Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Would you believe … it got worse?

September 7, 2018

So, I mused a couple of weeks ago about how while some things were working well with my new schedule, video games had been mostly a disaster, and that I was switching to P3P with the FeMC to try to break out of my gaming slump. And then in the next couple of weekends I played the game … once. For about an hour or so. And that included a long weekend where I only played one game over the entire long weekend … and that was Dragon Age: Origins. Okay, I also briefly played Pinball Arcade, and set up a Mass Effect themed Master of Orion 2 game and played it for an hour.

I like playing games. I want to play games. So why wasn’t I playing games?

Part of the issue is that while I like Persona 3, I don’t care for the dungeons. I find the dungeons boring and disconnected from the story and better parts of the game. I also had come up on exam time which greatly limits the S-links you can do, so that wasn’t really thrilling me either. And I also noted that I had a lot of games to play (I had purchased a few new games from GOG that looked interesting). And I also watched Chuck Sonnenburg’s Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 reviews — as noise while working — and was reminded that I wanted to finish off my existing characters and do Dragon Age 2 at least once again, and so got an urge to, well, do that. This got in my head when I was trying to decide what to play, making me indecisive and hesitant about what to play, until I finally decided to just go ahead and play DAO on the last day of the long weekend just to play something. And while I enjoyed it, I’m still not sure it’s what I want to do.

This weekend I’m busy, and so probably won’t play any game at all. After that, I need to decide what to do. I might end up waiting until I go on vacation and thus have time to fix my two problems, that of projects and of video games. It doesn’t help that both of them fit best into the same three available timeslots, which always makes me feel like I have to choose between them. That’s something that doesn’t really happen when I’m on vacation and separating them out might be something to think about over the next few weeks.

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The AAA Conundrum …

September 5, 2018

So, while I may have mentioned this before — I’m too lazy to go and look it up — one of the issues that I have with the Hearts of Iron games is that I’m afraid of the combat in it, especially in HOI2 where people say that successful combat relies more on positioning than it does on overall strength. The fear is that I would arrange the political and diplomatic situations more successfully — Germany recruits from disaffected Soviet areas, Britain and France engage Germany early, the Soviet Union is less unprepared for the sudden end of the alliance with Germany, and so on — and then fritter away the interesting alt-history that that might have produced by being incapable of winning the military conflict due to a lack of skill. I’m interested in the alt-history and political aspects of the game, but am not really interested in a detailed military situation. Something like what’s in Axis and Allies would work perfectly well for me. And yet, I suspect that there are a number of fans of the game who want the military simulation aspects heightened, to be more of a challenge and more detailed and involved than it already is. If they downgraded that for me, then it would annoy those fans, but if they enhance it to cater to those fans then it will only put more and more fans like me off the game.

This is, of course, a known issue, and generally leads to niche market games that explore one or two of those aspects in detail while more general audience games merely focus on doing it well enough, relying on the niche market to satisfy the niche itch while letting them enjoy the more complete but more shallow games for what they themselves bring, and also being able to appeal more to the mainstream. However, there is an issue with AAA quality games. The graphics and production demands of AAA games means that they are, by necessity, very expensive to make. In order to make a profit, they have to grab as much of the market as they possibly can. This means that they need to be able to appeal broadly to pretty much the entire market and don’t want to have sales siphoned away by niche games. This leads them to try to be everything to everyone, and to provide all the aspects that the genre generally provides at niche-level depth, so that those players who want the complete experience can get it from that game and those who want one of the aspects can get it from that game as well. They don’t really succeed, of course, and often they seem to try to be shallow, but there is pressure for them to provide deeper systems for any aspect their audience is interested in because that’s how they’ll increase or maintain their sales and freeze out competition from AAA or niche competitors.

You can’t make a niche AAA quality game. There’s no way to get an audience big enough to have that turn a profit. But what do you do when you have multiple niche gamers all playing your game and demanding an increase in the niche they like and less prominence for the niches they don’t? If you keep them all equally prominent, then players might get turned off by those other aspects and stop buying your games. So you can give players a way to turn those aspects off or at the very least to ignore them … but then you will likely end up spending a lot of money on aspects of your game that most of your audience are completely ignoring. In fact, at the extremes you will end up with every aspect of your game, individually, only being truly explored by a small minority of your players, but being unable to reduce the effort you put into each aspect because it will cost you sales that you need to make a profit.

And the sad thing is that, in general, I think that most niche gamers aren’t all that concerned about things like graphical fidelity or nebulous “production values”. Even if the graphics weren’t all that great, I’d still probably enjoy a game that produced great alt-history moments through politicking and diplomacy. For the most part, niche gamers are more concerned with how those things support the aspects that they enjoy as opposed to having to have them be the best possible. But those who want the best possible graphics and production values are, themselves, a niche. And thus, are a market that AAA games need to appeal to. Which forces them to spend more money than they need to on all aspects of a game, which forces then to include all of them, which forces cost increases, and so on and so forth. It’s a trap that it is difficult to escape.

