The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

So, this topic has been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to be going away. Damion Schubert at Zen of Design talks about it quite a bit, which is what keeps it on my radar. I’ve written about The Witcher 3 and how it treats women, but stayed fairly silent on the issue of racial diversity since I don’t think my voice in this matter is that important. But I feel like I have to respond to all the “Omg, you terrible SJWs are the real racists for complaining about too many white characters. And also you’re ruining the entertainment industry. And the world!!!”

Jesus fucking christ, I’ve never come across so many people who are so unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

First things first…

Critique is not condemnation.

This seems rather obvious to me, but apparently isn’t to a lot of people. The people pointing out “hey, everyone in this game is white except for one demon lady” are not following it up with “therefore, CDPR are a bunch of racists and you shouldn’t buy their game.” They’re not even insinuating it and I have no idea how people are extracting that from the articles and reviews that have been written. They’re pointing out a lack of diversity, then generally moving on to talk about all the things they love about the game and how great it is.

It’s funny (and when I say funny I mean pathetic and sad) that those complaining about how the game-ruining SJWs are offended by everything are themselves offended by everything. Someone said The Witcher needs more diversity? Someone said Doom was too violent? They get offended on behalf of the developers, the fans, and the game itself, and take to YouTube or blogs to spew bile at those who dare to not thoughtlessly consume the game in question. Many people think Anita Sarkeesian has made a career for herself by being a professional victim, so they then make themselves into minor YouTube celebrities by creating video after video ranting about her. Professional victim vs. professional whiner? Professional asshole? What’s worse? What value are you adding to the world?

No game is perfect, and it’s really no different to criticize a game for its lack of diversity than it is to criticize its graphics. Acknowledging and talking about problematic elements can lead to better creations or at least interesting conversations. Having a problem with one aspect of a game doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t want others to but, to some, making a comment about diversity is ruining it for everyone.

Hmm, went on a bit of a tangent there.

So about The Witcher 3 and how white it is… I don’t have a problem with white characters (if I did what the hell would I play?), or a game that feels culturally Polish (I am Polish after all). What I have a problem with is the reactions people have to this particular piece of critique.

First, there’s the “historically accurate” response. It’s fantasy. Calling it historically accurate is an oxymoron (and moronic). Next.

Second, it’s based on pre-existing works of fiction. …So? The books do feature a place called Zerrikania, where the people are not white. It was a choice not to feature any Zerrikanian’s in Witcher 3. Also, as I talked about in my post on women in The Witcher, content doesn’t get directly translated from book to game. Developers make changes, choose what to include and what not to, add their own ideas. Source material is a guideline, not a rule.

The third argument is the only one that carries any weight at all with me. Poland, where the developers are, is overwhelmingly white. If all you see is white people around you, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that you would create something that reflects that (if a game was made or set in Toronto and was mostly white I’d definitely have some words to say about that). It’s not a wholly solid argument as you are creating for a global audience, but whether adding more diversity to the game was just something that wasn’t considered or something that was avoided due to a lack of frame of reference, it’s the only argument I’ve heard that I don’t dismiss outright. However, even assuming the best possible intentions in this scenario, the lack of people of colour is still worth pointing out. Maybe the developers will think of it next time. Maybe they won’t care. Either way, it’s worth having the discussion.

It’s rather scary how a whole subset of gamers are so vocally opposed to thinking critically about the media we consume. Sure, 90% of the time I play a game my main goal is entertainment, but just as I’d comment on awkward controls or bad voice acting, you can bet I’m going to comment on things like a lack diversity, and seek out those kind of critiques to read.

Steam Summer Sale Haul

The latest Steam sale happened to coincide with me receiving a job offer after 3 months of unemployment, so I promptly purchased just about everything from my wishlist. There go my bragging rights that I’ve played more than 50% of my library. I’ve even had time to play a number of them. Funny how much gaming time I have when I take a break from The Witcher 3.

