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September 19, 2011 12:25 AM   Subscribe

"The weapons also have levels, and if you are not at the level needed to wield a weapon, you are unable to use it. This does not make a hell of a lot of sense when the weapon in question is a knife or a pipe or an axe, especially when you have been wielding all of the above quite adroitly for hours. What on earth does a Level 4 Pipe even mean, anyway? Worse yet, the weapons are all subclassed, so you are not just finding a Level 4 Pipe; you are finding a Flimsy Level 4 Pipe or a Homemade Level 4 Pipe, the differences of which are utterly unclear." --Tom Bissell on why a new zombie game sucks due to its reckless "Gamification," and why this means your future will also suck
posted by bardic (97 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, I was skimming through some Let's Play's of it and Dead Island looks amazingly boring, but pretty.

I think the thing that makes all that stuff okay in Borderlands is that it doesn't take itself remotely seriously. It's just a goofy game with goofy mechanics.
posted by empath at 12:29 AM on September 19, 2011


This is the reason it's much better to bludgeon zombies with lead pipes in real life, plus all the aerobic benefits of doing it for real.
posted by joannemullen at 12:37 AM on September 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm not unsympathetic to the viewpoint that some people don't like to see the numbers, but the article suffered from the author's condescending attitude toward people who do like to see the numbers. In the end it boiled down to "I don't like this kind of game and anyone who does like it is wrong and ruining games." Almost nothing was persuasive in an objective sort of way, at least not to his larger argument. For Dead Island in particular, yeah, it sounds kind of dumb that the weapon names and categories don't make sense, and it probably feels pretty contrived to have things like level four pipes. But on the whole, having levels and health bars, eh. I don't think that's so much a symbol of over-gamification as some people really like those sorts of games and he doesn't happen to like them.
posted by Nattie at 12:41 AM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


"But on the whole, having levels and health bars, eh."

Yeah, I think he's being a bit disingenuous give the fact that most FPS games these days have done away with health-bars altogether for a more "natural," less "video gamey" feel.
posted by bardic at 12:45 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


You have limited weapon space and unlimited item space. In a game like this, carrying capacity should be one unified, logical system, and that system should either be unlimited or severely limited. Anything else is arbitrary, stupid, and altogether bad game design.

This is actually something the game has received a lot of praise for and goes to show that the author does not quite fully appreciate inventory management in action RPGs. Just look at Deus Ex, where I spent an inordinate amount of time just reorganising my inventory. Dead Island allows for a balance: you can't carry unlimited amounts of weapons, which degrade, so you have to be conscious of them, but you can also loot to your hearts content as all crafting items and consumables do not take up space. I think it's actually a very elegant system.

I recommend that people who are on the fence check out the Quick Look of the game on GiantBomb.

I also wonder if the author had the same 'level up' complaints about Mass Effect.
posted by slimepuppy at 12:47 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Gamification" is a little like postmodernism in that no one really knows whether it is primarily a practice, a stance, an era, or a diagnosis. Equally uncertain is whether it is a perilous thing, a potentially positive thing, or a drear and lamentable thing.

Drear and lamentable, next question please.

I found myself agreeing with most of his points, especially concerning the idea of levels, which I'd like to nominate as the most overused game element of the hour.

Also, if I were to write a style guide for game journalists, the first dictum would be: "The term is gaining a level or advancing a level, not leveling up," which is needless Engrish. This is rather arbitrary and pedantic of me I guess, but I'm sticking with it, because the phrase is indicative of how pervasive level systems are in video games at the moment, and I tend to react spitefully when I think about it.
posted by JHarris at 12:57 AM on September 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think that Dead Island is doing something quite different from your typical FPS, it's kind of like Borderlands and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. had a baby and then Left 4 Dead infected it. It's a lot better than I expected it to be. Honestly it would be even better if it was even MORE inconvenient - if you had to manage food/drink in a more organic manner, it would add even more to the survival suspense its seemingly "annoying" mechanics already cultivate well.

My only complaint is that it's too easy, and yet I find myself dying often. Maybe my complaint is that the death penalty is too lenient.
posted by mek at 1:22 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It also has the most satisfying melee combat I've ever experienced in a FPS since Oni.
posted by mek at 1:22 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Drear and lamentable, next question please.

You say that, but we have an example only a few threads down which I would consider neither.
posted by juv3nal at 1:23 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, if they had worked harder on the plot and "quest" system (which suffers from WoWitis) to get it closer to a more polished "studio-y" narrative, it would be a serious contender for GOTY. As it stands the cut-scenes are all pretty groanworthy in-engine affairs.
posted by mek at 1:26 AM on September 19, 2011


I predict the funniest video game title in 5 years will be "Steampunk Zombies vs. Ninja Pirate Vampires" and everyone will be so embarrassed that they used to be "really into" one or more of those genres.

Here's hoping the rest of civilization arrives at that moment quickly.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:27 AM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cupcakes are dumb. They're not big, like a regular cake.

I guess what the article boils down to is: he wanted a straight-up zombie action game, and they tricked him into playing an RPG.

It is what it is. A lot of people really enjoy the game. I'm not among them, but I'm not going to begrudge them the existence of a type of game that they like and I don't.
posted by Kalthare at 1:40 AM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


He gets points for using the word "cromulent".

I don't think that 'gamification' is related to the game he played though.

The basic idea of 'gamification' WoW style, is that providing rewards at regular, though randomized intervals for repetitive tasks and a system that allows the perception of constant improvement provides an addictive motivation to keep playing the game. Basically, provide the right set of stimuli and our brains start treating software like heroin. Happened accidentally at first, but it's being harnessed for evil as we speak. That's not what he's described in this game review.

What he's describing is the far more banal 'crappy game design choices'. Bioshock had the same issue with re-spawning, and it made me turn the difficulty all the way down after I first realized that I could just keep charging that Big Daddy with my wrench and eventually win, because it was still a beautiful, well written game. (Ending sucked though).

Aside from addiction and giving the player a tangible sense of the progression of the main character from 'meek villager' to 'god-like engine of unstoppable death to all that would dare stand in her way', skills and levels serve another important purpose. They give the character the ability to do things that the player themselves doesn't know how to do, and may not even be possible. Until we get strong AI running video game NPC's, or build a complete auto-cad program into every game that involves weapon customization, saying "You're X good at talking and Y good at building and Z good at pastry making" is a decent enough way of doing it.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:42 AM on September 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


The thing I hate about (American) football is all the artificial scoring. Six points for a touchdown, three points for a field goal, "extra" points -- who cares about all those numbers? Why can't they just play the game and forget about keeping score?

He gets points for using the word "cromulent".

And loses at least twice that many points for using the word "bathykolpian." Darn, there's those stupid numbers again!
posted by straight at 1:44 AM on September 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Admittedly, he makes a couple of good points — the "YOU ARE LEAVING THE PLAYABLE AREA" thing is rather unfortunate, and vulnerable-NPC escort missions are something I've never heard anybody say a good word about — but I think he rather undermines his whole argument with the deep, deep offense he takes at the idea that other people like games that he doesn't.

