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Starts out with Metal Gear Solid, turns into lots of DAI theological discussion and deep thoughts on how we approach games

Butch:

Hey Buttons, what’s with Metal Gear Solid? Do we care? Would we like this game? The whole world seems beside itself about it, but I’ve never played any of these. I missing out?

Buttons:

I don’t know. I bought and tried to play the ‘demo’ they put out “Ground Zeros” (http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/12/22/metal-gear-solid-5-ground-zeroes-review-pc). The only other experience I’d had with the franchise had been a PSP game I picked up because of the franchise’s rep and found it nigh unplayable. However, I was since informed that that PSP game was the absolute worst in the series and so I shouldn’t let that color my opinion of the franchise.

So I played the ‘demo’ twice, failing both times. I do like a little bit of stealth; but this was too much for me. For example I loved Dishonored, but this seems to fall more into the hardcore stealth-lover’s bucket.

Would you guys like it? I dunno. I’d say watch this long video and if you think you’d enjoy several hours of this type of gameplay, then go for it. http://www.gamespot.com/videos/metal-gear-solid-v-the-phantom-pain-gamescom-demo/2300-6420968/

BTW; some blog catchup on my side… read about the ball. I took Cassandra, Vivienne, and Sera. I did enjoy Sera’s remarks but honestly I’m not enjoying her as much as Mr McP is. Although I enjoy her banter when roaming around, whenever I talk with her in Skyhold I find I prefer to keep her at arm’s length. Perhaps this is due more to my playing of the Inquisitor. I’ve read your thoughts on RPing the inquisitor and I think you both take a slightly different tack than I. Like with Shepard, I end up playing these characters as an ‘aspirational’ Buttons. Like the person I’d like to think I’d be in the situation. I don’t play her as a completely different character, nor do I play her as if it was me wandering around the world.

Also, as another experience you mentioned earlier, I took all the rogues out on a few of my blood lotus hunting sessions and… silence. I wanted to hear banter between Cole, Sera, and Varric; I was expecting it to be the funniest, potentially goofiest banter in the game. But I was sore disappointed. Guess they do that for every class; take all mages, all warriors, and all rogues out… no banter for you player. 😦

Returning to tactics… actually I agree with F O’L’s tactic of running away and coming back a few level-ups later; I also don’t want to give them 10 minutes of instructions. What I wanted that I missed was setting up some default behaviors; a kind of ‘set and forget’ kind of thing. Mr McP; you don’t mention if you set the tactics or not; did you? Also, I did notice the game told me where I could set them and that I could; I didn’t miss that. What I was bemoaning was that the game didn’t tell me how to change them.

I try to examine games from a blind/new player perspective and a game developer perspective. On the loading screens and in the tutorials they did a good job of communicating that there were tactics and that the player could change them. But they didn’t do a good job with the how. Same thing with Focus. They communicated focus pretty clearly in terms of its importance and encouragement to use it. But, as written previously, they don’t show the player how to build it up/when the player does build it up (aside from a small increase on a yellow bar that you’re not looking at because you’re in combat). They tell the player how, but they don’t show it.

I’m half-tempted to play it again and power-run through it targeting the XP gain inquisition perks and setting tactics from the start and half a dozen other things I learned only 60 hours in and apply them to the whole game. Maybe I’ll save that idea for a rainy month sometime. 🙂

Since I finished DAI, as mentioned I also did get Evolve. I’ve played (offline with bots) as a hunter and as a monster and… I’ve lost every match I’ve played as a monster. I looked up strategies and employed them and still lost again and again. I can’t tell if that means that the game isn’t balanced as well as I had hoped, or if I suck at being the monster.

Butch:

Hmm. Doesn’t sound like my thing. Sneaky isn’t my favorite mechanic (that’s why I set TLOU to easy, so I could just get a bunch of molotovs, nuke everyone, and move on with the story). Though I hear hype like “epic story” and “beloved characters” and that gets my attention. But then….Kojima sounds….nuts.

I’ll put it on the backburner.

