It is with a heavy heart that I must denounce a game I’ve put over 400 hours into. Like an MMO, I recently finally reached the level cap, pushing past the dry spells of boredom from having to do the same quests over and over to satisfy my OCD mind, which Skyrim forces so many side quests on you you’d think they don’t even want you to do the main quest.
I found myself in a position of feeling empty. The feeling that I never wanted to feel from a game, one that I became aware of early enough before it became a reality.
The dangers of Avatar strength, the mark of addiction that so many confuse as a good trait of a game rather than a bad trait of the mind; the horrible system that should’ve been buried from existence once we became advanced enough to no longer require it that is: the Leveling System. So much oversight that we, the gamers, award to such low caliber tripe programming, from our ignorance and mental incompetence to face the truth, put to work in the form of literally ignoring labor, boredom, decadence, and become apathetic as a result. But there’s so much good in this game, too! Such potential for greatness, so great that it exceeds in certain areas.
Sadly, I have to give this game a stamp of disapproval. It twists the knife in the wound given to the gamer in me, from the time I’ve invested in the game.
That’s because Skyrim is an addictive experience that not only fooled my better judgement, I have none but myself to blame for doing what I did. I’m an outspoken assailant of MMOs, specifically the obsolete technology which as previously said, should be deader than an occupied body bag, the “Leveling System” some dare to call “RPG elements”.
But hey, we’ll get to that in time. Skyrim is addictive for good reasons and bad reasons, and in everything that makes it an actual game, it’s…bland. A ‘flour and tree-bark with oxygen-topping sandwich’ kind of bland.
Well, that is, except for how HUGE it is. The grandular scale of the game is enough to get lost into alone. Just exploring the vast and (with mods) beautiful landscape and exploring a world rich with diverse life, adventure, and mystery. Much like the settlers that arrived in the New World from the European countries, all you have to do is pick a direction and walk that way, and there’s no telling what you’ll run into. Maybe it’ll be a vast plain full of interesting flora and fauna, or a mineral-rich cave to mine, forests full of animals, or maybe you’ll see a hostile, or two, or five, or a camp full of hostiles. It’s wonderful. (Except the New World settlers just had hostiles and vast forests, sans-animals. Terrible game, don’t know why anyone programmed it that way.) And the lore, my god, if there’s one thing Bethesda just can’t get wrong is lore. Skyrim is a game where you can just get lost reading the multitudes of interesting books, and it’s not like picking up a real book and having to set aside a weekend to get through half of it. You can get through an entire Jarl’s bookcase in a day, because Skyrim’s books manage to squeeze in a vast amount of interesting lore in short reads that even all the people in your High School classroom that read like they’re 5 years-old would be interested in.
However, why the hell am I reviewing walking around and reading in a game about fighting dragons and being the hero of the world? Shouldn’t I praise the combat system? The teeth-grinding battles? The quests? The character building? The mechanics making Skyrim…a game?
Well, this is precisely where Skyrim fails. As a game. It’s a great museum, but it’s just as good as playing Namco Museum without getting to play any of the games, just watching the ‘cool’ 3D animations and looking at the ‘revolutionary’ graphics, and reading the little tablets that have concept art and fun facts.
I’ll address the core issue at the end, but I feel it important to address what’s good about the game first. I’ll include a Pro/Con chart at the end after I address its core issue, but I’m going to need some time to get there.
1st Point – The fighting system is balls.
Skyrim is honestly one of the most boring games to fight in I’ve ever seen, which hey whatever it’s not a CORE MECHANIC or anything. For example, let’s look at a couple of indie games with in-game combat: the Mount & Blade franchise and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. These games have UNREAL levels of realism in their combat systems. That is, for an indie game. I wouldn’t fault anyone for not making a completely realistic feeling combat system; I don’t even think we’re at the point we can do that yet. However, all things considered, M&B+CH:MW (Which I will now call the dream team when referring to them both) are two of the best examples of how to make a combat system that feels real, intense, and fun. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
When designing a combat system, it isn’t hard to lose sight of remembering to make it fun, especially if it’s strategy or stat-based. How are you supposed to make someone clicking a button over and over ‘fun’? Well, that goes into the area of game theory that no one likes to talk about, what exactly is ‘fun’, and how can you cause ‘fun’ to happen. Well, I can’t say I’m some big respected authority on the subject, but I can give you a very informed opinion not just from being a gamer, but from reading books upon a wide variety of texts and listening to talks upon talks about game design: JUST HAVE PEOPLE PLAY THE DAMNED GAME AND SEE HOW THEY FEEL AND RESPOND.
You know how I feel when I play the dream team? When I play M&B, I’m excited about going to battle, even if I’m just by myself. This is because the combat system epitomizes what any combat system should be: dynamic, smooth, practical, interesting, intense, immersive, and satisfying. The combat strategy is VAST, and those wishing to play multiplayer servers had better break out a pen and paper, pull up Google and YouTube, and take a self-teaching course for a good month with practice if they plan on being a pivotal part of victory, or part of ANY victory. Those that find themselves on the losing side of a scuffle don’t (or shouldn’t) feel BS’d due to sloppiness. In fact, the rush of a good loss can be just as great as that of a good win. There’s nothing like getting into a long battle where you both just keep blocking in the right directions and getting one puny stab in every once in a while. (Dark Souls, much?) It feels good, because you’re going through this complex system that’s simple to understand and satisfying to utilize. One of the most important parts of a satisfying combat system is, well, making it seem like combat.
Give the swords a nice loud clink when they clash, add a butt-clenching mushy impact when you smack a blunt weapon into your opponents organs, sterilizing them for life, and hopefully death, and add a blood spray and a cool animation of them staggering back from the blow and quickly regaining their countenance and fighting back the recoil to prepare themselves a getaway to have their wounds palpated. And, most importantly, make them diverse. Take a page from ol’ Jon Blow, make a lot of sounds for your game. That’s where the immersion comes in. Games are an illusion, we play them to get lost in a world that doesn’t exist, that gives us the idea that we’re not just smacking our greasy fingers on a bunch of plastic buttons, so make me believe, damnit! That’s got to be the most important thing is not breaking the experience of a game! Immersion is what separates a game from being library filler and your desktop wallpaper.
However, Mount & Blade, even Warband, compensates in the same way Skyrim tries to, because it doesn’t have all that flashy (Sorry, I meant VITAL) polish. It’s got most of it down pretty good, but it fails by limitation, not by ineptitude. Chivalry, however, succeeds where M&B is too big and complex to. Unlike M&B’s world war, Chivalry goes for the ol’ Quake-style class warfare confined to an arena. It looks great, by every account, which is right considering how much newer Chivalry is to the market compared to M&B. It also takes this advantage in the form of an even MORE realistic combat system. There is hardly a greater joy in Chivalry than running up to an opponent with a charge and a gigantic hammer and literally smashing their brains out in a big testosterone-induced HULK SMASH.
Now, I’m not a sadist. Heck, I’m not even the attacker type. Other than defense, I’m pacifist to the max. I’m not saying that good combat systems should be designed for people who want to watch the world burn, nor should it be designed for people that like their battles like they like their Monopoly, taking 6 hours for anything noteworthy to happen and always won by your superiors. (Damnit, Grandma, you Hotel spamming tyrant.)
But close observers will note that even how Chivalry goes for the ‘Fuck ’em up’ approach, whilst M&B goes the ‘Strategic Stick Swinger/Shooter’ route, that’s what makes them great. Not just those differing approaches contrasting them from each other, but all the other things they have…in common.
For brevity’s sake, I think it’s okay to stop the context there. But I hope you, the reader, understand this as well as I do: how important your DSP IIIS. That’s an acronym, and it’s really really bad.
Apologies, coming up with a better one…
DIPSISI (Dip-Sissy). Remember DIPSISI whenever you’re playing any combat game. It stands for “Dynamics, Immersion, Practicality, Smoothness, Interest, Satisfaction, Intensity.” It’s a lot to remember, but if you train yourself to see it, you’ll keep them sacred. When a game developer tries to give you a pitiful combat system, you tell them how much you understand about combat fighting and how inexperienced they look. Imagine them saying: “Oh, really? Is that what it’s like?”, and then you say right back: “You must’ve never been in a fight in your life. No dip, sissy.”
And to better help you understand before I stop digressing and actually talk about Skyrim, here’s some (not all, just well-suggested) questions to ask yourself when considering if a game is a good example of DIPSISI combat:
Dynamics = Variety: “How much am I required to do in order to fight? To Win? To Lose? How much can I do? Does the game have enough? Why would it need more/less? Does the combat add/detract to the game’s total Dynamic feel?”
Immersion = Successful Illusion: “Does this game advertise its combat as realistic? How does it advertise its combat? Regardless, how realistic is it? Does it succeed at what it attempts to do? Is that good? If it fails, does it succeed in another way? Is that specific to me? Does the combat add/detract from the game’s total immersive feel?”
Practicality = Importance to Fight: “Is combat the main mechanic? How important is combat? How often does combat show up? How much is required of me to fight/when fighting? Am I, the one playing the game, useful, or is it all in my weapons or stats? How do I get better? Do I need to get better? Are my skills advancing as I, the player, advance in real life? Does the combat improve me, the player, in real life to do anything?”
Smoothness = Conducive Feeling and Flow: “How do I perform combat? Does it feel like you’re only doing it because it’s an obligation? How easy/hard is it to perform combat? Is its difficulty due to it being a bad system, or because I haven’t learned how to do it well? Is it something you can do well? Is it worth it? Is it buggy or anomalistic?”
Interest = Self-Explanatory: “Do I really care? Is the combat grabbing my interest because it’s interesting, or because I want it, or this game in general, to be? Why is/isn’t it interesting? Is that personal, or the nature of the game? How much time do I feel like I could invest in it? Is that because I want to or because I have nothing better to do?”
Satisfaction = Self-Explanatory: “Does combat feel good? Why does/doesn’t it? How many of the dynamics feel good? How often does it make me feel good? For how long does it make me feel good until I’m drained? Am I drained because the game is good, or I’m disappointed or wrongly fatigued? Would I recommend this game to people? What kind of person do I think would love this game? What could make me love it more? Does it look/sound good?”
Intensity = The Essence of Combat: “Is this really a fight? Does it feel like a fight? How cool is fighting? Do I ever feel rushes of adrenaline or tense my body up? Am I totally focused? Why or when am I/am I not totally focused? What is my character, and does combat make me feel like I’m in the thick of what my character is? How?”
Many of the parts of DIPSISI can be partnered, but it’s not a bunch of like terms, it’s a Venn diagram, and the only thing in the middle is “The Best Kind Of Combat System”.
