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THE IMPRISONED PLAYER`s DILEMMA (IPD): Disabling players in a meaningful way
by Andreas Ahlborn on 11/25/12 05:43:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Warning, this blog entry contains Major Spoilers for the following Games: Assassins creed 1-3, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Mass Effect 2, Dark Souls, Red Dead Redemption, Fallout 3. Do not read further if you`re planning to play these Games.

 

It would be interesting to do a recherche which game designer came up first with the ultimate Ponzi Scheme of Video Games: how about, we are crippling the Player during a specific moment in our story to make things interesting? In every RPG nowadays you can bet there is a moment where your avatar will be captured, stripped of his gear and thrown into a prison, which not much left besides his wits to escape and reclaim his belongings. It`s very tempting do that in the beginning of a story, especially if it is a sequel to a franchise with an iconic hero/heroine, that you remember as being near almighty at the end of the last game. But more and more –obviously to spice things up- game designers feel the need to employ these tricks in the middle or near the end of a story. Game companies have gone as far as thinking, why the hell should we not carry this to the extremes? Let`s cripple our players during the climax of a story, at the very end when it comes to the showdown with his Nemesis. The most notorious examples in late Game history would be: Mass Effect 3 and Assassins Creed 3.

I will look at some Games and try to figure out, why in some rare cases “The Imprisoned Players Dilemma”, short IPD,  can have a positive payoff and why in most cases... not so much.

I will start with the games that profit from the Dilemma and end with the games that are severly hurt by a wrong implementation of this trick, namely with a game that I just finished today and which has the worst implementation of the IPD I have seen yet: Assassins Creed 3.

1. The Good

shows Com. Shepard behind Bars

The most creative application of the IPD I have come across was done in Mass Effect 2. It was the direct result of a catch-22 design problem Bioware had created for themselves, by allowing players to import the character they created in the first Mass Effect.

If they would balance the game against these experienced players, then they would alienate players that were new to the franchise. If they would disregard the veteran players by only targeting the new ones, the gameplay would have become trivial for the group that imported a full evolved character and you would effectively be punished for your achivements in the last game. Instead, Bioware did the only right thing with this design knot, they cut it in half by killing off the protagonist.

Now in every other case I can remember, when bringing your character back to life after he has passed away you are really jumping the shark and insulting the intelligence of your players (Force Unleashed 2 comes to mind), but the way Bioware did it wasn`t cheap at all. It was brilliant, you have to play it to believe the care that went into this resurrection.

When your character awakes from the coma after weeks of surgery it is absolutely clear, that even if you imported a fully grown character he can`t be at the top of his game, and even the tutorials you get fed along the first introductory level feel not forced, but are embedded in the context that you suffer from clinical memory loss. The only slight advantage you get from importing your character is that you have some free skill points to spent, but instead of feeling robbed you feel grateful in the context of the brilliant twist the writers came up with.

Fallout charcter behind bars

There are other good examples to convey a feeling of deserved progress/regress and satisfying IPD-applications. Fallout 3 starts its story with the birth of the main character, guiding him through his childhood and only opening the story to the free-roaming wasteland, when he reaches early adulthood. You really get a natural feeling for the growth of your character, while living through a birthday ceremony or attending class, and when your father at the end of the Prolog abandons you, you feel a really strong motivation  to undertake the quest of rejoining with him.

John Marston behind bars

Rockstar even pulled the stunt off to completely make the Player oblivious to the fact that he suffers from IPD. This is even harder to achieve in an open-world game where your players are accustomed to the fact, that they have full control at any time. At the end of the main story of Red Dead Redemption after the main character has done all the dirty work the officials demanded and tracked down and eliminated his old Gang there is a cut (“Months later”). The officials are back and the next 5 minutes that lead to the main characters death are happening pretty much “on rails”. The brillance of the developers lies really in the fact, that the player never gets the chance to realize, that he is being  manipulated. Rockstar achieves this  by weaving an intricate web of cutscenes, (limited) free-roaming and a famous shootout sequence that is not much more than an elaborate quicktime event. If there is something like an ultimate stage-illusion, a Prestige, here you have it. Its IPD is completely overwritten by Immersion, which only functions at this specific moment, where you get to experience the death of your character first hand, because you know –like him- that with the way his life was spent (as an Outlaw) Redemption (freedom of choice) is not an option any more. You accept your fate because it is what the character would do.

