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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cheats and Liars

Today I learned that if you win more than 1 million monetary units in gambling, The Land takes over and forces you to bet ridiculous amounts until you're knocked back down to a sensible level.

My employment of the ridiculously favorable gambling odds in The Land prompted a fun and interesting discussion on what does and does not constitute "cheating" in computer role-playing games. This subject has been on my mind since at least December, when I capitulated to looking at spoilers for NetHack.

But before I even begin to discuss these issues, I want to emphasize at the outset that I know it's just a game. All right? I don't want to see the comments flooded with people who feel like they need to tell me to "chill out, it's only a game." By even reading this posting, you're acknowledging that a blanket of triviality covers everything I'm about to say.

I do think, however, that it's worth thinking about right and wrong behavior even in something that's "just a game." Human beings have a limited amount of time in their lives, but unlike other animals are blessed with an abundance of choice in what to do with that time. Rule #1 of a good life is probably to invest that limited time in things that matter. If they don't matter because of their nature, then we can make them matter by the way we engage in them.

This is a topic perhaps better discussed in specifics rather than the abstract. Consider my second-favorite pastime: crossword puzles. The end result of a crossword puzzle--that I've managed to fill in 80 or so squares with letters--matters to absolutely nobody, and has no effect on the world except that I've spent however long it took me to do it. If I came running up to you with a crossword puzzle and said, "Look! I've filled a bunch of letters in these boxes!" you wouldn't be remotely impressed.

But the method by which I fill out a crossword puzzle can matter a great deal. If done right, it can exercise my mind, increase my capacity for lateral thinking, and teach me about new subjects. And when I come running to you and say, "Look! I finished the Saturday New York Times crossword in ink without any hints!," you're more likely to say "wow!" (Or, if you're Irene, "Weren't you going to fix the bathroom sink this morning?")

Now, if all I care about is filling in the blocks, there are a number of things I can do:

  • Fill them in with pencil, so if I realize I've made a mistake, I can erase it
  • Consult a crossword puzzle dictionary
  • Consult an actual dictionary
  • Use Wikipedia for the proper names
  • Go onto crossword puzzle forums and get hints from other solvers
  • If the solution has already been published, simply look at it 

These are in rough order of what I would consider least offensive to most offensive. I do most of my paper crosswords in pen, but only because I rarely carry around a pencil. Most crossword aficionados don't consider pencil even mildly cheating, and indeed pencils are used in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. A pen admittedly adds to the difficulty and would be akin to a "conduct" in NetHack.

A crossword puzzle dictionary only helps you with possible words given the positioning of various letters. You still have to match the right word to the clue. An actual dictionary might help you with definitions for unfamiliar clue words, but again, you still have to figure out the right answer. Wikipedia is more likely to just deliver the answer for proper names, historical references, and such, but at least you've learned something in the process.

In the last two examples, you're just looking up the answers, and you've circumvented anything positive that could come from the experience for the empty satisfaction of filling in the grid. You've taken time that you could have regarded as "invested" and turned it into time that you've simply "spent."

There are, similarly, a lot of ways to cheat at computer games, and it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that that winning screen is all that matters. There are few games in which it is particularly impossible to get that screen. Heck, if you have the computer skills, you could just peek into the source files and load it up. Even if you want to get there with your own party, there's no end of mechanisms: saved game editors, walkthroughs, cheat codes, bug exploitations, console commands, online hints, debug modes, save scumming, start scumming, inventory scumming, and a host of other tactics depending on the game. And in the end, you realized you didn't actually earn that "won!" screen, and the taste of victory turns to ashes in your mouth.

"So what?!" cry those of you who didn't internalize my first paragraph. "It's just a game!" No, it's not. It's a game that you spent 20 hours playing! If you want to trivialize the process, why do it at all?

Now, this isn't to say that every game needs to be a Sisyphean nightmare. There are, naturally, degrees of circumventing the intended difficulty of the game, some of them within the intended mechanics of the game, and some of them inescapably "cheating." They vary from game to game and platform to platform. I would like to suggest that there are five levels to consider, from the admirable to the reprehensible:

1. Adhering to a conduct. I'm taking this term from NetHack and applying it to other games. In NetHack, it refers to playing an already-difficult game with additional restrictions, such as "atheism" (never praying to a god or employing altars) to "vegetarianism" (never eating animal corpses). Examples in other games might include:

  • Playing on the highest difficulty level throughout the game.
  • Severely limiting the frequency of saved games.
  • Deliberately role-playing a challenging party combination.
  • Refusing to use certain in-game resources, such as quest logs or auto maps.

Of these, I only typically do the second one with most games, though I wish I'd done the last one with the last two Elder Scrolls games. I did play Skyrim on the highest difficulty from the outset--it was the only way to make the game truly challenging--but that can be a killer in other games.

2. Not cheating. It's not cheating when the player uses in-game elements in a way intended by, or easily foreseen by, the developer, and consistent with the ideas of role-playing. CRPGs, like all games, are meant to supply certain avenues and advantages to the player to make it possible to win. Simply using these avenues as intended, even if it makes the game a bit easier, even if it makes the game a lot easier, is not cheating. Any in-game avenue that makes the game absurdly simple is  a matter of poor game design, not poor player ethics. Examples:


  • Grinding against any creature that the game offers as a matter of course. This includes "pudding farming" in NetHack, no matter what NetHack purists may say.
  • Using the full maneuverability that the game gives you, for instance to bob and weave around enemies in Dungeon Master.
  • Setting the difficulty level (if the game offers one) to whatever you prefer at the outset of the game.
  • Outfitting yourself with the best equipment available (including hammering your armor to godlike levels of protection in Skyrim).
  • Reaping the rewards of gambling in games that have gambling.
  • Stealing lots of things in games that have a theft mechanic.
  • Saving at reasonable intervals if the game allows saving-at-will.
  • Taking external notes and making external maps (another area in which I disagree with some NetHack purists).
  • Asking other players for hints (including limited searches of walkthroughs and FAQs) when you've honestly reached a point that you're stuck and cannot otherwise continue after exhausting all options you can think of.

I have to regard my use of gambling in both The Land and Questron II as not cheating. The programmers deliberately put in gambling systems that offered absurdly favorable odds to the player, and in the case of The Land, the developer had 12 years of updates to fix it. I can only imagine that it was intentional (the advantage conveyed by it only held for a few dungeons, as you'll hear about next time). In neither case was I doing anything that the game manifestly did not intend.

I would argue the same about the Cuisinarts in Might & Magic II. It's a clear mechanic of that game that enemies respawn, and the player is clearly meant to engage in some level of grinding against them. The inclusion of an enemy who is so easy to defeat and conveys such ridiculous experience rewards was a bad decision on the developer's part; it's not the player's fault for just wandering into their square. A player who wants a challenge wouldn't fight them more than once, but he's not doing anything wrong if he does.

This is poor game design, not cheating.

3. Playing like a jackass. These are things that are not technically "cheating," and they would normally be allowed under my categorization above, except that they constitute a certain abuse of the flexibility that the developers have provided, or they break the idea of role-playing. They're lame rather than dishonest. Examples:

  • Creating characters, stealing their equipment and gold, and deleting them.
  • Murdering NPCs for their equipment (possibly defensible in some games if you have a particularly apt evil role-playing reason).
  • Saving constantly and re-loading just because you don't like the outcome of a decision.
  • Using walkthroughs and hints with abandon instead of putting in the time to solve problems yourself.
  • Changing the difficulty level of the game in the middle of combat.
  • Exhaustively consulting material on the game before you start with the intention of creating an "optimal" character or party instead of using the clues the game gives you and living with both strengths and weaknesses.
  • In some modern games like the Neverwinter Nights franchise that allow transferring characters aross multiple modules, starting a character in a module that immediately elevates him to a high level, then saving him for use in a lower-level module.

This would qualify in this category if it wasn't so damned funny.

4. Exploiting. The player exploits the game when he takes advantage of a bug or game mechanic that the developer clearly didn't foresee or intend. Examples:

  • Using item-duplication glitches to give all your characters long swords +5 (Curse of the Azure Bonds) or load up on expensive inventory to sell (Diablo).
  • Abusing glitches that allow you to turn in the same quest multiple times and get the experience and gold rewards. There's a famous one in Might & Magic VI.
  • The old Ultima IV trick by which if you "accidentally" put in the wrong disk during certain loading times, chests spawned everywhere.
  • Killing shopkeepers and reloading to get their inventories to reset in Skyrim.
  • Repeatedly restarting your party to take advantage of the skill point reward in the Dragon Wars underworld.

In the original version, you could click on "Quest" as many times as you wanted and get the experience for finishing the quest over and over.

I see exploits as only slightly less dishonest than outright cheating, and it's probably done by people who simply don't know how to use hex editors and console commands. I suppose, however, there's room for someone who accidentally stumbles on an exploit and doesn't realize what's happened until it's too late to undo it. At that point, I grant that the player isn't obligated to restart the game or anything, as long as he doesn't continue taking advantage of the exploit.

5. Cheating. Outright "cheating," to me, is when the player uses external resources to actually modify the game program or files. The examples should be obvious:

  • Using a hex editor or special "character editor" program to improve attributes, experience, or gold.
  • Backing up saved games in games where permadeath is intended.
  • Using emulators with save states to circumvent the game's intentions about where you save.
  • Cracking the game files to look up information that you're not intended to have.
  • Employing console commands to kill enemies, improve the character, or otherwise circumvent some part of the game's difficulty.

With this category, though, we almost come full circle, as there are legitimate and defensible applications of the above. For instance, I've used save-state emulators in playing the early Apple II games simply because I've found the saving process so glitchy that I risk losing my progress otherwise. Console commands can help resolve unfixed bugs in complex games like Skyrim. Without an external patch, I wouldn't have been able to leave the first level in Bloodwych. It's unclear in some early games (like the Wizardry franchise) whether the developers intended that you create copies of your saved games. Ian Kelley's walkthrough of Knights of Legend describes how he would compensate for the game's broken training system by using a hex editor to increase his weapon skills while simultaneously decreasing his adventure points and gold by a commensurate amount. I could see a good argument for using a save-state version of DOSBox for Knights of Legend to be more in the "playing like a jackass" territory than all the way up here in "Cheating." There are times, no doubt, where it feels like the game "forces" you to play like a jackass, exploit, or cheat.

Me cheating at Mission: Mainframe.

My playing has not always been pristine. Despite my rules, I've occasionally dipped into a walkthrough when I was completely stymied, and I relied on walkthroughs entirely to get out of Wizardry V and Drakkhen. I used a hex editor to see the ending of Mission: Mainframe. I "won" Omega by taking advantage of a game bug. I save-scummed on Mike's Adventure Game. Though everyone seemed to agree it was okay, I looked up spoilers for NetHack. Some of these abuses were in the name of documenting the endings of otherwise-obscure game, but all constitute cheating under my own rules. Nonetheless, I've played 101 games at this point, and if I've cheated at less than 10% of them, I feel like I'm doing well. The one thing I haven't done, however, is lie about any of the above. When I've broken my own rules, I've been up front about it.

Again, you may ask, what difference does it make? Isn't the point to have fun? Perhaps. But once again, I am of the mind that if you're going to spend any amount of time on an activity, you might as well do it right. Even in the most purely hedonistic pursuits, there are ways to do them that demonstrate class and character, and there are ways to do them that demonstrate tactlessness and disrespect. I'm sure that in their lives, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall got just as drunk as David Hasselhoff and Lindsay Lohan, but there's a reason we don't remember Bogart and Bacall as national jokes.

I suppose that in the end, you could argue that what you do in the privacy of your own gaming room doesn't matter to anyone but you. But by coming on sites like this and talking about these games, we make ourselves part of a community, and that community ought to have some shared expectation of what constitutes an accomplishment. It was for this reason that I was so determined to win NetHack honestly. It's a silly thing to be proud of, but I'm nonetheless proud of my winning streak for the last 22 winnable games. I'd have no right to that pride if I'd won them by hacking and exploiting the games, no more than an "artist" who simply runs a photograph through PhotoShop's charcoal drawing filter, or a marathon runner who takes the subway to the finish line, or a woman who joins a book club and just watches the films.