I mean, it's like he thinks it's the only game that's coming out this year. Or that now that it's out, it's replaced those other games that he likes, and he can't play them anymore. Or that people playing, and enjoying, games with RPG elements are somehow using their time in a less worthy way, than he is when he plays his games that remain pure and untouched by the RPG element taint.
posted by Kalthare at 1:59 AM on September 19, 2011


You leveled up and rolled the dice in Dungeons & Dragons because it was impossible to run such systems under the game's hood. You know why? Because there wasn't a hood. Video games not only have hoods but also engines, and all manner of delightfully invisible computation can be dealt with and handled there. So I ask: Why isn't it invisible more often? Why this useless Gamification of what are already games? Why do we tolerate it?

This, this, this. While his gripe with DI in this area is the inclusion of RPG trappings in a game that really isn't one, this strikes a chord with me on a deeper level. I've had a lengthy, ranty essay brewing in me for a long time about the fundamental silliness of tabletop RPG tropes in video games.

Things like XP, levels and numerical skills are things that should be abstracted away and presented to the player in some way that isn't a glorified Excel spreadsheet, but a subtle gradual change in how your character is able to interact with the world around him/her. Numerical representation is an implementation detail, an engine-level thing, not something that should be exposed to the player directly. An example: Knights of the Old Republic was one of the first RPGs I could stand from beginning to end, but the utter stupidity of having to deal with the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars RPG mechanics (short of actually having to roll some virtual d20 dice) killed a lot of the enjoyment.

So no, I'm not a fan of RPGs, largely attributable to this decades-persistent stupidity. I hate that video game role-playing has been and still is somewhat synonymous with the boneheaded number-exposing systems that really have nothing to do with in immersing yourself with the world and your character, with actually "playing the role".

I know, some people like seeing the numbers. But to me, it's akin to preferring a hand crank to a starter motor as a way of starting your car. Computers and consoles have long been powerful enough to pull off something smarter and better-abstracted, but there's a lamentable industry-wide lack of innovation in the way RPG experiences are presented to the player.
posted by jklaiho at 2:25 AM on September 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


"In a game about running from things that want to eat you, what is more important: the emotional experience of running from things that want to eat you, or knowing that the thing that wants to eat you is a Level 23 thing that wants to eat you? Knowing that the machete in your hand can take its head off, or knowing that the machete in your hand is capable of doing 320+ hit points of damage?"

THISTHISTHIS

Okay, I'm done.
posted by jklaiho at 2:29 AM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it's a fine article on why he doesn't like this game. It's spoiled a bit by trying to turn this one game into a trend. He pretty much says that the stuff he didn't like in this game worked great in Borderlands.

Also, some of us like to see the health point numbers because we're lousy shots and like to know when we hit.
posted by zompist at 2:35 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


...I have played enough lower-octane RPGs to know that there is some enjoyment to be had in customizing a character to mitigate video-game randomness. The part of me that enjoys this is also a part of me for which I have no real use.

What a sad, dehumanizingly efficient attitude to have about oneself. And what a crock. I was able to filter out a lot of this author's pretentiousness to get to the meat of his arguments (and he's right in some parts; the level requirements and item names are silly and DI just loves to take you out of the game immersion whenever it can) but this one just left me sad. I won't even get into his fourth footnote.
posted by Spatch at 2:39 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Jesse Schell talk he mentions has really great counter arguments the whole point of what the article and jklaiho are saying. More people want tangible rewards for their actions. Seeing numbers fall out of a zombie as you shoot them is a literal version of that: immediate, concrete, measurable progression, reward and satisfaction. It is 'gamey' as all hell, but it tickles people in a very fundamental way and not just not nerds either; there's a reason why your mom plays farmville.

It's less profound than the immaterial satisfaction received from true immersion and the emotional resolution of finishing a compelling story, but maybe not every video game needs to be Love & Peace and there is enough room in the world for both types of experiences. Look up any interview with Jonathan Blow, as he spends a lot of his time arguing against effectively the same thing: the 'fast food' of gaming.

Me, I like both types of things as they satisfy two disparate parts of my brain chemistry. And as someone else pointed out: the existence or even prevalence of this type of game doesn't invalidate or erase the other. Just look at movies as an example: for every 2001 A Space Odyssey, there are ten Transformers movies that do not manage devalue to overall potential of the art.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:53 AM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember when the cocaine thing got linked here and thinking that I didn't like him very much then, either.

It's like he read "Consider the Lobster" and went "hey, I could this, but for videogames." Eugh.
posted by kavasa at 2:59 AM on September 19, 2011


What on earth does a Level 4 Pipe even mean, anyway? Worse yet, the weapons are all subclassed, so you are not just finding a Level 4 Pipe; you are finding a Flimsy Level 4 Pipe or a Homemade Level 4 Pipe, the differences of which are utterly unclear."

This guy never played D&D and does not understand the concept of a +4 Flimsy Pipe of Bludgeoning.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:47 AM on September 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


emotional experience of running from things that want to eat you, or knowing that the thing that wants to eat you is a Level 23 thing that wants to eat you?

If there is only one thing that wants to eat you, then the former is important. But by the time you are running from your sixth eaty-thing, the terror will be diminished. You've escaped from five eaty-things so far, what's so problematic about the sixth? Knowing that the sixth eaty-thing is twice as eaty as the fifth brings back some of that initial terror, some of that ZOMGrunrunrun panic.

Of course, the game could present this sense of shit-just-got-realness via creature design, where the sixth eaty-thing has a lot more teeth and jowls than previous beasties, but in a game populated with them (and created by human designers with art budgets), that can only go so far. The other approach would be to go the other direction and severely reduce the amount of monsters, but that leads to a different gaming experience.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:33 AM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


The idea of finding a "languid pistol" or a "tiring knife" is the first thing that has made Dead Island seem appealing to me.
posted by No-sword at 4:34 AM on September 19, 2011


The Jesse Schell talk he mentions has really great counter arguments the whole point of what the article and jklaiho are saying. More people want tangible rewards for their actions. Seeing numbers fall out of a zombie as you shoot them is a literal version of that: immediate, concrete, measurable progression, reward and satisfaction.

Besides, it's a bit silly faulting an orange for not being an apple. A straight-up action game is different from a survival game, which is different from a survival-action game which seems to have lifted the item conventions of Diablo 2 etc. wholesale, dispensed with inventory Tetris and used 'pipe' instead of 'sword'. Level 4 pipes don't make sense because they are an abstraction to measure powergaming; they correspond to a level 4 fire spell.
posted by ersatz at 4:48 AM on September 19, 2011


bardic: "Bissell on why a new zombie game sucks"

I see what you did there.
posted by theredpen at 4:50 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


So basically this guy is complaining about game cliches in his cliche'd Zombie game? The whole concept of "Dead Island" seems boring as hell to me.
posted by delmoi at 4:50 AM on September 19, 2011


The idea of finding a "languid pistol" or a "tiring knife" is the first thing that has made Dead Island seem appealing to me.

