fun with it while it lasted, but I am content to look at it as an action game without delving so deeply into it that it falls apart.

      • SlothfulCobra says:

        I was so frustrated with Bioshock Infinite. It starts out promising, but nothing ever came of anything, and it all ended nonsensically.

        And then reviewers everywhere were praising the hell out of it.

    • Steve C says:

      If something is a background issue to the story then it should’ve never been brought to the foreground unless it is to resolve it. In most cases it shouldn’t be in there at all. Chekhov’s gun applies.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Only the sith deal in absolutes.

        Basically,its a good guideline,but should not be zealosly obeyed.

        • MichaelGC says:

          Aye – for example, in a play or a book there tends not to be enough time (or space) to faff around with near-irrelevancies, whilst in games, where you might be playing for 10, 50, 100 hours, there certainly can be time and space to introduce elements solely for a little bit of flavour or humour or whatnot. They can really add to the experience whilst adding very little to the story, if done well.

          Also Sith.

          • Felblood says:

            Absolute though it be, whenever you ask someone to invest some of their memory and personal emotions in an aspect of your fictional world, they are going to expect you to pay that off, and not leave any dangling plot-threads.

            Larger works that are intended to be expanded continually, often by other teams, can get away with more, since you can assume there will be a tie-in product to deal with whatever happened to Character X and his personal quest, but anything as self-contained as a thematic cue needs to pay off.

            It would be like listening to classical music and then suddenly there’s 5 seconds of bike-horn noises, and then the music comes back. Something that discordant demands follow-up or explanation.

  11. AncientSpark says:

    Magic 2015 is flat out terrible. It’s probably the only Magic game where I actually just quit playing without completing because the implementation of the meta is just completely borked.

    The thing was that in previous Magic iterations, there were “premium” cards which you had to buy which were massively overpowered, but what made the game fundamentally fair was that the AI drew from the same set of decks/deck modifications that the player could draw from and they did not use premiums (with the exception of final bosses which were meant to be cheap). This meant that even without buying anything, the game was entirely beatable; even when you ran into bad matchups, you also unlocked additional decks throughout playing, so you could run a side deck very quickly, even if it didn’t have all the cards unlocked.

    In Magic 2015, the AI draws from entire decks filled with cards that the player doesn’t have access to. Which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the normal card-pool for players without premiums is utterly laughably terrible. Then, to further emphasize this, the game gives you one deck to start with. One. You can make more decks, of course, by grinding out the cards, but then this makes this even worse because whatever starter deck you choose probably contains cards you CANNOT grind for otherwise (such as Banisher Priest) AND you don’t unlock decks enmasse, but instead unlock cards into a general card pool. This means whatever side deck you build for isn’t just bad, it’s completely crippled into near uselessness.

    Then, to further add insult to injury, the cards that are unlocked come in the form of boosters, of which are also completely borked in terms of how they give you cards. For example, I opened a pack from the Ravnica plane and I got….5 Azorious Guildgates. All from the same pack (and you can only play 4 of any given card). Not to mention that, because each plane gives different cards into your cardpool, but you have to unlock planes in order, sometimes your unlock order for your cards is completely crazy. And it’s not really sequential either; cards from Zendikar, for example, are mostly bad, but Zendikar is one of the last planes you unlock.

    The progression in Magic 2015 makes no sense. It’s almost daring you to buy premium cards in order for you to get past the game without massive lucksacking. That combined with the removal of features (no new multiplayer mode or even two-headed giant, which was a staple, worsened auto-mana, decks that are way less interesting than previous years) and it’s pretty clear that Magic 2015 really didn’t have as much work put into it as previous years.

    • Ivan says:

      That’s really disappointing to hear actually, I’ve been recommending these games to friends who were interested in learning magic and I thought that it was really cool that 2015 could teach them how to build a deck from the ground up. It sounds more like they took the worst parts of magic and made them into a game though.

  12. TMTVL says:

    Uh, Shamus, the OP reads “33:30 Jarenth is also playing Magic 2013.”, didn’t he say Magic 2015 instead of 2013?

