Steam’s Potato Sack Part 4

The penultimate post about Steam’s Potato sack sees yet another game I hate, one I quite like, and one that’s “Meh”. In this case, though, the “Hate” was “Meh” for a while, and the “Meh” is so close to being both a “Hate” and a “Like” that it’s almost in a category of its own.

The Wonderful End of the World
For a while, I was going to give this a “Meh” rather than a “Hate” but 1) I hated to break the pattern, and 2) Since I never actually enjoyed this game and was only going to give it a “Meh” because it was a little different, I decided to play it again and realised that what was different after one 5-minute play was already boring after a 10-minute play.

You start out each level as a tiny little…. thing. No idea what. It’s probably specified somewhere but I really can’t be bothered finding out. You gain size by eating things smaller than you, and because there’s a set of objects in just the right sizes you keep getting bigger and bigger until you’ve consumed the whole level. Now that might not sound enough even to justify a “Meh” but I did quite like the way in which the perspective shifts pixel by pixel until you realise that what was small is now tiny and what was big is now munchable. The trouble is that it’s so repetitive. On the second screen you find yourself in a maze filled with eatable pills and ghosts that will hurt you (make you smaller) until you get big enough to eat them. And the walls. Yes – you’re playing first-person Pac-man. Now I’m just about old enough to remember Pac-man the first time around. I wasn’t old enough to go to arcades and play it for real, but I had a Mini-Munchman during my primary school’s craze for them (this would be… 1981ish [and BTW – Wikipedia is dead wrong: the ultimate achievement was to get HHH with six lives without completing a level, but I can’t add that as it would be original research]) and I really have no desire to go back to it now.

It’s worth pointing out that this makes a perfect 3/3 on “Hate” for Dejobaan games. I’m sure they don’t care, but I certainly won’t be thinking buying anything from them in the future.

BIT.TRIP BEAT
I live in a small flat. Very small. But I appreciate it a lot more after having played this game because the bathroom has a great feature. When you turn off the hall light, close the bathroom door, and turn off the light in there too, it’s dark. Perfectly dark. Pitch black. There’s not a single photon by which to see. I discovered this phenomenon a little while ago by accident, but I’m incredibly grateful my house has such a feature because I needed it after playing this game.

Last time’s “Like” was Audiosurf, a game that starts with one of those “Flashing lights can be dangerous” warnings that are always so annoying (unless, presumably, you suffer from epilepsy, when they’re probably quite useful). I don’t suffer from that particular condition, but I came damn close to a seizure while playing this baby. On my first playthrough, the relentless flashing lights got the better of me after about 10 minutes, and I had to quit and head to the afore-mentioned bathroom to stand in total darkness for a short time before my head cleared.

At first glance, BTB is a Pong game missing a paddle. Blocky balls come from the right of the screen and you use your blocky bat to hit them back. In the background, things start to explode, fire lasers, flash and do anything they can to put you off. Eventually, you’re trying to return balls that fly through elegant parabolas, in groups, with changing speeds whilst doing it all through a fog of pixels caused by the various explosions going off in the background. If you miss enough hits, the same level continues but in black and white form and without the music. In other words, the sensory overload is part of the whole deal. It’s intended. If you miss too many balls while in BW mode, the game is over.

As well as just hitting back a ball when you hit it, you play a note in an 8-bit style tune that goes on throughout the game. This is a brilliant feature, and the way in which incoming projectiles are scheduled to hit particular beats is genius.

Scoring is the ultimate bitch. When you hit your first ball back, you get a point. Your second gets you two; your third, three. You can probably tell where this is going. By the time you hit your 250th consecutive projectile back, you’re getting 250 points per hit… which is roughly where I stop being able to do it. As soon as you miss one ball, it’s back to 1… 2… 3… so obviously the big scores come by never missing a hit. I completed the first set of levels with a score of around 77000. The leaderboard showed that two people had got scores of ~68000000 – that’s getting on for one hundred times higher than me. In other words, I suck.