Dark Souls charcter behind bars

Fromsoft took things even further. Instead of using IPD as part of their game they constructed the whole gameplay around it.

In the first 5 Minutes of “Dark Souls” you learn several facts: you woke up in a very hostile world, you die a lot and if you fail, the game doesn`t pat your shoulder but slaps you in the face, because you respawn with all the enemies you couldn`t beat earlier on minus all the souls you managed to collect up to this moment. The often cruel difficulty in this game and the popularity it has gained in some gamer circles is astonishingly, because in most games, when enemies are overpowered and can instakill your character, gamers are quick to accuse developers of “cheap” tactics.

The best part is this: Not only disobeys Dark Souls unwritten RPG-rules like having clearly distinct starting-,mid- and endgame areas through which the difficulty scales with the players ability to overcome obstacles, but it intentionally draws the player in an endgame quest from the very beginning. There is an endgame-area in the game, you can theoretically access in the first 15 minutes of the game. Some gamers are heard of, which wasted hours of hours of gameplay with making absolutely no progress because they simply couldn`t believe developers would make such a “terrible” design decision.

Getting better in Dark Souls means simply dying less frequently, and when the player has maybe experienced the first hour in the game without dying constantly and is starting to believe things get actually manageable, he enters the “Sewers” (an area in DS) and encounters the only cute enemies in this game, the Basiliks. They curse him, and now things really turn to shit (It happened to me at least). Not only will the player die from the curse but he will respawn with everything lost minus his gathered souls minus half of his healthbar. He got officially castrated. Depending on where your last savepoint was, it could very well be that at this point it means “Game over”. If you have no antidote in your inventory (which is extremely expensive to get) already, you are neither in a shape to battle your way through the fresh spawned enemy hordes nor having a good chance to make it to the next savepoint at all.

How comes that Fromsoft can get away with this, when other RPG developers would be burned to ashes for this “shortcomings”. How did they make a virtue of necessity?

By “imprisoning” the player constantly in the game world`s claustrophobic hostility they create a virtual “Stockholm Syndrome”, also known as “capture-bonding”. You get to a point where you “sympathize” with the hostility of the game mechanics, you really feel “captured”/”taken hostage” by this world, you enjoy this “living on the edge”.

Sidenote:These players got really offended, when in an interview the game director of “Dark Souls” thought about making an “easy” more accessible mode for the sequel. A petition was launched, but it turned out, that it was a faulty translation from the Japanese that created the misunderstanding. “Dark Souls” not only functions with “IPD”, but it thrives on that. By removing “IPD” and catering to the Mainstream, it would literally loose the core of its right to exist, it would only be another average RPG under thousands of others.

2.The Ugly
 

Adam Jensen behind bars

 

Deus Ex Human Revolution is a special case. It shows both sides of the coin: In the beginning your character is head of security and a capable combat specialist. Severly injured by a terrorist attack most of your bodyparts are getting replaced by artificial ones and you slowly have to adapt to the changes your body went through, thus an implementation of all available “Augmentations” would overload your capacity.

It`s perfectly fine to explain it that way and the player feels like a Rehab patient that is getting better as he progresses in his capabilities, again: he doesn`t feel frustratingly robbed of his abilities, but rewarded when he gets to choose his augmentations.