  13. The Rocketeer says:

    Rihanna Pratchett stood out back in the day for being a subpar nuisance even in the quasi-fanfiction morass of the Star Wars expanded universe. I’m fairly convinced that she’s come into a career in writing video games only because this is the only industry in which her efforts will be both relatively acceptable by the standards of third-person alien shooters and largely guided by the needs of the studio’s pre-existing demands and vision, because only for Rihanna Pratchett could that be called a mitigating factor.

  14. Isaac says:

    What did Josh like about the story of Mirror ‘s Edge?

  15. Paul Spooner says:

    You joke about spoiling the ending to Free Radical, but every time I bring it up (even on the Twentysided Forums) someone mentions that they haven’t read it yet. It’s a sleeper hit for sure.

    • Rick says:

      For example: me. I’ve been trying to force myself to play through System Shock 2 so I could read Free Radical. Well, so much for that. Seriously, that really wasn’t cool Krellen.

      • Paul Spooner says:

        Free Radical is a fan-fiction that branches from System Shock the original. It has nothing to do with System Shock 2.

      • krellen says:

        As a founding member of team “Spoilers won’t hurt you stop being a whiny bitch”, allow me to say “piss off”?

        But seriously, Free Radical barely has anything to do with the actual game System Shock; I have given the book to people who had never even heard of System Shock who enjoyed it just fine.

        Also, nothing I said constitutes an actual spoiler, and if you are seriously calling me out on this, we shall settle it with pistols at dawn.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          While I would agree that a story which offers enjoyment purely from the revelation of a small cardinal number of secret(s) is probably not worth the time it takes to experience, and thus Free Radical (and any other good story) is immune from being “spoiled” to the degree that it is valuable as a narrative, revealing that at the climax of the narrative Deck and Shodan unite in the mental, physical, emotional levels to such a degree that the term “climax” is entirely justified in every sense certainly would constitute an “actual spoiler” to the degree that such a term has any meaning. If saying “Let me have the ending to Free Radical. Let me hook up with Shodan, we’ll take over the world together!” isn’t an “actual spoiler”… what is?

          Sadly, “dawn” is about eight hours different between the two of us at the moment, so the pistols are not going to be very effective. Perhaps “ICBMs at dawn” will suffice?

          • krellen says:

            An actual spoiler is “Snape kills Dumbledore because Dumbledore told him to”. Note that it requires those extra five words to be a spoiler; “Snape kills Dumbledore” isn’t the whole story, and doesn’t actually spoil any surprises in the story. I mean, seriously, who was actually surprised that Snape was a former deatheater?

            Yeah, that’s a fucking spoiler. There is a statute of limitations on reasonable complaints about spoilers, and nearly a decade is well beyond that.

        • Rick says:

          I see, I was trying to be polite but apparently I’m a “whiny bitch” who should “piss off”? So much for being nice in the comments I guess.

          Also you’re wrong about spoilers. Spoilers won’t hurt you, in the same way that shellfish (probably) won’t hurt you. Other people however may get anaphylactic shock from eating them.

          For me, spoilers severely hurt any piece of media I consume. I always start wondering if this is the scene where the spoiler happens. Or if a piece of dialogue is leading up to, or foreshadowing it. I end up being taken out of the story and my enjoyment suffers for it. (This is in addition to the thrill of surprise that is obviously robbed.) I can no more control this than others can control their allergic reactions.

          • krellen says:

            “Not cool” isn’t polite, in my book. It’s a saying of my generation, and it means “that is pretty much the worst possible thing you can do”. Being “not cool” is a terrible thing.

            Just for a comparison, the 80s were so steeped in “cool culture” that nothing was allowed to be good; the greatest praise you could give something was that it “didn’t suck”.

            • Rick says:

              It doesn't matter what's in your book, and in case you haven't noticed, this isn't the 80s. You can't honestly say that “not cool” is unacceptable, but “whiny bitch” and “piss off” are, and maintain a shred of dignity. The 80s weren't some sort of backwards culture, and even if you were raised in one, that's no excuse.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                “Also you're wrong about spoilers. Spoilers won't hurt you, in the same way that shellfish (probably) won't hurt you. Other people however may get anaphylactic shock from eating them.”

