Flavor Matters

With most creative works, whether video games, books, movies, whatever, it’s often the little touches that really make the whole experience.  You can have a great plot, excellent gameplay, perfect cinematography, whatever, but if you ignore the tone, atmosphere, visual details, continuity, all those small details, it’s going to drag your whole work down.

From a creation standpoint, it’s really easy to forget that.  It’s just habit to try to direct the audience’s focus wherever most of the creator’s efforts are going.  After all, I just delivered this big shiny fight scene with such vibrant imagery!  Did you see the way Brick Stronggroin just shot that guy’s head into the air where it exploded like an Independence Day firecracker, before he stagedived into the Sea of Tits?!  That’s high art!  I should be showered with awards!  So what if the costumes are not really appropriate for the tone of this work, or the soundtrack at this part is all bloopy reggae jams?   Who cares if I had previously established that Brick hated explosions of all sorts owing to the death of his entire home planet in a freak explosion accident?

The thing is, creators experience a work differently than consumers do.  Creators, even when going back and reviewing their own creations, tend to look at it piece by piece, breaking it down by its components, and naturally giving more importance to the little bits they spent more effort on.  So it’s easy for creators to forget the impact of all the little touches, such as internal consistency, the atmosphere they’ve built, continuity, and all that jazz.  All those little pieces combine to form the flavor of the work.  For consumers, who, unlike the creators, usually view a work as a whole, more concerned with how well the parts work together than the quality of each individual bit, flavor is generally just as important as every other component.  Flavor matters.

Fallout-_Brotherhood_of_Steel_Screenshot

A great example of that comes in Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.  There is a game that is just reviled.  It’s hard to find anywhere that has anything good to say about it.  Fallout fans are absolutely disgusted by its existence, even nonfans have soundly marked it as decently below average, and its sales were incredibly low and likely a large contributing factor to Interplay’s bankruptcy.  Perhaps most damning, the owners of the Fallout franchise has determined it completely non-canon, in spite of the fact that it seems to have fewer plot inconsistencies than Fallout Tactics, its fellow side game.

I played Brotherhood of Steel recently.  If you take the flavor out of the equation, this is a decidedly average game.  The gameplay is uninspired but doesn’t have many major flaws, the visuals are functional, the controls are tight enough, and the plot at least makes sense.  Compared to its contemporaries, the game at least hit par.  Without the flavor, it doesn’t nearly deserve the heaps of scorn it’s gotten, and it’s probably worth at least a few points more than reviewers have been giving it.

Yet, even so, the game is rightfully remembered as downright foul.  And it all comes down to flavor.  The flavor in this game is so bad it drastically impacts ones enjoyment of the game.

For the Fallout fans, the flavor inconsistencies are obvious, even as the plot roughly matched up.  Fallout is almost defined by its retrofuturist aesthetic.  Everything is built around the 1950’s idea of science fiction.  And yet, in Brotherhood of Steel, the characters look as if they walked out of the pages of Heavy Metal magazine, the soundtrack was a decidedly modern roll of droning metal, and the game featured product placement from a brand that didn’t even exist until the late 90s.  Even ignoring the other games in the Fallout series, the flavor was wildly inconsistent in its own right.  Matching the 50’s aesthetic with all the features mentioned above just creates a level of cognitive dissonance that’s absolutely baffling.  Moreover, the game swears so much the English language itself starts losing any meaning, the soundtrack is flatout bad, even without the dissonance, and the visual design is flatly uninspired.  The game is bad.  And it’s bad because of its flavor.  It’s bad because this one link in the otherwise average chain is so very, very poor.

It’s easy to go too far with this.  I think everyone can remember finding some discussion somewhere where one consumer placed flavor so far above everything else in terms of importance that the slightest inconsistency absolutely shattered their suspension of disbelief and their enjoyment of the piece as a whole.  Even so, flavor matters.  Flavor is an important component of enjoying a work, and it’s not one that can go ignored.