Update on Elsinore …

August 10, 2018

So I was reading through my archives at one point and was reminded of Elsinore, and since my impression at the time was that the game was almost finished or at least readily playable and since that was over two years ago I figured I’d take a look and see what was happening with it. And the latest update is that almost two and a half years later … the game is finally maybe getting ready for release. They have a Steam page, for example. And their latest Kickstarter update says that they’re working on issues discovered in Beta! So, if you were anxiously awaiting this game, you might actually get it.

Unfortunately, from the original Kickstarter page, the original delivery date was supposed to be April 2016 … or around the time that I posted about it and when Carolyn Petit talked about it. Given that it’s almost two and a half years later, they were no where near a proper release at that point.

And the things they talk about in the update, despite having two more years to work on it, aren’t all that promising either:

While we’re still making steady progress, a release date is still pending as we take time to clean up a big pile of bugs and content issues.

Most of the things we’re working on are back-end housekeeping-y tasks, and don’t make exciting bullet points (hence the relative silence) but here are recent updates we have, many of which involve responding to feedback you gave us during the beta:

Better Tutorials
There are a lot of features to help players manage the simulation of Elsinore, and previously we were just kind of… throwing them at you. Well, no more!

We are have some helpful pointers when each of those feature are introduced to tell you what each of these features do, and some tips and tricks to navigate the game effectively. We kept them brief, too – so they shouldn’t slow down game-play at all!

Furry Friends!
The last of our in-game backer rewards is now actually in-game and functional! All of your cats and great dane-ified dogs will now show up at various locations in the castle!

Two pets show up every loop, so the fact that they happened to be in the same place in this screenshot is actually very, very unlikely.

Why do only two pets show up each time?

Um. Well.

Our lore answer is animals can perceive the time loop and therefore are not bound by it! The real answer is that having 20 cats and dogs running around was very distracting.

A Real Options Menu
By far the most exciting pre-launch task is creating a real options menu. This one is underway. Right now, you only have one option – how fast do you want your text to scroll? Val and Connor learned from Socrates Jones that people care very, very deeply about this.

Obviously, a lot more important things will be put here before release. Graphics and sound options, mainly – if any of you have any strong opinions on what should be here, let us know!

And that’s it for now!
I mean, it’s not really it.There is a bunch of other stuff currently in progress that we’re hoping to get in, but don’t want to trumpet too loudly – we are at the point where we will drop new features if they push us back too far.

We’re hoping to do one more big backer build update before release – we talked about doing them more often, but each update comes with a risk of breaking your save files (Actually, making that less likely is ANOTHER of the big things we’ve been working on. But that only works going forward…)

So, they are dealing with a huge pile of bugs and content issues, which is delaying the release. And that was at the beginning of July, and they’ve said nothing else there since. Also, they needed to add real tutorials – the claim is “better” but the hint is that the tutorials were non-existent — to explain their mechanics. They finally added a backer reward of including dogs and cats in the game — I, uh, really have to wonder how many backers found that to be a clinching reward — but noted that they couldn’t actually put them in the way they originally intended to. Okay, that one might be something left to the end and discovered during beta, fine. They also have to actually add a number of configuration options to the game … which they call updates to the “menu” while admitting that the options weren’t in the game. And they’re even asking what should be in there! That’s … not something you should be doing when you’re claiming to be releasing soon.

So, almost two and a half years later, they are finally prepping for release with a host of bugs and content issues and major standard functionality completely missing. Yeah, that’s … not good. It would also be interesting to see if most of the bugs and content issues are the result of the complex interactions that I thought they’d have a hard time getting a handle on or if it’s more the result of bad or rushed coding. I suspect that it’s a little bit of both.

It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes for the game to be released — to be fair to them, that could be as early as tomorrow — and what state it’s in when it is released. The hope is that the beta testing is indeed finding the issues with it that I noted in my post and so it might not be a disaster at the end of the day. The longer cycle after beta would seem promising if you’re a fan of the game, but I’m not sure that we can trust their assessment of the game given how they talked about it two years ago and that it took them two years longer than they expected to get the game out, and did a beta already in 2016.

At this point, if it comes out on GOG, I almost have to buy it and see how it turned out, out of morbid curiosity and, well, an attempt to be fair to the game. I don’t buy anything from Steam, though, so if it stays only there then I won’t be able to.

My Lists Are Long …

August 3, 2018

So, I’ve talked about the lists I’ve updated and created to try and get things done. The three lists that are on the blog are, well, all rather long, and also aren’t entirely complete. For example, I only have three hourly shows listed on my list of shows to watch on DVD despite the fact that I do indeed have a rather large library of DVDs to watch, that contain both shows that I’ve never watched and shows that I have watched but really want to watch again. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ll return to Knight Rider after finishing Dynasty, and so it might not even be accurate (the half-hour list is pretty much right). And when it comes to my reading list, I have a large number of philosophical works listed and, on top of that, have a number of works that count as “literature” that I want to slide in there at some point. Oh, and I’ve already mentioned the six+ boxes of fiction that I want to read. Essentially, I’m setting up lists that, if I try to complete everything on them, will likely take me years to complete.