                “It doesn't matter what's in your book, and in case you haven't noticed, this isn't the 80s. You can't honestly say that “not cool” is unacceptable, but “whiny bitch” and “piss off” are, and maintain a shred of dignity. The 80s weren't some sort of backwards culture, and even if you were raised in one, that's no excuse.”

                So what is it?Does it matter whats in his book or does it matter not?

                As for your thing about spoilers,you should really rewatch “spoilerific” movies,like memento,fight club,sixth sense,usual suspects,twelve monkeys,etc,just to see that knowing the twists does not ruin the story.They are good movies because they are good movies,not because they “hide the truth”.

            • Shamus says:

              Huh. I’m genuinely surprised at this. In defense of Rick, I’m betting he’s using the word as I’ve used it in the past, which is as a really mild chiding. Perhaps akin to “Not ideal” or “not very nice”.

              You usage makes perfect sense, especially given the way “cool” has evolved. I wonder if this is a regional difference, or just a random one.

              ALSO: I suggest this difference in the perception of “not cool” is at the root of this surprisingly angry exchange.

  16. Tizzy says:

    About soundtracks: the process is not so seamless as it would appear in movies either. Licensing is complicated because you have to go around to the many stakeholders and secure permission individually. Unfortunately, sometimes people just don’t bother because it’s too much work and they don’t expect a huge payoff.

    It’s more or less what happened to the Chasing Amy soundtrack. When the film was close to release and no deal had been inked, no one wanted to distribute it because it was seen as pointless unless directly supporting the movie release.

  17. Paul Spooner says:

    Go Don Music reference! My parents made me take piano lessons starting when I was very young, and I’m old enough that Don Music was still around. I actually pulled his “smack your whole upper body into the keys” trick (more than once) out of similar frustration.

    It’s more painful on your face than it looks in Sesame Street. Those keys are hard!

  18. Paul Spooner says:

    Aww, you guys pick on Chris so much. I LIKE ludonarrative dissonance! If anything, you should get a recording of Clint Hocking saying it (I looked, but couldn’t find one).

  19. Paul Spooner says:

    Speaking of multiple authors with differing voices… have you ever tried collaborative writing? I’ve participated in several message board stories, and it’s really difficult. Of course, it’s more difficult if you aren’t skilled (we were all in our teens at the time), so I’m wondering how difficult it would be for a professional writer. I know Barry and Pearson pulled it off in “Peter and the Starcatchers”, but even then, there were moments when one or the other’s style stuck out at an odd angle.

    • Naota says:

      I do collab writing all the time with my brother, and it usually turns out pretty great. Of course, we sort of have the advantage of having grown up reading the same books and watching the same series, so our styles of writing and storytelling are close enough to mesh well together. Still, all it really takes is good communication between the two authors, and a shared understanding that the integrity and consistency of the story as a whole comes before personal fancies.

      Even still, it usually works best if the bits of writing are segmented off logically; say, a chapter per person and each gets specific characters with different points of view who interact, rather than both parties trying to write the actions of the same character(s). When conversations or other scenes come up that involve “our” characters, usually we just talk over what’s going to happen or give lines for dialogue as needed. It’s basically not much different from a game of D&D with infinite freedom and more control over the tone – in fact I’ve always preferred it to tabletop roleplaying for this reason.

  20. Shamus: In regards to your desire for a true Star Trek video game, one might have come close, but all we have to go on is supposition. A game was written by veteran Trek writer DC Fontana called “Star Trek: The Secret of Vulcan Fury.” It was in the hands of Interplay right when they went belly-up and the assets, which included voice work by the entire original cast, have been “lost” since then.

    Here’s the mouthwatering trailer. Further showing that whoever was in charge of the game was going for that “Original Series” feel, check out this bit of footage starting a segment of the game that uses the same top-down-into-the-bridge technique that was used in the original Star Trek pilot.