I acknowledge that these opinions are all my own, and there's plenty of room for debate in here, as well as extra examples in all of the levels. I look forward to your comments.

159 comments:

  1. How about playing a more modern, cleaned up version of the game? Shandalar (MtG computer game, great) was fixed up by tweaking the .EXE. Baldur's Gate 1 was redone in a more modern engine. Master of Magic and Master of Orion have replacement .EXE files that change all sorts of things. You can even get a version of Pool of Radiance that allows you to 'F'ix instead of endlessly casting all those cure light wounds.

    When does using a non-canonical program file to play the game become cheating?

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    1. When the individual decides it is.

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    2. Master of Magic has a special exe? Where can I find one and what does it do?

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    3. The guy twiddled bits in the Master of Magic .exe file until he accomplished this. Pretty impressive, really.


      What the Insecticide patch is all about?
      ---------------------------
      to make the MoM game as bug-free and as AI-challenging and as user-friendly as possible
      without modifying the content. The patch now features more than 200 bug-fixes, AI improvements and interface changes.

      http://realmsbeyond.net/forums/showthread.php?tid=3663

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    4. I would say when it subverts the intended difficulty. I realize it's nebulous, but that's fine. A "Fix" patch for PoR strikes me as okay because I don't think the developers really WANTED you to memorize and cast "Cure Light Wounds" 20 times; I think they just hadn't thought of "Fix."

      Playing BG1 with a BG2 engine is a little less defensible because the enemies in BG1 aren't properly scaled to compete with the character advantages you get with BG2.

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    5. Unless BG:EE has made the last fight harder, presumably it will have turned into a bit of an anticlimax if you comprehensively explore the game. It was already made easier by TotSC.

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    6. They have done some tweaking of things along the way, due to different spawn mechanics, to simulate the first game.

      There are more class options, however, you could just only play the classes available in the first game and it works out fine.

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  2. PetrusOctavianusJune 19, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Yeah, cheating in single player games is rather pointless, unless the game is so hard that you need to cheat to progress.

    Personally I find most CRPGs more enjoyable if I don't cheat, and if I don't abuse some of the anusable game mechanics.
    That means trying to avoid using the two step dance in real time blobbers, try to rest only once per 24 hours in AD&D games, accept whatever increases you get on level ups. Also, I very rarely grind, but usually try to complete a game as fast as possible in-game time.

    I don't regard using an emulator with save states function as cheating. It's only "cheating" if you use it for save scumming, just like can do with a non save staves version of most games.

    As for the Cuisinarts and other fixed encounters in M&M2 I disagree with your statement that "This is poor game design, not cheating." I'm 99% sure that the fixed encounters respawning is the result of _technical_limitations. I If every encounter were to be saved the game would need to write to the game disks and update them after each fixed encounter. This was after all before HDs became standard.
    If I'm wrong then I agree that it's rather bad design. However the game actually punishes you for grinding those Cuisinarts, by constantly throwing 255 enemies at you in random encounters once you reach the higher character levels. I've seen quite a few players whining about the insane number of enemies in each battle, and they all grinded. I, playing the non-grinding way and even using Jump to avoid most of the respawns, never saw more than (IIRC) 80 (usually much fewer) in one enemy group. I must admit I love it when grinding leads to whining. :-)

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    1. To remove fixed encounters, the game needs only set a flag when the enemy has been defeated, and save it with the normal save file. That's never been a technical issue - it requires only one bit per encounter square.

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    2. PetrusOctavianusJune 21, 2013 at 3:06 AM

      Well, in that case I guess it _is_ poor design.

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    3. Thanks for your comments about this, and your general agreement with what I was trying to accomplish.

      On emulators, the problem is that I think any use of them is inherently "save scumming" in the sense that you're perverting the developers' goals as to how often you should save the game. In games like Knights of Legend, the developers' goals were spectacularly unfair, but if I had argued the same thing about NetHack, I would have been burned in effigy.

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    4. If a developer turns 10 hours of content into 50 hours of pain in order to create the illusion of scope, then save state all the way.

      The best thing about emus in my opinion is that you can turn up the speed. Pokemon and Final Fantasy become much better when you can play through them at 4x.

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    5. The developers basically acknowledge that speeding up the game was better, when you could unlock a version of this in Pokemon Colosseum for N64.

      Now, the fact it was an unlock was dumb.

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  3. Well said. Most things in life, and especially the trivial ones yeld the most interesting results when approached with a degree of seriousness and perhaps reverence to a process and attention to the form.

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    1. I'm not saying that everyone else in this forum is "wrong," but I am saying that you're the only one who seems to agree with me!

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    2. So much for a "community of RPG enthusiasts" ;)

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  4. Great topic Mr. Addict! I myself have done most or all of these things in the past, but it really depends upon the circumstances. For example, in a game called Ishar 2, I got completely stuck, had tried absolutely everything to open a door I had to get through, and in the pre internet days that was the end of the game for me, even though I was only about 25% of the way through it. About 8 years later I replayed the game, and this time armed with an internet walkthrough I was able to open that stupid door (I had to put a skull on a pressure plate!) and go on to complete the game. I would argue that in this situation that given the option of walkthrough or just giving up on the game then the choice is a fairly easy one. I guess you could say that I don't have the pleasure of saying that I figured out the game on my own, but its a million times better than just not experiencing the game at all.

    You are right in saying that there are so many grey areas to this subject though. What if there is a quest to save an NPC from the attack of another NPC, if you fail to save them is it OK to reload and try again? Is it different if there is merely a monetary reward for saving the NPC or that NPC is a key character that will give out more sidequests or unveil a new story arc?

    What about the little secret that you can perform at the start of Might & Magic 6? The developers clearly built it in, but the odds of you finding out about it without a walktrough are extremely low. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about it is this: Lbh pyvpx ba gur jnyy bs gur vaa va Arj Fbecvtny juvpu tvirf lbh n fpebyy bs syl. Lbh hfr guvf fpebyy gb syl hc ba gb gur gbc bs gur vaa, jurer vs lbh pyvpx nabgure jnyy lbh trg gryrcbegrq gb gur nygne va gur zvqqyr bs gur qentba mbar gung tvirf lbh n uhtr fgng obbfg. Lbh pna nyfb sebz gurer dhvpxyl trg vagb gur frperg qhatrba gung vf yvxr gur bssvprf bs 3QB jurer lbh pna trg n ohapu bs tbyq nzbatfg bgure guvatf.

    Personally I am somebody who uses walkthroughs a bit too much, typically I go and finish an area in a game, but then consult a walkthrough as the thought of leaving behind unknown sidequests, for me at least, is a bad one. I also have a tendancy to reload games to pick different dialogue choices, which means I am choosing based on best game rewards, not necessarily "role playing" properly. But at the end of the day I am playing these games in the fashion that is most enjoyable to me personally, and that is surely the most important thing, right?

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    1. There's another vein here. What if you're worried a game becomes unwinnable due to letting a random NPC die? I've certainly had that fear before, even if usually somewhat unwarranted (the last time I was right was a bug in a game though - anyone who played Gothic 3 and couldn't find Milten knows my pain...)

      There have also been some games where I've reloaded to consciously avoid an unwanted decision (accidentally hitting someone with an arrow and having no role playing choice to mend bridges..)

      There again, I fired four NPCs in my first play through of Baldur's Gate just to kill Drizzt with a halberd, so maybe I'm not the best judge of a moral compass.

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    2. "But at the end of the day I am playing these games in the fashion that is most enjoyable to me personally, and that is surely the most important thing, right?"

      Absolutely!

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    3. In relation to your first paragraph, Mikrakov, I did allow that it wasn't cheating at all when you "[ask] other players for hints (including limited searches of walkthroughs and FAQs) when you've honestly reached a point that you're stuck and cannot otherwise continue after exhausting all options you can think of." If you get to the point that you simply stop playing, I would suggest that you've satisfied the "not cheating" rules.

      Tristan, my disagreement with your agreement is covered below.

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  5. I remember a Bard's Tale II cheat on the Commodore 64, right before going into the equipment shop, take out the Bard's Tale II player disk and put in the Bard's I player disk. Enter the shop and when you went to buy something, you could buy anything that was available in Bard's II including the pieces to the Destiny Wand. I think they cost about 200,000 gold each if I remember correctly. To hell with those Snares of Death.

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    1. There is an exploitable feature in BT2 that you gain experience points when using the Disbelieve spell to get rid of monsters conjured up by enemy casters. Find yourself a group of such casters, stay at range and keep casting Disbelieve for as many rounds as you like, then when you get tired of the whole ordeal, advance and kill off the casters and receive massive amounts of XP.

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    2. These are both good examples of exploits--clearly things that the developers didn't intend. And they break the roleplaying of the game. In reality, no party would deliberately screw around while allowing enemies to conjure more allies.

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    3. Castle of the Winds has a number wrap-around error: Stand still. Cast spells until you run out of mana. Keep casting so it damages HP. You'll wind up with negative HP. If you move now, you die. Keep casting and you'll wind up with like, 2000 HP as the counter wraps around.

      Or some such, I tried it once to see if it would work, then reloaded.

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  6. I found the last encounter in Pool of Darkness to be completely unwinnable without cheating. Winning by cheating wasn't very satisfying, but giving up in disgust, which was really the only alternative, wasn't very satisfying, either. Maybe you'll show me how it should be done, when the time comes...

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    1. It's doable without cheating, but you need 18 Dex for the initiative. On the Amiga I did without even max Dex, but in the Amiga version the Ring of Lightning Immunity axtually worked, making it easier.

      This is how I did it with normal (except max Dex) characters. Sadly the sound got messed up and I'm too lazy to edit the movies and re-upload them, so play them without sound:
      http://www.youtube.com/user/243Octavius666

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    2. I remember my brother exploited a certain treasure to get 6 humans of 39/40 level dual classes in order to beat the game. I don't remember how the setup worked, but I'm guessing the final battle was the reason he did this.

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    3. Now I want to fire up PoD! I'd like to encounter this myself.

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    4. It sounds like bad game design. I do allow that a game occasionally FORCES you to play like a jackass if you want to win at all. I'm curious how this all plays out when I finally experience PoD.

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  7. I ran into a questionable situation in Wizardry: point 1 under section 3 says creating characters just to steal their equipment is looked down on, but would that also include doing the same thing with characters that perish in the dungeon on the first floor? Is it the time put into the characters, an honest effort and investment, that makes this slightly better than outright hoarding?

    For the Dragon Wars example, I gather you consider it an exploit because of the ease to gather free skill points rather than the ability to restart on its own. Meaning, gaining levels for skill points and then restarting is acceptable. I can't imagine why restarting character on its own isn't in category 2. How far into the game would you have to progress before restarting is acceptable? Beyond the extra skill points what else would need to be left behind? I'd say this example is more in line with category 3.

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    1. "[Is it okay] doing the same thing with characters that perish in the dungeon on the first floor?"

      If that is what they would have wanted ;-)

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    2. Not at all. You've put time and effort into characters who perish on the dungeon floor, and you have to spend time and effort on new characters to replace them. Looting the old characters' equipment takes time and effort. It's an entirely different thing than pillaging it at the outset.

      I consider the DW thing an exploit because the reward you get is worth 2-3 skill levels, and it takes literally 5 minutes to do it after every re-start. This is different than re-starting completely and having to invest a lot of effort into the same rewards.

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  8. "I am of the mind that if you're going to spend any amount of time on an activity, you might as well do it right."

    I agree, but the individual is the one who determines what it means to do it right.

    "there are ways to do them that demonstrate class and character, and there are ways to do them that demonstrate tactlessness and disrespect."

    Pure snobbery my friend! You can play a game however you like, but unless you and I have a mutual predesignated set of guidelines to abide by, we have no means of judging how one another plays a game.

    There is no right way to do anything in a vacuum. There are only right ways to do things within established frameworks. If you mean to create such a framework for others to volunteer to be a part of, that's fine, but Jimbo Jones should not feel any less for playing precisely the way Jimbo Jones wants to play.

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    1. I disagree that there's any true "vacuum" here. You're spending time on something that can either build character or can't, that's worth the sacrifice that you're making by not spending time on other stuff, or not. There are therefore right and wrong ways to do it.

