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On the Process of Effecting Mass

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the lots-of-it-to-move dept.

XBox (Games) 55

Dean Takahashi, of the San Jose Mercury News, has up a lengthy interview with Mass Effect project director Casey Hudson on the almost four-year-long development of the title. The two men go into some detail on BioWare's approach to game creation, as well as discussing the numerous technical and storytelling leaps they made with the game. "Hudson said, 'One thing I'm hoping people see in it is how much more there is for a player to make decisions on. It makes it really hard for us to develop, given the customization that we make possible in the game. For example, from the beginning, you are not pre-made as a character. You can play Commander Shepard. But you can also create your own character, male or female. You can choose your special abilities. Those are ways to make your game different and unique. These are things that make it much harder for us to make the game so that it is consistent all the way through, given your choices.'"

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decisions decisions... (1)

OleMoudi (624829) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480003)

Decisions are good for games

I'm kind of an old school gamer and I always thought in time games would evolve not only to provide better realistic graphics but also to increase the freedom you have in them. When a game really touches you, you automatically get trapped withing its unique universe, and your experience is so much better when you really feel that "I can do almost everything" feeling.

It's a shame current state-of-the-art games usually just focus their appeal on graphics and pre-scripted sequences that only look great the first time you get to them. And even if you are not planning to play again the game after finishing it, a scripted scene always has that feeling of having nothing to do with the actions you just performed, or more importantly, that it has not happened because you *choose* it to happen.

Call of Duty 4 is a perfect example of this. Sure, the game looks great, definitely top-notch fps gameplay. However the game stinks of immutability. There is no freedom available on how to complete missions. There is only one way to do them. Maybe it is just too well designed to appeal casual and hardcore gamers at the same time. Maybe they just tried to make the game approachable for the big audience. They probably succeeded in that but they left freedom out in the process.

Take Half-Life 2 as a counter-example. When I played this game for the first time I really had bad times figuring out gameplay mechanics. Nobody in the game tells you can use flammable barrels as grenades with your gravity gun. Nobody tells you a lot of things in that game. You just figure them out as you play, in a way maybe intended by developers, but perfectly dressed to make you believe you actually come with the solution by yourself. The sense of accomplishment in this game is absolutely brilliant. Maybe it's not perfect, but it definitely points in the right direction while CoD4 doesn't. GTA is another great example of that kind of freedom illusion games should offer nowadays.

I haven't picked up Mass Effect yet, but I'm really looking forward. Seems like an oasis in the desert of immutable games flooding us lately.

Re:decisions decisions... (1)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480379)

Ah yes half life 2 and its invisible walls I kept bumping into. Wait.. How is that different from CoD4? There is no freedom there too. Infact you changed your argument to fit HL2.

A better example would be nethack. Complete freedom.

Re:decisions decisions... (1)

Harlockjds (463986) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480737)

i was thinking the same thing... HL and HL2 is a really bad example of environmental freedom in a game as it is the very definition of keeping the player on rails and making them work though various set pieces (ending of HL2 ep 2 not withstanding)

Re:decisions decisions... (2, Interesting)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481063)

Take Half-Life 2. When I played this game for the first time I really had bad times figuring out gameplay mechanics. Nobody in the game tells you can use flammable barrels as grenades with your gravity gun. Nobody tells you a lot of things in that game. You just figure them out as you play, in a way maybe intended by developers, but perfectly dressed to make you believe you actually come with the solution by yourself.
(Italics by me)

Portal. That game is designed around coercing the player into figuring things out themself. Play it through, then play it again with the commentary on and see how many times they taught you how to do something without you even noticing.

Re:decisions decisions... (1)

PopeJM (956574) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486865)

I completely agree with you. I've always felt that Games shouldn't be "How do I beat this system?" They should be "What should I do next?" In terms of thinking for many games, there are huge logical flaws in how "real world" they feel and so you have to create specialized thinking to the game itself instead of approaching things from a more free, individual way. This can be easily seen in MMORPGS where character classes are often constructed in such a way that the player must choose to fulfill a niche role with monotonous and contrived button combinations in order to play the "best" or the most optimal way to get the most mathematical success in hitpoints/damage or the like.

You mean "affect" (3, Funny)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480009)

Man, what is with these spellening errors. Clearly you mean is affecting [xkcd.com] ...

Re:You mean "affect" (1)

avalean (1176333) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480047)

Mass Affect

Re:You mean "affect" (1)

bonkeydcow (1186443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480139)

Well given that the title of the game is Mass Effect, I think the word play was intentional. I have played through the game, and am on my second run through. It is good but not as great as previous efforts such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). He hints at the problem in the article, when he says that it's hard to keep the game consistent given your choices. HELLO!!! I don't want the game to be the same given my choices, it should change depending on my choices. Weather I am Mr. nice guy or Master Chief I still end up the hero of the universe.

Well, that's the real problem (3, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480639)

Well given that the title of the game is Mass Effect, I think the word play was intentional. I have played through the game, and am on my second run through. It is good but not as great as previous efforts such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). He hints at the problem in the article, when he says that it's hard to keep the game consistent given your choices. HELLO!!! I don't want the game to be the same given my choices, it should change depending on my choices. Weather I am Mr. nice guy or Master Chief I still end up the hero of the universe.


The problem is that, until someone invents an AI GM that can at least pass the Turing test, what you ask is simply not feasible. Someone has to design and code all those states you changed.

I mean, let's pretend we design a game where each quest truly changes the game's world.

