I may have mentioned in the past (repeatedly) that I have no intention of streaming myself playing games because I would be all kinds of boring. I am patient, thorough, I double back, take very precaution, and repeat myself over and over until I feel like I’ve done something right. It makes the collection of RPGs I play considerably slower paced, strategy games tend to be drawn out advances and heavily fortified positions, and for stealth games it makes me… well, equally dull to watch, but it also means I do fairly well.
Before discussing stealth games, first take a look at this Extra Credits video that delves into what makes Mark of the Ninja delivers stealth mechanics that make for an engaging game and what it is that makes stealth games engaging in themselves.
Also note the comment about living the fantasy of a badass ninja, I’ll be revisiting that point.
I have been playing a lot of Dishonored 2 lately, Bethesda’s Thief-like stealth game that perfectly captures the essence of the Thief games while weaving in spectral powers of a dark god. The forces that operate against you have challenges and means to counteract your incredible abilities, technology capable of killing you with a single arc of electricity, strolling automatons that cannot be so easily felled, and powers counter to your own. These make you less of an indomitable assassin, a knife in the dark, and make you a more fragile predator, meaning every confrontation risks death.
But the pleasure comes in the patience. The same excessive attention to detail trains you to enjoy sitting on a lamppost for half an hour watching the city guardsmen wandering to and from, lounging against walls and the attending civilians, memorising their movements, and preparing a plan to isolate and kill each and every one of them, so that you can walk free and uninterrupted. Or… whatever, I suppose you could just go around them and leave them alive, but why take the risk? Some of them have money, some of them can’t be avoided if you want a particular piece of equipment, might as well carve and slice your way around.
In many ways a stealth game has a lot more in common with a puzzle solver like Myst, being almost meditative in their demand for care, attention, a willingness to take multiple attempts at the same problem until that moment where you feel as though you have got it right. The key difference is that stealth has a varying scale of “right”.
“Could I have done that better?”
“I took damage, let me try that again.”
“Someone saw me, I don’t like that.”
Most, if not all games of the genre reinforce some of these thought processes by noting how often you’re noticed, your kill-count, how much of the potential loot you found, but there is so much that we self impose. We can always heal ourselves (at least most of the time) we can always recover resources, but I for one like to lose none of the above. Expended ammunition is a sword swing not taken, and perhaps the arrow was easier, but now it’s gone. Blood spilled is a misstep, or a hit you should never have taken.
The act of escaping discovery can be a giddy thrill if you can escape, but often the act of fleeing the scene of your crimes can lead you into a worse situation, so plotting your escape routes becomes part of the joy of the hunt, while you wait patiently for your pursuers to give up the chase and come to the conclusion that you’ve fled, so that you can resume the process.
I found myself recently playing Dishonored, and reliving the same moment repeatedly so that I could get it exactly right:
In behind the guard and kill him, put the maid to sleep, start stealing everything from the room- wait, is that machine dormant or will that switch on if I get too close… oh!
Ok, kill the guard and- dammit she’s seen me.
Ok, kill the guard, whoops, oh gods, now the machine’s awake…
From the bookshelf this time, the chandelier is doing nothing for me. Kill the guard, knock out the maid, start work on the machi- ahh dammit!
Ok, all done, break open the container to get what’s inside and… oh dammit, you people heard that?
This became a game of “ring the dinner bell”, the room I was in offered advantages and the potential to set traps, lie in wait, and be exactly where I needed to be at every available opportunity, so smashing open that cabinet became an invitation, goading people to join me. I must have occupied the same room for an hour, wholly unsatisfied until everything was in my pockets and everyone anywhere close was dead, unconscious or dismantled.
Considering your own thought processes while playing a game can help you to become a better writer and designer. Consider what motivates you to take certain actions. What outcome do you deem a failure? What kind of options do you want to open up to your players, and what are they likely to pursue? Does possession of an expendable item give you a desire to use the item or to save it for the proverbial “rainy day” that never comes? I’ve been considering ways and means to implement stealth as a central mechanism to my own games, how the games that I run use stealth, and what I can do to make the process as engaging and involved as Dishonored, Thief, Mark of the Ninja, or even the Batman-Arkham series.
Next time you play a game consider the thought processes, what’s a victory, what’s a failure, and how you measure your own success. I can’t stop thinking like this any more, and I refuse to be alone in my inability to play a game without considering design elements!