This is why I say I don’t expect combat to be perfect, because no game ever has combat that’s been. That’s why fun is so hard for people to talk about, because sure, there’s things that make a game fun, but you can’t just mix-and-mash mechanics together and make a fun game.
Like, you couldn’t take the satisfying and clear sound effects of Pac-Man and slap them on an intense game like Dark Souls and expect people to praise you for your immersion. But, then again, some people might be okay with that. Some people. Others would complain that it gets annoying after a while, or immersion elitists would ream you about it.
The melancholy of the game developer: 2 rights can destroy everything about every idea you have, good or bad. They can also make an experience that people remember for the rest of their lives. They can also just make it okay, so no one ever gives a crap. There’s still no defined ‘way’ to make a game, but there are guidelines to follow that you can learn from playing good games.
Makes it hard to be an authority on game theory when literally no one is, and we’re all just trusting whoever we feel like or what’s popular in the media. Like politics.
But, enough digressing, where does Skyrim fail? Welp, Skyrim’s combat system fails literally in every single category.
Skyrim DARES to act like it has dynamics, in the most complex effort I’ve ever seen put into designing a big fat turd wherein lies its crimes against the six categories of good combat.
Oh, sweet mother of lord does it have the plainest dynamics it could possibly have.
“Wow, gee, golly, whiz! There are so many different kinds of weapons! Iron! Steel! Elven? What’s Elven? Orcish? Glass?! Who would want Glass? Oh, that’s why! I can even make armors and weapons from the bones and skin of dragons, or imbued with the very powers of the Daedric realm of Oblivion! I can even find armors and weapons used by the Daedric lords themselves in exchange for adventure! And look at all these weapons, too! Swords! War Axes! Maces! Greatswords! Greataxes! Warhammers! Bows! I could be a one-handed adventurer, with my trusty shield to block and retaliate quickly in my light armor, or a thief, wielding dual daggers to stab through my enemies lungs to keep them quiet as I slit their throat undetected, then escape to use my bow to shoot down investigating and anxious foes from the shadows as they search fruitlessly, or a glorious warrior wielding a giant weapon only one with my muscle power can wield, on top of my impenetrable and heavy armor which only one with my strength can overcome its cumbersome nature.
But wait, what’s this? Magic?! And so many different kinds of spells! Well, why choose between swinging things around or firing a slow-reloading missile when I can command such diverse powers to bend to my will! Destruction! Conjuration! Alteration! Illusion! Restoration! I can conjure flames from my hands and send them towards foes, exploding at their feet and charring them alive, then raise them from the dead as a weak distraction should I be damaged in battle, so that I may retreat to heal myself before charging up a whirlwind of ice to trap them and drain them not only of their ability to move, but live! Dark Nordic ruins? No problem, I can conjure light, bending the very energy of existence to my whim, as a mere light source as I pillage and slaughter with my army of the dead, my wards and magic armors, my clerical insight, an infinite supply of lightning bolts, and an itchy trigger finger! And all these perks! My god, there’s so many ways to not only advance my abilities, but to create ones that only I can receive! Truly, I have more choices than I could ask for. What great variety.”
Some programmer who programmed this system is rubbing his hands in maniacal joy, because he knew he’d gotten away with making such a horrible system that somehow people think is exactly all of that. They must know how vapid this system is, and how asinine the idea that a bunch of different graphics, animations, and words mean ‘variety’, right?
In any case, let me boil it down into what your actual choices are:
1. Press button, do a little damage, semi-fast to fast.
2. Press button, do more damage, semi-slow to slow.
3. Hold button and release to fire a missile.
4. Hold button(s) and possibly release to do a specific amount of constant damage.
5. Hold and release button whilst aimed at dead npc to get a weak follower.
1. If your Attacking choice is 1 or 2, ability to press a button that may/may not decrease damage enemy does.
2. Choice of armor that allows more carrying space at the cost of more damage received.
3. Choice of armor that allows more damage resistance at the cost of less carrying space.
Think there’s more to it than that? Well, let no mistake be made, I am only talking about the combat system right now. What I just did was make what everyone thought was, like, hundreds of possibilities and thousands of combinations literally 8 possibilities with less than 20 combinations. How? Why, for the same reason that everyone hates on Call of Duty, but not to that extreme of an extent, just that, well, y’know.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DIFFERENT WEAPONS DOESN’T MEAN DIFFERENT MECHANICS. A CHOICE BETWEEN RUNNING UP TO SOMETHING AND CLICKING ON IT OVER AND OVER UNTIL IT FALLS DOWN AND RUNNING UP TO SOMETHING AND HOLDING DOWN A BUTTON UNTIL IT FALLS DOWN IS NOT SIGNIFICANT ENOUGH A DIFFERENCE TO BE CALLED. FUCKING. VARIETY.
Phew…I’m sorry, I had to get that off of my fingers. It’s not really bad MMOs where you just click the same thing over and over and watch the same animations over and over and walk around forever and ever until a scale hits 100 and you feel empty inside, but in fact, it’s even worse than the MMOs where you can actually macro things to your keyboard.
That is how much I hate the combat system of Skyrim.
Compared to a system that I believe equates to clicking a button and then pressing another sequence of buttons and nothing more, I believe Skyrim to be the lesser.
At least when I macro those ‘abilities’ and ‘skills’ in an MMO, I’m doing it kinda strategically so that I can get them in the right sequence for killing efficiency. In Skyrim, I’m just running up, clicking a button. Running up, clicking a button. And you know what? I haven’t boiled this damn stupid combat system down enough yet.
First of all:
No one uses Conjuration, and don’t even act like it’s even a significant part of your play-style, because it’s not. Bethesda knew this, so they made it level up super fast, and as such is one of the best tactics for leveling up quick, running up to an enemy or un-zombifiable dead body and doing conjuration spells over and over. Even when I played a complete mage character, it didn’t matter what level I was in general or in each specific skill, I used at the most 4 different destruction spells, 3 of which were just interchangeable in case of resistance type mismatching, and one to make runes.
I tried to use Alteration and Illusion, but honestly, I just had to fucking Google the shit even though I have over 400 HOURS IN THE GAME because I couldn’t remember which one was which.
I used a calm spell once when I pissed someone off I didn’t want to and hadn’t saved, and then it didn’t work because it turned out I’d bugged the guy out (Which I will hit Skyrim hard later about), I used Detect Life until I got aura whisper which made that a complete waste, wanted to use Oak/Stone/Iron/Ebonyflesh, but could never remember once I was in battle, because I never died so it didn’t matter, Equilibrium to level up restoration, wanted to use Invisibility but didn’t have to, because Sneak makes your presence in a room from that of a lumbering drunken bear to a microscopic bacteria in a completely stupid and broken amount of time, and that’s it. The only schools of magic that mattered to me at all were Destruction and Restoration’s healing, but I find no discernible difference between using restoration healing and healing potions, and I never used Healing Hands, so I chose not to put restoration as a Defense option because it’s a necessity, and can go ahead and remove 5 from Attacking, and I meant to put the other schools of magic up somewhere, but hey look at that FORGOT THEY EXISTED.
So that leaves us with 1-4 up there. But wait, the only difference between one-handed and two-handed is speed and damage. But whatever, that’s still a difference right?
Well, sure, but good ol’ leveling system has come to save the day and make your decisions pointless. The perks system balances everything out, so you could only put X amount of perks into this specific skill, so you’re not tempted to put them in another one that make it objectively better. Two-Handed weapons are better than One-Handed in this sense, and with a high enough sneak skill, you don’t really need to have daggers. Sure, daggers are OP weapons of justice, but a fully upgraded Two-Handed tree next to a completely untouched One-Handed perk tree makes daggers pale in comparison. So, your choice isn’t between play-styles, it’s between perk trees, which make the differences in the weapons pointless to consider.
So, since weapons speed and damage don’t matter, 1 and 2 merge, to become:
1. Click a button enough times.
So I think we’ve boiled the Attack down enough, so let’s look at our new strategies:
1. Click a button enough times.
2. Hold button and release to fire a missile.
3. Hold button(s) and possibly release to do a specific amount of constant damage.
1. If your Attacking choice is 1 or 2, ability to press a button that may/may not decrease damage enemy does.
2. Choice of armor that allows more carrying space at the cost of more damage received.
3. Choice of armor that allows more damage resistance at the cost of less carrying space.
Pretty shallow, right?
But, there’s a saving grace. The last opportunity for any combat system to be considered dynamic: the superiority each choice has over each other.
Unfortunately, this is where most games actually end up having their combat systems boiled down extremely, with maybe only a few new possibilities. Type differences are usually the only thing that keeps any differences in the play-style. That is what makes Pokémon so dynamic. If it was just a game where you tried to get the strongest moves and pokémon, it’d be boring as shit other than the glazing childlike wonder. But there’s all these type differences, and special items, and abilities, and oh my lord is that game WAY complex. There’s forums all over the place, and even legitimate community organizations based on teaching you how to compete in player-to-player. It makes up for everything by how interesting, immersive, intense, and dynamic it is. And it’s satisfying when you apply yourself to it, and an undisputed smooth game that takes literal hacking to break its flow. Luckily, a combat system like Skyrim is absolutely none of that.
Here’s the deal: As I said before, leveling and the perk system add that extra acid to the limestone that the combat system was already guilty of. So, really, your choice of attack style and defense style? They’re all the same given enough perks, and it’s not hard to level up something if you’re doing it all the time. And no, we’re not going to pull any of that: “Well just don’t use it, then.” bullshit. If it shouldn’t be used, it shouldn’t be in the game, period.
So, since no certain style of attack matters at all, that puts it all down to what is happening in real life, because everything happening in the game is practically the same. So we’re down to the way we click the buttons, making our strategy list:
1. Click a button repeatedly.
2. Hold down a button and release it.
3. Hold down a button.
1: Click a button.
2: Click a button to equip the thing.
But wait, there’s more!
So I want you to ask yourself this. Really, I do. Because that can be the list right there. That can be the end of my argument, I’m going to encourage you to participate with me on this question, and if you honestly disagree, then that’s fine.
What difference do you draw between clicking a button, clicking a button and releasing it, and holding down a button, when the choice you make between the three doesn’t matter? Do you think that between three kinds of labor, you would choose one that you didn’t like as much?
If you answered “No” to both, then you’re with me on this. Because that is all Skyrim is. Pick which way you like to click the button. Don’t worry about the armor choices, you don’t have to do anything with it once you’re fighting, it just sits there on your model whilst you click the button in your preferred manner. So, from the idea we had at the beginning, all of us eager for this adventure which we were promised, this amazing experience of fighting dragons and exploring a nation within a continent full of culture, magic, and war, infinite quests and places to go, and what do they make the core mechanic of the game?
One boring choice.
