The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

Shall we try to improve on CD Projekt RED's splendid, genre-defining open world RPG? Geralt's angry judgmental glare says 'how dare you' but I say 'how dare we not?' Geralt's an old man now and even CD Projekt has moved on to a futuristic new game called Cyberpunk 2077. We have already designed the perfect FPS game, the perfect battle royale game, and the perfect RTS game. It's time for the noble RPG to get its due.

As always we do this using a quick and easy survey. Questions cover a bunch of RPG basics: would we prefer a squad RPG or something driven by a single hero? How should leveling work, and what sort of sidequests do we want? Some of the questions have an 'Other' section where you can make personalised suggestions. For the love of Geralt please keep them clean. 

At the end of the process Google magic chews up the data and spits out pie charts that may prove informative and/or amusing. Once we have a load of responses we will compile the results into an article on PCGamer.com and the industry will weep joy-tears to see what we have made.

The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

CD Projekt Red is expanding. The main Warsaw office has ballooned and the company has opened two other studios in Poland, one in Wrocław and one in Krak w - which is where I am now.

The CDPR Krak w was actually opened all the way back in 2013, put to work collaborating on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt expansions Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. But it wasn't until this year, roughly 12 months after moving into a new space, CD Projekt Red was comfortable inviting people in.

Yesterday I visited CD Projekt Red Krak w as part of a pre-Digital Dragons 2018 soiree (CDPR is the main sponsor this year).

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The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 turns three today, so what better time to remember why it's one of the games of the generation.

CD Projekt's epic fantasy role-playing game launched on 19 May 2015 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and instantly wowed fans with its sweeping open world, wonderful quests and characters, and impressive visuals.

Fast forward three years, and The Witcher 3 remains a hugely popular game - at the time of publication, an impressive 16,599 people were playing on Steam.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Glaives, pikes, bardiches, halberds, partisans, spears, picks and lances. Javelins, arbalests, crossbows, longbows, claymores, zweih nder, broadswords and falchions. Flails, clubs, morning stars, maces, war hammers, battle axes and, of course, longswords. If you ever played a fantasy RPG or one of many historically-themed action or strategy games, you'll already be familiar with an impressive array of medieval weaponry. The medieval arsenal has had an enormous impact on games since their early days, and their ubiquity makes them seem like a natural, fundamental part of many virtual worlds.
These items are based on real weapons that have maimed and killed countless real people over the centuries, but even though we're aware of this, medieval weapons have become estranged and distant from their roots in history. Part of this is our short memory; the passing of a few centuries is enough to blunt any relic's sense of reality. Another reason is they were made a staple of genre fiction. In our modern imagination, the blade has become firmly lodged in the rocks of fantasy fiction and historical drama, and no-one will be able to pull it free entirely.
Today, these weapons have been refashioned to serve our very modern fantasies of power, freedom and heroism. There's the irresistible figure of the hero-cum-adventurer who sets out to forge their own path. From Diablo and Baldur's Gate to The Witcher and Skyrim, the fundamental logic of violence stays the same. Battles lead to loot and stronger equipment, which in turn allows our heroes to tackle more dangerous encounters. The wheel keeps turning, and we follow the siren song of ever more powerful instruments of destruction. On the surface, they're problem solving tools, but they also promise the excitement of adventure as well as the power to dominate and enforce our will on those fantasy realms. As such, they become fetishised. Extravagant visual detail and special effects signal a weapon's rarity and power, turning them into ornaments and status symbols.

While the actual violence in such fantasies is often justified by a struggle of good versus evil, the resulting gore and savagery has also captured our imagination. Most games, even mainstream RPGs like Skyrim or The Witcher 3, can't resist indulging in an aesthetic of cruelty and barbarism by showing us the grisly devastation caused by these instruments of murder. Blood spurting from wounds and clinging on blades, heads and arms being hacked off and tumbling through the air, special killing and execution animations captured in glorious slow-motion. Their gruesomeness markedly contrasts with the sanitised, often bloodless effects of modern guns as portrayed in games, disingenuously suggesting that modern violence and warfare is somehow more civilised than that of our ancestors.