You might have noticed that this is longer than any of the other reviews so far, and it’s because – as I said from the start – I’m not trying to give you a full review, I’m just trying to write down my thoughts, so let’s do that now. If I was playing this 20-25 years ago, I’d probably be awesome at it. One’s reactions slow down with age, and a predilection for neat whisky doesn’t help. This is a game at which I know I will never be any good. The constant flashing is enough to drive me to a darkened room. The graphics consist of big blocks of pixels. I hate this game. Every time I quit, I do it in a feeling of high dudgeon. On the other hand… I keep coming back. The music isn’t brilliant in itself but the way in which the blocks you hit influence the tune is damnably clever. It’s… fun! And why else do we play games?

Defense Grid: The Awakening
I’ve saved the best until last. This is the game that wins the rpeh “Nobody Cares What I Think” award for best game in the potato sack. The concept is fairly simple. There are MacGuffins called Energy Cores. Most of the time you need to stop some bunch of aliens stealing them but occasionally you have to steal them from the aliens. To achieve this, you build towers. These towers hurt the aliens in some way, and when hurt enough the aliens die, dropping any cores they hold. These towers start with simple guns that fire bullets, go through “Inferno” towers that are big flame-throwers, lasers that fire… lasers, to advanced things like “Temporal” towers, which cause enemies to slow down, and “Meterors” that hurl huge balls of energy at the invaders.

There are several catches. First, towers can only be build in certain places. Next, they only have a certain range – that varies from tower to tower – so you need to work out your killing zones. A gun tower only costs 100 “resources” but a laser costs 200, so you need to judge when to buy the expensive towers. Towers can be upgraded, so you also need to judge when one cool tower is better than two new towers. Later levels let you upgrade twice, but the cost is huge.

As you progress, you get enemies that can fly, and are immune to certain weapons; enemies that have shields, and are immune to “heat” weapons like lasers until those shields are gone; and huge powerful enemies that just take a huge amount of hittin’ to kill.

Early levels are easy to complete, but there’s a medal system that means you have to save a certain number of cores and get a particular score to really win. For instance, though I completed it on my first go – and it’s almost impossible to fail – it took me seven goes to get a gold medal on the very first level

So far my one complaint is that the difficulty curve isn’t quite right. I was doing pretty well until I hit a level (fairly early on – I’m really not very good at computer games!) where almost every square let me build a tower. I got my pasty white ass kicked all over the map.

You can learn from your mistakes, though, and there’s a “checkpoint” feature that even lets you rewind within a level, so you can play around a bit with your strategy.

I suppose you can argue that this is another case of me liking the logic games, because when you only have a small number of options, it boils down to a set of choices that can be determined through fairly logical choices. There’s much more to it than that, though. Definitely my favourite game. In fact, I feel an urge to play it again.

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Steam’s Potato Sack Part 3

Part three of my trip into Steam’s Potato Sack sees the same formula as the last two. Three games; one I hate, one I like and one that comes in the middle.

Killing Floor
I suppose this might actually be quite a good game, but I hate it. The trouble is that you need to play it with friends and I don’t have any that play this game. You can go on the Internet to find people willing to play with you but I’ve done this kind of thing before, going right back to playing Quake over a 28.8kbps modem back in roughly 1997. You can find people it’s worth playing with, but it’s much more likely you’re going to run into a bunch of idiots instead. I tried to play it on my own and was overwhelmed after about two minutes, and quit. Sorry, but games need to have a decent single player mode so that misanthropists like me can enjoy them. This doesn’t so it goes on my hate list. Tough.

Super Meat Boy
I almost put this game in the “Hate” category, but it’s got just about enough going for it that I put it in “Meh” instead. The story is that you’re Meat Boy and someone called Dr Fetus has captured your girlfriend, Bandage Girl. You have to guide Meat Boy through a series of levels and rescue her. It’s a platformer, and I’m not a huge fan, but there’s quite a lot of skill involved, so it’s more than a simple Mario game where jumping around at random will usually get you quite a long way. If you’re interested in platform games, the Wikipedia article will tell you more. Apparently the game has a rating of over 90% on MetaCritic, so there must be plenty of people who like this kind of thing, but I’m not really one of them. The music’s good though.