Have you played Borderlands? You can find a "Malevolent Bitch" in there. And then shoot someone with it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:03 AM on September 19, 2011


Where'd you get those kickass pipes?
posted by knave at 5:19 AM on September 19, 2011


your mom plays farmville.

Don't you fucking talk about my mother that way! My mother's a saint.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:27 AM on September 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


I see two basic complaints here. The first is that it seems that the designers made some bad calls. Calling them out on that is fine, but it doesn't really merit an essay.

The second is that he's complaining that the game is an RPG and that it probably shouldn't be. I think there's really something to this. RPGs are great and all, and the idea that one cannot simply pick up an exotic hand cannon or BFS and use it right away makes sense in those contexts. He's probably also right that there's a great game to be made in having most of the character stats done behind the scenes by the engine, but there's also a sense in which for a lot of people, those stats are the game, so that can go either way.

But for a lot of people, myself included, certain RPG mechanics have never made any gorram sense. Classes in particular have always struck me as being sort of weird unless there's an in-game explanation for why I can't even pick up an item designed for another class. The Dungeon Siege games, and other games with skill- rather than class-based mechanics are too, in that anyone can do anything, but everything takes practice.

I think what he's hit on here is that we may have finally found a situation in which the RPG mechanic just can't be made to work for people who are more interested in the game itself rather than the stats-as-game thing that some people have going. We're talking about really damn simple melee weapons that anyone can use. Someone who doesn't find stats fun, as such, probably isn't going to be able to get past the obvious tacked-on nature of the mechanic.

I also think he's potentially on to something with his "gamification" concept,* to the extent that this represents the trend of cashing in on the addictive nature of game stats. Farmville is evil, and not really even a game, in that the only thing you really have to do is spend a ton of time on it, but it is "fun" for some people for some value of the term. This permits the creation of really sub-par games, as not only is the focus more on these pointless point systems than on storytelling, but it permits game designers to just come up with some point system instead of coming up with an actual, you know, game.

This goes for "achievements" too. I'm grudgingly okay with tacking on an achievement system to a game that doesn't really need one, but I'm not okay with taking on a game to an achievement system that doesn't really need one.

*Though damn, way to pick a squishy term you can define however you want. The comparison to postmodernism is thus unfortunately apt, though not necessarily in the way he means it.
posted by valkyryn at 5:36 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


He gets points for using the word "cromulent".

Is he using it in its ironic derived-from-the-Simpsons meaning? I can't quite be sure from the text:
A perfectly cromulent system, all in all. Until, that is, a late escort sequence in the game. . .
If it's not ironic, this is the first straight-up use of the word I've ever seen and is some sort of meta-irony deserving of a Grantland article in itself.
posted by StephenF at 5:36 AM on September 19, 2011


I've had the same conversation with my fiancée about the over gamification of real life, and I agree that there is in some games a needless leveling system. There are people who like the RPG mechanic; I don't. I do like leveling and the grind--but GTA San Andreas style--where running make your character more fit and, well, a better runner. But this Dead Island approach would drive me crazy. If someone were to make Dead Rising without the tiresome missions, timer, and save system, it would be a great hit. Maybe this is what Read Dead Undead Nightmare is like--I just started RDR itself and haven't tried Undead nightmare (or whatever it's called).

The article itself, though, was a needless challenge in and of itself. The needless David Foster Wallace-ization of our nation's young writers is a lamentable thing. A lot of games "criticism" falls into this trap, and it's a shame.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:55 AM on September 19, 2011


StephenF, cromulent has become, for lack of a better word, a perfectly cromulent adjective. I, and people I know, use it, though not all that frequently. Usually, there's a touch (as in the article) of nudge-nudge, wink-wink and all, but it's not the pure irony aspect, it's the shared-background sort of nudge. I've seen it used on blogs and such, as well, mostly since it says what we want to say, but it's a funny way of saying it.

I imagine there was probably a bet at the writers' table, where one of the writers bet another writer that he could make up a word for the show and have it enter popular usage, even if the audience knew perfectly well it was a made up word.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:00 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


>>Drear and lamentable, next question please.
>You say that, but we have an example only a few threads down which I would consider neither.


Gameification, as used generally right now, refers more to a specific method of turning things into games, in order to inject them into real life. Like, your bank offering you experience points when you make a deposit.

In all cases, this sucks directly in response to how much people are forced to be subjected to it. No one is forcing anyone to play FoldIt, which is an activity to itself and not an accessory to some other thing. It is a game with reality in, not reality with a game in. A better term would be "Realification."

Many gameified things are among the usual examples of corporations trying to be "fun" and "wacky" that always turn out to be dreadful even to contemplate.
posted by JHarris at 6:12 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


shutterbun is up on the latest trends
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:22 AM on September 19, 2011


The thing I hate about (American) football is all the artificial scoring. Six points for a touchdown, three points for a field goal, "extra" points -- who cares about all those numbers? Why can't they just play the game and forget about keeping score?

I know you're being all ironic here, but I actually agree with the face value of what you said, and see it as a good example of excessive gameification of something IRL. American sports seem to be all about numbers and stats and earned this and average that and whatnot and not about just playing the game.
posted by signal at 6:22 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Jesse Schell talk he mentions has really great counter arguments the whole point of what the article and jklaiho are saying. More people want tangible rewards for their actions. Seeing numbers fall out of a zombie as you shoot them is a literal version of that: immediate, concrete, measurable progression, reward and satisfaction. It is 'gamey' as all hell, but it tickles people in a very fundamental way and not just not nerds either; there's a reason why your mom plays farmville.

The pinnacle of this kind of interactive design has historically been Vegas one-armed bandits and he like. Some of the most addictive puzzle games directly borrow elements from this tradition. In the worst cases, you get addicted to playing with the system and it takes a while to work out that there isn't anything much beyond the bright lights and reward whistles and bells and point bonus mechanisms manipulating reward pleasures and that feeling of addiction.
posted by Bwithh at 6:23 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't played Dead Island, but other than some jankiness it's supposed to be quite fun. I guess if you don't like RPG mechanics it won't be your thing but it's not like it's the only zombie-killing game out there.

"The term is gaining a level or advancing a level, not leveling up," which is needless Engrish.

You might as well start complaining about "blog" or "y'all". Ain't gonna matter. (Hell, I find the term Engrish offensive myself, but whatever.)

I recommend that people who are on the fence check out the Quick Look of the game on GiantBomb.

The direct link to the QL is here.

American sports seem to be all about numbers and stats and earned this and average that and whatnot and not about just playing the game.

As opposed to cricket or rugby or curling that don't keep stats and score? (Admittedly baseball has stat overload, but that's half the fun.)
posted by kmz at 6:33 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Bit of a derail, but I'm pretty sure "cromulent" is in my published copy of The Hacker's Dictionary from the 1970s. I'm going to go dig it up and photography it if true, because as we all know the web values accuracy of claims over a shared cultural touchstone.)
posted by Edogy at 6:40 AM on September 19, 2011


As a thought, it seems like a lot of our counterscientific fallacies derive from people's inability to understand that small numbers can have big effects in aggregate ("my one car can't affect global warming", "my one vote won't make a difference", etc). But I saw firsthand playing WoW that people would assign incredible value to an upgrade that improved their performance by 0.05%, simply because they could see the numbers.