Here’s my haul:

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Hand of Fate – Roger wrote about this on CMP a while back and I’ve been wanting to try it. I’ve spent quite a few hours on this already. It’s a sort of card-based dungeon crawler with occasional combat. You go through randomly constructed dungeons, picking up armor and items, meeting merchants, getting quests, and fighting monsters with the goal of defeating a boss at the end. One of the things I really like about it is that it’s a game I can play while doing other things. I need more of these in my life. Making dinner? I can take a turn or two while I wait for water to boil or the oven to pre-heat. I can even chop things at my desk while I play. The combat is the only thing that really requires full attention (and both hands) and fights don’t take too long. Being able to play while distracted may not seem like a ringing endorsement, but I do really like it.

Invisible, Inc.

Invisible, Inc. – I heard the game referred to as XCOM-like, and that’s really all you have to say to sell me a game. I played this for a bit on Canada day. It’s enjoyable, the artistic style is great, the characters are diverse, the story is enough to grab me. It’s not overly intuitive though. Some things which should be simple aren’t. It took a bit to figure out where exactly I have to stand to revive a fallen squadmate. I’m still unsure about how I get more ammo for guns. Credits are used for all upgrades from character skills, to weapons, items, and augmentations, and I don’t feel like the game did a great job at giving me enough information so I know what to buy or know when I’m “prepared” for the end of the game.

Her Story – An interactive movie where you watch police interview tapes and learn about a murder that took place in the 90s. I really enjoyed this and am planning to recommend it in my next Short Games for Busy People.

Technobabylon – This is a point and click adventure by my favourite modern adventure game company, Wadjet Eye games. The games always have great characters and puzzles that aren’t too frustrating, and based on reviews this could be their best game yet.

Fallout 1&2 – I think I actually already own these on GoG, but they only cost $2 and it was right around the Fallout 4 announcement, so I was excited.

Dead State – Turn-based, zombies. Enough said. This one has been on my wishlist for a while.

Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock. Desolate alien planet. Adventure. Exploration. Could not turn down.

NaissancE. An experimental exploration game with a stark colour palette.

Sunset – Tale of Tales latest, and unfortunately, last game about a housekeeper in the midst of a Latin American revolution. Not totally sure I want to spend gaming time cleaning things, but I’ve appreciated Tale of Tales other gaming experiences.

That leaves my wishlist rather bare. I only have Gravity Ghost (I’m actually not sure why I didn’t pick this up) and Darkest Dungeon (which I refuse to buy until that early access tag is gone) are left.


How did you make out? Pick up anything you’ve been waiting for? Have you played any of the games I bought?

Revisiting The X-Files – Space

“It ranks right up there with getting a pony and learning to braid my own hair.

The episode opens with a newscast. A reporter, in an outfit that defines the early 90s professional ladies look, talks about the 1977 rover mission to Mars. We see closeup pictures of the red planet. One looks like a sculpted human face, but a NASA official denies it being evidence of an alien civilization. Later that night, that man dreams about being in orbit and wakes to see the Mars face form on his ceiling and rush towards him.


Yes, that’s really what happens.

Space is pretty much the low point of the season. Maybe even the series. It takes some great topics – space travel, alien civilizations, astral possession – and somehow makes them incredibly dull.

Mulder is contacted by the NASA communications commander, Michelle Generoo, who believes there’s a saboteur at work, preventing the space shuttle from launching. This threatens the entire space program, so him and Scully go to investigate. Mulder meets one of his childhood heroes, astronaut Captain Marcus Aurelius Belt (yes, that’s really his name) and is giddy as a schoolboy while Scully takes her skeptic role way overboard.

There are a number of major issues with this episode.

First, the special effects. They’re just terrible. At one point, the Mars face gets superimposed onto Captain Belt’s face and it’s laughably bad. This episode was intended to be a money saver so they used a lot of stock NASA footage of the space shuttle but never actually showed any of the astronauts in the space shuttle. The episode mainly took place in the communications command center and intercut stock footage and the result was quite dull.

Second, Scully. I know, she’s the skeptic, but in this episode she takes that skeptic role and runs so far with it that she becomes a total buzzkill. She’s so blasé about the whole idea of space travel. I don’t believe she never wanted to be an astronaut. She’s a scientist, how is space not interesting to her? Who can watch a space shuttle take off, from the command center no less, and not be moved? Is Scully a robot?

