RSS

Tag Archives: Bethesda

Stop Bragging About NPC Schedules

There is a disturbing trend I’ve noticed with open world games over the past decade or so. No, it’s not that most of them are mostly hollow shells with nothing but the same repetitive things to do, especially in the case of Ubisoft games. No, it’s not that there are waaaay too fucking many of them. No, it’s not that only one of them is The Witcher 3 and that’s a problem because EVERY game should be The Witcher 3. These are all issues, yes, but not the one I had in mind when I started writing this in my bed at 12:35 at night while listening to a “1 Hour of Medieval Instrumental Music” on YouTube because I am the world’s most hopeless dork.

The issue at hand is one of NPCs. I wanna be fair, it isn’t a problem with the NPCs themselves. I have no obsessive vendetta against the generic people walking through the open world, minding their own business. It’s not THEIR fault they look like one of five different NPC models or that they occasionally merge with a horse to create a hellspawn creature that would make Dr. Moreau’s nightmares have nightmares.

horse woman

In the Wild West, no one can hear you scream.

It’s actually beef I have with the developers of open world games and how smug they are when it comes to their NPCs. More specifically: NPC schedules. What the hell am I talking about? Allow me to elaborate.

Just last week the games industry had their biggest event of the year, the annual E3 which allows game publishers and developers to get on a big stage and talk about all the announcements that leaked in the weeks coming up to the show, like what new version of Skyrim that Bethesda Game Studios will release this year. It’s big, flashy and a bit self serving, but whatever, it’s dumb fun and we get to see cool new shit. Ubisoft is one of the bigger companies that gets its own press conference, so they’re able to waste an hour of our time by having a panda dance with Noob Saibot clones (you had to be there). BUT Ubisoft did manage to squeeze in SOME game news, and that was the reveal of Assassin’s Creed Origins.

I could go into detail about Origins, but that could be saved for another blog post that I may write in the next 1-18 months (depending on how busy I am with watching YouTube videos about board games). What I am going to discuss is Ubisoft’s pride in the revelation that in Origins, you are going to be able to explore a MASSIVE Ancient Egypt, complete with NPCs with their own unique schedules. That’s right, NPCs have their very own schedules that they follow to a god damn T! You can literally follow around a dude allll day and watch him as he goes about his business, doing things like walking and fixing a boat and eating. Just hand it Game of the Year, am I right???

Wrong. And that’s what I’m here to rant about. Developers…I know that you’re surfing the internet, feverishly googling to find your way to someone like me, a 27 year old guy whose only experience with any sort of programming was an 11th grade HTML class where I made a web page that listed my favorite cereals, so that you can get my opinion on your game design. So here’s my opinion: don’t brag that your NPCs have schedules because no one gives a rat’s fuck.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Giving NPC schedules and bragging about it can be traced all the way back to the fourth Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion. Bethesda was proud to announce that every NPC in the game had a schedule, a set series of duties and chores that the NPC would follow with rigid execution. At least, until you killed the character, stripped them of their clothes, and drowned them under a shower of their own books, if you’re anything like me. But while they’re alive and fully clothed? They’re out there living a full fledged life, like they’re god damned people!

It seemed neat. Until I realized that it did nothing to inform the gameplay, except when you got a quest that revolved around following a person on their schedule. Then it did inform the gamplay, but in a very bad, terrible, awful, not good way.

You see, in Oblivion, before the Elder Scrolls became a glorified fetch quest marathon in Skyrim, there were quests that actually had plot lines and interesting characters. Some of these quests, though, involved you stalking characters around town, often trying to catch them doing something illicit in between their mundane, every day tasks.

You know what this involved? Watching someone hoe for six in game hours.

oblivion npc

Who needs to kill goblins and learn spells that can set things on fire when I can watch this.

I admit, there was definitely a certain charm to following people around and watching them live their virtual little lives, but it wore thin when I was actually FORCED to do it. It’s not like these guys live exciting lives. It’d be one thing if my quest objective was, “Stalk Keith Richards and Caligula on their way to a party” but it was “Stalk this random peasant whose most exciting part of their day is whether they take a green apple or red apple for dinner.”

It was at this point that I came to realize…what was the point? Who gives a shit if they have schedules? Does it really make the world feel that much more alive that John Shitface III goes to the same baker every morning? I’m trying to save the world from a literal demigod, and you have the gall to think I’m going to be awed that your NPCs get into bed at the same time? Hey Bethesda. I experience more glitches in one hour of one of your games than in the entirety of three other games combined. Maybe spend more time making sure your code isn’t stitched together by moldy pieces of Big League Chew than trying to make sure that Ivana Cockguzzle hoes the same patch of dirt every Thursday at noon.