Games like For Honor, Mount & Blade, Chivalry or War of the Roses celebrate medieval slaughter with grim nihilism as we hack and slash ourselves through hordes of enemies entirely without any ethical justification. Might makes right, and the means justify the end. The same can be said about the brutal spectacle of the Total War games, whose hordes of clashing soldiers tickle some deep-seated proto-fascist lust for demonstrations of power. These games paint a "grim and gritty" picture of historical violence, the "dark ages" of popular imagination. They're a half-leering, half-wistful gaze into a fantasy version of the past when the destructive urges of our collective Id have not yet been tamed by civilisation and violence was not yet regulated by the moral codes and laws of pervasive state power. In that regard, the butcher and the heroic adventurer use their weapons to pursue the same fantasy: unfettered will and agency, the freedom to follow your impulses regardless of their consequences.

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The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

Netflix is getting an eight-episode English language adaptation of The Witcher Saga—the Polish novel series that CD Projekt Red's hugely successful fantasy RPG series is based on. Running the show is Marvel's Daredevil and The Defenders writer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, who is treating fans to remarkably candid behind-the-scenes peeks into the highs and lows of production.

And for those wondering, despite conflicting reports that he's denied any involvement, the Saga's original author, Andrzej Sapkowski, is on board as the show's creative consultant. 

“I’m thrilled that Netflix will be doing an adaptation of my stories, staying true to the source material and the themes that I have spent over thirty years writing,” he said in a press release. “I’m excited about our efforts together, as well as the team assembled to shepherd these characters to life.”

While it's early days for the show, there is actually a lot of info out there already about what's in the works. While we'll endeavour to keep spoilers to a minimum, please proceed with caution if you'd rather not know about the characters or story beats ahead of time.

Does The Witcher on Netflix have a release date yet? 

Though it was announced a year ago now, we're still some way away from seeing The Witcher's premiere, unfortunately. 

Though the precise release date has yet to be confirmed, it's widely expected to release some time next year, but showrunner Hissrich herself has even suggested 2020 as a potential window

There is some good news, though—the pilot episode has been written, and Hissrich herself has even teased us with a tweet pic of the cover page.

While this isn't the first time the Witcher series has come to screens—The Hexer, a 13-episode Polish language series adaptation of the series, was broadcast way back in 2002, and a poorly-received Polish movie preceded it in 2001—this is the first time we'll have seen an on-screen adaptation outside of Poland. 

It's been confirmed that the inaugural Netflix series will feature eight episodes.

"I know, I know, it may not seem like enough for you, but creatively, it's the right call," Hissrich tweeted last month. "The episodes can be tight, action-packed, rich in character and story, without lagging in the middle of the season. Sounds good to me, sound good to you?"

What is the plot of The Witcher Netflix series?

If you head on over to The Witcher on Netflix right now, there's already a placeholder description to tempt you into pre-adding the show to your list. 

While the Netflix blurb—"The witcher, Geralt, a mutated monster hunter, struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts"—doesn't give away much, an official synopsis revealed by executive producers Sean Daniel and Jason Brown tells us a little more, indicating that the show follows an unconventional family that "comes together to fight for truth in a dangerous world." 

While Hissrich has confirmed that she has already submitted the complete pilot script back in February 2018, she has steadfastly refused to satisfy fan curiosity on what the plot may entail.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Tomek Baginski and Jarek Sawko of Polish visual effects studio Platige Image said in a statement: "There is a moral and intellectual depth in these books which goes beyond genre. It is a story about today and today’s challenges, hidden under a fantasy cover. It is a story about us, about the monster and hero inside of all our hearts."