Another problem that obviously came up in the design process was instead handled badly and it shows the other side of the IPD-coin. Deus Ex Human Revolution is not only known for one of the best/interesting stories in Games of this decade, but sadly also for maybe the worst implementation of boss fights (for a good read see: link  ). To counter the overpowered Augmentation “Typhoon” which effectively proved to be an instawin-ability against all the bosses, Square Enix tricks the player in making him believe his augmentations are infested with a virus. If the player decides to “repair” his augmentations they are in fact “sabotaged” and he can`t employ any of his augmentations in the final boss battle, thus turning the tide and making a battle that would be trivial with the “Typhoon” augmentation frustratingly hard.

Obviously it doesn`t help to paint a corpse that is rotting from the inside with clever twist paint. This IPD obviously didn`t sit so well with players. You had to be really masochistic to fall for that trap.

3.The Bad

Connor Kenway behind bars

Now that we have taken a look how IPD can serve the quality of the players experience, enrichen it, we must take a look where IPD can go wrong. And while there are plenty of other games that have made bad use of this strategy (Here`s looking at you, CoD), I will take the Assassins Creed franchise and especially the last installment as a best worst case.

At Assassins Creed core, there is this huge problem that most “Superhero” franchises suffer from: Everybody wants to play Superman, but Clark Kent…not so much. Clark Kent is the ultimate metaphor for the Imprisoned Identity, the IPD incarnated. Since Assasins Creed (1) Ubisoft was obviously clear about one thing: Desmond Miles (the main character of the game) was only a means to an end, a tool to relive the memories of his ancestors. In the first Installment this was made clear by the fact that over the course of the whole game his only task was to get quickly into the “Animus” (the machine that triggers the memories) and he principally never left the Room where he was incarcerated by the “Templars” for the whole game, whereas Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, his Superhero-Bad-Ass-Assassin-Ancestor-Alter-Ego got to free-roam an enormous medieval world, filled with Knights, Palaces, Intrigues and Supernatural devices.

Ubisoft, obviously surprised by their own success tried in AC 2, AC:Brotherhood and AC:Revelations to further develop a storyline that unfolds parallel to the past in the present, the goal was obviously to merge the relatively Incompatible formula-ingredients of on the one side Desmond Miles search for Artefacts in the Present by gathering Informations about their whereabouts through the Animus, by remembering where his ancestors had hidden them. What a promising plot device, and with the Apple of Eden they seemed to have a perfect MacGuffin to melt down dozens of virulent conspiracy theories and spice up their own universe.

All seemed to be setup so well, when Ubisoft introduced the Bleeding effect in Assassins Creed 2, a kind of mental disorder, where Desmonds real-time and Ancestor-memories where beginning to overlap, there was a real chance that they would get their character out of his gameplay-prison cell.

But, alas, history proved my hopes were in vain. Ubisoft is no Rockstar and no Naughty Dog, they have no understanding that simply widening the prison walls (like they did it for Desmond up until AC3) doesn`t free a character that suffers from IPD.

Desmond Miles will go down in gaming history as one of the most underused characters of a huge Franchise. He will forever be remembered as the Clark Kent of Games. As if that would not be enough, Ubisoft also manages to drag one of their most promising newcomers down into the abyss of the IPD. I´m speaking of Ratohnhaké:ton (Connor Kenway) the protagonist of the latest AC-Installment. Would you believe it: there is this huge open world, where you can tarzan through trees, climb cliffs, hunt animals, steer ships on a cleverly designed, seeminly infinite ocean, and then in some of the crucial moments of the game the developer feels the need to grab in the Quicktime-Event-Bag? The IPD-gamemechanics par excellence?

One could argue, that I am really looking at a different Syndrom of IPD, when it comes to Quicktime-Events, but in my opinion what motivates the developer to retreat to Quicktime-Events is the exact same on a microscopic level, what the plot-derived IPD is on a macroscopic one.

