"Something of a niche interest, but it happens to be my niche"
January 7, 2020 9:06 PM   Subscribe

The Mane Quest is Alice Ruppert's website about horses in video games and video games about horses. "Are modern horse games really as cheap and bad as they look at a glance?" "Where are the horse girls who grew up to be game developers?" And can AAA games feature horses more prominently and realistically "without alienating the players who aren’t actually looking for horse realism, but only see horses in games as a slightly faster way to get somewhere?"

Come for horse game reviews that mostly range from "An Exercise in Mediocrity" to "Horse Fans Deserve Better." Stay for interviews with past and current horse game developers, plus analysis on the function of horses in video games and horse games that should exist.
posted by Lirp (43 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oooh, this is my jam. Great post.
posted by Fizz at 9:39 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I wish this was still the kind of thing the Internet was for.
posted by praemunire at 9:41 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


related, a recent rant from /r/Games

Horse Games Are Trash And I’m Pissed Off
posted by murphy slaw at 9:45 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


related, a recent rant from /r/Games

If I didn't know any better I'd feel like this was secretly written by one of the McElroys, considering their obsession with both video games and horses, but I don't think they'd fake their gender in the review.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:48 PM on January 7


My 9 year old loves Star Stable Online. It's like of like WoW for young girls. Since she is only 9, the (valid, really) complaints in the Mane Quest review don't really matter to her so much.
posted by sideshow at 10:28 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Not sure why they seem to ignore Red Dead Redemption 2, which has by far the best implementation of horses that I've ever seen.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:58 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


RDR2 is covered in this article. Also nice to see my favourite in-game horse, Agro, on the main page's banner image.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 12:30 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


Sadly my 7 year old loves watching people play Star Stable on Youtube.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:09 AM on January 8


I always thought it'd be nice, in those games where you have a horse, if treating your horse well and being attentive to its needs would lead to you bonding, but you couldn't just fast travel, abandon your horse, and whistle and have it instantly appear. If it liked you, it'd want to hang around and see what you were up to, or back off a little bit if it could see you were trying to do something dangerous. If it didn't like you, it'd try and run off or buck you. If you developed the relationship enough, it'd start pointing out things the horse might have noticed that you as a player didn't, like collectibles or shortcuts and the like (unlike real horses, but there's nothing like being helpful to make players empathise with video game characters).
posted by Merus at 2:18 AM on January 8 [8 favorites]


I always thought it'd be nice, in those games where you have a horse, if treating your horse well and being attentive to its needs would lead to you bonding

This is the case in RDR2, actually. Patting your horse and being attentive to its needs gets you horse-related perks and bonds the horse to you.

I'm another horsey person who loved the horses in RDR2, very realistic and I could ride around on them all day, lovely gait transitions too.
posted by biscotti at 2:36 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Red Dead 2 was so stingy on the horses though. You could only have four! Why can't I use my money to have more horse stables! It's all I really care about!

Also, they were so beautifully animated and you care for them and then when they die it is so devastating. I love horses and played it just for the horses but I wouldn't play that game again. I got burned too badly.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:48 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


This is so exciting—Alice Ruppert is a friend of mine, and I've watched her build up The Mane Quest from a casual idea to what it is now. Her dedication and informed interest is inspiring!
posted by daisyk at 4:22 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Also, they were so beautifully animated and you care for them and then when they die it is so devastating

They... they die? I'm only thirty hours in or so... you're telling me that my first and only horse (besides the ones I am forced to take for mission requirements) that I have cared for and nurtured and named Horsey... can die?

Is there some way of preventing this from happening?
posted by Molesome at 4:25 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


A Horse Riding Simulator could let the player control a rider’s limbs individually, giving input with right and legs and reins separately.

Bennett Foddy, make QWORSE immediately.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:57 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]


That horse in Shadow of the Colossus!

Although having shipped games with horses in them made me not like them very much.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 5:50 AM on January 8


Horsey... can die?

Is there some way of preventing this from happening?


Well, avoid trains. Trains seem to be the cause of a whole lot of accidents. And SPOILERS but... Maybe dont ride that horse on your last mission.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:02 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Bennett Foddy, make QWORSE immediately.

