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FrankCSIS
5th Aug 2014, 00:58
Been a good long while since I've rambled on storytelling in games. Monday night seems as good a time as any to change this. I've just accidentally stumbled on a delicious example of blatant laziness in game writing, which goes to show how a little more research and work ethic would go a long way.

I've long laughed at Assassin's Creed 4's attempt to masquerade its pirate game as a genuine title of the series. Instead of assuming its identity as high sea piracy funfest, it went to extreme lengths to try and fit some Templar storyline along the way, and link it to the previous entries. In this lose-lose situation, the Assassin's Creed title held the piracy game back, and the improbable setting ruined what was left of the Templar storyline. There was simply no reasonable way to link those two elements in a coherent, credible, well-written ensemble. And yet...

I've recently been reading a book on the history of fiscal evasion, written by one of the most respected scholar on the subject. No conspiracy theories here, nothing but cold hard facts to withstand the test of courts and libel lawsuits. Long story short, this fascinating study starts by demonstrating how the Dominion of Canada, still subject to the Crown, basically wrote all of the fiscal laws pertaining to the banking systems of the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica.

American banks being forbidden from opening offices outside of the US, and British banks being subject to extremely strict laws, "Canadian" banks opened up shop all over the Caribbeans. Those banks were Canadian in name only of course, because Canada was not yet a country in the 1800's. Those shell corporations, ran by men who were considered English when in Canada but Canadians in the rest of the world, allowed the British to create their own fiscal loophole in the South, without being subject to British banking laws. Among many of them, Enos Collins, a pirate turned privateer with a letter of marque licensing him to prey on "enemy" ships opened up his bank in 1825.

I think you can figure out by now where this is going. Templar lore is of course directly associated with the banking cabal. During the crusades, Templar knights would lend their protection to rich noblemen on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When the wealth to protect was too great, they opened their churches where the money would be held, in exchange for "bank" notes, essentially creating the very first modern international bank. Thorough research demonstrating the destiny of the Caribbeans and the rest of the region was in the hands of "Canadian" bankers in the 1800s, men who would also be in charge of railroad development, sugar plantations and rum exportation, I think it's fairly obvious to see how easy it would have been to stretch the historical reality into an interesting, plausible conspiracy theory linking corsairs, templars and the mysteries of this fascinating period.

What we got instead was a botched job and a kitch story. The truly delicious part of all of this is, the expert who literally wrote the book on the history of banking in the region is a French Canadian from Montreal. The studio behind AC 4 exists in the same bloody area code as this man. Contacting him for some background research would not have required for so much as a long-distance call. But I suppose, like all of their entries, they preferred to read high school history books and look up the names of famous people of that period on Wikipedia instead.

When info started to leak on HR, we were told about how the writers went ahead and contacted scientists to see if some of their inventions and weapons were plausible. We were somehow led to believe this was the prelude to a ton of background research to prepare for the storyline. As time and interviews went by, we came to realise the same examples were cited over and over again, until it became rather clear what we took to be a small percentage of the potentially great research work turned out to be, in fact, pretty much the bulk of all the research done for the storyline. As the game eventually proved, most of the story, like AC 4, was filler, surface work, straight from the mind of the writing team. And, unfortunately, it shows.

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 05:22
I stopped playing Assassin's Creed because of the weak storytelling...the premise is interesting enough but the supernatural aspect comes in as a shock after the entire is game is realistic/down to earth (I'm talking about the first 2 AC's, haven't touched the other ones). Any game that relies on the supernatural to magically end a story or fill in plot holes automatically qualifies as a bad game in my book (Thief, anyone?).

The amount of research a writer puts in really shows in the work. To cover up the weak story of HR, the devs wanted to draw your attention toward the realism of augmentations by showing interviews of scientists. As you said, this never was touched upon in the game and was just used as part of the hype machine that Square-Enix has mastered the use of. I'll admit, though, that reading the Darrow E-books was somewhat interesting...and I'm willing to bet that's where the 'research' played a part.

The writing in DX 1 is obviously well thought out, and if you read the DX Bible (http://www.nanoaugur.net/dx/bible/) and developer interviews, you'll see that they spent years researching real-world conspiracies. It's a shame, as the developers themselves mentioned, that they ran out of time and cut a lot of things out; but even the subplots they did cut out still show up in the form of dialogue to make the world more believable (e.g. national emergency declaration/Mt. Weather).