Over the last few days, Hissrich has introduced us to other writers (Declan de Barra (The Originals), Jenny Klein (Jessica Jones) and Sneha Koorse (Daredevil) to name but three) joining the crew, and detailed what happened the first time the team gathered in the writers' room.

"We start talking. And talk and talk and talk. We write the things we say on dry erase boards. [...] 

We break down characters first: who they are, what they want, who they'll do it with. Organically, those emotional moments collide with plot. Note: some writers are better at plot machinations. Some are better at emotional arcs. Some do action. Some do sex. It takes all types."

So that's the sex scenes confirmed, then… although it remains to be seen if we'll get to see some sexy times on a unicorn.

Which characters will appear in The Witcher on Netflix? 

So far, we know that Yennefer, Ciri, Roach, and Triss will be joining Geralt, along with Regis the vampire and Emhyr var Emreis.

Dandelion will also be making an appearance, although for the show he'll be referred to as Jaskier, his original name from the novel series. 

“The characters are original, funny and constantly surprising and we can’t wait to bring them to life at Netflix," said producers Tomek Baginski and Jarek Sawko when the series was announced. 

Hissrich has even taken to describing each character via a series of recent tweets. Brace yourselves—there's a lot of detail here, and many hyphens for the more descriptive sections of Hissrich's tweets.

  • Geralt is described as stoic, circumspect, balanced and fierce, and, in Hissrich's words: "soft-and-squishy-in-a-tiny-place-in-his-heart-that-he'll-never-reveal-until-maybe-the-end-and-even-then-it-will-just-be-a-hint."
  • Yennefer, meanwhile, is fiery, proud, shrewd and contradictory, plus: "seeking-to-fill-a-family-sized-hole-in-her-heart-even-though-she-resents-it-and-swears-she's-just-fine-on-her-own-but-she-is-not-and-we-love-her-for-being-both-independent-and-vulnerable."
  • Ciri is described as resilient, relentless, brazen and growing, and, according to Hissrich: "she's-going-to-change-the-world-and-what-the-hell-is-she-supposed-to-do-except-be-scared-and-be-bold-and-learn-and-adapt-and-find-a-family-who-can-walk-by-her-side-no-matter-what-and-maybe-just-maybe-teach-her-the-meaning-of-love."
  • Roach is apparently "ladylike; faithful; extrasensory; steady". Hissrich adds this, too, as part of the same Twitter thread: "Really-annoyed-with-this-game-because-we-can’t-pretend-all-Roaches-are-the-same-so-she’d-prefer-some-singularity-and-individual-recognition-instead-of-all-being-lumped-together-by-blatantly-horsist-people."
  • Jakier is extravagant, caddish, loose-lipped and loya. Plus: "Hides-behind-the-exterior-of-an-idiot-when-in-actuality-he-is-the-keeper-of-Geralt’s-realities-(even-if-he-exaggerates-his-own-heroics)-AND-the-truths-of-the-world-which-means-he’s-far-more-important-than-we-realize…"
  • Triss Merigold is "Spunky; Idealistic; Insecure; Conflicted; Young-and-naive-and-lacking-the-confidence-of-sorceresses-which-means-she-is-ripe-for-manipulation-but-when-she-finally-transcends-the-crap-she-has-a-chance-to-be-loved-as-herself-and-not-as-'the-third-wheel-with-Yen'".
  • Cahir is "Conflicted; Charismatic; Haunted; Pure of heart; Despite-being-young-he's-like-a-relic-of-a-simpler-time-when-knights-in-shining-armor-always-won-the-girl-but-now-in-the-face-of-harsh-reality-he-must-learn-what-it-means-to-actually-be-heroic-and-brave-for-others."

Phew, that was a lot of hyphens. Check out character descriptions for Regis, Vilgefortz, Ephyr, Milva, Leo Bonhart and Borch Three Jackdaws/Villentretenmerth deeper into Hissrich's Twitter thread, starting here. "This is a starting point, mostly because—how could characters ever be boiled down to five words (even with hyphens?)" Hissrich told fans on Twitter. "Also, the characters change and develop so much over the series that a summary can never be 100% accurate. Geralt starts off stoic. He doesn't end that way."

