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Welcome Back to the West
By oneshotstop
Posted on 08/01/16
The only thing that stops the dust is the rain. It’s a sweet reprieve, but there is no middle ground. The land is either as dry as the Betty Ford clinic, or as wet as the ocean floor. Everything can be seen from the ridge overlooking Armadillo as John Marston gently bounces along atop...

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Fallout 4 Needs Revision, Not More Content
Posted on Monday, March 28 2016 @ 14:42:13 PST

    So Fallout 4's first DLC, Automatron, came out and it isn't worth ten dollars.  If you didn't get the season pass at the early low price and haven't shelled out fifty dollars for one, or were considering a standalone purchase I'll try to stop you right there and say don't do it.  It doesn't fix anything wrong with Fallout 4 and actually makes some of its problems even worse.  Not merely content to be not much unto itself, there's little sense in the DLC that the developer is attentive toward the kind of feedback they're getting.  Contrasted with New Vegas' four story DLCs, which greatly increase the scope of the game's narrative and add many extras while still feeling grounded in its core, or The Witcher 3's Hearts of Stone (which is available for the same price and has about ten times as much content, similarly grounded in and connected to the main game, and all of its content better than anything in Fallout 4) Automatron feels like a cheap cash grab.  Like many 'new' features in Fallout 4 it's actually one more thing culled from the pages of Nexus.  Mods for Fallout 3 and New Vegas did the same thing free and did it better.  It's very likely a Fallout 4 version of RobCo Certified (the mod which 'inspired' Automatron) would have come along following the release of the GECK next month which would have made the decision to purchase Automatron contingent entirely on whether or not the player was itching for 2 hours of fetch quests capped off with another possible source of 'infinite' radiant quests which are fetch/kill quests without even the slightest pretense that a human designer intervened in its creation.  That's precisely the flaw with Bethesda's 'modular' level design and its radiant quest systems.  They're an attempt to replace design with engineering and they fail every single time because the engineering simply isn't robust enough to fill the gap.  And now we turn to the rotten heart of Bethesda's game making philosophy.
    Fallout 4 is not merely a blatantly incomplete game.  It's worse than that.  It's an incomplete set of ideas for a game.  There's no basic sense of thematic or conceptual coherence which drove the game's design decisions.  Everything feels done in departmental isolation and to the standards of a committee made up disproportionately of marketing.  There's no 'individual' touch to nearly anything and those few things which show it tend to be largely self-contained.  Tacking any arbitrary additional content and engineering atop this without reconsidering the basis for which all of it is meant to sit together means that the brokenness in the broken mess that is Fallout 4's design means the mess will only get bigger; it will never get sorted.  There won't be a revision of the horribly broken and unbalanced perk system with the obviously slapped-together level gating to protect the game's fragile difficulty curve from collapsing within a couple hours of play.  There will never be a reconsideration of the player's fixed background nor a sincere attempt to go the opposite route as The Witcher 3 did and take advantage of that design decision to flesh things out in a meaningful way.  The only announced thing which promises some kind of improvement over what the game was at launch and still is to this day (a more stable but less interesting version of past Bethesda games with little in the way of substantial tie to its actual setting) is a forthcoming patch to overhaul Survival mode.  This will most likely turn Survival from a bad joke to a second-rate Hardcore mode but at least it addresses some of the game's actual flaws and Bethesda's doing that without charging people for it.  Wasteland Workshop is more ideas ripped from the pages of Nexus so I'll not waste time discussing it in detail.
    Far Harbor looks to be another attempt at Shivering Isles, Bloodmoon, Dragonborn, and Point Lookout.  A pricey DLC ($25, more than the price of any previous DLC and the same price as The Witcher 3's expansion pass, one part of which is slated to contain as much content as The Witcher 2) which adds a new area (it's even been compared to Shivering Isles, with Bethesda boasting that Far Harbor is bigger) that doesn't physically or conceptually connect to the main game in any meaningful way, doesn't really address the design flaws of the core game, doesn't interact with the other DLCs in any way and is just another big pile of content completely self-contained.
    Fallout 4 doesn't need Shivering Isles.  Fallout 4 needs to take inspiration from something a little older.  It needs its version of Gothic 2's Night of the Raven expansion.  Night of the Raven was something special.  It didn't just add a whole new set of quests pertaining to the titular character Raven.  It also brought with it a massive overhaul of the game's mechanics in line with fan complaints about the game being too easy and applied the changes to the entire game world rather than just the new content.  More difficulty isn't the issue here, certainly not as Bethesda defines difficulty.  What it needs is a more robust, thoroughly planned out and carefully balanced approach to the perk system, leveling, the integration of settlements, the behavior of equipment, and a restoration of the possibility of specializing a build early on to gain a leg up on the combat system.  I suppose what it needs is Night of the Raven on steroids.
    Taking exclusive choices and objective limitations away from players really robbed them of reasons to replay or even think carefully.  But maybe that was the point?  Maybe the player is, in the end, supposed to never reroll or rethink how they've built their character, never supposed to reconsider any decisions because it would interrupt the shallow power fantasy their perceived optimal yield target demographic apparently wants.  There's no bad ending because there's no good ending and that because all choices are equally meaningless.  If that's the case then they really do need to take a long hard look at Gothic.  It's inaccessible, glitchy, it has a terrible UI and controls with a learning curve comfortably parked on an 85 degree slope.  But for all that it's satisfying.  Getting to the first encampment without dying is more satisfying than anything in Fallout 4 and that's just the beginning.  It may seem odd to take such a dire stance on the matter but old-school posturing aside Fallout 4 is the first time Bethesda's not been able to get away with their degenerate design methods.  It sold well, yes, but it lost game of the year awards to The Witcher 3 left and right despite being fresh in judges' minds just before the evaluation period came around while The Witcher 3 was over half a year old.  Meanwhile the honeymoon is over, the 'mods will fix it' mentality is no longer considered acceptable and Bethesda's clear trend towards ripping out elements rather than improving them is now in full force and it seems like they simply do not want to reconsider that stance.  Skyrim was a warning of what would happen if Bethesda didn't sort out its boneheaded design philosophy.  Fallout 4 may be the prologue to a downfall that is their just dessert if they don't learn from their mistakes.

