Consequences Matter

  05:19:07 pm, by AKB   , 2235 words  
Viewed 180195 times since 04/27/13
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

As a long-time player of Elder Scrolls games, there are a few things that often bother me about the games. The game components are poorly done, the voice acting can be spotty, completing a fraction of the available content has a bad tendency to morph your character into some kind of amoral demigod, hoarding items is the most common response to finding any loot as its worth too much to sell but you don't have any use for it, inventory management is a nightmare, a good portion of the population has a tendency to die, and I don't feel like I'm getting much done (and no, not in the normal "you're playing a video game and not doing anything useful for the world around you" way). Let's talk about that last one, how Consequences Matter (flawless title drop).

No matter what choices I make in the game, I find that the world around me doesn't change in any notable way. I can kill the Emperor, slay hundreds of dragons, become the master of every guild, slaughter almost the entire world's population, become the master of a plethora of legendary items, and strike any random passerby that I see, but it won't do much to the world around me. There just aren't well implemented changes for almost anything you do. Let's analyze a few examples, and try to get to the root of the issue.

Oblivion's Obtuse Orders

Starting off with the one I've logged the most time in, Oblivion is also one of the worst offenders. Let's roleplay: Say you are a grizzled thief with a guard that wants you captured, and years of experience keeping that from happening. Now imagine that while recruiting new members for the Thieves Guild, an applicant comes up to you who happens to have a bit of a reputation. What kind of reputation? Oh, he's merely known to be the Master of the Fighters Guild, Arch Mage of the Mages Guild, Divine Crusader of the Knights of the Nine, and the Champion of Cyrodiil. He's that guy who just saved the entire world from the forces of Oblivion, the guards sing his praise whenever he passes, and people are building statues of him. Do you instinctively say to yourself "This is clearly a setup"? If you said yes, then congratulations! You are more genre savvy than Armand Christophe. While any logical person wouldn't trust this hero of destiny in their group of outlaws, the game doesn't ever address this obvious issue. My character's reputation should blacklist me from working with certain groups.

While some may think that this doesn't allow them the full experience, that they would be missing out on key features of the game, there is nothing to stop them from creating a new character who could join the different factions (besides the time spent crafting a new one, that is). Simply put, not everything needs to be done in one game. 100% completion with one character shouldn't be a possibility. You might be able to argue that you could avoid being recognized by the more good/neutral factions as a member of Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood thanks to the naturally sneaky nature of those organizations, but it doesn't work the other way around surely. What you do in the other guild's are fairly public, and would make you a logical enemy or at least someone who wouldn't be trusted to those guilds. And for the other side (joining the more evil groups), surely rumors about you would begin to circulate after a while if you associate yourself with killers and thieves? While they may have nothing concrete, they'd at least be more hesitant hiring you.

Morrowind got this right with its Reputation System. It made it harder, and in some cases impossible, to join factions depending on who you have joined previously. It helped to bring the feeling of conflict into the world, it added some delightful political intrigue. The exclusion of this was easily one of the bigger things that made Oblivion feel more lifeless, as the heart of the Empire lacked much in the way of politics.

As Oblivion made the NPCs less intelligent, it also assumed you weren't very bright. Smart play isn't rewarded as it should be. No matter how clever you are, there are far too many occasions where you must simply bungle forward to complete a quest. Anyone familiar with the Dark Brotherhood quest line knows what I'm referring to. There are a ton of hints thrown around that you're slaughtering members of the Dark Brotherhood, but you can't do anything about it! Oh, by the way, spoilers. Let's look at J'Ghasta to explain what should of happened. While searching his house, you can come across several items that would suggest he is a member of the Dark Brotherhood. Even worse, talking to him suggests just as much. So logically, you should try to yield and talk about how you were just sent to kill him by the Dark Brotherhood. This would then put you on a path in which you could stop Mathieu Bellamont before it was too late. Failing to do this at the multiple times its hinted that you're killing off the wrong people would end up with the guild crippled at the end (as it is in the actual game). Even the most obvious chances, like when you drop the severed head at Mathieu's feet and he clearly panics, don't give you a chance to stop him. The ending to the Dark Brotherhood storyline is one of the saddest in the game as you take over the guild, but there isn't much of a guild left to take over.

