The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

podcast-45-character-creation

You look a little tired, friend. Let me just adjust this slider for you. There, wide awake. Now you ve got some energy, how about listening to the RPS podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show? This week we re talking about character creation. Which games spoil us with choice? And why do we always end up creating the same sneaky elf? (more…)

Portal 2

Whether it’s an Easter egg, a joke character, or just a little nudge at a competitor, developers love slipping the odd reference to other games into their own. Sometimes though, they go beyond just slapping a Dopefish on a wall or quipping about a ‘doomed space marine’, and we get to see our heroes stride into entirely new, often completely inappropriate new worlds.

Here are a few of our favourites, along the ones that caused the most ‘wait, what?’ blinking on discovery. 

Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Jedi

Yes, he can hold his breath underwater for ten minutes and quip his way through any sword-fight… but only The Force Unleashed II let him try his luck with a lightsaber. Turns out that you don’t need a sharp wit if you’re waving around two of the universe’s deadliest glowsticks and aren’t afraid to use them. Guybrush Threepkiller is so famous in-universe, he even has his own statues. We’re almost positive that’ll be brought up at some point in the next movie. After all, Rey does need a new teacher. Just as long as Elaine never finds out about it. 

Final Fantasy makes history in Assasin's Creed

Obviously, everything in the Assassin’s Creed series is meticulously researched and true to life, especially the alien gods and the time Ezio punched the Pope. Write it all down in your history homework! Which means that, while aliens might not have built the pyramids, they definitely got up to a bit of chocobo racing on the side. That’s according to this crossover, where Assassins ended up in Final Fantasy XV, while its villain ended up pounding sand for a bit before being dragged back to his own game by a hastily summoned Bahamut. There’s even a stuffed Moogle lying around in case you feel lonely after they’ve gone, and some fancy weapons to keep and confuse archaeologists for a few thousand years. Along with that Stargate, obviously. 

Commander Keen hangs about in Doom II

There’s a few odd appearances in Doom 2, including the severed head of John Romero as the end-boss, and a trip back to Wolfenstein 3D in the secret levels. By far the strangest thing though is what lies behind those: former id star Commander Keen… murdered and hanging from meathooks. The story goes that Adrian Carmack was the childkiller in question, having chafed at making cutesy games instead of enjoying himself with blood and guts. However, that was not enough to get rid of the boy-genius forever, for both John Romero and Tom Hall have confirmed that Commander Keen, real name Billy Blaze, is in fact Wolfenstein hero BJ Blazkowicz’s grandson… and father to the Doomguy. What a strange family tree. 

Earthworm Jim digs into Battle Arena Toshinden

He’s the world’s mightiest worm! He fights aliens! He travels galaxies! He gets flattened by a lot of cows! And he’s one of the few 90s mascots to actually be awesome, starring in two excellent platformers, one surprisingly good cartoon series, and… well, let’s not mention the sequels. Like Bubsy, 3D was not kind to Earthworm Jim, though unlike Bubsy, people actually cared. His most successful jump into the third dimension turned out to be this Easter Egg in the PC version of Toshinden, where with the help of his super-suit and a really big club, he was finally able to make the future of gaming eat dirt. Pound them into the ground. Bury himself in glory. Be cut in half and yet… no, wait. Not that one. But it was still as good as fans were going to get.

Everyone plays Poker Night at the Inventory 

Easily the most ambitious gaming crossover in recent memory… and it’s all about hanging out between games. Telltale’s Poker Night series combined, amongst a few others (deep breath) The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Max from Sam and Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade Adventures and also some webcomic whose name we forget off-hand, GLaDOS from Portal, Brock Samson from the Venture Bros (not a game, but never mind), Claptrap from Borderlands, Sam from Sam and Max replacing Max from Sam and Max, and Ash from The Evil Dead. Phew.

They weren’t great poker games, but that wasn’t really the point. It was about the banter between the different competitors as they sat back and shot the shit without the customary heavy artillery. We could also have had members of the cast from The Walking Dead and Back to the Future, but they were deemed unsuitable for the atmosphere. They didn’t want anyone crying, or any kids seeing Doc and Marty in a sweary environment. A pity. When the game revved up, they could have seen some serious shit.

Portal 2’s Space Core invades Skyrim 

When Bethesda showed off DLC for Oblivion, it was horse armour. And everybody laughed. Come Skyrim, the laugh was far more positive. One of the earliest additions saw the exiled Space Core (spoilers for a decade old game there) crash-land in Tamriel, still just as eager to explore SPAAAAAAAACE. Going bizarrely unnoticed by the locals, all probably fretting about that whole dragon invasion thing, it came crashing down in a plume of smoke. Pick it up and it still kept blinking and talking in your inventory, delivering… well, not very varied dialogue. In summary:  “Space. Space. Space!” And yet, still it was less annoying than all those guards and their epic tales of glory curtailed by the sudden impact of a ballistic stick to the lower-leg.

XCOM defends Civ V: Brave New World

What does XCOM do when there are no aliens to fight? Apparently, they learn to ****ing shoot straight. The XCOM Squad in Civ V is an elite tactical unit that gets the job done, air-dropping into friendly territory and laying down the law. Specifically, Thou Shalt Not Screw With XCOM. In the absence of aliens, they have their eyes set on "Giant Death Robots," and are happy to act as shock troopers or defensive units while they watch the skies and await their destiny. But since there are apparently no aliens interested in Earth during the Civ games, they’re probably going to be waiting a while. Should have taken the flight to Alpha Centauri.