"Gamification" may offer more than just being a cynical revenue source for Farmville-style games.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:58 AM on September 19, 2011


Gameification, as used generally right now, refers more to a specific method of turning things into games, in order to inject them into real life. Like, your bank offering you experience points when you make a deposit.

Whereas back in the day you would get a gp for every experience point you earned.
posted by ersatz at 7:21 AM on September 19, 2011


I predict the funniest video game title in 5 years will be "Steampunk Zombies vs. Ninja Pirate Vampires"

Followed up by its not quite as funny but still a chuckle sequel, "SPZ v NPV: Legend of Bacon".
posted by notyou at 7:39 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


notyou:

I predict the funniest video game title in 5 years will be "Steampunk Zombies vs. Ninja Pirate Vampires"

Followed up by its not quite as funny but still a chuckle sequel, "SPZ v NPV: Legend of Bacon".


Two recent, popular indie games from real life: "Space Pirates and Zombies" and "The Baconing".
posted by gilrain at 7:48 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to be very irritated if this zombie fad peaks and nobody has made a proper zombie game yet: open world, survival situation (ie, scavenging for food and ammunition, barricading yourself in), multiplayer. Left4dead is multiplayer but isn't open world or survival. Dead Island is multiplayer, but not quite open world, and not really survival oriented. There are a million indie zombie games which are just top-down action games (not multiplayer, not survival, not open world). Project Zomboid is survival and open world, but not multiplayer.
posted by Pyry at 8:02 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I saw firsthand playing WoW that people would assign incredible value to an upgrade that improved their performance by 0.05%, simply because they could see the numbers.

I think part of that derives from the PvP aspect in World of Warcraft. It's not so much that you have a 0.05 increase in some area, but it's 0.05% more than most of your opponents, which can be significant in a close match. 10,005 is still greater than 10,000.
posted by JHarris at 8:34 AM on September 19, 2011


Pyry - You already have this game. It's called Minecraft. The only thing Minecraft properly lacks is a victory condition: i.e. you take back the world and there's no more zombies. However, since there's a Minecraft mod for simulating nearly everything under the sun now, there's probably a mod which provides an end game and a win.

And I'm really looking forward to a victory condition so that there will be no more zombie games for a while. Maybe I'm the only one but I'm really sick of zombies. I don't care what the next obsession is. Aliens, pirates, ninjas, orcs, rabid hedgehogs, anything would be better than yet another horde of the shambling undead.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is the reason it's much better to bludgeon zombies with lead pipes in real life

Well sure, until you get their blood on you and risk a slow infection which will eventually make you a threat to the rest of your team (but a wonderful ticking time bomb from a narrative perspective),

The best way to deal with zombies is, as always, from a distance. Unless you have an armored Hazmat suit, in which case, I actually suggest a spike maul or a Halligan tool over a pipe. Not only is it good for zombies, but they work great as an improvised door openers.

You all do have armored Hazmat suits, right?
posted by quin at 8:45 AM on September 19, 2011


the RPG mechanic just can't be made to work for people who are more interested in the game itself rather than the stats-as-game thing that some people have going

I know how chainsaws and crowbars work in the real world. Muscle damage to the leg might slow down a zombie at best, a precise bone-breaking hit would make it unable to walk. Seeing a numbers pop up the first time I play would tell me if/how the game models that intuition -- maybe crowbars give better critical hits, maybe not.

Why not have pop-up numbers as something you can switch off? I could see that as being useful as a tutorial to game physics/biology, a way of learning "that the machete in your hand can take its head off."

(mind you, a "damage meter" consisting only of visible damage to the zombie's body would be best by far)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:46 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess what the article boils down to is: he wanted a straight-up zombie action game, and they tricked him into playing an RPG.

I think his central complaint was that he thought he was getting a straight-up zombie action game, then he started running into all these RPG game mechanics and thought, oh, this is going to get all RPGish, but then it never did.

Basically, it sounds like the developers should have watched the Zero Punctuation review of Oblivion ten or twelve times - particularly the part about immersion, because it sounds like these guys did just about everything they could to disrupt anything that might feel like immersion.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:56 AM on September 19, 2011


Anyone who finds real life lacking when compared to video games has basically given up on life.

Wut. You like your job that much?

But consider this: World of Warcraft is, by any measure, the most popular video game in history.

By ANY measure? WTF.

Dead Island is a schlocky, open-world action role-playing game that favours grisly melee combat above all things.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:57 AM on September 19, 2011


anything would be better than yet another horde of the shambling undead.

Anything but vampires, please.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2011



Anyone who finds real life lacking when compared to video games has basically given up on life.


Yeah, I laughed at that line. It's like he's not even aware there's a recession going on. Not all of us are making the rent/mortgage doing what we love to do, Tom.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:08 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


mrgrimm -

I would be thrilled with more vampires if the games were of the same quality as Troika's Bloodlines. No sparkles, not entirely open ended but definitely Deus Ex-ish in terms of multiple approaches to a problem, and tons of replayability.
posted by honestcoyote at 9:33 AM on September 19, 2011


I'll probably finish Dead Island in the next night or two. It's not a bad game, very fun if a bit repetitive, and I enjoy the RPG trappings even if they are mostly superfluous. What can I say, I love first person RPGs and there really aren't that many of them. This is a decent stopgap until Skyrim hits.

The author mentions respawning zombies, but I haven't encountered those at all. When you die (very frequently) you lose a bit of cash and are dropped back pretty close to where you were, and zombies you killed are still dead. It might be different if an NPC you're escorting dies, but I don't know, they seem pretty hardy and I've only had one die once.

My main issue with the game is just a bit of a disconnect. I've only played single player, but every cutscene the other 3 characters are right there with me. It's always jarring when they pop up.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:07 AM on September 19, 2011


Ok, dudes, I'm gonna talk about D&D.

D&D was doing a _lot_ of different things as a game. It is extremely flexible, far more so than any computer game, simply by virtue (or fault) of having a human game master to mediate the player's interactions with the world. These interactions are mainly oral, and the game structure - the engine - was a pile of books; a text-based system.

In the GNS theory (which describes games according to Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist aspects), D&D evolved out of simulationist war games, which is where a lot of the 'crunch' of the rules came from. In order to get really 'good' simulations, war games had evolved complex rules sets which took up whole book shelves. D&D kept this legacy, but was now simulating something which had never been, and changing the format (each player controls one character, except the GM who controls everything else) in a way very conducive to Gamist and Narrativist play.

As computer games evolved, many aspects of D&D were ported over in games like Colossal Cavern Adventure and Rogue, untilt he computer RPG genre really came together as its own thing, computerizing and refabricating the kinds of crunchy rules common in table top RPGs. And yeah, a lot of these rules were short-hand for character development; levels were a discretized version of character improvement that meant you only had to do some complicated advancement procedure once a month instead of daily. Pretty much every tabletop rpg features this kind of discretization, though some don't bother with levels. Likewise, classes provide a short-hand for skill specialization. In some sense these aren't terribly realistic situations, but they do mirror things that happen in our everyday life. (I'm a 14th level mathematician, with a bunch of cross-class skills thrown in the mix.)

