Skyrim made me want to murder.
I’m usually a kind video game player. I choose non-lethal options when available, act morally, and generally roleplay as a responsible (if sometimes abrupt) character when given the option. The character I played in Skyrim was an ambitious but magnanimous barbarian-mage, seeking the power to rule and protect. I didn’t seek to kill anyone unprovoked… until I met Maven Black-Briar.
Maven is the rich de-facto ruler of the city of Riften. She is rude, cruel, and entitled. In a world of racist Vikings and execution-happy Imperials, she stands out to me as the most loathsome humanoid character. Sure, there are strange avian hags that eat people and vampiric assassins, but she is just a brewery owner who’s happy to kill and torture and extort for personal wealth and power. She mirrors her city, a place that represents corruption and villainy, and in doing so says a lot about Skyrim‘s attitude toward morality.
She’s also immortal.
Continue reading Theft, Murder, and Morals in Skyrim
My wife and I have been playing Fallout 3 in parallel recently. We’d each played for a while a year or so ago, but each stopped for one reason or another. I’ve finished the main story, including the DLC that extends the game a bit further. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a really well-designed game in many respects. Unfortunately, the story and world-building is pretty lacking. Let me tell you how I would have done Fallout 3.
Some backstory on the universe. The bombs fell in 2077, in a world themed around the paleofuture of the 1950s. The original Fallout starts in 2161, 84 years after the War. At this point, the US Southwest is in ruins with most people living in fortified farming, trading, or raiding communities. Fallout 2 takes place in 2241. Most settlements in the US Southwest have been rebuilt from a combination of scraps and new materials. There’s a shiny place called Vault City with trees and clean buildings, a democratic republic in California, and two different organizations with advanced technology.
What Bethesda Did
Fallout 3 takes place across the country in the ruins of Washington, DC in 2277. 200 years after the bombs fell, many DC buildings are still standing. People live in filthy, makeshift towns made entirely of ruins and rusty scrap with litter on the floors of their houses. There are no farms in the game. The only sources of food seem to be some cave fungus, a single experimental hydroponics lab, mutant animal meat, and whatever gets scavenged from the ruins. And yet the ruins are simply full of food. Mashed potatoes, snack cakes, and canned meat sit on shelves and are no more irradiated than the water people drink.
This is hard to believe.
Continue reading How Fallout 3 Should Have Been
Many game designers are so enamored with their game that they neglect the player.
I’ve been sick for the past week or two, so I’ve been getting very little done and pursuing rather escapist past-times. One of the unhealthier things I’ve done is play a lot of Bethesda Game Studios’ Oblivion. A whole lot of it. Steam says I’ve put in 39.3 hours, and I’ve only been playing for four or five days.
It’s an escapist game that appeals to my urges for exploration, completion, and optimization, even if I feel the need to patch the hell out of it. I’ve got 39 mods installed for it, all graphical upgrades, bug fixes, or interface tweaks. People no longer look like corpses and most of the bugs are fixed, making the game quite playable.
As much as I clearly enjoy the game, it suffers from a fatal flaw: the developers sacrificed user experience in their pursuit of their game system. Oblivion has an elaborate, interesting setting and backstory, an impressively large and detailed world, and a complex set of mechanics. But it’s all a lot less fun than it should be.
Continue reading The Player in Oblivion