My name is Artie Augustyn... and I'm an alcoholic. No I'm not, but I feel inclined to say that joke when given the opportunity no matter how predictable it has become. I started playing video games in 1997 when my parents bought me a Nintendo 64 and pleading for one for years. I was given Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye 64 on Christmas, and a year later on my Birthday I got Ocarina of the Time. I eventually moved up to a GameCube based on the brand recognition. I was soon persuaded into the world of Sony after playing Dynasty Warriors and Vice City at a friends house, and now I stand before you with an Xbox360, Playstation 3, Wii and PC.
For the most part many people have considered me a "late gamer." I never owned a NES, SNES, Sega Console, or Atari and I get a lot of flak for that. I've begun an initiative recently to go back and play older games that people hold to high praise and you can follow that on my podcast which I'm sure I'll mention a thousand times in this blog.
In terms of my views on gaming, I'd like to think that gaming will one day achieve a level of professionalism and seriousness such as movies or books. I think there are a few reasons that this goal has been kept back. Many gamers don't take the notion seriously, in addition to many leading voices not knowing what they're talking about, and in general everyone's disbelief that it's possible for games to be something more than what they already are. Although, I found Destructoid's views to make the most sense out of what I've seen so far, so I made an account on that sole reason.
It's my understanding (after reading my inbox which I've neglected for the past five months) that some people may believe I died in a horrible accident. This is not the case and I thought I'd clarify today.
I haven't had a lot of time to write some articles for Destructoid Community Blogs mainly because I've been very busy and not very motivated to contribute. I'm very happy with the reception I've gotten on the articles I did post and it's always good to hear that people started following my blog after reading something I wrote. I like to please the few frequent readers I get which is why it's kind of a bummer that I won't be contributing to Dtoid any longer.
The past few years I've been trying to find a forum community that fits with me and I thought Dtoid would be such a website but a few personal gripes of mine (none of which important enough to mention here) have made me lose interest. I'm not here to get on my soapbox and list the reasons instead I just wanted to give a courtesy update to anyone who consistently read my stuff that you won't find it here anymore.
In the past week I've been working on my own personal website that's dedicated to the podcast I host every week and just general articles I feel like writing. Here's the website for anyone interested, but I'll warn you I made it entirely myself and its just a personal blog of sorts with a forum attached to it so nothing fancy and I understand the layout doesn't exactly blow your mind. It's a bare bones website and the only functionality it has is being able to read text, which I think it does quite effectively.
Right now it just has my two most well received articles from Dtoid as placeholders so I can see how it would look when I put new articles there. I just wanted to let people know that I'm not dead and this is what I'm currently working on. I'll be trying to update weekly along with the podcast. If anyone is interested feel free to check it out, if not, I'm glad you guys read my previous articles and I guess this is farewell!
ZPR means Zero Proof Reading. So this article is going to read LIKE CRAP.
I finished up Borderlands today after a spree of intense non-stop six hour sessions for the past three days. That game is alright. I wanted to beat it so I could get up to speed with what everyone thought was so great about that game. I guess I can see the appeal but I already have some ideas for what they need to do in the sequel try to bear with me:
You know out of two thousand or so guns I picked up, I believe I used around fourteen in the entire game. There is no reason this game should have so many throw away drops at every corner. On Irrational Games‘ podcast Irrational Interviews they had Todd Howard from Bethesda on to talk about random crap in games today. He mentions at one point in the podcast that Oblivion and Fallout 3 learned from other games like World of Warcraft on how to properly siphon drops at a steady pace. He explained that in games like Morrowind the really good drops would have a 5% chance of appearing for players of the game. To them that meant that if one hundred people played the game, only five of them would see this bad ass sword.
After World of Warcraft though, they learned that for each time the player does not successfully get a bad ass loot, the percentage will increase. So if you start playing the game its still 5%, but if you go through two thousand loot boxes and lockers, it would eventually increase to 10%, 20%, 40%, 80%, and eventually 100% if you somehow dodged it for that long (afterwards it would reset to 5%).