      Snobbery it may be, but as an aficionado of RPGs, I reserve the right to be snobbish. We're all snobbish about things that we care about. Tell a Scotch connoisseur that you prefer Dewar's to Macallan and see how he reacts. Tell a jazz aficionado that you rate Kenny G over Bix Beiderbecke and see how he reacts. Tell me you honestly don't have anything you feel that way about.

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    2. "You're spending time on something that can either build character or can't"

      If someone wants to practice perseverance, the way they play CRPGs can be an avenue for that: Plodding along, mapping as they go; stomaching level drains and other frustrations; solving things via trial and error; scouring that same map over and over for that super tool-kit they figure must be there.

      The thing is, not everyone wants or needs to practice perseverance. Some people feel they persevere enough already, through volunteer work, their occupation, changing nappies and at the gym. For those people, they might just want to do something a little more interactive than watching TV. Those people might experience maximum utility from CRPGs by playing them in a way that doesn't tax them overmuch; they might be more interested in content than effort. Is that person any less a CRPG aficionado? I'd say no, they just appreciate different aspects of games and derive different pleasures. They're probably more likely to enjoy Morrowind than Nethack.

      "shared expectation of what constitutes an accomplishment."

      This is a separate topic - It's similar to setting up a book club: "Do this thing so we can all chat about what we liked and didn't like."

      Although many do, I don't derive a sense of accomplishment from finishing a game that has arbitrary save points (or getting a WoW character to level 80). For me it's usually about no-death challenges. For others it can be about speed runs or posting glitches on youtube or writing a walkthrough or fastidiously leaving no stone unturned and maxing all their stats. Because their goals are different, each individual will have a different set of rules for how they go about playing games.

      "Tell me you honestly don't have anything you feel that way about."

      It's something I try to avoid. I was a bit of a tosser to my brother when I'd see him playing games on 'Easy' or using cheats. I'd mock people for writing in txtspk or believing in God or having a mullet. I'm sure I've been snobbish in other ways. I think it's counterproductive to dialogue though, and dialogue is one of the best ways to learn. Funnily enough, it's kinda hard to explain in a way that doesn't come across as holier than thou.

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    3. I honestly believe most of the people here are well past the age of character building for characrer building's sake ;)

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  9. I don't agree, by the way, that setting the difficulty level at the beginning of the game, before you have any idea how hard the game is, is fine, while setting it mid-combat is "playing like a jackass." Maybe you thought that one was self-evident, but what does it matter to you if the player first dies, then changes the difficulty level and wins the fight, or changes the difficulty level mid-fight and wins it? Either way, he feels the game is to difficulty to be enjoyable, and adjusts it using the in-game "use this option if you're finding the game too difficult" option.

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    1. If you're finding something unenjoyable, then you should make it more enjoyable!

      If doing so will give you less of an accomplishment buzz at the end of the game you gotta do the cost:benefit analysis ;)

      Delete
    2. Oh, I totally agree with you. But I at least understand the thought processes behind why he disapproves of the other things he disapproves of. Whereas using the in-game difficulty changing option to change the difficulty when you realize the game is too difficult ... this one is baffling me.

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    3. I think he means playing a game 'on hard', turning the hardest encounter down to easy and playing part on normal just so you can go around claiming you played it 'on hard'.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I didn't word this one well. My general intent was to say that playing a game on an intended difficulty (even if it takes you a while to figure out the nuances of that difficulty) is fine, but messing around with difficulty just to make individual combats easier is a bit jackass-ish.

      Delete
    5. I must say, while I understand this, I hate games where you can't change the difficulty. Suppose I am sitting down with a new game, say an FPS. Now, I'm not great at FPSes, so perhaps I should start on easy? However, if I do, and get bored, I don't want to replay the first couple tutorial missions! But if I start on normal, and just die, die die after the training mission? Or what if it is one of those rare, super easy games, like Torchlite, that I want to play on the hardest setting?

      Fallout 3 was good at this: I started my first playthrough fairly easy, then maxed it out when I got bored.

      Delete
  10. I would like to share a thought I had while reading this article.

    I have never played The Land, but I have been following your blog for a time and was excited when you started this particular game; as reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant as a young boy had a major impact on my life.

    One of the major themes of the first trilogy in the series is whether or not your actions matter in an environment you do not believe to be real. For example, does it matter what one does in one's dreams, for they are, after all, only dreams?

    Covenant struggles with this topic throughout the first books because he does not believe the Land to which he has been transported to be real. He believes it be a hallucination brought on by physical damage to his head - hence his self made title "the Unbeliever". So in the first books, he does some absolutely horrible things; as he does not believe there are any "real" consequences to his actions.

    Later on, Covenant changes his mind, because he realizes that regardless of whether or not the Land is real, his actions, while he is there, matter to him. In other words, whether or not the Land is real is irrelevant. His decisions, even while made in a potentially fictional universe, are real and have meaning.

    So the parallel here to me is interesting. Does it matter what you do while playing a game; after all, it's just a game?

    I'd agree with both you and Covenant - of course it matters. The game may not be "real" - but your decisions are.

    I'm not saying people who cheat at games are making poor decisions. I'm saying, if someone is writing a blog about playing CRPGs, then it should go without saying that the games being played by the blog author have more meaning to him than they would have to the casual player. Saying "it's just a game" is confessing to a lack of understanding for the motivations of the author.

    - Slanter, long time lurker and beneficiary of your blog

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    1. I think everyone who has a hard time shooting Grandma Sparkle for her loot understands what you're getting at.

      I felt a bit guilty but Jericho would only run with a bad boy and I needed his firepower for the inevitable super-mutant encounters.

      I made sure it was a lethal sneak attack. She didn't suffer.

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    2. That's a really good point, and a really good meta-analysis of the current game in accordance with this topic.

      A lot of games offer an "evil" option, but I rarely have the stomach for it. I tried playing Jade Empire evil, but after some character came up and berated me, tears in his eyes, for essentially destroying his town, I had to stop. At the time, I thought I was just being a wuss.

      The problem is that authentic voice-acting and graphics in modern games make evil actions feel much more consequential than, say, killing Lord British in Ultima III.

      Delete
    3. It's a bit strange for me. I usually don't see the game as an extension of my own morality or anything of that sort. Yet, I am not able to play evil person. Even when I set out to experience the evil path in a game, I end up playing good anyway.

      Although a part of the problem is that the rewards of playing an evil character is usually just plain worse than playing a good character. Most games just give you some money (or a trinket) of which you have lots of anyway, but gives more experience for the good path. It would be very interesting with a game that severly limited the options of a good character so that it is really hard to get money or good equipment without doing evil acts.

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  11. I generally don't cheat in games, besides looking up the effects of various items or gameplay mechanics that are otherwise unclear (Dark Souls is a huge offender)but there are two instances where I will.
    The first is after I've beat the game, I enjoy using exploits or cheats to see how far I can break it, or what kinds of fun I can have after I've already felt the accomplishment for finishing it the first time. The second instance is if I just want something specific from the game. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is an example from this, I found the missions and shooting abysmal, but really enjoyed exploring the game world, so I admit to using cheats to unlock portions that normally would have required hours of tedium (in my opinion) to get to.

    -Belated Gamer

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    1. Sometimes, having fun with exploits and cheats is more fun than playing the game itself.

      Delete
    2. Yes, I agree. If your primary goal is just to play and experience the game, you should do it without cheating as much as possible. If your primary purpose is to mess around AFTER you've experienced the game, I'd say anything goes. I hear from certain mountaintops, you can see White Gold Tower from Skyrim, but I can never find the right place to view it in my X-Box version. The moment I buy the PC version, I'm going to turn clipping off and see it.

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  12. "Heck, if you have the computer skills, you could just peek into the source files and load [the winning screen] up."

    I see no difference between cheating to watch all of a game's cutscenes (possibly by using someone else's freely distributed save file), and watching any other movie. The question is, do you just want to see the video game's story same as watching a movie, or do you want to actually play it?

    In many cases I want the former and don't care about the latter. But I'm too lazy to dig through computer files, so what do I do? I read this blog! You play these CRPGs so I don't have to!

    Hooray for "cheating"! :)

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    1. That is a good point actually. Just by reading this blog instead of playing the games ourselves (kudos to those actually do play along the addict!) could very well be considered the ultimate form of cheating: You just have to read about the game and don't have to bother playing it.

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    2. Beyond reading this blog, I have also read FAQs/Walkthroughs of games I find interesting yet know I'll never find time to play. Maybe years later I'll get around to them, but I'll mostly have forgotten the walkthrough by then.

      Delete
    3. I will watch playthroughs of games I want to know more about, but know I wouldn't enjoy playing: Doom I and II, survival horror games, anything needing stealth, that sort of thing.

      Or ones by funny people, or educational ones that go into the history and such.

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  13. In the end the only thing that matters is that you had fun. An argument can be made that you would have had more fun playing 'fair', but that can never be proven since you have no time machine to test it.
    If it's all about being able to say you "beat" the game, I think not cheating is necessary. Hard to say you "beat" something (assuming that by "beat" we mean overcoming the intrinsic challenges the author _meant_ to place in it) if you circumvented those challenges using a HEX editor or something similar.
    The value you ascribe to the experience of winning does and perhaps MUST be reflected by the hours/effort you put into it. Some might say if the effort was next to nil then the experience is therefor lessened, and I would agree.
    Someone mentioned GTA, which is a perfect example. I had MUCH more fun cheating in that game than I ever did playing legit, but I won't go around saying I beat it either...
    It's all subjective i suppose.

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    1. I respect every opinion on this issue--it would be silly NOT to respect every opinion on such a trivial topic--so I hope it doesn't affect anyone's enjoyment of my blog that I categorically reject the oft-expressed opinion (I'm replying to yours, but it's replete throughout the comments here) that "all that matters is you had fun."

      I reject it for two primary reasons:

      1) "Fun" is a nebulous term. Do I have to be smiling to be having "fun"? Do I have to be experiencing an endorphin rush? I have "fun" writing this blog, but I rarely say "woo-hoo." Intellectual "fun" might be different than visceral "fun." Tell me, which is most important?

      2) To the extent that you can answer this question, there is a difference between MOMENTARY fun and CUMULATIVE fun. I would argue that the latter is most important, and my approach enhances that.

      I can only refer again to my crossword example. It might be MOMENTARILY SATISFYING to fill in a word whose answer I got from a hint book, but it's not, in the long term, better for me, my skills, or my assessment of "fun."

      Delete
    2. Just look at it from the other side: if some activity makes you want to quit doing it immediately, than it's obviously not fun. Neither of the first, nor of the second kind. Now the problem with RPGs is that they don't boil down to any single activity (like crossword puzzles) but have (at least the good ones) a variety of different mechanics. Some of those you may find enjoyable, others - insufferable. And I'd argue that using cheats to deal with the latter kind doesn't really take away much from your experience.

      Delete
    3. I doubt we will come to a consensus on this, but I do think these rules serve the purpose of this blog very well indeed. Also as our dear addict mentioned before he is the kind of person who has need of defined rules for things. So his explaining his thought process on his rules helps to give us a better understanding on his writing and gives more context into how he approaches this subject.

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    4. Don't get me wrong, although I have described my fondness for using walkthroughs and a spot of save scumming, I agree that Chet's approach is perfect, and in some ways essential, for this blog. I could just see him writing "The prisoner was a bit of a jerk when I went to rescue him, so suddenly I was unsure whether rescuing him was actually my best option. So I looked up on GameFaqs that saving him gets you 45 gold pieces and 300 experience whereas leaving him there just nets you the experience alone, so I decided to free him." Doesn't really make for a great reader experience.

      Delete
    5. Or a great role-playing experience, I would argue. Anyway, I'm glad you understand why it's important to me.

      Delete
  14. In multiplayer, I'm a real purist. I would never cheat in a MP game. That's just not right. That's inflicting harm on others. Yes, I realize it's pretty minor, but it's still out of bounds.

    But that's all different in single player. I tend to be quite the idealist in many areas, but gaming isn't really one of them. My goal is simply to have fun.