I might be overthinking this a little …

That being said, I am making progress. I’ve made good progress on the history books that I wanted to complete, and so can expect to finish the list in a couple of months or so. He-Man has stalled a little since I started slipping Dynasty in as well, but that’s only because I’ve taken time away from it to watch Dynasty, which means that I’m about half-way through it. All I really need to do is live up to my bargain and actually watch the half-hour show in the evenings, after watching one or more episodes of the hourly show and hitting a convenient time point. And I’ve still made some progress on He-Man anyway, especially in the last few days. Finishing Persona was a coup, and I’ve started Persona 2 and am making progress with it … although it turns out that games are working out the worst, because every time I play Persona 2 it reminds me of how much better Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, and a number of things keep reminding me of other games that I’d like to play. Thus, I feel the most dissatisfied with the games I’m playing, and there actually isn’t an alternative like I had with “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, which was to read it for an hour or so and then read Deadpool graphic novels in my general reading time. I don’t have free general game playing time nor do I have a lot of games that I could play in general spare time to at least let me play a game that I want to play or enjoy. The counter to that is that for video games there are far fewer games that would make me feel that way; Persona 2 is just a special case, and only because I like the modern Persona games that much more than them that it drags down my enjoyment of those games.

However, an issue with this is that I have little programming projects in the queue as well, but the pressure to finish these things tends to distract me from doing them. It’s not so much that I consider those things more important than the programming projects, but that I consider them at about the same level, and due to time constraints it doesn’t really work to do them in the early weekend afternoons like I had planned. What I’m finding is that my morning stuff plus cooking lunch plus cleaning up takes me just past the starting point for those projects, but then that wouldn’t leave me a lot of time before I’m supposed to play games (and I only have a few days to do that as well). I don’t want to delay playing games because a) I need the hours to get through them in any reasonable amount of time and b) I don’t want to play them too late because then I might not fall asleep that well. Plus, playing them too late would also cut into the time I can explicitly watch those DVDs. So it’s just easier for me to start playing earlier and then finish earlier, and I still get my watching and reading done as well. It just ends up cutting off all of those little projects, which then makes me feel bad that I’m doing nothing on them.

I think a reshuffling of my schedule is in the offing …

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how I progress with this and how satisfied I’ll be with the whole thing as time goes by. So far it hasn’t been terrible and it has been nice to finish some things that I’ve always wanted to finish, but there have been moments when the things that are supposed to be mostly fun haven’t actually been fun. We’ll have to see if they’re fun enough for me to still have some fun with things while still feeling that I’m progressing.

First Thoughts on Persona 2

August 1, 2018

After playing through the first couple of dungeons, I think I like Innocent Sin less than I liked the original Persona. This … is not a good sign [grin].

The game carries over a number of gameplay elements and thus annoyances from the original Persona. You still have to get new Personas through negotiation, although this time it seems to be by gathering cards that you can use to fuse new Personas rather than by having to recruit them directly. Still, this maintains the choice between leveling up your characters and gathering Persona and cards. And some random elements happen when the Shadows interrupt the conversation and ask questions, but only enough to be a bit annoying and not enough to actually make it a challenge. At least the conversations seem to be easier this time and so I’ve managed to gather up a fair number of cards, but for the most part it’s still boring and still clashes with experience gain.

It also provides a temptation to just do the conversation to avoid the fight since the combat is nowhere near as interesting as it is in the later Persona games. This, of course, risks leaving you underleveled, and since your Personas only increase their skills if you use their abilities — especially in combat — that would leave your Personas underleveled as well. Yep, that mechanism returns and is just as annoying as it was in Persona.

What this game adds, it seems to me, is a higher random encounter rate with more confusing dungeons. The random encounter rate seems to me to be on par with Suikoden V’s, and it also interrupts me while I’m trying to find rooms or ways through dungeons and thus confusing me at about the same rate as that game. This isn’t helped by the fact that you actually can’t find the way out of one dungeon, even though the game tells you that you’ve taken a wrong turn and so need to find another way out. You have to get lost three times before a cutscene cuts in and lets you find the way out. The game also has a nasty habit of sending you on long runs around the areas to find who you’re looking for. From the beginning, the game asks you to seek out the guidance counselor and you spend the entire time running around the school, moving from room to room and area to area to be told that you just missed her, until you finally find her … back where you started. This carries on throughout many of the dungeons, and it only gets more annoying when you add random encounters into the mix. The best one was the one where you had to smash all the clocks … although the fact that some students would break some for you and so you didn’t have to go into those rooms made it more annoying because it wasn’t just a straightforward “Go into every room and break the clock” mission.