Has anyone been cast in The Witcher Netflix series yet?

No! As yet there's been no confirmed castings for the series, which means anything you've read to date is merely speculation or wishful thinking, even if they do provide ripe material for terrible photoshopping.

That said, this hasn't stopped famous fans offering their services. In response to a tweet in which Hissrich described Vesemir, Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill said: "I have no idea what this is or what it’s about but agree it could/should be played by me."

Where is The Witcher Netflix series going to be filmed?

Eastern Europe, naturally.

"WE'LL BE SHOOTING IN EASTERN EUROPE. Yes!" tweeted Hissrich. "This show couldn't exist anyplace else. Period."

While the show follows the novels more closely than the accompanying game series, we know that CD Projekt Red's cinematic director, Tomas Baginski—who directed the opening cinematics in all three Witcher games—is penciled in to direct as least one episode, so it'll be interesting to see if the show will be influenced by the style and motifs of its accompanying game series. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

My least favorite sensation in all of gaming is when I'm playing an RPG, and I pick up a weapon, or a breastplate, or an incandescent bauble of no obvious importance, and suddenly my feet cement to the floor. My character is over-encumbered! I have to spend the next few minutes on the pause screen, deciding which knick-knacks in my inventory to leave abandoned on the side of the road. Once spry and light again, I continue my adventures deep into the murky chasms of whatever fantasy world I'm exploring, until inevitably I find another item I want and the exact same thing happens again. 

Why do big games, particularly open world games with thousands of objects that can be picked up and examined, so often turn to a mechanic where fun goes to die?

I am not alone in hating encumbrance. It's a source of constant annoyance for gamers everywhere, to the point of achieving meme status in certain communities. And yet, it's still common. Bethesda makes two of the most popular single-player franchises around with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and yet we've all crossed our weight limit and hampered ourselves in the middle of a fight with a rowdy sect of Super Mutants. CD Projekt Red is one of this industry's few near-universally beloved studios, and yet Geralt always seems to be one looted corpse away from completely losing control of his body. There are cases where it makes sense, obviously—of course Dark Souls has an opaque encumbrance system, given all its other intentionally draconian quirks—but it certainly seems weird that such a despised mechanic is implemented, and re-implemented, over and over again.

Why do big games, particularly open world games with thousands of objects that can be picked up and examined, so often turn to a mechanic where fun goes to die? I figure there must be a reason. I'm constantly in awe of just how much work it takes to create videogames, and generally, when I find something to be stupid and unintuitive, I'm willing to hear the experts out. There must be some method to the madness, right?

The Witcher 3 is great. The Witcher 3 with a "no weight limit" mod is even better.

Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, game director of The Witcher 3, outlined a few arguments for encumbrance when I emailed him. The first is probably the most obvious: Immersion. "Having a limit to how much equipment Geralt can carry plays a part in making the character and the world around him more believable," he says. "Yes, you’re playing as a professional monster slayer. He’s very strong, stronger than normal humans, due to experiments and mutations witchers have to endure throughout their rigorous training. But even then, Geralt has limits. It’s a small touch that packs a lot of punch for the role-playing aspect of an RPG."

Having a limit to how much equipment Geralt can carry plays a part in making the character and the world around him more believable.

Konrad Tomaszkiewicz

Tomaszkiewicz tells me that he believes the fundamental purpose of an RPG is to embody the central character fully. That's why, he says, some players choose to unequip all of their armor before taking Geralt for a dip in a river or a lake. "They want to live the fantasy the game is enabling them to live, while keeping the experience as close to authentic as possible," he explains. It's the belief of CD Projekt Red that functions like encumbrance, while occasionally annoying, add up to a world that feels more consistent.

