Technology Is A Distraction (And so are PR vids)

This showed up in my news feed and I watched it.

GameInformer - Dragon Age: Inquisition marks the legendary studio’s first foray into the next generation of gaming, and we gathered key figures from Bioware to talk about their vision for the next-generation of RPGs.

Unfortunately, both instances of “next generation” refer only to increased power and efficiency of hardware. One would imagine one of the terms refers to next generation consoles and the other refers to next generation games, but it doesn’t. There are two or three mentions of this “Oculus Rift” thing and one or two mentions of the Kinect, but that’s about it. And when I say mention, I mean “named” and not “how are they going to be used”. Yes, I know Kinect is about voice commands, and I can figure out Oculus Rift is some kind of VR goggle, that doesn’t tell me how they’re going to be used in an actual game.

The following aren’t exact quotes. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. All of them capture what they were saying. TLDR is at the bottom.

~1:00 - Up until now, a lot of RPG environments have been stage dressing. They’ve been there to help tell the story, but weren’t interactive. They were just paintings, just a backdrop.

Bioware is probably talking about its own RPGs. ME1 worlds, DA2 maps, these were really not inspiring things. There have been games which have been otherwise pretty bad in many aspects but very well designed to the point where whatevers in the foreground seems dwarfed by comparison. The indie game Swapper comes to mind: this it achieved mainly through its lighting effects and its music. Remember Me is another. It had no wide open world or anything of the sort, but seemingly because it was so scaled down, every meter of game space was gorgeous and involving. Paintings and backdrops are important. A city intersection which is four blank 10-foot high brick corners is entirely different from a city intersection which has a plaza with open restaurants and people walking in every direction. Could I interact with Remember Me’s environment? Minimally. In a sense they’re as un-interactive as the deserts of DA2. Interactivity wasn’t what made it feel amazing. It was the sense of scale of the buildings, the visual direction from its colors and the depth which the little messages and things NPCs said made me imagine. Stage dressing, maybe. But it’s possible to make really really good stage dressing. These are, for whatever reason, called “atmospheric” games. Red Letter Media says that these kinds of universes “feel lived in“.

From the games I’ve played, this is certainly not Bioware’s strength. The little info wiki thing they had for ME1 and 2 were really good, but that was it. They are doing themselves a disservice by refusing to learn other ways to engage the player.

You’re trying to tell a relatable story. There are ways in other media that just naturally make it feel real and human, and as gamers, we get used to a version of realistic […] relatability like hair can move

There’s so much BS in this video it just goes backwards and contradicts itself.  Everyone knows relatability has nothing strictly to do with how well shadows are rendered or how realistic hair or cloth is; this is just facetious on their part. In the West, what is the universally recognized best game of all time? It’s not Bioshock Infinite. It’s not Halo 3 or 4 or whatever blockbuster occurred last tuesday. It’s Ocarina of Time. Did they have better shadows? Did they have better hair physics? I say “contradicts itself” because immediately afterwards they answer a question about what games are unique in,

~2:30 - What do you guys think games can handle well (as opposed to other mediums)?

Answer: Player interaction. A movie’s going to end the same way […] whereas with a game, that is your choice.

First it’s interactivity, then it’s relatability in terms of simulated physics, then it’s back to interactivity again. And they switch between these infinitely, “infinitely” as in if this interview didn’t have an end they’d go on flipping between the two forever.

In my opinion the best story ever told was in a video game. I don’t think of it particularly as a video game, but it requires a computer and human input to proceed, regardless of how much of it is actually linear. >99% of my inputs in that “game” were simply “show the next line of text” and most of it was just lines read out to me, but every so often it’d have cutscenes or automated speed. It would not work as a book or as a movie.

Video games have a unique position and a variety of possible execution methods. Visual novels cannot be purely exported to books because voices, bgm, and timing are not executable in pure text form. And as minimal as “show the next line of text” may be, with the occasional choose-one-of-these-less-than-four-possible-options, these player inputs make certain story structures not possible in a movie.

Then again perhaps I’m putting too deep a response. This is the company that produced the Mass Effect 3 ending after all. Maybe this is just what highly fermented BS looks like.

[…] different in a movie, whereas in a movie you feel empathy for a pet dying, in a game you only feel empathy if you have interacted with them if you have a sense for them […] because you have personally made a decision […] gives you an emotional hook that you can’t get in other media

Which should theoretically make video games significantly better than other media. The visual novel format is a type of video game which is a mix between book and a movie, with a couple of actions and the next-line mechanic added. Some visual novels are closer to what more Westerners would recognize as video games. Some people are complaining these days that map design is too linear and stuff like Metal Gear Solid has so many cutscenes it might as well be called an “interactive movie”.

