Tag Archives: bethesda

Ludus Novus 027: Imposition of Order Results in Escalation of Disorder

In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast: Prey 2017. The lie of a power fantasy is that power over others is something you deserve. Prey is a consequence fantasy: to take agency, you must incur risk. To escape a cage of lies, you have to open the door onto a world of new danger.

The Ludus Novus podcast is supported by my patrons. To help, please visit my Patreon.

The theme music is “A Foolish Game (Vox Harmony Adds)” by Snowflake, Admiral Bob, and Sackjo22, available on ccMixter under a ccby3.0 license.

Theft, Murder, and Morals in Skyrim

Maven Black-BriarSkyrim 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.

Maven1 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.

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  1. Despite sounding like a title, “Maven” is her first name.

Games Are Better Than Life

I’ve been sorting through my inbox lately in pursuit of the elusive zero. As I’ve done so I’ve come across some disheartening things: business opportunities I missed or let languish, messages from people who played my games whom I never responded to, and personal communications that (with hindsight) I would have handled differently or continued longer.

At the same time, I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed II (which I put off for a long time due to the awful DRM, now improved). Its sidequests have grown tedious, so I’ve been soldiering through the game just to complete the plot, despite the fact that the story would be a disappointment even if I got it in a 25-cent used-book-store paperback.

So much of my real-life time is taken up with things that don’t leave me with anything lasting, while things that are actually important have languished. What does it mean when I can focus on the important part of a game, but I let life’s sidequests distract me from the central plot?

It means that games are better than life.
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How Fallout 3 Should Have Been

A screenshot of a damaged house and surroundings from Fallout 3.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.
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The Player in Oblivion

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.
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