To me it seems like Borderlands doesn’t have this increasingly likeliness of getting great loot. I found one gun in the entire game that was instantly way more powerful than everything else I had. It was an SMG that did x2 damage with a base damage of 72 (so in reality it was 144). Every other SMG I experienced from that point (level 27) to my new game+ (level 38) was no where near as good. If there was an increase of percentage for getting similar type loots for my character, then I wouldn’t be hoarding the same gun for 1/3 of the game. Or…
Instead of introducing a steady increased rate of better loot, why not just downplay the importance of constant-looting. Imagine if each part of the gun could be detached and added to different guns. The barrel dictates fire rate, the clip decides the amount per magazine and reload speed, grips = accuracy, and scopes are just scopes.
They could get more creative by having slots for elementals and allow those slots to be combined or merged in some way. I think this would allow for even crazier combinations than what the current Borderlands formula allows. They’d have to balance it somehow by having your level decide how much material can be used on a particular gun, but I think its better than just searching every pot for pies.
This system would also still allow a bit of looting to be done, after all you’ll still have to find a barrel that has 50 fire rate with a low level requirement. Sounds like the best of both worlds to me.
Borderlands’ art style certainly helped the barren desert-esqe environments look pretty cool… but they were all the same. Some places were a little varied; I enjoyed going through most of the bases and complexes in the game. However, the latter half of the game is plagued with practically the same location over and over again (aside from the second to last area which has snow). It sounds cliche, but add a lava level! A snow level. Get some forest temple going. It doesn’t have to be incredible original but just a little variance to what’s going on.
An Actual Story
I played the entirety of Borderlands on mute with headphones that were plugged to my iPod playing the GiantBombcast. From what I hear, I didn’t miss anything by doing this. The first ten hours didn’t interest me terribly, and the really dumb twists and double crosses that were explained through text didn’t make me rip those headphones off in anticipation of what was happening next.
Anthony Burch is now working at Gearbox, and I’m hoping his insights on the industry will help. At the same time, Gearbox now has a history of games with bad stories. Brothers in Arms games were plagued with this problem, and Borderlands has the same deal. But at the very least, they have the gameplay down, so improvement in other aspects is totally possible.
Other than that, it was pretty enjoyable. I don’t have a huge laundry list of complaints like other people do. This is probably in part because I played the game in single player and didn’t run into problems like loot dice rolls and a proper trading system. I’ll admit all of that stuff sounds terrible when you have jerk friends or playing with pubbies online, but yeah… didn’t really affect me.
GOTY version is coming out sometime this year for those who missed the boat, and it’ll include all of that rad DLC that people have been talking about. I want to round up all the achievements for my 360 version, but other than that. I’m about done with Borderlands, and this entry.
P.S. I posted this on a wordpress blog site somewhere else, so if you happen to come across it. Don't worry I'm not a hack...
This article won't be gaining me many friends (PS I couldn't think of a title):
When I was fourteen, my high school put on a performance of the highly-controversial play The Laramie Project. The play depicts a true story of a gay man in High School who gets beaten to an inch of his life, and is then left on a barbwire cross to die. This of course is a play about acceptance of new life styles, and the ever-growing problem with homophobia in America. What’s more important, is the fact that while this play was being shown at my school, Reverend Fred Phelps and his followers stood across the street holding “God hates fags” and “You’re all damned to hell” signs. I’ve always been fascinated with how these people think, so I got to speak to one of them. These were of course the cream of the crazy crop; I couldn’t ask anything without being insulted and assured that I’d be going to hell.
These people hate what they do not like, and exclude themselves from activities they find immoral or outside of their comfort zone for acceptance. There are plenty of these types of people at varying degrees of acceptance. Jack Thompson doesn’t like video games, America doesn’t like communism, my mom doesn’t like death metal and some people don’t like mixing real life with their entertainment. The difference between those picketers and my mom is that one attempts to rationalize, and explain their irrational knee-jerk emotional overreaction. Reverend Fred Phelps says “homosexuality ruins our culture.” Jack Thompson says “video games teach our kids to kill.” Hamza CTZ Aziz said in his Medal of Honor article, that he believes playing as terrorists “means I’m helping the bad guys.”