Sometimes these nights I wake up, bathed in sweat, hoping that the last encounter between Connor and his Father was only a bad dream, but then I remember how Ubisoft managed to mess up the Assassination of the main villain even further, and I cry myself to sleep. It would not hurt so much if the developers hadn`t build up the character of Connors Father so well, by giving the player the opportunity to play him in the beginning of the game, by making him sympathetic enough that the twist (revealing him as head of the Templars) really came as a shock.

So after the reunion of Father & Son and getting to know each other it eventually becomes clear that their different world views are not compatible. A fight starts and during the fight the game instructs you to “use the environment” to your advantage.

Okay we have learned this during the game: press x near a bottle, character uses bottle, press x near a table, character smashes enemy against the table. Finally, when Connors Father has pinned him down a big fat “X” signals what to do, and the father dies. This all happens while the camera is distorted and we are not fully in charge of our body.

It`s a Perfect Example why employing IPD-tricks (making your player artificially weak, falsely implying it would make the scene somehow more dramatic) at such a crucial moment (confrontation with the character`s father) is destined to go south. You have to play it, to believe how “bad” it really feels, and I mean that not in a “emotional depressing” way (like the red ded redemption showdown scene). It `s if Pixar would have decided to change to 2D-Animation during the reunion of Nemo and his father or if Hitchcock had decided to go for technicolor during the Psycho-shower-scene. It`s a sign of bad taste to rob their players of their freedom of choice in such moments. It`s dumb and Ubisoft should feel dumb.

Soon after you quicktime-event-disposed of your father, you get the chance to hunt down your Nemesis Charles Lee, the Guy that was responsible for the dead of your mother and your main target for the last 10 years of your life. You think, now at last you will get your revenge properly, Assassins style? Think again. Instead when you confront him on the cemetery where he holds a speech at the coffin of your father you severly suffer from IPD again (distorted, blured vision, most controls useless, you can barely walk) and are easily captured by Lee`s Minions. Of course, once Lee is gone your IPD magically vanishes and you continue the hunt. Finally you catch him at the harbor, but again he manages to escape, not without giving you the opportunity to shoot him in the chest, while you yourself are injured from a big splinter in your belly. Die hard, anyone?

OK, here is the best part, finally, finally you catch him at a house in the middle of nowhere, he is still bleeding, so are you. He only sits at the table, you barely manage to crawl in his direction because your controls are now on Super-IPD-Mode, (You watch the snail on the ground, that manages to outrun you). You sit down at his table. You kill him with a QE. End of story. What an anticlimactic finale, the credits that start rolling feel like a thriller, compared to that.

To be fair, the messed up climaxes only come across as lazy design decisions because AC3 pretty much had the underlying theme of “Freedom” written in its DNA. Connor`s always talking about freedom, we get to experience the Birth of a nation that calls itself “Land of the Free”, there are moments, especially in the frontier, where the amount of “Detail” that has been put into enabling the player to really experience freedom in gameplay is breath-taking. AC3 is still a good game, that deserves its praise, but it missed the status of a masterpiece by a misguided application of the IPD.


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Comments


Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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You talk less about disabling players and rather about de-powering them.
Also those are some horrible examples. ME2s resurrection was not only immersion-breaking it also did all kinds of weird things to the narrative and begged oh so many questions.

Amnesia is one of the laziest ways to tell a story and set up your hero character unless it is intimately tied into the over-arching themes or narrative (like identity, spirituality, consciousness, etc). ME2 did none of those things. In fact, Shepards miraculous resurrection isn't once brought up in the game till ME3's throwaway scene near the end.

Deus Ex HR in contrast confronts the player with the question of identity and consequence of Adams augumentation (I didn't ask for this!)
Similarly Geralts amnesia in the Witcher series is a part of the narrative and a device to portray his search for identity/humanity. Not only that, but its connection to the Great Hunt and what he might have experienced in another plane of existence is a solid mystery-hook to keep players interested in his backstory.