    In general, I try to play the game the way the author intended. I (normally) use the interface as it was designed, and I avoid things that are indisputably bugs. As long as I think the game is fair and well-balanced, I'll stick with that.

    If I think a game is unreasonable in some area, I may modify it. Example: adding DFHack to Dwarf Fortress improves that game a TON. DF has some really stupid bugs that would be easy to patch, but Toady One can't be bothered. DFHack fixes some of the worst by modifying the live game code in memory. And it has a bunch of nice utilities to help keep your fortress stocks manageable and your frame rates high. It's hard to imagine playing without, anymore, the difference is so large.

    I think, though, if I were actually blogging about my game experiences, I would be much more careful to play exactly and only by the rules. When writing about my experiences for other people to consume, then it sort of becomes multiplayer again, and I feel I would be doing a disservice, both to my readers and to the author(s) of the original game, if I broke out a savegame editor or something.

    Afar as I can see, you are doing it right, and while I don't use the same rules you do, I would if I were writing a blog. 100% support here for your overall approach, your metagame, as it were.

    As you get to later years, mods will become more and more important, so I think you could consider using patches or modifications that were in wide use and broadly available. An example that's outside your bailiwick would be Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. As the game shipped, it was a mess, and while it was improved quite a lot before the company folded, the Steam version is still kind of flaky. Fans have fixed it up a ton, and have restored a bunch of content that was cut from the shipping version. At this point, I don't think you should play that game unpatched; the fan version is tremendously superior.

    That's not an RPG, so that specific title will never be an issue for you, but if there are games on your list that were heavily modified by fans, I think you should consider playing the modded version. I don't know when or if this issue will come up, but I'd suggest reviewing the version that's most fun, even if that's not how it shipped.

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    1. I actuall do think of VtM: Bloodlines as an RPG, but other than that I agree completely with your comment.

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    2. I'd say about the first quarter of it is an RPG ;)

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  15. I often employ walkthroughs as well. A bit too much maybe, but generally in two cases:

    1) I don't enjoy puzzles in games, so I often only spend a few minuts on them before I just look up the answer. I don't play games for the accomplishment, but for the enjoyment I get from the gameplay and story/characters.

    2) In CRPGs, like a previous commenter also mentioned, I do it to avoid missing sidequests after I've looked around the area myself. I do this because I want to experience as much of the game as possible in one playthrough. After all, there are so many games, so if I can experience everything in one playthrough there's less of a reason to play the game again.

    I think it depends very, very much on what you are looking for in your gaming. For instance, using a hex editor to gain levels in a game like Might and Magic seems ridiculous to me. That's largely what there is to the game, so that's like not playing the game at all.

    However, one might well play a game like Mass Effect purely for the story, setting, and characters. In that case I wouldn't think less of someone using a hypothetical mod to make combat extremely easy, in order to essentially bypass it.

    There are also games like GTA, like Ryan mentioned, that are more like playgrounds or toys. And when you're playing alone anyway, what does it matter how you use your playground and your toys, as long as you're having fun? "Breaking" the game, using cheats etc can all hugely increase the amount of fun you get out of the experience.

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    1. The Witcher is really bad for this; it is stupidly easy to close off a lot of side quests in it if you do things out of order. Also it isn't clear what side quests will advance the main plot (triggering a forced region change) and what won't.

      I stopped playing shortly after being forced to go back to a 10 hour old saved as I had screwed up a plot and pissed two people off, cutting me off from getting into the cemetery,

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  16. For me it all boils down to two things:

    1. I don't get any sense of achievment from games, no matter how I play them. It's having the most fun (and the least frustration) in process that matters. This also compels me to somewhat optimize the time spent on the game, because my first thoughts upon winning screen would unavoidably be about non-repaired sinkholes or something like that.

    2. I don't really enjoy some gameplay mechanics. Particularly, combat - in most games I find it a pure chore. So if a game at some point requires me to grind, I usually use some cheat to avoid them.

    So for me 20 hours of having fun with the game are vastly preferable to 20 hours of fun + 20 hours of frustration, even if the quality of fun in the latter case is somewhat better.

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  17. Sorry for the slightly off-topic post, but I wanted to ask the consensus on ads on blogspot. CRPG Addict here added ads, but was very apologetic about it. Most others haven't added them at all.

    I ask because I'm considering adding them to my own blog. Is it generally considered in poor taste, or do people not use them simply because of the hassle?

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    1. Personally I don't care in the slightest whether a blogger has ads.

      Delete
    2. I don't think there's anything wrong with having them. I don't see a point to going through the hassle for myself. Chet mentioned something like $100 in a year, and he gets over 10 times the number of viewers I do.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, I get about $200 per year. It's enough to take Irene out for a nice dinner every six months, but less than I was hoping.

      I hope readers don't mind them. I only have two per page, so it's not like they're all over the place.

      As for "poor taste," I think it's poor taste for people to assume that all content--much of which takes hours for the developer to provide--should be available for free. It's not like you're putting THAT much of a burden on your readers by throwing in an ad or two on a page.

      Delete
  18. Playing MM6 at the moment, though I seem to be on a hiatus. I laughed when I saw there was a bug in the Fire Lord's dungeon.

    If I'd known I would have been tempted to take one extra dollop of experience, simply on account of him giving me no other reward, and his dungeon having very little in terms of loot (though it was an interesting dungeon)! But that would be a special case.

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    1. I really liked that dungeon. I always hit it right about the time when it was difficult but not impossible for my characters.

      Delete
  19. I remember that in Morrowind it was possible, albeit a bit difficult and time consuming, to get up to 100% invisibility. Doing this would pretty much break the game because it made it impossible for (nearly?) all enemies to see you're there or even attack you once you started pummeling them with hits.

    At first I though this was cheating. Then I decided that, since it was just using in-game mechanics and no editors or cheat codes, it was more of an exploit than anything else. Now, looking back on it, it may technically be just playing like a jackass, since I'm pretty sure it's not actually an exploit, but a possibility that was intentionally left in the game by the devs. Theoretically it can be used for more legitimate reasons (other than killing things at no risk to yourself), like using to remain undetected when you steal stuff in certain missions or trying to complete certain quests without actually killing anyone (aka the pacifist* approach).

    *it's not entirely a pacifist thing, because you do need to kill a few things and steal their souls to get 100% invisibility.

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    1. I did this in Oblivion with over 100% chameleon bonus. Completely invisible even while attacking.

      Delete
    2. Isn't there a "cheat" in Morrowind where you can mix potions to make you better at making potions, to the point where you can make yourself superhuman and finish the game in minutes?

      Delete
    3. It's not really a cheat. Just the logical extension of the game's mechanics taken to the required absurd level. A potion of Intelligence raises your Intelligence, which raises your Alchemy skill, which allows you to make a more powerful potion of Intelligence. Rinse and repeat until you crash the game with a stack overflow.

      Delete
    4. I'm not sure what the record for finishing the game is, but it's under 10 minutes. Of course, we're talking speed-runners taking advantage of all sorts of bugs and glitches.

      I'm no expert on the subject, but I know one particularly effective glitch: the quick weapon switch. If you switch weapons (or any other item, but it's easiest with weapons) fast enough, the item effects will keep stacking up and will remain permanent, boosting certain attributes and skills to outrageous levels. I think it only works on unpatched vanilla Morrowind.

      And yes, it is also possible to create "super-potions"; at the most, this is an exploit that exists as side-effect to the way Alchemy is set-up in Morrowind.

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    5. It's crazier than that... under 5 minutes by SDA timing, which doesn't include part of the automated tutorial: http://speeddemosarchive.com/Morrowind.html

      Delete
    6. I saw a video that did it in about 7 and a half minutes, but it didn't skip the intro. I didn't know it's not actually considered a part of the speed-run. :)

      I imagine skipping it shaves off 2-3 minutes.

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    7. SDA doesn't time for start of the game; they time from start of character control. The video length is about 7.5 minutes, so it's probably the same you watched.

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    8. I've looked at the video in your link and, yeah, I'm pretty sure it's the same one.

      Delete
    9. I would argue that both of these mechanics--100% invisibility and alternately elevating intelligence/potions--is just bad design. It wouldn't have been so hard to cap the effects of either mechanism so that the player didn't ruin the game for himself. Honestly, players ought to be able to explore a game's tactical advantages without having worry about ruining the game for themselves.

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  20. When I was a kid I had little compunctions against cheating. I think it started with using the Konami Code in Contra. That game was so smegging hard you just about had to use the Konami Code to have a reasonable *chance* of beating the game (yes, I know it's possible to beat it without using the Konami Code).

    After that, I just sort of used cheating whenever I got up against a wall. I frequently used cheat codes in Doom, for instance.

    The first game I remember beating without using a single cheat code or hint was Star Control II. I was probably 13 or 14 years old. I even beat it before my dad did (though, as a kid, I had way more free time than he did). That was such a gratifying accomplishment, I have pretty much foresworn cheat codes.

    Like one poster above, I do use walkthroughs occasionally to look for CRPG side quests I may have missed. I didn't use to do this, but with age has come far limited free time and an ever-growing backlog of games to catch up on (I've never actually PLAYED, let alone finished, Baldur's Gate II, which is a pure travesty).

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    1. I never got to many of the sequels for games I enjoyed (Fallout 2, BG II, NWN 2). One day I'll get to them... probably around the time Chet does for this blog.

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    2. Wow. I would LOVE to be in a position to have never played BG2. Sometimes, I wish I could just wipe my memory of both BG games and play them again fresh.

      Delete
  21. Ok, confession time (some of it is repetition from comment in other post):

    I use walkthroughs. Main reasons are to make sure that I've found everything of interest in an area and that doing some things doesn't permanently cut me off from other quests. Also I like to know what kind of consequences actions do. I'm a completionist that doesn't like to play long RPG:s twice just to try to find a couple of extra quests that i missed.

    I use game guides. Many RPG:s like to hide from you what options you have when building a character and not presenting information on how or why something is useful. I hate having to start over because I don't have any character with a particular trait or start over because the game didn't bother to tell me that something was a quest item and I then sold it with no possibility to buying it back.

    I often use save-scumming. In particular in games I like the combat in since I like to make sure that the combat went perfectly. I do realise that this may make the next combat easier, but that doesn't matter much. Other cases of save-scumming is gambling required for a quest or non-monetary reward.

    I use outright cheating. Mostly not in RPG:s, but in some strategy games (such as Europa Universalis series) I use save-editing or other forms of cheating to make the game more interesting to me (often in favor for me, but not always).

    I often combine adhering to one or more conducts with together with the above. For example in Thief (again not an RPG, but the point stands for them too) where I usually play with the conducts of not being seen by any creature and not harming anyone (a.k.a. ghosting). But I am not good enough to do this consistently, so I save and reload when failing. Or Deus Ex (FPS with RPG elements) where I prefer to do non-lethal takedowns without anyone noticing me, preferably one-shotting the enemy. If fail, then reload. I think I'd rather play a game of Nethack with a conduct but utilising save-scumming than play in the regular fashion.

    And though that isn't in anyway "pure", I cannot see why it should be a problem if I am enjoying myself. I can only see it as a problem if I claim to play without cheats (or adhering to a conduct) but in reality actually using cheats.

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    1. I probably should have included a sixth category that said something like "claiming to play without cheats when in reality actually using cheats." That would be the highest level of vileness.

      I response to your last paragraph, the problem, as I see it, is that you're cheating yourself out of a better experience by lacking confidence in your ability to conquer the game despite inherent character weaknesses or poor decisions. You cheat yourself out of a real thrill of victory and a chance to replay the game with a different approach.

      I am NOT a "completionist," and it frankly pisses me off when some reader suggests, in an accusatory way, that I "missed something" even though I won the game. A good RPG, I would argue, is purposefully designed to make you miss things. You absolutely can't experience everything in the majority of modern RPGs. You can't play as both a Stormcloak and an imperial in Skyrim. You can't romance both Morrigan and the red-haired girl in Dragon Age. I'd rather play BG2 as a fighter, experiencing the fighter stronghold quests, and then as a bard, experiencing that stronghold quest, and still feel like there was stuff left to experience, than to read a walkthrough and know exactly what there is to experience. (I did ultimately read Dan Simpson's walkthrough, but only after I'd won nine or ten times.)