Ubisoft, don’t think I’m done with you. Just because Bethesda is my prime example of this “Our NPCs have schedules and it’s great!” dogshit, doesn’t mean that you get off the hook. You’re pulling the same stunt with a game series that is just as notorious for glitches. I just recently started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and while I’m enjoying it immensely (a topic that may be saved for a blog post as well), it’s got some technical issues. I am not exaggerating when I say that I came across a visual glitch that forced me to restart the game within the FIRST FIVE MINUTES. And it wasn’t the first glitch I encountered, as it was later followed by my character stepping from a horse and carriage into an endless void, as well as a cutscene that featured an invisible person. Need I remind you, I am playing this game a year and a half after it launched, meaning there should have been plenty of time for patches to prevent this nonsense from happening. And let’s never forget Unity and its own mess of glitches, that produced some truly Lovecraftian horrors.

unity glitch

In 18th century France, no one can hear you scream.

Ubisoft, I said it to Bethesda so I’ll say it to you, and I KNOW you two companies are listening to me, don’t act like you’re not. I seriously couldn’t care less that your Egyptian villagers are going to have day to day chores if your game crashes on me, if people vanish mid cutscene or if, even worse, your game isn’t even fucking fun. Don’t strut around, waving your dick around like a helicopter blade as you describe with relish that some random guy you can follow around will act out a daily schedule because that’s not what I’m playing games for. Nobody wants to play a game to watch virtual people do menial tasks. We play games to escape menial tasks, not watch someone else do them. We want to stab people in the throat with our hidden blade and climb monuments and do the same repetitive side mission over and over again. Actually, you can not do that last one, please, that is getting a tad old.

I know this is an odd thing to complain about because it really has no bearing on the actual gameplay, with the exception of those shitty quests I mentioned ealier. It’s more the fact that developers brag about this thing, like it’s a check mark on the back of the game box that is going to cause copies to fly off shelves. NPC schedules are pointless, and if it’s taking precious resources and memory away from the actual game? Well, then, to steal a line from Shakespeare, that’s just straight up bird poop.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Bethesda Chose The Wrong Remaster

oblivion-logo

I am not a guy who is easily surprised. If I was out to eat and I find a used Band-Aid in my salad, I’d probably nod and go, “Interesting choice.” When it comes to video games, I get even less surprised. When you’ve been in the hobby since 1994, you’ve seen things. Things that will desensitize you to any bizarre piece of news.

I’ve seen a console commercial with a creepy, sentient baby doll and a floating PS3.

I’ve seen Kevin Spacey play a villain in Call of Duty.

I’ve seen a game called Farming Simulator 17.

Seventeen.

There are seventeen of those fuckers.

farming-simulator

No, this isn’t a Photoshopped picture.

But color me surprised when earlier this year there were rumors swirling about that Bethesda was working on a remastered version of Skyrim for the current gen consoles. And when it was confirmed at this year’s E3, I was even more surprised that it was a real thing.

It certainly isn’t the worst idea for a remaster. After all, Devil May Cry 4: Definitive Edition DOES exist, a remaster asked for by no one, not even the developers of the original Devil May Cry 4. It was more the fact that it was Bethesda. This is a game company that takes its time with its games, often releasing games 4-5 years apart from each other because they’re so massive, expensive, and glitch filled. It seemed like an odd decision to take resources away from a studio that needs every person they can get to focus on remastering a five year old game that is still, honestly, kind of fresh in people’s minds.

Here’s my thoughts: Skyrim is a great game, arguably one of the best Western RPGs ever made, but did we really need a slightly better looking version of it? Yes, there’s mod support, but if adding top hats to mudcrabs is the number one reason to spend $60 on a game I already own and put over 150 hours into, then I’m not sure if your game needed to be made. It just doesn’t seem necessary, especially since this is probably going to take time and resources away from an actually new Elder Scrolls game.

Well, Skryim Remastered/Definitive Edition/Collector’s Remastered Edition/Whatever The Hell They Ended Up Calling It Edition has been released and it seems like a lot of people thought what I thought. The game is obviously still good, because it’s Skyrim, but there’s just no need to revisit it. The baked in DLC and upgraded visuals and mod support are all fine and dandy, but it’s probably not worth plunking $60 down if you already played Skyrim to death last generation (which is probably what most Skyrim owners did).

But here’s what I find frustrating, besides the obvious fact that this probably postpones Elder Scrolls VI. It’s that if Bethesda insisted on remastering a game, they simply chose the wrong game to remaster. As I said before, I love Skyrim. It’s actually one of my top 10 favorite games of all time. But five years is not enough distance from it to justify the money and time I’d need to spend on it.

However, if Bethesda had chosen another one of it’s beloved classics to remaster, I would have totally been on board.

A game that has been out for twice as long as Skyrim.

A game that is just begging to be revisited and dressed up.

I’m just drawing this out for suspense.

