Monday, November 1, 2010

Buggy Games, Player Choice Is Addicting, and A Zombie Survivor Quiz  


Games: A long time ago, I was talking with a friend and commented that one of the things I liked best about being a console-only gamer was that you never had to worry about PC stuff. Things like the bad habit of PC developers releasing unfinished code with the thought that they would simply release a patch later on. Screw that, we were plug-and-play! (I was young and naive then... Give me a break!)

Once taking consoles online began to seem more and more like a reality, the confidence I had in developers began to weaken. All of a sudden, it didn't seem far-fetched that some unsavory developers would let problems slide if they knew their audience would be able to get a fix later. It wasn't a big issue at the time, but the shadow was looming.

Fast-forward to today. As much as I hate to say it, it seems as though that undesirable "patch it later" mentality is becoming fairly commonplace. Normal, even.

The reason I bring this up is that over the weekend, my wife lost about twelve hours of progress in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on 360. She did absolutely nothing wrong, but for some totally random reason her save corrupted and was unrecoverable. Complicating things, LoS uses an auto-save system with only one file, so my wife didn't even have a chance to load an alternate save -- the whole thing went kaput, and all of the incredibly precious time she devoted during our son’s naps and staying up late was for nothing.

If I had known that there was a save issue beforehand, I never would have let her play it. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to check. If I did, I would've seen that plenty of players have reported similar problems on both the PS3 and 360 versions. The PS3 just received a patch allegedly correcting this problem, but 360 players have to take their chances since Konami is still working on a fix for them.

Too bad, so sad.

In the days before you plugged an ethernet cable in the back of your console, letting a glitch of this nature slip through QA would have been a public relations disaster on an epic scale, and would have incurred the wrath of the entire gaming community. At Konami, someone’s head would have had to roll. Apologies would have been publicly made. Free stuff would have been sent out as a way of saying sorry. These days, it's barely a blip on anyone's radar -- and of those that do notice, half of them don't seem to care.

I find it incredibly sad that it's come to this, but it appears as though this is the current reality. Without the ability to wave a magic wand and grant each game an extra 200 staffers for bug testing, I guess the best thing to do is change the way I organize my collection: one stack for “play it now”, one stack for “play it later”, and one stack for “after the patch.”


Games: I officially started Red Dead Redemption yesterday. It's one of the last "big" games I need to get to before the end of the year, so I figured I had best get to it. I'm still quite early in the adventure, but I have to say that one of the things that struck me almost immediately was a conscious realization that my tastes have changed.

Stepping into the boots of John Marston, I was keenly aware that during the plentiful cut scenes and numerous conversations, I was not being presented with any choices in dialogue. While having a set story in console games has been the rule for quite some time, more and more titles are bucking that trend, and for the better.

Mass Effect was certainly a very scripted experience, yet offered players a hand in how Commander Shepard conducted herself and in the pivotal choices that were made. Oblivion and Fallout 3 are perfect examples of combining open-world gameplay with player choice for a deeper level of actual role-playing. Hell, even Alpha Protocol presented a number of juicy options to players, and that was essentially a third-person action game. There are a number of other examples, but the point is that it feels hard for me to be satisfied with a one-size-fits-all experience; to go back to a character that I don't appear to have any control over.

To be clear, I don't think this is as much of a problem in tightly-focused action games. While I would certainly welcome having more choice, knowing that it won't happen isn't going to stop me from playing Gears of War 3 or others of its ilk. I think the problem for me lies in the fact that Red Dead is a wide-open experience that encourages exploration and sidequesting, and my brain is wanting more opportunity to personalize my character and craft my own experience.

While there certainly seems to be some choice in the way I conduct myself through gameplay -- do I save the prostitute from her attacker? Do I let the innocent rancher be shot? -- so far, I haven't seen any of these choices affect the cutscenes, the plot, or which missions I’m able to partake in. I'm guessing that if I spent all my time murdering shopkeepers and skinning friendly dogs, Bonnie McFarlane would treat me exactly the same as she does when I'm herding her cattle or protecting her property. If that's true, then I find that kind of disappointing.

Like I said, it's still early days yet. I could be totally mistaken and there could be more depth of the kind I crave later on... but I'm suspecting that won't prove to be the case. At the moment I'm pressing on and seeing what Rockstar's cooked up, but in all honesty, I'm not feeling very engaged or immersed. After having a taste of the freedoms (illusory or not) that other titles have offered, it's interesting to see that a title with such stellar production values and breadth of content has much less of an effect on me than it would have in the past.

I guess, sometimes, you really can't go home again.