Now before I completely alienate the entire community and become the most hated man on the internet. I have a lot of respect for people like Hamza who can say their opinion when they know a lot of people will disagree with them. I can believe the emotions he described happened genuinely and he wasn’t trying to be offended (as many people do today) but that doesn’t make his opinion sacred and immune to criticism. Frankly, Hamza’s article not only sets up a double standard for the entire industry, but also likely contributes to developers and publishers hesitation to do anything meaningful with their games.
Let’s get the facts straight. Medal of Honor is about the Afghan War from 2001-2003, its main focus is about the elite special ops group dubbed “Tier 1 Operatives.” Electronic Arts Los Angeles has said they really wanted to make a game based on these guys lives and not fabricate it in any way. This includes using the real names of their enemies, namely Al-Qaeda. Medal of Honor does not have a Modern Warfare 2 inspired kill everyone in an airport scene. The only time you play as Al-Qaeda or The Taliban is during its multiplayer mode. This multiplayer has no context, no story, no set up, no explanation. There is no “role-playing” of any kind, EALA did not intentionally use these factions to make a point, and they are simply models and textures being reused.
The video game industry has a precedent of using two sides of a conflict as the multiplayer teams. Whether it is Nazis vs. Allies in Call of Duty, or (the frequently forgotten) Terrorists and Counter Terrorists in Counter Strike, each side is put in the same neutral light, neither side is better or worse than the other. Despite Counter Strike’s very obvious usage of the word terrorist, this goes into a point made in the original article: “these people are very real, and the fact that they are explicitly named is the key distinction as to why I’m so upset by this game. Other terrorist-driven war games, like Modern Warfare 2, don’t cross that line -- they dance around as fantasy extremist groups at best. “
This quote seems to be promoting the idea of ignoring real life conflicts. War is real so we should ignore it? Pretend it’s not there? Should EALA rename the group “Sal-Faeda?" The basic core essence of this Medal of Honor game is to create an accurate representation of what the troops fighting from 2001-2003 went through, but we should ignore that and spit on their real-life experiences in favor of hoping people don’t get offended? I find that notion to be unbelievably insulting and disrespectful. If anything, I was disappointed to hear that EALA was avoiding any type of conflict arising with their game, and their insistence that they didn’t want to make a political statement. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to declare some sort of meaningful statement about modern politics.
Video games should make you angry; they should be able to generate some kind of emotion outside of glorifying headshots and combo counters. But your emotions shouldn’t be aimed at the creators who are basing this on real life; they should be directed towards the real-life groups that caused you, your family, or your friends any kind of suffering. Pointing the blame for this group’s actions on the developer of a video game is not just absurd, but frankly it’s childish. Everyone likes to say “this is just my opinion,” and I’d like to believe that a lot of people respect opinions equally. But this is community of people who crucified Roger Ebert for being down on our hobby, and frequently wish Jack Thompson would heel over and die due to his actions. Saying games shouldn’t use real life history as inspiration for a concept is just as degrading and censor-filled as banning games altogether. I don’t believe connecting it to personal history allows someone to illogically hold a grudge against a game and its creators.
Every nationality has its chord, but every person chooses what offends them. My nationality is Polish, and in 1939 England went against their defensive pact agreement and allowed Poland to be invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union. Do I have hate seeping through my veins when I see Civilization 4 allowing people to play as Churchill, or Stalin (Or Mao?)? No. The game didn’t make history. The game doesn’t glorify their actions or betrayals. I don’t blame Stephen Spielberg for the Holocaust, I don’t blame EA for September 11th, but I also don’t close my eyes and hope the world goes away. Even if a developer ever gained the courage to make a game that expresses an unpopular opinion, or tried to show a humane side to the terrorists, one thing needs to be remembered:
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Stalin and Hitler, for example, were dictators in favor of freedom of speech for views they liked only. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” –Noam Chomsky
I respect people who can express their opinion when they know many will disagree, and that is their right. But unless Hamza can see the perspective that the thought of censoring their game in hopes less people are capable of being offended, he’s no different than Thompson’s refusal to see reason and learn more about video games, or Phelps refusing to overcome his prejudices and social taboos.