E.g., you can decide that instead of saving Bastila on KOTOR, you capture her and sell her to the Sith. (Sure, _Malak_ would probably kill you if you ran into him face to face, but there's no reason you couldn't go be the dark apprentice of some Sith who's never anywhere near Malak.) And the game branches from there. Taris is never destroyed. You never get the Ebon Hawk, even, since the Sith lift the blockade and Canderous doesn't need you to get off the planet. You never fly to Dantooine to become a Jedi. Etc. Let's say the whole story can fork like that at any point.

Well, now let's say we allow only 3 solutions to each such point: good, evil, don't do it. (After all, it's unrealistic that I _must_ do something at any point in the game.)

After the first such quest, there are 3 possible paths. The next one multiplies them to 9. Then 27. Then 81. Then 243.

Sounds good, right?

Well, it would, if the devs had infinite funds. In practice you can look at it more realistically like this: they'd have to code 243 outcomes and 1+3+9+27+81=121 quests, just to give you... a chain of exactly 5 quests. And you'd think "gee, this game sucked, it had a whole 5 quests."

Alternately, if they made it a completely linear game, you could see all 121 quests. And probably think, "bestest game evar! It had more quests than KOTOR 1+2 combined."

For the same development money, the linear solution will actually be the better game.

The problem with that branching is _literally_ that the chain you see is a logarithm of the total number of quests they have to code. Which gets shittier with each level you add to that pyramid. Adding a 6'th quest to the chain seen by the player, in a truly branching game would raise the number of quests you need to code by another 243. It's a mammoth cost and effort just so the player sees a total of 6, no matter what kind of character they play.

Worse yet, most of that immense number of branches will never be taken by anoyne. Most players play consistently all good or all evil, at least on the major issues. Branches and quests that would be only visible if you play good once, evil twice, neutral once, and good again, would be seen by maybe 0.1% of the players, so they'd be a major waste.

That, in a nutshell, is why everyone avoids branching like the plague.

KOTOR didn't truly branch either. Heck, even in Oblivion or Morrowind, open-ended as they are, the story doesn't really branch. The world, in fact, doesn't change much as a result of your actions.

What good designers really do is

A) contain the effects. Sure, they might tell you that you just got the Republic kicked off Manaan, but it won't influence the rest of the game at all. Yeah, you just got told that you gave the Sith a major advantage, but it's not like now they'll finish the conquest before you reach the Star Forge.

B) create an illusion of having some consequence. Sure, you'll get an alignment number, NPC's talking about you like you're Mother Teresa or Jack The Ripper, etc, but that's all an illusion that doesn't influence anything else.

Basically that way they can give you all the quests and a number of ways to solve each, without the possibilities exploding out of control. The trick is to keep it all an illusion.

Re:Well, that's the real problem (1)

magical_mystery_meat (1042950) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481077)


Worse yet, most of that immense number of branches will never be taken by anoyne. Most players play consistently all good or all evil, at least on the major issues. Branches and quests that would be only visible if you play good once, evil twice, neutral once, and good again, would be seen by maybe 0.1% of the players, so they'd be a major waste.

And you'd have to support all of the munchkins that have to do everything that's possible in a game. "I killed Plotz, Gary, and saved Clyde, but now I can't get the Pwnage Crystal. Gamefaqs says I'm supposed to get it if my alignment is .2028798012398012. Halp"

Having an immutable main quest and X number of "optional" side quests seems to be the best bang for the buck. It wasn't the main quest that made KOTOR great. It was the side quests and the characters.

Re:Well, that's the real problem (2)

tricorn (199664) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482637)

There are lots of ways to prune the tree, though. Make ones where you are inconsistent just end up killing you or stranding you somewhere (in an obvious way), forcing you to go back to an earlier level (e.g. you make some "evil" choices, you make some "good" choices, both sides are now pissed at you and you die). Perhaps even auto-save your status at each decision point in the tree so it is always available to undo, even if you didn't save it as a "save game".

You can also merge branches; figure out 16 different ways you can get to the same major game point, and give 4 intermediate choices (where only 2 of the choices at each one advance you, others kill you or strand you or move you into a different minor or major branch, or skip a decision point). The auto-save points for the intermediate branches could be dropped as soon as you get to the next major branch point. You can nest this type of sub-branch pruning to many levels, thus giving lots of choices and lots of potential reasonable paths through the decision points.

The only thing the game designers really need to make sure of is that you can't get WAY past a decision point where you screwed up and didn't get some item or ability or cause some event to happen that is critical at some future point. Make sure you can return (even if it is difficult) to an earlier point if you allow the player to advance much beyond that point without making it obvious that they screwed up and will have to restore from an earlier saved game status; nothing worse than pointlessly replaying a a large chunk because you didn't realize you'd need to do something for later. If the player DOES need to return, make sure that getting back AND returning to the current point is actually a new fun sequence just for screw-ups like yourself (if you make it so you can ONLY go through that sequence if you didn't take the previous action, you've now added a new way to progress through the game!)...

Re:Well, that's the real problem (1)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482927)

There are lots of ways to prune the tree, though. Make ones where you are inconsistent just end up killing you or stranding you somewhere (in an obvious way), forcing you to go back to an earlier level (e.g. you make some "evil" choices, you make some "good" choices, both sides are now pissed at you and you die).

Ugh, that's a horrible solution. It makes things even MORE arbitrary than not giving you a choice at all. The whole point of providing choice is to let the player feel like the world is not all black and white, right and wrong. If you want to die every time you make the "wrong choice", go play Dragon's Lair...

Re:Well, that's the real problem (1)

tricorn (199664) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484267)

No, making it so that one single choice kills you would be bad, I'm saying that you prune a tree when a player makes several bad choices. What, you want a world where there are no consequences?

It's also possible to make choices that affect the future game play, but not the main story line. Such choices can change the state of things in the future in ways that make it easier or more difficult (but not impossible) to accomplish something.