The game, however, does do a far better job of integrating the story and the dungeons, with cutscenes and conversations advancing the plot and the lore at regular points inside most dungeons. I also kinda like the idea of finding rumours that can then add special enemies to a dungeon, but find it annoying that once you find that out you have to leave the dungeon, schlep over the Detective Agency, pay for it to be spread, and then return and hope to hit the ghost in a random encounter. It would be better to have that happen in the dungeon, not outside of it.

The rumours mechanism is interesting, but clashes badly with my casual gaming style, since you might want to hold off on spreading a rumour so as to be able to spread really good ones — like that the shop sells high quality weapons or armor — but that you don’t know that going in. It’s also not clear how important this stuff is, and since it costs money and since I’m always strapped for cash the first time through a game I wonder if I should be spreading all the rumours I come across. This game is also not that casual friendly because there doesn’t really seem to be a way to find out from the game where you need to go if you forget — although the people in the streets have conversations that might suggest it — and playing two days a week I quite often forget where I was supposed to go next.

The game’s story does a pretty good job of mixing goofy humour with the serious plot, although it can be a bit too goofy at times. I like most of the characters, though, although the fighting between Lisa and Boss gets annoying (which is lampshaded because it annoys everyone else, too).

So far, I’m not particularly enjoying the game. I suspect that part of the problem is because of the frustration I felt while playing the original Persona, and this game really does seem like more of the same. Despite my problems with Persona 3 the the last time I played it replaying it with the Female MC is next on my list and seems so much more interesting than this game sounds. Still, my plan is still to muddle on through this one, but so far I’m not really enjoying the ride.

Final Thoughts on Persona

July 20, 2018

Well, I’m going to say that I finished Persona, even though I didn’t manage to finish the final dungeon. What happened was that I sat down one Sunday to finish it, got pretty far, hit a save point, went through the dungeon for about an hour and got into a new area with new enemies, was doing okay … and then had a TPK. And then realized that I hadn’t saved for quite some time and so it was going to be a long way back. Quit and left it for the next weekend. Then I started playing it again on Saturday, went on for about an hour and … had the same thing happen, with a different set of enemies. This despite the fact that I had gone through a number of battles already in that area and hadn’t had those problems. Maybe I was underleveled. Maybe I didn’t fuse enough Personas. But for whatever reason there was a good chance of my ending up with a TPK and having to backtrack for an hour just to get back to where I was. I’m just not up for that sort of frustration.

So, I’m treating it like I treated X-Men: Legends the first time I played it, where I got to the ending, couldn’t beat the final boss, but called it a finish anyway. With Persona, I got to the point where the game could have ended if I hadn’t answered the questions properly, and so was actually past an ending, and probably got to the coolest part, which was where you meet yourself and he evaluates you based on your choices in the game. So I finished this game far more than I might have finished other games.

Eventually, I replayed X-Men: Legends and managed to finish the game. I don’t think that will be happening here.

Playing Persona makes me realize that, for all its eccentricities, the modern Persona series, starting from Persona 3, made a lot of improvements that made the game playable and less annoying than the original game. The original game’s gameplay is built, it seems, around being difficult, but on Easy I found it less difficult overall and more frustrating and annoying, which probably isn’t what they were aiming for.

First, they make it so that your choices in the game matter, but they never actually indicate any of these choices and what they mean. For the ones that impact the assessment at the end, that’s okay. For the ones that impact which ending you get, that’s not as good but isn’t as terrible. The worst, though, was when you recruit a character for your party in the SEBEC route. You can only get one character and so I ended up with Brown, because I let him out of jail and when he asked to join I figured “I need all the help I can get!” and recruited him. I would have much rathered have Eriko in the party for what is almost certainly going to be my one playthrough of this game. It would have been nice to let you change party members out if you came across a party member you wanted more later in the game.

Second, getting Personas is critically dependent on negotiations with demons. However, they never simply offer you their cards, and so you have to “win” the negotiation, by essentially making them enthusiastic with you. You have five party members who can negotiate and their options work at different times on different demons. So in order to figure out how they are likely to react it’s a lot of trial and error, and again it’s not merely a positive response that you are looking for, as making them happy will not allow you to recruit them. And if you make them angry enough to fail the negotiation they might intimidate you to start and so might end up getting the drop on you, so you want to avoid that, but once you’ve selected someone to negotiate with them you can’t change or, I think, end the negotiation, so if you find that the person you selected can’t do anything but make them angry you’re screwed. Also, sometimes based on random events popping up the reactions will change, sometimes positively but often negatively (meaning to anything except enthusiasm). Also, the negotiating member has to be of a certain level to get their card even if you succeed, and it’s not merely character level, and it’s their level, not yours. I think it’s Persona level, which is a separate stat that I could probably figure out if I tried but wasn’t obvious in the game. So you can go through the negotiation, finally succeed, and … not get the card anyway.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that if you successfully win a negotiation you don’t get any experience for the fight itself. This means that, essentially, you have to choose between leveling up your characters and getting cards so that you can fuse new Personas that you can use in the game. Since you might have to negotiate a lot to get a sufficient stable of Personas to fuse to get good enough abilities, this could really hamper you since your level matters a lot, both for fights and for negotiations themselves. Or you can focus on getting some Personas you like and then going for the XP instead … which is what stood me in good stead for most of the game, but likely is what killed me in the end game. Maybe.