Simulationist tabletop war games have all but disappeared as a hobby, largely because computers were so much better at accomplishing what the war games were trying to get at. (Notable exception: Warhammer.) Tabletop RPGs on the other hand have hung around; there are lots of things that you can do at the tabletop that computers still can't recreate. And there are some damn interesting games coming out now which throw away a lot of the stuff that computers are good at and focus on why it is that we're still playing tabletop rpgs in 2011. (Fiasco, Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World, Lacuna, Primetime Adventures, Polaris, etc, etc.) Many of these are radically different from D&D; a bunch don't have a game master, for example...

Ok, that's just some context that most of you probably already knew. but I'm done blathering because I forget what point I was going to make.

Oh yeah, probably that there really isn't any reason for a modern computer game to use the kinds of mechanics, other than familiarity for players, because they were short-hand stand in mechanics for simulations in the first place, and computers can do a much better job. I guess another reason to keep them is that these kinds of systems are simulationist systems that are understandable by humans; if you want your players thinking about how to best game the system, you need to present them with a system they can understand. Or some source code to read...

Classes in particular have always struck me as being sort of weird unless there's an in-game explanation for why I can't even pick up an item designed for another class.

With D&D, at least, the main 'you can't use this' restrictions are on non-magic users trying to use things like scrolls or wands, which (in-game) require some arcane knowledge to engage with. There certainly aren't restrictions on level that one must be to use various weapons found in the game. You find some loot and you start whacking things with it if it seems cooler than your last sword...

The first game I encountered with 'item levels' was a MUD. (Multi-User Dungeon, if you've never heard of one before; imagine WoW had an entirely text-based interface, and also it's 1998 and free, and you'll have a surprisingly accurate picture of what MUDs were.) On the MUD, these item levels provided an additional incentive to build up a high-level character, and character level created a weird kind of social hierarchy within game. High-level characters dealt in a whole different economy simply because they had access to better stuff and there was no reason to trade with the low-level characters. It was a very funny dynamic. And kinda sucked.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Item levels and requirements are usually found in MMORPGS and the point is generally to prevent high-level players from giving low-level players stuff drastically overpowered for their point in the game. There's no reason to put them in any other kind of game, and it's a bad idea for a number of reasons; as it was mentioned above, it's so obviously artificial that it kicks immersion right in the teeth, and it smooths out character progression to the point of being boring. Characters need to move in fits and starts - if you just slowly but consistently ooze forward it starts to feel like you're just a rat in a cage mashing the 'food' button until the completion of the experiment. Continuous smooth progress feels terribly artificial, and the player feels replaceable; if you move at the game's carefully measured pace, what good is your own personal skill?
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:34 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't played Dead Island, but other than some jankiness it's supposed to be quite fun. I guess if you don't like RPG mechanics it won't be your thing but it's not like it's the only zombie-killing game out there.

I just finished it, and that's a pretty accurate assessment in my opinion. Having played it back to back with Deus Ex: HR, I'm shocked to say I actually enjoyed Dead Island more. There are all kinds of little glitches and issues with Dead Island, but it's all a matter of polish, not "somebody has terrible game design instincts and didn't think this through."

I know how chainsaws and crowbars work in the real world. Muscle damage to the leg might slow down a zombie at best, a precise bone-breaking hit would make it unable to walk. Seeing a numbers pop up the first time I play would tell me if/how the game models that intuition -- maybe crowbars give better critical hits, maybe not.

Well-said. That's exactly why I didn't feel the RPG aspects hampered my immersion: the whole zombie survival genre is only half about walking dead; the other half is about the nitpicky neckbead elements, like whether you'd want a fire axe or a katana, and DI simulates precisely that.

It's tough to say the game shouldn't have "numbers" when numbers -- as in, how much stuff can I carry on my back in my trek north to somewhere the zombies will freeze? or, how many bullets would it take to dismember a lone walker? -- are such a part of the genre.

Why not have pop-up numbers as something you can switch off? I could see that as being useful as a tutorial to game physics/biology, a way of learning "that the machete in your hand can take its head off."

Indeed. DI actually does, in the Options menu.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:48 AM on September 19, 2011


The best urban definition of cromulent is: "(Adj.) Used to describe a dubious or made up word, term, or phrase that is entirely plausible because it makes logical sense within existing language conventions. "

It's a semi-ironic justification for a nonce term, with a sideways nod to both the absurdity of such terms as well as their inevitable takeover.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:50 AM on September 19, 2011


But for a lot of people, myself included, certain RPG mechanics have never made any gorram sense. Classes in particular have always struck me as being sort of weird unless there's an in-game explanation for why I can't even pick up an item designed for another class.

The problem here is that there's just too many kinds of experiences one can have with computer games (and role-playing games), and it's silly to expect every game to cater to everyone.

If the main thing you're looking for is an immerse experience, then numbers and classes and any sort of unrealistic "rules" are going to break your immersion. You should play something like Amnesia: The Dark Descent instead of Dead Island, one of the more free-form story-centric RPG's instead of Dungeons & Dragons.

But some people want to play games in which the balance and strategy involved in class restrictions and hit points and levels is the point of the game. The setting and "realism" are secondary to game mechanics.

It might be more "realistic" to knights in chess could move in a straight line, if bishops weren't forced to move sideways, and a game using chess pieces like that might be fun, but it wouldn't be chess, and there's lots of chess players who wouldn't be interested.
posted by straight at 10:57 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course there's nothing wrong with someone saying "I want more games like THIS and fewer games like THAT." But it would be nice to show some awareness that you're voting for your favorite thing rather than making some universal pronouncement about what is and isn't fun.
posted by straight at 11:03 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with levelling for the sake of levelling is that it's not game play. Getting a gun that gives you bigger numbers to kill monsters with bigger numbers is boring.

What's interesting about RPG progression is specialization, which gives you more options that are stronger in certain situations than others, which lets you make meaningful tactical choices. I don't know whether Dead Island does this or not, but it was definitely the case for Borderlands and Deus Ex that as you advanced the way you fought battles changed. It seems from skimming through Dead Island Let's Plays that you're basically just standing in place punching zombies throughout, and that nothing really changes.
posted by empath at 11:33 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


slimepuppy: I also wonder if the author had the same 'level up' complaints about Mass Effect.

Well, lots of people had problems with the gameplay of Mass Effect overall, so they changed it, and hugely improved it in the process. I started with ME2, and decided to pick up the first game... and after realizing just how clunky and needlessly elaborate the gameplay is, particularly the inventory system where you end up with half-a-dozen different weapons of each category with minor differences between each that are needlessly elaborated on (this shotgun was made by Weyland-Yutani whereas this one was made by Ono-Sendai, &c.) and you're going to just turn 90% of it into "omni-gel" anyway because you have zero choice about having to take the clumsy land rover through certain parts of the game and you're going to take a fuckload of damage to it which takes a fuckton of omni-gel to fix, I dialed the difficulty level all the way down, because I really just wanted to get through it for the backstory that all the characters in ME2 that were holdovers from the first game kept alluding to (and me without a "Yeah, um, sure, I remember the good old days! You bet! Good to see ya, whoops, the Normandy's calling, gotta scoot!" dialogue option).
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:44 AM on September 19, 2011


I don't know whether Dead Island does this or not, but it was definitely the case for Borderlands and Deus Ex that as you advanced the way you fought battles changed. It seems from skimming through Dead Island Let's Plays that you're basically just standing in place punching zombies throughout, and that nothing really changes.