      I mean, what's so bad about not experiencing everything in a game? You don't experience things the designers didn't include; you don't experience things that are specific to one character or path; you don't experience all the content in OTHER games that you're not playing. So why is experiencing every nook and cranny of a single game so vital?

      On "save-scumming," I'm much more interested in frequency than rationale. My feeling is if you're going to reload to correct a perceived deficiency in the game, it should at least cost you some time. When I was playing Chaos Strikes Back, I didn't just "go with it" every time I dropped down a pit and found myself somewhere I didn't want to be--but I didn't save in front of every pit, either.

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    2. First I want to say that I do not always use walkthoughs or save-scumming, etc. It really depends on the game and as you noted in another comment, trust is a big issue.

      I dispute that it actually is a better experience to relentlessly avoid all "cheating". At least in most games. It's not that I don't think I would be able to beat the games without a walkthrough or save-scumming, I certainly would. However, I would miss more content, it would take longer and generally not be worth it IMO. It's akin to a game developer who thinks that just throwing in more enemies and make them get much more HP makes the game better.

      I mostly never play to to get a thrill of victory or an accomplishment. If I want to make an accomplishment I try to do something that has an impact beside myself (e.g. writing, programming, etc.). And while you are not a completionist, I certainly am and while I think your approach is a good and respectable approach, so is mine. I am a completionist and experimentalist foremost when playing games. I like to see what the game has to offer and I like to poke the game to see how it reacts and I like to see what kind of stories it tells.

      "I mean, what's so bad about not experiencing everything in a game?"
      It's not bad in anyway and I haven't claimed it is. I just like to experience most games at once, because frankly, most games aren't worth to play twice. Why should I bother replaying a game to see some slight variations (such as a romance quest in BG2 or whatever) when 99% of the content is the same? Especially in RPG:s that can take weeks to play.

      "... So why is experiencing every nook and cranny of a single game so vital?"

      The same could be said about your approach where winning and beating the game seem to be the most important thing. Why is it so important to win the game? If you only play a couple of hour of every game that surely would let you play much more games and go quicker down the line?

      So we have different approaches and my point here isn't that one is better than the other (they aren't), but that there are different approaches to playing RPG:s.

      I freely admit that your approach is objectively better for a blog of this kind. My approach would probably be much more boring to read about.

      Delete
    3. The industry tends to shy away from optional content due to limited development resources. Tighter game design allows developers more control over the player experience. Why waste time and money on optional content for a proportion of your players when you could spend it on improving the required content for everyone?

      That's not a design viewpoint I always agree with, but one that I can understand.

      The flip side of optional or branching content is that it presents the opportunity to make the player more responsible for their actions, particularly if the rewards\consequences are not immediately apparent (for bonus points, add a random element to prevent guidedamnit).

      One option provides a linear narrative created by the game designer, the other lets the player (and the game) create a narrative of their own.

      Ultimately it comes down to your percieved audience and what the designer believes they want.

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  22. "I suppose that in the end, you could argue that what you do in the privacy of your own gaming room doesn't matter to anyone but you. But by coming on sites like this and talking about these games, we make ourselves part of a community, and that community ought to have some shared expectation of what constitutes an accomplishment."

    "If you don't play the games the way I do, how can I pass judgment upon your accomplishments?"

    Maybe that's an unnecessarily harsh paraphrase, but my enjoying CRPGs and enjoying talking about CRPGs on sites like this does not mean you get to have "expectations" about how I enjoy my hobby. I won't lie and pretend not to have used cheats when I did, because that would be silly, but that's as far as I'm willing to commit myself.

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    1. That's not really how I meant it. I should have laid it out more like:

      1. Because they take so much time, and because we're connoisseurs--not just consumers--of RPGs, how we approach them makes a difference.

      2. Here are my ideas for how best to categorize approaches to them.

      In other words, you don't have to accept my specific ideas for what it means to cheat, exploit, and play like a jackass to agree that these terms do have some MEANING when it comes to playing RPGs. If you don't agree with that, well, we simply disagree. Hope you enjoy my blog anyway.

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  23. I feel compelled to talk about the greatest accomplishment of my life here (it's a little bit sad that it is, but alas). I used save scumming in Civilization 1 to get Robotics on emperor+2 before 1AD, a difficulty level 2 steps higher than the highest difficulty level in the game. So I cheated twice, once to make the game harder, and then again to make the game easier. A lot in Civilization depends on pure luck, not on skill, I once played a game of Civilization that lasted only 3 turns because the Mongols took my first city before I had time to build my first militia to defend it. So I lost the game due to bad luck and there was nothing I could do about it, because it was a random unexplored map and I didn't know the Mongols were starting right next to me and you're completely defenseless in the beginning before building a militia for instance. But there are also other randomness in the game. I save scummed because I wanted to see how well one could potentially play the game, given good luck. It's still quite hard to turn the game into a "cakewalk" on emperor+2. I feel like there are certain games that are asking for cheating, in Civilization for instance luck is, in my opinion, more important than skill, and since it's a strategy game that's not acceptable.

    Another game that has lots of exploits is Rome Total War, for instance you can run away from the enemy with one unit, and slaughter them from behind with another. But perhaps you're role playing a Roman general that is slaughtering "mentally inferior barbarians" or something like that, so it could make sense. The problem is that the AI is bad and there isn't much I can do about it, if I just do my best against the AI it will feel like an exploit. I could play the game without performing complicated maneuvers, but that would negate the fun of the game.

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    1. I think your latter example is more one of poor game design than exploiting. Even if it makes the game game-breakingly easy, no player should be forced to play like a moron.

      I never played Civilization (oh, pipe down, all of you), so I don't fully know what you're talking about in the first paragraph, but it sounds like you were already familiar with the game before you achieved this "greatest accomplishment." Even under my draconian categorization, I would allow some level of screwing around by a player who's already experienced the game "honestly" a few times.

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    2. Yeah, you could say I'm familiar with Civilization, I've played it a lot over the past 20 years or so. Now I get it, so you're against cheating when playing a game for the first time, I guess that makes a lot of sense. I remember back in the day when I found Civilization hard on the hardest difficulty level, but now I have to hack the game in order to make it even moderately challenging.

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    3. Yeah, I suppose I should have been more explicit about that in my posting. My preferences for playing the game "honestly" only apply to the first couple of times. Even the biggest fan probably wouldn't have a problem with someone watching Memento in chronological order if that person had already seen it the "correct" way at least once.

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  24. I cheat with certain games a lot, and others not at all. Mainly I do it if the game is too difficult, or I get bored with it.

    Ways of getting around or skipping combat are the bulk of it though, especially with "grindy" RPGs. I'm not beyond looking for walkthroughs when I'm stuck either.

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  25. I find that if you look at the challenge of beating games as the experience most important to playing a game then I agree almost completely with your points. For me though, the thing that matters most is experiencing the storyline (even if said storyline is mostly in my head, such as in older games). When I beat a game, I do not feel pride in winning. All I feel is the satisfaction of having experienced the whole story, like reading a novel where I am the hero.

    So while I would never alter game files or use the console, barring finishing bugged quests, I do use a walkthrough for almost every game I play. It has nothing to do with the difficulty of a game, but simply to make sure I experience every part of the story, every quest, every fight that I can.

    Over the past 18ish years I have beaten over 1000 games, including more than 500 rpgs and despite that there are boxes behind me holding over 400 more rpgs that have never been opened, not to mention I have a couple hundred more rpgs between Steam and Good Old Games.

    Without using walkthroughs I would always wonder what I missed, what I could have experienced had I known it was there and with a backlog of rpgs numbering over a thousand I will likely never have time to replay something just to experience missed parts.

    So I guess my point is that to people who enjoy games for the satisfaction of winning your points remain valid. And for most people to enjoy gaming a lot of those points need to remain true, but different people play rpgs for different reasons and not all the points remain valid for everyone.

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    1. But is it so horrible a suggestion that you play the game twice? Once blind and once after having consulted a walkthrough to check out alternate paths? I talked recently about how often I replayed certain games, and what made such replays tolerable is how much they varied when I chose different characters and made different choices.

      I'd much rather play Baldur's Gate II as a fighter, and get the fighter stronghold, and then replay it as a bard, and get the bard stronghold, and then even if I never replay it, feel there is something left to experience, than to read a walkthrough that describes everything that happens with every character type. (I ultimately did read Dan Simpson's walkthrough for that game, but only after I'd won five or six times with different characters.)

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    2. You keep bringing up BG2 as a justification for "playing it twice", but that game is a classic, where people WANT to play it twice. What about all those games that are merely "good", and you want to experience any interesting little side quests but really don't want to do the whole lot again? Some games let you keep playing after the final credits, but they are rare. You have said you aren't a completionist, but I certainly am. In modern games that keep track, I almost always strive for 100% on my playthrough, which for most games is essentially impossible without a walkthrough. Why do I do it? I can't really explain it, it's just what feels right to me.

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  26. If it adds to the enjoyment of the game, why not. When I played Chrono Trigger and Planescape Torment, I looked at a walkthrough to make sure I was not missing any of the fun. It would _really_ annoy me to finish the game without ever having had Ignus in my group, or killing Magus early in the game in Chrono Trigger. Not all of us are willing to re-play nonlinear games even if they're great, since there are so many other games waiting to be played! (By the way I'm also a crosswords fan and I've never even remotely considered the idea of using a pencil or looking up a word; what's the point in playing when you can fix mistakes or lookup answers?)

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    1. Torment is an example of a game where I cheated without shame or guilt. You have to put your stats into Int, Wis, and Cha, or you'll miss a lot of the game. But combat in Torment is deeply boring, and having poor physical stats makes it even worse. Solution? Use a trainer to bump them up at the beginning of the game, then never think of them again. That playthrough was much funner than the "honest" playthrough I did previously--as you say, if it makes the game funner ...

      I wouldn't do that for a game like Might and Magic, not because it's dishonest, but because character progression is so central to those games that I'm not sure what the point would be. But Torment really doesn't have that feel to it.

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    2. I would allow that there are exceptions to these rules for specific games, but (and I know I'm on thin ice criticizing PS:T) I think that a game that punishes you for not investing in a particular path--without offering alternate experiences for other paths--is a lesser game. A good RPG would make itself equally enjoyable as a strength/fighting RPG as an intelligence/wisdom/charisma talking RPG.

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    3. Meanwhile plenty of CRPG games only offer an incentive to play combat oriented and do not offer an equally enjoyable intelligence/wisdom/charisma role in the game.

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    4. But most of them also don't trick you by letting you pour stats into intelligence, wisdom, and charisma only to find they're useless.

      My point is that if you'll miss half of PS:T's gameplay because you chose to play a dumb barbarian, it's the game's fault for not providing alternate rewards or at least alerting you to the consequences of your choices.

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    5. The first time I played Baldur's Gate, the other AD&D game I'd ever touched was Planescape: Torment. I put a lot of points into wisdom and charisma as though they actually mattered...

      Suffice it to say, the wolves in the wilderness and then Tarnesh at the Inn did not offer the kind of roleplaying options I was expecting.

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    6. I completely agree with Chet on this occasion. You should never have to choose between game content and character prowess. Different builds should offer different (not simply less) content. The actual mechanics of Torment (AD&D2e) are not so great, although the spells are far cooler than your average.

      I always play the content build in RPGs. Speech/Diplomacy all the way.

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  27. If using a walkthrough b/c you are playing for the story, isn't it a problem that the walkthrough contains spoilers?

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    1. Not if you don't read far ahead, I think.

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  28. Y'know, I was playing through Might and Magic 1 on a bit of a whim today, and I'll admit that I thought back to here. I had to choose between a 'bardiche', 'flamberge' and 'halberd'... Which was which stat-wise, I was after - the manual had nothing, the game gave nothing. I don't consider that cheating (to work out that the two-handed wavy sword was the best of the three, and that the halberd and bardiche were identical), but.. would you guys?

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    1. You mean you used an external source to tell you what stats these weapons had? I'm sure some frown upon that, but personally I think it's a natural thing to do and I don't see it as cheating.