Like that’s a bad thing? I can understand in the sense that MGS is taking a genre change that you dislike, but in the scope of video games as a category when it’s competing not with FPS but Hollywood: that’s actually pretty cool. Game devs are getting too lazy and can’t design good mechanics? Perhaps. In the end what we are looking for in PVE is a good story, and there does exist a continuum between movies/books which are necessarily linear and videogames. You may not like it, but it’s another way to tell a story. Video games have this choice to employ multiple mechanisms. It is true that what makes it unique is that it has the interactivity part. But it can also do other things, and beat the originals at their own game. Case in point, I don’t watch movies or TV at all. Videogames are my TV/movies.

Stories in the end have to be linear in some way. There must be constraints, on both the mechanics and the narrative. Otherwise it’s just Gary’s Mod.

What’s not okay is saying one thing and then doing another – like Bioware. That was a really great ending to ME3 right? Saving the Rachni in ME1 meant nothing, whoever you helped in ME2 and ME3 meant nothing, because there’s still this one big fight at the end that’s just told to you that’s happening without any of our input in any way anyways. We sure got a great choice in deciding our fate eh?

I got attached to Tali for reasons completely irrelevant to the gung-ho important “decisions” I made about her. Her voice acting was good, the little motions she’d do were endearing, and I’d be able to talk with her. Never mind that there are only a few topics and some of them loop after a while, nevermind that it’s not like real life because the topics are preset. The fact that I made the input to choose to talk to that character was the “decision”. Everything after that was decently written and linear.

pushing boundaries (technical)

Mass Effect 3 looked like garbage compared to Mass Effect 2.

~5:30 something about Frostbite (engine) and about how technology gets things out of the way

Here they’re talking again about the hair and stuff about how stuff not looking realistic enough ruins immersion.

Makes me think they’ve never heard of reading books.

And of course, if books can do it, and movies have been doing it for maybe a century, video games should have no problem regardless of what stage of technology they’re at.

~7:40 new ways of controlling the game

This is important, but it’s glossed over by too many buzzwords. Control mechanisms determine the structure of the game: certain things must exist for certain other things to exist. The common criticism of today is that games are currently made for consoles, which, outside of the obvious technical disadvantage to the constantly-upgraded PC, has fewer buttons. If you have fewer buttons you have fewer possible commands. Halo attempted to bring RTS to consoles and it was a joke, and not in the funny-for-the-players sense. I’m not sure entirely that fewer buttons is the main source of the problem since I wasn’t a gamer before consoles gained popularity, but it’s clear to me that mouse and keyboard allows an entirely different set of things – more things – than the current controller does.

The largest difference is mouse versus stick. The fact that it feels different is significant: you can’t select anything with any precision on a controller. I am decent in FPS’s with a mouse, I am garbage when on a controller. I’m not the only one either. because this is the reason why Microsoft abandoned crossplatform connectivity between Xbox and PC. This is also why on newer games it’s standard to give players aim assist; i.e. whenever their reticule is in the general direction of the enemy then the game just does the rest of the work and moves the aim to their head or whatever. I’m not going to give a link for this one, google gave me too many results.

Imagine if most games were developed for the joystick. They’d look entirely different. Or the old arcade-style 8-direction stick with four or six buttons. Or the wheel. Certain structures and mechanics are allowed by these control mechanisms that are not creatable in games designed for other inputs, just like how videogames can tell certain kinds of stories that movies can’t, or have a severely hard time doing. Bioware mentions Oculus Rift. They don’t talk about how this new thing allows new things to appear in games. Or not even that, they don’t even explain what kind of inputs it has or outputs it has. If it’s such a big deal why don’t you at least tell me its structure so that maybe I can figure out what is potentially possible?

I shouldn’t be calling what they say buzzwords. They’re more like fluffwords. When I listen to Riot I get angry so “buzz” makes sense; when I listen to Bioware it feels like I have to get one of those really sour candies to prevent my brain from turning into mush and draining out my nostrils.

