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J.E. Sawyer

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Blog Comments posted by J.E. Sawyer

  1. screeg: I think it depends on the conversation. If you approached the person, it is really you interrogating them unless you manage to pique their curiosity. In other circumstances (such as being ambushed by bounty hunters), it makes more sense for you to be put on the defensive, with the flow of conversation being dictated by the NPC.


    Jackalmonkey: I think that the reward of entertainment can be enough to justify certain choices. Clearly you remember that exchange with Renesco, so there you go: that's the consequence.

    • Like 3
  2. * Being part of a nasty organization/cult was fun. I like cultish groups.

    * I liked riding around on my horsey and having my horsey stomp on people.

    * I enjoyed the alchemy system even though I think it could have been a lot better. Finding reagents was fun (never got old for some reason), especially since they were all over the landscape. I put poison on everything and I loved watching enemies rapidly die from poison.

    * I made a game out of stalking and murdering people who made racist comments toward me. I'd wait for them in their houses and stab them with poisoned knives. Good times.

    * I liked shooting things with my bow. I thought the melee was terrible but I liked shooting. It wasn't flashy or anything, but it was enjoyable. Especially with poisoned arrows.

    * Exploring was just fun. The areas are so huge that it was nice to just run and run (or ride and ride) to see what there was to see.

    * I liked stealing from people. I think the stealth mechanics had a good level of complexity for an RPG. Sneaking into a person's house and robbing them blind was satisfying.

    * I liked the fact that there was stuff everywhere. Plates, cups, knives, pants, boots, mushrooms, loaves of bread, bottles of wine. I could pick all of this stuff up or knock it over or steal it when no one was looking.

    * Water was not an impenetrable barrier. I am not a big fan of swimming mechanics, but it was nice to be able to jump into water and not hit a wall. There was often stuff in the water too, which was nice.

    * Though I think the punitive system in the game could use some work, I have always liked that guys try to arrest/fine you sometimes instead of just attacking you. The abstraction is possibly a bit too lenient, but at least there's an alternate system in place.

    * I have liked the idea of charged weapons since I read a Dragon magazine article about it fifteen years ago or so. There was never "one weapon" I always used. I switched between them due to charging factors, secondary effects, etc. In fact, the equipment in general was pretty nice. It looked good and the stats/effects were varied enough to make choices difficult.


    The places where I feel Oblivion is most lacking:

    * Lack of meaningful reactivity / no meaningful choices / no branching.

    * Spastic melee.

    * Throw-away dialogue with an uninteresting, rote mini-game on top of it.

    * Lockpicking mini-game on PC. Bad news.

    * AI. For every one time that it looks brilliant, there are three times that it looks really bad.

    * Crafting interface. "Click on everything to find out what this might make" = terrible.

    * Skill bonuses were pretty shallow and there were no choices in how any individual skill's bonuses advanced.

    * I think horses should have been able to stomp or otherwise trample folks with you on the back. Getting off every time was kind of annoying.

    * Dynamic difficulty scaling. I hate it.

  3. Josh. I'm not trying to be rude here, but why are you posting reviews of squad based FPS games, and games that cater to console players no less?

    Because I enjoy playing a wide spectrum of games on various platforms and I often find that there are good things to learn from them. I enjoy games like Animal Crossing: Wild World, Front Mission 4, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, Forza Motorsport, Oblivion, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Hitman: Blood Money, Devil May Cry 3, Alien Shooter 2, Splinter Cell: Double Agent, and Jagged Alliance 2. These are games that I have played in the past six to nine months (in addition to R6V and GRAW2). I have not enjoyed all aspects of them, but I enjoyed them enough to play them. And in every one, I found interesting ideas that could be applied to other games.


    I've also sent data restructuring documents and bug reports to the NWN2 team to address issues ranging from custom content integration to spell table development to toolset modifications. I've posted some of these ideas in the NWN2 blog and also on the BioWare forums. I don't post those things in this blog because they have more appropriate homes elsewhere.

  4. I always understood that Rainbox Six and Ghost Recon were a lot more lethal and heavily ambush-oriented than the new games. Rainbow Six seemed similar (at least on the surface) to SWAT. I watched a co-worker at Midway play Ghost Recon and it looked very creep-and-kill-oriented.