I feel like I'm hating on the devs too much. Is it fair for me to ask for a DX1 level story with all of the complicated layers? I wish EM chose a more engaging topic. DX1 was so great because the writers showed the player what's at stake; the world in 2052 is falling apart rapidly from multiple causes: plague, terrorism, unemployment, natural disasters, etc. There is a sense of rebellion, social disorder, uneven balance of power, and technological horror (for lack of a better word) that are musts for the cyberpunk genre but are not found in HR. You felt a need to continue on your journey. You are shown all of these organizations/factions in the beginning and as you progress, you figure out that they are all connected somehow. In HR, you are introduced to new characters as the game progresses for the sake of moving the plot forward; the devs force the player to be on a need-to-know basis that is incredibly unengaging and requires no emotional investment. Worse, the topic of controlling augmentation technology doesn't seem as dire as other issues that could come up in the future. Hell, I'll even take a conspiracy about the energy crisis over what HR gave us. There is nothing pressing about HR's story; augmentations aren't a necessity, they are a privilege...so why write a plot about it? That's like making a game about abortion or gay-marriage (EDIT: bad place to put these issues after using "privilege"...didn't mean to imply that these are privileges too); yes those are very important topics...but don't really make for an interesting story. These social issues would be great side plots of the next DX game...just not the main meat of the story. Social commentary is what creates atmosphere and that's what is so memorable, to me, about DX. After all these years, the long conversations about think tanks and the tax code still stand out in my mind, and a large part about it is that the dialogue is right on the money. Corporations are more influential than the government, the tax code is unfair, limit on executive power is minimal, and we are more succeptable to antibiotic resistant bacteria than ever before. Couple that with the increasing natural disasters in the US (specifically the west coast) and the rising US debt and pretty soon our world will look like that of the one Spencer & co. created.

Going back to bad writing, I feel like the microchip fiasco that was in HR was a relatively late decision so that the devs could cover their asses and say there actually was merit to the aug/anti-aug debate. The writers were first concerned with Jensen getting his lover (or ex-lover...dunno dont care) back, then they remembered all the advertising done with "human revolution" and "corporations are bigger than the people" balogne so they included the necessary fillers.

Sort of digressed there but I think this all falls under the category of research since more time looking up things by the devs could've yielded a better plot.

WildcatPhoenix
5th Aug 2014, 14:05
Ehh, I felt that some of the books/e-mails in DXHR were thoroughly researched in regards to near future nanotechnology and transhumanist issues (the article about augmented athletes, for example, was memorable to me and represented a legitimate topic of debate). Quite a few of these scientific passages made my eyes glaze over because they involved so much technobabble, which to a limited degree is acceptable because, let's face it, that is the kind of language which is used in technical manuals or in conversations between professional experts.

My problem with DXHR wasn't so much that they didn't do their research. It's that, as many people have mentioned before, they chose to focus on such a narrow (and in my opinion, not all that interesting) subject. And even this subject was not approached with any kind of subtlety at all. Don't even get me started on aug-zombies...just...ugh.

CyberP
5th Aug 2014, 14:46
Let's not forget a complete lack of writing content/dialogue when it comes to any NPC that isn't central to the story...the game was lacking content overall in general in comparison to the classic Immersive Sims.
surprisingly there wasn't even many nice little simulated scripted events. Some DX1 examples: drug dealers bartering in canal, Bum getting mugged in NYC, Lois Pan and the News vendor...and my absolute favourite: the French guy that refuses to give you a bargain on his stolen goods regardless if you find his "private memoirs" or not, "Ha, you will pay full price". A nice little touch that you'd expect to follow game design convention and reward the player, but this rare instance, nope.

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 15:28
surprisingly there wasn't even many nice little simulated scripted events. Some DX1 examples: drug dealers bartering in canal, Bum getting mugged in NYC, Lois Pan and the News vendor...and my absolute favourite: the French guy that refuses to give you a bargain on his stolen goods regardless if you find his "private memoirs" or not, "Ha, you will pay full price".

Oh those were just awesome. Don't forget the Red Arrow member paying the police to kill you in Hong Kong if you listen in on his conversation.

WildcatPhoenix
5th Aug 2014, 15:59
Let's not forget a complete lack of writing content/dialogue when it comes to any NPC that isn't central to the story...the game was lacking content overall in general in comparison to the classic Immersive Sims.