I also like Sera cuz I like the way she’s fitting into my story. If you take Inky as a messiah figure (or as someone thrust into that role), and, really, it’s hard not to, it’s not subtle, then Sera sets up as the Mary Magdalene. She has a crisis of faith after Haven where she starts questioning her disbelief, but can’t get all the way past it. Think “I don’t know how to love him” from Jesus Christ Superstar. She makes a great counterpoint to Inky’s own doubts (I’m playing her a doubter).

It’s funny you bring up the ‘aspirational’ you as a way to play. I mentioned earlier how Inky is rather different from other PCs in that she sort of has a mind of her own (read that “when I realized my inquisitor was gay” article, and my own thoughts of wanting to romance her). In every other “make your own character” game I’ve played, I’ve played it like you do: How would I react if I was Shepard/Cole (not the weirdo, that was my character way back in Fallout)/the hero of Ferelden, even Hawke. And yet, about 25 hours or so in, I found, much to my amazement, that I wasn’t doing that in DAI, and I was surprised I wasn’t. I didn’t make any conscious choice to play her differently than I’ve played every other character in an RPG for the last 30 years. I just was. That article about the gay inquisitor summed it up perfectly for me, so I’m not alone.

I have no idea if Bioware meant to do that. I’d love to ask them.

That does sorta suck that there’s no banter for a one-class party. Weird, too, as TWO similar characters won’t shut up when there’s two in the party (take Varric and Sera, or Cassandra and Bull, they won’t shut up). Odd.

I didn’t mess with tactics. Didn’t in DAO or DA2, either. Shit, when I played D&D, I generally wanted to strangle anyone who spent 10 seconds looking at a book before they decided what to do in combat.

It’s interesting that you try to look at games from the “new player” and “developer” perspective. Can I translate that to “newb” and “expert?” Cuz most players are neither (I’m no newb, but 31 years of gaming and I’m nowhere near where you are). Indeed, players tend not to like excessive hand holding (look at the crap Monster Hunter 4 is taking around the webs these days), and they tend to be intimidated by crazy hard games (Dark Souls might have its adherents, but it hardly sells like Skyrim). I mean, I get the sense that most buyers of AAA games (let’s not touch Threes and Candy Crush here, not counting them) are pretty savvy, but not experts.

Buttons:

Sera: The doubter; that’s an interesting take and possibly why she chafes me more than you. Why doubt the threat when it’s so obvious? I guess I just am not getting her point of view.

RPG’ing the Inquisitor. I read that article as well and I obviously had a different experience than you and the author. *Shrug* don’t know what significance that has.

Tactics: Since you’re the only one left playing it I kind of want to ask you to engage with the tactics system in a similar way I did; the ‘set it and forget it’ method. I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of before/after; especially since you didn’t engage in them in the previous two.

But then I don’t want to change the experience you want to have. Perhaps after you’re done you could load up a mid-game save, set up some tactics on only three characters and then do some combat with just them a few times – just to see the difference. Basically it’s setting their powers to preferred, normal, or rare; nothing more complicated than that. Actually, since it wouldn’t change anything, I’d be interested if you went to the tactics screen and tried to change them – tried to figure out the ‘how’, and then set them back to normal so you don’t alter your experience.

New Player/Developer: It’s kind of like newb/expert but also not. Expert implies some sort of skill mastery in addition to an experienced understanding whereas the developer point of view is skewed more towards understanding in general. For example when I play a game a lot of it is ‘familiar’. But when something different/new happens or is presented I turn on my developer brain to analyze it bit; to try to figure out why they made the choices they did.

Agreed that players in general dislike hand-holding, and are also intimidated by crazy hard games; there’s a balance to strike with developing any game. For a while games were trying to widen their demographics which is when things went a little too far in the hand-holding direction, and therefore when Dark Souls came out experienced players were more than ready for that kind of difficulty curve again. However rather than affecting the industry as a whole, things have developed to a point where we’ll now get a spectrum rather than pendulum swings.