Audiosurf
To be honest, this is a pretty dull game with a really good twist, but the twist makes it brilliant. The idea is that you are moving along a road that twists and turns, and bounces up and down, and you have to pick up different coloured blocks to form groups of colour that then count for points. The fun part is that the shape, incline, and length of the road, as well as the location of the blocks, is determined by a music track that you give the game. If you play some kind of thrash metal in the background you’re going to be in for a pretty busy journey, while playing Clannad is likely to produce a largely empty one. When I gave it Yes’ version of Simon and Garfunkel’s America, the road bounced up and down like it was full of potholes. As one final twist, you get to see who else has played on certain tracks, and it’s interesting to see that there are obviously a load of old rockers like me out there because even Yes and King Crimson tracks had been played before. So the idea is really basic, but I can see it being quite fun to play at parties, and it’s a good excuse to bring out some old tracks from the ol’ MP3 collection and hit the road. This is one of the few games in this set I can see myself playing again and again, so it’s got to get a “Like” rating, hasn’t it?

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On Skyrim V: Stronger Together

One of the features of The Elder Scrolls from Daggerfall onwards has been Factions; organisations that you can (often) join, each with an associated set of quests, and a hierarchy of ranks through which you can progress. Fighters, Mages and Thieves all have guilds; Daggerfall and Oblivion allowed you to join the shadowy Dark Brotherhood while Morrowind featured the slightly more honourable Morag Tong; Daggerfall had Knight orders and Temples of the Eight Divines; Morrowind had the Great Houses of Vvardenfell; Oblivion had several small factions such as the Order of Virtuous Blood and the Knights of the White Stallion.

What can we expect in TESV: Skyrim? Todd Howard seems to have confirmed that the Dark Brotherhood is back, but there’s no word on the others. Presumably we’ll see the Fighters Guild again. It would be a real shame to have stopped the Camonna Tong taking it over in Morrowind and the Blackwood Company driving it out of business in Oblivion only for it to gently fizzle out during the next two centuries. I imagine we’ll see the Thieves Guild again. The increase in visibility and prosperity brought about by the ending of Nocturnal’s curse should help keep it going, and its only serious rival, the Camonna Tong, is almost exclusively a Morrowind operation, although we did see a couple of its operatives in Cyrodiil so you never know…

The Mages Guild, of course, is a different matter. We know from The Infernal City that the guild is no more, and has split into the “Synod” and the “College of Whispers”. Of course, Skyrim is set over 150 years after TIC, so the guild might have reformed, but either way I hope we’ll learn more about the split and the reasons for it. It seems likely to me that necromancy was the cause, and “College of Whispers” has a more necromantic sound to it, so my guess is that’s where the necromancers went with the Synod being the anti-necromancy faction. We shall see.

The problem I’ve always had with the factions is that, apart from giving you some extra quests, a free bed, and a quantity of free goods… there’s not much to them. The members hang around their guild halls or hideouts complaining about the lack of work, or how there’s no time for research but don’t do anything else. Why can’t I bring along another Fighters Guild member on a quest? Yes I’ll have to split the fee, but so be it.

In the Mages Guild people were always reading books, mixing potions and so on but never learned anything new. How about letting them teach players new skills? Not just the sort of ability training we had in MW and OB, but – for instance – why not make it a requirement to talk to a guild alchemist when you level up to learn about the new properties that are available with plants? It doesn’t really make much sense when you hit 75 alchemy you suddenly know ”all” the properties, having had no idea about the fourth property mere moments ago.

For the Thieves, let me hire one to steal something for me. Or to open a door I can’t unlock yet. Or sneak up and pick somebody’s pocket.

The other problem is that you can gain ranks too quickly. In about two weeks, you can go from a prison ship/prison cell to champion of the Fighters Guild, Arch-mage of the Mages Guild and head honcho of the Thieves. I know you can’t really slow this down too much because it’ll be annoying, but how about introducing rough timing rules like you can’t become Arch-mage in less than two months? On a related subject, gossip and rumours shouldn’t spread instantly: you can complete a quest in Cheydinhal, run faster than any other living entity straight to Anvil, and find people there talking about it like it’s old news.

