Pen n’ Paradise 1 – Skyrim
Welcome to the first episode of Pen n’ Paradise. Before we go any further, understand I’m not pleased with the audio quality and wish to pick up a new microphone. If anyone can reccomend a reliable model, feel free to do so in the comments.
This experimental series will look at Skyrim, Bethesda Softworks’ hit PC/Xbox/PS3 game. The first episode covers issues such as the basic setup of the game, how it succeeds in being a whole lotta fun, and some of the weaknesses in its design.
For reference to Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s analysis of gaming fun, see The Escapist, located at www.escapistmagazine.com. The specific article is here: Context, Challenge, and Gratification. This article goes a long way towards explaining why we like games, and why people tend to focus consistently on their favorite designers series.
Shamus Young is among my favorite bloggers for his devotion to deep and intelligent analysis. On his popular Twenty Sided blog, is right now developing a series on some of the story elements he finds most lackin in Skyrim, using the Thieves’ Guild questline as his example. The long series starts here, and is well worth a read: Thieves’ Guild Part 1. As of this moment, he’s up to five chapters, with absolutely oodles of analysis more focused than an audio series can dive into.
As my audio commentary suggests, a longer Thieves’ Guild quest chain could have smoothed over so many problems and had a greater impact. Karliah could have been mentioned early as a shadowy threat, steadily building in the background. You would have had much more contact with Mercer Frey, making the player more emotionally invested. Preferably, the actual story itself could have grown larger, and you might have had real choices to make – and without the “obvious villainy” label.
Shamus’s points hit the nail right on the head and explain the problems with Skyrim‘s context. As long as the game stays within its comfort zone, it can present a very good story. However, the characters simply can’t support the kind of elaborate tale they wanted to do – not in that few quests.
Many other problems stem from similar over-ambitious design elements. The AI simply can’t handle certain kinds of actions. It just doesn’t do “stealthy assassin” all that well. The artists simply couldn’t add enough animations for everything the storywriters wanted to include, so often complex events get handwaved away. BethSoft would have done better to limit the design to what was more feasible.
Never let it be said I make a criticism without a solution. One possibility would be to have stealthy characters simply show up, make an attack, and vanish. Treat them as a passive ability of the player. Instead of a berserk companion, perhaps hostile foes simply take a nasty wound now and then, and the stealthy ally simply vanishes back into the shadows. Or characters like Mercer Frey could be show up in some areas of the dungeon but not others, so he can charge in by surprise and eliminate the enemies from behind once you’ve grabbed their attention. This not only supports the character, but can tie in subtley with other themes. A callous mercenary might wait until you’re hurt and use dangerous area-of-effect attacks while a more heroic sort could appear and distract some foes in a pinch.
While that’s but a taste of the fun and the problems in Skyrim, it should give you a good taste of how it can be improved. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this audio series!
Filed under: Announcements |