Alternatively, consider the frustrating Collecter Quest Line. Whereas all the guilds are left open so you don't miss out on anything, this quest sets it up in such a way that you can miss out on both of the major rewards for this quest chain if you choose the "smart" option. Towards the end of the quest chain, you get the option to either give the Ayleid Crown of Nenalata or the Ayleid Crown of Lindai to Umbacano. If you choose to give the Lindai crown to him, Umbacano is killed upon entering the throne room at Nenalata. The crown you can keep, the Nenalata one, is left in its initial terrible state. So congratulations for observing the obvious warning signs in this quest chain! For doing so, you get nothing but the avoidance of a fight with a single lich! I can't help but feel like the game is mocking me, as if it finds my attempts to think ahead insulting.

The last thing I'm going mention from Oblivion is the entirety of the main quest. Why? Well, it's all because you left a necessary item with an old guy who completely failed to protect it. It just seems wrong that the entire main quest happens because you dropped off the Amulet of Kings with Jauffre and he simply loses it in an attack. This is the most grievous example of making a blindly obvious error in judgement that can't be avoided causing a ton of issues. If you kept the Amulet, the entire game would of ended a bit after visiting Kvatch. I know that they had to extend the game, but it could of been done in a manner that didn't make it seem more like a comedy of errors instead of the fantasy epic it's supposed to be. Something as simple as saying that Mankar Camoran is keeping the fires from lighting would make the game just as long, give the antagonist a more active role (from just holding onto the MacGuffin to actually being the one responsible for stopping your progress), and make the heroes come off as less incompetent.

Skyrim's Scandalous Story Solutions

While there are more claims of each sequel to the Elder Scrolls making the errors from previous games are prominent, never is it more so here. How to even begin... How about killing the Emperor? By the way, still spoilers. The culmination of the Dark Brotherhood quest line ends with you killing the Emperor, with almost everyone in Tamriel believing the almost destroyed Dark Brotherhood to be behind the assassination. So, a giant manhunt to hunt down the survivors begins, right? Wrong. No one bothers the guild, even though its public knowledge in Dawnstar where their lair is. Now, I'm not saying the Dark Brotherhood shouldn't come out on top, I'm just saying that the quest line was one mission too short. There should of been one more in which you stop the efforts to crush the revived guild before they pick up steam, if for no other reason than you just can't kill the Emperor and get away with it.

That is really the issue with a lot of the Skyrim quest lines. They don't conclude, they stop. Take for instance the Civil War. So you've cut off the head of the enemy army (literally), but they still have a few units out in the wild to deal with. You're told to go hunt them down. If you do, you'll instantly regret it when an immortal agent of the side you didn't choose goes after you. What were they thinking? Instead of having awesome raids by and against the remnants of the enemy faction, they just continue to exist with immortal NPCs leading them. This is made worse as you're told to go after them. Did anyone bother to check to see if you could actually bring the Civil War to a close before launching the game? Besides that annoyance, there is still the issue with The Moot, and how it's never called. Skyrim never gains a new High King or Queen after the hurly-burly's done. I'm guessing this might of been intentional, but it still comes off as a missing quest. The point is that I just ended a war, I should notice some sort of change besides a few cities being wrecked, and some guards wearing different uniforms. When you don't even get to see the ultimate reason you were fighting, a liberated Skyrim or a Skyrim once more behind the Empire, there are serious issues afoot.

