Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Dragonborn Of All Trades
In his review, Drew Toal noted that Dawnguard, the new expansion pack for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, lets players add either vampire lord or vampire hunter to your character’s already sprawling résumé. Doyourealize likewise lamented the emergence of Skyrim’s “everyone can be everything” approach:
I don’t know if this a cliche (or even fanboy) argument, but the first Elder Scrolls game I played was Morrowind. I had to start it five times over the course of a couple years to finally get somewhere in the game, and thus, appreciate it fully. When I finally did begin to love it, I wandered for hours, completing quests and learning the ins and outs, before I practically stumbled onto the story and had an “Oh, that’s what I’m doing” moment. But I didn’t need that moment, at least not yet. The world gave my charismatic thief plenty to do without it.
And that’s what I was, a charismatic thief. I could talk anyone into doing anything for me, pickpocket them after I picked their lock, and sneak around their backs as they guarded entrances. I could not, however, run up to a group of enemies and expect to survive. I had to pick them off one by one.
Oblivion and Skyrim lost that, I think, and all the additions, meant to make the game more mainstream, took something away from the sense that the world existed with or without you there. Now, the world levels with you, and you can go to any store when your level is high enough, and get the most powerful armor. In Morrowind, I had to wait to almost the end game before I could pick up glass armor (which I stole right in front of the shopkeeper’s eyes, thank you very much). Now, anyone can pick a lock, persuade someone, and, as Drew points out, join any guild.
I’m all for “Invisible Walls”. If I’m not supposed to go there yet, put some creature in my way I have no chance of defeating until much later. If one house is feuding with another, don’t let me be the champion of both. Make me feel like my character’s different from everyone else’s.
It must be a tough call for developers. Surely they want to impart a unique experience on each player, but when you spend millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours crafting something, perhaps the desire to have that content seen wins over.
The Other Side
In an On The Level column this week, Drew Toal also broke down Dragon Age: Origins’ “The Darkspawn Chronicles,” an add-on to the original game that gives players control of the bad guys during the final battle and pits them against the characters they’ve grown to love. Caspiancomic provided some more games that include an interesting take on the “play as the bad guys” scenario:
Getting to see the other side of the story is always kind of a treat in these sorts of games. Off the top of my head, New Game Plus mode in Nier allows you (the player, not the characters) to understand the guttural gibberish of the Shades, the amorphous clouds of darkness that your party slaughters by the thousands throughout the game. Contrary to the opinion of the characters, the Shades are actually sentient and articulate, and your party inflicts some truly ghastly horrors against them without even realizing it. Chilling stuff.
Also, this wouldn’t be a comment from caspiancomic without mentioning Suikoden. In pretty much all of the games [in the Suikoden series], there’s right and wrong to be found on both sides of the story’s driving conflict (although less so as the series goes on), but Suikoden III really takes the cake in this category. (Spoilery, I guess? This game is like 10 years old) You play the game from the perspective of multiple characters, and if you fulfill the usual bonus objective of the series (recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny), you unlock an extra viewpoint—that of the game’s main antagonist. It isn’t a full replay of the game from the villain’s perspective, but you get a pretty good sense of who the villain is, why he made the decisions he did, and how he struggles with his choices.
Who’s This Jack Guy, Anyway?
Our interview series with icons of video game humor continued this week with Steve Heinrich, the head of the You Don’t Know Jack series. In the comments, Girard shared a great story about one of game’s unique reactions to player choices:
We should start a thread about moments that most surprised and delighted us in these games. I can think of two. In the very first game, I was playing through with a friend I had played with several times before. Suddenly, one question became a “fiber-optic field trip,” a type we’d never encountered previously, where the host calls someone at their home and they come up with a question. While the conceit was funny in itself, was made it memorable was that it came out of nowhere, and afterward we NEVER had a fiber-optic field trip again. It made us feel like we had encountered something truly unique and rare—perhaps even secret—in the game.
The other surprise is a bit funnier. One New Year’s Eve, when playing The Ride, a particularly vulgar friend typed their name as “Fuck.” The host chastised us for our aggressive coarseness, decided we weren’t mature enough to play the game, and the game auto-quitted. We chuckled, and double-clicked the icon to start it up again. We were met with a black screen, and the host telling us, “Nice try, but I’m sure you haven’t learned your lesson yet,” and the game immediately quit again. We had to wait a solid five minutes, then tried again, and we were allowed to play, with a gentle reminder to leave the “funny business” to the host.
These games were so well-designed in terms of surprising you and reacting to your choices and actions in often unexpected ways. Through ingenuity and charisma, they created an interactive space and character a million times more convincing than the most sophisticated AI scientists have managed to develop.
In a follow-up, Cliffy73 reasoned that this sensation of the game reacting to your choices is behind much of the Jack games’ appeal:
The genius of the game, as Jellyvision well knows, is all the effort put in to making it seem like you were dealing with real people, reacting like people would. I fell in love with the game when the software store I worked at in ’95 first got the demo, but I remember being astounded later, playing a later version, when it asked a question based on a wrong answer I’d given a few minutes earlier.
Perhaps not the greatest technical challenge, but a brilliant insight by the developers. Whenever my family and I played Trivial Pursuit, we always saw connections between answers from round to round and made fun of the people who didn’t pick up on them. Having the game do it suddenly humanized it in a way that you couldn’t ignore.
Elsewhere in the comments, AHyperkineticLagomorph chimed in on a conversation about games that use comedy to keep themselves from being too self-serious, providing some examples of titles that do it well:
I agree that games need to lighten up quite a bit. To me, taking your game, or anything really, with total dire, straight-faced seriousness is a total crime. Metal Gear Solid is the perfect example of a game that has a serious message but isn’t afraid to point out just how absolutely silly all that serious can be. From Solid Snake pointing out he has “unlimited ammo” in Sons Of Liberty to the Colonel telling you that Meryl’s codec frequency is on the back of the [game’s physical] box, a little meta humor can go a long way.
Another of my favorite “humor” games is No One Lives Forever. You have your required terrorist organization holding the world hostage, biological weapons, and loads of action scenes that you could take straight out of any action flick. It also has a psychedelic ’60s color scheme, guards in bright jumpsuits talking about everything from sex to criminal psychology, and laugh out loud jokes hidden in documents all throughout the world. Today the game has dated graphics and while the gameplay is still great, most of what it does has been done better elsewhere, but the tone, the humor still stands the test of time.
Over at Kotaku, editor Kate Cox commented that perhaps Facebook, the latest home of You Don’t Know Jack, is just the thing comedy games need to thrive.
In some ways, [Facebook is] the perfect venue for comedy games. Facebook is terrible for telling stories in games, but the ability to update on the fly keeps humor fresh and current. Old jokes can disappear before they get stale, and new ones can be added while they’re still funny. And being on Facebook, in the middle of your stream of everyone’s daily lives and up-to-the-minute updates, changes to stay on top of the day’s or week’s news feel organic and well-placed.
That does it for another week in The Gameological Society. Thanks for reading and, of course, commenting.