Third, the cardinal sin of X-Files, this episode is completely lacking in humor. There’s a distinct lack of witty repartee between Scully and Mulder. Without the give and take of its two leads, the X-Files magic just isn’t there.

Also, since Dahakha pointed it out, I can’t help but notice Mulder invades the personal space of so many women on the show. How did I not see it before? At one point he’s trying to calm down and get information from Generoo, and he rests his hands on either side of her waist as he talks to her.  Whyyyy?

In the end, it seemed that Captain belt had been possessed by Mars face during a previous trip to space, who was making him sabotage operations. And it did this because…? Mars face also:

  • appeared in a ceiling
  • appeared outside a car and caused it to crash
  • took over Belt’s face
  • broke the space shuttle

Mars face is watching you masturbate

The concept of being possessed by some astral force while exploring space is not a bad one, but the decision to have the Mars face represent this made it hard to take the episode seriously.

Hope, Hype, Disappointment – The Last Guardian and FF7

Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favourite games of all time. It’s a beautiful, haunting game with a story, atmosphere, and heartbreaking battles that have lingered with me for years. When The Last Guardian, a spiritual successor, was shown at E3 2009 I was stoked. It had a similar feel, the same beautiful lighting and magnificent architecture. Where SotC featured a man and his horse, TLG showed a relationship between a boy and his giant griffin. It looked lovely, and I was more than ready for another great experience from Team Ico.

Then, nothing. Year after year, The Last Guardian was notably absent from Sony’s press conferences and release schedules. Each year I hoped to get a brief tidbit, a hint it was still happening, but for 5 years I was disappointed. Then, last night it was back. But it was too late. Prior to this year’s E3 I had decided I didn’t care about this game anymore, and declared it vapourware. I had been strung along for far too long, disappointed too many times.

There was a brief glimmer of surprise and delight during the conference when I first realized they would actually be showing something this year, but it quickly faded. As I watched the gameplay footage I felt very little. I think annoyance at the voice of a young boy calling the birddog repeatedly was the main thing I felt, and it didn’t seem that I was seeing anything really new. Certainly not 6 years worth of new.

The Last Guardian

The constant vocalizations for the griffin in order to overcome platforming puzzles seemed to draw much more from Ico (which I was never a fan of) than Shadow of the Colossus. Worst of all, the gameplay just didn’t look very engaging. Maybe after 6 years they counted on people being so desperate for scraps of information that they’d take anything, but I was disappointed by the showing. Dull footage, barely any actual talk about the game, and a vague 2016 release date.

I think this may be a case of excitement and constant disappointment slowly turning into resentment, and I though the presentation was too little, far too late. Hopefully the game will surprise me when it’s further along in development (if it ever gets to that point).

Sony made another huge announcement last night, and that’s Final Fantasy 7 finally getting a remaster. Though this is something I’ve been hoping for for even longer than TLG, my reaction to this was one of elation. I’m so excited to be able to play one of the games that meant the most to me and really got me back into consoles back in the late 90s, and have it look nice. Those polygons just don’t age very well. Though Sony and Square Enix have made some dick moves regarding this in the past – showing a FF7 tech demo for the PS3 release, announcing a port of the original to PS4, announcing some teeny tiny FF world thing last night right before the remake reveal – they never really entertained the idea of a remake. So for the past 10 years of so I’ve felt a low key kind of hope that they’d remake it eventually, while understanding that it might never happen. But now it’s happening. I may have cried during the trailer.

The Sony presser was quite a roller coaster of emotions.

What do you think about Sony’s big announcements? Excited?

The Witcher 3 – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (part 3)

I’ve talked about the more negative aspects of The Witcher 3, and now it’s time to move on to what makes it great.

Side quests

The Witcher 3 features hundreds of side quests – secondary quests, contracts, treasure hunts. What sets them apart from so many other RPGs is that they’re almost all interesting. There are no grindy, MMO-style kill or collection quests to be found here. Dragon Age: Inquisition (which I loved, but also has its share of problems) offered a ton of side quests too, but I often found myself asking – why am I doing this (other than for XP)? And I often couldn’t really find an answer. If it wasn’t collecting objects, it was a dozen quests that came from dead bodies. Meaningless filler.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt crone side quest

With The Witcher, I know why I’m doing the quests. Each one has a story, has a believable NPC that asks for your help. The information unravels as you progress, rather than dumping a bunch of exposition on you and sending you on your way. I see relationships develop between characters I probably won’t ever see again, experiences the foibles of the locals, get glimpses into the lives and deceptions of the people in Velen. It makes the world come alive, and even more importantly, makes me enjoy doing side quests rather than just going through the motions.