For many years we have strived for realism in our computer generated art work. Just look at the progression of one of video game’s most enduring characters, Lara Croft, who has seen consistent titles released since 1996 in the days of visible polygons and hard edges on supposedly curved surfaces, through the rubber-doll days of Chronicles and Underworld, and into the modern reboot that can border on photo-realism in stills.
And yet, it seems like the closer we get to emulating reality, the more we seem to want to step away from it. Increasingly we see more stylisation in our artwork, cartoonish features, abstract colour palettes, or a simple distortion of reality to create a theme. I want to look into some of these artistic choices… (more…)
Last week I took a handful of classic D&D creatures and proposed new uses for their stat-blocks, something to lend a bit of diversity to the current roster with minimal need to create, change or modify. If your campaign has a flavour that the Monster Manual simply doesn’t cater for, there are ways and means of accommodating to your tastes. This week I’ll approach from the other side of the coin, declaring what I need for my campaign and using the tools at hand to make a solution.
Once again I’ll be using D&D 5th edition because it’s what I know best… (more…)
I was introduced to Thief with the X-Box release of the third instalment of the series, was immediately gripped by the announcement of a fourth game, and ended up buying Dishonored to tide me over while I waited for the for the project to be pushed back and delayed and mired down and ultimately released to a chorus of “Oh… really?”.
Conversely, take the Bethesda released spiritual successor, a story of corruption and deceit immersed into a stylistic, industrialised fantasy world which drew a lot of the artwork from a cancelled Knights Templar themed game. It had stealth, it had action, variety, choices, tension and a dark horror that make it sound like a near-complete rip off of the original Thief series with better graphics and cool magic powers. And it was so good! (more…)
Have you ever sat through a game and you just happened to come across what you feel is the most worthless NPC of all time? I mean it’s not to say they have no purpose, nor are they useless, but they’re just absolutely worthless.
I mean do you even know his or her name? Is it a damn dog? What’s the point of it!? Just to cause us endless frustration, or just to be there? This week in our Top 10, we’re joined by Phil from 1001-Up as we run through our Top 10 Worthless NPCs in gaming.
10. Mankrik’s Wife – World of Warcraft
You are sent on a quest to go and find Mankrik’s wife. This is a simple quest and of course you’re emotionally invested in this quest because this is someone’s loved one. Horde or Alliance, it doesn’t matter: Love is love. This quest is exclusively for Horde who adventure around The Barrens area, also infamous for Barrens chat… But that’s a story for another day.
No, instead you’re sent to find someone’s loved one and… Oh. She’s already dead. What was her name? Oh yeah, Mankrik’s Wife.
9. – Milla Vodello and Sasha Nein – Psychonauts
This pair of elite-Psychonauts are highly trained field operatives with highly disciplined minds that are capable of constructing elaborate and carefully controlled training grounds for powerful young minds to be educated in. And even though the same can be said of the game’s antagonist, Morceau Oleander, you’d think his villainy would have come to light when put under a little scrutiny. KIDS WERE BEING LOBOTOMISED! NOBODY THOUGHT “Hey, there are a lot of very powerful psychics here, let’s check them out quickly, just in case.”
Milla and Sasha have a small degree of input early in the game before vanishing off on a distraction while Oleander’s dastardly scheme unfolds, only to be thwarted by the protagonist, Raz. Great game, but really guys? So many kids nearly died because you were just a little too caught up in “That thing over there….”
8. Pedestrians – Grand Theft Auto
If you forced me to come up with a reason why Grand Theft Auto pedestrians were worth anything it would be to gain wanted stars. They do have their entertainment value with their crazy catchphrases and peculiar habits but other than that they only serve to ruin your success on a job by orbiting your vehicle on a suicide mission. In more recent versions of the Grand Theft Auto series they now have the ability to call the police if they spot the player getting up to no good which simply wastes everybody’s time by having to run them over.
7. Treavor Pendleton – Dishonored
What to say on the subject of Treavor Pendleton? Well let’s start with the fact that he’s so damn memorable I had to google him to remember exactly who he was. The entirety of his story input was to ask Corvo (the main character) to kill his brothers, and then to stand around getting drunk. Just constantly swilling whiskey and wandering around moping.
Correction, he does do something else. He functions as a sounding board for other NPCs to talk to about things you need to hear (or overhear). Without him there they’d have very few choices, and Trev just loves to talk. He loves to talk to you… even when you’re clearly trying to get past him.
6. Old Man – Pokemon Red/Blue
Now we are just wrong to include this old man, we hear you say. He teaches you about catching Pokemon as well as helping you unlock the secret glitches of the game. How could anyone possibly call him worthless?!