Disabling a player would be transitioning into a game-changing cutscene where the player has no influence on what his avatar is doing.
i.e. breaking control over the character.

I'm surprised you didn't bring up Mass Effect 3's boss-fights with Kai Leng or the chase-scene with Dr. Eva which provide a better example than AC3

The Kai Leng fights are a prime example of disabling a player.
You can beat him but after you do the game takes control away from you and he escapes without giving you any choice in the matter. This happens twice.

The Dr. Eva fight is a prime example of de-powering a player.
You can't use your charge-ability as a Vanguard and must run after her, on foot, and she is invulnerable to weapons-fire (and all abilities) even if you catch up to her during the chase.

ME3 has dozens of those situations, the most famous of which is when you get hit by Sovereigns beam at the end. For no reason whatever your powers don't work anymore, all your gear is gone save a standard pistol you didn't even equip, and it has infinite ammo and doesn't need reloading.
Marauder Shields.

I think you need to separate disabling (and de-powering) a character mechanically from narratively, you sort of blend it all together.

Luis Guimaraes
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I agree, disempowering the player mechanically and narratively are two different things. The article title suggests the former (by using the word "player" instead of "character") but the content is mostly focused around the latter.

Andreas Ahlborn
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You are making very good objections here. I see now that I really tried to put too much content in here at the cost of the message I tried to convey. "Disabling" might be indeed a term that doesn`t fit well with the subject. But as a blog author yourself, you know how it is when you try to find a catchy headline for an article.

I obviously skipped over the ME3-part (and only mentioned it briefly in the introduction) because my AC3-wounds were still fresh and I had to lick them first. In retrospect I see your point: ME3 would definitively at least on par with AC3 when it comes to the worst application of IPD.

I don`t agree with your statement: "ME2s resurrection was not only immersion-breaking it also did all kinds of weird things to the narrative and begged oh so many questions." Bioware had a problem in merging their "old" Fans with their "New" Ones (this was especially lucky, considering the fact that the PS3 Version of ME2 came before ME1) and they solved it brillantly.
This is of course with the background of my own preferences, that might not be so popular with the Hardcore-RPG-Fandom. I honestly never understood what all the fuzz was about that there was a bug in ME3 that doesn`t allow to import some facials from the previous game. If that is "Immersion"-breaking for some fans, that were "devastated" by this fact ("I want my money back, BW, because now ME3 is unplayable for me"), then Im kind of speechless.
I hope when the "PR-storm" around ME3`s ending finally is history, I will eventually read a good analysis of what really went wrong with ME3 that is more than a disguised Entitlement-Feeling.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"Bioware had a problem in merging their "old" Fans with their "New" Ones (this was especially lucky, considering the fact that the PS3 Version of ME2 came before ME1) and they solved it brillantly."

I tend to disagree and I'm not talking about character imports etc.

I'm talking about the immersion breaking shift from ME1s faulty and fantastical but committed science to "space magic".
Sure, ME1 universe had biotic powers, laser-beams and other fantastical stuff, but the living didn't come back from the dead with !!SCIENCE!! (discounting Geth husks, its more like the Borg than resurrection)

The resurrection of Space-Jesus Shepard (you will excuse my snark, I have a particular hatred for this part of the game) created many problems with the logic of the universe. The questions it immediately begged:

It can not be original Shepard, since you see Shep burn up in the atmosphere of the planet in the intro (all they found was his helmet). Cerberus confirmed that Shep was most definitely completely dead (suffocated and burned up at re-entry)
Cloning doesn't work that way and people don't pop out of pods with their memories intact.

Ergo, who or what is Shepard?
What/Who gave Shepard his memories (back?)
What -did- Cerberus exactly do to Shepard?

Tim made perfectly clear that they needed Shepard because he was special, it needed to be him, why? (the "recognizable face" explanation is rather flimsy given the effort by cerberus)
Given that Tim says that he could have built an armada for the resources he spent on reconstructing Shep, why didn't he?
If it was this expensive and important, why send this asset on a suicide mission in the end?