      In most cases I'd say it's bad design decision when neither the game itself, nor the manual offers this kind of information. I can only accept it if the game has a bullet-proof alternate method of letting you know how good your weapon is or some strong game design reason why this sort of information shouldn't be readily available.

      Of course, in the case of such an old game, I'd be more inclined to brush this issue aside. Though, come to think of it, while hardware limitations may explain why this sort of information isn't presented in-game, there's really no excuse why it couldn't be placed in the manual.

      (I'm talking in general terms, not necessarily about MM1, with which I'm not that familiar)

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    2. The way I see it, you have two options if you want to determine relative weapon strength

      A) Fight loads of random encounters against the same guys and record the damage you deal with each hit.

      B) Look at documentation.

      There's no way I'd choose 'A'.

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    3. Of course it's cheating--you're using resources that aren't supposed to be available to you to gain an advantage you aren't supposed to have. But you can't throw horrible game design like that at people and then complain when they circumvent it.

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    4. The information is only in the cluebook. Given the lack of an identify function in the first game, I'm not sure whether or not you were just expected to use it.

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    5. You know, I forgot all about the cluebook; I never used it, I played the game blind except for items, which I used the internet for. I'm also not sure whether it was expected to use it, so I guess I'll retract "of course" and go with "I have no idea, but I wouldn't worry about it."

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    6. Addendum to A -- hope you don't level up in the process, throwing your averages out of whack.

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    7. In might and magic 1, training is required to level and as such increase your abilities, so that's actually not too salient a point, Zenic. But the notion still stands. I'll freely admit that I consider the difference between 'hintbooks' and walkthroughs as being largely one of presentation (and I was afraid it'd have maps in it. I'm notorious for not being able to resist information when it's offered neatly, and at least in a walkthrough I can be sure that it'll be pure text. As such, ctrl+f-ing for 'flamberge' is less likely to spoil more information.)

      That said, the GOG copy didn't come with the cluebook by default - it was a downloadablw extra. Did it come in the game box? I'd certainly consider anything actually included in the game's packaging to be fair game, myself.

      I'm not really concerned, truthfully. I can play a game and if I find it fulfilling then that's good enough. However, I feel this is more the 'zen philosophy of gaming we're talking. Is it bad karma to look up information you feel should be free? Or just a bad practice (I began gaming in an era where automaps were considered the norm, making the graph paper style difficult for me to get through.)

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    8. Presumably the zen gamer does not even map or save, let alone look at clue books, and plays from original disks only on an 8086.

      It's all about the experience maaan

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    9. It always amused me how there's a ton of people, claiming that showing skill tags in dialog checks "breaks the immershun", but I've yet to find just one proponent of not showing weapon statistics for the very same reasons }:-)))

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    10. I love skill tags!

      Immersion breakers for me include things like level 50 town guards, shops full of unique magic items (which also don't drop when you kill the shopkeep) and people being oblivious to how dastardly you are.

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    11. Personally, I think that skill tags if anything are not enough. To make a really informed decision, you should also have some way of assessing difficulty of the check. I haven't seen a single game do that though.

      Speaking o shops, it gets even more ridiculous in JRPGs, where the progression is linear and if the plot takes you from the capital to some tiny remote village a couple of level later, the shops in that village offer some vastly superior gear, than the ones in the capital ;)

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    12. Even more of a problem is when dialog options is hidden due to (also possible hidden) stats.

      I've yet to find an RPG that makes any kind of economic sense.

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    13. Even RoAs? I remeber trading there being pretty sensible...

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    14. I had to fire up MM1 to confirm that there was no "identify" option in the stores as there is in MM2. There isn't. I don't remember complaining about this aspect of MM1 the way I did in Dungeon Master and Dragon Wars and I'm not sure why.

      I guess I generally don't mind if the damage levels of the base weapons aren't explained. I just assume it's similar to D&D. It's when you start encountering "Swords of Honor" and "Maces of Bashing" and you have to compare them to "Swords of Fury" and "Maces of Mashing" that I get annoyed. MM1's weapons all had + levels which made their relative value kind-of obvious. Also, the sale value of base weapons usually gives you a good sense of the relative value.

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    15. @VK

      I haven't played any RoA, so I wouldn't know.

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  29. Personally, I'll use things like walkthroughs only when I'm stuck or if I'm working towards a specific goal (like unlocking multiple endings in a game) I will also use them as a way of examining game mechanics because sometimes manuals don't exactly define WHAT benefits a certain stat has other then the vague "improves blank". The "Luck" stat is notorious for being vague and undefined. In some games luck determines only the effects of critical hits in orders it dictates the chance of you ever seeing an item from a monster's loot table. Sometimes you only need a single party member with a specific stat in order to be have a desired effect(in AD&D comp games this is especially true ) other times you need the entire group to have that stat built up. So in those cases knowing the secrets behind which stat improves the character helps to dictate the character design from the beginning. There have been many games that got me a game over because I didn't understand the importance of a stat and got forced to start the game over because I was unable to proceed further due to that distribution. Yes one shouldn't cheat unless it's a last resort but, at the same time Players should be given an explanation on the finer details of a stat increase from the get go what's the point of having a manual that tells you the stats if they are too vague to decide on what's most important for a player character. .

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    1. There's a good posting topic in here about whether the game developer has built the trust necessary for certain players to play a game blind. Dragon Wars was a good example of a game where it was tough to have faith that the developers hat truly made each skill useful during the game; I longed to look at a walkthrough to see if I was wasting my points on "hide" or not. Skyrim, on the other hand, was a good example of a game in which the developers had my complete trust from the outset (lockpicking aside), and I didn't have to wonder if I'd end up in an unwinnable situation by focusing on a stealth character.

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    2. Did you trust in Bethesda's ability to make skills useful, or that they'd make an easy game. I trust the latter for sure!

      Triple A titles are generally winnable even if you play like a bonehead.

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  30. My god he must actually be trying to beat The Land..... Poor, poor Addict.
    I finally got through the 1st dungeon and decided I could not continue pretending to even slightly enjoy the game even though I wholeheartedly wanted to.

    I hope it is over soon.

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    1. I am trying to beat it, but the lack of postings was more due to work and travel. Believe it or not, I'm in the Caribbean right now, sitting on a terrace by the sea...and playing The Land. It would be a valid question to wonder what the hell is wrong with me.

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    2. I am in a warehouse building turned into an office in Chicago, with no windows for 11 hours.

      Wanna trade?

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    3. I'd rather be where I am during the day and where you are at night.

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  31. I admit that i cheat in CRPG's and boost my partys skills if possible because most of the times i play the games for the story,riddles, landscape and the mood of the game which is often destroyed by dull fighting sequences.
    For example i really liked ni no kuni for the 4 above points but i quit the game because of the annyoing battles in pokemon style which were way to often and boring, ruining the mood of the game for me.

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  32. I’ve been lurking around your blog for a long time (my real passion is adventure games, so I’ve concentrated on Trickster’s blog), but since this post made me ponder a bit, I thought I might as well introduce myself here also.

    Unlike most of your readers, I actually sympathize with your ideal of non-cheating gaming: this is the way to play, if one truly wants to be challenged and to really make the fruits of victory taste sweet. (Although I feel the need to point out that while using training wheels during Tour de France would be cheating – or at least pretty lame – they are often necessary for the beginning cyclist to learn the basics before she has grasped how to keep her balance; and similarly, I suppose, a beginning crossword solver has to occasionally look for some help to build the mental pathways necessary for cracking the puzzles. Or golfers with insufficient skills are given easier handicaps to make the game fairer; and analogically, I as a bumbling CRPG-player would have to have some guidance before I could grasp the battle tactics of an AD&D game [halberd - is that something you eat?]. In other words, sometimes you have to begin by using some form of cheating, before you are capable of playing fair and square. But this is only a minor digression.)

    I concede then that your points are valid from the perspective of, let’s say, a (true or aspiring) gaming athlete or a sportsperson. But things look different from the perspective of a (professional or amateur) game scientist/researcher, and what is cheating for the former, might be a necessary tool for the latter. (continued in the reply...)

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    1. Let me explain this distinction through another analogy. There are essentially two ways to enjoy chess. You can play chess against a living or digital opponent – that is, test your skills, be challenged, strive for the laurels of victory and fear for the bitter dregs of defeat. Now, being told to what moves to make would be considered cheating – or then you would be a beginning chess player, helped by a tutor. On the other hand, this is essentially what one does in the other method of enjoying chess: one studies games already played by other players. Why? Just to name few reasons, one might be interested of different styles of playing and their historical development, one might want to study certain opening and its intricacies – or one might just want to appreciate the genius of masterful games. (I would have used a crossword analogy, but I wasn’t aware, whether anyone studies crossword puzzles for such reasons.)

      Now, games are also a possible topic of research, or at least of intellectual curiosity. I myself am interested, for instance, of the structures formed by puzzles in adventure games (how solving one puzzle allows the player to solve a bunch of other puzzles, how one must first solve a group of other puzzles to solve a certain puzzle, trees formed of such dependency relations etc.); of the historical development of the genre; of methods to integrate puzzles to the story; and so on and so forth. Others might be interested of game mechanics, perhaps even of the programming behind the game etc. Possibilities are endless.

      For a game researcher the cheats of a gaming athlete might be tools, I said. For instance, mapping a maze is part of the challenge for a gaming athlete, but for a game researcher it might be just a tedious exercise – and just like physicists often use computers or research students to solve boring calculations, a game researcher might use a map made by another person, just to quickly get to what he is actually interested of. (And answering to a possible comment: just reading GameFAQs, walkthroughs or hint books is usually not enough for a researcher, because these often ignore elements crucial for the investigator and there is an actual need to experiment with the game itself.)

      Personally, I share ideals with both the athlete and the research and I often feel a tension between the two roles. Fortunately, I am not professionally involved with game research (and I don’t even have a blog about it), but I still have a strong urge to e.g. play games according to lists arranged by a certain theme, in order to analyse interesting features etc. “I know I can crack this puzzle, if I just think about it for one night”, the little gamer in me says, and the researcher retorts “yes, but we still have ten more games to study, so let’s stop the frivolities and start doing serious research”. I am certain that a professional game researcher would also feel the added threat of a paper deadline or a limited research grant and kick the little gamer quickly to another dimension.

      (BTW, one reason I am so thrilled by blogs like yours and Trickster’s is that they sort of combine the two attitudes I have described. On the one hand, you both actually play the games and even follow strict codes and high standards as to how the games should be played without cheating – these are clearly blogs of seasoned gamers. On the other hand, you both take the historical approach and try to see the development of a certain gaming genre, while a purebred gaming athlete would just play Nethack endlessly with harder and harder challenges to compete.) (finished in the reply...)

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    2. I suspect that many commenters who spoke about wanting to experience games completely have a streak of game researcher in them: seeing, knowing and understanding (“so this is how all the things click together!”) is the main underlying motive here. From the perspective of a gaming athlete, you have a raised a valid question: why don’t you do this research after you’ve beaten the challenges? Alas, it all comes to limited resources: there’s plenty of games to study, and if you get distracted by playing the game, you often have too little time for observing the game.

      As to which of the two gaming styles should be preferred, I think it cannot be fairly decided. You raise valid points from the perspective of a gaming athlete: playing games fairly will increase your skills in other areas of life, while other sort of interest in games is just a waste of time. Researching games will at most help you play or make other games of similar style, which is not really helpful if you are not in the gaming industry.

      On the other hand, this is just the sort of justification that a pure researcher would feel to be beside the point, just like a mathematician, who was asked by a student how all these squares and triangles will help him in real life, answered with disdain: “Would someone give a coin to this wretch who needs to get some profit from geometry!” A dedicated researcher sometimes has a sort of aesthetic interest in her subject matter, whether it be cosmologist’s Theory of Everything, botanist’s garden of rare flowers, anthropologist’s native South American tribe or game researcher’s collection of old CRPGs – he doesn’t really do anything with information about that topic, but derives still intellectual pleasure of it. And while a more practical person might complain how an entymologist wastes life crawling with bugs, a dedicated entymologist would probably think that life is just meant to be filled with study of bugs. In other words, it’s all about perspective.

