Monday, November 24, 2008

Dead Space & Persona 4  

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Working on a new writing project right now, so I'm actually procrastinating by posting this… but since I'm here, what the hey?
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Games: Started Dead Space tonight and just played for a little bit, maybe a hair over an hour or so. Gotta say, I'm not at all impressed.
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Granted, I'm not very far so I'm not going to get out the gas can and torch just yet, but I have a very strong suspicion that the gameplay I went through in the first hour is going to be washed, rinsed and repeated until the end of the game. Go here, get X item, go back, and kill gross-looking aliens in every hallway on the trip.
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The graphics are beautiful and I really like the way the developers implemented a few things like the holograms taking the place of menu screens, and the way you can instantly get back on the correct path when lost by clicking the R stick, but there's a lot here that's janky.

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For example, why do the aliens always drop money or ammunition? Going further, why do I need to worry about either? If we're so advanced in Dead Space’s reality, can’t we come up with guns that don't run out of ammunition every five minutes? And who in the world thought implementing a money/store system was a good fit for this title? You're supposed to be playing the role of a space engineer in a giant ship taken over by aliens… wouldn’t it make a little more sense to simply find the items or craft them yourself? I mean, a store? Really?!?
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Other things are giving me a warning sign as well, like the fact that the main character is a silent protagonist. To any developer out there who still thinks this is a good idea: IT’S NOT. What it is, is silly, completely unbelievable, and ridiculous. The story doesn't seem to be any great shakes, either, and there are tons of cliché sci-fi elements are on display… and I'm still at the very beginning of the game.
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I'm not throwing in the towel yet, but I have to say that the game isn’t getting off to the greatest start.
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Games: In a completely shameless bit of PR, can you guess what upcoming game I'm completely geeked over?
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Shipping 12/9, Persona 4 will come with a soundtrack CD, and people who pre-order will receive an art book by my second favorite artist in the series, Shigenori Soejima. (Sorry Shig… you do indeed rock, but Kaneko’s the man.) If you have even the faintest interest in quality RPGs, this is your wake-up call to not miss out.
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9 comments: to “ Dead Space & Persona 4

  • Hargrada

     

    I finished Dead Space, and it's pretty much Resident Evil 4 on a spaceship. There was just something satisfying to the combat that kept me going long after the story stopped making sense. Not the completely amazing experience everyone seems to saying it is, but I still had a good time (it helps that I was able to get it for $10 new).

    I've read your complaints on the silent protagonist thing before and I just don't really see the problem with it. There are times where it works and times where it doesn't, like every other story/game convention developers use.


  •  

    Luckily, I'm only renting. If you got it for $10, that's definitely a good deal… I'd be royally pissed off I paid 60 bucks for this.

    Now that I'm near chapter 6 is starting to pick up a little bit, but wow… the first four chapters or so were complete throwaways and all that content could have been condensed into about an hour, IMO.

    About the silent protagonist thing, I really can't think of a single example where I felt like that particular choice was as good or better than a character having dialogue.

    I don't necessarily need to have it delivered through spoken audio (although it's nice) but something as simple as having a few text responses to choose from when someone's talking to you can really go a long way towards informing a player what kind of character they’re in control of.

    I mean, I'm racking my brain here, and I can't think of *any* game where that was the best choice to make.

    If you can come up with a good example where the silent protag was really the optimal way to go, I'll give you major props in the next post. = )

  • Hargrada

     

    I get the majority of my PS3 games for under $20 (the main reason I went with the PS3 this gen), so I may end up being a bit more forgiving when it comes to judging them. It also helps me keep up with current releases without resorting to the used game markets or rentals. Any and every edge is needed to stay in this expensive hobby we love so much.

    Dead Space in general is much longer in comparison with the story they tell. It all begins to feel like padding, and only really picks up steam during the last half of the game. The story also doesn't seem completely thought out, and I don't trust a sequel will answer all of my questions with any real satisfaction. What did win me over is another playthru on the impossible difficulty. Everything takes and gives way more damage, which makes the combat and tension much more satisfying. It felt, to me at least, like a tighter experience when 2 direct hits can kill you.

    Off the top of my head, i'd say the Kings Field games would lose something if the character could talk or responded to conversations. I'm also confused by this statement: "informing a player what kind of character they’re in control of." Do you feel like games need to establish your character for you, or can a game leave that entirely up to the player through gameplay/actions/atmosphere/setting? Or am I not understanding something?

  • Tony

     

    I don't necessarily mind a silent protagonist (in the case of the Gothic series I've often wished for one), but I'd definitely agree that more games could benefit from RPG-style conversations, even if all roads necessarily still lead to Rome.