Yep. Almost every single NPC's reaction to you is either:

A. "You have augs? **** off, you freak."
or
B. "You have augs? Cool, I want to get augs too!"

Darthassin
5th Aug 2014, 16:02
One of the better thought out stories in games is in The Witcher 2. Game doesn't treat player like an idiot and people who pay attention to what is gonig on are rewarded with complex, mature and deep storyline.

Most games claim they are for adults but they really are for teenagers. The Witcher is for adults. I would say that DXHR tries to be for adults but its more for teenagers. But it's only my opinion.

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 16:03
Yep. Almost every single NPC's reaction to you is either:

A. "You have augs? **** off, you freak."
or
B. "You have augs? Cool, I want to get augs too!"

Hey hey hey, EM has to get across that society is divided somehow...


One of the better thought out stories in games is in The Witcher 2. Game doesn't treat player like an idiot and people who pay attention to what is gonig on are rewarded with complex, mature and deep storyline.


The Witcher is great, really wish that DX (under new devs) was more like it in terms of narrative.

CyberP
5th Aug 2014, 16:06
Most games claim they are for adults but they really are for teenagers. The Witcher is for adults. I would say that DXHR tries to be for adults but its more for teenagers. But it's only my opinion.

Maybe in it's writing, but even DX:HR does gameplay better than Twitcher.
Mind you DX:HR does gameplay better than a great number of modern 'AAA' games despite being lacklustre. The game definitely deserves a little praise here and there.

Anyway, research, I believe EM researched the vast majority of what they wrote about. Frank, provide some examples. Your post rants in great detail about AC's failings but not DX:HR's.



I've long laughed at Assassin's Creed 4's attempt to masquerade its pirate game as a genuine title of the series. Instead of assuming its identity as high sea piracy funfest.

Assassin's Creed is fun? I do not accept great devolutions. I struggle to accept Human Revolution as is but ultimately I can. AC, like so many others, makes me metaphorically spit in disgust at it's design.

Darthassin
5th Aug 2014, 16:27
Maybe in it's writing, but even DX:HR does gameplay better than Twitcher.
Mind you DX:HR does gameplay better than a great number of modern 'AAA' games despite being lacklustre. The game definitely deserves a little praise here and there.

I thought we were discussing just story, but - yes - DXHR has better gameplay. Although, W2 is much more cohesive, when you look at the whole game . What I'm trying to say, W2 gameplay much better fits the story, than in DXHR's case.

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 16:34
Mind you DX:HR does gameplay better than a great number of modern 'AAA' games despite being lacklustre. The game definitely deserves a little praise here and there.

Yup. HR is pretty good gameplay wise and EM did a decent job not changing things up too much (except for cover mechanic).

CyberP
5th Aug 2014, 16:42
Yup. HR is pretty good gameplay wise and EM did a decent job not changing things up too much (except for cover mechanic).

Whoa whoa whoa easy bro, don't get ahead of yourself, I am deeply disappointed in DX:HR's many shortcomings in the gameplay, it's just, well, I can still jump, I can still explore, I can stack boxes or throw them at punks, I can hack, I can social engineer, I can hold influence over what items to carry and so on. Despite all the shortcomings I appreciate that some freedom & depth is still there and shooting dudes in the face and approaching the situation with a wide variety of options is still engaging (shame I cannot say the same for stealth though).

Also, there's nothing wrong with change, as long as change is greater than or equal to what we had before. Sadly in this case...

Anyway, I'll leave you story f4gs alone. We don't get enough story discussion here :)

Darthassin
5th Aug 2014, 17:02
Sadly jumping became some kind of trademark of old school gaming. Now, it is just contextual jumping. Sad but true.

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 17:15
I'm giving credit where it's due. EM could've changed a whole lot more from the original but they didn't -- can't say the same for Thief. When you play the game, you can recognize that this is Deus Ex. Yeah, there isn't the same level of freedom as DX 1, the multiple approaches to a mission are all unoriginal, etc. but the core is still there. Nothing major that a DX 4 can't fix and nothing warranting a reboot. My main problem is story as gameplay doesn't matter if you aren't interested. You obviously are concerned with gameplay in DX and you are more schooled on the subject, and that's great. What draws me into the series is the story/writing element, and as long as gameplay is alright, I'm good.