Princess Rosella favours Leisure Suit Larry 3

Sierra On-Line loved its in-jokes. Not one but two sequels (this one and Space Quest III) ended with the characters somehow finding their way to the developers’ own offices for a chat with studio leads Ken and Roberta Williams, with Larry also taking trips to a Westworld style factory where adventure heroes are rebuilt after every stupid death, complete with King’s Quest’s King Graham being readied for duty, and finally showing up in the Old West for a cameo in Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist. By far the strangest cameos came at the end of Leisure Suit Larry 3, where the trip to Sierraland involved trekking through scenes from games like Police Quest and Space Quest 2, before meeting Roberta Williams directing a particularly annoying scene from King’s Quest IV, in which Princess Rosella is trapped in the slobbery mouth of a giant whale. Strange.

Frank West covers Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

He’s covered wars, you know. But oddly, Dead Rising’s original and best hero doesn’t seem to know how to cover himself in this odd outing. Despite Lost Planet being set on a frozen world, everyone’s favourite photographer show up not only without his camera, but also without his trousers. Somehow avoiding hypothermia, he runs around in nothing but underpants, while still managing to rain destruction on the armies of insects happy to not have to peel their food for once. What a trooper. 

Scorpion goes mental in Psi-Ops

Fighting game characters are probably the most cameo-friendly of all, whether it’s a full game like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, or bonus combatants-without-a-k-because-that’s-how-it’s-spelled in the likes of Injustice. But they show up in other games with curious regularity too. Lightning god Raiden for instance showed up in Unreal Championship, while invisible fighter Reptile could have popped into basically any game. Ever seen a flicker on your screen playing, say, Fortnite? As far as you know, it might be him.

But still, this was an odd one. Even though Midway was the publisher of both MK and Psi-Ops, it’s a bit of a leap from fighting game to third-person action game. Sadly, just wearing his palette-swapped ninja outfit didn’t actually make you the world’s clingiest fighter. He still had to swap out his “get over here!” attack for regular guns. On the plus side, having to beat every character in the game two out of three times would have gotten pretty darn tiring.

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.

Read more…

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brock Wilbur)

Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 2.07.04 PM

A proper modding community can keep a game world alive long after the studio behind that title has put it to pasture. Or, more accurately in this case, when the studio just keeps porting the original game to new devices instead of, you know, making new entries. Skyrim has some of the most in-depth world building teams on the mod market, and instead of merely remastering or HD’ing their way through old titles, they’re re-inventing the wheel. The Beyond Skyrim team just released the trailer and description for their expansion Iliac Bay and the production values are awe-inspiring.

(more…)

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 Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

It’s time to hang a pine-scented Little Tree air freshener from your cybergoggs because The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR last night launched on PC, following its console debut in November 2017. It’s Skyrim but in VR, yeah? Put your feet in a foot spa while you sit by a river in the rain, hang an old sock over your nose when venturing into Blackreach, and punch yourself in the knee any time you drag up tired memes. Ow. (more…)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda has announced that Skryrim VR will be coming to Steam on April 3rd.

Skyrim VR, which originally launched on PSVR late last year, sees Bethesda's classic open-world fantasy epic rejigged and reworked for virtual reality headsets. As was the case on PSVR, the Steam version of Skyrim VR will include the celebrated base game, alongside the newly VR-ified Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn expansions.

Skyrim is pretty ubiquitous at this point in time, having appeared on six different platforms and in three different guises since its release in 2011 - but Bethesda's thorough virtual reality update, which includes support for VR controllers, is easily one of its most impressive.

Read more…

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Given that the iconic image of Skyrim is a fella wearing a Knightmare-esque bucket on his head, it’s only fitting that Bethesda want you to strap cybergoggles onto your head to enter the fantasy RPG’s world. Today they announced a PC release for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR, a new standalone version built for cybergoggles. Skyrim VR debuted on PlayStation VR in November 2017, and now it’s headed to PC on April 3rd. It seems a terrible shame that the game doesn’t (as far as I know) use goggle microphones to control dragon shouts. (more…)

Dragon Age: Origins - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

podcast-36-best-mates-b

Hello chum! Sit down and have a nice glass of water and a pack of Bombay mix. That’s how we greet our closest friends on the RPS podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show. This week, best pals John and Brendan discuss how friendship is handled in videogames, and what characters felt most like close buddies. John felt a kinship with Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins, and sees Lydia from Skyrim as Wilson the football from Castaway. Whereas Brendan felt a habitual closeness to the undead woman in Dark Souls who sold him poisonous arrows. Takes all sorts, really.

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The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind® Game of the Year Edition - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

A new video of Beyond Skyrim: Morrowind, a wildly ambitious upcoming mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, gives a look at its version of lands from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This isn’t one of those mods remaking Morrowind, mind. The wider Beyond Skyrim project wants to revisit lands from older Elder Scrolls games, exploring how they’ve changed in the hundreds of years since through new stories which are contemporaneous with the events of Skyrim. How is Morrowind looking after all these years? Not that great, what with the devastating volcanic activity and all. Observe:

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