I apologize if this article seemed to be mean-spirited, my intention was not to degrade other people’s opinions, but instead respectfully challenge their viewpoint. Alright my home phone number is 123-456-7891, call me up and tell me how I should die.
Don’t worry folks. You haven’t traveled back six months to January 2010. Before you ask, no I am not late to the party. Like everyone else, I played and finished Mass Effect 2 when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Over this past week, with nothing else to play, I decided to dive back into the Massiverse for playthrough number two as “Lucifer Shepard.” It was through this “evil” playthrough that I discovered a fundamental difference between ME1 and ME2, and figured out my main gripe with the second iteration’s ending.
So let’s get everyone on the same page. Mass Effect 2 is largely about putting together a top-notch crew to go on a supposed-suicide mission and take down the main antagonists of the story (The Reapers/The Collectors). The crux of this suicide mission is that anyone and everyone can die during it if you don’t plan accordingly and make poor decisions. Your crew is quite diverse: there’s the full spectrum of crazy-scientists with questionable ethics, to battle-hungry genetic experiments who want nothing more but to kill as many lifeforms as possible. You have ten in total, and they’re all necessary for the final battle.
Now for most people, the goal is to keep as many crew members alive as possible. In fact, it is entirely possible to keep everyone alive and prove that the suicide mission is a piece of cake for Commander Shepard. In my first playthrough of the game I attempted to save everyone, but unfortunately one of my favorite party members (Legion) ended up dying while attempting to seal a door. I knew it was possible to save everyone, and I knew if I accomplished that on playthrough two I’d get a sweet looking 75 point achievement… but I decided to go a different route. This time I decided: Only five people would be allowed to live.
Why you ask? Think about the first Mass Effect, and how it handled death of your party members. You have to choose who will set off the bomb: Asheley or Kaiden? What’s different about this choice compared to the end of ME2 is you’re deciding who dies and not who lives. In that situation, you can’t save both people; you have to decide who you like less. This might appear as the same question phrased in two different ways, but the tone that the game has towards these types of situations completely changes how players react to events.
In March earlier this year the Psychology of Games blog talked about World of Warcraft’s rest system and how it affected player reaction (article here). To put it in short terms: originally the rest system had players who just started a session gain 100% XP, and that percentage would slowly decline the longer they played. The reason for this was to keep players in sessions of 2-3 hours instead of spending days on the game. However, reception of the system was very negative since players felt like they were being punished for playing a game they liked for longer. Due to this reaction, Blizzard fixed the problem by having new sessions start players with 200% XP that went down to 100% the longer they played. It was the same exact system but perceived as a reward instead of a penalty.
A similar parallel can be made with Mass Effect 2’s ending. The developers (and the game’s achievements) made it appear that saving everyone was the correct method of finishing the game. Thus, when someone died it prompted the emotion of failure in the player. Given the fact that completing the suicide mission in this fashion only required looking at an online FAQ of who to put where, a lot of players felt cheated when one of their party members died and frequently reloaded the last sequence until the desired results were achieved. This method of thinking is the same reason why people hold onto previous pages when reading a “choose your own adventure” book.
More importantly, from a narrative perspective, saving everyone is very boring. The supposed suicide mission has no weight as the Mass Effect series continues to nuke the fridge and lower the expectations of pending “dangerous” missions. This is why I decided to only save five people in my evil playthrough. I wanted to test who I valued more on my team, and to see if my choices were kept in mind for Mass Effect 3’s release. So I only gained the loyalty of those who I really wanted to keep alive, and neglected to upgrade my ship to withstand against Reaper attacks. I also decided I would knowingly “kill off” the party members I didn’t want to keep around by putting them in bad positions.
The results went haywire when considering the fact that neglecting to upgrade your ship randomly kills three of your party members before you even land. So even if you decided who you want to live, things may not turn out that way. In the end, I ended up only having three people survive the mission and only two of them were originally planned to be saved. I’m interested to see if Mass Effect 3 will adapt to these deaths in a meaningful way or if my desire to create an interesting scenario will be neglected in the same way the Rachni were in Mass Effect 2.