    I enjoyed Rainbow Six, but I can see that it's not really the same game as the original. However, I also didn't play it on "realistic". GRAW2, on the other hand, I did not enjoy on any level.

  5. In other words, I think what's really boring you is the cliched nature of game narrative. Again, though, you're catering to an audience that often doesn't want much more. I sympathize, but this is the field you've chosen, and I don't think you'll see change - games simply aren't the forum for the kind of debates you're discussing. I know I wouldn't want to play the kind of game you describe.

    I think your reply is well-put, but a cop out. Media like plays were once just about pure entertainment and held up lofty events and people that were far beyond the walk of their viewers' lives. There is a certain amount of profundity in Shakespeare's tragedies and histories, but they do not compare to something like Ibsen's A Doll's House, which was extremely radical in its time. Never before had there been a significant production that attempted to portray an environment realistically, with ordinary middle-class characters, and events that were directly relevant to the audience. And A Doll's House did make people extremely uncomfortable, so much that it created a scandal. But many other "realistic" plays followed, and today's plays and films are not all morality lessons or tragedies or histories. There are plenty of plays and films about ordinary, contemporary people caught in circumstances that speak directly to the audiences' experiences.


    If the main argument against serious themes in games is that it isn't currently done, that's not much of an argument at all. The entry was written because serious themes are not currently visited in games. However, I do think there are many issues that could be seriously addressed in a contemporary setting: drug use and drug crime, terrorism, immigration, the military industrial complex, genocide, etc. All of these things could be examined in the context of a militaristic game with high action, but they usually aren't. Games in the Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell vein certainly could (there's plenty of exposition), but they usually don't. Mercenaries 2: World In Flames looks like it might be a good example of a title that attempts to deal with some serious issues more directly. Hell, they already created enough of a fracas to get the government of Venezuela to complain about it. That seems like a step in the right direction to me.


    As a side note, I don't particularly think the topics you mentioned (corps v. labor, racism, religion) are any more fresh than the ones you describe as trite. Maybe in the gaming world they are, but for many of us (I'm a law student, for example) that stuff gets beaten into our heads through academia and journalistic media.

    I was a student of hagiography and witch-hunting, but I wouldn't consider the exploration of sanctity and diabolism in the Early Modern World to be tired for the average person. I am willing to accept that students of law and political science might be tired of subjects dealing with law and political science, but most people simply don't see much of that with any regularity or depth.

  6. But Oblivion does not introduce a series of new moves which the player must make split second decisions regarding.

    Yes it does. Each level of blade, blunt, and hand-to-hand adds a variant of the power attack, which is triggered by moving in a different direction.


    Earlier you wrote that there was no challenge to the stealth game in Oblivion. There is. You cannot run out into the middle of a brightly lit room unless you are Capt. Chameleon. You have to make an effort to observe light sources and active (potential) enemies just as you would in a dedicated stealth game. The mechanics are not as deep as they are in a dedicated stealth game, but neither are the combat mechanics. And that makes sense considering the breadth of the game.

  7. Josh - I honestly think that you've lost sight of the player/character distinction that is the heart of a game being an RPG vs just a game.

    We are not playing a game on a tabletop with a live GM to arbitrate things. That is what I think many "hardcore" RPGers refuse to accept, and why they continue to cling to the idea that all actions must be devoid of player skill for a game to be an RPG. I also think that distinction isn't even really true, as experienced RPGers meta-game constantly, even when their characters "shouldn't" have the ability to analyze or know certain aspects of their statistics, properties of items, aspects of enemies they are dealing with, etc. Player skill is an enormous part of hardcore RPGs, but the skill set required in a D&D CRPG is much different than the skill set required to play Pikmin or Jade Empire or Katamari Damacy.


    Part 1: The brain transplant

    In an RPG, your character is a person in a world. His characteristics are set out by his statistics, and the way that those statistics impact his interactions with that world's rules of physics, standards of behavior and attractiveness, etc. The player essentially has his brain placed in the character's body, and has to abide by that character's physical abilities. (note, its really more like you become the pilot of his brain. All the data is still filtered through the character's mental statistics, but you give the orders based on that data.)

