Archive for September, 2015

Thoughts on player choices

September 8, 2015

So, the other week, I made an impulse buy on the PSN and picked up The Awakened Fate Ultimatum on sale for $20. I had a ton of misgivings about the game (which boil down to don’t buy it, it’s not very good), but I ran into one section that sucked all desire for me to play the game, despite the fact that I’d plonked down $20 for it.

Don't buy this game, it sucks.

Don’t buy this game, it sucks.

Ultimatum makes somewhat of a big deal about how player choices effect the storyline. The implication was that these would be kind of a big deal. This is an easy sell to me: I LOVE games like this, where there are different branching paths that give you tough choices. Most JRPG’s aren’t really big on offering players significant divergent choices.

The background: you are a typical Japanese student who’s been turned into a deadly weapon for angels, because reasons. Demons attacked (and slaughtered many of) the angels. You managed to capture the demon commander. You go through his head with magic to find out if he knows anything, but he doesn’t have valuable intel. The Angels are losing the war and don’t have the resources to take prisoners. The demon is an unrepentant killer.

Your options are, “let him go” and “kill him”.

Now, I’m not decrying the binary nature of this choice. A game can only have so many decisions to pick from. Nor am I angry at the lack of a middle: the narrative establishes that the Angels are really strapped. The problem is what happens when you elect to kill him: your character decides he can’t do it, and the bad guy escapes and ends up killing an Angel as he escapes, which your character guilt trips over.

My reaction to that scene

My reaction to that scene

It’s seriously hard to express how much this pissed me off. This is bad game design 101.

It’s no more of a choice than Dragon Quest’s infamous “BUT THOU MUST” from the NES era of the late 80’s/early 90’s. Needless to say, I expect significantly better writing from games that come out 25+ years later, particularly ones that purport  to have player choices make a big deal in the storyline.

So why did this one piss me off more than the usual false choices other games present?
1) My decision was immediately negated by the game

2) The game touted itself as having big important decisions.
I believe in truth in advertisement.

3) It was my CHARACTER who negated the decision
This is the real sore point of the choice. It would be understandable if my character was physically incapable of taking out the demon, or some bizarre contrivance had kept my character from carrying out my instructions. I would at least blame the GAME for not carrying out my orders, instead of the character. That’s a problem. The character is, at heart, an Avatar for the player. They are the viewpoint character, how I control the game. Having them decide to revolt like that takes me out of the narrative and shatters any illusions I have about actually being able to have any control over the game.

4) The main character constantly goes on about what a jerk he is because he didn’t kill the demon.
A really good choice makes you doubt over your decisions, but the only decision I doubted was buying the damned game. It takes REAL skill to make a player guilty for a choice they never really had. Incidentally, Spec:Ops the line does this brilliantly, as well as occasionally convincing you that you never had a choice… when you actually did.

But I had no choice here. I was taken away from the narrative because my character did not do what I wanted them to. And this is constantly underlined every time the main character goes down the whole guilt thing. It just makes me angry at the main character (who might as well be named Shinji) instead of angry at myself and doubting my own choices.

And the only choice I made that made me angry at myself was buying this game.

Disclaimer: This game has a ton of flaws: bad voice acting, cliched writing and dialogue, derivative game play that would have been stale 20 years ago, game play completely divorced from the narrative, a shallow advancement system and the fact that it’s ludicrously easy. The only reason I kept playing it was the sunk costs fallacy and because I was looking forward to some sweeping decisions.


Review: Death Skid Marks

September 8, 2015

Platform: Steam      Should I get it: Probably. Why not?


Upon booting this game, I was immediately warned by the Federal Bureau of Mullets that the use of drugs was probably not a good idea in real life, even if they raised my stats in this game. Ah Nostalgia.

And that’s kind of the the theme of the game.

Death Skid Marks is a heavy metal influenced top view driving game, the sort of thing we haven’t seen since GTA 1&2 or maybe even Spy Hunter.

You play Mark Skids, a mullet wearing moron dumb enough to wear black leather in the burning desert, who wants to get to a concert of his favorite band (the awesomeness of the band depends on the difficulty level). Along the way, you’ll pick up hitchhikers, arm them with a variety of dangerous weapons, and kill absolutely anyone who gets in your way – which is pretty much everyone.

In my first play through, I picked up a guy in a horse mask, a bear (not the animal kind) and a probe obsessed alien. I hacked apart expats of Vin Diesel, Barney,  Chuck Norris, the Westborough Baptist Church, and a bunch of white supremacists. I picked up a variety of jobs, earning cash for killing enemies in specific ways or blowing up cars or surviving levels, and used them to upgrade my car, buy new gear, or raise their stats with drugs. Eventually, my melee focused vehicle ran up into something I couldn’t handle – a car with a weird low sort of roll cage that effectively made it immune to melee weapons. I didn’t have the power to push it off the road, and eventually the thing killed me. I learned to add some ranged weapons and upgrade steering.

The game has random procedural generation, which leads to some hilariously unfair moments (I once got hit by a boxing glove into a concrete divider, which instantly killed me) though sometimes its unfair for the computer (Picking up a premium machine cannon, for instance). Eventually, I managed to win a game after picking up a “Doom Saw” and a bunch of premium assault rifles.

Thankfully, like most Roguelikes, there is decent replayability here. The game offers a number of bonus modes including an arcade function, increasingly hard modes, endurance modes, and a bunch of unlock-able vehicles. I think they end boss could use a little work (unless I’ve just been very unlucky, he’s the only non-random element in the game, and I think multiple end bosses might help a bit). I certainly won’t be unlocking every option, but I’ll probably be playing this game a bit more.

Theme: The game is coarse, crude and immature and it knows it, marketing itself towards “Mature gamers with immature minds.” It is by no means politically correct. The characters are caricatures, and ugly ones at that.  The game certainly has a lot of problematic elements, but it doesn’t spend too much time on any of them that I was really upset by them.  Still, your mileage may vary, and you aren’t going to see any positive portrayals of any aspect of humanity in this game.

Graphics: Fairly simplistic, with an ugly, coarse art style. It has a certain primitive appeal. The game tries to keep the screen relatively clear of clutter (it needs to, given the fact you can only see stuff on the road a few cars lengths infront of you).

Hire anyone till you have 4 people, and give them all jobs. The best jobs are ones that give you money for killing crew or blowing up a vehicle.

An all melee party is very hard to run, but if you do, make sure you have REALLY good wheels on your vehicle so you can deal with a vehicle with rambars.

Early on, gambles like Russian Roulette or experimentation are almost always worth it.

Buy a medikit and wrench fairly early.

You generally want to hit enemy cars in the same spot to kill them. Just damaging every area is pointless. Alternatively, you can just kill all the crew.

When in doubt, hit them on the driver’s side. They’ll have less people to hit you there.

The geek brother’s super weapons are hilariously overpowered, particularly if you manage to upgrade them.