For those wondering, I planned to save: Garrus, Mordin, Thane, Legion, and Tali. After all the dust settled and I vamoosed from the Collector base only Mordin, Legion, and Grunt were alive. I found this playthrough to be infinitely more intriguing compared to my first playthrough of trying to keep everyone alive. When you leave some of the survival to chance, and accept the fact that not everyone will live it becomes a very interesting struggle for you to maintain dedication to those you actually care about.
I really recommend anyone who is a fan of the game to replay through it and do what I did: Only gain loyalty of the five you want to survive and don’t upgrade your ship. It adds a necessary spin to the suicide mission and hey, maybe you’ll realize which characters you really hate. Anyway, I wrote this out as it came to me with no outline or editing so it was probably very disorganized and lacked my usual vernacular. Let me know what you guys think. DP OUT.
I don’t frequently write about my thoughts on films anymore. Ever since I graduated from High School and left the old Denebola newspaper behind; I’ve found that people don’t particularly care for film reviews outside of my interconnected group of friends. In rare occasions, I find that a certain film bedazzles me to such a degree that I feel compelled to notify the world about it. I get a rush of adrenaline as I assault my keyboard to convey the message of what a magnificent delight of a motion picture I just saw was. However, today I have no intention of subjecting myself to creating a borderline mind-controlled recommendation piece filled to the brink with embellishments of flawless filmmaking. Instead I bear the bad news: I saw Kick Ass, and it fucking sucked.
It should be said that I hold no prejudice against comic book films. I saw Iron Man 2 earlier today and enjoyed it quite a bit; I also found myself entertained during all three Spiderman movies, Superman Returns, V For Vendetta and all of the X-Men movies (keep in mind all of those movies I hold to different degrees of watchability). So trust me when I say that it has nothing to do with some misplaced sense of superiority over the genre.
That being said, let’s summarize Kick Ass in one paragraph. Nonchalant teenage male entails the pointlessness of his existence as the audience eagerly anticipates what a colorful character he won’t turn out to be. Aforementioned male decides he should become a super hero “because no one else has.” Upon ordering a makeshift costume he starts fighting crime and gets stabbed in the stomach, followed by an incident of hit-and-run. His extensive operation destroys his nerve tendons making it easier for him to withstand pain. Well balls, this is going to be longer than a paragraph.
Un-phased by his near-death experience he attempts crime-fighting again and due to a cell phone video and YouTube: becomes a national phenomena. During said video one of the assaulters asks what is wrong with the teenage male, his response being “three guys lay into one, everyone stands and watches, and you want to know what’s wrong with me?” Implying any good person would step in. Keep this little tid bit in mind.
After reaching pop culture icon Kick Ass is introduced to Hit Girl and Big Daddy after he proves his crime-fighting ways to be less than incompetent and the duo saves his butt. From here the film decides to tell the background story of Hit Girl and Big Daddy, this background reveals motivation, personal strife, a vendetta with an antagonist, a goal, interesting characters, and the audience wonders how it will end. Instead of further exploring that we’re brought back to Kick Ass’ uninspired plotline. Blah blah blah, McLovin shows up and cries about his dad being a mob boss, Nicolas Cage dies, whatever.
Despite that summary taking two paragraphs longer than I wanted to I reached the point in the story where I started loathing Kick Ass, and the thought of people enjoying Kick Ass. The entire story and reasoning for all of the conflict in the film is because a teenager “thought it would be cool.” Are you kidding me? The film seems very aware of its “not a super hero, super hero story” format but pointing out flaws with the script or writing doesn’t mean it’s ok.
When conflicts arise in films, the audience is supposed to be engaged with what’s going on. In simplistic movie making there should be a protagonist, a character who the audience connects with and “roots” for (as cheesey as that sounds). There should also be an antagonist, these are usually characters directly connected to the main character and serve as the opposing interest point in something like a superhero story. Protagonists are also typically the connecting factor between what the audience is introduced to for the going-ons of the movie.
