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Puncherson_64LadyBrain_64

Note: Minor spoilers for The Last of Us

Butch:

Played a little last night. So right now, I’m standing under a water tower in Lincoln.

Which is what I’m gonna rant about. If you’re going to pick a real place, like, say, Lincoln (a place I’ve been through plenty of times), and you are going to introduce said place with a very accurate sign (the entering town signs they have around here, very well rendered), then GET IT RIGHT! Here’s the sign, here’s the foliage, here’s the geography (they say they’re going northeast from Boston to find the guy, that’s correct), and yet I’M UNDER A WATERTOWER! There are no watertowers, or sheds, or barbed wire in LINCOLN! After the zombie mold apocalypse, you STILL won’t be able to get three beds for less than 800K in Lincoln! There will still be a waiting list for the best landscapers!

So why pick it? If you’re going to make a subset of your audience (that is, the subset that will recognize a place) go “Oh my God, it’s THERE? I drive past there on my way to work!” why not either a) get it right or, if it doesn’t fit your needs, b) pick another place? I get it, I get it. That tower had to be there to show you where to go. The fence had to be there for gameplay, yadda yadda yadda. But it didn’t have to be Lincoln, did it? It could have been Arlington. It could have been a nameless town, or a town with a fake name.

If you’re going to start with really accurate details of a real place, follow through. It’s either realistic or it ain’t.

Especially if your details (the “entering Lincoln” sign) is something only locals are going to get anyway! That sign means nothing to someone from Alabama. It’s aimed at people from the Boston area. Follow through.

Feminina:

I agree with you. I felt the same way about the T signs–why go so far, and then flub the fine detail?

I could forgive barbed wire fences, honestly, because maybe the survivors put them up in the past 20 years in a vain attempt to keep out the spore-zombies (barbed wire became all the rage among the best landscapers!), but the water tower is pretty hard to take. Who’s building water towers during the apocalypse?

I do always wonder about this kind of decision, though. If you’re going to use a real place…be realistic! Otherwise, just make up a place, it’s no big deal. Because listen, we’ll complain less about “there’s no town called Mayville northeast of Boston!” than “I know Lincoln, Lincoln is 3 exits down 95 from me, and that, sir, is no Lincoln Massachusetts.”

We understand making stuff up about a large general region. It’s fiction. We’re less forgiving of making stuff up about a very specific region. We could go there and check, you know.

At least AC3 had the excuse that everything outside of Boston was woods at the time. Hard to argue about whether or not that patch of trees was exactly there on that hill in 1760.

Butch:

Lincoln’s too expensive to fix. I mean, how many manicured rolling lawns can you put in a game? That and where would the baddies hide on such a lush landscape?

I mean, [the Lincoln water tower] was obviously a “go here” game convention. “I’m in the woods! Where to? Ah! There.” But a water tower? Here? If you know about the signs, you know there are no water towers here. Use something else tall.

I remember watching this old silly cop show that took place in Boston. There was a car chase through Methuen, which is, of course, real. And yet, the actors kept referring to it as “METH you en.” At least take the time to learn how to pronounce it, or pick something like Belmont that’s obvious.

Or don’t pick a town name at all! Just say “Look, a shed north of Boston.” No one cares. It’s like they’re trying to be cute “look! Signage!” and that’s it.

I have more problems with this than I do with something so obviously stylized like Fallout 3. Fallout 3 took place in Washington, DC. It had the mall, with everything in the right relative place, but it was nowhere close to scale, the detail was non existent, it had that fallout color scheme, etc. It wasn’t striving for accuracy, so much as using something for metaphor. I feel like it’s better to use a real place and not come close (or try to come close) to accurate than it is to get some of it just right then pooch.

[Later, after more playing]

Now I’m getting annoyed. I’m sure a whole lot of good story stuff happened, but I didn’t notice because I spent the whole time being annoyed at how unLincolnlike it was. Like really annoyed. “A DINER! A LIQUOR STORE! A SEEDY PIZZA PLACE! And it’s Lincoln SUDBURY high school, dammit” I was so outraged I totally missed any type of theme that may have been around anywhere.

The LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL EAGLES? It’s the Lincoln Sudbury WARRIORS! I’m not there yet, but the fact that “Lincoln High School” (there is no such thing) is on Bill’s map makes me nervous.

And none of this is copyrighted! “Lincoln Sudbury High School” is not copyrighted. You could change the logo or something, but you wouldn’t have to pay anything to anyone.

Or even if you used fake businesses or something, you could pick a town that at least sorta resembled the feeling of what you wanted. And you could do this with GOOGLE!

I certainly hope I get somewhere else soon. This is distracting.