    Dialogue just seems to keep me involved/invested, more so than (for example) the scripted NPC sleight of hand in HL2, impressive as that was. If they could marry that intense NPC focus on Gordon with a few text conversations, voiced or otherwise- so much attention would be lavished on the player that it would take an effort to not feel incredibly vital to the story.

    I'm super excited for P4. Hopefully I put my Amazon order in early enough to score the art book. I've still got plenty of P3 left (135 hours and I've yet to try the Answer), but the pre-order bonus combined with a slight discount was just too much to resist.


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    Does the protagonist from Persona 3 count as silent?....


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    >>informing a player what kind of character they’re in control of." Do you feel like games need to establish your character for you, or can a game leave that entirely up to the player through gameplay/actions/atmosphere/setting?

    I definitely feel like developers have a responsibility to establish the characters personality, their traits, and so on, to give the player something to be able to identify and relate to (or even oppose).

    I get that the general idea of having a S.P. is that it’s left “blank” so that the player inserts their own personality, but that concept has never, ever worked for me. There have been dozens of times where the silent main character sits there, and I'm dying to say something in reply, or I completely disagree with what's going on, and I don't have even a simple text dialog option to choose.

    Not to mention, it's pretty absurd when (like in HL2, good example there, Tony) everybody in the game speaks directly to Gordon and he never utters a peep. I mean, what sense does that make? There was massive potential to establish him as a true character, but he ends up being a cipher known more for his crowbar than for his wit or personality.

    I think establishing personality and character is also important, because I don't really see “myself” as being the character I'm playing, with the sole exception of Fallout 3… in that game, I definitely was able to put myself in the main character's role, although I guess the point is moot since you had plenty of dialogue options to choose. But, in any other game, I don't feel like I'm the main character so I want that character to be more than just an avatar that I'm moving from point a to point B. how are they feeling? What are they thinking? It really doesn't take much to give the character enough personality to leave a lasting impression.

    So, King’s Field… I think that's a really good answer since like 99% of the game is the character wandering around the island without really interacting with anyone, but I still have to say that even a little bit of dialogue when you do find the three inhabitants here and there would have only made it better.

    I can remember one specific example (KF: Ancient City on PS2, IIRC) when you find a person locked away behind a big wooden gate, and it's obvious that some cannibalism has been going on… you can only listen to what they're saying, but you can't really ask questions or anything like that.

    I'm only going to give you half credit for that, but I will say that I think there isn't a better answer than King’s Field, even though I still think KF would have benefited. You’re a sharp one, Hargrada. ; )

    And Brandon, the character in P3 doesn’t count. Although there’s no vocalized dialogue, there are tons of dialog choices over the course of the game… you’re constantly choosing what to say. I wouldn’t call that character a S.P.

    Oh, and Tony… good call on that pre-order. I'm about 25 hours into Persona 4 right now, and if you liked P3, P4 is only better. = )

  • Hargrada

     

    >>I definitely feel like developers have a responsibility to establish the characters personality, their traits, and so on, to give the player something to be able to identify and relate to (or even oppose).

    I feel this isn't always required by developers, or at least shouldn't be a hard and fast rule. The Silent P doesn't have to be my personality or an avatar for me to "be in the game," but can instead be a block of clay that I can mold in whatever way I see fit. Portal went this route, and I feel it was a complete success by allowing me to formulate my own ideas about who Chell is and what she was doing in that situation. Did I love that companion cube, or was it just another block to use? Did I believe the things GLaDOS was telling me? The game forced me to come up with my own ideas on nearly everything about both characters by not providing any reliable info (personality, traits, history, etc).

    >>But, in any other game, I don't feel like I'm the main character so I want that character to be more than just an avatar that I'm moving from point a to point B. how are they feeling? What are they thinking? It really doesn't take much to give the character enough personality to leave a lasting impression.

    But do those questions have to be answered by the developer? I can come up with thousands of answers to them and choose whichever one I see fit to graft onto my main character. Not that I want to do that with every game, but the option to do so can (and should) still be a part of the games I decide to play. A Silent P can be one available avenue (among many) for that outcome.

    >>So, King’s Field… I think that's a really good answer since like 99% of the game is the character wandering around the island without really interacting with anyone, but I still have to say that even a little bit of dialogue when you do find the three inhabitants here and there would have only made it better.

    No way. Giving the main character a voice would have lessened/dulled the overbearing atmosphere of isolation and decay that covers every entry in the series (imo). Letting the people you meet talk at you without giving any way to respond lets that atmosphere cultivate while still allowing the world to be (sparsely) populated.

    Oh, and happy thanksgiving.


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    >>I feel this isn't always required by developers, or at least shouldn't be a hard and fast rule.

    Okay, maybe ‘responsibility’ wasn't the right word, but I think it's pretty much a given (to me, anyway) that the SP approach isn't anywhere near as convincing or powerful as a protagonist which has a voice, even a minimal one (except in RARE cases.. like, leprechaun riding a unicorn going to meet bigfoot for lunch rare).