My real preference is for emergent behavior, with some sort of monitor process to herd the resultant state so that it is consistent with (the/a) story line. There are plenty of ways to do that without building everything totally scripted.

Sounds like Wing Commander 1 (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485935)

All that pruning and merging branches and so on reminds me of Wing Commander 1. They actually had a branching graph, rather than a tree, so that limited the number of combination. With each node being a map and a set of 3 missions. The branch you took was determined by whether you won at least 2 out of 3 missions, or respectively lose at least 2 out of 3. It looked sorta like this:

1
      / \
      2 3
    / \ / \
    4 5 6
  / \ / \ / \
...
The nice effect of that merging is that the increase in needed missions is "only" quadratic, instead of exponential.

And, yes, more than half the paths led to "you lost the game". Take too many arcs to the left, and nothing could save the outcome any more.

Sounds like sorta what you're proposing. The same idea _could_ be applied to good/evil choices.

Well... don't get me wrong, WC was a good game. I will say however that there must have been a reason why they dropped the idea in WC2. If I'm allowed to take wild guesses, I'd say:

1. Any player would see far fewer missions than the game contained. No matter if you're top ace or quadriplegic, you'll see only one arc. Ditto for applying the idea to good vs evil. Mr Pure or Darth Sidious, you'll see only a square root of the number of nodes. That's wasted programming and design effort.

Think in KOTOR terms. Let's say each node is a planet, and you want to visit 6 planets during the game. You start on Taris, and on the good side the next planets would be Dantooine, Tatooine, Manaan, Korriban and finally the Rakata world + starforge. That kind of a graph with 6 levels, would still contain 1+2+3+4+5+6=21 planets. Out of which you see 6. That's a major waste of money and talent.

I'll get to pruning them later.

2. It still doesn't scale well. If you want to lengthen the game, each level just adds disproportionately more worlds out of which only 1 will be present in any given campaign. E.g., adding a 7'th level makes it 7 planets seen out of 28. It increased the waste from 15 worlds to 21 worlds. And percentage-wise from 71.4% to 75%.

3. And again, it's actually worse than it sounds, because most people just reloaded until they won all battles even if they sucked at the game. There were disproportionately fewer people who saw the planets and story along the "lose" arcs.

It would be slightly more balanced if it were "win for the good" and "win for the evil" arcs, instead of "win" and "lose". But not by much. Basically now almost everyone will see the left and right edges of that triangle, but almost noone will see the centre.

4. The fact remains that, by your idea and Origin's too, a lot of paths will lead to a "lose" state. Whether you kill the player early or let him play to the end of the "you lost" arc, it's still giving people a camouflaged "shoot yourself in the foot" option. Which tends to be less fun than it sounds.

5. Especially killing off the player, you have to realize that it's just making the game linear again, only this time in a non-fun way. You've just turned the triangle into a pair of trousers, so to speak, instead of just one tube. Decisions taken early on will force him down one leg or the other, which is linear again. And being killed for not following the tube is one of the least fun ways to be forced along the tracks.

Some of the principles of good game design, at least according to Brian Reynolds [gamespy.com] (the author of Alpha Centauri) include:

- "bang, you're dead" choices are _not_ fun. If chosing the "good" answer will just get a previously evil player killed, with no recourse, that's just not fun. Even if you have to have an arc that leads to bad consequences, there should be ample warning and a possibility to take counter-measures at each step along that arc.

- choices along the lines of "a piano falls on top of you, jump to the side? (1)Yes, (2) No" are not really choices at all. If you expect everyone to pick option 1 or get squashed if they take option 2, then that's not really a choice at all. You shouldn't have them in a game in the first place.

Choices make sense only if there's some good reason to pick either. E.g., option 1 gets you some money and evil points, option 2 gets you some amulet and good points. That's a choice.

So basically the choices you describe aren't even really choices. The player _is_ pushed down a tube, with no real choice. Only this time in a nasty way. Big improvement, eh?

Re:Sounds like Wing Commander 1 (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21516509)

And again, it's actually worse than it sounds, because most people just reloaded until they won all battles even if they sucked at the game. There were disproportionately fewer people who saw the planets and story along the "lose" arcs. It would be slightly more balanced if it were "win for the good" and "win for the evil" arcs, instead of "win" and "lose". But not by much. Basically now almost everyone will see the left and right edges of that triangle, but almost noone will see the centre.
4. The fact remains that, by your idea and Origin's too, a lot of paths will lead to a "lose" state. Whether you kill the player early or let him play to the end of the "you lost" arc, it's still giving people a camouflaged "shoot yourself in the foot" option. Which tends to be less fun than it sounds.
5. Especially killing off the player, you have to realize that it's just making the game linear again, only this time in a non-fun way. You've just turned the triangle into a pair of trousers, so to speak, instead of just one tube. Decisions taken early on will force him down one leg or the other, which is linear again. And being killed for not following the tube is one of the least fun ways to be forced along the tracks.

If you want to prevent this triangle or "trousers" (somehow I seem to recall the phrase "trousers of fate", but I have no idea where I heard that), what you could do is make it 3 paths with lots of choices to jump from one path to another. One path could represent "good", one is "evil" and one is "undecided", and the decisions where you jump from one to the other are repenting, falling to the dark side, etc.

So instead of:
1
|\
2 3
|\|\
4 5 6
|\|\|\
... You'd get:
1
|\
2 3
|\|\
4 5 6
|X|X|
7 8 9
|X|X|
A B C
...

You can also do this with only two paths, ofcourse. But at least this way people can have a really different experience when they play "good", "evil", "undecided", "switch from good to evil", "choose evil, then repent", etc.

Re:Well, that's the real problem (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21516293)

I think the trick is not to have the game truly branch, with each choice opening a set of quests completely disjunct from what you get with a different choice, but to have more subtle interactions between the quests.