I give you, my experienced Skyrim player’s guide to fighting:
What to do when you want to do damage:
1. Find a button and way of clicking it you like, and do that over and over.
If you don’t want to die:
I feel so much rage. And it’s not like I didn’t know this until now. That’s what’s truly sad about this entire scenario: I willingly kept doing it. I knew it was stupid. I knew I wasn’t having fun. I was weak. Skyrim took advantage of that weakness, the same weakness many of us have: addiction.
Some of us get addicted because we’re still children. We see all those flashy colors and we pick it up, and we’re mesmerized for a couple hours. Then we put it down, get distracted, and then come back to it as some kind of brand new experience we never had.
Gamers, many of us, we have obsession with completing games, and increasing a character’s fake number to the most it will go, and getting achievements, most of which are either gotten by accident, cheating, or specific effort in doing pointless things, mocking the very word ‘achievement.
Skyrim, among most of other of Bethesda’s games, is such an insult to gaming. It is completely unapologetic for what makes it bad. But the combat system is not its worst trait, oh no, I’ve yet to mention that.
Oh yeah, did you happen to forget that I’m still on what I called “Point One”? Because there are more points. They might not be as long as this one and need as much explaining, especially with all the context and Freudian statements I’ve made now, but either way, I thank you very much for reading this far, and for reading the rest.
This isn’t made as much to be a blog post made for people as it is a journal entry made for me, but there are important things I’ve wanted to say for a long time about games that I’m getting to say now with an example. I’m very passionate about games, and they mean a lot to me, and Skyrim feels like a big fat betrayal, and retroactively a big fat personal failure.
But hey, I think you get what I’m saying by now. I haven’t stated it outright in a statement, so I’ll do that now:
Skyrim’s combat system is absolute garbage hidden behind a veil; the illusion of choice, which manipulates players into thinking they’re having an amazing and enriched experience when all they end up doing is one thing over and over. That’s why people start over again, and again, and again, because it’s a game you have to start over to make the illusory ‘different choices’ between character builds, and to get a break from the game because it’s only fun in the beginning when you haven’t spent your perk points, and therefore the game hasn’t leveled up with you and is vulnerable to anything you pull out to them. Which means you get what you were promised: a choice.
Anyone can expect to have a total of 10 hours of fun with Skyrim on every new character before the tedium starts to become a problem, but because we don’t realize it, we don’t accept that we’re tired of it until it’s far, far, far too late. All just because of the combat system.
Now onto the other stupidity about Skyrim.
2nd point – Why are we ignoring the cockroach in the room?
Are we just going to pretend he’s not there? And the cricket? And the ants? And the caterpillars? An—Je-…Jesu-JESUS CHRIST, WHERE DID ALL THESE BUGS COME FROM?!
You know exactly what I mean, and everyone and their mothers refuses to accept this argument.
Bugs. Hey? Remember that thing where a game is supposed to…y’know, work? How when you play it, it…plays? Do you like that? Do you like it when people give you stuff in exchange for your money and you get exactly what you were told you’d get? Doesn’t that make you feel like even though people make mistakes, at least it’s a free world, and you have the ability to be responsible for yourself instead of any alternative? How you get to have bad things that happen to you be your fault so you can learn from them instead of someone else’s fault so that you learn nothing, just get pissed off at them?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of those questions, don’t you dare act like bugs can’t/don’t destroy games.
You, the reader, are invited to either in your head or aloud, read the following block quotations in the voice you use to imitate people you don’t like as if they’re whining and complaining about things, and everything in-between in your favorite condescending and/or passive-aggressive tone when applicable.
“But of course it’s going to have bugs, it’s a game!”
You’re right. In fact, I think that’s a universally wonderful attitude.
Like, for example:
Doctors: “Of course their sick, they’re human!” So don’t cure them.
Lawyers: “Of course my client’s innocent, he’s done good things before!” Acquitted.
Bankers: “Of course it got lost, it’s money!” No problem, then.
Artists: “Of course it’s worth that much, it’s art!” Millions of dollars for your scribbles.
Engineers: “Of course it fell over, it’s a building!” Funding for all new buildings in the city; tenure.
Teachers: “Of course they’re not learning anything, principal, they’re kids!” Full benefits; tenure.
CEOs: “Of course I embezzled money, this is a corporation!” Carry on, then.
Understand? Just because there are things that happen to things, doesn’t mean that some circumstance is always going to be the case. That’s ludicrous, that’s a set-up that people use to give examples of logical fallacies. Bugs happen, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be in the final product. They’re annoying and get in the way of anyone’s enjoyment of a game. They’re not unfixable things that are a sad reality that we have to face. That’s why they’re called bugs, and not terminal illnesses.
“Oh come on, look at how huge Skyrim it is! Yes it’s a matter of “Of course it has bugs.”, every 10 square feet of the game is enough code to be its own game!”
You know what, you’re totally right. I hadn’t thought about that actually. I’d much rather play a really huge game like Skyrim that’s unplayable than a flash game online that works perfectly fine. In fact, that makes Minecraft infinitely good. The joy you can have playing Minecraft increases exponentially as you render out more world. That’s why it got so popular, everyone loved wandering in a random direction forever because it only got better and better.
If you like your games big, that’s fine, but when people are pumping out content that is designed around crappy mechanics in a big world, I’d better not see you having their back. It makes me sick.
So, what, not only do we have drug addicts that don’t know they’re hurting themselves by continuing to fall for something that’s designed to trap them, as well as people that defend correlation is causation in all given circumstance, but we’ve got shallow people that think that size is a trait that overshadows all other traits?
I didn’t realize there were so many gamers that were ignorant, thirsty crackheads.
“Oh whatever, so there’s some bugs. So I clipped through the ground once, so what? I recovered everything. Yeah, I was pissed, but that’s fine. And what about the bucket over the head shop trick? That’s just cool, and funny, huh? Besides, why should I care if this one section of the stream has a broken texture? As if I’m ever going to see it again.”
Keep in mind, those of you who may not know, Immersion does not imply realism. Rather, a game that attempts to be realistic makes an attempt at a sub-category of immersion, realism. There are tons of different kinds of immersion, and as long as you succeed at one, people can get past a lot of a game’s failures. Sometimes, they can be the saving grace that actually makes a game good instead of bad, not just playable.
In fact, I’d say on a scale next to any/all of the important parts of a game? Hmm…I’d say it’s…2nd only to being able to run the game at all.
Immersion, to put it simply, is just another name for game feel. Heck, on a Venn Diagram, no matter what kind of game element you stick in there, it fits in immersion. But, it’s squares and rectangles. Everything is immersion, but immersion is not everything. It’s just really, really, really, really, really important.
Am I going to say Skyrim tries to be a realistic game?
This seems to always be the hardest thing to get across to people. Yeah, it’s a game about a literally magical fake continent with elves and orcs and dwarves and dragons. But why, I ask you, are there a bunch of human-like creatures running around? Why is there combat that uses weapons that actually exist in many forms in real life, and in ways that are supposed to simulate medieval combat? Why is there so much ‘history’? So many moral lessons spread across the dialogue and quests? Why do you have the choice of being a human, with a human voice, and human features? Why do things bleed? Why is it when someone hits you with a sharp weapon, it’s supposed to sound and look like they’re cutting you?
Because it’s a fantasy land where nothing works like how it does in real life.
AND SO IS EVERY GAME, EVER. MOVIES PULL THAT SHIT, TOO. IT’S CALLED THE ILLUSION OF MEDIA.
Nothing that you’re seeing is real. None of it.
All those photos you have? Well, they used to be a mixture of different colors that were created by a machine that took data out of another machine which collected light and stored codes to recognize what kind of light was where, but nowadays we know them better as still being made by the collection of light as data, but stored and viewed on electronic screens which translate the code into their own language and beam the light back at you. Photographs are a big fat illusion.
Hell, you’ve never even seen the color yellow on an electronic screen. Y’wanna know why? Because only recently have they been making some special kinds of screens that use yellow light. Almost every electronic screen that exists uses a combination of red, blue, and green to make its spectrum. It’s called RGB. What you’re seeing is an optical illusion, created by putting the colors red and green together so close, that it communicates to your eyes as yellow. I’m not even sure if they can do all the different colors of yellow because of that. Yellow’s a primary color, and green is a secondary made by mixing blue and yellow, so who knows what other colors might be illusions.
Even your real life is mostly fake things. Especially through eyesight and hearing. Good lord, there’s an absolute library full of knowledge just about how the things we see and hear are lies. That’s because our body’s created a system for perception and we have our own subjective systems of discerning real and fake.
So people can make fake things that feel real, because y’know what? You can make just about any absurd concept with artistic media, and make it more ‘real’ than ‘real life’. What if someone came up to you and said: “Hey, Toy Story is fake. It’s a big fat lie. It’s a big, complex hoax. Nothing that happens in Toy Story actually means anything until you start making it mean something.”
Well they’re right, so screw you, you get Toy Story, and everyone else gets whatever the hell they have, because everybody has false perceptions that help them express themselves and live without going insane, even if they don’t mean to. Welcome to art, by the way.
And bugs are just as much of a big slap in your face to wake up from the reality.
It’s like if in Saving Private Ryan, all of a sudden one of the buildings in the background and some of the dust particles in the air started randomly disappearing and reappearing.
Then Tom Hanks says a line, nothing happens on the screen for a while, everyone just kinda stands around idle, then he repeats the line again, and things happen this time for some reason.
Then for no reason, one of the American soldiers comes out of the shot and starts attacking the cameraman. Then you can never watch the movie again because that guy always kills the cameraman, and you have to restart from the beginning or skip back a scene.
Then in one of the scenes, one of the guys that’s supposed to be in the room isn’t there to start the dialogue, so everyone just stands there idle waiting for him to come, and he never does, so you have to manually get into the disc and put the code in for the scene to be over.
Then during the Sniper scene, instead of coming up with a strategy to figure out how to get a good shot at the guy, Tom Hanks just crouches and walks right through the enemy lines and puts a bucket on his head, then steals his gun.
Then in the middle of a battle, everyone just freezes in position and nothing happens, and you have to reset the DVD/VCR player, but then it turns out the DVD somehow screwed up your TV’s circuiting, and now you have to buy a new TV.
So you buy a new TV to watch Saving Private Ryan again, and you can’t go back to where you were because you got a new TV and you saved everything to its circuitry.
So you have to watch it again, and it’s still acting weird, even weirder than before.
For some reason, one of the supporting characters is missing their hair for most of the movie until it pops up again on his head hours later, and the movie sometimes just gets stuck on a single frame and you can’t skip past the frame to get on with the rest of the movie unlike all the other frames.
Then you accidentally bump into the TV getting popcorn for your girlfriend, and Tom Hanks won’t stop trying to attack your girlfriend because you pissed him off, but she won’t die so she just keeps taking abuse, even though you’re the one who pissed him off, but you can’t do anything because all of his buddies kill you if you try to intervene.
