Let’s Blog Award, Round 2!-Red Metal

We’re back!  As mentioned last time, we’ve got a combo of blog awards to respond to!  Today’s award comes courtesy of Red Metal, longtime official Friend of Lost to the Aether and a man with  many thoughts on films and video games.  Of which he writes.  And does a good job as well.  Normally, when a reviewer gives a game a rating score, it doesn’t really mean all that much.  Hence why I don’t really use them here.  Red Metal though, has it worked out such that any given score relates to a very distinct impression he has with it.  So there.  Red Metal.  Numbers you can use.  

Speaking of numbers, I’ve got a number of questions to answer!  Let’s hop to it.  

  1. Do you prefer RPGs where your characters end the game at a high level (70+) or a lower one (20-30 or so)? Assume that these outcomes are not simply the result of grinding levels for hours.

You know, this is one I haven’t really thought about before.  Both are good flavors of the same thing, and both could definitely apply better to given circumstances.  I think I’m going to err towards having a lower max level, because I like levels that are meaningful more, levels that give you more than just numbers going up, and you’re more likely to hit that more often when there’s a lower max level in the game.  Each level might unlock a new ability, or you might get a new perk every even level, or something like that.  That said, having a high max level does give a better sense of having progressed a huge amount since the start, and so that’s better for a lot of the epic scale adventures you’ll see it used in.

That said, you know what leveling system I like the best?  The ones where you have to unlock it bit by bit.  Like, you have your options, each of which costs a certain amount of resources, and you’re constantly having to pick and choose which of many options you’re going to go for.  Some of which might boost your stats, some of which might give you new active abilities, some might have good passives, etc.  Give me a sphere grid over a strict linear system any day.

2. Do you prefer RPGs with turn-based or real-time combat?

Again, both are good in their own ways,and this is kind of a hard comparison for me to make, because they end up being very different types of games.  At their best, I can’t say I’d have a preference, I really enjoy the both of them.  So, to really pick a winner on this, I’m having to compare them both at their middling level.  So we’re not, say, comparing Persona 4 with Tales of Symphonia, because even if they may both be what people think of when they’re talking about these styles of games, they’re both at the apex of their models and not the most representative of the type.
So, thinking of the hypothetical average turn-based RPG versus real-time, I’d have to give the hat tip to real-time combat.  I don’t like it when games become mindless, and the average turn-based RPG will usually have a lot of points where the best way through the jobbers it throws at you is to just mash the ‘fight’ command, over and over, and no real thought required.  Real-time combat may not always be the most involved, but it’ll require at least a bit more thought than that.

3. Do you prefer RPGs that introduce your entire lineup upfront with no changes beyond the prologue or ones that feature rotating lineups? Assume in either case that you have no control over your party lineup at any point.

Rotating lineups all the way.  In games that let you choose your party, I usually swap members in and out constantly.  I like the variety, and I like making full use of absolutely everyone in an RPG, so I’d much rather get some changes in there than have a static party the whole game.  

Now, if we have the same cast the whole game, but get to change up their classes so they do play very differently and I still get that gameplay variety, I’d be pretty ambivalent between the two.  In which case it’d all come down to they type of story they’re trying to tell.  I think having the rotating cast would usually lead to a stronger story even then, but I could see some using the static cast’s staying power to good effect, too.

4. Do you prefer games that have advanced enemy formations, but no boss fights or comparatively simple standard enemies with boss fights in between?

I’d have to say the advanced enemy formations but no boss fights.  For the simple reason that I’d prefer a game that’s decent throughout to a game that’s great in some spots and sucks in others.  I don’t really like playing through parts of a game I don’t want to play to get to the ones I do.  That’s not fun.

Of course, the better option is to have good goons to fight on top of awesome bosses, and there’s plenty of games that pull that off.  Just not from North American developers.  Red Metal’s got a good analysis of this in his post, but I do have to repeat that thought he mentioned there, modern AAA developers from this part of the world seem to have lost the art of a good boss fight, and that’s really a shame.  

5. Do you prefer games where you create your own character or ones where you play as a character created by the authors?

Oooooh, I don’t really know on this one.  I like fun games, and I like games with great stories.  And sometimes, developers make a better story when they have full control over the lead character.  Like, Baten Kaitos has a huge impact around a revelation regarding the lead character, and it’s not one they could have pulled off if they allowed the player to create them.  

At the same time, I absolutely love making my own character and playing as them.  And as some games lately, such as Mass Effect and the Dragon Age series have shown, you can still have impactful story driven experiences even with a cypher of a lead character.  For that matter, even with a strictly designed character, I still usually fill in the blanks with my own thoughts and fanon on them anyways.  So… I don’t really know, but I’m glad we’ve got both.  And I kind of do wish there were more story-driven games where I got to make my own PC.