The Companions, Lycanthropy. Can anyone tell me what exactly happens to you when you become a werewolf? Do you lose a bit of control over your character, with them being forced to transform at least once a day/week/month? No? Do people like you less outside of your beast form? No? Are you in some way crippled by your bloodlust? No?!? Well, what is the drawback? There has to be a drawback. More aggressive behavior, a hunger for flesh, issues keeping your curse a secret? ANYTHING?!? Wait, there is a drawback!?! Well what is it, then? No resting bonuses... That's a joke, right? Oh my, what a terrible curse! You can't get a good night's rest! Why, surely there must be a cure for this! Tell me there is, I really need a good and proper nap after a day of adventuring! There are several, with the most readily available one having no drawbacks? Jolly good news, I feel my worries lifted already!

Lycanthropy in Skyrim is perhaps the most grievous example of the lack of consequences for your actions actually ruining some of the aspects of the game. I don't get the same joy from being a werewolf without some kind of setback. Without any worries attached to it, it basically just becomes another power that I might use every now and then. In Daggerfall and Bloodmoon, you had to do some terrible things to cure your curse. Now, it's merely something you can give half a thought to. I don't need it to be game crippling, but I do want it to change my playing experience.

Contemplative Conclusions

Play Morrowind. I find it liberating to be able to screw up so badly that the game becomes virtually unwinnable, and yet it doesn't stop you from reaching that point. While there are plenty more examples that could be brought up and even counter points worth considering (like how surprisingly easy it was to get removed from guilds in Oblivion for violating rules), this wasn't meant to be a complete look, just a quick glance at some of the more glaring issues that come up. I of course don't have any problems with the later games that won't make me play them, but there are many issues with the way they are crafted (not that Morrowind didn't have its fair share of issues). It's important to remember that while the ultimate purpose of any game is to have fun, that fun can often come from the challenges we face. By not giving us a challenge, forcing us down a worse path, or even punishing or ignoring opportunities for cleverness the game world can seem more artificial, and thus less enjoyable. While I don't personally like Morrowind's approach of "You walk into a higher leveled dungeon and are eviscerated in a single hit" and Skyrim's perverted uncle level of hand holding, I think it's fair to say most would prefer some kind of middle ground. While that middle ground would require much more effort than the previously tried methods to reach, surely it would be worth it to add more life to the world of the Elder Scrolls.

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Firefly and other things

  07:08:19 pm, by Damon   , 613 words  
Viewed 120489 times since 03/05/13
Categories: TV/Movies

Why are all the good TV shows always cancelled?

I heard of a show called "Firefly" about Mal Reynolds and his crew of a ship called Serenity. The series follows the lives of the crew after it's been altered by the joining of two siblings, Simon and River Tam, portrayed by Sean Maher and Summer Glau respectively.

To quote Wikipedia's article (and save my lazy self the work of writing a synopsis:

Firefly is an American space western drama television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as an executive producer, along with Tim Minear.

The series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system, and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a "Firefly-class" spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as "nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things". The show explores the lives of some people who fought on the losing side of a civil war and others who now make a living on the outskirts of society, as part of the pioneer culture that exists on the fringes of their star system. In addition, it is a future where the only two surviving superpowers, the United States and China, fused to form the central federal government, called the Alliance, resulting in the fusion of the two cultures. According to Whedon's vision, "nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today".

It's a really intelligent and well written show, and I love how it flawlessly integrates the "Wild West" and Sci-Fi concepts. There's nothing more entertaining than seeing the crew of Serenity race to their ship on horseback while firing lazer guns that resemble the shotguns and revolvers of the period. It's a great show worth watching, and don't get me started on Serenity, the 2005 movie continuation of the one season show.

As to the opening question: It's rather depressing how the "smart" shows are seldom watched and end up cancelled, whereas the... Let's find a blog friendly way to say this... Rather loose and friendly ladies of Jersey Shore get renewed year after year. Where's the entertainment in that? I can't see it, and I am very upset at how the television of today is. The only "current" show I watch is Criminal Minds (and even then, I forget to watch it 3-4 weeks in a row at a time), and I'm left to the shows of old, such as Firefly, Red Dwarf, Lie to Me, Damian Lewis's short lived police drama "Life".