So I’ve played many tutorial levels (as have both of you) but I’ve also made one, and I’ve watch other designers make them, and I’ve been involved in analyzing tutorial levels. Because designers with experience developing tutorial levels tend to get asked to develop other tutorial levels I pay attention to tutorials and try to look at them with ‘newb’ eyes; I try to determine how well they would teach a new player and try to figure out what information is included, missing, how it’s presented, etc…

MP Evolve; I know from our gameplay experiences back in the day that you think my MP skills are like Neo in the matrix, but I don’t play much MP in general, and when I do I prefer co-op. Since the game pool has widened/deepened since we played together I’ve encountered many games in which I completely fail to dominate. The last time I seriously played MP was developing a game I worked on and although I would rate myself above average in it, I’m not a very strong MP player in general. If I devoted some time to it for a specific game, I think I’d probably get to an ‘average’ skill level.

Also – those Evolve games I mentioned; that was against bots. I haven’t played against humans in it yet.

Butch:

Not doubting the threat, doubting that she (that is, I) am blessed by Andrastae. Basically, my Inquisitor is telling people she’s NOT holy every chance she gets. I’M the doubter. If anything, Sera believes, or wants to. She fears “The Nothing” the most. I committed to her last night, and, before, she gives this great monologue summing it up in a nice, metaphorical way. Paraphrasing, she loves this about (me), and this, and this, but she keeps having nightmares that I’ll die because “kings die, divines die, heralds die.” I tell her dreams aren’t real (I tell her), and SHE’S the one that says “They’re real somewhere.” She says “I think all these things [about your death, your magic, etc.] and I don’t want to think them, but I want to think about you.”

Remember, Mary Magdalene knew the threats of the world. She was poor, had her own demons, and, at times, made Jesus believe in himself because she believed more. THAT’S the role I see with Sera. She wants something to fill the nothing. She wants to believe in love/God/the Inquisition almost more than the others and doesn’t know how. And an inquisitor love interest who doesn’t believe in her own divinity? Is that helping? Does it matter?

After Adamant, so many NPCs have crises of faith, and you ALWAYS have the option to ask them “Does it matter?” The real question is the one Josephine poses about the masses in Val Royeaux. It’s clear it doesn’t matter if you shout from a rooftop that you are not divine. They’ll believe, which means you are. You are what people think you are. Sera knows that better than anyone, and wants what HER beliefs are to be the ones that make you the woman she wants to love.

Maybe Varric gets it: “All history is is a collection of stories. They might as well be mine.” – Varric, DA2. Substitute religion for history, maybe it’s DAI.

As for the game analysis… See, I stopped writing this to take a shower (not because I was writing it, because it’s the morning, and whatever) and pondered. Here’s my thoughts:

My brother once told me that one of the hardest things about being a record producer is when you’re a trained musician you hear music, but you’re making records for people who listen to music. Musicians hear every track, if the drums are micced right, if the balance on the backup singers is right, that sort of thing. Listening is does it have a good beat? Is the hook catchy? Do the words resonate with me? Too much hearing, says the brother, can get everyone into trouble. (He said this in the context of not liking music anymore because he can’t listen to it, he only hears it, but I’m stealing the point)

He tells the story of a famous band, not too long ago. They laid down a song and gave it to their producer to mix into a single. The producer decided that certain tracks needed certain levels a certain way, and make them so. The song sounded great on his speakers and on his headphones. He shipped the song out to radio stations (famous band) who played it right away (famous band), only to find that the levels, as set by the producer, often drifted outside the range that car speakers can play. As such, when the song played, the vocals would drop sometimes, the drums sometimes, etc. The band went to him and said “what the fuck?” and he replied “Well, who listens to music on car speakers, anyway?” (The answer, of course, is MILLIONS OF PEOPLE.) There was a disconnect as to how to make GOOD music, or CORRECT music, and how to make music people could listen to.

(Two things: ignore the tech bits, it’s a metaphor, and I don’t think you do this when YOU make games but a lot of devs do.)

I think when we’re blogging here, the disconnect is often that Femmy and I have, for years, listened to games and are trying, both on our own and talking with you, to hear them. You, reflexively, hear games, and are trying to stay able to listen to them.

Feminina:

I’m intrigued by the “set tactics” experiment. I will totally do it next time I play, in the home, but that doesn’t help right now. I look forward to hearing of Buttons’ experience. Mr. O’ was totally into tactics in DAO, where I only adjusted them when they obviously weren’t working in some situation…I should ask him if he used them much in DAI.