6. What is your opinion of sequel hooks?

So, I think I’m probably going against the grain of common opinion of this, but I think you can do them well.  Sequels are better when the events leading up to them were foreshadowed in the original, when you don’t have to mentally revise events to fit the two stories together.  However, I don’t think most creators do do them well.  As I discussed in my Freytag’s Pyramid post a while back, it’s imperative for work to tell a complete story, and the most common way to pull a sequel hook is to add some sort of inciting incident after a story that’s already complete, and making that story feel not complete at all in the process.  

So, as far as how to do it well, I imagine there’s a couple of ways.  Two examples I have in mind rest in Batman Begins and Bioshock Infinite.  So, spoilers for both, by the way.  Anyways, Batman Begins ends with Commissioner Gordon meeting with Batman after everything all went down and the city is saved, and saying there’s a new villain in town by the name of the Joker and asking for Batman’s help.  Which is kind of how most bad sequel hooks will play it as well, inciting incident after the denouement.  Here, though, I really felt it worked rather well, largely because A) it was obvious, future films or no, Batman was going to continue doing stuff, and B) the lack of details you were give made it much less of a new inciting incident.  Given it was already built into the story that Batman was in Gotham to stay, and they didn’t give much to open up new possibilities, it played more as an “The Adventure Continues” sort of deal than a true sequel hook.  Bioshock Infinite, on the other hand, more opened up the possibility of further stories rather than alluding to them directly.  The big reveal of BIoshock Infinite is the whole alternative universe thing, you spending the latter half of the game consistently traveling through other universes where different choices were made, and what not, including a brief stay in Rapture, the setting of the earlier games of the series.  Which made it pretty clear we were going to be getting a DLC revisiting Rapture, but again, no real inciting incident there nothing in the base game that started a story that was never completed.  I mean, a bad and dumb ending sure, but at least it wrapped things up.  So it was a sequel hook more in the sense of “If we did a sequel, here’s what it could be” rather than doing what most hooks do and start the sequel’s story in the original work.  

7. Many film directors seem to be under the impression that seeing their work in theaters is the definitive viewing experience. Would you agree?

Really, to me, the definitive way to watch a film is mildly intoxicated and with friends at your side mutually mocking the whole thing, but that’s probably not what they mean when they say it.  Seeing films in theaters is, for almost everyone, the best way to experience most films.  They look better, they sound better, and if they play things right, there can be almost a simulated feel to the film.  Creators, by and large, like to be creating the best, most impactful thing within their abilities, so it’s natural they’d look to theaters as their primary tool.

But, I’ve watched two films in theaters this year.  Which is more than I’ve seen in theaters in most any year in recent memory.  So, from my perspective, it doesn’t matter that it’s better in theater.  Because chances are, I’m not going to see your film in theater.  If you want the much vaunted Approval of Aether, and you absolutely should, you need to make your movie enjoyable on any screen.  My tv, my computer screen, maybe I’ll pull it up on my phone just for a lark.  If it’s not good on any of those, you’re not grabbing me with it.

I like how I say ‘you’ as if any big time directors are actually reading this blog.  EVEN THOUGH THEY SHOULD!

8. What do you think of post-game content?

It can be a nice bonus, but it’s not going to make or break anything for me.  There’s a lot of games I absolutely want to still be able to go through and explore even after I’ve beaten it, and in such cases, it’s nice to have something different to reflect the new state of the world, but I rarely ever spend a huge amount of time post game, so it doesn’t need a heck of a lot of staying power.  

9. When you see a film in theaters, what time of day do you prefer to go?

 I usually hit the earlier screenings.  My evenings tend to be busy, so that’s the time I have to get away and sit down and enjoy myself.

10. What is a word you really like, but can never seem to spell properly?

Grekking ‘Separate’.  I use that word all the time.  And every time, I spell it ‘seperate’ and only catch myself when the spellcheck squiggle shows up underneath it.  You’d think I’d pick up on it and adjust my spelling.  But I don’t.

Except for now, apparently.  I spelled it right there on the first try.

And that’s the end of the questions from Red Metal.  Hope you enjoyed this peek into my great and sexy mind.  Join us next time, with the threequel in this series, where we take on the questions posed by Alex’s Review Corner.  

6 responses to “Let’s Blog Award, Round 2!-Red Metal

  1. I’m in the “high level” camp because those games tend to require less grinding whereas the games where your characters spend a lot of time on one level tend to drag on unnecessarily. From what I’ve seen of it, the sphere grid is an interesting mechanic – it’s interesting seeing how RPG creators eschew a traditional leveling system, although in the case of Final Fantasy II, they kind of justified its existence.
    And that’s why I can say Persona 4 is one of the best RPGs out there; you can’t simply mash “Fight” every round and expect to get anywhere. You actually have to memorize enemy weaknesses and exploit them. In general, I think you can tell if a turn-based game is serious when it makes the “Defend” option necessary like with Persona 4 and Bravely Default.