You can’t talk to them, because Tom Hanks ordered a huge bounty on your head. So you just leave your girlfriend in your house to get wrecked by the American army and Tom Hanks’ character from Saving Private Ryan, and you go stand in a forest and just stay there motionless for 3 days, and then you go back and there’s no bounty on your head anymore, but they’re still endlessly beating up your girlfriend.
So, you have no other option, so you try to kill her yourself, but it doesn’t work because she’s an invincible person, and then you get the American army and Tom Hanks on your ass again, so you walk out of the house into the first to spend a few more minutes, and come back after 3 days, and she’s just gone, and there’s still a bounty on your head this time.
SO, you walk back outside of your house, immediately run into a humongous mongoloid human being with a big stick and he punches you and you bounce off the ground and your dead body ricochets and flies off into space before resetting you back to when you first broke your TV.
ABSURD, ISN’T IT?
So what the hell’s the difference the two? Well, it’s precisely the thing that people try to defend it with: the game’s too big; so big that it makes you think it’s good.
There’s too much that actually does work that makes the multitudes of things that don’t work that would be obvious issues otherwise. Plus, a lot of them aren’t really all that literally game-breaking, so you find yourself walking around in a bug-free environment, you accidentally end up on the wrong end of a disappearing texture, and you’re like “Eh, whatever, it’s a little thing compared to all this other stuff.”, but in your mind, the game’s immersion has been completely broken, and every time you put a bucket on someone’s head, or can’t skip some dialogue you usually could, or get damaged because you walked over a tomato, or get stuck in a room because an NPC didn’t activate, it just makes it exponentially harder and harder to immerse you back into the game again, making you unwilling to do anything related to immersing yourself and just play around with the mechanics like a toy.
And, didn’t I preface this by saying that the only thing that the game has going for it was the exploration and lore? Yeah, specifically in this situation, all this game can count on is immersion, and since any bug having any tangible or otherwise perceivable anomalistic effect breaks immersion immediately and turns up the shit-switch, which, takes more and more time each time it’s turned up to turn it back down, in which you’re doomed to find more and more bugs?
Does someone believe me, now? Can I get a brother to relate? Bugs aren’t some little tiny thing to look over.
It’s dog crap on the carpet. It’s your kid crying over having to eat his broccoli. It’s an abusive and dependent ex trying to hook up with you again. It’s a spam e-mail. It’s sharing pictures with text captions on Facebook. It’s getting called ‘Cis scum’. It’s blaming stupidity on religion. It’s blaming blasphemy on science. It’s hearing people call something like Skyrim, full of absolutely stupid things that didn’t have to happen how they did, that are overly glossed mounds of crap:
“Besides the bugs, a masterpiece!”
You say no. Bad. Don’t ever do that again.
Stop glancing over issues like bugs. Developers should be giving hand-outs and kissing feet over this bullcrap, because if not, if they’re even slightly unapologetic about it? They should give you your money back, and promise you they’ll do better next time, because they failed you. They made a product for you, and they lied about what you were going to get. Just like games with crappy mechanics and boring gameplay, games that were disappointing and overhyped, buggy games should be thrown right in the garbage where they belong to be added to the landfills of crap, because it’s stinking up the house and I’m sick of having to smell it.
And I’m sick of walking around and watching people smear it all over themselves like it’s some kind of high art.
Nothing is “Awesome, except for what sucks.” Nothing is “Pretty good, but could’ve been better.” You drop that ego right now, you say “I think I enjoyed it.” and you move on with your life without shoving that shit in everyone’s eyes and ears about things that are “Great, except for the boring parts.”
Go ahead. Google it. Google what the most beloved and then successful game companies around there is, and I guarantee you’ll find Bethesda in there a few times.
Because people love Bethesda. The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises are their biggest products, and people love them. That’s a couple of franchises you’ll see listed multiple times in a lot of people’s ‘tops’.
Googled it yet? Now I want you to just go ahead and type in ‘what games have the most bugs?‘. I haven’t looked, and I’m not going to, because I already know what you’re going to see ALL OVER the place.
“Well this Fallout, and this Elder Scrolls, and this Fallout was the worst about it, and this Elder Scrolls was worse than this other Elder Scrolls, and wow everything Bethesda has ever made is just a buggy piece of software, but despite these loads of crap I’m being shoveled, it’s still perfect!”
I implore you, any one of you who find dignity in calling yourself a gamer, or even just one who likes games;
Stop letting developers get by with bugs.
Yes, they’re frustrating issues.
Yes, they’re the bane of every developer’s existence.
Yes, I’m being shoved a big fat turd in my mouth because I paid for it and I have modeled my life around my ego and put all of my brainpower into making sure I never say anything that could even imply that I make bad decisions or have regrets.
Bugs are inexcusable. Maybe impossible to get rid of completely, but the right bug in the wrong place is the difference between thousands upon millions of dollars in well-earned revenue, and thousands upon millions of dollars to keep shoveling more shit in our face.
So, now we’ve got a lot of basis. Skyrim’s perk system is designed as the final nail in the coffin to its combat system, which make both of them boring and irritating mechanics, which the lore and exploration might be able to save, if it weren’t for the constant reminder of how not real Skyrim is with bugs ranging from game-breaking to silly to subtle that all the same destroy any chance for its strongest points to save it, relying only on human weakness and addiction to keep its players playing its game.
So, what else is there to talk about?
I’ve denounced pretty much all of it: Progression is based on leveling, which is a stupid system to begin wi—Oh, yeah! I don’t think I’ve gone into elaboration on why leveling is the stupidest thing in gaming history! Oh boy, this is one of my favorite opinions about game design.
Nevertheless, I’ve gone on quite a while now, so I’ll try to make this one as short as I can.
(Really, I’m sorry this has gone on so long. If you’ve read this far, you’re awesome, and I appreciate you and your opinions, especially if you disagree.)
3rd point – It isn’t fun anywhere else, so why would it be here?
Mmmm. Where to start.
Well, let’s go back to an earlier statement I made.
“… found myself in a position of feeling empty. The feeling that I never wanted to feel from a game, one that I became aware of early enough before it became a reality.
The dangers of Avatar strength, the mark of addiction that so many confuse as a good trait of a game rather than a bad trait of the mind; the horrible system that should’ve been buried from existence once we became advanced enough to no longer require it that is: the Leveling System.”
Out of the few episodes of Sequelitis that Arin Hanson a.k.a. Egoraptor put out, he goes into huge detail about this in his “Castlevania vs. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest” video, which I’ve linked if you’re interested. (I’ve already said a lot of cuss words, but I’ll go ahead and give a parental advisory here, because he says ‘fuck’ a lot, and both he and I hope you’re okay with that.)
It takes about as long to watch as it does to read this article, but Arin’s video is a video, with animations no less, so there’s a bunch of interesting visuals and sound, and I think he illustrates the point I want to make very eloquently, so it’s not just good insight. Since I’ve kept you all here for my over 16,000 words of text, I’d say it’s an alternative to reading this section of the article if you feel like a break from all the reading. Arin gets game theory really well.
But thanks for sticking with me, if you’ve decided to!
So there are, as I said before, many different ways to make a combat system. There are also many different systems you can put in a game. Combat is one.
All systems that have been done so far are known, and we recognize them as video game genres.
When you read the genre tags on a game, you already understand a lot about the game if you’ve ever played one with the same tags.
(So no, soccer moms, you don’t know what an FPS is from Fox News.)
You can tell how complex a game is whether or not it’s listed with just one tag, or multiple. Usually, your Minesweeper and Solitaire type games that for some reason saturate the market will be the only ones that hold only one tag, but not always, and not all one-tag games are equivalent to Windows 95-packaged games.
But, the more genres a game falls under, the more kinds of ‘systems’ it’s using. It doesn’t make it better, and that doesn’t mean it’s more complex, but if you took any genre tag out of a game with however many, it’s guaranteed to lose a lot of its mechanics that make it recognizable as the experience it is. And hey, not all tags exist.
Incidentally, I wonder why there isn’t such a thing as a ‘narrative’ tag. For example, the game “Portal” is a first-person sci-fi single-player puzzle game, sure. But if you take out all those aspects, and could still run what was in the game, you could still be a free-roaming camera watching as the protagonist goes through the story for you, just replaced with a non-sci-fi environment. Luckily, places like Steam are accepting player-made tags, so people are starting to really explain in those few words things that people never would’ve thought were there.
I digress, one thing that I often hear is people call the leveling system an “RPG” element. Some history to being:
The RPG game started as the old dice, board, writing, and backstory games, like D&D.
RPG stands for “Role-Playing Game”, as it marks games which utilize the player’s character as a fictional identity within a fictional world. Instead of the player just being themselves, they take on the role of a specific someone, who can be a complex and overtly different identity from yourself, or even just some person with a pre-determined name or existence that were it not for less than 20 words of setup would make the game lose RPG status.
E.G. If there was no such thing as the character creation process and you had to be a human race, or ‘The Dragonborn’, Skyrim would be about you living in a fantasy world. That’s not RPG, that’s you in a fantasy world. You’re not playing a ‘role’ if the only role is you.
“So, what? What does that have anything to do with levels, experience, and stats? Or for that matter, items, inventories, the fantasy tropes like Orcs and Elves, or space tropes like otherworldly aliens and technology? And quests? I mean, I know I’m taking on the role of someone, but why is everything I do a quest, and what does that have anything to do with being a person? Shouldn’t that be its own tag?
Its own system, and genre? Shouldn’t all these things be considered tags, systems, and genres? And…loot? And perks, and abilities?
Skyrim isn’t just an RPG, It’s a first-person, experience-gaining, stat-leveling, inventory-managing, fantasy-and-space, questing, looting, perk-building, ability-gaining, lore-rich, story-based, open-world, exploration, medieval-and-magical combat, realistic, skill-training, item-crafting, immersion-based, adventure, simulation…RPG!”
Well, I think that sums up the answer, doesn’t it? See, a mechanic doesn’t make a genre, because really, it shouldn’t. It’s okay to categorize games as “Narrative-based”, because it doesn’t tell you too much about the game to make it feel overwhelming, but is still general enough to make it interesting, especially to people that like narratives.
Narrowing it down to dialogue-narrative makes the narrative style in which the story is told through words and subtitles so popular that it could cause an overload of that kind of narrative. Or worse, destroy the idea that narratives can be told through other ways.
For example, look at the game Braid. I recommend this game to everyone, even people that don’t play video games, because if there is any game that displays why games are more than just entertainment, it’s Braid. For the gamers reading this, I’ll spare you the worship. I know it’s talked about a lot, and for people that aren’t HUGE fans like me and countless others, it’s not hard to see how annoying it can be for a lot of different reasons.