Anyways, to a second topic, since I have a load to ramble about, and I've been lazy about writing the past month, since I've been busy:

I am a BIG fan of the Finnish "love metal" (that's how they classify themselves) band HIM, and ska band Streetlight Manifesto, and for a shorter lesser important note, I found out that both have albums marked for release on 30 April. (Tears on Tape and The Hands That Thieve, respectively).

To be honest, I'll admit that's the whole note. Whatever. It's a shameless plug for two good bands, and I'll throw in a song I like from each one for good measure. Here is HIM's cover of Ke's Strange World, which they recently released, and here is some amazingly good cellphone video of an awesome song from The Hands That Thieve that Streetlight Manifesto did live:

That's the ramblings of me... See you all later :p

Elder Scrolls Online - The Task at Hand

  12:46:16 pm, by AKB   , 1385 words  
Viewed 89152 times since 02/18/13
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, UESP

As someone who has been one of the main supporters of the concept of us having a blog, I find it odd that I've never taken the time to ever write a blog entry for the blog that I've so thoroughly supported. Ever. I've encouraged others to do so, but I never actually sat down and did it myself. To finally quiet my suspicion that I've been rather hypocritical when it comes to this section of the site, I think it's about time I write about something. So let's talk about something else I've been thoroughly ignoring for a better part of a year after initially showing the interest to take the lead in UESP projects relating to said thing. I am of course referring to the Elder Scrolls Online.

The Elder Scrolls Online was bound to be a rough subject for us. Not because we won't be able to write about it, but because we aren't sure how we'll write about it. While at its core it appears that its shaping up to be a fine part of the ES franchise that we know and love, it is still an MMO. MMMOs are significantly different beasts to the normal, primarily single player RPGs (Battlespire and Shadowkey being the reasons for the 'primarily') we've dealt with in the past. It's about time that we start to look at some of the major issues that will eventually cause a ton of arguing in the near future. So without further ado, let's begin.

VIPs - Very Important Players
It's an odd fact about MMOs that sometimes in a game with millions of players, one of them will become infamous (I can't think of a single case where a player became famous in an MMO community without that bothersome 'in') enough that they draw ire from the entire community, and eventually from sources outside the game. I'm talking about people like "Cursed You", the username of a Runescape player infamous for being instrumental in the discovery of a way to attack other players outside of PVP zones, or just take one of the dozens of major scammers who ripped off thousands of dollars of real money from players in Eve Online (random example). Players can earn such a reputation that we should document them, right?

Well, that's the issue. We've never allowed documentation of people who are famous members of the community before, so this is going to be quite a point of contention amongst us. An example of this already happening would be all of the people asking if we'll bother to document who becomes the Emperor in the PvP element of ESO. And while I don't think those people will really matter for the most part, there may be times when we'll argue about allowing documentation about a specific person.

The simplest solution will be to just deny documentation for anyone who doesn't earn an extreme amount of attention (as in, news sources outside of the game take interest in the story), but there is certainly going to be quite a few scuffles about where we draw that line. Of course, sometimes the player isn't as important as the incident we create, which incidentally leads into my next topic...

Extraordinary, Player Created Events
Who doesn't remember the Cursed Blood Incident? The player created plague on the land of Azeroth? If there is one thing players love more than anything else, it is finding a way to utterly break a game. When you happen to do that in a world populated by millions of other players, well, all the better. There is a real possibility that we'll see events such as that one happen in ESO, and we need to figure out a fair way to deal with them. ES players have quite a history for odd behavior that attracts quite a deal of attention (take the dreaded 'arrow in the knee') gag as an example, and ES games are infamous for their bugs. When the two collide, we might have to document the results.