I would also accept QLIP-QLOP.
posted by zamboni at 6:02 AM on January 8 [15 favorites]


I love my horse Roach in The Witcher 3, though he does sometimes appear in the most odd of places.

Wasn't a huge fan of my horse in Skyrim. Didn't see the point, just paid for a taxi-ride by carriage and then used my magic skills to fast-travel everywhere afterwards.

My horse in Red Dead Redemption 2 is a trusted friend and I feel bad if I ever abandon her and I'm extra careful to make sure I'm not riding her while I'm committing my crimes (or at least I try, some mission-crimes require a horse). I just want to pet her and feed her apples.

Horses in video games are good, we should have better horse games. Like give me a Stardew Valley/Sims type of game where I can focus more on ranching and stables. I know there are mods and variations in gameplay that allow you to do this but someone needs to go ALL in on this type of horse-play.
posted by Fizz at 7:21 AM on January 8


One of the greatest jokes I've made was about horses. Friend was playing RDR2 for the first time, and was absolutely ecstatic. He was raving about the scenery, the hunting. Riding from one camp to the next, he remarks "the horse mechanics are so impressive". In jest, I say "Horse mechanics? They're called veterinarians."

Thank you, thank you. That'll be all.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:34 AM on January 8 [23 favorites]


named Horsey..
Twinkle Toes.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:41 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the horse-as-mount implementation in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It's pretty casual, but it was fun looking for a horse with coloring I liked and figuring out how to quietly approach it, tame it, bring it to a stable to make it mine. The horse animations were nice, and there was a bit of a game of bonding with the horse by feeding it, riding it, petting it. Unfortunately between the ability to fast travel and the fun of parachuting around I ended up not riding much. And while they had some horse-specific quests, etc it was a side game, not the main game.

I hate to say this explicitly but horses are a very gendered form of play among young American kids. It's girls who are stereotypically excited about horses and want the kinds of games described in these articles. I only bring it up because I fear that's exactly why horse games are less popular and so crappy; even in 2019 the mainstream gaming industry has a terrible habit of building products for boys, not girls. The non-traditional games markets like mobile and casual games are somewhat free of that, which is where all these horse petting games come from, but then those markets also tend to be tied up in microtransactions and generally shitty design.

Imagine something as big as Pokemon, but with horses.
posted by Nelson at 8:48 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


horseymon?
posted by some loser at 8:53 AM on January 8


> Wasn't a huge fan of my horse in Skyrim.

What are you talking about? Odaviing is Best Horse, and a Very Good Boy.

Arvak and Shadowmere were also Good Horses (if not, perhaps, conventionally attractive).

Even the regular horses in Skyrim can gallop up nearly vertical surfaces and will straight up murder anything that looks at you funny. This is not a standard of performance you see achieved in other, ostensibly more horse-centric, games.

Surely Oblivion deserves a mention here too, as the horse armor was an early pioneering work in bullshit, exploitative DLC ripoffs.
posted by sourcequench at 8:53 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Arvak and Shadowmere were also Good Horses

Slight correction: Shadowmere was the best horse. Immortal and ready and all-too-willing to fight your enemies. Every horse that is not Shadowmere is just ever so slightly disappointing, no matter how beautifully rendered.
posted by stillnocturnal at 8:58 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


Of course, I am talking about the Oblivion Shadowmere, I never played Skyrim so much due to life and apparently that one can die? Boooo.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:01 AM on January 8


TIL King of Dragon Pass has a successor out.
posted by PMdixon at 9:07 AM on January 8


> Of course, I am talking about the Oblivion Shadowmere, I never played Skyrim so much due to life and apparently that one can die? Boooo.

Don't worry; only temporarily. She (Shadowmere is canonically a mare) will respawn about 10 in-game days later. She also has massive health regen, so it's unlikely to come up.
posted by sourcequench at 9:34 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


I couldn't bring myself to ride my horse that much in BotW. I was always worried about it getting hurt in some battle, plus I was constantly fucking off to climb whatever nearby mountain looked interesting or chucking myself off of heights to paraglide, and even being out of sight of my poor horse felt like abandoning it. I tamed one horse, stabled it for nearly the entire game, and only ended up using it during the final boss fight.
posted by yasaman at 9:35 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Hi, I haven't logged into this site for literally YEARS but I dug out my password to talk about video game horses!