But, level with me here. If you haven’t played Braid, I won’t spoil anything, and I suggest you don’t get anything spoiled either. It’s one of those games. But I’m divagating, the reason I bring up Braid is because it is a shining example of the different ways of expressing a narrative. I’d go into detail, but I just can’t explain anything without spoiling the beauty of the experience that is Braid. Plus, I’m adding enough text talking about it and not Skyrim, for now, just take my word if you haven’t played it: narrative doesn’t have to be told by dialogue and subtitles. A single plot can contain a wide variety of smaller sub-plots without being a 7-season TV series or a separate dialogue happening concurrent with one that’s already going.
You don’t have to categorize and label everything, part of what’s fun about games is the mystery and exploring that mystery, because that’s an important part of the immersion. Not knowing what’s going to happen.
Incidentally, that’s why I’ll never get why people say:
“I don’t care if you spoil this for me.”
Even if you think you’re never going to watch it, Bill Gates never thought he’d ever be the richest man on earth, Gandhi never thought he’d be the go-to name as an example of total good, and Hitler never though he’d be the go-to name as an example of total evil.
We all think things, and we’re repeatedly told we’re wrong.
(See: the part of the article where I told you about how photos and yellow were lies.)
Personally, I feel like asking someone to spoil something comes from either fear, ignorance, or both.
Everyone wants to put a label on things so that they understand them better, because no one likes their world confusing or scary, and what is fear but the reaction to not understanding something and/or not being able to control it?
So, for some reason, RPG gets packaged and shipped with all these elements that have nothing to do with it being an RPG.
I could make a game about a secret government agency that wants to destroy the world, and you play the role as the one guy at the agency with James Bond-like skills and intelligence, as well as the protagonist to the evil of the corporation. And you know what? That’s an RPG.
I’d make it either a first-person puzzle shooter narrative RPG, or I could take out the fighting and make him have to do
Amnesia/Outlast-Style hide-‘n-seek tactics and solve puzzles to bring them down from the inside without detection, or better yet, I could drop the horror-game inspirations and just make it a horror game!
*Cold open, sounds of an office are heard as a man walks into a lobby with a large carpet. The camera pans to an aerial view of the carpet which shows an insignia of a giant padlock with an illuminated initial S replacing the lock area, across a waving American flag on a black background. “Salus.” is printed above the lock, and “Salvatio.” is printed below. Camera switches to the first-person view of the man walking in.*
*Office chit-chat, typing, and assorted office ambiance is heard as he walks through halls, and comes to a door where he swipes his card. The door hisses, whirs, and beeps, as a sequence of locks is opened.*
*The door slides open sideways, and the office ambiance is revealed to have been fake and played over a speaker. The man enters a futuristic glass elevator inside a concrete shaft, and presses a sequence of numbers, and the door shuts. The elevator begins its descent, before the concrete walls surrounding the elevator end. Outside the glass, the man gasps and looks out, frozen. The entirety of the outside is dark, with only a few sparking lights hanging from the ceiling illuminating the space above the huge room, swaying back and forth as if a huge gust had blown through. The man looks for a few seconds before panicking, and hurriedly pressing buttons with frantic hand movements and sporadic breathing habits.*
*An Orchestral Hit sounds as the man and camera view are suddenly jostled, electrical wires are heard snapping as the elevator plummets to the bottom. It crashes with a deafening thud and the sound of breaking glass is heard for a brief second before complete silence and blackness.*
*The man wakes up in a dazed stupor to see that the elevator lights have remained on, and glass shrapnel covers his body. He looks at his hands to see them bloodied, and he is shown still from his point of view, looking up and away as he pulls glass shards out of his hands. He stops to look down, and sees that there are still more glass shards in his hands, and even more covering his body. He lets out a whimpering cry.*
*Then, growling is heard, and disheartening, ominous orchestral progression plays as he looks up in the dim light of the elevator to see the outlines of a large group of human-like body outlines, but closer to his sight the elevator’s light reveals it to be a disgusting horde of horrifying, twitching masses of muscle tissue and organs. The appendages of these hard-to-discern monstrosities are mangled and disfigured, appearing to be the arms and legs of a human connected to a human torso and head, but placed in seemingly random areas, with a different number of appendages on each freakish being. A throbbing, runny, moist discoloration covers them like veins, appearing to hold together their body parts like a suspension bridge on the beings with extra appendages, and replacing the missing ones with large undulating pustules. The beings, though human-like, have no layers or areas of skin, and their facial features show decay of the muscle and skeletal tissues present in smaller varying amounts in other places; wide-eyes with no eyelids, full teeth with no lips or cheeks, and two snout-like holes. The discolored veins converge at the face, where they grow into larger aorta-like veins that tube in-and-out of the orifices on the head, with each of the creature’s heads having different orifices where they grow out. The creatures stagger, some unable to remain in one place, but all focused on staring directly at the man, focused on the view of the camera.*
*He shuffles backward through the broken glass elevator looking at the horrors, shrieking in vehement terror and disgust as the camera continues to follow his point of view. The bodies remain in their positions, staring, and after a few seconds of backward scooting through glass, his head jerks upwards in pain as the sound of glass stabbing through his skin is brought up loudly. His sight again jerks into position, down and towards his left arm, as he examines a large piece of glass that has been shoved deeply into his wrist. He rears back and violently bends over, vomiting. He continues his previous whimpering and crying, before looking up to see one of the monstrosities walking towards him.*
*He begins to shriek once more, but is silenced by the creature strong-arm grabbing him by the neck, and picking him up to face level and distance as he chokes out sounds that mix his desire to express fear and to be able to breath and have control of his body back.*
*The creature holds him in position as he and all the other horrors continue to stare, and from off-camera, rears his free hand backwards and shoves it forward into the man’s face. The muscle of the creature’s hand is torn as a small hyperactive bug fits itself through a tear in the palm. The bug’s arthropod face looks at the camera and hisses, then jumps towards it, cutting to black.*
*The black fades, and the camera shows a third-person view of the horde from the darkness above their heads, looking towards the shattered elevator. The horde looks down, as the body of the man is hidden by the horde in the foreground. It zooms in slowly as the man stands up with his eyes closed and mouth open, silent, with the ominous music increasing in intensity.*
*The camera is completely fixed on his head, and the music apexes into chaos as his eyes suddenly bust open, spraying blood into the camera which becomes completely red, and fades again into black.*
*Main character narrates in a nervous and aggressive demeanor as a montage displays context-appropriate imagery*
“My name…fuck me, what does it matter. I work for a secret branch of the American Government that used to be an exciting work environment, until a top secret biological freak designed by the Russian government was released through an act of espionage into the compound. It’s turned everyone into something outta Hellraiser, and the whole place went dark. No one could see, so no one could defend themselves. As if it mattered. As if any of us had a chance. Who knows if there’s anyone still alive besides me? Not everyone’s been affected by the bug, but the ones that manage to get that kind of luck get first-row seats to their bodies being treated like some kind of primal science experiment. I’m one of those lucky bastards, and I got to figure it out the easy way when a bug that one of those zombies tried shoving in some dude’s head scuttled away, right into where I was hiding, and tried to kiss me on the rebound. It seems like when they don’t get their fix soon enough, they just off and die, and either way, the freak shows they came out of fall over, too. Which is great for me, but sucks for anybody without the bug repellent, because those parasites start popping out of the ‘dead’ ones like a spider’s egg, and those ones don’t seem as expendable. I don’t know what those god damned spies or their fucked up superiors are planning, but I don’t care. I just…I just want to see my family again. I don’t want to be part of this crappy horror novel anymore. I don’t want to die, but…the alternative seems a lot worse.”
*Logo and legal information show, fade to black.*
Sure, it’s a stretch, but what horror game isn’t? Not a lot. And that’s just an idea on the fly.
Wow. I…really got off track there.
So…anyways, I digress, still an RPG. Amnesia AND Outlast are both RPGs, despite not having any sci fi star trek stuff, or an orc or elf to talk to.
The big point I’m trying to get to here is RPGs and leveling systems have been grouped together by circumstance, not by nature. It just so happened that back in the day, when gaming was young and telling a ‘story’ wasn’t too easy to do, or get players invested in, developers resorted to familiar elements that the D&D players of the pre-NES and even ATARI days were accustomed to. That’s right, there were RPGs on the friggin’ Atari 2600. How do you manage that? Well, just make it D&D! D&D didn’t have video graphics, it didn’t /need/ video graphics. The little booklets and designs were perfectly fine, there didn’t need to be any movie magic. And so, the RPG as we know it was born. Adventure! Elves! Inventory! Stats! Leveling! Take the first letters of all those words, and what do you get?
You got it, an RPG!
Too bad leveling is an obsolete system that was cool when there wasn’t such a thing as ‘game that was fun and complex at the same time‘ before jumping around on platforms was as complex as fun was.
Leveling is a concept that’s all about numbers, a fake idea of strength. The ability to measure how good you are at flinging poo by your FLNG stat. Erryone jealous of my +56 FLNG Pooper-Scooper-Paladin.
Why is that bad? I mean, in D&D it’s fine, so why is that bad for video games?
Well, in a game like D&D, you know all you’re doing is rolling around an indented cube of marble on a big piece of processed tree covered in paint surrounded by a mess of flattened and thin tree bark covered in more paint, ink, and graphite. All in order to to make a fake character that doesn’t exist have higher numbers associated with him. That’s fine. That’s what board games are about. It’s not about creating an ‘experience’ for the player to have and feel like was more than just what was happening outside of the game.
But that’s not what video gaming is about. In a board game, you’ve got all this crap that’s physical and real, and you’re putting it together, and it’s tangible, and you know what’s going on. That’s why people had the D&D homemade dungeons or D&D clubs at school that got them suspended for Satanism, all this stuff was an actual process in physicality that required you to be with other people and think about strategies and use your mind and hands to change things in real life.
A video game is played by staring at light and moving your fingers around, usually alone. Nothing about that is cool, so you have to make it cool. But because the technology is so much more advanced with video games than with board games, you can take steps far beyond that which a board game can. In fact, it should be expected. If it ever crossed my mind, I’ll bet while I was playing a lot of bad games in my life, I’d’ve thought:
“Geez, I’d rather lose at Monopoly than this.”
But not everyone realizes this. In D&D and other board games, the game’s done when the day’s over or someone wins. And no one wants to keep playing the same game over and over, so even if you wanted to, chances are eventually someone’s going to give and then your whole system’s messed up.
But with a video game, alone in single-player, it’s for as long as you want.
And developers knew this, and they took advantage of it, by taking advantage of you.
Early game developers knew any old nerd in his basement in the 70s and 80s would love to have a D&D that never ended, and that he could do in his natural habitat, alone. And we’re all anti-social nerds for falling for the same tricks people 3 decades ago have fallen for.