I like the listening/hearing analogy…interesting thoughts there.

Buttons:

OK, I thought about it and I had more to say on the Sera/doubter bit.

I see what you’re referring to now. It’s very interesting that I had a completely different point of view on this. The allusions to the messiah figure are quite fitting to the situation the herald/player finds him/herself in, but when I played through this messiah role didn’t even occur to me. I took it more as an examination of… self confidence? self identification?

Like it seems you did, I also did not declare myself divine and I also heard Sara and Josephine making those same comments. As you/I/the player knows, the Herald is only the person he/she is and not a holy figure. But regardless, Val Royeaux will still see the Herald as divine. So whose ‘reality’ do you accept for yourself? Do you accept their reality and accept that you are divine, even if you’re not? Or do you push back and make them understand that you’re not? The latter you can’t do. But you know who you are. One would assume that your close friends would also know you, but after that, the knowledge breaks down until you reach Val Royeaux distance.

Are you your own reputation or not? And if not, how do you change it so that you and your reputation are the same? The game seems to be saying that only one of two solutions is possible; you can call yourself divine and align with your Val Royeaux reputation, but you can’t go the other way.

So what does this say about self identification? No matter what you do or say, only you will ever know who you truly are and the best you can hope for is that your close friends will as well? Or perhaps this alteration of self and reputation doesn’t matter, because you can’t change the reputation? In game it seems as if the answer is no, but in real life don’t we have opportunities to change our own reputation?

Listening/Hearing games/music/whatever… I think this is true for just about any medium. Your analogy works pretty well, and like your brother’s example, I’ve also heard of people in the industry who have lost some of their enthusiasm for playing from being in the industry. However, I’ve never met any of these people in person; usually after I hear that the next sentence has to do with them leaving the industry.

Regardless of where I’ve worked I’ve always heard conversations around the office of the recent releases, what they liked, what they thought they did well, did poorly, examining the choices the developers made, and for both big name titles and small independent ones. These are people who are consciously trying to do both, and still have yet to lose their love and passion for playing. I describe mine as two states I move between, I don’t know how they’d describe their own, but I do know that behind the analysis and picking apart, they always seem to start from a position of passion.

Feminina:

This is interesting, that you can play it either with an in-character awareness of the messiah narrative, in which case it can color everything you do and how you interact with other characters, or you can play it with a “hell with that, I’m just me” attitude, which makes some things read differently.

Good questions, too, about how you can promote yourself as divinely inspired and get support for that (because that’s what certain others are going to believe anyway), but you can’t effectively promote yourself as just a person (because certain others need you to be divine and are going to believe that no matter what).

An interesting suggestion that perhaps religion in general is more about a compelling narrative than about a single human being AS a human being, picking their toenails and smelling too much like deepstalker perfume or whatever. That’s not what’s important, YOU are not what’s important, and the personal individual choices that make your character your character (or, in game terms, make you who you are), like who you romance or whether you side with the mages or the templars, are not what’s important. What’s important, from the standpoint of the religion, is how certain things about you, and certain of your actions, mesh with and support an overall narrative of order, redemption, salvation, etc.

Butch:

Right. I mean, we’ve talked before about how the PC is pretty much swept up in all this, almost against her will. See the song scene: you are watching it from afar, a bit in awe, a bit scared. They’re going to sing to you, dammit, whether you like it or not.

There’s other bits in the game that go on about what makes something SOMEthing, be that love, a dogma, a piece of land like the exalted plains, the fade, whatever, and a familiar refrain is the difference between those who think a thing is what it is, and those who think a thing is what you believe it to be.

It’s interesting, in that light, to compare Varric and Solas. Solas seems all out there, Varric seems down to earth, but really, Varric is about the power of stories, the power of belief (he IS religious, after all) and Solas is about the truth of what is, even the stuff that SEEMS all supernatural. The game is saying that real belief is more than looking all religious. It’s in the heart, and the heart can affect things more than the brain. Or it can.

So of course the PC knows that they aren’t andrastae or whatever. But then, deep down, bet Jesus knew he was just a carpenter, too, and look how that turned out?