Oscar López Lacalle, lead designer of the survival game Conan Exiles, offers a similar justification. Exiles is different from The Witcher, in the sense that it packs a crafting system that heavily relies on resource harvesting and management, which makes it a pretty natural fit for a weight limit. But Lacalle tells me that the team decided to opt for an encumbrance mechanic, rather than a traditional inventory page, because it opened up the flexibility—and yes, the authenticity—of how you fleshed out your character.

"For example, we can set items like explosives to be artificially heavy because that makes players think on the logistics of sieging rather than just bringing unlimited explosive jars or trebuchets to breach any wall while still being able to fight at peak capacity," he says. "We can also say that all our core resources are much lighter than specialty items to enhance the feeling of rarity and the relative worth of items when compared with each other. This becomes an important factor in situations like coming back to your base loaded with riches, or relocating your base to a new location in the map. In general, it's a powerful tool to enhance and promote certain aspects of the game without adding other, more aggressive limitations."

Conan Exiles' inventory system encourages you to trade in raw resources for lighter crafting materials.

That's just the front end of things though. Tomaszkiewicz highlights a number of  behind-the-scenes issues that make encumbrance systems necessary for a healthy experience. He mentions how too many items can clutter the UI, and that adding a limit helps "manage the chaos." Also, you can't ignore the fact that every piece of inventory takes up a sliver of memory, and for a game like The Witcher 3 that already asks a ton of your hardware, developers need to be frugal. "You've got to keep in mind what might happen performance-wise when players hoard insane amounts of items."

Lacalle swears up and down that encumbrance systems are not designed to make players uncomfortable. Instead, he hopes to simply coerce us into interesting choices. Exiles was specifically designed around the remaining weight a character will have access to after equipping a basic set of armor. What you do with that remaining space hollows out your place in the world, and your role in guilds. When he frames it like that, it sure sounds a lot more dynamic than simply choosing a class.

Lacalle swears up and down that he hopes encumbrance systems coerce us into interesting choices.

"We made heavy armor and certain weapons heavier—because we wanted to steer them towards the fighter archetypes—and certain materials heavier or lighter depending on how many are needed for typical activities and how rare they are supposed to be," he says. "For building pieces, we made them lighter than their material parts because we wanted players to commit to converting materials instead of amassing tons of raw resources, with a few hand-picked exceptions like Altars and Wheels of Pain. Finally and most importantly, sprinkle in some design voodoo (lots of testing and iterating) until it feels good!"

It's true that sometimes you don't know what you really want, and as much as it might sound fun to jog through The Northern Kingdoms with Geralt sucking up loot like a vacuum, I'm willing to admit that I might be misguided. However, it's clear that the world at large is not convinced.

Websites like Eurogamer and Motherboard have dedicated blog posts instructing on how to turn off encumbrance, ostensibly because there are so many people on the internet googling for answers. A mod that gives you infinite carry capacity in The Witcher 3 has been downloaded over 30,000 times (it's the third-most popular Witcher 3 mod on the Nexus). The "100x your carry weight" mod for Skyrim has been downloaded 380,000 times. The developers I spoke to are all reasonable people who make good points, but it's hard to shake that fundamental feeling that encumbrance only slows down our fun.

Image via Nexusmods

All that being said, maybe there's a way to make encumbrance better without completely purging it from the code. David J. Cobb has spent the bulk of his modding career tinkering with the nuts and bolts of Skyrim to create a more realistic, more demanding weight system, and he makes a strong point about how encumbrance is often poorly implemented. There's never any warning when you're about to become over-encumbered in Bethesda games. Your momentum comes to a screeching halt after you add one extraneous item to your inventory. "Like carrying hundreds of pounds of gear effortlessly, only to stop completely in your tracks because you decided to pick a flower on the side of the road," he says. He argues that instead of creating immersion, that breaks immersion.