If the Illusive Man and Cerberus had the technology to bring people back from the dead, why not use it in the war? (yes, the facility blew up, but i don't think this couldn't be reproduced if they tried again)

To this day we still don't know Tims motivation beyond "it seemed like a good idea at the time..."

etc---

My point being that Shepards resurrection is incredibly game-y, its bad storytelling for the sake of a mechanical convenience. It could have been handled more immersively.

Deus Ex did a far better job of displaying the results and consequences of a "reconstruction" as well as a motivation.

Adam Jensen is the blueprint for the the cure to augmentation-rejection, obviously David Sarif wants to keep the man alive, not to mention he is his friend.

Adam needs to buy Praxis kits when he wants to advance his abilities, aka he needs to adjust to his new body and it's entirely up to the player how quickly they progress this.
Either you embrace your body-augs or you spend more money on modding and buying guns instead.

When Adam confronts Namir and the kill-switch takes effect (or not, I didn't buy what LIMB was selling) you have a situation that further reinforces a narrative layer.
The game designer didn't cripple you, the Illuminati in the narrative did, and you fell for it.
You are made vulnerable, just a man again, fighting the super-man of the new generation (as you tried before).

As you overcome Namir you prove that you either are the superior new generation of super-augment, or that being human still counts more than augmentation.

While this might not have sat well with players (i honestly don't know of any broad complaints except for the boss-fights in general) it brought home the message(s).

>As an interesting tidbit, this fight is intended as a contrast to the original Deus Ex fight with Gunther Herman. You, the new super-man (anon-augmented JC Denton) fight the "old model" Gunther, a man who augmented his own body to the point of disfigurement and obsession (skull-gun).<

The gameplay is organically interwoven with the narrative in Deus Ex:HR while in ME2 we have a hand wave and "space magic".

Andreas Ahlborn
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While Im tempted to discuss the problems you bring up in detail, I have the feeling that it eventually all boils down to the fact that we both obviously have a different "tolerance" concerning how much we are willing to suspend our disbeliefs.

The Mass Effect Universe has for me a superior believablility in pulling of a "Space-Jesus" than the "Deus Ex" has in pulling of an "Augmentation"-Jesus . Similar to the fact it is never really told in detail how "resurrection" works" we never really get to know why Jensen is so special, sure his Ex-Lover betrays him by using/researching his blueprint, despite the fact that he hates Augmentation (an aversion that is also somehow god-given and it is never really explained why he hates it - the I,Robot script did a better job at this, they could have looked there).

Im only mentioning it here, because of the examples you gave, it`s not sth. that bothered me during gameplay.

The "Clarke`s three laws"-card works in ME better than in DXHR, because 1.The timeline (150 years in the future) 2.Alien Technology.

While the LIMB-card may be smart from a story-point of view. Its the kind of smartness that wants to "hammer" its message home. We`ll never know if it was originally intended or a "typhoon"-emergency solution. The strange coincidence with the Boss-Fight-desaster suggests the Latter.

As I stated -DXHR is an overall well designed game, as is ME2- it makes little sense to play off the one against the other. You kind of forced my hand here.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"As I stated -DXHR is an overall well designed game, as is ME2- it makes little sense to play off the one against the other. You kind of forced my hand here."

No I didn't.
Your article originally pits them against each other as ME2 being "The Good" and DX:HR being "The Ugly"

"Similar to the fact it is never really told in detail how "resurrection" works" we never really get to know why Jensen is so special, sure his Ex-Lover betrays him by using/researching his blueprint, despite the fact that he hates Augmentation (an aversion that is also somehow god-given and it is never really explained why he hates it - the I,Robot script did a better job at this, they could have looked there)."