Feminina:

Turns out Lincoln went totally to hell in the years right before the apocalypse. All the cool people went to Sudbury and took their half of the high school with them, leaving only pathetic rejects who built water towers and opened seedy diners, pizza parlors, and liquor stores all over the place.

So watch out, because when that happens, you’ll know the end is near. “OMG, a diner? In LINCOLN?! Mrs. McP, gather the children! It’s time to flee to the backwoods of Quebec and take our chances with the bears. Practice your French, everyone!”

It is weird, though, because it’s not as though there aren’t towns in the area where you can find all of those things.

But they couldn’t be bothered to call someone in the Lincoln area and say “we’re looking for a kind of shabby-ish downtown area where you might find a diner and a pizza parlor and a liquor store. Does that sound more like Lincoln, or, say, some town that’s not Lincoln?”

Butch:

Well, we practice anyway.

But your theory is kaput. Right there, on the evacuation notice: Must evacuate by 10-20-13. 2013. Already happened.

I think they just whipped out a map, said, “well, Bill’s town is about this distance this way and….. Lincoln!” And then they Googled it. Which would have led them here: http://www.lincolntown.org/ And, if you click that, there’s the “entering Lincoln” sign! Right there! Which is the detail they got right! So they did that, then gave up.

Feminina:

I forgot about the specific dates–another thing that always strikes me as weird when games/movies/whatever do it. Why include a specific detail that’s going to date your media so soon after release? Sure, when it first comes out it will seem very urgent and topical, but almost immediately afterwards? Old news that didn’t happen.

Unless aspects of your story are definitely set in a definite year for a definite story purpose…just leave it vague! It only pulls people out of the story otherwise. Bad for immersion.

Butch:

Totally agree. It’s basically saying “this is meant to be used NOW.” There’s also no excuse to do that in a remaster. Ok, when the game came out in July 2013, having it hit in October 2013 was kinda creepy. But if you release in 2014, change the damn detail.

Again, both too specific and not specific enough.

Feminina:

It’s probably not too long before such in-game notices can be automatically updated so that they’ll always read, say, a year from the current real-world date, meaning that you’ll be able to have a specific date (because it admittedly does start to feel forced if you never see dates on any official paperwork), but still keep that “just a short time from RIGHT NOW!” feel.

But until then, just leave out the specific dates. They don’t help with anything except reminding us we’re playing a game that is definitely not real.

Butch:

I can hear Buttons rolling his eyes at our lack of computer knowledge.

Feminina:

This is an interesting example of how details can make or break the mood. You were pretty positive about this game in the beginning, ready to be immersed, and now, based on the fact that easily verifiable details are completely off, you’re distracted and inclined to be less forgiving of all kinds of things (like slow-developing or minimal story) that might not be as annoying if you were engaged in the story.

I know what you mean–stupid little things can completely pull you out of a story! One of my favorite (least favorite) examples is this one moody, atmospheric post-apocalyptic novel that kept using one specific word when (based on context) another, similar-sounding word with a completely different meaning was intended.

It’s an incredibly stupid detail, just one word!–but he KEPT USING IT that way, and every time I would roll my eyes and think “dude, get a copy editor!” and it basically wrecked any chance I had of taking that book seriously.

Details are important! At least to one or two people who will notice them.

To be fair, probably 99.9% of the people who read that book (or played this game) didn’t notice and/or didn’t know there was an error and so were able to proceed blithely along, utterly immersed in the wonder and horror that the one or two of us just can’t get into.

Butch:

Hmm. Perhaps. But then, it IS a slow developing story. And, as a lot of this game is walking around looking at the details, they become more important.

But yes, I am not engaged in this yet. I WAS in the prologue there, but I’m not now. Which is bad.

I don’t like being nit picky. I am not the sort to say “that wasn’t EXACTLY the way the statehouse was!” But when you’ve set your own rules by putting in exact details (like the 54th regiment memorial outside the statehouse, and getting all those details right, the entering Lincoln sign, etc.) then you have to follow the rules you set for yourself. Especially when all we’re asking here is a Google search to see what the town is like. I don’t demand laser scans of the exact location of buildings. I ask to get close.

Feminina:

It is a slow-developing story–really the story kind of takes the whole game to build. It’s an accumulation of details, and as you say, the more you see, the more it adds up to this overall feeling of the world that they want you to have.

But I do totally understand what you mean about the nagging sense of details being wrong (and weirdly, stupidly wrong when it wouldn’t have been hard to make them semi-right–as you say, we don’t need exact floor plans, just something that looks close) and how that can throw you off and mess up the mood.