As of now we've been pretty much ignoring memes and the ilk in the ES community, but I think that we might have to rescind or at least change our policy when it comes to these things. While it might mean we'll have to make a reference to the obsession with murdering the Adoring Fan (in the General namespace most likely, to keep that nonsense far away from our game documentation), but it may be a better alternative to simply ignoring these events entirely. I can't even think of any mention we give to the controversy surrounding the reclassification of Oblivion by the ESRB from 'T for Teens' to 'M for Mature'. That was all over the news, virtually everyone heard about it, and we didn't give it any attention. Yes, it goes against our normal instincts to ignore stuff like that, but the fallout for ignoring these events may be worse than giving in. We are still a fan site, and there is little a fan loves more than seeing how awesome their fandom is (I guess shipping would beat out that, but that's off the topic at hand). Of course, if we start to act more like a fan site, that might mean a few other changes to our regular operations. Mainly when it comes to our involvement with the community.

Playing a New Part in the Fandom
The UESP has been for years widely accepted by ES fans as a generally great guide for ES lore and quests. We might have to start emphasizing our involvement with the fandom in the years to come. This means playing a more active part in updating the community on ES news, keeping tabs and taking part in Elder Scrolls related events, and being an active part in the path the games take themselves. That last one in particular will be a hard one. I'm talking about things like player guilds. With ESO coming out, we probably should form one for the game. The main issue with that being that our reputation in the game may very well help or hinder the site, so this may easily become one of the hardest things we'll have to deal with if we do it. Even more importantly, we must remain active for the course of ESO for the whole 'playing a more active role in the ES community' thing to work. This also means playing a more active role outside of the games. As in, being a bit more reliable for things like interviews and call outs to the fans by the developers.

To be entirely honest, this is the subject I know the least about, and I believe the ignorance is somewhat shared by my fellow editors (or that just might be me projecting my own mental incompetence on those fine fellows). This is likely going to be something we'll have to learn to do together to make it work, so it's best we iron out what our role will be in regards to the community surrounding ES is going forward. We will of course remain a game and lore guide, but we might have to apply more of a focus to the part Elder Scrolls plays in our world.

In Summary
The UESP will and must remain largely the same as it has been for years, but we also have to start looking to the future. While the UESP has been practically a boulder for the ES community over its run, I think its time for us to try to be a rock and roll with the course the developers are taking the series (by the Nine, that comparison fell apart rather quickly). The developers are taking the series in strange, new directions, so we must learn to adapt to those changes ourselves. This isn't the first time they've branched out of their rut, so we might as well learn to do the same. I predict we'll see more regular ES content in the future (more regular content for the games, new books, possibly a movie, or even a regular comic series or television run. Basically, we should prepare for anything related to ES in the future as we simply don't know what they'll do), and we have to be adapt for this.

Saturday with Snowmane #2 - The new ESO trailer

  11:48:01 pm, by Damon   , 363 words  
Viewed 67820 times since 01/23/13
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

I'll admit I was one of the skeptics at first when Zenimax Online announced that The Elder Scrolls Online was being developed. Bethesda spent nearly two decades making the most incredible and detailed single player RPG experience that I've ever played, and then I heard that it was being made into an MMO... It scared me.

I was (am) afraid that it would just become another WoW clone, and I would look for whatever way I could do to justify to myself a reason to not like the concept. However, as of late, as I've been looking around at the various released information and trailers about the game, I've been slowly warming up to the concept of at least trying the game out.

Take this latest trailer that I will post below, which was published to the Bethesda Softworks YouTube channel on the 22nd of January, for example. It's a beautiful cinematic experience that's very fast paced with just the right musical score involved.

The trailer opens up to a Nord group of warriors smashing down a wall and entering into a cavern of sorts where they are attacked by what appears to be werewolves before the scene changes to a large battle taking place on a large fortress either shrouded in fog or up high enough to be in the clouds.