Making this even worse is that merging new Persona leaves them rather underpowered. They might have one good ability and you are expected to level them up to get them maxed out. Okay, that’s pretty standard Persona. Except that the only way to learn new abilities for them is to use their abilities. Yes, you have to specifically use their skills to get new ones, eating away at your often low SP. And if they don’t start with skills that are that useful, or aren’t that useful for the demons that you’re fighting, you are forced to either use the skills anyway to leave them underpowered, which made it pointless to fuse them in the first place. And since you can only fuse from cards and not from actual Personas, if you fuse them they’re yours, even if they didn’t turn out to be as useful as you hoped.

You could try to bring along a number of Persona and then switch to the one you can level up with based on the demons you meet … but a character switching a Persona can only do that in a turn, and so they’d spend their turn switching to a new Persona. With the right Personas/levels on the other characters, the enemies might be dead by the time their turn came around next time, and otherwise you are taking another turn of damage just to switch to a new Persona, making that an impractical strategy for leveling Persona abilities.

Also, XP distribution is odd, as it seems to relate to damage done, in part, but also to you using your abilities. My MC dominated all the XP gain once he learned Megidola and used that to clear out all the enemy parties, which meant that the rest of the party leveled up slower. But to avoid that would require me to be inefficient at attacking parties, which would mean taking more damage and using more SP and possibly taking another TPK when I’m nowhere near a save point.

But the big problem with the game is this: the dungeons are too big and too long and too devoid of story content to be interesting if you didn’t come to the game for the gameplay. I liked the story well-enough, but spent far too much time wandering around the dungeons aiming to get to the next story point for my liking. It seemed to me like over 95% of the game was walking around the dungeons and the last 5% was participating in the story, which includes boss fights. For a game that tried to make your choices matter, this leaves a surprisingly short amount of time to make choices and have them matter, or to explore the characters and the story in any detail. If you really like the tactical gameplay and the negotiation mechanism, you’ll love this game, but if you’re there for the story, it’s going to be boring. Persona 3 solved this by making the dungeons pretty much separate from the story sections (so it’s clear that it’s just grinding), while Persona 4 and Persona 5 made the dungeons far more integrated with the story itself, adding many more story sequences into the dungeons to make them feel more directly related to the story, except for — in both cases — the ones that were explicitly just for grinding. But Persona just felt like a grind, with a few story sections popping up at times to further the plot and remind you that there was one.

And as an old school dungeon game, I liked Dungeon Travelers 2 a lot better, mostly because you could relatively easily leave, rest and come back when you ran out of resources or were finding things too difficult. It’s even the case that they have dark areas and one way corridors and doors, but in Persona those things were incredible annoyances because I really just wanted to get through them to get to the next story part, while in Dungeon Travelers 2 if I didn’t feel like doing them or was too low on resources I could easily leave and come back later when I had more and was higher leveled.

So, that’s Persona. I’m now playing Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and it has one huge advantage over Persona: it seems that you can save anywhere. So I might actually finish that one [grin].

Character Blow-Up

July 11, 2018

So, recently, two Guild Wars 2 writers were fired over a blow-up on Twitter. While I first came across it in the comments section of two different sites — one each of left-wing and right-wing — I’m going to link to the Eurogamer article on it because it gives the most information and the links to the threads themselves. The topic of the Twitter thread that started this whole thing was about whether or not you can have memorable characters in an MMORPG or straight RPG, and how you need to write dialogue for characters in those genres. I’m going to talk about that, specifically, a little bit later in the post. However, my impression of what happened is that a Youtube content creator who happened to be a partner with ArenaNet — the company that makes Guild Wars 2 — to comment on how things are working replied to the Twitter thread with a comment that essentially said that it’s not about creating generic conversations, but is instead about making the conversations react to the character the player chooses. The writer — who happens to be a woman — then responded with a snarky comment about him telling her things she already knew, then created a separate thread basically suggesting that he only did that because he was a man and she was a woman despite her being experienced and an expert in the field, thus implying that it was sexism driving his response — specifically, mansplaining — and then responded to other comments on that topic with an even more snarky response that, again, seemed to be aimed precisely at taking exception because it was men who made the comments, and also that they were talking about something she already understood. Another employee defended her — mostly keying off of the argument that this was a personal account and so people shouldn’t reply to it for some reason — and then they were both fired.