In Vampire Bloodlines, for example, there are 5 different endings possible, but they all consist of pretty much the same set of elements except for some differences in dialogue and a different cutscene at the end. And for some ending you may not have to do some particular quests.

But which endings you can choose, is determined by your behaviour during earlier quests. Were you nice to the Anarchs and fulfill their quests? Then you can choose the Anarch ending. Did you always obey LaCroix? Then you can do his ending. If you do a faction's quests, you can do their ending, unless you screwed them over.

Something I'd also love to see is quests where you play on a different side of the quest. If you side with faction A at some point, you get the "Steal The MacGuffin for Faction A" quest. Do you side with faction B, you get the "Steal The MacGuffin for Faction B" quest. Are you independent, you can still steal it but decide later who to give/trade/sell it to. It should be possible to reuse cleverly designed quests this way.

Ofcourse the holy grail would be a game where high-quality quests are generated dynamically depending on all soorts of subtle balanced in the game, and where your performance during that quest has an impact on those balances. This idea of mine goes back to when I played Elite/Frontier. Some worlds were (according to their description) on the brink of civil war. If you decide to smuggle 100 tons of weapons to that planet, that should have some impact, right? Especially if you can decide to sell it to the rebels. I want a game that takes that sort of thing into account, and if nobody else is going to write it, I will. Some day.

Re:You mean "affect" (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480351)

To 'effect' something is to make it happen, or being it into existence. Since they are creating a game called 'Mass Effect', I guess maybe they know what they are talking about after all.

Learn what words really mean before you try to be a grammar nazi.

Re:You mean "affect" (2, Insightful)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480997)

To 'effect' something is to make it happen, or being it into existence. Since they are creating a game called 'Mass Effect', I guess maybe they know what they are talking about after all.

Learn what words really mean before you try to be a grammar nazi.
Good god, did no one actually follow the link I provided in my post??

whoosh....

Re:You mean "affect" (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481801)

No, I think maybe we all thought you didn't understand the comic.

Maybe you were a bit too subtle. Sometimes the difference between subtle and oblivious is indistinguishable on the net.

Re:You mean "affect" (1)

Jackmn (895532) | more than 6 years ago | (#21493669)

Maybe you were a bit too subtle.
It was blatant. I saw that it was a joke immediately after reading the comic.

Re:You mean "affect" (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 6 years ago | (#21488351)

Actually I think 'Mass Effect' works without using the secondary definition of effect:'to create'. It's not the Mass affecting objects, it's a change in mass resulting in the effect of objects being affected.

The full title for "Mass Effect" should be:
"The resulting Effect of Advanced Space Technology(tm) manipulating the Mass of a given object is people with super powers and an excuse for spaceships to fly around the galaxy faster than the speed of light... by Bioware the company who made Knights of the Old Republic and operates out of Alberta... that's in Canada for you Americans who don't know where that is...Buy it."


I guess someone in marketing decided that the print costs would be too high on all promotional material which charges by the word and just dropped out everything else.

Re:You mean "affect" (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480417)

No, no, if the mass is already existing and you want to do something to it, you're affecting mass, but if you want to actually create this mass, to cause it, to make it happen.... then you are actually effecting mass.

Think of it this way, if you're so inclined: Effecting a reduction in carbon emissions is likely to affect global warming.

Get old school on them (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480277)

What they need to do is hire some of those old school D&D GMs that have been wrangling players for years. If anyone knows how to make a successful campaign that allows people freedom but still keeps the story rolling forward these guys could do it. One thing playing D&D has taught me, is there's no replacement for a great DM, and the DM makes or breaks the game.

Re:Get old school on them (1)

seebs (15766) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480399)

This wouldn't help.

The thing that makes a great DM is the ability to improvise in response to the unexpected. You can't improvise in response to the unexpected two years before it happens, write up a detailed response, and burn it to DVD.

Re:Get old school on them (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481289)

This wouldn't help.

The thing that makes a great DM is the ability to improvise in response to the unexpected. You can't improvise in response to the unexpected two years before it happens, write up a detailed response, and burn it to DVD.
Yeah, I realize that, but I think a seasoned DM would have a better idea of what could be tossed out by the players in a given instance. At least a good DM would start by looking at the script and going "Ok, if I was the player, where would I try to pull this sucker off the rails?". A game of course is always going to be more constrained than a pen and paper system for just the reason you state, it's all canned responses, no intelligent thought (in the Turing sense of the word) to drive the decisions. Of course, if we ever create a Turing level AI that may change, but until then the system will be defined by its boundaries. That's really the challenge of the game designer, to figure out a consistent and well written way to create boundaries around the entire narrative, which I think is something that the old DMs got better and better at.

Re:Get old school on them (1)

seebs (15766) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484141)

That's an interesting point; I've noticed that I am much more likely to think of abuses of a game than people who never did much DMing. My text adventures have gotten praised for responding coherently to incoherent behavior. :)

Re:Get old school on them (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484385)

Yeah, DMs learn pretty fast after that first time when they're in the middle of something and a player does something they completely didn't expect. Some players actually take fun in watching the DM scramble for his notes and the rule book to see if there's some way he can cobble together some semblance of his original plot after an enterprising character manages to kill of a key NPC.

Player: while the town mayor is giving his intro speech I sneak up behind him and backstab him...
DM: uh... what? WHY?!
Player: I don't like the way he's looking at me, and I'm chaotic neutral.
DM: But... he hasn't finished giving you your quest yet.
Player: so?

A new DM would refuse to let him do it, or let him then panic as the campaign falls apart. A seasoned DM would figure out someway to get the players back to where he wanted them (all while acting cool and collected even though he's panicking inside), and a really really good DM planned for it already.