    I’d love to see someone complete and release this game, just for historical purposes alone.

    • Dave B. says:

      I tried very hard to think of a Trek game I’ve played that actually feels like the show(s). The best I can come up with is Star Trek: Borg, an “interactive movie” (like a choose-your-own-adventure movie) that stands out mainly on the strength of its writing.

      I have to agree with Josh, Elite Force was fun, but shooters have never felt right for Star Trek. It should be noted, though, that Elite Force II made a strong effort to be more Trek-ish by putting in some dialog trees and a lot of technical puzzles. It sort of worked, but the game has many other problems.

      • To really capture Star Trek, you’d need a nice “big idea” concept along with an engaging (see what I did there?) way of integrating dialog into the game. ‘Trek was at its best when it was humans confronting the unknown and how that affected them, not when ships were blowing things up.

        It needs to be more of an RPG, and that’s still difficult to pull off and have it feel like the TV show.

        • Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force
          Star Trek: Elite Force II

          Not the best names but…
          You do get to explore the Voyager in the first and in the second the Enterprise (one of the Next Generation Ones).

          You basically play as a erm… redshirt, only a kickass one. Part of a Hazard Elite team.

          And as far as I recall you play the same character in both and there is even a romance sideplot in the second if my memory serves me well.

          You got emergencies, Klingons, invasions, Borg (I think), and more.
          Been a while since I played them.

          The games are a tad dated by now. But they do give a nice Star Trek feel.
          I guess in a way they are to the Star Trek world as the Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy games are to Star Wars.

          Interestingly enough, Raven Software made the game (they also made Jedi Outcast if I recall correctly).

          Here’s a review http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkV6w568oGA
          and of the second one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ww_rZQLV2c

          Hmm! Now that I think about it these two games could make for OK Spoiler Warning fodder. (you can bunny hop even)

      • Jan says:

        What about “Star Trek: 25th Anniversary”? The individual missions play a lot like (very short) episodes from the original series.

      • Let’s not forget the the original 1971 ASCII games. Played a few of those on a mainframe. It was a simple grid-based galaxy with Klingons to blow up and Starbases to dock in to refuel, but it led to a lot of other similar ‘Trek games (I liked one on the 386 called NuTrek. You had a “death ray” that was experimental and could turn half the crew into mutants).

        I also have a copy of this game, “The Rebel Universe”, but I’ve never been able to play it. Not that it looks like that’s a huge loss.

  21. Naota says:

    As Krellen mentions, at one point in Unrest you actually do get taken prisoner in a cutscene. I never even realized that we did that until just now.

    You’re the would-be antagonist being captured by the Big Damn Heroine, you have the option to fight, surrender, or die within the scene, and there’s also a way to avoid the scene entirely, but the point still stands. We’re playing with the big boys now!

    • lostclause says:

      See I disagree with Krellen there. It’s not ‘captured in a cutscene’ precisely because you have those options. Heck, if you’re smart you’ll avoid it entirely. On my first playthrough, I died in that scene because I wanted to see what some of options did.

      Actually, much closer to being captured in a cutscene is the end of the slum chapter because as soon as you start the conversation it whisks you away at the end regardless. I didn’t get to see the naga neighbourhood on my first playthrough cause of that :P

      • Naota says:

        It’s funny, because you can actually find the conversation where I bring this very scenario up with Arvind in the special edition production notes. Since it’s just a tiny bit of that one file, I don’t think it’d hurt to post it:

        Naota: Oh yeah, I also did a neat thing to the shady character in slum1.
        Naota: He starts whispering to you like a creepy dude as you walk by, but after that switches to interactable if you come back.
        Arvind: interesting
        Arvind: will check it out now
        Naota: That could work for Avinash as well, but it might be a little awkward story-wise.
        Naota: “Asha, come with me. I have food, safety, and lithographic evidence proving that my cart really is full of candy this time.”
        Naota: “Sorry, can I go see that dead body two blocks over first?”
        Naota: “Very well. I’ll wait here next to this madly gesticulating philosopher and the trained soldiers of my most immediate enemies.”