Anyway, back on topic.

I can’t really begin to speculate as to what the faction quest lines will be about – or even if there will be an overarching quest line for each guild. The reunification of the Mages Guild is one idea that springs to mind, or a huge battle between the two successor factions, perhaps. It’s difficult to see anything more engaging than the Dark Brotherhood story from OB – the secret internal traitor idea was perfect for that faction. Perhaps this is the time for the showdown between them and the Morag Tong?

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Steam’s Potato Sack Part 2

Time for the next set of three games from the Potato Sack. See here for part one if you missed it. It’s worth saying that I’m not trying to write proper reviews: I’m writing down my initial feelings after playing the game for a few minutes (or as long as I can stand it, in one or two cases). Last time I picked a game I hated, one I liked, and one somewhere in the middle so let’s try that again.

1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby)
Yes, that’s the game’s name – and a more stupid name for a game I have never heard. Like last time’s “AaAaAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity”, this one is by Dejobaan games, and I hate this game even more than I hated that one. The first five times I tried to load it, it gave me an error screen saying that Steam was down. No buttons on it, no close box, nothing. Luckily, ALT-F4 worked but this was hardly a great start. Eventually I got the thing to load and found that just about everything was covered with messages saying that the game was still under development. After fighting my way through those, I discovered that the game is basically the same as the other one except there’s some way of linking your music to it. I played for two minutes before becoming so sick of it that I quit. Why do people release garbage like this?

Toki Tori
The first of two games from Two Tribes software. This one is basically a platformer and I have to confess that I didn’t play it for too long, partly because I grew out of platform games with Jet Set Willy, and partly because it’s far too cute. You play something that looks like an egg with wings and feet, and collect other eggs to complete each level. To help you, you can build bridges, use other items and gain weapons to kill the baddies on each level. I didn’t get past the bridges though because the music drove me nutty, even if I turned it right down, and the constant cuteness was just wearing. I can’t help think that this is a game my 5 year old niece would like and that it really isn’t suitable for 37 year olds. Check out the website if you’re interested. To be fair, it seems fairly well-done, and I’ll try it on my sister’s kids next time I see them and see what they think.

RUSH
Like last time’s Cogs, we have a logic game as a winner. RUSH is even better than Cogs, though, because it doesn’t have a timer going – something that I always find a bit annoying. In this game, each level consists of a 3D landscape made up of featureless white blocks. In this scape are one or more tiles that produce coloured blocks, and other tiles to which these blocks must be guided. Once a block is created, it moves in one direction until it hits a wall whereupon it turns to the right. You have other tiles, which cause the blocks to change direction, pause for a moment, slide to one side without changing direction, and one or two other, more complex things. The tutorial is incredibly helpful, and then the game is split into easy, medium and hard levels to make playing a learning process. And wow, is it a learning process. The easy levels are all pretty easy, which is how I guess they got the name, but some of the medium ones are already damn hard, and having unlocked the hard levels, I’m struggling to work out where to begin on most of them. The absence of timer, however, means you can take your time working through a solution, and there are a pair of Hint buttons if you get really stuck. I’ve played this game for longer than any other except Amnesia, so it’s definitely doing something right. Again, if you don’t like logic puzzles it might not be for you but I love it.

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Steam’s Potato Sack Part 1

Yes, it’s another post that mentions Steam, but on the other hand it’s a post that isn’t about Skyrim, so give me a break here.

Steam has become the standard for the online purchasing of games, much as Amazon has become the standard for the online purchasing of books. The reason is that it works, you get what you want, and – critically – it’s often cheaper. This post is entirely about something that happened out of an attempt at buying some cheap games. Just remember that I’m not employed by Valve, and am in fact the one person on the planet that didn’t think Half Life 1 and 2 were perfect games. Personally I found them a bit dull. Anyway.