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Regarding Doom's Box art poll
Posted on Friday, March 4 2016 @ 13:37:25 PST

So the Doom twitter account is running a poll for alternate sleeve design for the new Doom box.  You can find it here but you'll need a twitter account to vote.  I have a serious question about this.  WHY?!?!?

Not 'why is this poll being conducted?', it's a nice idea to offer fans a way to provide input on how to improve something they've voiced displeasure with...Nor is it, 'why isn't there an Option C, replace the original cover with both new pieces and win both ways?' even though that's a very good question.  No.  I want to know why, if Bethesda was sitting on both of these box designs, why did they settle on the most uninteresting and generic one of the lot?  What relationship so dysfunctional that it's a single missed couple's therapy session away from divorce papers getting served settled on the original?  Who thought this was a good idea?

I mean, seriously...who in their right mind says this:


Is superior to this:


Which harkens back to the box art of Doom 3 and has a soul of its own, let alone this:


Which is one scantily clad woman clinging to Doom guy's leg away from being a Frank Frazetta painting?  Seriously, who says that?  What medication are they on and is there anything being done to better control the dosage?

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On Translation and Consumer Rights
Posted on Saturday, February 27 2016 @ 07:49:19 PST

Translation is inherently dicey.  In the 13th century Dante Alighieri warned against even trying to translate his Commedia out of its native Italian because it was impossible to reproduce the original meter and rhyme scheme.  As I sit here I have physical proof of that - a translation by another luminous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, cannot reconstruct either one properly so it aims for the spirit rather than the letter of the original.  In other fields, such as philosophy, translation is even dicier yet, especially with more ancient works such as the collected works of Aristotle and Plato or even more recently the writing of Thomas Aquinas.  Aquinas, as well, wrote in a time when such a thing as a 'common reader' was known and could be assumed to be holding the book, providing helpful context to both reader and writer.

What concerns our attention today is neither the difficulty of archaic language, the exactitude of poetry, nor the difficulty of abstruse technical literature.  We're dealing with a translation and presentation which simply didn't care to even try to be faithful to the original work or represent it well.  This is not the creative porting of Ted Woolsey, who was constrained by various limitations when working on early Nintendo games and had to get around them by taking a bit of editorial license.  Woolsey's contributions sometimes improved the scripts to such an extent that they're still reproduced today.  Look no further than Tellah's line from Final Fantasy IV, "You Spoony Bard!" which features in pretty much every translation of the game's script even though it's not in the Japanese original.  What we're looking at is Treehouse, Nintendo of America's in-house translation department, and one justified reaction to the backlash surrounding their increasingly questionable work.