    If all data were filtered through the character's mental statistics, you wouldn't see stats for a quarter of the things you use in RPGs. Spell damage, attacks per round, weapon critical hit multipliers -- all of these things are clearly defined so the player can use his or her skill to direct the actions of the character. With combat, often the "die rolling game" works out reasonably well, especially when controlling a party. The player can make moment to moment choices over the course of a long combat that can "course correct" if he or she gets off to a bad start. With something like stealth or lockpicking, the ability to do that is usually absent. There's no "game" to the action other than the character building aspect and the choice of the player to click a button and watch the results.


    And blended games like Oblivion are not any better when you look at the marginal cases. People tend to focus on the unskilled character who hits based on high player skill, but I think the bigger problem is the high skill character that misses based on low player skill. Many people are forgiving in the former case, because its fun to succeed. But how about in the latter, where a character with a heavy stealth build is always detected because the player (who wants to play as a stealth character) is simply not skilled with a mouse or keyboard.

    Are you talking about a "theoretical" person, or a real group of people who have honestly complained about this? Because it's pretty damned easy to hide in Oblivion unless you have a nervous disorder and/or the inability to distinguish light from shadow. We're not talking about Ninja Gaiden levels of timing.


    Ironically enough, this type of hybrid game restricts a person's ability to assume the role of a character different from himself, because the player isn't enough like the character that he wants to build. If you insist on taking the main characters in Splinter Cell or Thief as archetypes of the stealth based rpg character, then how can you respond to the Thief player who desperately wants to play the game in a stealthy way, but can't because the character is the only member of the character+player team who knows how to stealth. What I'm basically driving at is these types of games are only fun for people who are good at action games, and there may be little or no overlap between that group and CRPG fans. They're certainly not mutually inclusive, but its equally clear that the class of people who like action games does not include the entire class of CRPG fans.

    Sure, the mythic Venn diagram of these two groups isn't a picture of two perfectly overlapping circles, but I question the implied assertion that there are a bunch of CRPG fans who enjoy playing a "stats only" stealth character more than a "stats plus action" stealth character. That is, people who say, "Man, I hate having to look at light and darkness and how fast I'm moving when I'm using stealth." Even in a game like Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale, I would argue that it would be more enjoyable to use lightmaps (which exist everywhere on the IE maps) to heavily influence your chance of staying in stealth than to rely on the straight stat + die roll system. It gives the player something to interact with in the environment, and turns stealth into a game instead of relegating it to shoving points into a character every hour or two. In such a mythical IE or Neverwinter Engine implementation, what undue demands are placed on the player? You can let them click exactly where he or she wants to click, look at the map from an overhead view, pause the game to issue commands, etc. The resolution is still a blend of character skill and player skill and there's no demand for manual dexterity or crackerjack timing.


    In Fallout, people would react to a child killer by saying "He's a terrible person, and I want nothing to do with him, based on his immorality." Where as In Oblivion (if you could be a child killer, which is impossible) people would say "Oh he's a child killer. Let me treat him like everyone else." To show the absurdity of this, let's consider a parallel reaction, based on your character having a big nose. In Fallout, people would probably say "He has a big nose. Sure he's a little ugly (so I don't want to sleep with him) but I'll treat him like any other human being". In Oblivion it would be "Oh he's got a big nose. Let me treat him like everyone else." In Fallout, choices can actually be moral, because they bear consequences, including social disapproval. In Oblivion, all you can really do is make choices about what type of nose you want to have. The Arena champ's nose. The worst mass murderer in history's nose. All choices that impact you, but only in superficial ways.

    I've never written that I thought how Oblivion handled character interaction was well done. In this thread specifically, I've stated that I think it was very poorly done and I think that Bethesda should make Fallout 3's character interaction mechanics much better.


    What can we conclude from Oblivion's 1) emphasis on player skill, not character skill 2) complete lack of meaningful choices and 3) its huge success in a market populated with players who have probably never even played a PC RPG (xbox 360 owners)? That Oblivion does not represent the evolution of the RPG at all. It represents a successful way to appeal to an action oriented crowd with no experience playing the stat based simulation RPGs. In other words, Oblivion is a great example of how an RPG maker can abandon their genre, for a hollow commercial success. Oblivion is "Selling Out 101."