The scene is quite intense and chaotic as man and mer fire arrows back and forth as the assaulting armies set up rope bridges to cross into the fortress for battle. The trailer ends with the Nord finally climbing out of the cavern the werewolves were in, only to find himself in an old west style standoff with the other alliance faction members.

If even half of the effort was put into the story as it was this battle sequence, I may have to give ESO a shot when it's released. I've already signed up for the beta, that's how excited the game is starting to look for me. Of course, signing up requires agreeing to an NDA, which means the beta players wouldn't get to release details about the game if they are the ones chosen.

Saturday with Snowmane #1

  12:58:57 am, by Damon   , 752 words  
Viewed 59266 times since 01/19/13
Categories: Games

Am I allowed to claim individual days? I doubt anyone would complain, so I am claiming Saturday as my day to post new blog posts. :p

There's not a whole lot eventful going on. I can proudly say that I can now call my first fanfiction a finished product. Only other thing of note is that I've been playing more EU3.

I swear every post is NOT going to be about EU3, but it's such a great game that I will post one last time about it.

I spent next decade after where my first post trailed off continuing work to stabilize my economy, and I am now consistently gaining +100 ducats a year after all my expenses are taken care of, and it's nice to have money for a change. In all my other play-throughs, I've been too aggressive, since I didn't (still don't) understand all the intricacies of the game, and would fall back on the desire to rapidly raise an army and march to victory like in real time strategy games such as Age of Empires.

I have been trying to avoid European wars, but I've been looking around, and I've decided that I wanted to get into a few smaller wars and systematically create a system of vassals, since there are always issues in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe.

My first target was a three province kingdom known as Siena, in central Italy, which was recently excommunicated by the Pope, giving me a free casus belli against them. In the five year Castille-Siena Excommunication War, as the game's history books put it as, I was able to sucessfully land an invasion force of twenty thousand men on the Italian peninsula and in no time at all, I was in control of the country, and able to force vassalization of Siena.

With Siena out of the way, I diverted my efforts into marching into Eastern Europe to engage the armies of Bohemia, who was the alliance leader of the enemy after joining the war in Siena's defense. It took another year or two of combat, but I took over Bohemia with little resistance, thanks to their war against nearby Austria softening them up. Unfortunately, they were too large of a country to vassalize, they had no money left for me to force them to pay me, and I had zero interest in outright annexing a handful of countries so far out of the way and calling them "Castille", so I was really only able to force them to annul their treaties with the other nations they were allied to, which wasn't that great of a treaty, in my opinion.

There were three other nations involved in the war, but save for Holland (who wisely stayed in Northern Europe and didn't invade me), they were One Province Minors (OPM), and all landlocked, so I didn't care enough to do anything to them. I just let them continue to sit there being insignificant to the war and then they surrendered alongside their Alliance Leader Bohemia with the signing of the treaty calling off the war.

The next decade of the game was spent allowing war exhaustion to deplete and making some more money, because the war was drawn out so long that I had to take a loan to continue maintaining my army at its fullest fighting capacity while recruiting more men to make up for the loses.

That's my whole EU3 experience for the last session of play. More trading and economic work, a few minor royal marriages, and the vassalization of an Italian nation. Oh, and my king died, leaving his heir with a weak claim to the throne to take over the nation, although his claim won't be an issue, and it will be gradually rising each year thanks to my prestige, his father's strong claim, etc.

I've also been playing a little Grand Theft Auto lately. Not any of the new ones, just III, Vice City, and San Andreas. The games were pretty cheap to download, so I decided "Why not?" and I got them.

Except for San Andreas, I haven't really played them long enough to present an opinion on them, so that's a post for the next "Saturday with Snowmane". Unless something more interesting than the games I am playing comes up. Then, we would talk about that. Unless it's politics. Or religion. I can't stand either of them, since it's always such a touchy subject.

I'm rambling now, so I should probably leave now haha. Bye! :)