So let me talk about that first. First, Denoir — the Youtuber — definitely had knowledge about the inner workings of games that the Price — the female writer — didn’t bother to check to see that he had. Second, he actually was someone that she kinda worked with, or at least someone who worked with her company, which she also didn’t bother to check on but did deny. Third, his comment was standard and the sort of comment that all sorts of people who talk about video games would make, including people like Shamus Young and even myself. Fourth, since she made it on a public forum and linked it back to a thread that was a discussion, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to respond to it. Fifth, just because she works in the industry doesn’t mean that she has that much more expertise than someone “rando”. After all, I personally have at least 20 years experience as a player of RPGs, and thus have quite a bit of knowledge and expertise on the experience of players playing the games. Thus, she can’t really ignore my experience just because she has 10 years experience as a writer, as I technically have more years of experience that is more directly related to player experience. Her appeal there would be nothing more than an invalid “Appeal to Authority” logical fallacy; even with her experience, she could be wrong, and even with my experience, I could be wrong, as well. Anyway, the summary is that someone replied to her Twitter thread disagreeing with her, she thought that it was something that was obvious, and replied angrily by, essentially, calling Denoir a mansplainer and thus at least implied that he was sexist, without being aware that he was officially associated with the company as well and without bothering to address his overall comment, on a forum where she could have expected public comment and feedback. I don’t think that Denoir was in the wrong here.

So, should she have been fired? Just for that, my comment would be “No”. If I was her boss, I would have said that if she is going to make comments like that she had better check to see how much experience the person she is replying to actually has, but that instead it would be far better for her to simply ignore any comments that she doesn’t think relevant, germane, or that she thinks she’s already covered or taken into consideration. There is really no cause for her to fire back multiple, snarky replies to a comment that, at its worst, is stating the obvious, even if it may not have been obvious that it was taken into account in her account. However, there might be other factors that are driving this that demanded the firing, but I can’t see what they are.

Okay, so let’s look at the debate itself. The originating Twitter thread is here, and Denoir’s reply is here. My summary of the debate is this: Price is saying that it is really hard to make the protagonists of MMORPGs, at least, memorable because the player is the one driving the character, and doing so more directly, and so you can’t really give them a set personality. I agree with this, as the main reason I couldn’t give a list of the top ten male characters like I did for female characters was because the male characters were the protagonists more often and so were more personalized, and thus weren’t really “characters” in that sense. She then goes on to talk about making them very generic, using Bella Swan as an example, and so making them what she calls a “blank space” so that the player can insert themselves into it. She then says that their lines have to be devoid of personality for the most part, because that would clash with the imagination of the player. Denoir’s response is that you don’t need to craft the conversations that way, but instead can make them reactive if you drop the idea that the conversations all have to lead to the same place (I presume meaning “response” in this case).

So let’s look at this in more detail. The first thing to note is that this is, well, a common question about RPGs in general, and not just MMORPGs (which Denoir points out). And it is interesting to note that, in general, this is a particular issue for Western-style RPGs, which have always been about character customization, which then leads to players being more attached to a specific character and so feeling that they should be able to act as they think that character would act. JRPGs, on the other hand, tend not to have as much character customization, and so have protagonists that have set personalities. There are some exceptions to this, though, where the protagonist doesn’t have much of a personality and the player can give some small set of responses to shape their personality. Persona 3 — and probably Persona 4 — are good examples of this, as the MCs themselves don’t seem to have a set personality and you can generally give snarky or serious responses to most situations, but in general those responses don’t have much impact on how things work out except for maybe the next response from the NPC, and so can be unsatisfying. This is one of the reasons why I prefer the female protagonist in P3P when I get the chance to play it, because she does seem to actually have a personality.

Now, of course, MMORPGs can’t really work the JRPG way, because it would be ridiculous to have an entire party of players who are all the exact same character. So everyone has to be different characters, and that leads to character customization. Given that starting point, the game is definitely going to move away from a defined character and more into a player-defined character. So, then, how is the game going to do that? Is it going to make every response simply generic in tone, or is it going to be more player-responsive?

The thing is that both Western RPGs and MMORPGs have actually gone for the “player-responsive” option. Bioware is the best example of that approach in both genres. The player gets to choose the options that their character says, and the dialogue is then shifted in tone to match what they were trying to say. The Witcher games, from what I’ve seen, do something similar, and yet actually manage to define a character despite the player having great input into what they do (and, as open-world games, are similar enough to MMORPGs so that the comparison works). And if you are going player-responsive, you don’t actually need to make the actual dialogue generic because you know what sort of personality the player is going for by what response they selected, and so can write the dialogue to reflect that. In fact, if you made it more generic it would hurt the dialogue, because it would feel like the dialogue isn’t actually taking your response into account.

Okay, but there are always going to be some cases where the player can’t choose what they say, such as with greetings and goodbyes and the like. Those have to be generic, right? Well, I’m not sure about that. If we just look at the Mass Effect games or The Old Republic, we can see that the use of a morality meter can, in fact, solve that problem, too. If the character over time is trending Dark Side or Renegade, you can make their initial lines more aggressive or gruff, while if they are going more Light Side or Paragon you can make them more kind and friendly. And you can even shift NPC reactions according to that reputation: if the character is more Dark Side or Renegade, the NPC can be more intimidated, frightened or disapproving depending on their own personal viewpoint, whereas if the character is more Light Side or Paragon you can have them do the opposite. If the character is Dark Side or Renegade, the NPCs can try to appeal to their self-interest, while if the character is Light Side or Paragon they can appeal to their desire to help others. Sure, all of this means recording more voice lines, but not overwhelmingly so, since the states are limited and some situations won’t need any different dialogue.