Steam had a sale over this weekend. It offered 13 “Indie” games in a deal where you could buy the lot for 75% off. In terms of pieces of paper with Her Majesty on them, this meant a total price tag of £108.87 was taken down to just £27.22 so I went for it. The main reason I did this was that the deal included “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”, which is something I’ve wanted to play, so I thought it was a good idea to, essentially, buy that for full price and get 12 free games. I’ve wanted to play that one since Yahtzee’s review, a review he followed up by giving the game fourth place in his game of the year list. No, I’m not turning into a Yahtzee fanboi, but I loved Saints Row II after I bought it on the strength of his review, so I’m giving another one a chance.

Let’s pick three of these games at random and talk about those, then I’ll end up with a proper look at Amnesia, since it’s the one I bought the set for.

AaAaAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity
This is the worse game I’ve ever played in my life. The idea is that you jump off some structure and have to freefall past weird, free-floating buildings before landing in a designated area. You earn bonus points by “hugging” buildings (flying near them) or “kissing” them (gently bumping them). Basically, it’s a flying game where you have to imagine you’re falling rather than moving forward, and it’s simply not fun. Why is flying close to a building fun? Why should I bump into it? Garbage. Don’t bother with this one. No, seriously, it’s crap.

The Ball
While loading, the game proudly tells you it’s based on the Unreal Engine. It could be the original version for all I can tell, because the graphics are pretty basic for this day and age. However, the idea is fairly original in a sort of Portal-esque way. You’ve been stranded in a deep hole and find a weird glove that can either attract or repulse a huge Ball. That’s… it. You have to use this ball to overcome the various hazards you will encounter during your escape from the hole. This might mean sending the Ball through lava, or over spikes – things you can’t experience for yourself – or using it to smash down walls to access new areas.

Now usually I like this kind of game. I loved Portal, for instance. But the trouble is that once you’ve done the first few challenges, it’s just more of the same. People remember Portal for the Cake meme, and forget that after the a while the game involved nothing more than trial and error because you were bored with it. Ditti this one. If you like logic puzzles then you’ll probably love this.

Cogs
Having just slagged off logic puzzles, you might be surprised to see me give a good write up to a game entirely about logic puzzles. Cogs has several different types of game, but they all involve you moving things around to allow MacGuffin X to move from A to B. This can involve moving cogs to allow motive power to be transmitted along a gear system; steam to be transmitted along pipes, and various other things. There are music challenges later, and I have to confess that I didn’t reach those because I wanted to write this before going to bed. To unlock the later levels, you need stars (and it is always stars), and you get those by completing earlier challenges quickly and with few moves. This adds the crucial element of fighting against yourself – because even if you get stuck on a later level you can go back and improve your score on an earlier one.

I played this for only a few minutes, but already I love the steampunk look to the game, and I know I’ll end up playing it right through.

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On Skyrim IV: We the People

Part 4 of my general wishlist/ramble through memory lane takes us to the NPCs that populate the game world.

A lot of bytes have been spilled on this topic. Some people prefer NPCs to have individual dialogue and some hate having to talk to every Tom, Dick and Harriet that they come across. Some prefer a wide variety of variations in appearance; others prefer different types of clothing; still others claim that it’s the behaviour that’s important.

Let’s rewind a moment. Let’s go back to basics. What does “NPC” mean?

At the most basic level, NPC is an acronym for “Non-Player Character”, which doesn’t help much, because it doesn’t give us any information that we couldn’t have guessed anyway. It tends to end up as a generic term for “Killable things to whom special rules apply”, which isn’t much more help, so let’s look at cases.

In Morrowind, NPCs were interesting, in that they often had huge amounts of information to give you depending upon where they were located, what class they were, what faction they were in, and so on. Savants in particular had huge amounts of information about the world around you. Others had information critical to your quests. For instance, there was one quest that could only be found by talking to almost everyone in Vivec. Yes, you could stumble across it on your own, but the “true” route was to talk to the one person with the necessary information. The problem was that most people stood around in one spot for the entire game – a behaviour mocked brilliantly in Yahtzee Croshaw’s review of Torchlight. If they weren’t standing around stock-still, they wandered randomly and got in your way.