That being said, the linear mission design in HR incredibly annoyed me. Level design was weak save for a few places

Also when you wrote "whoa whoa whoa, easy bro" I immediately thought of El Rey...ah good times

CyberP
5th Aug 2014, 18:00
"We ain't talking fire crackers, understand? We're talking hardcore munishions an' s#it".
-El Rey

"Whoa whoa whoa, easy bro, just havin' us a conversation".
-Pimp in the alley in Hell's kitchen.

clearly the same hilarious voice actor though, which is perhaps why El Rey came to mind.

I absolutely love DX's story, and of course find much of value in HR and IW's lacklustre (lacklustre by DX standards but not industry standards) stories also, but I am not a story f4g so gameplay comes first. :p

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 18:19
"We ain't talking fire crackers, understand? We're talking hardcore munishions an' s#it".
-El Rey

"Whoa whoa whoa, easy bro, just havin' us a conversation".
-Pimp in the alley in Hell's kitchen.

clearly the same hilarious voice actor though, which is perhaps why El Rey came to mind.

I was surprised by the prospect that I forgot a DX quote so I had to look it up.

El Rey does say "whoa whoa whoa easy bro" as well (which is the convo I was thinking about) but it is a special convo as you have to kill all the Rooks first. Totally forgot about the pimp in the alley, though that dialogue is hilarious. Favorite quote from DX is probably the "you got ten seconds to beat it before...". Man, that voice actor is funny :) Wish I knew who he was.

The convo with El Rey: https://youtube.com/watch?v=OlBAcZBeqKc

Boy this is great. So many lines of dialogue that can't be heard on only one playthrough. The devs really did think of everything. Love the convo in the mole people tunnels, with JC telling the kid not to go where the NSF accountant was hiding out. I swear these different convos are harder to find than the secrets.

CyberP
5th Aug 2014, 18:33
Oh yeah, forgot about that, my bad.

Deus Ex's story makes making modifications to the game a PITA as you have to read into every bloody possible scenario to make sure there are no conflicts, but I happily conform to this to do DX justice.

Deus Ex's full script is on gamefaqs, I've referred to it hundreds of times. Bless the guy that went through the tedious process of writing it all down/copy pasting it all from the files.

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 19:37
Deus Ex's full script is on gamefaqs, I've referred to it hundreds of times. Bless the guy that went through the tedious process of writing it all down/copy pasting it all from the files.

That script is missing at least one convo...specifically the one with Carter after you complete Castle Clinton non-lethally. The one in the gamefaqs script only shows the instance where Carter scolds you.

CyberP
5th Aug 2014, 19:46
That convo is awesome.

AdrianShephard
5th Aug 2014, 20:22
That convo is awesome.

Yup. Really gives you insight into what kind of character Carter is.

FrankCSIS
5th Aug 2014, 23:45
My problem with DXHR wasn't so much that they didn't do their research.

To be clear, I do not necessarily mean research in the scientific sense. I mentioned the science stuff because this is all we ever heard from the team in terms of writing research. I mean it in a much broader sense, as Adrian pointed out. History, sociology, social cultures, economics, and, yes science. The original script shows in-depth research in those domains, whether or not they were done specifically for DX. Covering so many subjects allows to paint a much more natural and plausible portrait and, dare I say it, write a much more human storyline. I'm convinced they wouldn't have focused on such a narrow subject, had they been inspired by many more subjects during broader researches.

The lack of broader subjects betrays HR's script as a mercenary job. And, as stated in the original example, so does AC 4's.


Is it fair for me to ask for a DX1 level story with all of the complicated layers?

If the lack of more complicated layers of gameplay can be partly explained by so-called new realities of gaming and development, I find it difficult to explain or excuse the lack of complicated layers of storytelling. As many Lucasarts titles will have no doubt proven, very simple game mechanics are in no way a barrier to a rich and complex story. It's difficult, if not impossible, to blame resource managements and technical complexities when it comes to story execution. Especially so today.


AC is fun? I do not accept great devolutions

No no, not what I meant bud. The need for a franchise name held back a potentially fun piracy game. It's not just the AC storyline which was force-fed into the piracy setting. So were the AC mechanics. They terribly hindered the piracy portions, making assaults on boats needlessly frustrating.

And guys, thanks for reminding me about all the great dialogue moments!

I didn't mean to make yet another nostalgic thread, or be especially rude on the HR team. All I wish to illustrate, through AC's example, is the necessary workload and ethic to build compelling and stellar stories in games. It also shows it is completely possible to do so!