I mean, there’s a huge fucking picture of it at the top of the article, so I dunno why I’m bothering with this.

Guess what it is yet?

Morrowind? No. Yes, yes, I know you probably think it’s the best one but I’m not talking about it here.

Fallout 3? No, but you’re getting warmer.

Fallout 4? Now you’re just being a smartass.

It’s Oblivion. Bethesda should have remastered Oblivion. And here’s why.

The first and most obvious reason is time. There’s more time and distance between Oblivion and now than there was for Skyrim. It’s pretty simple math. Skyrim was released in 2011, so that’s five years. Oblivion was released in 2006, so that’s ten years. And the difference between five and ten is…uhh…umm…it’s like, twice as much. So whereas a Skyrim remaster feels pointless because it feels like it was just released yesterday, Oblivion has been gone just long enough that we’d be hungry to return to its world, ready to revisit all the places and characters we fell in love with a decade ago.

I mean, I feel silly even stating this point because it seems just so obvious. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I feel like that is true for all things. Well, unless you’re a cancer survivor. You probably don’t miss the cancer that much, no matter how long time passes.

 

happy-patient

It’s malignant! The cancer’s back, baby!

But the simple fact is that Oblivion has had more time away from gamers. If it returned, we would welcome it like we’re welcoming an estranged father who has been gone for a decade. With tears, smiles, and some serious abandonment issues.

And to all you filthy Morrowind loyalists. I understand even more time has passed since Morrowind than Oblivion but shut up, no one likes you people.

So there’s the whole time and distance thing that Oblivion has a clear, objective advantage over Skyrim with. There’s also the fact that Oblivion is more in need of an upgrade than Skyrim. Skyrim’s updated graphics make an already pretty game into a slightly prettier game. The difference is not all that big, and DEFINITELY not big enough to warrant a full $60 price tag.

But imagine Oblivion with updated graphics. To say that Oblivion’s graphics haven’t aged well would be…mild. The environments aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re certainly more generic and bland than the much more detailed areas of Skyrim. And don’t even get me started on the NPC models, who look like something like a mix between a heap of clay melting in the sun and a person conceived and born in Pripyat, circa 1987.

ugly-oblivion

“Greetings! You may recognize me from every single one of your nightmares!”

I’m not asking for a new fucking engine built in house. But mods have updated Oblivion‘s looks to stunning levels. Why can’t Bethesda do the same? Giving this game a complete graphical upgrade/rehaul would make Oblivion feel fresher than ever, something this Skyrim remaster simply couldn’t do, on no fault of it’s own.

And I’m not just talking graphical upgrades, either. Oblivion could get a gameplay reboot that would make it feel newer and more awesomer than ever. I’m not saying completely change everything. But certain annoying things that Skyrim fixed could be similarly updated here. I’m talking the game’s broken leveling system where enemies were constantly getting stronger with you, creating no sense of progression. Or how you can’t use weapons and magic at the same time. Or how the melee combat is clunkier and more awkward than a baby giraffe with cinder blocks surgically grafted to its feet.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. With these deeper upgrades to Oblivion, we’d be venturing into remake territory, not a remaster. Which I would have to slightly disagree with, simply because of the modding community that Bethesda games boast. Gameplay mods happen all the time, and while I know exactly jack shit about developing games, let alone massive open world RPGs, I don’t think that it would require the game to be rebuilt from scratch to incorporate better graphics and gameplay adjustments. Obviously, the core game would remain intact. It would just be shinier and more polished.

And think about the statement this would make. If Bethesda strutted out and said, “We’re remastering Oblivion and if you think it’s just a new coat of paint, you’re fucking wrong. We’re doing this, this and this and it’s going to blow your fucking minds.” followed by dropping their gigantic balls on stage. No longer would remasters have a label of being mere ports, just lazy excuses for game companies to churn out a money grab. Suddenly we have a precedent, where a remaster can become a TRULY definitive edition of the game. Think of the PS4 and Xbone’s version of GTA V. Rockstar fucking nailed it by not just improving graphics, but actually adding new missions, music and a legitimately whole new way to play the game. This is even more proof that this vision of a remastered and perfected Oblivion is far from impossible.

And to you all you filthy Morrowind loyalists. I understand that Morrowind would be even more ripe for updated graphics and game mechanics but shut up, no one likes you people.

Anyway, beyond the fact that Oblivion‘s fields are more fertile for upgrading than that of Skyrim, there’s a far more simple reason as to why Oblivion would have been a better target for remastering than Skyrim. And that’s simply because in many ways…Oblivion is just a better game.