It's tough for anything to compare to Deus Ex (even though by the end of DX, I had pretty much every viable upgrade; there wasn't much "choice" left to be made), but Dead Island outdoes Borderlands in that department, no problem:

Aside from each character's "Fury" skill (kind of like Action Skills in Borderlands), characters can also gain specific moves (curb-stops, tackles, and jump kicks) that genuinely change how you approach things; the animations of some of them also change as you level up, making them more viable (the initial curb stomp is slow, and likely to get you hit if you use it mid-fight; around level 25, out of nowhere, the animation unexpectedly changes, and becomes much faster). One of the characters is an alcoholic, so with the appropriate skills, can become something of a berzerker, if he swigs the booze you find; on the other hand, that's booze you don't have available to make into molotov cocktails. He's also a former football player, so if you take different skills, he can become much better at throwing weapons, and that becomes a viable strategy for him, which it wouldn't be for the other characters, generally. Guns showing up in Act II (about eight hours in) also change the game considerably (though ammo is limited, so I mostly used them for emergencies; I imagine the character who's a firearm specialist would use them much more often).

Having played all three games, I would say Borderlands is much closer to "just shooting guys with better guns" as the game progresses than Dead Island is "just hacking guys with better machetes."
posted by Amanojaku at 12:30 PM on September 19, 2011


Well, lots of people had problems with the gameplay of Mass Effect overall, so they changed it, and hugely improved it in the process. I started with ME2, and decided to pick up the first game... and after realizing just how clunky and needlessly elaborate the gameplay is

I don't know what platform you played it on, but on the 360, the back button was for grenades. Seriously. Let that sink in. At the same time, there was a dedicated butting to holstering/unholstering your firearm, which didn't do anything, and you automatically did the appropriate action with your weapon at the beginning/end of a fight anyway. That game is so kludgy, it's amazing. Bioware is a great RPG developer, but grafting on shooter/fighting/hack-n-slash mechanics is not their forte.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:35 PM on September 19, 2011


Item levels and requirements are usually found in MMORPGS and the point is generally to prevent high-level players from giving low-level players stuff drastically overpowered for their point in the game. There's no reason to put them in any other kind of game[...]

I'd go further than that, and say there's no reason to put them in MMORPGs. Or rather, the reason to put them, to give players that arbitrary sense of accomplishment and advancement, in is a bad one.

The problem stems from the fact that players want to feel like they're improving while they play, but the play systems (mostly combat) in MMORPGs is nowhere near complex enough to support players actually improving by much.

MMORPGs generally pretend to be action games, but really they're more turn-based with each turn of limited real-time duration. True real-time games offer lots of scope for player improvement, since humans can only process arbitrary events up to a certain speed, but with practice at a certain kind of event that speed increases greatly. The process of building that presence of mind is a large part of what makes it possible to improve so much at hardcore action games like Robotron. But that similarity to that in games like World of Warcraft is mostly illusory; the nature of the internet makes twitch games difficult to host reliably, and it only gets harder when you add potentially hundreds players to the mix.

Turn-based games are a lot harder to design to a degree where true player skill rules over all. (Unless you're Andreas Seyfarth, that is.) MMORPGs make up for that by offering arbitrary, numerical improvement, in effect for simply spending time playing the game.
posted by JHarris at 12:51 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm going to be very irritated if this zombie fad peaks and nobody has made a proper zombie game yet: open world, survival situation (ie, scavenging for food and ammunition, barricading yourself in), multiplayer.

I think this would wind up being something like The Road meets Destert Bus, populated by the little bastards from CoD multiplayer, with extremely rare moments of pants-shitting terror.

Shopping Cart skill: level 4

Starvation Status: Severely Malnourished

Outfit: Filthy Rags (warmth- minimal, armor level- insufficient)

Weapon Equipped: Rusty Pipe (status: rust level 6)

Supplies: someone has stolen your dented tin of lima beans and your good spoon.

Would you like to download the Moth-eaten Sweater and New Foot Wrappings DLC package?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't like the article very much for reasons already articulated here: you can hate the marketing department for not selling a game very well, but it's another thing entirely to play a game and hate it for something it's not even intending to be. Apples and oranges, basically.

I do agree that gamification is an irritating aspect of modern gaming. My prime example is TF2, which I've forever lost interest in playing because of the item-shop that's been grafted on to it. Maybe it's just that I'm a cranky old man, but I grew up playing TFC, and enjoyed the relatively simple system of X class being good for Y task, and the interesting interplay that developed from that. Once you start adding in loot, the ability to buy skill, and all of the other strange shit manifesting itself from Gabe's WoW addiction, you lose the charm of emergent gameplay from an otherwise simple system.

I really liked Kabitsu's comment upthread, however, and I think it's interesting that he connects Rogue and D&D. Rogue takes the part that's, perhaps, least interesting about D&D (very specific numbers, class specialization, and an immense database of items, stats, monsters, and strategies) and makes it interesting by allowing a computer to do all of your dice rolling. There's almost no story in Rogue (or in Rogue-likes as a rule), but each choice, and the non-twitch strategic nature of gameplay, make the accountant-like number crunching extremely rewarding. In a roguelike every game is winnable, if you're able to apply your knowledge of the game in creative and clever ways.

Maybe the problem with these FPS games with tacked-on RPG elements (if there's a problem at all - enough people seem to like them quite a bit) is that they can't decide if they want to tell a cinematic story, or if they want to tell a player generated story. In Borderlands, for example, I often resented the fact that my character wasn't really customizable, the limited skill tree, and the mostly on-rails levels. It seemed that in many ways Borderlands was fun in the sense that I like increasing numbers in a database (I blame an early Diablo 2 addiction), but it wasn't really engaging. I remember feeling that the game was bland and dissatisfying and I only had enough energy to play through it once, since the game world offered nothing new after I'd run my first character through it. This is the same sort of fun-but-not-fun feeling that I had after finishing unmodded Oblivion, and later Fallout, which suffer from an entirely different set of flaws.

It's weird, because some of our deepest games (in terms of gameplay) are the simplest, and mostly throw story out the window, or allow players to create their own story. I really want to see a fully 3D game that gives you even half of the choices available in even the simplest roguelike, but unfortunately I don't think the market is in a place where this is even remotely possible.
posted by codacorolla at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2011


I really want to see a fully 3D game that gives you even half of the choices available in even the simplest roguelike
minecraft says hi.
posted by juv3nal at 2:47 PM on September 19, 2011


minecraft says hi.