The spark, of course, was Fire Emblem: Fates, where whole conversations are simply dropped, characters are effectively rewritten, features were cut, and it was clear the localization department did a lot more than 'localize' - they appointed themselves editor of the game's content.

Jeff Gerstmann, of Kane & Lynch fame, made a rather flippant comment which attracted some justified hostility.  Twitter is, after all, a lousy medium for nuance.  After the storm came a follow-up post on his personal blog at some more length on the subject of bad translation.  While the reaction to his initial statement was justified - Treehouse should be doing their job, Japanese is an especially difficult language to learn, much like hardliners in the Linux community refuse to understand that most users simply don't want to develop that mastery because the opportunity costs are too high, etc. - his longer post allows for some nuance and consideration.  I'd like to hone in on two specific points.  He suggests finding a way to hurt Nintendo in its wallet.  If reaction to the quality of their work is poor enough that it starts losing them money you can bet at the very least reprimands, restaffing, and new guidelines will be forthcoming in the wake of that.  It would take a long time but if there's no other way to convince NoA that their translators are doing a poor job then that's that.  It has to be done by those passionate about the issue or at least with their direct support.

There is one statement to which I must take severe exception:

"Money talks. Hunting down individual Nintendo employees on social media doesn’t."

I'd love it if this were true but it's not.  This kind of targeted hounding can force direct responses faster than letter writing campaigns, boycotts, seeking out alternatives or even conventional protest.  I'm not saying it's right.  I'm just saying it works.  There's a reason the phrase 'social justice warrior' is a thing and it means something ordinary people understand.  It's been a useful method for activists whose enthusiasm makes up for their lack of common decency.  To act like they haven't gotten some of the things they've wanted, particularly a narcissistic high derived from a feeling of unwarranted power by making perceived important people grovel and beg forgiveness from them for transgressions they define, is to close one's eyes to recent history.

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A Couple News Items
Posted on Thursday, February 18 2016 @ 09:36:32 PST

As reported yesterday by GamesIndustry.biz, Warren Spector has left his academic post to join OtherSide Entertainment full time to work on Underworld Ascendant and System Shock 3.  As mentioned in previous coverage of OtherSide and System Shock ...   read more...

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Bethesda Announces DLC Release Plans
Posted on Tuesday, February 16 2016 @ 09:58:32 PST

Fallout 4 came out 3 months ago with no definite word on when DLC would be coming along, making the season pass rather like buying a pig in a bag.  As of today, February 16, the wall of silence has dropped and three planned DLCs have been announ...   read more...

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Reviewing a Bad Editorial
Posted on Friday, February 12 2016 @ 15:27:51 PST

One thing which continues to mystify me to this day is editorialists, ostensibly knowledgeable about video games and gamer culture, going to bat for Ninja Theory's ill-fated reboot of Devil May Cry.  It's not just that they're openly...   read more...

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October 18, 2005: The Day the Guns Went Quiet
Posted on Tuesday, February 9 2016 @ 19:33:45 PST

    The first person shooter genre has been in commercial and artistic near-freefall for a decade.  They were always a niche genre, even if they tended to draw disproportionate publicity, but now the number of actual releases per ...   read more...

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What Fallout 4 Got Right, and Wrong
Posted on Saturday, January 23 2016 @ 19:39:27 PST

Introduction
Fallout 4 is a mixed bag.  If I were reviewing it I would give it a C, perhaps a C+, and move on.  I never ran out of interest in either a Bethesda title or a Fallout game as quickly as I did Fallout 4 even when Fall...   read more...

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System Shock 3 Teased
Posted on Tuesday, December 8 2015 @ 09:33:19 PST

Otherside Entertainment, a studio currently working on a crowdfunded revival of the Ultima Underworld series, has teased System Shock 3.

http://www.othersidetease.com/strawberry.php

Sounds of cherub choirs singing Handel...   read more...

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Tim Cain Discussing the First Fallout
Posted on Monday, October 26 2015 @ 11:36:43 PST

At GDC 2012 Tim Cain, who played what is inarguably the single most important role in seeing Fallout into existence, gave a lengthy talk about the game's inception and development, followed by a Q&A session.  Watch it here.

...   read more...

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