They’re giving you Minesweeper with a 3D minefield. They’re giving you Solitaire with a 3D game board.
It’s all D&D with a 3D landscape.
That, to me, pretty much hits the nail on the head.
Remember when I talked about Practicality in combat systems? Well here’s why it’s so important, because developers love to exploit people that are lazy.
As comparison, let’s take Boxing versus, let’s say…Wii Boxing. Let’s say someone is setting up a training for you in both areas.
A good boxing trainer would get you to start watching your diet, get you jacked, get you focused, get you into a technique, teach you the love of the sport, and the pain.
A good virtual boxing trainer would teach you how to hold the controller for maximum comfort and ability, what buttons do what and what kind of situations to use them, as well as a strategy for any situation you might end up in, what AIs have what tendencies to know what to expect when taking them on, and would teach you the love of the sport, and the win.
By the time you were done with the real boxing training, not only would you be a good boxer, you’d be healthier, smarter, have a higher pain tolerance, you’d strong and swift, you know you’d be quite an attractive catch, your life will have all-around improved, as well as your ability to carry out daily do’s.
And the Wii Boxing training? Congratulations, you now know how to hold a Wii-Mote and Nunchuk and be good at Wii Boxing.
Now, I’m not saying that a game’s mechanics should get me jacked, I’m saying that what I’m training outside of the game should matter towards my success inside of the game.
This is the difference between a mechanic being practical and impractical. A good puzzle game has challenging but doable puzzles with a learning curve to acclimate you but never dip below your ability or jarringly high, whilst a bad puzzle game doesn’t teach its player anything and has far too easy/hard/uninteresting puzzles.
However, a good puzzle game that teaches you out-of-the-box thinking that you’ll need when things get more advanced later in the game?
Much better than a good puzzle game that just makes you think without a learning curve.
“But wait, Charles, earlier you were praising Mount & Blade! Mount & Blade is totally level-based, and then you talk about levels being obsolete and pointless?! And then you go on making some kinda crappy synopsis for a zombie book?! DUUURRRRR?????!!!!!”
Now just a minute, I was getting there. I do apologize for being so long-winded, but we’re there now.
Now, just like my good game/better game comparison, the leveling system is such a thing which can difference a good game with certain mechanics as better/worse than another game with similar mechanics. Namely, it makes it worse in any case.
Let’s look at it from a familiar perspective: Farming. What a farmer does is a long and arduous process. First, you have to figure out what land you want what to do what with. Then you have to go through the extremely complex process of preparing it all, which is only more complex and arduous the more that they’re required to do, and the more they have to buy in order to get it taken care of. Then, even after all of that, all they’ve done is laid a foundation. Then, they have to fertilize the land for their crops, make a plan for or go out and buy all the things they need to take care of the animals, as well as anything else that the nature of their efforts might require. THEN, they have to seed the crops, sometimes over extremely long periods of time, all while taking care of everything else, including their personal lives, and having not a single moment of relaxation, lest everything they’re working towards go to waste. And now what do they get to do once they’ve planted the seeds of their labors? Why, CONTINUE TO DO UPKEEP ON IT FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS.
And after only the crops have finished their cycle? Collect all the crops, and sort through the ones that died. Even after all that hard work, they don’t even get all of what they wanted. And their retroactive reward is to have to go through the whole process again later.
So, what’s the difference between that and an MMO? Well, when a farmer’s done with his job and bounces into the next cycle, what he’s done is created something that humankind will need forever. He/She’ll have created human consumables, animal consumables, the ingredients for textiles and fabrics, just to name a few.
Food and Clothing.
Necessary things in our lives. Some even grow trees, an alternative to cutting down forests that are vital for the breathing processes of trees.
Shelter and Oxygen Preservation.
And what is a beekeeper but a farmer? Bees keep everything in the world that requires pollen, which include just about every plant there is, alive and well. A bee shortage threatens our way of life, which we’re amidst right now, so incidentally, save the bees.
Oxygen Preservation again.
Half of the efforts of farmers are basic physiological needs that our entire human race depends on for life.
MMO PLAYERS MAKE FAKE IDENTITIES, ROLEPLAY, AND SPEND DAYS AFTER DAYS DOING SOMETHING POINTLESS AND DUMB TO CREATE NUMBERS NO ONE WILL EVER CARE ABOUT.
Perhaps it addicts us so because we pine for the entitlement farmers have? Perhaps that is the reason farmers are able to do so much work, they are driven by the same sense-of-self-superiority feelings that MMO players are? They know that once they’re done, their pay-off will be a clear marker of their hard work, and it keeps them going day-by-day knowing not only will they be recognized for their hard work, that even if not a single person ever thanks them for it, they will be eternally grateful for the efforts of him, the farmer. At the chance of some cataclysmic near-extinction of the human race, who will survive? If anyone possibly could, the only person you can trust to tell you the real answer is the farmers.
See, humans are ego-driven. And before you cynics and pessimists start greasing up the hatred and depression machines you call a perspective on life, don’t think that means “Every human is selfish.” What it means is that we live for ourselves, and the good things we do for other people are an extension of our efforts to improve our own lives or situations. If it didn’t feel good to help people, then we wouldn’t do it unless we felt obligated to. That’s not being selfish, that’s just being. I once heard a story about a guy that tried to prove mankind could be selfless. He gave up his life, dedicated every second of his life to doing things for other people, gave away all his money, opened up his house as a homeless shelter, and did nothing but wait hand-and-feet on those less fortunate than he. You know what happened to him? He went insane and died.
Point being: we live to feel good. Being entitled feels good, and that’s okay. It’s not bad to set an idea of what you’re due and why, it’s bad to base your life on it, and create an unrealistic idea of so. That’s what happens with leveling systems, they manipulate us into thinking that we’re doing a bunch of hard work that people respect, and it keeps us going when we’re forced to be a part of just the work aspect, because we think we’re doing something that’s not just respectable, but fun. Perhaps were it not for the fact that we thought what we were doing was worth it in the end we wouldn’t be so blind to how tedious it was?
That’s what Skyrim’s leveling is. Tedious. It’s a bunch of wasted time having to build up stats when it never had to be that way, and making it so a character is just over-powered when they’re fully leveled is lazy and unsatisfying. Yeah, I should be over-powered, I’ve been playing the game forever. How about a mechanic that gets me all that time back that I wasted? And no, making it so that I can’t be overpowered by forcing me to choose a build doesn’t fix the problem, because either the game ends up unbalanced towards me or the AI in different ways, or boring, or creates the possibility of one specific build that’s just as good as being overpowered.
Farming? Leveling? It’s a trick made by the developers of old when they were too lazy, or for more in their case, limited to make something better. Nowadays, it exists because people still buy the crack. It comes in many forms, social media games like “FAAAAAAAAARMVILLE” (SERIOUSLY, HOW MUCH MORE OBVIOUS CAN THEY BE?) as well as phone games which are the absolute bane of gaming, though phone developers and gamers alike are just as legitimate and aren’t all prone to ignorance and laziness. But even our most beloved icons in the gaming world use them. Why? Are they fooled, too? Possibly. The nostalgia glasses also apply here. Indies that face the limitations that big-time companies haven’t known since those first leaps into video gaming make them more prone to pump them out, as well.
But all it is is a deceiving game mechanic that makes you think you’re having fun doing labor. You’re working for game developers, and paying them money for it. Click the button over and over.
There’s a beautiful segment in Indie Game: The Movie’s special features where Edmund McMillen talks about a game he made in less than a day or two for a convention or competition of some kind, that’s just a light-switch and a white room.
You click the lightswitch a couple times and out pops an item! Click it 4 more times and you get another item! So your first gamer instinct? Click the CRAP out of that thing!
But the rewards get exponentially (literally) smaller and smaller. It starts requiring that you click the lightswitch more and more times to get more rewards. You’re not getting anything better, you’re not learning anything or becoming a better person for the experience, you’re experiencing addiction. You’re going through a process that you’ll tell everyone about until you actually do what it is you want to do, which is exactly what the game requires of you to keep you hooked.
A deadly cycle. You don’t want to stop playing even though the game’s not fun because the game is designed to make you want to keep playing, but eventually the dissatisfaction makes you contemplate whether or not you’re having fun and should keep playing. All you know is you want to see the end. So you click and you click, click click click, click your fingers into carpal tunnel, when all of a sudden, the meter is full!
Did you win? It doesn’t feel like you won. So you keep clicking, and then, you reach that next exponential number, and look! something changed color! Now you have to click an insane amount of times more to fill THAT meter, and make everything in the room colorful! And hey, this game has unlockables, too! In the menu! 4 things to unlock! Gotta get all the things, decorate them, and unlock all the stuff! That’s all you know to do.
That’s all there is to the leveling system. Sad, isn’t it? Well you know what happens at the end? You know what happens when you reach that ten-thousandth click? Well, Edmund wanted to keep it secret. Just more of the social experiment. Wouldn’t you like to know what happens at the end? Gonna have to play the game to find out.
So, I did. I sat for an hour and clicked that thing to the final click. I knew what was going to happen and I dove right into it.
However, as soon as all those things started popping up onto the screen, I faded from facetious playing to genuinely wanting to keep clicking. I’m not a clean man, I made it to level 40-something on FarmVille, added people I never knew from places I’d never heard of speaking languages I couldn’t understand just to get that extra edge. The addiction exists within me, easy to take advantage of if I’m not vigilant or suspicious.
And what did I feel on that last click you might ask? What was my reward?
Well, I’ll keep it a secret, too. That is, what you get as a reward.
But I’ll tell you right now, I felt the same thing as when I hit level 81 in Skyrim, went to the perks screen, and finished that last perk…
…excitement! I’d finally done it! I pumped my fist in victory. And I thought to myself: All that time I spent starting over and over to get here! All that time…yeah, all that…all that time…
But it’s over now! And now, I have-!
I…I have this character, maxed out. And I can show it to-
…well, no one else would care. In fact, I don’t really care all that much. But now I can destroy everything in my path as an overpowered character of destruction!
WHICH…I…could’ve already done.
And…have been doing, to get here.
In fact, after level 10, I stopped needing to fight anything. Everything was just fodder. Huh.
I don’t really feel like fighting I guess. And I’ve read all the books.
Covered most of the land.
Don’t feel like questing, nah, I’m pretty spent on lore and story-line, don’t feel like fighting anything, either.
Even if I got to go somewhere new or get some kind of magical power or something, it probably wouldn’t be all that fun anyways.
But hey, at least…well, no, I guess I don’t really gain anything for this besides being able to get back to my life.
Didn’t really learn anything.
I’ve got a fantasy story to tell my kids one day, I guess.
