Friday, July 8, 2011

Sequels done right

Seeing as my compatriot has poked his head in to write a post or two it bears upon me to push him down off the main page. Or at least suggest that you slog through my posting before you get that far down. My impression of Europa Universalis III is well, it seems like I'd have to spend entirely too much time adjusting sliders and divining mechanics and not nearly as much breaking things. I figure it'd go down something like this. Inasmuch as I don't actually know my friends are plotting against me, I hold them in general suspicion only.

But as long as I'm linking to Penny Arcade, I should probably get along and write that bit about sequels. The thing about sequels is that they're never as good as the original. The thing about that statement though, is it's not strictly true. At one point I suggested we have a "Disappointing Sequel Movie Night". It was (correctly) pointed out to me that that's a horrible idea. So I spent some time considering the converse question, how many sequels didn't suck, and are there enough to fill up a movie night? Right now, I can only name two off the top of my head; Terminator II and The Road Warrior.

Actually, the greatest sequel ever has to be Paint the Line 2. It has all the right elements, and it doesn't burden you down with any more plot than is actually necessary.

It's a little bit different in games. The movie experience is pretty well laid out, you passively participate in the medium. In a game, you have to interact with the medium, and there are ways to make the interactions easier. Let me give you a couple examples.

Fallout and Fallout II basically have the same plot; get the MacGuffin or everyone you know and love will die. And then save the world, or they'll die anyway. And they have the same basic interface. But in between games they smoothed it out a bit. The inventory in both games is arranged in a vertical stack of icons, about six fitting on your screen at once. In the original, if you get a new item, it goes to the bottom of the stack. So let's say you loot a leather jacket (conveniently with only one sleeve). You want to equip it right away, so you go into your inventory, scroll past your backup gun, ammo, your caps, and the various drugs you've been saving to barter with (no weight, high value, good looting), and finally get to equip your new jacket. In the second game, the item automatically goes to the top of your inventory, so you just click into the inventory and equip it without all the needless scrolling. Or again, in the first game you could only select stacks of items up to 999 units. If you're trying to sell high level weapons to the gun runners you're selling for a couple thousand caps at a time, so you've got to move multiple units of 999 caps over. In Fallout II they moved the number up to 99999, so I've never had the issue come up. In Fallout Tactics they took it a step further, and allowed you a keypad so you could just type the number in.

In Fallout I you had a "Tell me about" option, that would let you type in a subject for an NPC to discourse upon. This had all the fun of a text adventure game and frustratedly thinking up synonyms in an attempt to get the one the game developer put in. Generally you'd get a "sorry, no clue" answer even when asking about subjects the NPC might know about; surely this guy in the cathedral has an opinion about the Hub, but no, nothing. Mercifully, in latter games, they cut out the mechanic entirely.

In Fallouts I and II ammo came in clumps of 2o or 24 rounds, with each clump weighing one pound, rounded up. Your weapon unloaded weighs a pound less than your weapon loaded. So if you take out a bunch of raiders and you're carrying a dozen of their hunting rifles, you want to go into your inventory and empty each individual clip; the ammo will form into clumps and you'll gain a couple pounds of carry weight just like that. It also makes for easier trading later on. When they made Tactics, though, they had guns unload automatically as soon as they hit your inventory. Much more convenient that way; the unloading process was sort of unweildy. They also split ammo down to a single cartridge per unit, so you could move it around on a bullet by bullet basis. Again, with the keypad arrangement there too to simplify matters.

Fallouts III and New Vegas also unload weapons as soon as they hit the inventory. But the main point, and the reason I'm posting this now, is that in upgrading to the sequel, they also polished the game. Most notably, in Fallout III you would get skill or attribute checks that allow you different dialogue options. They'd only show up if you met the criteria. In New Vegas, they show you that there's a check to be made even if you don't meet the criteria; that is, you can take a dialogue option along those ways but you'll end up putting your foot in your mouth. This interacts well with the temporary skill boost books they implemented in that game, but more importantly it lets you know what to do to get the most out of the game. "I should come back here later, after a level or two." Or "Ooh, I should play through as a high explosives character to see what happens when I say something here..."

You know what? Why am I blogging here when I could be finding out the answer to that question?

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