For a good laugh as well as a great illustration of this check out this comic [feartheboot.com] , and the following one [feartheboot.com]

Dean Takahashi is a Microsoft mouthpiece (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21480371)

...and it appears Zonk is too since he seems to focus on Microsoft exclusives, negative Sony news and positive XBox 360 news.

Ending suprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21480557)

You choose a large male character, only to get to the end and find out you are too large to crawl through a small tunnel leading to the last boss. Bwahaha!

Re:Ending suprise (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480915)

You choose a large male character, only to get to the end and find out you are too large to crawl through a small tunnel leading to the last boss. Bwahaha!
Then why isn't there another way to get in, or another way to defeat the boss?

Re:Ending suprise (1)

bWareiWare.co.uk (660144) | more than 6 years ago | (#21516285)

Surely the question is why isn't they another way to finish the game then by defeating the boss!

Shoulda Coulda (1)

ShawnCplus (1083617) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480701)

One nice feature that would have really put the story over the top for me is: Remember the Madden Superstar mode a few years back that let you select from a HUGE! list of surnames and they had voiceovers for each name. Instead of limiting a character to shepard it would be cool to put in your last name. It's ton of extra work given all the dialog but you could just smoothly tack on the name instead of creating the same thing 8 times with different surnames

It's been done (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480881)

It's been done. KOTOR 1 and 2 let you choose your own name, so did NWN 1 and NWN 2, etc.

The trick is that basically people seem to not mind it much if their name only appears in the subtitles. The subtitle can say "I thank you Master Jedi Shawn Cplus, saviour of the universe" while the voice over just says "I thank you Master Jedi, saviour of the universe." Noone seemed to mind it that much.

But as a counterpoint, you could even pull a Gothic 1, where noone asked for your name at all. IIRC the opening conversation with Diego went something like,

Me: "Hi, I'm..."
Diego: "I'm not interested in who you are."

And that was that :)

Re:It's been done (1)

ShawnCplus (1083617) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480965)

While deftly parrying a key story point is one way to go, giving the character a name (even if restricted to Shepard) gives you even more to grab onto to pull yourself into the story.

Re:It's been done (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481651)

While deftly parrying a key story point is one way to go, giving the character a name (even if restricted to Shepard) gives you even more to grab onto to pull yourself into the story.
It depends. If you do too much to determine the player character's identity, then the player may lose the ability to identify with that character... while if the player is free to imagine the character however they like, they may feel more comfortable in that character's role.

Re:It's been done (1)

WobindWonderdog (1049538) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485949)

"Unbelievable. You, _subject name here_ must be the pride of _subject hometown here_."

Suprisingly intelligent science and physics (3, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#21480739)

One of the things that most impresses me in Mass Effect is the sophistication and depth of the speculative science in the "Codex." If you go around and outside the Normandy and look at all its systems, you get some pretty heady entries into the Codex that deal with how the engine works, how faster than light travel works in this fictional universe, etc. It's the first time I've seen concepts like "red shift," "blue shift," relativity, etc. used seriously in a videogame (these aren't exactly everyday concepts for your average dullard). One of the sections I found particularly amusing concerned the fictional problem of heat on a combat spaceship. Since excess heat can only be vented into the vacuum of space via radiation, each ship has strips that run along the hull for conventional heat dumping, with combat ships also having the option to drain superheated coolant out into space in heavy combat situations. I've never seen a videogame deal with an issue with that much understanding of real world physics.

I don't know who wrote all these codex entries, but they must have put quite a bit of effort into them. Unfortunately, this isn't always matched with the rest of the game. For example, one of the weapons entries explains the "unlimited ammo" aspect of the game by the nature of the guns themselves. Rather than fire "bullets" as we think of them, the complex computers in each weapon actually shave an appropriate small mass of metal off a large solid block "cartridge," with its mass based on the velocity it will be fired at, the desired effect, the range to the target, and adjusting for other factors like wind, gravity, and planetary conditions. It's a pretty clever way of explaining a lame game convention. Unfortunately, the other game designers must not have gotten the memo about this, because in the equipment section the ammo is shown and treated exactly as if it were conventional bullets in conventional shell casings (the ammo graphics all show bullets and the text all refers to "rounds").

Re:Suprisingly intelligent science and physics (1)

Gravatron (716477) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481323)

IF there is one thing about this game, its the shear mass of background info they provide. I think I annoy my roommates when i'll spend an hour just looking for codex entries, talking to random people, and doing seemingly random quests just to get information. The Heat thing was a nice touch, as i'd never considered that as a problem for space combat.

Re:Suprisingly intelligent science and physics (2, Interesting)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481503)

One of the things that's always bugged me about space combat, and that even most sci-fi books fail to address is the physics of space warfair. I read some books in the Night's Dawn series (Peter F. Hamilton) a while back that did a really great job dealing with space combat, even if they blew off a lot of other science in other areas (as well as delving into some serious religious issues, they were major plot points in the later books of the series). I particularly like how he treated energy weapons (ships had ablative layers and would spin going into combat to reduce the amount of time any given point of the hull was exposed to weapon focus), as well as the issues of momentum on passengers and maneuverability of the ships. I think the temptation in games, movies, and books is to just say space combat is like dog fighting with jets only on a black background and with lasers or some other fancy futuristic sounding weapon (maser anyone? And what's with the fascination with gauss rifles? Anyone who knows about electromagnetic weaponry knows a railgun is a much better design). There's lots of potential for some really cool scenes in space combat, but they need to put some more thought into it (and for gods sake, if you want the engines always on zooming around thing at least take the time to come up with some sort of drive system that requires something like that, traditional mass reaction drives SHOULD NOT ALWAYS BE ON!).