* The Sims 2: Pets expansion. You could breed and ride and train them, although the animations were always kind of plasticky.

* Dragon Age: Inquisition. Horses were implemented strictly as transport, you couldn't do anything but ride them (as far as I recall). Some pretty cool horses available, though, including a "bog unicorn" which was a skeletal zombie horse with a sword through its skull. The horse animations were also very nice and fluid. I remember just riding it around the desert for fun, doing a bit of video game dressage.

The fundamental problem with the DAI horse was you had to choose between riding your horse or hanging out with your party members. Sorry, bog unicorn, but Iron Bull and Varric are going to win that dilemma every time.

* RDR2 specifically Red Dead Online (I haven't played more than a few hours of the single-player campaign, but have - for unknown reasons - sunk 175+ hours into online).

The more time you play it the more you notice the little touches, like the breathing/friendly snort sounds which are so endearing. Or the way your horse will start grunting at a full gallop. The bonding level and the breed specifics dictate how much of a fright it takes before your horse loses its shit and bucks you off. Also, they either recently enhanced the sweat lather graphics/mechanics, or I just recently noticed them.

My bay frame overo criollo Valentine is best horse.

I am a grown-ass adult, and I would absolutely pay AAA-game prices for a truly good (or even halfway decent) horse game.
posted by ErikaB at 11:23 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]


(Sims 3, sorry. Not Sims 2.)

Also, here's a pic of Valentine
posted by ErikaB at 11:34 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


@Fizz

Roach in The Witcher 3 is a lady horse.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:23 PM on January 8


Look. Stallion testicles in Red Dead Redemption 2 react in size to hot and cold weather. I rest my case.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:24 PM on January 8


Bennett Foddy, make QWORSE immediately.

I would also accept QLIP-QLOP.


It falls to me to tell both of you that Bennett Foddy did indeed make an equine version of QWOP.

CLOP [Flash required]
posted by rpophessagr at 9:36 PM on January 8 [4 favorites]


The major issue I have with most horse riding in games is that horses are treated as an extension of the player, like an automobile. Horses have minds of their own and it shouldn't be possible to ride them off cliffs, for example. On the other hand it should be possible to ride a horse in a game and not have to constantly steer to follow a trail, or have the horse 'pick up the scent' of something familiar nearby and automatically quicken pace.
posted by um at 10:05 PM on January 8 [4 favorites]


I'd love to see what Ruppert thinks of Pocket Card Jockey (review). It might be my favorite-ever horse game, and it really needs to be ported to basically everything.
posted by asperity at 10:26 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


> rpophessagr: It falls to me to tell both of you that Bennett Foddy did indeed make an equine version of QWOP.

Heh, Now that you mention it, I even think a played it a bit back in the day.

> um: On the other hand it should be possible to ride a horse in a game and not have to constantly steer to follow a trail,

I believe it is in The Witcher 3 where if you begin riding when you are on a path, Roach will follow the path automatically.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:02 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


"something of a niche interest"
posted by drlith at 11:53 AM on January 9


@um @Rock Steady

Red Dead Redemption horses can be made to proceed on auopilot to way points, leaving you free to admire the scenery.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:22 PM on January 9


As another friend of Alice's, I'm so excited to have her work on Metafilter! As a game developer, I think she makes excellent points about how the dominant narrative of what videogames should be completely fails to satisfy what large number of people actually want. An embarassing failure of markets.
posted by Zarkonnen at 3:09 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


Horse cruise-control and horse-GPS in RDR2 or Witcher is just another example of horses-as-automobile.
posted by um at 9:21 PM on January 9


I've been made aware of Wild Horse's Valley, which seems to be a project of only two people. It's an interesting take on resource management games, and it gets around having the usual terrible animations by having beautiful static graphics instead. It's only sort of mildly compelling right now, but I think it could become something really good.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:14 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Horses in breath of the wild often follow a trail but if you come to a fork in the road they seem to choose the wrong fork every time and take a while to understand that they are now lost which is extremely close to my experience of all kinds of real life animals.
posted by fomhar at 5:22 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


Another web project that fills a very specific horsey niche is Hunt And Jump, which bills itself as the horse management game that uses scientifically accurate genetics to simulate real horse breeding!
posted by zamboni at 9:55 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


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