You need to replay the game and do the "Acquaintances Forgotten" quest where it is explained in excruciating detail that Adam is an escaped test-baby for the Illuminati group White Helix. He is the DNA carrier for universal Augmentation.

Once Reed wants to go public with her derived universal augmentation research the Illuminati have Adam, and her, on their radar (intro cinematic) since -they- know that Reeds research can only be obtained from -their- White Helix program.

Its why Darrow acts now and not earlier, because with safe and universal augs the Illuminati would gain the upper hand.

Adam is the focal point of the whole conspiracy.

Contrast that with ME2, where nothing in the game can be found on why Shepard is important beyond being a recognizable human front for Cerberus, a publicity stunt.

Cerberus' endgame is going through the Omega Relay, Shepard doesn't help with that goal for the resources they expended on him.
They can as well send a fleet of 40 destroyers through the relay. Nothing Shepard does in ME2 is necessary. The Omega IFF needed could have been obtained by a strike group, Cerberus already knew where the Derelict Reaper was.
Assembling a team doesn't need to be led by Shepard, Miranda did well on her own to get half their people including crewing the Normandy.
Given the fact that Tim whines at the Council that they don't defend the human colonies in Terminus from the Collectors, he could have spent the supposedly "armada-worth" resources that he spent on resurrecting one dude to build an actual fleet to defend Terminus.

And I'm ignoring the fact that Cerberus never uses their miracle resurrection afterwards, wouldn't it be useful to bring back important people, like, i don't know, your lost squad-mates after the assault on the Collector Base?

If you make death reversible, you better be prepared for the narrative consequences.

----

This is entirely not about suspension of disbelief, its about narrative and setting coherence as well as logic that works in the setting.
The character motivations in ME2 make no sense in the setting of ME.

ME2 is a character piece with a story backdrop. Its a soap with an incoherent plot. Characters do things because the scrips says so, not because they organically have stakes from the narrative.

DX:HR is both a strong character story about a variety of issues of the human condition and a coherent setting.

If it comes down to personal opinion somewhere, its that I completely despise stories that just put characters in a settings and make them do things "just because" and not make them grow out of the setting and plot.
I reject being forced to speculate on character motives and their inconsistencies.

DX:HR has a lot of flaws both mechanically and narratively, but IPD isn't one of them.

Andreas Ahlborn
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I have the feeling you got here enough interesting stuff to write about in an own article.

I would really like to hear your own take on evaluating the Mass Effect series, and I mean that honestly in a not ironic way.

Could all the critics/journalists/magazines be so wrong about their final verdict that Mass Effect, especially the second part, and especially the storyline, dialogues, characters etc. (with the exception of the last ten Minutes) are the first step in video games direction to construct a "believable" Universe the size of "Star Wars" or "Star Trek"?

If I read your posts, Im confident in my assumption, that your general verdict about the Mass effect series goes sth. like that:

Mass Effect 1:= OKish
Mass Effect 2:= ridiculous
Mass Effect 3:= beyond redemption

Im always interested in hearing different opinions and yours willl probably go in the direction: "Mass Effect" is seriously overrated.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Andreas, writing a (proper) analysis of ME1-3 would take me a month, and while I would like to do that, a lot of my talking-points have already been covered by better writers than me.
All I'm doing here is amalgamating the critique of several writers like Shamus Young (etc), i.e. the analysis isn't entirely my own.

If I were to write my own analysis it would bring only subtle nuances to the discussion, and I'm not really ready to put in the effort for that.

If you don't want to hunt down the general critique points all over the net, I can only recommend the user Smudboy on Youtube. He has by far the most in-depth narrative+plot analysis of all the Mass Effect games (+DLCs) in video format (it should total ~1-2 hours per game, not counting separate videos on character analysis and retcon/inconsistencies)

Here is a link to his playlists: http://www.youtube.com/user/smudboy/videos?flow=grid&view=1

He is also doing DX:HR but his updates are rather slow.