Laying Siege In Dark Souls

Wow, it’s been a while since I had myself some Dark Souls adventures. Well, last time on Oh My God How Long Can I Keep This Going, we had a bunch of trouble with some imaginary people in a fake world, then met a beautiful woman who didn’t want anything to do with us.  Because of this, we jumped off a cliff.  Somehow that led us back to the real world. So now, rather than barely being able to handle the Painted World of Ariamis, we’re up against the rest of the famed Anor Londo, city of the gods. Will we be barely able to handle this one, or are we doomed to a life of failure and hollowness? Read on to find out!

dark souls anor londo

Leaving from the entrance to the Painted World of Ariamis puts us pretty much exactly where we left off; at the foot of this chapel. I don’t get a really good screencap of it, but all this is built really high off of the ground. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights. I would be, but after the first couple hundred times you come back from the dead, the more pedestrian ways of dying kind of start losing their sting. Of particular note, you can see some bat-wing demons, those spindly little pale creatures, perched gargoyle-like to each side of the staircase. They’re the same creatures that brought me here from Sen’s Fortress, except these ones seem armed. I’m wary of them, but they don’t make a move as I head by. Either they’re as docile as the ones that served as my transport earlier, or I’m just not within their sphere of aggression.

dark souls anor londo stairs

Interesting thing to note about these stairs, they come in two sizes. Suggests there’s two sizes of people that visited this place. One relatively human-sized, much like me, the other some sort of giant.

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Like these guys. Two sentinels guarding the entrance to this place. I got my practice in against them near the entrance to Anor Londo, so I don’t expect these guys to pose much challenge. Well, as long as I can keep the fight one-on-one. I’m still not crazy enough to be facing these guys en masse yet.

Fun thing I quickly discover, if you lure a sentinel far enough down the staircase, they’ll hit a point where they just start backing up to their original position, ignoring everything else up to and including the Best Chosen One slipping behind them and taking them on from their unguarded rears. If you don’t think I abuse this… well, you clearly haven’t read the earliest posts in this series.

dark souls bat wing demon

I spy one of the bat wing demons lurking behind this door, seemingly trying to get at me. I guess it was too much to hope that they wouldn’t hate me just because they took the time to bring me here. Don’t know why I’m surprised. This is Lordran, everything and everyone hates me. Comes part and parcel with the undead curse. The more you die, the more likely you are to go hollow, and those already hollow, well, they’d love to have more of their own. Given how much I’ve fallen in this pursuit of becoming the Best Chosen One, it’s a wonder I’ve stayed as sane as I have. Anyways, lending further credence to my ‘humans and giants coexist here’ theory, this gate is built to accommodate to size. As a whole, it opens large enough to fit beings of a grand stature through, but it also has a little doggie door for those of my height built in. Hmm… ‘doggie door’ seems exceptionally fitting, the way this is built. Makes one wonder how relation between the two races was shaped.

dark souls anor londo sized doors

In any case, this gate is locked from the other side, and my big beefy arms are just too large to reach to the lock through the bars.  The main doorway into the chapel is solidly locked as well. The gate to the right of the doorway is wide open, however, and it’s through that I venture forth.

dark souls anor londo bat wing demon fight

It’s through that path that I finally come face to face with those demons. They… well, they’re very different opponents. They’ve got some tricks in them. They’re quick and jumpy and somewhat hard to hit and they have a habit of sneaking around corners when they go aggro unbeknownst to me so I end up fighting groups when I was trying to take them on one by one. They have electric spears, too, meaning I can’t entirely block their damage. They also slide backwards when they’re hit, so I can’t get more than one blow in at a time unless I’ve got them cornered. All these tricks makes them incredibly difficult to fight. I swing my Black Knight Sword low, so they often fly right over my attacks before punishing me for them. They’re too fast to be using pyromancy efficiently. And with how much they move, it’s hard to find an opening. Once I learn they’re moves, though, they end up pretty much being cake. Spears don’t actually have a whole lot of flexibility to them; like an inexperienced jock on prom night, all they can do is thrust. When you know what to expect, it’s not too much trouble to slip past their attack and strike out with your own. My favorite thing to do is to fight them up against a ledge. Since they slide back when hit, it doesn’t take much to fill the abyss below with their corpses. Continue reading