So it looks like a more player-responsive approach rather than a bland and generic one is doable, even for MMORPGs. Does Price realize this? Does she realize this and have a reason why it can’t be done as easily as I think it can? I have no idea, because she didn’t bother to actually respond to what Denoir said or find out what he was talking about, which is just another example of how Social Justice concerns can hurt game design and the discussion thereof.

Accomplished …

July 4, 2018

So, I think the best way to describe the mode I’m in right now is that my main push is to “accomplish” things. In short, to get the things done or do the things that I’ve wanted to do for ages and so now I’m deliberately planning for that, with my revamped reading list, my list of video games, and even my list of dvds to watch. I’m not merely trying to finish things that I’ve been wanting to finish — which is what I did before — but instead have been listing all of the things that I want to do, even if that’s to re-read, re-watch, or replay something that I’ve been looking to experience again for a long time. That’s even what drove my trying to slot hour long shows into my gaming time, and now to carve out an hour or so out of my evenings to watch Dynasty there, just so that I have a chance to watch it and get it done.

The problem is that, well, these sorts of things are really supposed to be in my leisure time, and sometimes doing that isn’t all that much fun. Or, rather, it’s not as much fun as the many, many other things that I could do in that time.

For example, right now I’m reading the abridged version of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. The book is, well, not terrible, but not terribly fun. But I’m soldering through it because I’ve owned it for years and never really go all that far in it, and I want to finally finish it and put it behind me. But I can look at the stack of books to follow it, and know that at least the next two are going to be far more interesting than it is right now, and so can’t help but think that there are much better books that I could be reading right now. This is not helped by the fact that the previous two books that were on the list were not as good as I remembered. Oh, and I also went through my collection of books and gathered six boxes of fiction books that I want to read at some point once I get off this non-fiction run, which doesn’t even include the old favourites like the X-Wing books and the Wing Commander books that I will indeed read likely at some point this year. So every time I pick up that book, I can’t help but be reminded of all of the other books I have available that I could be reading instead. This does not make me more favourably inclined towards that book [grin].

The same thing can be said for video games right now. I’m playing Persona right now, which is a game that I really wanted to finish at some point, and is one of the games that I was annoyed over losing access to when the battery on my PSP died and I was having a hard time finding a replacement. But I don’t like Persona, as a game, anywhere near as much as the other Persona games, which are right now sitting at the end of my current queue. I also recently went through my other games and, again, found a long list of games that I want to play at some point. So, again, every time I sit down to play it I can’t help but be reminded of all of the other games I could be playing instead.

For both of them, the only thing that’s keeping me going with them is the fact that they’re on the top of the list and so are in a great position for me to actually finish them, and I really want to finish them. I’m also not likely to get anything new any time soon to distract me from them. So I’m not going to get any better chance to finish them than I have right now. So, I’m hoping that that sense of accomplishment at the end will outweigh the mild annoyance I’m experiencing right now.

Amazingly, DVDs don’t have this issue. I’m enjoying He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, even if it’s been a bit displaced by Dynasty, which I’m also enjoying. Knight Rider has been pushed aside for now, but that’s mostly because I don’t play Persona as long as I had thought I would and since my play was to watch an entire disk while playing and since one disk is closer to 4 hours than to 3 it doesn’t fit in that time slot anymore. Moreover, there’s always baseball and now soccer to watch while playing games so it doesn’t even support that as well as it did originally. But there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll find the time to watch it at some point when I finish Dynasty, even if I watch something else first.

Hopefully, I can slog through these to get to something more fun. The last thing I want is to put this much effort in and end up bailing on them at the end anyway.

First Thoughts on Persona …

June 20, 2018

Okay, I already started playing this once already, but I’m replaying it now over four years later and so figure it would be good to talk about it again, especially since I can think about it in the context of general Persona-style games and see how it holds up. So, what do I think of it?

There are a number of things that struck me as being pretty much the same as the modern games. Particularly, the music. The battle music and even the dungeon music are tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in the modern games despite the fact that Persona came out in 1996. And the style still works, both in that game and in the modern games, and it provides some nice continuity between the games. Just listening to the music makes you feel that yes, you’re playing a Persona game.