    I play a lot of RPGs, and I thought Oblivion was pretty fun. I don't think they abandoned the genre, but I do think there are things they should do differently to reinforce player choice, specifically when building characters (selecting types of bonuses) and when interacting with the world (checking actions and providing deep feedback). I also think they should examine some of their mechanics for suitability on different platforms. E.g. lockpicking on the PC was a frustrating mechanic regardless of character skill unless you mashed auto-attempt, which was a cop out. I think that any sort of "character and player" blend should be engaging but relatively straightforward on the player side of the equation, which many of Oblivion's mechanics were. For example, melee combat in Oblivion is really basic and doesn't even come close to the complexity or timing demanded by a true action game like DMC, Ninja Gaiden, or God of War.

  8. I am not willing to defend D&D system (You keep talking of D&D but there are various original systems even in tabletop RPG.)

    How many of them are relevant to the state of the modern CRPG? And of those, how many of them use something other than randomized numbers + skill bonuses vs. a static difficulty to resolve actions?


    but, in general RPG systems, probably the character should be more skilled in different areas, which enables his/her party to deal with the situation, which is, even if you have no single character with a high picking skill in your party. I said resource management but this includes "human"(character?) resource management as well.

    It doesn't matter if you have one character or six characters; you're still resolving an action using a randomized number modified by points that you put in your character over a process of hours or even days. There is nothing "in the moment" about the event, no puzzle to solve other than deciding to attempt the task or not.


    I've got an impression that you are still comparing party-based tactical simulation games with single-player stealth action games too directly). The puzzles should be different in 1st person action game and 3rd person party-based tactical one. If you played old Comandos, you may well get the idea of possible puzzle essences in bird view tactical games. You use stealth characters to lure/bypass/destruct hostile NPCs and deploy assault characters for backups, where random factors shines.

    Either way, "a" character has to undertake the stealth action. The high-level tactical gameplay involved doesn't give the stealth game aspect a free pass to use a randomized mechanic. And in Commandos, it was a more direct stealth experience. You saw sound ripples from your characters, saw vision cones from the enemies. You had to time your movements and take actions based on these elements. Despite the view, this still has a lot more in common with Splinter Cell and Thief than it does with Baldur's Gate or Fallout, where click button = roll dice to hide.


    In any case, if you haven't read this already old article, please read it or, if you have read it, take a look at the figure 3 on page 3, where you see comparison of four stealth games: Splinter Cell, Deus Ex, Metal Gear (Solid and Acid) and Thief. "Attacking" has the lowest score but, at the same time, the differences are relatively small like you wrote. However, rather than backing up my point, I'd rather like to hear your opinion about the analysis.

    Garret is nowhere near as capable of taking out guys once they are alert as Sam Fisher is, but you can still slaughter pretty much anyone and everyone on a level if you use a modicum of planning and attack from stealth. The article itself is interesting, I guess, but they do not illuminate how they arrived at their data. I assume they use data mining software, but exactly what constitues a "unit" of any given action is unclear, as are the composition of the groups they used to derive their results. It's also interesting that although attacking is higher for Splinter Cell than it is for Thief, stealth is higher for Splinter Cell than it is for Thief. I'm also not sure how some of the categories differ from the others. "Attacking" vs. "Use of Weapons" vs. "Warfare". Do these things overlap, or are they exclusive? You use your weapons in Splinter Cell and Thief a lot, but it's often not to attack people. I would assume that "Warfare" means all-out combat against all enemies on a map, which would explain why Splinter Cell has a much higher rating than Thief. Garret usually can't kill three aware guys, but it's not a problem for Sam. In contrast, you can attack unaware individuals and kill them with effectively equal ease in each series.


    In any case, Thief is not a game that punishes fighting characters, and you can certainly alert and/or kill characters and continue playing the game. Again, Thief, Splinter Cell, Oblivion, and Commandos all have much more in common in their stealth components than any of them have in common with traditional tabletop RPGs or CRPGs.


    Then, a clearer example would have been an open-dice session. However, computers have reload function if things were messed up only because of the randomization. You say you have less control because of the randomized factor but you have more control on the stats of characters.