Full Disclosure:
I do not agree with -all- of his arguments, but the -general- sentiment he expresses is similar to my own.
You should also take parts of his analysis with a grain of salt and with a bit of humor, he does like hyperbole. Especially with DX:HR since he is a climate change denier, the whole Panchea thing riles him up significantly.

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This said, yes I do not think the Mass Effect games are "that good".
Personally I liked ME1, not perfect of course, lots of improvements to be had, but the narrative and plot was coherent (if derivative).

ME2 was a game I did not like. Gone were narrative coherence and the writers seemed to forget what exactly was said two sentences before, contradicting or ignoring established events. I didn't feel any motivation to sort my crews issues and just ran through the main story to see where this was heading, just to realize that all I did was play a filler episode of a sci-fi show.
The shooting was better, but repetitive and without challenge.

ME3 is/was a complete disaster in a technical, mechanical and narrative sense.

What I always had a problem with is the universal (10/10) acclaim by fans and press the series seemed to acquire by virtue of being a child of Bioware, but I see no problem separating this from my objective analysis and not letting it color my opinion (too much).

PS: Spoiler Warning Show's collaborative Lets Play/commentary with Shamus Young, Campster and others on Mass Effect 1-3 is also great fun to watch and listen, but is relatively jumbled and unstructured, not an analysis.

Andreas Ahlborn
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At least I was not too wrong with my educated guesses concerning your general evaluation of the ME-series Quality, then. Im relieved.

Thanks for the tipps, regarding the Smudboy connection.
I will surely check it out, maybe even consider a total playthrough after that to put his critic to the test.
It would surely be nice to get a professional opinion about the Series, now that the dust around ME3 is settling.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Out of curiosity, what do you consider "a professional opinion"?

i.e. what criteria does it need to fulfill to be professional.

Robert Marney
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I think there are two separate phenomena here. First you have the common device of starting the player at a high power level in the tutorial or previous game and then revoking it so the game can progress from square one, which dates back to Metroid if not earlier. This is what Mass Effect 2 and Deus Ex HR are doing. Second, you have a special point usually midway through the game where the player is stripped of their abilities by the narrative for a short period, which probably dates back to text adventures where you are imprisoned and your items left in a box by the guards. This is what Dark Souls and Red Dead Redemption are doing.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Thank you for getting back to the point in this thread. Aleksander & me got a little carried away, it seems.

I saw the problem you mentioned and (a posteriori) added a passage in the article that was not too elaborated:

"One could argue, that I am really looking at a different Syndrom of IPD, when it comes to Quicktime-Events, but in my opinion what motivates the developer to retreat to Quicktime-Events is the exact same on a microscopic level, what the plot-derived IPD is on a macroscopic one."

Im only using the Imprisonment or artifically depriving the Player as a Metaphor for the overall Scheme, thus it`s not important (for me in this article) where this Depriving is located in the body of a story (Start-Midgame-Showdown), its also not so relevant how this Deprivation is embodied (gamemechanics-wise), whether it is via Quicktime-Events or via the big blind alley at the end of a game where you are forcing the player via a final cutscene out of his free will, because you have to finish the story somehow.

So the phenomena might indeed be different ones, but they are all symptons of a "trend" in the AAA-games industry to find a sweet spot between Casual Players and Gamers.

The first faction loves it obviously to get everything spoonfed, the second one hates it.
And IPD is one of the things the big players are experimenting with at the moment to find that spot.

Nick Harris
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Thank you for this fascinating article. I had always been of the opposing view: that videogame designers should strive to empower and free the player in order to compensate for the inherent inarticulacy of our gamepads and tendency for the game's story to force the adoption of a linear level design to ensure sequential encounters with some guarantee of what relationships, items, abilities, and weapons you will have collected at that point to appropriately balance the degree of challenge of the next encounter. I will consider adding your well-identified IPD mechanic to my work in small doses as I feel it will give it more variety.


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