But then they’ll know their dad wasted all that time. I don’t want to mislead my kids, but I don’t want them to think their dad is lame.
But…*long pause*…but then why…what was so…
I kid you not, that’s pretty much everything I thought. I cogitated it all in about the span of 8 seconds up until the 15 second pause there at the end. My countenance went from a hint of confusion to a blank expression to the very definition of emotionless. I just ran around in circles, swinging Dragonbane around near the Legendary Dragon I got my last level in archery and the achievement I’d wanted for so long. And that’s all I did. For probably an entire minute after all those thoughts, my mind was empty, and so was I.
I felt so empty. Emptier than I’d ever felt. Because I’d realized what I’d done.
Not only had I done hours upon days of pointless work, skipping meals, walks outside, dance practice, looking at my lines that I’d just recently gotten to memorize and practice them, all these good things I could’ve been doing for myself, things that made me happy, that I needed to do. Not only had I neglected to do all that.
I had created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everything I ever believed about the leveling system and how easily it deceives, I had proven it to myself. But this was not proving the existence of the Higgs Boson. This was dropping a pencil and proving the Theory of Gravity.
I already knew it would happen. I gained nothing for doing it, and lost much more time than it takes to drop a pencil, time which was wasted taking time off of my life, both in practice, and in preparation.
I’d rendered myself a hypocrite. A big fat hypocrite. An empty, empty hypocrite.
After a minute of swinging that sword around and attempting to feel or think anything but nothing, I shut the game down, and I went to bed.
This is the reason concepts like the leveling system live on, they’re so tedious to complete but so addicting to the idea of finishing, that everyone who plays them will either play it in small margins until they’re done, or they’ll play it a bunch, start over, and never finish it.
But what of them? What of those who never finish the game, or are able to keep from getting sucked into it and play it piece by piece until they finish it?
They sit it down, and they move on, not caring about anything that happened. Then they regard it a cherished memory to go back to, and go spout about how great of a game it is.
The leveling system of Skyrim is a core mechanic of its gameplay. To me, when a leveling system is a pivotal part of any game, that means you don’t get to be the authority on how good the game is until you do everything it wants you to do. Side quests take a long time, too, but side quests are there just to give you something to do. It’s okay not to do them all, especially considering they’re literally infinite. Levels aren’t. They’re important to the Skyrim experience. And the Skyrim experience is a big fat waste of time.
This is why I believe not enough people denounce the leveling system. I never want to play a game with levels in it ever again. I might just never buy another game that features anything relating to experience-based gameplay in any way, shape, or form.
Even if it was “Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart; The Game Grumps, NormalBoots, FarFromSubtle, AVGN, and ThatGuyWithTheGlasses crews; Brentalfloss, Smooth Mcgroove, Markiplier, The Ghostbusters feat. The Ghost of Egon, Shigeru Miyamoto, Daft Punk, The Beatles feat. The Ghosts of John Lennon and George Harrison, And A Big Fat Pot Of Tater-Tot Casserole Travel To Norway And Fight The Evil Space Fox News And Save The World From The Ignorance Of American News Media”.
If that was a game, and I found out it used experience-based statistics as any level of importance as a mechanic, I would not play it, and I would cry.
Mount & Blade’s leveling system? Yeah, it’s shitty. They all are, and when it’s experience-based it’s specifically shit.
But Mount & Blade is fun. I don’t really care about leveling up my character, because no matter what I do, at the end of the day, I’ll still just be fighting a diverse amount of battles with tons of different strategies depending on the circumstance, and I’m not hindered to unreasonable extents due to the system being well-balanced and the gameplay being based on my own skill and ability in doing something fun.
And as I watch my army trail behind me riding horseback just in front of my fellow knights on the fields, I’ll feel like a general valiantly riding into battle.
And when I gather together peasants and train them until I can no longer afford more safety, I’ll storm castles with my best infantry-men first, and let the weaker take out the leftovers that the stronger have broken down, and I’ll feel like a war-strategist.
And, at the end of the battle, if my own struggles have been in vain, all of my men slaughtered, I will slice down every last man that comes toward me, and for every one of my men’s cold heads, I’ll take a warmer one in their name, and I’ll feel like a valiant hero.
Should I succeed, I hire more peasants to join my efforts, and continue my endless march.
But, should I fail, I will rot in prison until the day I find a crack in their security, and escape on horseback with the speed that only someone with nothing but a stolen horse and their own famished body to carry can achieve, outracing anyone who can find me before I’ve escaped to a safe haven within my own faction, or another, and I’ll start anew.
Then, I’ll ride for the tournaments, and earn thousands betting with the confidence earned to my my
Jack-of-all-Trades weapon skills, and I will once again ride to the villages to hire more men to my cause, and I will feel like a king.
An experienced king, who’s seen death to all around him, all that he had, everyone he called friend, and that will be prepared with wisdom and strategy the next time someone dare to oppose my rightful place to the throne.
I will feel: Alive.
But for now, I feel empty. Fancy magic, dragons, pre-existing stories and lore; it can’t suffice. Not with all the boredom, the time-wasting labor, and jarring transitions from emotional investment to pining for the video-editing software to create comedy out of my situation, not drama, not happiness, but the escape from pain that is laughter. To laugh at myself, and to laugh at the sad fiction before my eyes, which constitutes for me, a sad reality.
So, is there really anything left? Is it time to make the list, then divulge what little left can be said about what could’ve been done right?
I don’t think I have the energy right now. Perhaps in the future, I may pour more of my heart into this, but I have been typing on this screen for far too long now. This entire post, made in the span of the daylight of today. When I began, the sun faced the back of my neck. It now sits just above the brim of my hat, obscuring the upper fourth of my vision, in a downward facing position.
If I do, I’ll leave a note here:
But as of now, nothing is changed.
It’s time for the final verdict.
I will split it into my own ten categories, each worth their own 1/10, which cover all basis that I feel should be covered, then average them together to get my final rating.
Visual Design, the look of the game.
Sound Design, the sounds of the game.
World Design, the layout of the total area of the game.
Tutorial, how the player learns what to do.
Mechanics, how the player plays.
Characters, who we meet/get to know about.
Story, what happens/has happened.
Immersion, how complete and constant the satisfaction and experience of playing.
Programming, how everything keeps together. (How many and how severe the crashes/bugs/anomalies).
General Feel, how it feels to play/to finish.
I don’t generally like doing this, because it’s not like all these things don’t work together and therefore affect each others’ ratings. By doing them independently, it creates the possibility of a game with 1/10 Programming being a 9/10 game, a ludicrous statement. But, I think we can all agree it’s the most anti-bias system we’ve got, even if it is imperfect.
So, here we go.
Visual Design: 7/10
I’d give it a much higher score, but I have graphical mods up the butt that just add little things. The right mods make the visual design of Skyrim a no-question 10/10, but what we were given was another ugly game that simulated as much variations of gray, blue, and brown that it could muster. But, it did manage to inspire some unforgettable awe, especially the sky in Sovngarde.
Sound Design: 6/10
I absolutely loved everything about the sounds of Skyrim ever since I heard the theme we all experienced together in that trailer. Except…a few things…for example, why such little music? I hadn’t realized it until I looked at how many songs are actually in the game. However, that’s all I can say for Skyrim’s sound design. Everything has two sounds it makes. Weapons make this clank or this clank when hitting another weapon or shield, and this sound or this sound when hitting anything else. My character gasps in an inhale and exhale like this, or an inhale and exhale like that. My character’s footsteps sound like this or this on grass, this or this on stone, and blah blah blah you get the picture. Don’t get me wrong, hearing Jim Cummings and all the actors’ best Schwarzenegger was cool, but could you have spread out the voices just a bit more? You didn’t have hundreds of people to do voices, sure, and you want to keep the accent, but good lord, why does EVERY RACE SOUND EXACTLY ALIKE. I don’t sound like Danny freakin’ DeVito, and Morgan Freeman doesn’t sound like Kenan freakin’ Thompson. That’s racist. Oh, and why are people talking to me from where I can’t possibly hear them? I’m even out of range of their subtitles! That’s not just bad sound design, but lazy programming.
World Design: 9/10
I said it once, I’ll say it again: What a world to explore. Diverse areas, diverse treasures, diverse hostiles, diverse friendlies, diverse settlements, dynamic climates, diverse skies, diverse ways to travel, diverse ways to arrive, diverse entries, diverse exits; pure and simple, it’s a dynamic world that feels as big as it truly is.
Cool intro sequence. Oh, what are all these dialog boxes I don’t have to read and don’t want to? Gee, I wish I was forced into an interesting situation where I had to figure out how to overcome it and therefore gain experience in playing the game at the same time as learning how to play the game, giving the me excitement of overcoming obstacles. Y’know, instead of RANDOM BOXES OF TEXT THAT ONLY POP UP WHEN I OPEN THIS PART OF THE MENU, AND NEVER SHOW UP AGAIN. But who cares, the game’s so simple you don’t even need to be taught what to do, remember? Clickity-clackety!
Yes, there could be worse. As passionately as I talked about how crappy the mechanics of Skyrim were, I can take off my ego cap to admit, it could be worse. Yes, the game manipulated me into doing something deceiving that wasn’t fun and ultimately lead to me feeling empty inside, yes, I can’t say that me continuing to play is a good thing as I’ve stated clearly multiple times that addiction and what little lore fun I got to squeeze out were my only solace in the boredom. However, combat wasn’t all there was. There were other skills, skills I didn’t cover and just kinda glanced over as accessories to combat. Speech, Lockpicking, and Pickpocket have nothing to do with combat. (Unless you fail or get caught abusing them.) Talking to people was important sometimes. People weren’t always just the vessel to start the next waypoint, sometimes you needed to say the right thing. That is, you needed to watch for the option to persuade/intimidate/give gold, in case you had the skill or gold to get things done quicker, to get to the next waypoint. Lame. Lockpicking and Pickpocket, also lame. Combat system, lame. Leveling system, inherently lame. Questing, just gives you places you have to go instead of the freedom of mind to explore, lame. Oh, I didn’t mention, the amount you could turn the sensitivity up? Super lame. Now I get to feel how slow the game is at the same time as having my max turning speed slower than my max
waking-up-and-getting-out-of-bed-after-sleeping-on-a-rock speed. Lame. Were lore and story not explicitly put in as a mechanic of the game to make the game more interesting, I may very well have given it a 1/10, at least a 1.5/10.