    You have no control over the stats of the character at the time you encounter any given challenge. By the time you become aware that your characters have insufficient statistics to perform a task, you have no recourse. If it's a flat check, you cannot complete the task. If it's randomized, you just have to keep clicking a button. If it's randomized and you only get one chance, you have to reload and keep clicking a button. In none of these case is fun had at that moment when the event is taking place.


    Some tactical RPG fans are unhappy with real-time micromanagement since they don't regard these physical manipulation as a fun game-play. Simply, they are different types of controls, means, whether you have control on each action of a character or more generalized action and resource management of characters. If you are unhappy with proximity, you could remove all the randomness from "rule-sets" but this would be an unpopular game design decision. Nobody would be happy with total randomization but a spoonful of randomness is a different story. As I wrote in my previous post, this is a game-balance issue rather than a defect in mechanism.

    I still see absolutely no fun in the action itself. By comparison, games like Oblivion, Bloodlines, or Deus Ex that blend statistical elements on the character with more direct control over the character's participation in the action allow both the character and the player to be involved and relevant when completing the task. One of the key challenges with such systems is finding a good baseline for low skill characters. For example, Bloodlines had pretty infuriating firearms because the character's base skill felt terrible. Oblivion's archery felt decent at low level, and much better as your Marksmanship improved.


    Haven't you played games outside of action games recently, have you? A part of Oblivion's success is that it gathered people from various genres such as action games, SP/MMORPG and even sims. We know what is fun for ourselves but as a professional game designer, isn't it important for you to know what is/can be fun for other people? Even if you wouldn't like to play other games, you can still listen to other designers and look into statistics. Anyway, you must be talking of the coordination between what offered by modern psychics engines and "rule-set" simulation. Means, what you see and hear can be different from the outputs of "ruleset". Indeed, the difference becomes hardly ignorable in first person view. I haven't played Hitman but I don't know why developer made disguise-check based on "rule-set" while it is a near-first person action game with a predefined character. In fact, many people complained of the believability of stealth in VtM. You probably need someone specialized in the job like Emil Pagilarulo (as you probably know, a Thief II designer hired by Bethesda for Oblivion, in which he designed stealth in general and the series of Dark Brotherhood faction-based scenario.) in order to make stealth believable when making a (near) first person action RPG, where character stats and intuitive believability need to be come together.

    The main point of my original entry was that RPG titles with mechanics like Oblivion's are probably going to be more common in the future. Yes, I'm paying attention to what people like. Well over a million of them liked Oblivion a lot. That doesn't mean that Oblivion made no mistakes, but they did enough right that a lot of people enjoyed it.


    You know you don't see such kind of information even in Fallout. In fact, NPC interaction showed almost no progress or even digress thinking of Oblivion. BTW, talking of NPC interactions, I heard SC: Double Agent has a newly implemented faction-based reaction system but I don't have time to put my hands on it.

    I think Oblivion's lack of character reaction was one of its weakest points, and I very much hope that is changed in Fallout 3. In Fallout, you could see characters react to your reputation pretty easily and you could track regional reputations on your character sheet. It didn't always make a difference, but it made enough of a difference that it was important in the game.

  9. If tactical games are cleared by simply reloading, it is the problem of balancing - not the game-play itself. Of course, trough trial and error, the players should maximize their tactics like they improve physical manipulation in action games.

    They can only maximize their tactics if they have the ability to directly influence the outcome. Most D&D skill checks don't really allow for much of that. Take picking a lock on a door. You can raise your Dex with a potion or spell, or you can use masterwork lockpicks, but there's really nothing else you can do to change the fact that the major component determining success or failure is a randomized number between 1 and 20.


    In a stat-heavy CRPG with "a bird view," I'd rather want to see more tactical aspect of stealth. For example, the skill would work better in darker places even if character's level is low and the players need to think which is the safer route for their characters. This would make maps and NPCs on them as interactive puzzles. What players need to do is to decide which route their characters should take for the best bet. Of course, the game-play is more of resource management and deployment like in computer tactical simulation games, which is undoubtedly the kin of this type of "RPG". Comparing stealth in this kind of game with that of action stealth game is rather awkward.

    Why? Do you think that the environments in "stealth action" games like Splinter Cell aren't interactive puzzles? There are many levels in Oblivion that are stealth-oriented, but stealth can potentially be used anywhere. It's just that some are set up specifically as a stealth puzzle environment.