Because he spends ages at the beginning of the game begging to have coffee, before he will let you pass (with no rhyme or reason!) He then not only lets you pass after a certain point in the game, he teaches you how to catch Pokemon. Meanwhile, you’re sat there with a full party of 6 Pokemon in your bag. Um, Old Man, are you feeling okay? Well let me go and fly to Cinnabar Island now to get away from you… Oh gosh what have you done to my game!?
5. Black Mesa Scientists – Half Life
The overwhelming majority of population in the Black Mesa facility were scientists and until the fatal day of the resonance cascade arrived. Until this point they were extremely worthwhile NPCs carrying out their daily research activities for the greater good. Once hell literally broke loose their worth plummeted to zero, just like their health levels, as they became headcrab fodder.
Sure, there may have been one or two that helped open doors but even if they were dead Gordon would only need to drag their corpses over to the eye scanner to continue serving their purpose.
4. Error – The Legend of Zelda II
Thanks, Error. Just thanks. Nothing else to add? I mean is your name symbolic of who you are? An error within the game? Error!? Want to add something to the mix?!
Yes, he’s in arguably one of the most frustrating video games of all time and he just has to tell you that he is Error. What a worthless NPC.
3. Dog – Duck Hunt
Do I even have to say anything? Look at that stupid grin! How many of you tried to shoot the dog? I know it’s a terrible thing to do and you shouldn’t want to shoot a dog, but dammit that thing is so smug! He contributes nothing to the game except to bounce around snatching up your ducks! And laughing when you fail.
If the dog serves any purpose, it is to be hated and to make Duck Hunt famous because people are talking… about… the dog…
2.Adoring Fan – Oblivion
This fan is so useless that he serves two major functions: Follow. Wait. That’s basically it. True to an adoring fan though, he offers useless quibble in the form of offering back-rubs, boot polishing and more.
Add to this the Adoring Fans horrible sense of hair fashion and that he doesn’t even give your character said back rubs or boot polishes… Adoring Fan, you are worthless. Time to hit you off the highest cliff in Oblivion.
… Stop running back up the hill when I hit you off.
1. Butler – Tomb Raider
Also known as Winston Smith, Lara’s butler is painfully remembered by Tomb Raider fans as not only being utterly worthless in-game but also a complete pain in the backside as he stalked our favourite Tomb Raider around the house. Most players will remember the feeling of dread as he slowly hunts Lara while groaning about his backache and his rattling tea tray, some zombie games could learn a lot of from the Croft Manor level in Tomb Raider II.
If you ever mention Lara’s butler to a Tomb Raider fan they will immediately tell you stories about how they locked him in the freezer not for fun but just to get rid of him – if that’s not the definition of the most worthless NPC ever then I don’t know what is.
These next two deserved to be noticed for their worthless endeavours. They don’t quite make the cut for our Top 10, but let’s be honest: It doesn’t make it any better that they have been recognised as worthless in some way, shape or form!
Trader – Killing Floor
You would think that having a trader in the game wouldn’t ever really make a Top 10 most Worthless NPCs list… but think about this from the point of view of a frustrated zombie killer such as Kevo the Chav.
This trader makes snarky remarks about people not being Frank Bruno if they can’t carry something. She laughs at players pitiful attempts to buy zombie killing devices from her if they’re too poor. She doesn’t stay in one location. She has a plethora of weapons and just keeps herself locked away so no zombies can get to her. She could literally just give all of the guys and girls a weapon to stop the zeds and still have enough weapons to sell afterwards.
Announcers – Every game that has announcers
Seriously, Unreal Tournament is super memorable because of its high-paced action and it’s awesomely voice-acted announcers. However, this doesn’t make them worth a damn penny. They’re just there. But at least they make themselves known with their constantly expressive voices. M-M-M-M-MONSTER KILL.
Oh but what about the Administrator in Team Fortress 2? Effectively worthless. She gives you sass and snark like there’s no tomorrow.
Don’t even get me started with you three, JBL, Michael Cole and Jerry “the King” Lawler!
But the games are made better with your presence, announcers. You’re worthless, but you’re our favourite kind of worthless: the worthless that adds feeling. Keep it worthless, voices!
That’s all for our Top 10 today. If you have any suggestions for a future Top 10, then do let us know as we are all ears. Also, if you want to get involved, just let us know! We’d love to have more guests such as Phil today.
What did you think of our decision of our Top 10 Worthless NPCs in gaming? We figured these ones were pretty worthless, but I bet you all know one that deserves at least a mention. Did we get our order around the right direction? Let us know in the comments below!