This one was hard to decide. Really, I was bouncing all over the spectrum with this, but ended up deciding to keep it on the positive side of indifference. So many characters were so stupid and annoying, and yet so common throughout the game. Like the kids. I don’t know about you, but when I did that Dark Brotherhood quest where you kill the babysitter, I felt wrong, like I’d done something terrible. Skyrim has the brattiest children alive. why would I ever want to pay $5 to have the opportunity to adopt them? I’ll keep just the house, thanks. And they’re not all, and where some characters lack stupidity or vapidity, they excel in droning on. And on. And on. And on. And for god’s sake, get to the point, I don’t care what you have to say because I know there’ll be a scripted way out of any consequences you throw at me, usually one that I was going to end up going through anyways. But, all the characters that were a part of the main/big quests? So cool and diverse. Made me wish there were books about all of them, and those Daedric lords are masters at being Disney villains you want to know about. So I guess there’s no way but to see it positively. Where I don’t give a shit, everyone sucks, but where I do give a shit, everyone’s awesome. It’s like my real life.
Now, I’m not basing that off the lore. In fact, none of these categories include the lore. You wanna know why? Because if I wanted to read, I’d read a book written by an actual person with an interesting real human life, not a virtual one by a programmer who wrote some name you’ll never see again in it. I’m basing this on the Main Quest, and to a lesser extent, side quests. How good was the story of quests? Well, if you subtract all the boring running around and fighting in-between, which is only fair to do in this context, it’s pretty great, actually. There are some plot-holes in a lot of side quests, and a few in the main quest, but they’re not glaring and don’t really ruin anything for me. The 2 subtracted points come from not finding any quests without plot-holes, and by how truly short and boring they are once you subtract all the filler. “I went to a place, and swung my sword at some things, then listened to a guy say 15 sentences. I said about 4. Then I went to the next place and did a unique thing, then listened to a guy say 15 sentences. I said 4.” Repeat until quest is finished. But still pretty enchanting due to them putting good-great characters where it counted.
Shocking, right? I’m sure you saw this coming, so I won’t go into detail. I’ve said enough. +1 point for potential and ambition.
While I so wish in my heart to such a great extent I could give it a big fat 1/10 for the crap-fest of bugs it has, I will admit, that though the scale of the game being the sole reason that it deceives people into making it seem passably programmed, it is a step in the right direction in terms of what else could’ve gone wrong. The game could be inoperable in any case, not just potentially for many. But I think that cuts just as deep. “Your programming is only a margin above making something that simply does not work at all for any reason.” I say that honestly, and will defend it with my dignity.
General Feel: 3/10
Skyrim is not a totally broken game. And if I’m going to act like I have any credibility as a writer and as a critic, I can’t sit here and just shit on it all the time. There is so much that is there, and so much potential for something wonderful. But it’s not, alright? It’s just not. The ‘General Feel’ of Skyrim can be equated to: “I can’t remember how I felt until it was either really bad or really good, because everything in-between was just me completely ignoring all of my feelings and going through a bunch of hoops and routines completely brain-dead”, which I equate to a 3/10.
Why such a high score if this entire blog was based on shitting on it? Am I trying to seem more humble and reasonable than I am?
No, I agree with that score. Y’know why? Because at the end of the day, even something that’s shit can still be nice.
In Skyrim’s case, underneath that thick layer of feces, there is a diamond that is shaped-and-capable-of-function as a transportation vehicle that runs on sex.
Again, it is now all daylight hours after I began typing this blog, and it has been all I’ve done in all that time. I need to leave this, but I’m so close to ending it, I don’t want to leave it for editing. I can still feel these feelings, and I want to have a hold of them while I’m typing this.
It’s time to clear up the 2nd half of the title of this blog, how Skyrim could’ve been great.
CHARLES’ GUIDE TO FIXING SKYRIM:
- Remove Bethesda from any creative control.
- Alright, whoever you are, you’re better than those guys at what I’m about to tell you.
- Firstly, model the combat system after the realism of the Dream Team. Make blocking pointless if I don’t block in the right direction, give the weapons a realistic feeling of weight and damage. Make it look and sound like I’m doing what it is the game is simulating.
- Secondly, now that the combat is fun no matter what, remove the perks system. Just get rid of it. The first step in making Skyrim fun for its gameplay is taking out the mechanic which makes all games tedious and boring.
- Now that the leveling system is gone, there’s no way to make all the weapons, potions, and enchantments. Good. Make the game completely centered around the gameplay to make progress. I’ll have to either pillage ruins, do some fun and interesting quests, or test my abilities in tournaments to earn the money I need to get what I want, or, in doing those things, to get what I want from doing them. Either way, make it so that I have to be having fun and be getting better at the game to make progress, if I’m not having fun, it should be because I’m not putting in the reasonable amount of thought I should be to not suck.
- Now we’re really making some huge progress. It’s a big game, just those things alone is years of reverse engineering, it may even be smarter just to build the game from scratch. That’s fine. Better it be good than what it is now. So now not only is the gameplay really fun and cool, there’s very little detracting from the already fun exploration and lore. Here’s another thing to do about the combat: Make using different weapons actually make a difference. Make certain weapons and magic weak/strong against certain enemies and armors for cogent reasons. I’m talking full-out Pokémon style.
- Now, as an addendum to that, I hope you made the combat have realistic physics, because now it matters. Say for example, there’s a guy in full plate armor. He’s got a helmet and gauntlets to cover his weaker areas, and he’s a veritable steel machine. You could make me have to use maces or war-hammers to do real damage to him, and make all other Two-Handed and One-Handed as well as Archery pointless. Make me need to learn some magic spells, to either melt, deep-freeze, or electrocute him for mega-damage. Or, here’s where the realistic physics comes in: make a little slit under his helmet that I can only use daggers to hit, but when I do, he immediately starts choking on blood and bleeds to death. You can make that guy an early-game ‘boss’, or mid-game reminder when teaching the player about why the differences in weapons matter.
- Now we’re really cooking with gas. This game is already looking greater just from the combat enhancements, after all, that was a major part of why it was broken. But I mentioned ‘teaching the player’ there, too. Skyrim didn’t teach the player anything, did it? You’re damn right it didn’t. It didn’t need to, because it knew it was all click clack adventure, but now you’re making things complex and fun, so you’ll have to teach the player some things they’ll need to know. How do ya do that? With a big map of the buttons and what they do? No, not that, stupid. No! Not popping up little boxes when they first discover things or fail to do something over and over! Instead, design the entire game around figuring out its mechanics until a point that you’re absolutely certain players know how to play. Make everything from the opening sequence to however long it takes to cover the game’s basic mechanics a fun journey through the many different strategies they need to learn, then, as you’re teaching them new ones, train them in old ones along the way. Give them scenario, give them circumstance, give them a problem, make them think. Then they’ll not only have fun doing it, they’ll feel smart, and they’ll keep getting thrown old tricks in new ways that might catch them off-guard, but eventually, they’ll come to really get it and really love it. Make sure to acclimate what you want to teach the player to how much the player should have learned, and never base your next lesson off of the player having to be better than they’re supposed to be. Then, release the player on a journey which challenges them to use all of these skills they’ve learned in new and interesting ways. In other words, give it a just pay-off that gives the player more than they did being a student. Make them good teachers themselves, and love exercising that craft in-game and to other players.
- Sounds like a dream, don’t it? Now your combat system is cool and fun, and it’s making people smart and feel good, and even making or advancing your players’ relationships with people! You’re at the point where you can start taking those steps beyond where other forms of media can’t go, but video games can. Now, players can play your game, they like it, and they learn from it. What’s left to touch on? Ah, yes, the bugs and anomalies. Well, I assume you’re not actually trying to convert Skyrim into this new format anymore, and you’re just using the given in-game models, textures, characters, etcetera, to build a game from the ground up? Of course you are. That’s what kinda sucks about making it a good game, it’s not a good game, so you can’t make one out of it. There’s no such thing as a little change making a little difference. When you change a core mechanic, you make a different game. When a game’s core mechanics are bad, they have to be changed to be good, so you have to build a new game. So, while you’re building this new game, with a good team to hold together something of this scale and ambition, take everyone out to dinner and bowling, and then the next day, put down strict but reasonable reprimands to bugginess. Point no fingers, make it a group punishment, but one that’s just and has dignity, don’t baby them like children misbehaving, but make it known that bugs are unacceptable and must be treated immediately. Then, count your team, multiply them by .66, hire a staff consisted of that number, and make them all bug testers. Then, put out for interviews, and only accept the ones you trust, but accept as many game testers as you can get. Have them play the newest build as much as they like. Make sure all that good, hard work that people are doing isn’t going to waste on bugginess.
- The rest is up to you. I could say more, but with that basis and understanding why it’s good, I trust your judgement. Print, package, advertise honestly and well, and enjoy your game being revered rightfully for it’s greatness.
You can have your Dragonborn. You can have your Elder Scrolls ties. Personally, this is what I see when I think of how Skyrim could be better.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Charles Edition:
*Music and narration begin soft, and slowly builds in intensity through time*
Fight in intense and realistic battles that make your heart skip a beat at every thrust and tell.
Explore the world and learn about its origins and the magical energies which keep it alive.
Delve into the deepest dungeons, climb the highest mountaintops, explore the densest forests, the muggiest swamps, the endless grasslands, and mystical places of this realm and others, to find treasures to make you rich or mystical weapons and armors.
Don’t like getting your hands too dirty? Have an old weapon, and need a new one? Sell your treasures, compete in tournaments, labor for the townsfolk, or follow the paths of ancient lore or the tales of Jarls, scholars, or even the common folk, to obtain upgrades, special potions, enchantments, new powers, and much more!
Get lost in a world parallel to our own. Talk to the common tavern gentleman, learn of his woes and deliver unto him your most charitable humanitarianism, or perhaps help him celebrate his recent luck as his honored guest to an unexpected visit at the most ritzy areas of the land, or maybe you just might make a friend that lasts a lifetime, a companion into battle, or into bed.
So become the man, the warrior, the mage, the deadly assassin, the civic leader, the drinking buddy, the hope in the corners of despair, the hot product, the dungeon-diver, the keeper of ancient secrets and powers, the explorer that has seen not just the highest, the lowest, the deepest, the darkest, but the man who has seen beyond this very plane of existence.
Create a truly dynamic new life, and go from a low and meaningless statistic of the rabble, to the most skilled, powerful, wise, wealthy, and beloved High King of the land of Skyrim, in this, the Elder Scrolls V!
*Music builds into pay-off*
*Music plays through and fades into silence*
I hear rumors of dragons…
*Orchestral Drum Hits*
*Logo and console/legal information appears*
*Fade to black*
A man can dream.
Hey, thanks for reading this. On top of spending countless hours wasting my time with a game, I also spent countless hours wasting my body away writing this blog post.
There’s tons of share links below to every social media or otherwise out there, so if you could share this around with your friends, it’d make me feel like sustaining myself on snacks and cereal for the past few days in trying to fine-tune this post was worth it.
Thank you! Feel free to comment or reply with your thoughts, feelings, experiences, dreams, favorite kinds of fruit, etc.