    As for your argument on Oblivion and other games, you mixed up a lot of aspects ranging from fixed/customizable character, learn-by-doing/experience point, real-time/turn-based and (near) first-person view/a bird view system. For example, even in Oblivion, it is tough to go stealth if you haven't developed your character in that way. Thief? You have already chosen stealth character when you bought the game. If you are found out, you are out - you need reload. This type of stealth heavy action game had difficulty in adding variety of game-plays, which probably lead to the demise of Deadly Shadows. This is why some more popular implementation of stealth action games are more forgiving like Splinter Cell, where you can normally choose assault or stealth anytime when you feel it fits your style. This can only be done well when the developers took balance really carefully. Reading this article, I think at least you need to talk with developers of stealth action games about the mechanism... Of course, (near) first person-view and real-time interaction would be good for immersion and I understand its popularity but why should you mix up things in a so unorganized manner?

    You can certainly be discovered and still continue the game in Thief. In fact, you can kill pretty much anyone/everyone in most levels if you want. You can also selectively take people out of you want to. As long as you hide the bodies well, you're good to go. The Thief designers developed an extensive perception system so that AI was not omniscient and did not automatically detect cries for help from allies. And just like Sam Fisher can select his load-out at the beginning of each mission with a stealth or assault load in mind, so too could Garret in the very first Thief.


    Also, I think your logic doesn't hold water about computer vs human GM. It must be much more difficult for computers to replace human GM in NPC reactions rather than in action scene you described. In fact, it was not physical but psychological reaction of the NPC what Mr.Beach did well in his GM session. So, the example is rather weakens your point.

    My point is that when you have a GM, a GM can adapt to whatever goofy stuff you try to do. This is why tabletop experiences can be fun in spite of the fact that you're just rolling dice to simulate everything. A computer simulates exactly what it is made to simulate. Truly "randomized" simultations that are based on a number give terrible feedback and give the player less control over influencing the outcome of any given contest. For example, Hitman: Contracts used this wavy-gravy mechanic for seeing through disguises where it was "kinda sorta" based on proximity, but sometimes guys would see through your disguise from across the room and other times you could walk right next to them with no problem. It was literally a randomized chance, and the solution wasn't to behave differently, but to reload and try walking past the dude again, which is pretty lame.


    In Hitman: Blood Money, there was very clear feedback about what sorts of actions provoked suspicion and could break your disguise. In addition to this, being reckless on previous levels could raise your notoriety. This could cause you to more easily raise suspicion, but it was a multiplier, not some sort of random chance or value. There was a very specific action > response mechanic. If you played like a careless, bloodthirsty psycho, it became very difficult for you to go anywhere without people catching on quickly. If instead it was something like, "There is a 2% chance that every time you come within 10' of a character that he or she will recognize you as the notorious Agent 47!" that would be lame and terrible.

  10. Except probability will always be a factor wheter we're discussing an abstract or direct control method. There's always a probability that a character will fail his Stealth check in NWN, just as there is the probability that I will fail to properly navigate surroundings and hide the avatar in Thief.
    It's the difference between probability as a computed mechanic and probability as an abstraction. You can reduce likelihood in any endeavor down to a statistical analysis of probability, but that's quite different from using as the actual mechanic of determining success or failure.


    Letting a player take over instead of an electronic and limited DM isn't much better when it's also prone to error - if not moreso. Now, I can understand the appeal of immediacy in certain aspects of gameplay; I certainly have a lot more fun sneaking in Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell games than I do in any CRPG. But I'm of the mind that part of this happens not because of the control method and its immediacy, but because the stealth mechanics of these games renders overall stealth in computer role-playing game obsolete.

    The mechanics are what makes the application of stealth in a level a game as opposed to random trial and error or a flat check to see if you have enough points in a skill. Especially in games where you can reload, trial and error and flat stat checks are pretty lame. The former can often be surmounted by reloading (e.g. trying to disintegrate a dragon) and the latter often cannot be surmounted at all; it's checking against choices you made hours or days ago (how many points you put into X skill) with no recourse.


    In a tabletop setting, such mechanics are totally fine. There is a DM present to moderate the situation and (unless you have a memory-eraser) no way to reload.

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