I don’t know Lincoln myself, so this part didn’t bother me (I was kind of like “I’m pretty sure this is not exactly right…but whatever”), but I can imagine if it had been someplace two towns away from me and it was wrong this obviously, it would have been really distracting. You’ll be away from Boston before too long, so hopefully things will be less irritating there.

Butch:

It’s just that it’s SOOOO wrong. I don’t even know Lincoln THAT well, but anyone living in this general area can say it would be like having a cop/drug/GTA type game have a slum called Beverly Hills. It is literally the worst possible place they could have picked to have that setting. The worst.

But I’ll give it time. Well, I’ll give it until November 18th.

Feminina:

You can give it until November 18th. That should be enough time for it to redeem itself or not.

If you’ll recall from when I was playing it, I myself was slightly underwhelmed by TLOU a good part of the time. There are long portions that feel a lot like other zombie/survival games, aren’t there? It’s well crafted and I think it’s deeper and more thoughtful than a lot of them, but at heart, that’s what it is, and the action sequences are…much like action sequences you might find anywhere, really. The moody bits, the human connections, are where the story is interesting/moving.

I do think it was worth playing, and there’s stuff to discuss, but it’s definitely not all Grand Awesome Creative Emotional Storytime Hour. There are stretches that are just…killing zombies. I guess post-apocalyptic life is like that. It’s realism!

Butch:

Well, really, once you’ve killed one zombie you’ve killed them all. I do remember you were not one of the ones telling me that this was the best game ever. Indeed, I remember you telling me it was NOT the best game ever. But hey, so far, worth playing, if for nothing but that it’s important. I still liked TR better. I don’t find myself rushing back to this one. Yet.

Feminina:

TLOU is a really slow build. I don’t know that it’s ever really something you can’t wait to get back to. I mean, I WANTED to get back to it, it’s not that it was a chore (not like the “argh, I guess I’m going to go back and fight that damn giant robot again”), but it wasn’t that it was something fun and amazing that you just wanted more of.

There are parts that I found to pack a serious emotional punch, and at those points it’s like “how much do I want to get emotionally punched right now?”

And then there are the parts that are more of a slow progress, “let’s scrounge for useful stuff and watch out for things that want to kill us” kind of mood. Which I think is effective for the world they want to create: life in that world IS a slog of scrounging and trying not to get killed.

And I felt that the game did a good job of mixing things up so that you got that feeling, without actually finding that playing itself was a dreary slog: as I said, it’s not that I wanted to NOT play it, it’s just that I rarely was really excited about getting back to whatever part I’d left off at. I can’t wait to see what grim zombie-infested environment we get to explore next! I hope we see something that devastates me as a human being!

There are a lot of similarities with TR, mechanics-wise, but I agree that in playing terms it has a totally different feel. TR was just more “fun.” It was an adventure, really. Sure, there’s deadly peril and gruesome horror, but you’re Lara Croft! You’re here to kick ass! And even if you died on that island, it’s not as if the entire rest of the human race was going to wind up as fungus zombies. The stakes were lower.

With TLOU, the whole background mood is just bleak. Civilization is falling apart. You’re working on this one slim hope, but honestly, Joel doesn’t seem to be very hopeful about it, and he sets the mood, so I feel like I was never that engaged with it either. It’s a classic hero’s quest (save humanity!), but the hero is just tired and discouraged and barely even believes in his own mission.

The whole world is tired and discouraged. (At least, the human part. There are some nice shots of the wildlife and trees taking over towns that kind of suggests the slightly optimistic premise of “the world will go on without us.”)

Yeah. Like I said–good game, worth playing, but not really what I would call a good time. I’m totally glad I played it, I never really disliked playing it or actively wanted to be playing something else, I wasn’t even really anxious for it to be over, but I rarely had much FUN playing it, if that makes sense.

Butch:

It’s funny: I keep talking on FO3 (sorry), but that game was also mind crushingly depressing. And yet, I couldn’t wait to go back to that game. Relished it. So it’s more than just “TR is fluffy, this is depressing.” I can’t put my finger on what it is.

Strangely, mechanics might have something to do with it. FO had that almost silly gruesomeness that you saw in FONV. Lara could jump. Jumping somehow seems more carefree. I don’t like that Joel can’t jump. Somehow, the ability to do ridiculous jumps to grab onto cliffs, or the ability to launch small nuclear weapons, cheers one up.

[Joel’s disengagement with the mission] is sorta a nice twist…. and yet I feel it is foreshadowing. And if I’m doomed to failure, why am I doing this?

[The faint hope could also be that] the world is better without us. I mean, fakeassed Lincoln is much greener now. Which is ironic cuz REAL Lincoln is still greener than the game. Grumble.

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