Re:Suprisingly intelligent science and physics (1)

WuphonsReach (684551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486423)

Try the Chanur series by C. J. Cherryh (apologies for misspellings, but my books are packed away).

Her space battles are chaotic, pretty realistic, and deal with the issue that velocity = power. A ship moving at a fraction of the speed of light can do a lot of damage to a ship that is stuck at dock or that has just undocked.

Re:Suprisingly intelligent science and physics (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 6 years ago | (#21498025)

A ship moving at a fraction of the speed of light can do a lot of damage to a ship that is stuck at dock or that has just undocked.

No fancy ass rail guns needed either. Just head towards the target, open a hatch, and have the cook dump some trash.

Re:Suprisingly intelligent science and physics (1)

Pranadevil2k (687232) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482513)

I would say that the discrepancy between the gun description and the ammo you find is more for the player's understanding than the general atmosphere. If I were running around and picked up a "mass cartridge" I'd be very confused.

Inherent problem with RPGs (2, Interesting)

Leo Sasquatch (977162) | more than 6 years ago | (#21481637)

Traditionally, in an RPG, you start out weak, and build up skills and abilities as the game progresses. Which is fine if you're some naive farmboy who's come home to find his family killed and his house burned down, and who has vowed to make those evil (plot points) pay for what they've done. Start with a leather jerkin and a quarterstaff, and build your way up to being a parahuman by the end of the game.

But how do you handle level progression when you're supposed to start the game as a fully trained whatever-it-is? In Mass Effect, you start out as a highly-trained uber-warrior who's supposed to be hard as nails, yet you can't shoot straight, your weapons are ineffectual shit, and you'll get beat down by just about anybody until you put some points into your combat skills. Bioware had the same problem with Jade Empire - 15 years in a martial arts school as their star pupil in the pre-game scene-setting, but weedy as hell in the actual game until you spent some points. At least KOTOR and KOTOR2 had reasons in game why you didn't have, or couldn't remember your actual abilities.

It's just that everyone's going on about the brilliant story, and yet completely missing the fact that in order to shoehorn it into a traditional RPG engine, they've had to bend it all out of shape. Why would you make your elite troops buy their own guns with their own money? Because hoarding gold and trading it for stuff has been a mainstay of D&D since pencil and paper days. Why would you issue special forces soldiers with guns that overheat after firing three rounds? Because shitty starter weapons are generic to the classic RPG advancement-based structure. Doesn't fit the storyline at all, but it's a tired old staple of the genre, so just make the player do it.

Even being given the option of having all the character-design points at the start of the game would have been a good idea. Once your character's created, that's who and what he's going to be until the end of the game, because that's who he's become in the last 15 years of special forces training. The events of the game last about a week in game time - tops. What are you going to learn in one week that's going to override everything else you've ever learned?

The actual plot and characterisation, and the sheer scope of the game is fantastic - showing what they can do with a KOTOR-style game when not tied to the Star Wars universe. But the overall framework of the story makes no sense at all, and that just rankles. I'm sure that due to the massive financial success of the game and all their others, they're perhaps not too worried about one gamer's opinion, but everybody else seems to be queueing up to suck Bioware's corporate cock over this damn game, and I feel like the only person who's spotted that nobody could have heard Kane say Rosebud...

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482075)

But how do you handle level progression when you're supposed to start the game as a fully trained whatever-it-is?


Go after even tougher guys, and become even better trained.

Fact is, in most armies you'll have an inherent difference between recruits trained back at some boot camp, and guys who've already survived an enemy shelling and assault. Half of the latter will probably wake up screaming for the rest of their life, but be better soldiers while they're on the front line anyway.

You can see the same in all eras, really. From the Roman legions to Napoleon's guard regiment to WW2, there was always a distinction between veteran and fully trained recruits. When Germany in WW1 wanted to make a last ditch effort, it handpicked its best veterans for the special units, they didn't just fully train some new recruits.

So it seems to me that there's always room to evolve and grow.

In Mass Effect, you start out as a highly-trained uber-warrior who's supposed to be hard as nails, yet you can't shoot straight, your weapons are ineffectual shit, and you'll get beat down by just about anybody until you put some points into your combat skills.


In a RL firefight, involving highly trained professionals (e.g., SWAT), about 80% of the rounds miss, and some by a wide margin.

Why would you issue special forces soldiers with guns that overheat after firing three rounds?


Why would you issue your special forces soldiers different ammo than what the gun was designed for, and have it jam? It happened IRL.

Why would you give your troops a bolt action rifle when you know how to make a SMG? WW2 Germany, anyone? Because production capacity wasn't there.

Why would you give your squads a shitty BAR when you know how to make a machinegun? WW2 USA this time? Doctrines, that's why.

Why would you withhold AP ammo from your fucking tanks? WW2 USA again. Doctrines, that's why.

Why would your special troops have shitty one-shot rifles when even savages have repeaters? That's how Custer died.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

flitty (981864) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482077)

Maybe I missed the "supreme badass" option in a starting character, but I only recall 3 psycological profiles, being a sole survivor, a war hero, and a renegade, none of which say that you are some ubersolider. On top of that, who wants to play an RPG where all your stats are maxed out? Go play a shooter or something if you don't want to level up. There's a fine line between creating a story, and having a game in there somewhere.