In Oblivion, there were about the same number of NPCs but most of them were supremely dull. Almost all of them had a unique “Hello!” line, plus something about their city, but after that it was all generic rumors. Let’s not even talk about the conversations that NPCs could have with each other – I’m sure we all have our favourite idiotic NPC convo to share. From what’s been announced so far, it seems people are going to have conversations “on the go” – you won’t zoom in on an NPC while talking to them, and the rest of the world will keep going while you chat. This sounds ”much” better if it can work properly, and let’s hope it applies to other NPCs too. It’s quite okay for two NPCs to walk past each other with a quick “Hi!” rather than stopping for a chat about consortiums of wizards in Summerset Isle.

Despite the problems, Oblivion comes close to what’s needed. A city should be full of independent people, all living their lives until (X) happens, which is where you appear and fix it. In a really ideal game, from my personal POV, if you take too long over doing (X), (Y) should do it for you and screw you out of the reward. For instance, in both Morrowind and Oblivion it always seemed stupid that there were loads of contracts available along with several people whining that there were no quests available. Make up your minds! If Radiant Story is really going to work, let’s see the Player lose out occasionally.

There are several bigger problems with OB’s AI. For instance, you can steal everything in someone’s store in full view, then go to jail, take all the items from the evidence chest…. and the person from whom you stole the items is perfectly happy to see you again. Don’t even get me started on the conversations that can spring up after surrendering during combat.

The original videos showing off the Radiant AI from Oblivion seem to suggest it was meant to be far more than it ended up being. On the Collector’s Edition DVD (and I’m sure it’s on YouTube somewhere) we can see someone trying to shoot at a target; missing; drinking a Fortify Marksman potion and then hitting the target. Then there’s the shot with someone’s dog wanting food, being fed, but still being a pain at which point the owner stuns the dog. Awesome as this sounds, various rumours suggest that the problem was that people would start attacking each other, seemingly at random. When looked into, it would turn out that NPC x wanted a rake and NPC y had one. Hence, NPC y had to DIE!!!!

At UESP, we’re involved in a project to document each NPC’s schedule (among other things), and even with the reduced Radiant AI that we were given in the final game, there’s still a lot of activity to be recorded. Get involved now!

So I’ve got this far without saying what I want to see in Skyrim. Let’s try to rectify that.

There should be some kind of real economy going on. For instance, a farmer should work in the fields to produce wheat/corn/barley and then it can be sold in a farm store. Another farmer might be taking care of sheep/cows/guars/whatever and occasionally killing one when stocks were running low. Meanwhile shops stocking these primary ingredients would be preparing them, ready for sale to bakers or butchering them themselves. Taverns and hotels should be dependent on these places for ingredients. This suggests an obvious quest or two, when (for instance) a butcher has a problem harvesting his cattle.

There needs to be better transition between schedules. In OB, you could watch two people and see a silly transition from two people talking to each other to two people walking to the same location ”without” talking to each other! The realism would be hugely enhanced if there were special cases for “Do you fancy going for some food?” and appropriate responses.

In Oblivion an “idle” schedule meant standing around doing nothing. This is just wrong. Nobody does this. If you’re stuck waiting for something in real life, you look around the room, pick things up to look at them, wander around to look at pictures, hum to yourself, read a book if you have one or anything other than standing around doing nothing.

The clothing situation is a bit more tricky. Every item needs detailed design so if you want a large variety, it takes longer to achieve. Oblivion was better than Morrowind in this instance – there was much greater variety, but even so it wasn’t great. Maybe the key here is to go for styles of outfit that can be recoloured on the fly. That’s basically what we do in Real Life – all businesspeople wear suits and everyone else wears some combo of skirt/trousers + T-shirt/shirt (or hoodie these days). Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but look around and tell me it ain’t so in most cases.

It sounds like Bethesda have already addressed some of the larger problems with NPCs. What we’ve seen so far looks great, and what we’ve heard about their activities sounds great, but NPCs are the heart and soul of a role-playing game, and it’s all got to be right for the game to work.

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On Skyrim III: Questing for Perfection

This post originally appeared on the UESP blog: here.

Of all the new features introduced in TES V: Skyrim, the one that has UESP’s active editors simultaneously wriggling with delight and squirming with horror is “Radiant Story”.