I disagree. Minecraft isn't really a game in the way that there is no end-condition (ascension, for example). User-set goals, and things added by mods aside.

A roguelike has you constantly working towards an incredibly difficult (but ultimately achievable) goal. Minecraft is its own thing, and it's impressive, but I don't think it's really the same.

Minecraft is in constant beta, however, so maybe at some point it will become a game.
posted by codacorolla at 2:54 PM on September 19, 2011


I'd go further than that, and say there's no reason to put them in MMORPGs. Or rather, the reason to put them, to give players that arbitrary sense of accomplishment and advancement, in is a bad one.

That's one of Jonathan Blow's main criticisms of MMORPGs and why he thinks they're evil..
posted by empath at 2:56 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I was recovering from my broken leg, I thought a lot about how my exercises were essentially grinding to level.

If I knew how to make games, I'd make one out of that.

(And something I don't understand about weapon levels — outside of a very few exotic weapons, wouldn't you pretty much always be able to shoot the gun poorly and inaccurately at first, then pretty well by the end of your time using it? Not being able to use things is like not being able to take that step up out of the six-inch pit in old FPS games.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:06 PM on September 19, 2011


I knew there was some reason I liked that Jonathan Blow guy.

In a roguelike every game is winnable, if you're able to apply your knowledge of the game in creative and clever ways.

Actually I should make sure everyone knows -- this is not necessarily true. It is 99% true for Nethack, but I'm pretty sure not every game of Rogue is winnable. Too much of it relies on finding specific items, like a Ring of Slow Digestion, or good-enough equipment, and pretty much the only guaranteed items in the game, to my knowledge, are a food ration every other floor and the Amulet of Yendor on level 26. It is hard to make a hard game that's meaningfully random yet always fair and winnable. If it were easy, I think we'd see more of them.
posted by JHarris at 3:42 PM on September 19, 2011


>>I really want to see a fully 3D game that gives you even half of the choices available in even the simplest roguelike
minecraft says hi.


In fact I wouldn't say this, Minecraft doesn't really offer you all that many meaningful choices. They may be slowly edging in that direction, but it has nowhere near the gameplay depth of your standard roguelike. Minecraft is lots of fun for exploring and it's fun for building, but the survival gameplay isn't really all that difficult. Once you have a substantial base built, you basically never have to do another thing.
posted by JHarris at 3:45 PM on September 19, 2011


I haven't played it yet, but it sounds to me like Dead Island's biggest flaw is a lack of polish. I don't think a zombie survival/RPG mix is inherently flawed. Genre mashups aren't exactly the height of innovation, but I'll take that over another Call of Duty clone any day.

A couple people noted their disappointment with Dead Rising's structure. You might be interested in the upcoming Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, which will have a sandbox mode. No story missions or time limits.
posted by Sibrax at 3:47 PM on September 19, 2011


They may be slowly edging in that direction, but it has nowhere near the gameplay depth of your standard roguelike.

codacarolla's contention that minecraft is the type of game he meant aside, he was making the comparison with the simplest roguelike, not the standard roguelike. I don't know what the simplest roguelike would be, so maybe your point still stands, but just sayin'.
posted by juv3nal at 3:55 PM on September 19, 2011


"minecraft is the type of game" --> "minecraft isn't the type of game"
posted by juv3nal at 3:56 PM on September 19, 2011


I've been on the fence about getting this. It's like fifty bucks on Steam and will apparently run pretty well on my machine, but the reviews and playthroughs I've seen make it appear to be quite frustrating, and I hate games where you "level up" and everything else just levels up with you, because it's pointless. But then I'm thinking about all the genuises out there who mod games and put out third party patches and I think that if somebody was to do a bit of tweaking, this could be a pretty amazing game.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:14 PM on September 19, 2011


In fact I wouldn't say this, Minecraft doesn't really offer you all that many meaningful choices.

Some of the mods are pretty incredible, though. Minecraft is going to be one of those games that gets built on the for the next 10 years, I think more so once everyone realizes Notch doesn't have any more good ideas for it..
posted by empath at 4:55 PM on September 19, 2011


I disagree. Minecraft isn't really a game in the way that there is no end-condition (ascension, for example). User-set goals, and things added by mods aside.

I would argue that a set end-condition is in no way necessary for an activity to be considered a game. Certainly not true for most RPG's, computer or tabletop. In the computer games, you'll often have an end to a game, but you won't necessarily know what the end conditions are when you start playing.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:06 PM on September 19, 2011


I fucking love numbers in games. I love obsessing over my inventory, testing out different combinations of gear to maximise the benefits to me and the harm to others. I tingle at the thought of upgrading my Flimsy Thin Horse Leather Marching Sandals to Tattered Thick Unicorn Leather Jogging Boots, and knowing how to quantify each and every one of those adjectives.

But I like doing all that outside the game, by reading spoilery tables and source code. I like it better when all that sort of stuff is mostly hidden from me in the game, and needs to be worked out through trial and error. See, for example, sinks in Nethack, whose gurglings I can interpret to reveal the inner workings of magical rings. The internal attributes of things, and their effects on gameplay, need to be revealed through study, experimentation and observation, rather than by having a bunch of numbers pop up when I hover my mouse over them. Is this Uzi better than this Mac 10? I'm not sure - I'll have to try them both out for a while and see.

(BTW - where's the Kickstarter for the post-apocalyptic roguelike reincarnation of Wasteland?)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:07 PM on September 19, 2011


I'm not sure why EVERY game needs RPG elements. I've been playing Just Cause 2, and it would be perfectly fine without having to level up my weapons. Its an explosions and spy simulator! Why should I need to purchase upgrades?

Apparently the new Zelda game is going this route too.

I love the idea of Dead Rising, though the clown boss scared me too much for me to keep playing.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:37 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's a fine article on why he doesn't like this game. It's spoiled a bit by trying to turn this one game into a trend.

The SelectButton guys have been noticing this on more games, and even the tiny iPhone games have constant levels and missions and whatnot. To get back to Just Cause 2, every time I do something a bunch of bullshit numbers appear.

Meanwhile I just finished Gears of War and there's almost no fat, beyond Achievements.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:40 PM on September 19, 2011


Apparently the new Zelda game is going this route too.
Hasn't Zelda always had this? Heart containers, wooden sword->white sword->magic sword, etc. I mean you don't buy them, but you do upgrade.
posted by juv3nal at 5:40 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


...I have played enough lower-octane RPGs to know that there is some enjoyment to be had in customizing a character to mitigate video-game randomness. The part of me that enjoys this is also a part of me for which I have no real use.

What a sad, dehumanizingly efficient attitude to have about oneself. And what a crock. I was able to filter out a lot of this author's pretentiousness to get to the meat of his arguments (and he's right in some parts; the level requirements and item names are silly and DI just loves to take you out of the game immersion whenever it can) but this one just left me sad. I won't even get into his fourth footnote.


Its not a crock. A few years ago I decided I had no time for RPGS. I want immediate, tactile feedback in a game.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:41 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


If someone were to make Dead Rising without the tiresome missions, timer, and save system, it would be a great hit. Maybe this is what Read Dead Undead Nightmare is like--I just started RDR itself and haven't tried Undead nightmare (or whatever it's called).