Let me clarify something very quickly so that you don’t start throwing things at me (which would be you throwing things at your computer, so really you’re just hurting yourself there, pal). I think, as a whole, Skyrim is better than Oblivion. If I were to rank my top 25 games of all time, (which I, ahem, DEFINITELY haven’t done because I’m DEFINITELY not that nerdy so this is DEFINITELY hypothetical, but HYPOTHETICALLY) Oblivion, as a whole, would rank below Skyrim. But if I did a tale of the tape with the two games, Oblivion outshines Skyrim in a couple of key areas.

First and foremost, Skyrim waters down a lot of the RPG aspects that Oblivion did so well. Skyrim‘s character leveling is much more basic than Oblivion‘s, where you simply funnel points into three different areas: health, stamina or magic. There are perk based skill trees, but those grow and unlock organically as you play, rather than being any result of strategic use of experience points. Oblivion requires a much more thoughtful approach, where you have to upgrade traits that govern your skills, meaning you have to actually spend more than ten seconds on your character screen when you level up. Skyrim‘s more streamlined character progression is good if you prefer to spend more time killing villagers, stripping their clothes off, and then drowning them in a large pile of their own books (I can’t be the only person who habitually does this in these games), but it does dampen the whole “role playing” aspect of this role playing game. Less control over how your character grows can make leveling up feel a little hollow in Skyrim, versus Oblivion‘s more in depth and much more satisfying character progression.

The other thing Oblivion does much better than Skyrim? Quests. And this is kind of a big one because, hey, quests are pretty fucking important in an RPG. Again, I love Skyrim, but its quests…can get a little tiresome. It’s like when you invite one of your best friend’s over to hang out and he/she constantly pees in your kitchen sink. You still love them, but, come on, that’s a sink not the toilet. Okay, maybe not the best analogy, but my point is as great as Skyrim is, it has a bit of a big flaw in its questing.

Quests in Skyrim are one of two things: fetch quests and other fetch quests. There are a few interesting quests here and there that don’t require going to some dungeon to grab something for someone, so that you can go back to find out that that same someone needs something ELSE grabbed for them, but they are so few and far between. Even The Dark Brotherhood, an absolute home run of a quest line in Oblivion, is pretty much reduced to fetch quests with the occasional assassination thrown in. Call me crazy, but when I join an assassination guild, I expect to be slinking around, killing high profile targets in creative ways, not being sent to some fort to grab a book someone left there by mistake.

dark-brotherhood-skyrim

“Kill people? Heavens no! First we need to find my missing silverware set! Don’t worry, there’s only 30 pieces spread throughout caves across the entire country.”

And it’s not just the Dark Brotherhood. There’s the Thieves Guild which is not comprised of high stake heists and robberies, but rather dungeon diving to try and find some artifact of a long lost race. I honestly barely remember it because it was so forgetful.

Compare these to their Oblivion counterparts. As I hinted at earlier, the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion was one of the most awesome, captivating quest lines in any RPG I’ve ever played. It forced you to actually assassinate people, often in interesting ways. And of course there’s the big twist halfway through the quest line that creates one of the most gut wrenching scenarios I’ve had to endure in a video game. And Oblivion‘s Thieves Guild was almost as good, involving lots of unique heists that you had to pull off, many of them involving tense but satisfying stealth segments. Far more enjoyable than Skyrim‘s Thieves Guild, where you were a glorified errand boy.

And I could go on and on. Oblivion was positively chock full of quests that involved exploration and dialogue and your wits, rather than just dungeon crawling. Like the quest where you had to figure out a way to get a pious man to beat you to death with a specific weapon. Or the quest where you had to investigate missing art in a castle, having to actually search out clues rather than having a waypoint guide you, screaming, “HEY IT’S RIGHT HERE, THE WAY TO END THE QUEST IS RIGHT HERE.” Or the quest where you had to help an ancient god fool an entire town into thinking they were being plagued. Did Oblivion have a good deal of fetch quests? Sure, every RPG does. But they were not NEARLY as common in Oblivion as they were in Skyrim. The quest design in Oblivion, quite simply, puts Skyrim to shame.

And here’s the point I’m trying to make with this. Take an Oblivion with upgraded visuals and polished, less dated mechanics and what do you get? A game that is flat out better than Skyrim, original version or remastered. Bethesda missed an opportunity not to just make a better, more daring and memorable remaster; they missed an opportunity to make a better game. It would have taken a little more work, sure, but it would have pleased the fans, created much more excitement and, as I said earlier, set a precedent that remasters don’t have to be just straight up ports for people who stowed away their older consoles. They can go back and actually make the original games better, giving players a reason to go back and lose themselves in it all over again. I know I personally would have bought an Oblivion remaster on day one, whereas I have no intentions of buying the Skyrim remaster until maybe a year or two from now, if at all.

God dammit. Now I’m in the mood to play Oblivion. I’m off to sit in front of my PS3 for 80 straight hours. If I don’t come back, send food and a bar of soap.

 

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,