Comments on

Death Tax

Original entry posted: Fri Nov 5 17:02:48 2010

1289331554 @ EST

Tue Nov 9 14:39:14 2010I've played some pen and paper games. Not extensively, but a bit of AD&D 2nd Ed., some Shadowrun during the FASA days.

My point isn't that there's not internal logic behind this system, but that the roleplaying part of it sucks. It reduces my "role" to a series of skill checks, while completely ignoring the characterization. Say what you like about Mass Effect's permissiveness, there I'm able to choose between a Shepherd who's forgiving vs. one that's vengeful, or a character arc of ego vs. sacrifice. Sure, the important outcomes may be predetermined, but they always were anyway, because everything eventually has to lead to beating the game. The way I get to those outcomes is what proves intriguing--see also journey, not destination.

Nowhere is this more obvious, honestly, than in the second Mass Effect. The storyline for ME2 is conventionally structured. Each plot segment is laid out in a linear, uninterrupted fashion. Most of the choices lead to the same result. But every time I played through it, I felt like I had created a different character through the reactions I chose for Shepherd, and the internal justifications behind them. It was a powerful roleplaying experience, even if the stat checks were rudimentary at best.

What does the AD&D approach get me? "Oh, your character's smart enough or charismatic enough: SUCCESS." Okay, but what does my particular Nameless One do with that intelligence? How is he charismatic? Those are the interesting questions, and they're too often left unanswered by Torment in favor of a simplistic "meet requirement X" boolean.

1289326402 @ EST

Tue Nov 9 13:13:22 2010I guess this is just a matter of taste, but---did you ever play pen-and-paper RPGs? I did, which may be influencing my thinking here.

'Cause to me, it makes sense that if I'm playing a warrior with low intelligence stats, I wouldn't get an opportunity to solve puzzles, or even see them. After all, other characters are going to be reacting to my perceived lack of intelligence (though a high enough charisma score might get my foot in the door), and treating me like a dummy---that's the character I picked!

And if I've chosen to play a low-intelligence character, it seems to me like cheating to use my own intelligence to dodge the character's restrictions. GIving my low-intelligence character all the opportunities of a high-intelligence character disrupts the demand that I play as a character who's not very bright, no matter how bright I personally am.

Interestingly, this debate happened a lot in the pen-and-paper days too! I'm not sure what it says about different kinds of gamers---immersives vs. personal challengers?

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Sat Nov 6 17:50:07 2010 EST

Hunh---I dunno, only allowing you to take on puzzles when you have enough intelligence stats is pretty standard D&D rules. The whole point of an RPG is playing a role, and if your character isn't smart enough to try a puzzle, you can't use your own intelligence to mess with the character's established attributes. And restricting dialogue choices based on stats is standard even today, as with Mass Effect's Paragon system. I still haven't gotten around to trying Planescape---just not willing to boot into Windows that often---but these seem more like much-missed aspects of traditional RPGs. Today's RPG heroes are more avatars than characters, precisely because designers are so unwilling to work on content the player might not see.

Thomas @ Sun Nov 7 12:15:30 2010 EST

Eh, you say "much missed," I say "good riddance."

Even Mass Effect at least shows you the options you're not qualified to give. Torment just fails you out of the dialog.

Slavish adherence to stats over player choice is a nasty little bit of designer myopia. It prioritizes a bunch of tedious numbers over actual characterization in one part of the game, while hand-waving at a bunch of extra content elsewhere and calling it freedom. Let ME decide what my character is too stupid to handle, if I want to roleplay, and otherwise just get the hell out of my way.

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