Even monster contracts, which could have been a simple matter of killing and returning to the quest giver, have a fair amount of depth. You much research the beast, track it, and use its weaknesses against it in order to defeat it. Many often feature an interesting, and usually sad, story.

Conversations and Decisions

The world of The Witcher is a morally grey one. There are a lot of decisions to be made, big and small, and often there’s no explicitly right or wrong answer. You may think you’re doing the good thing but it backfires, hurting people in the process. You usually end up choosing the lesser of two evils. I like that the game skips the twee icons or colour coding used by Bioware. The game doesn’t feel the need to explicitly say: “this is the sassy response, here’s the angry one, this is the romantic conversation option,” or tell you what it thinks is the pragmatic vs. sympathetic option. The dialogue options in The Witcher seem much more natural, and usually don’t put the burden of worrying what your companions will think on you.

Unlike many RPGs, The Witcher isn’t about saving the world. Geralt is a character who ultimately wields no political power, commands no armies. Witchers are supposed to be neutral. They kill monsters, take jobs for money. There’s no underlying pressure to do the “right thing” (aside from what the player’s own moral code may dictate). Being immersed in a world full of politics and intrigue without being the one in charge is actually quite a freeing gameplay experience.

Sex

The Witcher’s handling of sex gets better and better. As I mentioned in my first post, I like that The Witcher series features sex, and I like how it’s portrayed as a fun thing to do, rather than the path to everlasting love and devotion.

Here’s an experience I had with the game that I really enjoyed (minor spoilers for one side quest follow). In Novigrad we meet Rosa van Attre, one of the daughters of a Nilfgaardian diplomat. Through not totally honest means, I (Geralt) become her fencing instructor. She’s eager to learn, I’m good with swords, maybe something will come of this. Throughout the interactions with her, she’s a bit flirty. I teach her some things, and don’t go easy on her when she wants to have a real dual. She keeps talking about her corset pinching, and I’m thinking: wow, she totally wants me. As the quest winds down, I’m thinking I’m about to score and one final dialogue option appears. I say something which runs totally contrary to her political ideals, and she drops me like a bad habit. And it’s awesome. Maybe I should have said something else. Maybe sex was never on the table at all, and I was misreading the situation. If this was The Witcher 1, I would have given her what she wanted and she would have had sex with me. For sure. It seems CDPR has been learning some restraint over the years.

Character Design

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt NPCs

You meet hundreds of characters throughout the game, and their facial designs are impeccable. They’re all so different. Some have lined and world weary faces. Some are conventionally attractive, many are far from it. With so many characters it would be easy for all but the major ones to blend together, but it’s obvious that CDPR put a lot of time and effort into making even minor characters look unique and realistic to the situation they’re in. Many games reuse the same few faces, the same flawless complexions, the same handful of hair styles, but not The Witcher 3. Characters are much more memorable when they don’t all look the same.


 

Have you been playing Witcher 3? What do you think?

The Best Game Trailers

Fallout 4 was announced today and a teaser trailer was released. The Internet (myself included) is hyped. However, I didn’t find the trailer that great. I’m mostly just excited by the idea of the game. Trailers are just a marketing tool, but some of them are exceptionally well done. Whether or not the game lives up to the trailer is another matter entirely, though. Here are the game trailers I consider the best and most memorable.

Since we’re on the topic, may as well start with this one.

Fallout 3

Back in 2007 there were a lot of rumors of a new Fallout game, but nothing concrete until this trailer was released. I remember seeing it for the first time, thinking “Is this Fallout?! It looks like Fallout. Oh my god, there’s the power armor, it’s Fallout!!!”The Fallout 3 teaser trailer didn’t tell us much, but it confirmed that there would in fact be a game, and it would be set in Washington DC. No gameplay was shown (and considering Bethesda’s ugly game engine, that’s really for the best) but the visuals brought back memories of the original, isometric Fallout games and the pull back shots were used very well to slowly reveal the expanse of the Wasteland. It was set to the haunting melody of the Ink Spots and featured Ron Perlman’s iconic line: War. War never changes. This trailer gave me goosebumps.