Cobb came up with a set of checks and balances called Cobb Encumbrance that add progressive penalties to your speed and stamina as you add more weight to your character. Essentially, it's an uber-hardcore interpretation of the core Skyrim fantasy. Personally, that doesn't sound like my kind of thing, but it also feels a tad more honest than how most other games deal with encumbrance. Maybe it's not the answer, but it's certainly an answer. 

"The encumbrance mechanic has to be viewed as part of the broader experience," says Cobb. "It influences and is influenced by everything around it."

Thumbnail GIF via the delightful Skyrim animation above by Ferhod.

The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

Nendoroid has unveiled its own spin on Geralt of Rivia, complete with his now iconic bathtime pose. Due in September this year, this slant on the White Wolf comes with a range of accessories, and is priced at ¥4,815 pre-tax via Good Smiles (which XE loosely converts to £31.50/$44.85 before shipping). 

For that, expect a pair of steel and silver swords, a hand of Gwent cards and, of course, a wooden bathtub. As you'll see in the images below, the Butcher of Blaviken is as handsome as ever in Nendoroid form, however an interchangeable face plate depicts his veiny potion overdose look which is never not scary.   

Check him out:  

Nendoroid Geralt joins the likes of Portal 2's Atlas, The Flash and Mario

Of course, developer CD Projekt RED once sent us a statue of The Witcher series protagonist bathing with his favourite magazine. In case you'd forgotten, that looks like this:  

Will this meme ever end? I hope not. 

The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 is one of those RPGs that people just keep on playing and keep on modding. Our roundup of the Witcher 3's best mods include some projects that are still ongoing and totally rework combat and leveling into a different sort of RPG, while other mods are hellbent on making the game look like it did in early demos. To that end, a recent mod called E3 UI and HUD promises to restore The Witcher 3's interface to what it looked like in 2014, a year before CD Projekt finished the game. Overall it makes the menus and map a little more flavorful and less utilitarian, which could be a nice change if you already know The Witcher 3 like the back of your hand.

Some details about the mod, from its Nexus page: most of the menus now have an animated background, the HUD has unique Xbox button icons styled after the 2014 demo's, there's a new font, unique loading screens for traveling within a region to different signposts, a monster tracker that shows the beast you're after if you're on a monster hunt, and an integrated live bestiary. The map offer the biggest change: it now looks hand drawn and most of the icons are gone by default.

There are some options that come with the HUD as well: the new (old) map and minimap can be disabled altogether, as can the animated backgrounds, and there's a toggle to turn on the map legend if you need help finding a particular destination or point of interest.

"You may also have noticed the missing level indicator on monster no matter whether you have scaling on or off," the mod page says. "This is an intentional design decision. There was no level indicator at E3 and as faithful e3 fanatics we are, we kept that. We suggest to just play with enemy scaling on, as this is (in our opinion) the prefered way to play anyway. However there is a way to roughly know if an enemy is too high leveled for you to fight : if an enemy name is red, that means he's much higher than you and you probably should run away from the fight. If the name is E3 brown, feel free to wreck him."

Installing the mod is as simple as unzipping the files into the Witcher 3 directory and making a quick edit to an input settings file. You can download the mod, and see more screenshots, at its Nexus Mods page here.

Mass Effect

Literature’s had a pretty good run, much of it without any fancy graphics and animations and particle effects to bolster the words. Games love text too. Text is cheap. You can paint a picture of galactic chaos or epic history in about the same time it takes to type ‘and then something cool happened’, without having to spend the next week designing armour and creating 3D characters to act it out. Yet despite centuries of practice, most games still haven’t worked out how to present all this (which let’s face it, is often there more for the writers’ satisfaction than our actual enjoyment) in a punchy, satisfying way. What works? What doesn’t? Let’s take a quick look at some of the ways games have handled books, letters, codexes and more. 