    >>The Silent P doesn't have to be my personality or an avatar for me to "be in the game," but can instead be a block of clay that I can mold in whatever way I see fit.

    Yeah, I know that's really the theory, but from my own personal experience, I've never found that it worked… they always end up feeling like voids where another characters should be. It never quite comes together, because it doesn't really make sense to let a player mold that character or “fill it in” on their own, because it's inevitable that the character has to do exactly what the developers have already planned.

    I mean, if that's the case and the character is going to go along with events anyway, then why not have text or dialogue there? I mean, it makes sense to leave the dialogue out if you (the player) can actually make significant choices and chart the course of gameplay, but 99% of the time it’s a spiky-haired JRPG character standing in a room while every member in the party discusses what the next move is.

    >>Portal went this route, and I feel it was a complete success by allowing me to formulate my own ideas about who Chell is and what she was doing in that situation. Did I love that companion cube, or was it just another block to use? Did I believe the things GLaDOS was telling me? The game forced me to come up with my own ideas on nearly everything about both characters by not providing any reliable info (personality, traits, history, etc).

    It's very interesting that you brought Portal up, because in that particular case I wasn't even aware that the player's character actually WAS a character. I could not even have told you what that person's name was, and I assumed that Valve was using the SP approach as a way of getting ME the player to think that *I* was the person escaping from the facility. From that perspective, I thought it worked. i remember reading a review or something after I had finished the game and seeing some things mentioned about “the character” and I was like... WTF? What character? So, I guess in a way you actually prove me wrong since I would say that Portal is one game where the SP approach was the correct one since the vast majority of the game is lonely, and the malfunctioning AI really doesn’t lend itself towards having a discussion.

    >>But do those questions have to be answered by the developer? I can come up with thousands of answers to them and choose whichever one I see fit to graft onto my main character. Not that I want to do that with every game, but the option to do so can (and should) still be a part of the games I decide to play. A Silent P can be one available avenue (among many) for that outcome.

    In thinking about this further, I think my big dislike of the SP approach mostly stems from situations where the player's avatar actually has to interact with other characters, RPGs being the biggest offenders. I just can't get over the fact that dozens of people speak to the main characters over the course of the game, and you don't ever say anything… although I don't think that developers have to completely fill in all the blanks, in such a case, I think the approach taken in Fallout (optimal example) or Mass Effect or one of those types is really the best one since the player is given quite a bit of freedom to choose what they want to, yet the character (in-game) is still perceived to be interacting with people in the game world. In effect, having those choices doesn't break me out of my sense of immersion.

    >>So, King’s Field… I think that's a really good answer since like 99% of the game is the character wandering around the island without really interacting with anyone, but I still have to say that even a little bit of dialogue when you do find the three inhabitants here and there would have only made it better.

    >>No way. Giving the main character a voice would have lessened/dulled the overbearing atmosphere of isolation and decay that covers every entry in the series (imo). Letting the people you meet talk at you without giving any way to respond lets that atmosphere cultivate while still allowing the world to be (sparsely) populated.


    Ha. I definitely am not rooting for a constant voiceover to fill in the silence in a game like KF. The atmosphere and isolation are definitely part of the experience, and I wouldn't want to take that away, yet at the same time, there are a small handful of encounters over the course of the entire adventure, and in those very small circumstances, I think it would be appropriate to at least have some small bits of dialogue to choose from. If nothing else, I think he would have served to amplify the loneliness that you feel when you leave those people behind and go back into the wilds. We can agree to disagree on this one, though.

    Oh, and happy thanksgiving.

    Yeah, you too. = )

  • Hargrada

     

    I guess I just naturally start filling in the blanks of a character when i'm not given any hard info. If someone starts to speak to me, I just make up my reply in my head and it doesn't bother me that they can't/won't hear it. In no way am I ever just a passive gamer, i'll engage with what's given (or not given) to me in multiple ways. Some of my favorite games ever have Silent P's, so i'm inclined to be much more accepting of the trope.
    (You'd be surprised at how much food a leprechaun eats during a meal)

    >>It never quite comes together, because it doesn't really make sense to let a player mold that character or “fill it in” on their own, because it's inevitable that the character has to do exactly what the developers have already planned.

    On the flip side, I can't count the number of times where a character has annoyed me to the point where I wished he/she was a Silent P. Or when the choices/dialogue options in no way represent the way i'd like to play (some examples of both include Lufia 2, Final Fantasy 8 & 10, Oblivion). What ends up happening is I grudgingly conform to the game or I stop playing completely. Both are tough acts to pull off competently, and the fact that we don't usually see the Silent P that often isn't because the other way is inherently better (imo), it's just that way is usually easier.