Kick Ass does not follow this at all. The main character is completely detached from the conflict, and if it wasn’t for the movie being written by Hollywood the character would’ve up an quit half way through. Midway through the film he gets the (very) attractive brunette he was dreaming of at the beginning of the story, and has no drive or motivation to continue crime fighting, why exactly is the movie centered on him?
Meanwhile Big Daddy and Hit Girl have a very strong emotional attachment to everything in the story. Both characters have pellucid motivations and reasons for their actions, and they’re also both far more interesting than Kick Ass could ever be. Just think about the introductions of all three characters. Kick Ass drones out a monologue in reference to his inconsequential creation and lacking personality traits that could possibly distinguish him from a cardboard cutout of himself. On the other hand, Big Daddy’s first actions are shooting a little girl in the chest for her own good, and Hit Girl requesting a butterfly knife for her birthday.
Gee, which character do you think is more interesting? The clichéd self-aware boring weirdo? Or the unconventional duo of an eccentric daughter and idiosyncratic father?
Yet we’re forced to stick with a bland and disinterested “main” character who’d prefer jerking off to tribal women in Africa rather than maintain his audience’s attention. Even the little glimpse of development we see thirty minutes into the movie is shattered. The tid bit I hoped you’d all remember? About how any good person would stick up for someone else? Well after that he never willingly fights crime again until forced to near the end of the movie. Oh so it looks like he’s just as much of a self-centered scumbag as the rest of the world he apparently looks down upon.
So what am I saying? If you liked Kick Ass you’re empty and selfish. It’s a story about a boring nobody trying to impress some girl so he can get into her pants. This barely has anything to do with superheroes just walking around and “being awesome.” I hate to sound like everyone’s parent, but what the hell!? This is what kids these days are in to? I understand in the comic there are a few big differences such as Big Daddy and Hit Girl having no motivations, and Kick Ass not getting the girl in the end… but that doesn’t sound any better.
I’ve always been a strong believer that if the entertainment I’m watching doesn’t have a “point” even within its own fictional universe, than why would I bother wasting time and viewing it? Kick Ass falls into that category. I’ve only been unable to complete two movies in my life: Napoleon Dynamite, and Bully. I didn’t walk out of Kick Ass, but I wanted to for almost every minute of the last half hour. Never before have I had so much indifference to how events would wrap up.
That’s my piece. Reading this over, I got way less “thesaurusy” as the review went on. But you know what? Learn some words today folks, subscribe to dictionary’s word of the day. Today’s word is afterclap. Alright I'll be back when I have something meaningful to say about video games instead of this bullshit.
In 1987, at the height of its popularity, the famous movie series Rambo got a video game adaptation. The game itself wasn’t anything memorable, with the exception of a design choice made at the very beginning of the game. Upon being briefed on a possible mission, the player (Rambo) is given the option to accept the mission (yes) or decline it (no). Saying “yes” would continue the game as it was the desired result. However, if the player was a bit adventurous or perhaps overjoyed by the thought he could control whether the mission would exist or not, they could press “no.” Unfortunately, saying “no” prompted this response from the Colonel.
At the time it was a funny gag that was continued in countless other titles afterward. It worked because back then games were limited in their ability, the idea of being able to choose anything was a fantasy that even games couldn’t conceive. The good part about this story is that games are not longer limited to 8-bit graphics or memory limit sizes. Developers can create whatever their mind thinks of. The sad part is despite years of innovation no one has figured out the fundamental uniqueness that games have: the ability to do things differently.
“BUT WAIT, I PLAYED A _______ (BioWare, Bethesda, Obsidian, Irrational) VIDEO GAME! AND I CHOSE A BUNCH OF STUFF IN THAT!” is the likely response that should be generated right now. Yes games have had some sort of player-interaction ever since you could change your main character’s name in Final Fantasy, but that’s not what I’m talking about. When you pick an action in real life, it has its ramifications. Games have yet to really tap into what that means, and if you don’t believe me I’ll break down the biggest examples.