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Even when you don’t affect a world that much, it’s nice when it pretends. News stories are one of the best and cheapest ways to both highlight your achievements, and reframe them in interesting ways, from acts of heroism to outright terrorism. Human Revolution wrapped them in one of the sleekest packages for this—the Picus Daily Standard. At once a chance to see what was taking place out of your sphere, and see the effect of your adventures on the world. While even a few years later, the futuristic look feels distinctly retro compared to iPad news apps, to say nothing of whatever direct-brain interfaces we’ll likely have by the time of Deus Ex’s dark not-too-distant-future, Picus keeps it pretty, keeps it punchy, and above all, keeps it brief. 

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Ah, but when it comes to eBooks, things aren’t so smooth. Look at this. Even the original Kindle would wince at these datapad layouts, complete with non-slidable panels, slow refresh rate, poor quality fonts and typography, and non-consistent use of glows. Sure, it’s readable, but it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to, even before factoring in that in the wasteful future of Deus Ex you apparently need a new device for every Wikipedia entry. The crappy quality of this design only stands out more amongst Mankind Divided’s otherwise superbly rendered future, where everything you encounter seems to have emerged fully formed from the brain of a maverick product genius. This, meanwhile, feels like a first attempt at customising Twine. 

Fallout 4

In the not-too-distant future, who needs books? We’ll have computers! Specifically, ghastly green teletype machines that would be tolerable for simple acts like opening doors, but could be much more of a nightmare if the cast of Five Nights At Freddy’s occasionally popped up for a jump-scare. The horrible font. The clackering of the text. The endless pages that try their best  to tell stories of post-apocalyptic horror, despite being locked in an interface that would make even a hardened wasteland explorer decide that whatever happened probably doesn’t matter that much. Even accounting for the 50s vibe of the rest of the game, these are hideous technological throwbacks that knife their own storytelling in the back. The closest they come to being appropriate to the setting is that in using them, the living definitely envy the dead. 

Skyrim / Ultima

What’s an RPG shelf without a few strangely short books that probably don’t need hundreds of pages and a stiff leather jacket? While RPGs have always been wise enough to realise that most players will accept this deviation from reality, it’s still interesting to look at the differences between these two great franchises. Skyrim for instance clearly assumes that all of Tamriel’s readers are half-blind—or possibly playing on a television screen—leading to very slow-paced tales on glorified flashcards. Ultima meanwhile wanted you to squint. But at least Ultima had the advantage that unless a book was specifically screaming ‘crucial plot element’, it was most likely to be flavour, sparing you tediously flicking through shelves in the hope of finding a boost to one of your skills. At least both franchises keep their tongues firmly in their cheeks, whether it’s The Elder Scrolls’ obsession with the Lusty Argonian Mage, or Ultima’s fine line of joke books, occasional explosive booby-trap pranks, and the revelation that wise Lord British, founder of Britannia’s favourite story is “Hubert the Lion”. Can’t sleep without it, apparently... 

Mass Effect

A controversial one here, perhaps, but Mass Effect is one of the games where the built-in Codex arguably makes the world less enjoyable. The game does a fantastic job of introducing everything that’s actually important without relying on it as a crutch, with the dry writing and endless unlockable pages of SF guff coming across as homework rather than a gripping read. Do we really need to know, for example, the origins of every last whiffle-bolt supplier on the Citadel? No. It’s just not that important. Save it for the design bible and tie-in books.

While there are a few interesting flourishes, including Codex entries based on what the universe thinks rather than necessarily the actual truth, the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy it is not. And ironically, it shows the difference itself, in the form of Mass Effect 2’s fantastic Shadow Broker DLC and the unlockable files within, which actually do give you a chance to peer at your party’s dirty little secrets. Jack’s secret love of poetry. Miranda’s online dating life. Tali’s repeated installation of a suit tool called ‘Nerve Stim Pro’. Oh, the blackmail opportunities...