        • Have you considered releasing a special edition of the game where everyone’s dialog is changed to this amazingly sarcastic Archer-esque 4th-wall-demolishing style of speech?

          Because that would be awesome.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Now that makes me wonder,how moddable is unrest?

            • Not to mention have you considered licensing the engine for other RPGs? Will you use it again for another game?

              • Naota says:

                We’ll absolutely use it for another game. It’s probably going to get something of an upgrade for our next title (we already added fade effects that are going into Unrest next patch), but the base formats won’t change much and the style of game itself will be similar.

                I imagine the art will look somewhat different as well, as the Indian miniature style was tailored pretty much exclusively to Unrest’s setting.

            • Alexander The 1st says:

              Well I know there’s a mods tab in Unrest itself, so it seems natively supported…does anyone on the team/elsewhere have an introduction to developing/installing mods for Unrest?

            • Naota says:

              Pretty much infinitely moddable. If you open up the /res/ directory you can view all of the game scripts in .xml format, from animation sets to sprites to levels to conversation trees. Arvind has scripting documents written up to explain the engine functions, but I’m not sure if we’ve got them uploaded anywhere public yet. But basically, we’ve got our source files there to work as examples just like Valve does with its games.

        • lostclause says:

          You know what, I withdraw my objection cause when you put it like that it makes too much sense for it to be that way.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thats why you liberally use the save function.

        • Alexander The 1st says:

          Iron Man or Riot.

          Otherwise I’d end up with 80 GB of save files, and I don’t think anybody wants that.

          (While I did get to the Naga village in my playthrough, I had an unfinished quest I couldn’t finish because of that.)

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Playing it iron man from the start is silly to me.Especially in a game with lots of branching paths.But hey,its your time if you want to waste it.

            As for the saves,does unrest have cloud saving?I havent checked,because I like storing everything on my machine.But that would solve your storage issues,if you ever decided to make a whole AAA game worth of save files.

  22. abs1nth says:

    I feel that having an arrow that literally points you to where you are supposed to go is a very sloppy and limiting way to fix the problem of the player being lost or confused. Morrowind definitely asked too much of the player at times especially when you first started playing. The game loved just telling you go to X with sometimes no way of actively figuring out where X is. But it enabled them to make knowledge of the world and navigation such an integral part of the questing experience, something that Oblivion and Skyrim simply cannot do because the arrow makes it pointless.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, this problem goes pretty deep, though I think VR is going to help a lot here.
      One of the main problems is that a “sense of direction” is very difficult to maintain in games with mouse-look (or even worse, thumb-stick-look). This has plagued FPS games of all varieties, but is especially frustrating in open world games.

      In the real world, your vestibular system gives you short term orientation information, and your eyes help you in the long term. But both of these are largely defeated by mouselook, since you aren’t turning your head, and your brain isn’t used to tracking angles with your hand. In addition, it’s easier to move the hand sideways (pivoting at the elbow) than forward and backward (pivoting at the shoulder) which contributes to the classic “can’t get players to look up” problem. Because landmarks are the primary means of orientation, and you have to look up to see them, players often get turned around and lost even if they know where they want to be going.

      VR is going to help with both of these problems, because it will be much easier to “look up” and get your bearings, as well as keep track of where you are since you’ll be turning your head (which has fantastic mapping to spatial angle) to look around. Hopefully this will give us back more games that dispense with the mini-map, compass, and floating arrows and let us explore using our own sense of direction.

  23. EwgB says:

    Re the Chopin game: Setting aside all the other mentioned stereotyping in the game, bagpipes and Ireland are really not that wrong and indeed is a breaking of a stereotype (though I highly suspect it was absolutely unintentional on the part of the developers). Despite the fact that nowadays bagpipes are very strongly associated with Scotland, different forms of bagpipes were prevalent all around Europe, Middle East and Northern Africa (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagpipe), including of course Ireland, where they are used even today (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_pipes, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uilleann_Pipes).

    Loch Ness though – yeah, still very, very wrong.

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