Let’s start with the examples that prove my point, because it makes me feel better about myself. InFamous was released around this time last year and one of the core mechanics was the player’s ability to pick the main character Cole’s morality. Either becoming Famous and praised by the people or Infamous and feared by them. Sounds awesome, but what it resulted to was very obvious decisions that weren’t so much “decisions” as they were incremental “are you sure?” notifications after answering the question of “Do you want to be an asshole?”
For example… and this is a real “decision” in the game. You come across a locked door with a man standing behind it. Cole’s internal monologue begins and weighs the options of asking the man to nicely open the door, or blast it down with electricity and kill him. This is the most ridiculous scenario I’ve ever come across in any game ever. Neither option has any more benefit or efficiency than the other, the only difference being what kind of person you want Cole to be. Add on a few gameplay mechanics that make it pointless to choose anything but the same type of answer the entire game and you begin to wonder why these scenarios were even programmed in the first place.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have games that present two different approaches, but there’s only one “right” answer. Bioshock is the best example of this. You’re supposed to be torn over the idea of killing the little sisters for your own self-benefit and preservation, or maybe preserve what little humanity is still left inside you and save them. The problem being that the moral high road also ends up being the more beneficial road. So I ask the question: Why would anyone choose to handicap themselves, and be considered a “villain.” There’s no benefit, so the supposed dilemma is degraded into simply pressing a button.
In addition to these two examples there are literally dozens of games that fall into the same problems (Fable, Knights of the Old Republic, etc.). So you may be wondering what I’m expecting from choices in video games if these examples don’t fit my criteria. In order to explain, I’m going to have to get real psychological on you.
Anyone who’s taken a Psychology course should know the name Kohlberg: A famous psychologist who studied and presented a steady chart progression of morality in human beings from birth to death. Not everyone masters the entire chart, and many people are left on the lower end, you know them as “selfish jackasses.” One particular way of analyzing where you are on the morality line is the Heinz Dilemma:
“A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, "No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it." So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?”
Take a moment and think about it.
So was Heinz right? As it turns out, which side you picked doesn’t actually matter. Instead the reasoning why either party was in the right is what decides your morality. For example saying “Heinz should’ve taken it because he needed it” would fall under stage two morality (out of six). Similarly, saying “Heinz should not have taken it because stealing is bad” would be stage one (feel free to check out the wikipdia article explanation to see if you’re a bad person or not). This dilemma is used to accurately judge a person’s morality thinking, but it also doubles as an explanation that nothing in life is simple and shouldn’t be presented that way.
Let’s take an example of how games have failed to present that. In the original Mass Effect, players come across a thought to be extinct race called the Rachini. This insectoid species were directly tied into galaxy-wide warfare, and generated multiple other problems including the Krogan Rebellions and in turn, the Genophage. If you didn’t play Mass Effect, the simplified version is: their entire existence has harmed the rest of the universe and almost brought extinction to other races through violence and slaughter. These guys don’t have a good reputation.
So players come across a surviving queen of the Rachini, but this one can communicate. The queen speaks to you and pleads for a second chance, promises not to cause more warfare and bloodshed as long as it got to live free. At this point the choice is given to let the queen go, or kill it. Now if the queen is let go, everyone is down on your opinion at first… but show optimism in the species’ future and ultimately decide you did the right thing. On the other hand killing the queen gives you the label of “mass-murderer,” the council asks what it’s like to commit genocide, and no one agrees with your choice. After all, you did just murder an entire race… right?
But wait. I chose to kill the queen because in my mind letting her live meant the death of millions more (and probably a really lame side quest in the future). How come that line of thought was never brought to focus? I can only be Jesus or Lucifer himself? That seems very narrow-minded.
The Dungeon’s and Dragon’s alignment system is the best representation of how players can do good or evil actions for different reasons. I won’t go into full detail, but the jist is there are different degrees of good and bad. Certain types of evils conduct their villainy in more/less subtle ways. Darth Vader and Jigsaw are both evil people, but in different kinds of ways. There’s a lot of depth and thought-process behind these more complex decisions that seem to be neglected in any game that tries to represent them. Let’s try to think smaller.