TV: If you’re reading this blog, then I'm willing to bet that you’ve either watched the premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC, or will watch it quite soon. Haven’t seen it myself yet, but that will be rectified imminently…

Anyway, earlier in the day, I saw a link to a fun little game promoting the show. It's hardly scientific, but it was good for a chuckle...CLICK HERE to take the test, and find out exactly what kind of survivor you would be. Me? I’m a Born Leader. The wife? She’s a Loyal Sidekick. Oddly enough, I can’t argue with those results.

If you take the quiz, drop me a line and let me know what sort of survivor you are. That is, if you're a survivor at all...


What next?

You can also bookmark this post using your favorite bookmarking service:

Related Posts by Categories

9 comments: to “ Buggy Games, Player Choice Is Addicting, and A Zombie Survivor Quiz


    Funny you should mention the dialogue tree thing. I'm currently playing Mass Effect (I never got around to it when it was out, save for about an hour of playtime...WoW addiction was strong back then) and I find Bioware's dialogue trees really fucking annoying.

    Don't get me wrong -- if there's a reason for me to have input in the dialogue choices then I'm cool with it. And there are times where there's a reason in Mass Effect. However, after screwing around with the system (saving, reloading and trying other options) I've found a lot of the choices lead to the exact same responses. I don't really need to sit there with the illusion of choice -- if I don't have any real say in the choice, just tell me the story and be done with it.

    This isn't to say I don't like Mass Effect or being able to choose my dialogue -- but I think there's a tendency in these games to go way overboard with it.

    Hm...I smell a podcast topic.


    Welcome to Rockstar's half-assed notion of "role-playing". Rockstar doesn't make worlds. They make theme parks in which the story missions are "rides". It's a nice world visually, and some of simulation aspects are interesting, but leveraging any of that to encourage role-playing? Please... this is Rockstar we're talking about.

    I dunno if you read it, but I wrote about the narrative/world disconnect in RDR if you're interested:

    On The Walking Dead: I saw the first episode and as a reader of the comic I have to say it was quite good. It's not a slavish adaptation, but Darabont proves he really understands the comic. It's about time someone did a good, serious zombie story, in which zombies are people too and full of sadness. I am sick of this "Hey kids! It's zombies!" funny-zombie bullshit.


    Speaking of good television, have you seen BBC's new show "Sherlock"? It's airing on PBS in the states. It's by the same producer/writer who masterminded the Doctor Who reboot a few years back, and I have to say... it's extremely fucking good. The first episode is astonishingly good. The second is not as good but still good. I highly recommend it if you get the chance (but try to see the first episode first if you can... it really kicks things off well).


    Wow, I can't believe I just read this. "all of the incredibly precious time she devoted during our son’s naps and staying up late was for nothing."

    Don't get me wrong, corrupted save files absolutely sucks. It happened to me in PSone days with a third-party memory card, losing over 70 hours of FFVII and MGS.

    But, even if she did finish the game (or I finished FFVII), it was still "for nothing". Do we really play hours upon hours because we want to see a 2 minute CGI wrap-up scene? Or do we really play hours upon hours because we enjoy what we're doing? If time is so precious, and the whole point of it is to see the end-credits or conclusion, then why even play in the first place? Shouldn't the enjoyment stem from the act of playing, not the task of completing?


    RED DEAD is ultimately a disappointment. What a beautiful world. What nice dialog. What an utter bore after the first few missions.

    While we and Rockstar pretend that GTA is 'realistic' now, we know deep down that it's pure fantasy - and any attempts at a 'serious' story are laughable. Much so, with RDR. It's so bloated. You also become a murder machine. It's GTA with a facelift, and is NOT the Old West.

    Give me a Western where every bullet fired is a MONUMENTAL decision, and I'll bite.

    Didn't Billy the Kid ONLY murder 20 people?... My John Marsten has killed hundreds.



    Matthew: Agreed 110%. Also, Sherlock is on my list, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Still going through Dr. Who, and now that Walking Dead is on, that’s my new obsession.

    Doug: Dude. Come on, you know what I mean. Of course there's enjoyment in the actual playing of the game, but the wife’s game time is limited to when the baby is taking a nap, or when he's put to bed. Consequently, she gets a fraction of the free time she used to, so naturally she wants that to be well-spent. The game wasn't that great to start with (her words, not mine) so it was kind of a one-two punch that not only did she spend that time on a game she only halfway liked, she did not get the choice to continue as she saw fit. Anyway, you said yourself that you know what it's like to lose a bunch of data, so combine that feeling with the fact that you only get an hour (two, tops) to play a day and then you're in the ballpark. Her free time *is* incredibly precious, and it's goddamn rotten that Konami couldn't put out a game bug-free enough to be a no-regret experience.

    Brandon: Agreed. I'm basically playing it just to see if it gets any better at this point, but the game has already lost me in terms of characterization and story engagement. It starts off poorly and only gets worse. I've heard plenty of people say that the ending is amazing, but at this point I'm not really too keen on putting fifteen or twenty hours into mediocrity just for a "really cool ending." We'll see what happens.