Bioshock

This trailer had me hooked from the very first shot. First, it had Bobby Darin (yeah, I like old music). Second, at the 2 second mark, there’s this brilliant frame of a man, underwater and this amazing, illuminated city far beneath him. There’s a brief moment of serenity as we see the art deco design of this underwater world, and then it gets right into the action. Guns, magic, metal monsters, and creepy little girls raised a hundred questions and made me want to know more.

Bioshock Infinite

Yup, more Bioshock. Say what you want about the games, but they sure do make great trailers. By the time the third game rolled around, we knew what they were about. We knew about Rapture, and expected the same dark, underwater world to explore (and shoot the fuck out of). The Infinite trailer came along and gave something completely new. I love the way it teased expectations by having that first underwater view end up being the inside of an aquarium. Instead of Rapture, the trailer showed a gorgeous, bright, city in the sky. Beautiful, but clearly no less dangerous. I also really liked that instead of playing up the power fantasy aspect of the game (which is the direction the TV commercial took), the reveal trailer gave us a view where we were completely helpless.

Dead Island

This one is a tear jerker. Zombie games had a tendency to be more mindless action than emotion (this was released before TWD S1), and this trailer showed us that they could be something else. Could being the important part. From what I’ve heard (I’ve not played it), this trailer has absolutely nothing to do with the actual game. It’s unfortunate that it’s so misleading, but taken on its own this is still a really good cinematic. The way it shows a scene both forwards and in reverse until they come together in the middle is really well done.

Parasite Eve

I remember seeing this way back in 1998 and thinking – this is a video game?! It looks great and has some of the most memorable music of any of the games I’ve played. It features a female protagonist and antagonist. And dinosaur monsters. Final Fantasy got me into RPGs, but this game offered an RPG with more horror and sci-fi elements. I remember getting this game for Christmas. There were people over and I couldn’t play it right away, so instead I kept this opening cinematic looping ALL day.

Witcher 2

I loved first Witcher game, so I was excited when the trailers for Witcher 2 started surfacing. This trailer doesn’t even feature the game’s protagonist, but does give an idea of what the game will be about – killing kings (in case the title didn’t give it away). Really, this is just one of the most impressive cinematics I’ve seen for a game. Though notice how they’ve specifically went out of their way to not have to animate any hair?

World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

When I think back to my many years playing WoW, Burning Crusade is the era I look back on most fondly. This expansion was the height of my excitement for the game. I had started playing near the tail end of vanilla, and was just getting into raiding as this came out. This trailer really captured the feel of the Outlands and gave us a big bad to look forward to, who would be looming over our heads until we got to Black Temple. “You are not prepared” is probably the most memorable bit of dialogue from all of WoW and this trailer brings back nothing but fond memories.


How about you? What are some of your favourite game trailers?

The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (part 2)

Creating a game with a huge open world like The Witcher leaves a lot of room for error. When the world is so big, the systems are numerous and complex, and there is so much to do and see, it’s not easy to capture every issue in QA nor please everyone with the decisions made. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of issues.

The Bad

Saves

Let’s start with the big one. I’m playing on XBox One and there’s an issue where the game will just stop saving your progress. Autosave won’t trigger, trying to manually save will return a message saying you can’t save at this time. If you die during this time, the game hangs indefinitely on the load screen. I’ve run into this 3 times and each time ended up losing a couple hours of gameplay. The cause seems to be allowing your game to get suspended, either by leaving it running with no activity or using another game/application without quitting the game. A hard reset is required to fix it. Now that I know the cause I can avoid it, and the developers have said they’re working on a patch, but still – this is really bad.