You create the game you are insisting on, and you no longer have an rpg, you have Doom. A supersoldier who can use any weapon/item/armor, at any time, as long as you find it on the ground.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482891)

I agree with a lot of your comment, but I think there's potential in the idea of giving a player all their points up front and letting them allocate them however they see fit. The idea there of course is not to make a traditional RPG, but something along the lines of a RPG/Action hybrid. Essentially you have a story (Think God of War, Metroid, or even Mario Galaxy), and many different ways to progress through it (this is the RPG part), but rather than the player spend all their time grinding for XP and scrounging for better equipment they get to experience the story in different ways depending on how they decided to build their character. To a certain extent Bioshock played a lot like that and I think it was one of it's keys to success. Yes you collected new weapons and upgraded your plasmids, but it was the huge diversity in abilities and the options for how to use them all that gave the game depth (the story was only so so, all the real depth came in the choice of play style). Think about it. What if instead of the Mass Effect we were given, you instead started by picking all your abilities ahead of time and some pretty good (although maybe not the best) equipment. You then played through the game using all your unique abilities to solve various problems you ran across. Stuck at a door? If your a demolitions expert, blow the sucker off it's hinges. Special forces? Pick the lock or kick it down. Maybe you're more of a smooth bond type? Go flirt with the secretary and convince her to let you into the room. The point is, the entertainment comes not from tweaking your character into an uber killing machine, but in approaching each problem from the unique perspective of the character you've crafted.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483195)

After thinking about this a bit more I think there's as much or more potential in this style of game than in a traditional RPG style (game in this case being computer of video, as opposed to pen and paper). Originally the whole idea behind character progression in pen and paper RPGs was to give the player a constantly moving goal. If you set a fixed point (I.E. you only get say 5 levels) once the player reaches that point that's it, they have very little drive to progress unless you give them some sort of reward, and what good is a reward if they don't really have anything to use it on? Sure they may have some uber sword that one hits everything, but what's the fun in that, and how often can you give them uber-sword++ before they start to wonder how it is that there always seems to be some sword out there just a bit better than the last one you gave them and told them was the greatest sword every made.

The original solution of course was to make a character progression chart with effectively no upper bound, that way the goal is always just "get better", effectively allowing infinite play time. This is great in a pen and paper setting in which you can always bring in new campaigns and modules and weave them into your existing campaigns, but somewhat less so in a modern game with a fixed storyline (MMOs being the exception to this). In a video game the players goal is always to ultimately finish the game. It doesn't matter if they do it at level 10, or level 60, ultimately they get to the end, the credits roll, and they get to brag how they did it with such and such completion percent or other. Honestly what's the point of the level grind then? Why even bother? Just give them the points, and let them get to the end however they see fit. I think that style of game, maybe with a nice awards system as has become fashionable as of late, would be an excellent design, and provide plenty of incentive to play.

This style of play would be particularly enticing I think on a game with a really strong back story such as Mass Effect. The goal then being to reach the end, and possibly to receive various endings based on player choices throughout the game.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

flitty (981864) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484041)

I think you just found the way to make Mass Effect 2 (since they are talking about doing a trilogy) similar to the original, but new and different. Make a character transfer option, where your character from the first game continues with the same skills you spent the entire first game earning, and then a character creation (for those who didn't play ME1) and give them the points and let them spend them willie nillie right off the bat. Then, instead of focusing on becoming a certain style of character (stealth/combat etc), you refine your skills in that area, say, Codebreaking instead of Lockpicking, shotguns vs. pistols. So you start out an uber-combat soldier, but then you can spend your time honing those skills to a razors edge.

Of course, my POV is coming from playing probably a total of 15 rpg's (picking from the "critically acclaimed" mostly) and no RP'ing to speak of, so I'm definately not as worn out on the formula as many other fans of RPG's are, and I can see how the Skill-less baffoon becoming the hero of the day is a tired gameplay mechanic.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

Rolgar (556636) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483615)

I've seen D&D run that same way. The GM wants to run something with 8 or 16 level characters, they let the player build a level one character, and stack each additional level until they reach the desired level, even allowing prestige classes, etc. Doing this adds time and effort to the upfront character creation time, but allows the GM to run advanced campaigns or modules without having to spend time going over the barely able to survive era early in a character's lifespan. Of course, there is little difference between high level and low level content, as you can scale low level content to be over powered by a low level character, and you can make high level content that is almost impossible for near-God-like characters.

That said, I'd love to see games get away from characters who start puny, which is usually only an excuse to add hours of low level content to avoid being labeled short. A Morrowind or Oblivion that didn't need leveling would still be a great game, because there was so much content, and quests steer the player toward visiting the different locations so they don't miss any of the good stuff. But hours of repetitively using a skill or even paying for lessons which could still take worthless minutes of effort instead of having an option to level up 5 or 10 levels in one visit is just a waste of time and and not fun.

I would also love to drop the use of HP in RPG games, especially in something like KOTOR where one swipe of a light saber or shot with a blaster should kill everyone in the game, regardless of level. Instead, make the weapon either kill or cripple, which gives the player a better chance of a lethal strike on the next attack. Since combat would be more deadly with less chance to correct for getting hit, you have to, within reason, make hits rarer without making them impossible. This would add the illusion of untouchable characters (PC and NPC) that are so good they're impossible to hit and kill, if portrayed correctly, and the winner must have been really good for succeeding in landing the decisive blow.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483915)

I've actually done this in the past. We decide we wanted to play around with some of the templates and make a band of misfits so to speak, but part of the challenge is making hybrid characters essentially added 5 "virtual" levels to our characters. In order to pull it off we had to scale a level 4 encounter up to a level 6 (level 1 characters, with 5 extra levels due to the racials from the templates). All in all it went off pretty well until we reached the last encounter of the dungeon. Well, the final encounter we went up against a ghost that kept possessing members of our party, and since none of us had anything that could hurt a ethereal it just slaughtered our entire party. It was an example of a good idea that failed to scale properly. Going up against an actual level 6 party it would be likely they would have some magical equipment that would have been useful, but our group had beginning equipment, and it was only the racials that made us more powerful than normal, so we were ill-equiped for this particular situation even though by our calculated level we should have been able to handle it. That being said in a campaign actually designed around the characters rather then having them shoe-horned into it I'm sure that wouldn't have been a problem.