    I'm a natural survivor too. Yes!

    Agreed about Red Dead, though not for the reasons you describe. Marston is a developed prescribed character and being able to play him out of character would ultimately serve to undermine the narrative.

    That being said, you can undermine it in a myriad of other ways. I know the first thing Lillian and I did was walk into people, tripping them as they fell into fires and whatnot. Inexplicably, they'd get up with no reaction whatsoever. Knocking Bonnie over in particular is hilarious. Also, I knocked a prostitute into my bedroom, hogtied her, then slit her throat. Sometimes people would automatically know of my misdeeds as soon as I did them, even if I was behind closed doors. Other times my serial killer instincts went off without a hitch. Fun, narrative breaking stuff!

    Really though, my problem with RDR is that it's just plain boring. Just like GTA, riding around and shooting stuff aren't fun and no amount of great setting or atmosphere can make me put up with such dull gameplay for 20+ hours. I put about 15 hours in, heard I still had awhile to go, then bailed. Maybe I'll come back in bits and spurts as I too hear amazing things about the third act, but after awhile it just felt like work.

    I'm still curious about the Undead Nightmare DLC. Since it greatly changes the action dynamic from shoddy cover shooter to open-world zombie game it might have a chance. I hear great things, but that's been the case with every Rockstar game and I've been hugely disappointed every single time.


    Hey Jeff!

    >>>Agreed about Red Dead, though not for the reasons you describe.

    Since I haven't completed the game, I can't say with certainty either way, though I do have some strong suspicions. Basically, trying to tell one particular story of one particular character one particular way doesn't really work in open-world games for me, since the very nature of that style of design implies that the player has freedom and choice. At the very least, the actions the player is asked to take must conceptually sync up with the overall mission.

    For example, at this point in the game, I feel absolutely no motivation or impetus to complete Marston’s tasks. I often don't even remember what he's supposed to be doing, or why he's there. Apparently his wife and son are being held hostage or something like that? I really couldn't tell, since I'm too busy participating in a snake oil show or herding cattle somewhere.

    It's not that I dislike what I'm doing necessarily, but it makes no narrative sense for this man of action to have such a pressing matter to take care of, and then act like an errand boy for everyone he comes across. He doesn't even have dialogue choices that would at least help ameliorate the artificiality of this setup.

    Honestly, I think a much better way to tell a particular story like this one is to structure the game in a different genre entirely; something where each action the player performs builds tension and advances towards the narrative arc and ending that the developers have in mind. From a storytelling standpoint, being able to go anywhere and partake of a wide variety of activities at leisure tremendously undercuts the potential impact of any given story.

    The whole thing just doesn't sit right with me.

    There may indeed be a fantastic ending to this story, but the way Rockstar is getting there is (to me, anyway) a failure, and a lazy design that falls back on their standard boilerplate. RDR is just like anything else they've turned out since GTA3, just with better graphics and higher production levels.

    >>>Really though, my problem with RDR is that it's just plain boring.
    Yeah, I'm having severe difficulty staying engaged with the game. The story isn't strong enough to keep me interested, and the gameplay is the same-old same-old except with a Western setting.

    It's beautiful, there's obviously been tons of work put into the details, and I can admire what's been done here from a technical standpoint, but its head is just in the wrong place for me and I often find myself mentally wandering when I'm playing it.

    Also, the amount of horse travel is a big turnoff. I'm sorry, but simply getting from point A to point B is not exciting or engaging gameplay. Try again, Rockstar.

    >>>I'm still curious about the Undead Nightmare DLC. Since it greatly changes the action dynamic from shoddy cover shooter to open-world zombie game it might have a chance. I hear great things, but that's been the case with every Rockstar game and I've been hugely disappointed every single time.

    Frankly speaking, I think I'm going to jump straight into Undead and see if that's any good. I initially held off since I wasn't familiar with the game's mechanics, but after putting some hours into the game proper, I think I can probably hold my own.

    I really doubt that I'm going to finish RDR anytime soon, if ever, but I'm always up for a good zombie mission. If that's even halfway decent, I'll probably retire the disc after putting all those undead back down.


    That blows about Lords of Shadow... I've just finished it and the worst thing is that the game probably picks up after where your wife lost her save file.

    Re: RDR, I'm by no means its biggest fan but I think it's a bit harsh to throw the 'choice card' at it. Sure, that's your tastes, but plenty of games are better for not being choice-driven. Like Jeff says, RDR has its faults outside of anything to do with a choice-driven narrative. Personally, I'm fine with games being choice-driven or completely choice-less. What bugs me, I guess - and maybe this is what you're getting at - is when a game falls somewhere down the middle.