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    3. Ilmari, thanks for your comments and thoughts. You make a good point about offering some allowance for players just getting used to the genre. I suppose if a new player first picked up Chaos Strikes Back and felt he was a failure if he didn't play by my draconian rules, he'd never really develop a passion for RPGs.

      I don't quite go with your analogy in the player/researcher arena. Even the "chess researcher" who studies strategy accepts there are rules to chess. The analog between the chess researcher and a game resercher isn't a particular type of game PLAYER but rather the people who read my blog (and others like it) and experience the games without actually playing them.

      I think a better chess analogy would be someone who tells you he plays chess against the computer, but he's hacked the program so that his knights can go anywhere on the board at any time and can't be captured. I refuse to accept that "as long as he's having fun!" excuses such behavior.

      But no one should take any of my posting or comments too seriously. By "not excusing such behavior," I mean I wouldn't want to talk about chess with him, not that I want to put him in jail or something.

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    4. On hindsight, my comment was probably a bit orthogonal to your concerns. I was mostly trying to do a meta-analysis of why your opinions differed from the opinions of some of the commenters – and even then I perhaps went astray with my research analogy, guided too much by my own idiosyncracies in experiencing games.

      Continuing with my meta-analysis for a moment, I think you sort of nailed something with your statement about people who experience the games without playing them. I suspect this is what the commenters, who said they were interested mostly of the plot and therefore use walkthroughs etc. extensively in the game, really want to do: they are looking for a sort of cross between movies and games. Here the interactivity makes the experience different from a passive movie watching, just like some of the more story-oriented modern interactive fiction feels different from reading a book, because there's the element of actually driving the protagonist forward.

      These people are undoubtedly going against author's intentions, when they want to circumvent the more gamey aspects of the games: it's like using a hefty tome to hit a nail – it does the job, but it wasn't meant to be used like that and in worst case even ruins the book. It still might not be actual cheating, if the person honestly admitted he is not in it for the game, but for something else.

      That still leaves your criticism that it is essentially useless and a waste of time to be experiencing games in this manner, as it doesn't even develop one's skills in any manner. I think the same criticism could be applied to enjoying any form of story-telling, whether it be books, movies or TV-series (and as I said, the interactivity makes ”experiencing games” a different experience that cannot be replaced by any of the other forms). Personally, I'd say that most of any media is just light entertainment and in that sense a waste of time (although mind does need occasional relaxation to work properly), but there are few gems that a) are brilliantly made, true works of art and thus deserve to be experienced for their aesthetic qualities or b) cause some personal impact that makes you understand life and perhaps become a better character (in very rare cases, some book, movie and perhaps even game might do both). Of course, to find these gems one has to often go through a bunch of rubbish to find e.g. one decent fantasy series out of the multitude of D&D -clones – or follow a recommendation of someone who has done the necessary sieving for you (and here I could finally thank you for recommending Malazan-series in your blog: rarely do I these days actually buy books, instead of just loaning them from library, but this was something that I just had to have in my own bookshelf).

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    5. Ilmari, thank you for your meta-analysis. I think my own experience matches (at least somewhat) with yours about athlete and researcher.

      Regarding the chess analogy: The analogy breaks because of what is known. When you play chess you are expected to know all rules of the game. In most CRPG:s you are expected to find out much of the rules while you are playing. For those that are a bit more strategy oriented, this makes us want to read walkthroughs simply to find out about the rules so that you can actually make an informed decision.

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  33. Honestly, I think it's taking it too far to say that people who hex edit or whatever to blow through a game or skip past grinding or whatever are somehow detrimental to the community, or that they're playing like a jackass or whatever.

    What it comes down to is that humans have a drive for achievement. In a natural state, and for the vast majority of human history, and even for probably about 95% of the world's population today, that drive for achievement is structured entirely around survival. For some, it is immediate survival because they're starving or in a warzone. For others, goals are structured around longterm survival because they're living paycheck to paycheck, and while there's no risk of starvation now, they're just a few unfortunate accidents away from being on the streets and scavenging for food (and all of those unfortunate accidents could easily happen within 24 hours of one another).

    But when you're talking about the upper middle class and above of a developed first world nation, there's really very little chance you'll ever lose all your wealth. Your lifestyle might take a dip, but unless there's some spectacular career-ending calamity, fact is, you're set for life. There's bills to pay and kids to raise and people worry about how well they'll do those things, but there's very little question if they'll do them at all.

    But evolution is dumb and blind and never plans ahead. The constant drive for achievement was working out so we never evolved a safety valve that tells us to stop achieving once we've already guaranteed comfortable survival for ourselves and our kids. So once you reach a certain level of wealth and security, goals become arbitrary. It doesn't matter what you're doing to sate the human need to achieve. Some people climb mountains, some people whack a ball with a stick, some people try to play every CRPG ever made without violating an arbitrary set of rules as to what constitutes "cheating" (or at least violating it as little as possible). And ultimately all of these are the same: Challenges which, when overcome, provide absolutely no benefit to anyone on the planet, but which are difficult to accomplish and therefore satisfy the desire to have accomplished something.

    Given all that, I am perpetually baffled by Chet's insistence that he shouldn't be doing this. It's an arbitrary and in many ways bigoted opinion generated by a culture that doesn't understand itself and is still terrified of video games for being new. Chet is an established professional who is, so far as he's told us, secure in his finances insofar that he is extremely unlikely to ever be living on the streets or wondering how he'll keep the lights on. His lifestyle so far as we've seen is in many ways bordering on exorbitance, and assuming he has an ounce of financial sense, that means he's well within the point where his goals are arbitrary. Contrast the stereotypical "video game addict" who is a college or high school age kid from a middle class family that absolutely cannot afford to give him a free ride, and who is therefore spending huge chunks of time that could be used laying the groundwork for his future on accomplishing useless, arbitrary goals.

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    1. My insistence that I "shouldn't be doing this" is simple to explain. If you ask me what I'd rather do right now, work on my PhD dissertation or play Mines of Titan, I'd say the latter. If you ask me what, a year from now, I'd rather HAVE DONE, I'd say the dissertation. In indulging my addiction, I'm trading short-term enjoyment for long-term satisfaction.

      I suppose my insistence in rules about "cheating" comes from the idea that if I'm going to spend my time so poorly, I might as well do it with some kind of integrity.

      Nonetheless, you make good points. I'm respected in my field, financially secure, and for the most part, I get to do what I want. You could reasonably ask what more I'd hope to gain out of focusing more on professional and personal development with my free time.

      Nonetheless, you have a decent point.

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    2. Whoops. That extra line was from an earlier draft.

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  34. Discussing the "worth" of cheating in games always makes me think of Curse of Monkey Island - it has a cheat code (Shift+W) that brings up a prompt asking if you want to win the game. Say Yes, and you win! And it cuts straight to the credits. Makes you realise the whole point of games is in the actual playing of them, rather than just looking at a victory screen...

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  35. Hello

    Just a quick question. I know you try and limit saves so you dont save-scumm and consider that cheating. I think you said you do it everytime you enter a new area. Well I am replaying Baldurs Gate, and currently hacking thorugh Durlags Tower. And would you really play this only saving at the start of a level? I have been trying to do it and maybe I have just got sloppy, but I couldn't imagine playing a full level without saving. I'd be playing it all year. Have I just forgot that things should be a challenge and rush through it too much? Would you try and do a full level without saving?

    Odd question I know, but I would be amazed at someone managing to play like that in Durlags tower.

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    1. It requires a certain mindset to play that way. There are people out there who can finish every quest in the game without a reload.

      It's not the sort of challenge that everyone wants to undertake. Most people wouldn't find it enjoyable.

      Save enough such that you don't through the game out the window :)

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    2. I don't consider it cheating to save more than once per area. I consider it "playing like a jackass" to save every minute or something. You have to find your own point of comfort in between those two. Saving only once per area is my general tendency, but I suspect if I was killed more than two or three times on any one level of Durlag's Tower, I'd allow more frequent saving. I don't remember what actually happened the first or last time I explored that dungeon.

      The point of this rule is not to punish myself but to force myself to TAKE CARE as I explore the dungeon. If there's no penalty for dying, then there's no reason not to go charging down a hallway instead of carefully searching it for traps; no reason not to see if I can defeat an enemy by melee combat alone rather than carefully plotting tactics. Too-frequent saving takes the tension out of exploring dark dungeons.

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    3. Yes I and I never noticed how much I had relied on save scumming - saving after each fight etc. I now try to save only a couple of times a level at most and have found myself enjoying things MUCH more. It helps create a real sense of tension as I creep down those corridors etc.

      I do try and only save once a level, but Durlags just seemed a bit of insanity, so wondered about other peoples thoughts.

      Thanks

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  36. I've been indisposed, so I'm coming to this topic a bit late.

    What do you all think of start-scumming in character creation? By his, I mean re-creating characters until their statistics are high in games where the statistics are randomly generated. In some games (Wizardry, Gold Boxes) starting out with mediocre characters can make a big difference from starting out with maximized characters. So choosing the first character of each class that comes along will make the game significantly harder.

    Most of us will probably agree that a moderate amount of this sort of start-scumming is playing the game as intended, but what about spending hours looking for the best character? Is this playing the game as intended?

    Personally I think it is still playing as intended as long as one doesn't accept and save pretty good characters and then keep looking for better ones to replace them with. But I'm less comfortable accepting and saving a character and then trying for a better one to replace her with. This feels like playing like a jackass to me. (If the game lets me save one set of stats in the character creation routine and keep trying for a better set, then this is more acceptable.)

    An in game narrative for this could be talking to prospective adventurers in a bar, then choosing the best candidates. Saving prospective candidates would be like save resumes--except that in most games these guys would not be literate enough to create resumes.

    Let's go a step further. In a game like Gold Box, where one can just pick stats, is there a difference between spending 3 hours looking for that fighter with 18(90) or better strength, 18 dexterity, 18 constitution and just setting the stats manually? I think there's a difference, since the multiple hours approach is painful while setting the stats is easy. Manually setting the stats is playing like a jackass.

    I don't have the gaming time to spend hours on character creation, so in the Gold Box I've given myself a conduct in character creation: Randomly choose statistics for each party member. I'm allowed to save one prospective character then try for a better one. If I find a better one, I keep her but I get no more tries. I limit myself to about 5 minutes per party member. Then I adjust the statistics as follows: I need to lower a combination few attributes by 2 total for every point I add. I cannot decrease any attribute below 10 using this method. I cannot adjust the exceptional strength rating using this method.

    This is probably still playing like a jackass, but I'm more comfortable with it than just maxing out the important stats. And the resultant characters have been good but not great.

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    1. I generally agree with your analysisI deliberately didn't include rolling starting characters in my lists because a) there are a billion separate issues associated with it; and b) I do it a lot. However you look at it, I think "start-scumming" is a little harsh. I understand what it means in NetHack parlance, but NetHack has its own code of ethics and it woudl be silly to apply it to every game.

      Some games get around this by just giving you a pool of fixed points that you can allocate. I think these are the best. They reomve any temptation to repeatedly re-roll and they allow the player to essentially define the character. Everyone's equal at the outset, everyone has the same opportunities. Hero's Quest and Dragon Wars are two good recent examples.

      The next type of game is the one that randomly generates stats but gives you a "re-roll" option. In such cases, it's certainly not cheating to hit that "re-roll" button if you don't like what you get the first time. Hitting it 150 times to squeeze out every last point definitely trends towards "jackass" territory.

      Then we have games like you're talking about, where you credate the character all at once and then have to decide whether to keep or dump him. It's not quite the same as a re-roll but not so different, either. You do have the sense of discarding a "completed" character, I guess. In any event, I think the considerations are the same: do it a few times if you get truly unplayable characters the first times, but you're being a bit pathetic if you spend hours doing it to get a strength of 18 instead of 17. Naturally, I've been pathetic in this way before. I did it excessively in Wizardry V, spending several hours just rolling characters (though part of that was so I coud record the score distributions and try to figure out its calculations).

      The "Gold Box" are perhaps unique in the issue they raise, and I frankly find that mechanic a bit baffling. The idea that players would port their pen & paper characters to Pool of Radiance seems far less likely than those same players simply abusing the tool. In such cases, each player has to figure out his own ethics. I simply declined to use it, but I think your way works out fine, too. I might go so far as saying you were a bit TOO harsh; I think it would have been acceptable to use the editor to raise and lower an equal number of points instead of forcing you to subtract 2 for every 1 added.