However, as I noted four years ago, I really hate the dungeons. It isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go, and the spell card system and negotiation isn’t all that obvious, and that’s the only way to get new Persona. Unlike four years ago, I actually managed to succeed at it once — I think Nanjo bribed them into it — but the issue is that you have multiple characters and multiple actions each character can take and it isn’t obvious which combinations work. I think that you need to max out their enthusiasm to get them as a Persona, but I’m still not sure. Plus, I think that the same action might not have the same result later in the conversation for whatever reason, since I think that happened to me once. This is not a good system for someone who is going to play it for 3 hours Saturday and Sunday afternoons and come back to it next weekend. This is also not a good system if you’re worried about losing XP in order to get a new Persona. This, however, also has the issue that you can max out your starting Persona and then need new Persona, but might not have the dungeons really available to get them or be able to create new ones. I’m really, really worried that in my next dungeon they’ll expect me to simply have better Persona and I won’t be able to get to the Velvet Room to merge new ones, even if I manage to learn to do the negotiation properly. I might have to return to SEBEC, if I can, to fix that. But then grinding that way would be boring as well.

It doesn’t help that the combat is less interesting as well, because targeting weaknesses doesn’t give you as much of a benefit as the later games do. There have been a number of cases where using another ability actually kills the enemies faster than using the ability they are weak to does. So it ends up being rinse-and-repeat with your more powerful abilities … until you hit a group that mops the floor with you, when you haven’t saved and now are panicked that your level is too low and you won’t be able to finish the game.

This game doesn’t do the explicit S-links of later Persona games and its compatriots like Blue Reflection, so it isn’t entirely fair to compare them. Party members join and leave as per the plot and while you can make choices in reaction to things they’ve talked about I’m not sure what impact that might have. The game talks about you choosing your path and so these things possibly mattering, but I’m not sure if they do yet or not. That being said, compared to the games roughly in the same genre as the Persona games, Persona still seems to have a pretty good story. Sure, I already know it from the Persona 4tw series, but there are still some interesting moments in it. I think the story and story presentation has improved in the later Persona games, but it still holds up and is interesting here. I just wish I didn’t have to spend so much time wandering the dungeons to get to it.

I’m really, really trying to finish the game off this time and it’s the top game on my list, so it’s pretty likely that the only thing that will get me to stop playing it is getting stuck somewhere in a dungeon. So you can see why that’s concerning me [grin]. Still, I estimate that it will take me at least another month to finish it. We’ll see if I can take it for that long.

Lists …

June 1, 2018

So, I’ve been recently redoing my schedule to try to fit more things into it. I’ve also been trying to plan out things so that, eventually, I can talk about them on the blog. And I’ve started to get onto a kick of either finishing things or, at least, trying to make sure that I get things finished that I’ve wanted to get finished for quite some time. Long-time readers of the blog will remember the various pages that I made to list these things out, and so I’ve decided to update those lists with an organized set of things that I want to do. This will help me keep track of what I want to do next — so no hemming and hawing over what I’m going to do next when I finish something –, give the people reading the blog an idea of what I’m going to talk about at some point, and in some sense have this out in public which then gives me some incentive to actually finish it.

So, first, let’s talk about books. I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately, reading through a ton of non-fiction books and, in particular, a number of Pierre Berton books. I plan on commenting on them at some point when I get a chance — although the stack is getting larger and larger — but for now I’ve added a bunch of historical books to the list, which tracks non-fiction books. I think there are three books there that I haven’t read — “History’s Greatest Battles”, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and “Guns, Germs and Steel” — but I’ve been wanting to re-read “The Holy Kingdom” and “The Last Knight” for a while and I re-read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” pretty regularly, and “The Storm of War” fits nicely into the WWII mindset. After that, I have to catch up on my philosophical reading, but I haven’t made that list yet because these books will take me a few months to read — non-fiction takes longer to read than fiction — and after that I’ll have to see if I’m ready to pick up more non-fiction or if I want to read some fiction at that point.

Next are TV shows. I only have time to watch half hour long shows in the evenings, which is why I’ve been commenting on cartoons a lot right now (also why I did comedies like Wings, Cheers and Frasier). So I’ve listed the last set of cartoons for now: “The Real Ghostbusters”, “He-Man” (all of the series), and “She-Ra”. After that, it’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, which I’ve watched but never talked about. After that … I don’t know.

I’ve also wanted to watch or re-watch some hour long shows, and I’ve carved out some time to watch them … while playing games on the weekend, which gives me about two disks a week. Right now, “Knight Rider” and “Airwolf” are going in that slot, and when they’re finished I don’t know what I’ll do yet. But at that pace it will take me months to get there, so I have time.

For both of these, once I finish off the current lists I might well go back and re-watch things that I just want to watch but either have already commented on or don’t want to comment on, so I may not use the next things to generate content for the blog. But, for now, I will comment in some way on all of these shows.

And speaking of video games, I’ve created a new list for my planned video games. Right now, it’s all of the Persona games except for Persona 5. I have a lot of candidates to play after that — including Persona 5 — but at six hours a week I estimate that just playing those four will take me until about Christmas. Let’s see how I feel at that point.

So, that’s it so far. There may be other lists coming if I think them useful, but these are the ones that I already had and did find useful at some point, so I figured it made sense to use them. You can watch the lists to see what gets added, what gets removed, and what gets completed.