Sorry for the quad-post, but having played both they're two completely different games. Dead Rising is a combination of a brawler with amazing weapons and a weird psuedo-Roguelike. Undead Nightmare is just RDR with zombies (and you should wait until you beat normal RDR before playing Undead).
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:45 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dead Rising did it right: technically speaking you did advance in levels, but only insofar as each of those advances unlocked a new feature or move (greater stamina, roundhouse kick, or a magical pocket for carrying more stuff in). But it also did it wrong, because these new moves and so forth appear to have been learned via osmosis, like you punch enough zombies in the face and suddenly you know how to rip their intestines out with your bare fist.

It was never a case of "oh I gotta level up so I can beat this high-level psychopath" because you could beat the game at level 1 if you were so inclined. It was "oh I gotta level up so I can unlock this badass move, which kills zombies moderately more efficiently than all my other moves, and when used in tandem with those other moves would increase the chances of me going into an encounter and only coming out having lost one bar of health, rather than two, because the coffee creamer stockpile is a long way off and it's nighttime and my inventory is full of magazines".

But then it wasn't strategic leveling because the unlocks were all sequential and predetermined. My point is you didn't have to be level 10 to get any particular place or fight any particular baddie or use any particular object, it just helped a lot.

So when shit like Dead Island tells you you can't pick up a broom because it's a level 5 broom and you're only level 4, well, that's just spectacularly shitty game design put in place to make you grind, because apparently grinding is rewarding these days. An Elder Scrolls system, where the more you use a broom the better you get at it, would be far more logical, but really nothing of the sort is necessary at all because everyone knows how to use a broom as a weapon, and even if you didn't, being surrounded by zombies who want to eat you would get you learning pretty quick.

Really what would have been even better is a sort of "panic" scale, where you start out shit scared and that's why you're ineffective, you'll only take on one or two zombies at a time, and only with the biggest bludgeoning instrument available, because the game mechanics have been designed cleverly enough and invisibly enough that if you run screaming and waving a busted-up old dildo at twenty zombies you're going to get torn to pieces, but after six or seven smaller encounters the mechanics shift and now you can get involved with bigger groups and you can carry less traditional weapons, and so on and so forth and as you advance you grow gradually more confident and so you are willing to wade into large encounters. You get less scared, perhaps a little more staminic...staminized...staminatastic!...and perhaps you meet a man in a hut who teaches you how to make a bitchin' weapon out of a baseball bat and nails, or shows you how to use a throwing shakira, but fucking blueprints hidden in crates and $130 rolls of tape? That is sheer, unadulterated laziness coupled with complete lack of imagination.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:18 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


oh lol Gears of War 3 is out today for $70 at JB Hi Fi, sif buy Dead Island.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:34 PM on September 19, 2011


So when shit like Dead Island tells you you can't pick up a broom because it's a level 5 broom and you're only level 4, well, that's just spectacularly shitty game design put in place to make you grind

It's worse than that. Dead Island also features the bane of good game design, level scaling. That means the zombies everywhere you go level up as you do! So you need to grind in order to pick up the level 5 broom... but then it doesn't matter because the zombies have just leveled with you! Hooray?
posted by Justinian at 8:55 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, my copy of Gears 3 will be arriving in the morning. It includes some sort of statue of Marcus Fenix looking pensive. I think I am going to die single.
posted by Justinian at 8:56 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody is ever alone with a cheap Marcus Fenix statue.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:58 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, my copy of Gears 3 will be arriving in the morning. It includes some sort of statue of Marcus Fenix looking pensive. I think I am going to die single.

I have nobody to bro-op Gears with. Will you be my Gears bro?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:29 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know you're asking Justinian but I just want to say up front that I will never again be paying more (Xbox Live subscription) for the privilege of playing 70% (the multiplayer component) of a game I've already paid for.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:35 PM on September 19, 2011


I know you're asking Justinian but I just want to say up front that I will never again be paying more (Xbox Live subscription) for the privilege of playing 70% (the multiplayer component) of a game I've already paid for.

I've just played through both Gears of War games for the first time. They're so mechanically tight that I'm happy just playing single-player. They're as sharp as the click of an Active Reload.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:10 PM on September 19, 2011


Justinian: It's worse than that. Dead Island also features the bane of good game design, level scaling. That means the zombies everywhere you go level up as you do! So you need to grind in order to pick up the level 5 broom... but then it doesn't matter because the zombies have just leveled with you! Hooray?

Oh god, I HATE level scaling. Why do you even put in a leveling system if you do this? Plus, it makes the most ridiculous gaming strategies not only viable but desirable - a low level game of Final Fantasy 8 (one of the first games to feature level scaling) is actually easier than a normal one. At high levels in Final Fantasy Tactics, the random encounters (which scale) could slaughter the end boss (which doesn't).

Yes, those are ancient games, but that's because I consider level scaling such a detriment it will literally cause me not to buy an otherwise good game. It's essentially the only reason I didn't play Oblivion.

What causes level scaling is a profound failure of imagination. Ok, so you have to have something for level 40 characters to fight. But the starting goblins lost their challenge 39 levels ago. What to do? Well, if you aren't a completely imagination-less corporate drone, you have them fight epic things, like archdemons or death knights or elder dragons or something. If you ARE, you make them fight level 40 goblins, thus completely negating any feeling of gain they accomplished by gaining all of those levels. NOTHING takes the feeling of improvement out of a game faster than realizing that after 80 hours of improving your character, a bandit can still kick your ass. It's worse than even a palette-swap, because you didn't even bother to change the monster's name.

Just don't do it, developers!

Also, don't fall for level scaling's evil cousin, random encounter scaling. It just doesn't make any sense when the random animals outside of Megaton could easily level the entire town and kill everyone inside. Just give different areas different monsters. It worked for decades, it'll work now, and unlike the current system it'll make actual sense. Or maybe make an in-story reason the monsters suddenly got harder. Sure, the Enclave being around in the late game makes sense, but where did all of the giant scorpions suddenly come from?

Here's the idea I suggest instead - when the player gets so good that random encounters don't pose a challenge in the area, maybe you don't meet them anymore? We don't need to be dogged with random encounters the entire time. When you are actually pushing forward, sure - but not when just wandering around in 'captured territory.'
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:24 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Generally agreed Mitrovarr, although level scaling and encounter scaling are really two facets of the same problem I think.

Earthbound solved the problem of dealing with encounters that you grossly outmatch long ago. WHACK: You win!

I've examined the circumstances that cause the instant You Win message in Earthbound, nothing serious like looking at the code just from observation mind you, and I think what the game actually does is simulate a round of combat behind the scenes, pretending that all the PCs chose Attack, and seeing if both all the enemies are defeated at the end of the round and the players took no damage. If that happens, it assumes the simulated battle was the real one, and just awards the player the victory. (This explains why you get instant wins more often against enemies you sneak up on.)
posted by JHarris at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


posted by Potomac Avenue : It's a semi-ironic justification for a nonce term
Wait, what now???
posted by fullerine at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2011


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