As for the more realistic weaponry, it's interesting in theory, and maybe in the right game would be fun, but for most games would just really frustrate the players. The problem is that in most current games combat is to important an aspect of the game to make it that deadly. Think about how often in modern RPGs your have fights. Now imagine that every time you got into one of those fights there was at least a 50% chance you were going to die. Players would quickly give up and leave. Not to say that I don't see it having a place, but much like our band of misfits, the game would have to be designed around the mechanic in order for it to be playable. It would be excellent in a game that emphasized more realistic actions for example. Do something like start a shoot-out in the middle of the street and in 10 minutes you've got a van of SWAT coming after you. It would provide more incentive to find alternative ways of accomplishing things, such as talking with NPCs to negotiate what you want rather than just shooting anything in your way. Or perhaps leading you to work more on your stealth skills as opposed to just trying to beef up your armor.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

Leo Sasquatch (977162) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484925)

"Supreme badass" isn't available as a starting option as that's the default setting for your character! You're meant to be a tough, battle-hardened marine who's survived to make N7 - highest special-forces rank in the game world. I'm saying that's an inherent problem for an RPG - starting with a character who's already supposed to be fully skilled and experienced - once you do that it isn't a classic RPG any more. To answer your other point - it's unlikely that competent game design would allow you to max out all your stats. If you had (say) 80 pts available at creation, but it would take 110 to max out all stats, you can't have everything cranked to 11. However, you could decide for yourself what kind of character you build, and still have replay value by choosing other combinations for those 80 points. And yes, I'd expect a fully trained soldier to be able to use any weapon he found - it pisses me off no end that my vanguard-class character can't use a sniper rifle at all, as he doesn't get the aiming point. How fricking dumb do you have to be to be unable to work out how to use a rifle with a 'scope? Especially when you're meant to be special forces?!

The role-playing aspect of it could remain effectively unchanged - you talk to characters, make conversational choices, follow the clues, or miss them if you don't have the skills. Levelling up does not equal role-playing.

As for the time aspect of this - yes you can have a game which focusses on significant events in a character's life - generally that's the point of most media. Your character can become a Spectre within a few hours of play time, but he didn't get there by mailing in his boxtops. This is the culmination of years of training and experience, all of which is laid out in the backstory, but not represented in the character you get given to play with.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21516681)

On top of that, who wants to play an RPG where all your stats are maxed out? Go play a shooter or something if you don't want to level up. There's a fine line between creating a story, and having a game in there somewhere.

Starting as a badass does in no mean require your stats to be maxed out. In a well-designed system, there should be plenty of room to advance from "badass" to "better badass", "even bigger badass", and "badass with more diversity". Plenty of paper RPGs do that. Why can't CRPGs? Because the creators are only familiar with CRPGs or at best D&D, that's why.

You create the game you are insisting on, and you no longer have an rpg, you have Doom. A supersoldier who can use any weapon/item/armor, at any time, as long as you find it on the ground.

How about a super soldier who's an expert with his preferred firearm, but has only limited experience with random weapons he finds on the ground? What about someone who is competent enough to do (and have done) some really hard missions, yet is still capable of failing them?

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483893)

This is a great point, and I honestly hadn't even thought about that. It's true that it doesn't really make sense to have 1 week represent more than a war-hero's lifetime.

However, I think some of it is at least somewhat plausible. Regarding equipment, look at how many American soldiers' families had to chip in to purchase body armor for their loved ones. Even in one of the wealthiest nations, soldiers are buying their own gear.

And, my dad was a veteran. He lived in Korea for about 2 years between 1951 and 1953. During that time, he was only killing people for a small part of it. Yet, the rest of his life was shaped by those specific few experiences (nightmares, explosive rages of violence, inability to be part of society, fearlessness towards police and authority).

In Mass Effect, the main character is a war hero, yes. But, he's going beyond participation in a pitched battle, now. He's taking on some of the most evil badasses in the galaxy under the mandate of an interstellar confederation. He is not like other men anymore. He's an uber mensche who will experience constant fighting against overwhelming odds. Heck, it takes a few hours to get "Spectre" status, and I think it's fine in the context of the fantasy world.
     

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (2, Funny)

nutshell42 (557890) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485423)

VGCats once had a comic [vgcats.com] about that.

Re:Inherent problem with RPGs (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21516623)

It's just that everyone's going on about the brilliant story, and yet completely missing the fact that in order to shoehorn it into a traditional RPG engine, they've had to bend it all out of shape. Why would you make your elite troops buy their own guns with their own money? Because hoarding gold and trading it for stuff has been a mainstay of D&D since pencil and paper days. Why would you issue special forces soldiers with guns that overheat after firing three rounds? Because shitty starter weapons are generic to the classic RPG advancement-based structure. Doesn't fit the storyline at all, but it's a tired old staple of the genre, so just make the player do it.

And all that while there are plenty of excellent pen & paper RPGs that do not require you to start as weak nobodies with crappy equipment. In GURPS, for example, it's not uncommon to start your fresh character as a highly trained specialist with excellent equipment. And yet there's still lots of room for improvement.

The problem is that many CRPG experience systems have very coarse granularity and a low ceiling, and try to emulate the Star Wars/LotR-style from farmboy to hero story. Which is fine when the story is about a farmboy who becomes a hero. But if the story is about highly trained professionals who get even better at what they're already good at, you need more diversity and more room to improve even very good skills, and not make each level-up turn you into a superman compared to the monsters that could easily kill you just a moment ago. In other words: a shallower power curve.

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