    I agree with liking rotating lineups if the game can mitigate the changeups well. Grandia was actually really good at handling it because you could transfer skill points from the party members who left permanently, and they put all of their equipment in storage as well. As long as there’s at least one constant, I do like watching how the different configurations interact with each other as well.

    Maybe I’m forgetting a good counterexample, but I’m actually not sure if North American AAA developers have ever really grasped how to make a good boss fight. Even back in the 1990s, when you think of the stuff with the greatest impact like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, the bosses were just enemies with obscene amounts of health you couldn’t stun, so you ended up using the same tactics of “shoot, then hide behind cover when their attack animation plays”. It even seems to apply to RPGs, so there’s no hiding from it there. It’s so strange because indie developers from North America don’t seem have this problem if Undertale and Shovel Knight are any indication.

    I think sequel hooks can only really be done well under very specific circumstances. Batman Begins is a good example because even if there weren’t any sequels, the story itself still felt complete, and introducing the Joker was a great way of telling the audience, “and the battle has just begun” without leaving them wanting more right there and then because they already had some idea of how it would pan out. Maybe that’s what it boils down to; only do it if, in the event there is no sequel, the audience doesn’t feel ripped off.

    Otherwise, I think the only instance in which you can really get away with it is if the sequel has already been finished (Lord of the Rings and Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame are good examples). That way, you don’t run into the Star Wars sequel trilogy problem where one installment is in production at the same time the others and the crew has no idea what they’re doing as a result. It’s not a good idea if, for example, you’re making a sequel to a cult classic and your studio dissolves shortly after you’re finished because it turns out said cult classic hasn’t yet become a hot commodity (hello, System Shock 2).

    I do think you are kind of missing something by not seeing a film in theaters, but I tend to put all of my eggs in the “story” basket with visuals and sound being a nice bonus. Indeed, there are only four films I can think of that I would definitely award a 10/10, and I didn’t see any of them in theaters, although I did see two of them on my brother’s giant television set, so I may be cheating a little (and the other two were released before I was born, so I never had a chance to see them in theaters at all). Otherwise, I stand by what I said in my response; if your film is only good because it’s in theaters, you’re doing something wrong.

    That’s where I stand as well. It can be a nice bonus, but it’s not going to make a mediocre game good or a good game mediocre (unless it somehow completely destroys the goodwill of the campaign, but that is an extremely unlikely). Otherwise, unless there is some tangible benefit for persisting, a game is over for me when I see the credits roll.

    Yeah, I like the early screenings myself. Plus, early screenings tend to be less crowded, which makes watching the movie easier.

    Separate is one of those words I’m glad Microsoft Word autocorrects because that one trips me up too.

    • That’s honestly why I had to answer the question of turn-based vs. real time the way I did. Most of the really good turn-based games, the Chrono Triggers and the Final Fantasy X’s and the Shin Megami Tensei’s, you’re limited in how far the ‘Fight’ command can take you. Which I think comes more from the strength of enemy design than overall system design. Goes to show just how important the enemies in any of these game styles really are.

      Most of the American boss fight examples I kept trying to think of did actually turn out to be indies. Was ready to come firing back with Wayforward, thinking they were AAA because they’ve worked on big properties, but no, definitely indie. Coming around to it, I think classic Mortal Kombat games had some good boss fights (Which were, admittedly, developed more akin to modern indie games than modern AAA ones), and more recently, the Darksiders games have had some really solid ones. Otherwise, indie developers in the states are absolutely blowing it away with great boss fights, so it’s weird that almost none of that talent has trickled over.

      Absolutely. That’s what sequel hooks really come down to. It is absolutely vital that the story that people are getting into feels like it’s as done as they expected to get going in. Sequel hooks will generally reopen a story that’s likely already closed. Makes the audience feel like they got cheated. I don’t think anyone minded them in the Lord of the Rings, because you knew you were getting into a trilogy with those films from the outset. And I wouldn’t think they’re that effective at generating more buy in or excitement, either. I don’t think I’d mind them if they were just background details, though. Like, the post credit sequences in Marvel movies. Or something going on with an extra that barely has a presence in the main plot. Something like that.

      I remember a brief period of my life when I did spelling bees. Don’t thin I could do that now. Spellcheck has ruined me.

      • As an educated guess, I think it’s because the North American AAA industry, despite being profitable, is also rather insular. North American studios tend to only take cues from each other, and they tend innovate as little as possible (Valve when they can be bother to make a game notwithstanding). Indies and studios abroad, on the other hand, tend to have more eclectic influences, taking inspiration from both domestic and international efforts, and they therefore have far more frames of reference when it comes to game design – including how to make a good boss fight.

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