Dishonored 2

Dishonored is a great example of how just a little thing can really annoy. Its text isn’t difficult to read, the font is pretty well chosen, if not exactly conveying the sense of a written document in the same way as many other games with this level of texture and detail, but does it really have to sway back and forth while you’re reading? There’s a time for ambient animation to breathe life into a scene, and a time to make the player feel slightly sea-sick. No. Scratch that. True for the first, not so much for the second. Swish… swish… it’s an effect applied to all the menus and other data screens and really contributes to making reading the lore an unpleasant experience. A shame, because that lore is actually interesting. Dunwall and Karnaca are two of gaming’s best cities, and their depth and backstory is fascinating. If you can stand to actually read it.

The Longest Journey and Life Is Strange

I'm bundling these together because they do the same basic concept—the primary text in the game is our main character’s diary. This serves several purposes, including offering a potted version of the story if you dip away for a while and forget things, but most importantly giving us a direct look inside their head. It’s a technique that only works if you actually like the main character, but fortunately that’s not a problem for either series and its charismatic leading ladies. In particular, it’s a way of bridging the gap between our perception of the game, as an untouchable god-figure, and theirs, as someone for whom all these moral decisions are actual life-changing events. Simply seeing the game from that perspective is enough to make everything carry that much more weight, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re fun reads too.

The Witcher 3

What separates The Witcher from most in-game codexes is its sense of character, with everything being described from the perspective of in-game poet, lover and occasional sidekick Dandelion. The nature of the game also rewarded taking the time to dip into the Codex, given that for a travelling monster-slayer, knowledge is power, and never took away from the fact that while us as players might not know our drowners from our necrophages, Geralt himself was always able to be a reliable source of information and provide the condensed version.

Realms of the Haunting

Here’s a retro classic, sadly not helped by the low-resolutions of the mid-90s. Nothing damages the mood of an otherwise well-made document like peering at it through a letter-box and finding it more poorly compressed than an old JPEG from a lost Geocities page. It’s not quite as bad blown up to full screen though, and even with its technical problems, it demonstrated how to write documents that actually fit the world and contributed to the lore without feeling like extracts from the design bible. Most took the form of letters between the characters, their identities not always immediately obvious, and turning the relatively simple battle between good and evil at the heart of the story into an epic tale of Faustian deals, ancient cults, doomed love, and a deep mythology stretching between multiple worlds. The visual look certainly didn’t hurt, with everything presented as aged pages, hand-drawn maps and messily scrawled journals. And if you didn’t like them, you got to burn several of them as part of a puzzle. Splendid.

The Neverhood

Of course, if you really, really want to make sure nobody misses your game’s lore, there’s always the Hall of Records—aka The Place Where Basically All The Game’s Backstory Is, as carved onto the walls of a corridor that takes about five minutes to trudge through even if you ignore all of the words. Oh, and when you get to the other end? You have to walk back, obviously. You know it’s good stuff when even a game’s own wiki states, and we quote, “it is suggested by most not to read all of it.” Truly great literature. Who could ask for anything less?

But of course, these are just a few cases. Which games have convinced you to pause saving the world to flick through a good book, and when has that background just been so much blah? It’s fun to get lost in backstory, just as long as the writers aren’t too obsessed with their own lore.

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition Director's Cut

There's been the suggestion of multiplayer in CD Projekt Red's new game Cyberpunk 2077 for a while. In 2013, studio head Adam Badowski even told me "we're going to add multiplayer features", although he also said "it will be a story-based RPG experience with amazing single-player playthroughs". Regardless, that was five years ago, and a lot has happened since then.

The only multiplayer CD Projekt Red has developed has been the turn-based kind in Witcher card game Gwent and The Witcher Adventure Game - although there was that Witcher mobile MOBA. It's not unlike the Polish studio to take on something ambitious but why wobble the boat for the sake of a feature The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt did so, so well without?

Fortunately it appears CD Projekt Red feels the same. In a streamed CDPR financial conference today, president and joint-CEO Adam Kiciński suggested, almost beyond a doubt, that Cyberpunk 2077 would be a single-player game.

Read more…

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