~9:00 We’re starved and excited for new things […] like with Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer

~9:45 I think you need to be pushing boundaries all the time […] We don’t like making things easy for ourselves

Perhaps I am being too harsh on them? It’s possible that “Bioware’s Vision For The Future Of RPGs” was not presented to these people as the name of the article they’d be in or the topic of their discussion. It’d certainly explain why all of this sounds like it’s in PR mode, whereas I opened this video because I was looking for the type of thing that I’ve been discussing. “The Future Of RPGs”. I mean, it could be that Bioware does know about it, and they’re being subtlely cocky by suggesting that 100% of all RPGs everywhere in the future will be made by Bioware. Who knows?

If they’re actually pushing boundaries, they’re pushing the wrong ones. Hair is nice but not a big deal. Tomb Raider is not very highly rated. Top 10 most helpful user reviews from metacritic has it at 2, 4, 9, 10, 8, 6, 5, 10, 3, 10.

Better hair isn’t going to solve your problems. The two ladies I currently have as banners for this blog are from the sexiest game I’ve ever played.

I don’t play it because good character models are all that game has.

~11:00: What is an RPG? Recently the definition has been spilling over to other games

Answer: It’s always evolving, we’ll look at what’s out there and put our own spin onto it.

Are they really there because they can design games? I think Mr. GameInformer Interviewer accidentally picked people out of the wrong department.

~13:00~14:45: Do you play your older games

Answer: Yes, we’d like to get back to the big broad and epic maps like those in Dragon Age

Most of DAO’s maps were too constrictive, some of them were fun but not because they were big. I’m not sure who these Bioware guys are talking to. It can’t be their fans because anyone who’s played DAO knows that these words are blatantly false. From ME1, ME2, and KOTOR, it’s fairly clear that map design has never been Bioware’s strength. Which explains DA2 and why they talk down current environments as just “stage dressing”.

~18:30: The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite: two-character format, no dialog wheel – how can new technology help RPGs present their stories in new ways?

Answer: New technology, less and less concern for the developer about what they can do.

First of all, Bioshock Infinite is not unforgettable. The only thing unforgettable about that game is probably Elizabeth’s face, and not her in-game face, I’m talking about the game’s cover’s Elizabeth’s face. The Last Of Us I haven’t seen anything about but I can’t imagine it’s groundbreaking in any design sense. It’s not even in a technical sense like Crysis 1. To put it in a simpler way: What exactly has technology done that “allows” a two-character format? That’s a story format that’s been around for long before either of these two games ever started concept phase. Is it dialog triggering at certain instances? Perhaps your sidekick does something for you at certain times in the game. Are these suddenly unlocked because some piece of technology now exists in 2013? If that’s the argument I’d like to see which piece of tech and how it does it. Please also explain how this couldn’t have been done sooner by sacrificing graphical fidelity or space on the disc to superfluous music, and why the total product can only now create an amazing story. I’ll return the favor by explaining how the steering wheel allows for non-cartoonish racing games.

“Less concern” is simply wrong. Games aren’t made or not  made because oh gosh I have to make simpler hair because the current game engine can’t make it more complicated. Things are designed with concepts in mind first (in engineering or project management it’s listing out the items on a spreadsheet, in programming it’s object-oriented languages) and expanded from there. “Hair” and “Lighting” are stupidly irrelevant. WoW didn’t make it because its characters look good, and lighting didn’t stop the genesis of Pong or Mario. Shooters and brawlers have existed long before any of the realistic standard physics engines game into existence; the existence of technology neither disabled nor enabled them.

“Less to worry about” because you can “do more” is also just blatantly false from a simple look at life.

Do you worry less as an adult or as a kid? No points for getting the correct answer.

~27:00 People will notice things you will have never realized, when you are making something you don’t know how people will see it for the first time

There’s a reason why interviews are done with Bioware and not some indie company or some nobody critic like me. It’s because, supposedly, i.e. this is the reason the interviewers tell themselves, a company like Bioware has been around for many years and they have experience.

So what do they tell us? They tell us they don’t know anything until they go to a convention and meet the fans. They tell us “everyone makes mistakes”. As if the ending to ME3 wasn’t some sort of fundamental mistake, or they couldn’t have figured out that shooting in ME2 was uninspired or the “open world” maps before going into the same little dungeon “prefab” in ME1 was boring. Or, I almost forgot because I saw this one coming and didn’t buy the game, that DA2’s maps weren’t unacceptable.

Games aren’t going to get better if we let devs spew and sell BS, folks. They also aren’t going to get better if large sites like GameInformer get to call 20 minutes of PR “a legendary studio”‘s visions for the future of all RPGs. “GameInformer”. Information about games, right? Here’s everything that happened in the video summarized in one line:

Bioware’s Vision: We’re Looking Forward To Talking About Looking Forward Again

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