At its most basic level, this seems to be a way of avoiding the problem with some quests in Morrowind and Oblivion where you could screw them up by doing something before you got the mission. The previous games handled this in several different ways, depending on how much work the developer realised was necessary / was prepared to do. In Morrowind’s Alof and the Orcs quest, you got the chance to continue if Alof was dead, but had to work out everything for yourself. That’s fair enough. On the other hand, you could never complete Oblivion’s Acrobatics Master Training quest quest if Torbern was dead when you received it. Another way of dealing with the problem was to make certain characters “essential”. In Morrowind, killing one of these people gave you a nasty message that basically said you were screwed and should reload an earlier save: in Oblivion, you simply couldn’t kill such NPCs, which could lead to incredibly useful allies or incredibly irritating enemies if things went wrong.

Another problem, mainly with Oblivion rather than Morrowind, was that you could completely clean out a dungeon only for some NPC to tell you that you needed to go there, whereupon it suddenly filled with foes. A great example of this is Hrota Cave, which is totally empty until you begin the Den of Thieves quest, at which point eight assorted thieves move in and suddenly everyone in Anvil tells you they’ve been there for ages. The alternative, of course, is to completely lock up a location until the related quest begins (e.g., Anga and Pale Pass).

From what’s been revealed so far, Skyrim’s solution sounds rather elegant. If, for instance, you kill Joe the barman, who was supposed to give you a quest, Joe’s family might be able to offer you the quest instead – obviously after making you jump through a few hoops for killing hubby/daddy/illicit lover/whatever. Similarly, if you’ve already been to Scary Dungeon, which would normally be the location for the quest, the game will relocate it to Mysteriously Empty Mine – nearby, but which you haven’t visited. Presumably if you’ve already visited everything the game will set the quest in the dungeon you visited least recently, and if you deliberately run around all the nearby dungeons before getting the quest to find out what happens, a giant boxing glove on a spring flies out of your computer and punches you in the groin for trolling.

This isn’t going to solve everybody’s problems. A worryingly-large number of people on UESP’s talk pages complain that they’ve killed everybody in the world and can no longer complete a certain quest. Tough. If you’ve killed not just Joe, but Joe’s children and wife, his closest friends, his less close friends, and anybody who ever even glanced in his direction, then you’ve missed out on the quest and it’s your own fault.

Presumably there’s some kind of limit as to where quests can be located. Again, we don’t know exactly how Skyrim’s dungeons are going to work but to use an Oblivion model, it wouldn’t make much sense being asked to retrieve a rare magical tome from a monster dungeon just because you’d been to all the mage/necromancer locations in the area. Has the engine progressed to the point where all previous inhabitants can be switched out and replaced with more appropriate ones? If so, add one more problem to UESP’s list… Another way of handling this would be to have the potential quest-giver say something like “Well I heard a rumor about a treasure in some local cave but it seems somebody went in there recently and proved it wrong.” if you’ve looked into all the obvious locations, then have another line for when things have respawned.

At the start of this post I implied that Radiant Story was going to be a big problem for UESP but I got lost explaining what RS is and haven’t really explained the problem yet.

The main problem is ease of description. Daggerfall offers several random quests: for instance, some publican in a tavern somewhere will ask you to do X at nearby dungeon Y. Our pages on such quests aren’t really very helpful, since they can’t tell you where to find X or how to accomplish Y. With Morrowind and Oblivion, most quest pages are filled with detail not just on X and Y, but on how to avoid tricky monsters M and N, where to find powerful treasure T and how to screw quest giver G for most cash. The trouble starts when everybody adds their own personal favourite methods. Until recently, most quest pages were festooned with loads of pointless notes about methods, cheats, hacks, oddities and so on. Most of those have been ruthlessly (but usefully) pruned, but now imagine what it’s going to be like when even the quest-giver and location aren’t fixed.

To summarise: it looks like we’ve got a lot of challenges ahead when it comes to writing the quest pages. As Bethesda tell us more about what to expect, we may be able to start honing in on the options. Whatever happens, UESP will provide the best content possible – however long it takes!

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