The best examples of choices in games are usually the more “fair” options. Let’s put BioWare in a positive light. Their late 2009 release of Dragon Age fulfilled many of my expectations and went above and beyond some design choices when it came to how much freedom we had to change things. Take for example Shale. Shale is a huge golem monster that was created by artificial means and has a pretty depressing history.
About three fourths of the way through the game the player is given the option to recreate multiple Shale-like beings. The people chosen would be volunteers and overall would create an army of unstoppable proportions, perfect for the prodigious task that awaited you at the end of the game.
However choosing to create these golems outrages Shale so much that she vows to strike you down if you commit such an indecent act. Regardless of your good intentions, there is an obvious cause and effect in this scenario. The dilemma being a stronger army for the last battle (which has only been referred to as an impossible task in addition to the entire game being extremely difficult) or keeping one of your party members.
It’s an interesting decision that many players had to face. The best part of this particular outcome is the removal of assumption. The game does not think you hated Shale, or wanted to create golems, or anything. It simply presented the sides, and applied the aforementioned consequences. Not only that, it added a bit of risk and worry to the action itself. Take this in comparison to Mass Effect 2, where every character will always be with you no matter what you do until the very end.
The best example of fair but interesting choices I’ve seen is from a little eastern-european game called The Witcher. The entire game is extremely interesting despite its somewhat poor quest structuring but the first major decision in the game is worth mentioning. After a few hours of playing the game players have to decide between helping an angry mob of townspeople kill a powerful witch who has claimed to doom the town and all of her rivals to misery, or protect the witch and suffer the fate of the townspeople’s wrath.
The important part of this choice is one vital and fundamental difference from any other game: there’s no combat. There’s no worrying about which side will be easier to fight, or anything like that. When you remove the difficulty factory you just think about what makes the most sense, and not which path will be more beneficial. The townspeople have a right to want to kill this witch who has been blamed for cursing the town and ruining many peoples’ lives (even killing some). At the same time the witch claims everything is just a big story and the people are just manic looking for someone to blame.
So the player has nothing to rely on by their gut and their wits. Who is more likely to lie? Even if they are lying are they worth siding with? What are the long term effects? Who could sway the game more? Each decision is a sound choice, and each consequence is obvious from even before you choose. Neither side is presented in a better or worse light, so there’s no “right” answer; it’s all a matter of how you want to play things out based off of your own thoughts.
So what does this all mean? As of right now almost every game with any type of ability to change the flow of circumstances or affect the story personally keeps it very “safe.” Every Mass Effect 2 character will always stick with you, whichever person you kill in GTA4 doesn’t have long-standing effects, and no matter what you do: the game will never allow you to dig yourself a hole. Many people agree with this way of thinking, but I find it absolutely boring.
I’d like to think that one of the reasons everyone loves Quentin Tarantino films is because of his unrelenting ability to go against conventions. He will kill John Travolta half-way through the movie. Robert DeNiro a bad ass? Psh let’s display him as the biggest scum bag ever and have him die for being an idiot. I’d like someone to take that approach and apply it to choices in games, because that’s really how it should be. Knowing that serious ramifications could occur if you act like an idiot makes you think about your choices more seriously.
Choices are in a mindset of constant invincibility right now. Nothing bad ever happens; try doing that with other games. Boot up Starcraft and put in the “power overwhelming” cheat and see how much fun it is. Or try beating GRAW with invulnerability. It isn’t fun, or even interesting. Developers don’t realize that without the ability to fail, the possibility of screwing everything up, the reward for succeeding isn’t there. Because no matter if you made planned and intelligent choices, the twelve year old kid hitting the “mean” option will make it through the game with just as much ease.
I’d like to think we’re a pretty smart group of human beings. I can’t be the only one who’s out-smarted the predefined choice-mechanics and chose a logical solution that was presented as something I did not intend. If anything thousands of gamers every day are revealing the mechanics to be simplified and rudimentary. So why not offer us with more difficult decisions and thought-provoking actions. I think we can handle it, do you?
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
-Artie Augustyn (DinosaurPizza)
ADD-ON: I changed all the pictures to be hosted by Dtoid (despite my loathing for its forced resizing that took an hour to work around) and formated them so it doesn't look so cluttered.