Accessibility

There are a number of easily fixable accessibility issues. For such a big world, a lot of things are really small.  The font size for text is tiny. It’s likely okay on PC, but as someone who plays on console and sitting 8 feet away from the TV, I really have to strain to read things. The subtitles for speech aren’t so bad, but it’s very difficult to read anything in the menus. Thankfully, this is something that will be patched soon. There’s also a bit of an issue with the symbols on the map. Areas you haven’t completed are indicated by a white symbol, while places you’ve finished are indicated by a slightly darker kind of grey, but really still looks white, because it’s so small symbol.

The Witcher 3 - map

I’m also a bit annoyed that the zone maps are so large that there are (many) times when you can’t zoom out far enough to see both your current location and your objective at the same time. The above image shows the zone map fully zoomed out, and it only shows about a quarter of the zone. Plus, if you zoom out any further, you end up on the world map and annoyingly have to reselect the zone to go back.

Combat

Combat is clunky. I know this isn’t necessarily an opinion shared by all, but I find the animations for each sword swing overly long and you need to wait until they’re completed before you can do anything else. This results in me furiously spamming my Sign button as I’m fighting, trying to finish off a sword strike with some fire to the face, and the game just not responding. It gets worse when you fight multiple enemies as they often come up and hit from behind while you’re still finishing your swing on another opponent and there’s nothing you can do about it. When things are going smoothly it’s not so noticeable but when you’re surrounded or against a tougher enemy, it seems like there’s a frustrating delay between each action.

One thing they did in this game is have Geralt automatically draw the correct sword for the opponent he’s fighting, which is great. When it works. About 5% of the time I find Geralt won’t draw any sword (especially if combat starts after a cutscene) and he’ll just start punching things. The clunky combat is really noticeable here, as if you instinctively do an attack when combat starts, you need to wait for the animation to complete before the game will respond to your command to draw a sword.

UI

The Witcher 3 - inventory screen

Most games, but huge open world RPGs in particular, really need better UI design. The Witcher 3 is no exception. Let’s start with the inventory screen. What a mess. First, there are just way too many items. I just counted and I have 183 items in my Alchemy and Crafting tab. There’s no custom sorting. There’s no search. It’s just a page full of stuff I know very little about.The huge amount of items in The Witcher doesn’t benefit the game in any way. I don’t need to pick up broken rakes or empty vials to be immersed in the world, they really just add clutter. Likewise, it would be easy enough to have fewer herbs and magical ingredients and just use the remaining in more recipes. At the moment I have 16 green mutagens in my inventory. Why? And why aren’t they all at least grouped together in my inventory? Do we really need both leather scraps and leather straps? You can craft or disassemble one into the other, so it makes me question why the need for that extra step.

When it comes to vendors one of my biggest complaints, that I’ve have for the whole series, is that the game gives you no indication if you already have a recipe or a book when you see it for sale. Reading books will often add entries to your bestiary or markers to the map, but only the first time you read it. Since there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of books in the game, it’s hard to keep track of what you’ve already read and what is worth buying. I probably waste a lot of money because of this.

A few other things

It’s nice to have an equine companion in game, but Roach sure is fussy. He listens to your commands when he feels like it, but bridges or changes in terrain will often make him come to a standstill. Also, Geralt’s verbal commands (slower, faster) often don’t even remotely correspond to my inputs.

Repairs. What a chore and a gold sink, especially at the start of the game when gold is hard to come by. Give me convenience over realism any day.

The Witcher 3 - lighting candles

And then there are the candles. So many candles and you can light, or extinguish, all of them! Sometimes the candles are right beside an object you’d like to pick up, or a person you’d like to talk to. It’s no fun having to re-position your camera until you can finally interact with the right thing, rather than playing with a stupid candle over and over again. In the above picture, the candle is laying across a book. Why would I want to light that?! Unless there’s a ‘burn the house down’ objective, don’t let me interact with this. This is going to be patched soon – “Geralt will not longer interact with candles near chests and other interactive elements.” Really, I don’t see a need to be able to interact with candles at all. Light a brazier or torch in a dark dungeon – sure. Candles in houses? No thanks.


Most of these issues aren’t huge, but put together they result in a lot of frustration. Hopefully upcoming patches will resolve a few of these but I have to say, when I buy a game on release day I expect a finished product.

All is not lost, next time I’ll talk about all the things I love about The Witcher 3.