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    2. In the Gold Boxes, I forced myself to subtract 2 points for every point gained so I wouldn't be tempted to raise every important stat to 18.

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  37. Excellent post. My grandfather used to say "en la mesa y en el juego se conoce al caballero" (roughly: at the table and in games one knows who is a gentleman), which is a bit of popular wisdom that always stuck with me. Even if games are trivial (or precisely because of that) they are often a window to one's personality, or as you put it "there are ways to do them that demonstrate class and character, and there are ways to do them that demonstrate tactlessness and disrespect".

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    1. Glad you understood what I was trying to say. I like your grandfather's quote!

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  38. I know I'm late to the convo, but I couldn't help but contribute my two cents.

    I'm only just getting into the older games that were before my time: all of the Infinity Engine games, Betrayal at Krondor, Anachronox, Arcanum, Fallout 1 & 2, the first Neverwinter Nights (HotU specifically), Ultima IV, Ultima Underworld, etc.

    I am guilty of nearly every jackass playstyle above, except for the first and last ones (I don't think I've ever played a game where the former could be applicable). A lot of CRPG tropes have bred these "bad habits" within me, and while I always play clean in the beginning, it's not long before my inner jackass is awakened. Examples:

    (SPOILERS for BALDUR'S GATE 2, PLANESCAPE: TORMENT, and KOTOR ahead)

    SAVE-SCUMMING:

    I cannot, for the life of me, complete Baldur's Gate 2. I've played through the first one three times, twice without mods, a third with the Enhanced Edition. I loved the first game (and I know nothing about ADnD rules); I played a Bard Skald named Rolan and used a Guybrush Threepwood soundset for him. The Enhanced Edition, with the addition of Neera, allowed me to finally assemble my dream team of joke characters.

    When I reached Shadows of Amn, however, everything got serious. I was rarely given dialogue options that allowed me to play Rolan as the loveable loser I imagined him to be--if I couldn't select something like "I-I-I don't want a-any trouble! Take my gold, all of it!" my choices were usually holy paladin brave or psychopathic villain evil (or chaotic stupid, as I like to call it...seriously, why are evil dialogue choices in CRPGs restricted to senseless violence?). Sure, I could simply make someone like Anomen party leader, but if the story is built around MY character, why bother? The game also has the annoying habit of setting up my expectations and disappointing them. Gaelyn, much like Caleb in Neverwinter Nights 2, instructs you to perform a task in exchange for help with your quest, but nearly every time you report back to him, there's "something else you must do."

    Just when I thought I was finally going to put an end to Bhodi (and Gaelyn's crap) she disappeared before I could finish her (*roll eyes*) and now I have to slog through yet another dungeon/maze before I get the opportunity to fight her again. Did I mention I hate when developers give you a dozen dialogue options, only to have EVERY SINGLE ONE lead to a fight (Bhodi, Ravel, nearly every other CRPG antagonist ever).

    I didn't find the combat particularly rewarding (I can't even begin to tell you how much "fun" I had fighting my first Beholder). BG2 fans may argue that the story is your reward for perseverance, but I found the game to be highly overrated in terms of plot and characterization. Because of all this, you'd best believe I save-scummed at every opportunity.

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    1. USING A GUIDE:

      My ignorance of ADnD rules means my Bhaalspawn's build was far from optimal, and to my knowledge, recruitable BG NPCs are the same way.

      How am I supposed to KNOW that (according to DSimpson*) every party should be able to disarm traps, remove level drain, and remove combat protections? Is it even possible to beat this game without such abilities (assuming I've only taken the party members who appeal to me)?

      How am I supposed to KNOW how to fight a Beholder or a Dragon or a Vampire? Is there an IN-GAME RESOURCE that tells me how to do so**? If not, then I feel things like save-scumming are justified.

      I'm passionate about gaming and I want to have a say in things. My SoA experience was the complete opposite of fun and so yes, "THE END" message was the only thing that mattered. How else would detractors of beloved classics be able to defend themselves?

      "I hated [classic game] because blah blah blah..."

      "Did you finish it?"

      "No."

      "Then your argument is invalid." OR "Stick with it, I promise it gets better after [wherever you stopped playing]."


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    2. CHANGING DIFFICULTY MID-COMBAT

      With the exception of Arcanum, I can't remember an RPG where I truly felt like I was playing a role. I'd argue combat is really the ONLY thing most RPGs have going for it, because your choices are usually meaningless within the grand scheme of things, especially if you refuse to play the boring goody-two-shoes the writers expect you to be.

      This is especially true of a game like Skyrim, as I've never met a person who--regardless of their character's class--didn't do and see everything there was to do. Forget about bragging to your best friend about your Mage's Guild accomplishments--his Dunmer mage has already completed that questline--as well as the questlines for the Thieve's Guild (!) and Fighter's Guild (!?). Your decision to become a Stormcloak or Imperial doesn't matter, because the events that unfold from both are nearly identical; only the names have changed. Try to roleplay a villain, and your dialogue choices are downright stupid. And even though you've got a reputation as a BAMF who can kill a man just by shouting, it still doesn't stop Mila Valentia from giving you her life story every time you enter Whitetun (for the record, I hate the Elder Scrolls games, although I've yet to play Morrowind).

      Can we all agree that Elder Scrolls combat is poorly balanced? Is there such a thing as an optimal Elder Scrolls character build? You're either killing things left and right or mashing right trigger and popping health pots like M&Ms. There is nothing wrong with changing difficulty mid-combat, especially in a game like Skyrim.

      Another example: when I first played KOTOR, I played the game completely blind, on normal. I thought the game's balance was nearly perfect: fights were challenging, but never frustrating. A few boss battles upped the stakes, but I never felt that things were out of control.

      The difficulty was normal, as it should have been, right up until the end game. I absolutely HATE when developers think simply overwhelming you with enemies makes for a good challenge. It doesn't.

      This goes double for games that strip you of the rewards you've spent all game working towards. Like when you've spent all game trying to get the Sword of Guaranteed Critical Hits, only to have the endgame consist of nothing but undead/constructs. Or when you roll up a character who excels in charms and mind control, only to have your DM make every game world NPC wear a tin-foil hat.

      I almost always optimize my character builds not because I want to but because I expect to be punished (usually at the end) for not doing so.

      *I skimmed through DSimpson's walkthrough, as I have no intention of ever completing SoA.

      **I love the Witcher games because of their in-game bestiaries. It makes sense not only from a roleplaying standpoint (Geralt is a skilled monster slayer) but it also justifies things like casting buffs before fights. The knowledge to overcome seemingly impossible odds should be available to the player willing to put the time in WITHOUT the need for trial-and-error.

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    3. Baldur's Gate is a 'read the manual' game; The thing is like 200 pages thick, and peppered with boxes of advice. Among them are instructions to make a balanced party, (Rogue, Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, etc). There are lots of hints in the first game that you should be good at traps: They get pretty nasty, pretty quickly, if you aren't good at them, so I think I got my rogue to 100% by Cloakwood Mines. Also, almost every other skill other then Open Locks that Thieves get is utterly usefulness ('steal small amount of gold or item you only knew about using a spoiler' skill and two 'go off alone and die' skills!

      The rest, I'm not sure. I never finished BG1, as I'd explore everything and it would get too easy.

      KoTR I hated, as I want to be Han Solo and it is really obvious you have to be Luke Skywalker, and so I constantly felt stupid taking blaster skills when I know I'm going to get a lightsaber. Needless to say I didn't get far (Under the city, in that area with the human tribe-people).

      I never optimize my character builds and just toss games that force me to (I'm looking at you Dragon Age)

      I should finish The Witcher, I got to the plauge city, did like, 8 hours of stuff, then found I'd screwed myself by accusing the wrong people, so I've got to go back and start over from an old save.

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    4. I've got a lot of thoughts on this subject, but I'm not sure I can articulate them all adequately. I'll give it a go.

      Ultimately, what *is* cheating? I'd argue that it's changing the rules of the game to ones that suit how you wish to play it.

      Now, I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand, player empowerment, take an a-la-carte game and tailor it exactly to your tastes, and you'll have a good time; hooray. On the other - the purist stance espoused by the Addict - if you're changing the rules, you're fundamentally *playing a different game*. Subtly so, in some cases, but not insignificant.

      It gets a little trickier with some of the more edge-cases. The example was given earlier in the original post of games that were designed with the *expectation* of save-scumming, and balanced around it. If the designer expected save-scumming, then the 'true' game would require the player to exploit save-scumming - but the player wouldn't necessarily be aware of that.

      There's an important distinction here, too, between the rules actually set by the game and the rules implicitly and willingly set by CRPG Addict - had you chosen to limit the reference resources in the Elder Scrolls titles, you would - much like cheaters - again be modifying the rules in a way that suits your taste. And that's fine, too, but it's not quite the game as it was designed; modified to be harder rather than easier, but still modified.


      On the subject of myself, thinking about it, there's two situations in which I would have little objection to cheating in CRPGs - one I feel a little guilty about, the other I am completely comfortable with. I should add that I have a naturally grindy playstyle, so I do often end up a little overpowered in a well-balanced game just because I'm such a meticulous explorer.

      The cheat method I'm comfortable with is when it's simply saving time. If there's something that is trivially endlessly repeatable, I don't really object to allowing the player to skip the busywork involved in doing so. The (F)ix command example from earlier is an excellent example of that. Technically it's breaching the rules, but in practice it's something that the player could easily do in another way but would be thoroughly unchallenged and bored in the process.

      There's another example, and I'd be interested to hear feedback and opinions on this: In the endgame of a title on the DS, Etrian Odyssey, to totally complete the bonus content in the postgame you have to get rare item drops that occasionally appear when you defeat certain strong boss enemies - who only spawn once every three (in-game) days.

      When I was at the point where I'd done literally *everything* else, I didn't have any qualms about savescumming to ease the process of getting those last few items. Although on that note, the RNG was always the same when I did this, so I also had to investigate methods to give the RNG a nudge each time I reloaded the save to give the actual drop a chance to appear!

      The second one - the one I do feel a bit guilty about, but not one I'm likely to change: I'm a completist. I'm going to want to see as much content as possible in a given single playthrough. To that end, it's quite common for me to use walkthroughs and other pieces of advice just for advanced warning when I'm going to be encountering content which may be missable later on. I do dislike this practice in myself - largely because I'll often find out information I *don't* want in such an investigation (spoiler-free 'missability' charts are something you don't see often enough in the world of FAQs, I'd certainly appreciate them), but the desire I have to see the 'whole' game - in so far as that is possible - overwhelms that.

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    5. Matt, I appreciate your detalied thoughts on the issue. Let me address one point that you made, regarding "saving time" cheats. While I understand where you're coming from, I disagree a bit. Most of the "busywork" tasks that you mention are things that provide an alternative: not doing them. Not doing them may make the game harder, but you have to make the role-playing decision between difficulty and tedium.

      Consider, for instance, how I started Space Rogue. I spent a few hours simply flying back and forth between two space stations, trading goods, until I had enough money to properly outfit my ship. I suppose I could have decided that since I was willing to fly back and forth for hours, I might as well skip the tedium and hex-edit my way to riches. But doing so would have elminated the constant temptation to STOP and just try to make my way with less powerful weapons and armor. By refusing to do that, I retained the challenge of the game. Granted, the "challenge" became staying awake rather than staying alive, but it was still a challenge.

      In the Gold Box games, the "Fix" command isn't cheating because it's part of the game, but I sometimes wish it weren't. Not because I enjoy memorizing and casting the same spells over and over, but because I don't. Since I don't like the tedium associated with the process, I'm less likely to stop and do it after every battle. I'm more likely to rely on my existing memorized spells and ration them carefully. I'm more likely to enter battles at half-health and thus have to more carefully plot my tactics. And if I don't feel like doing all of that--well, I always have the option to manually memorize and rest. But by adding the "Fix" command, the developers removed any likelihood that I would choose the challenge over the boredom and, ultimately, made it less challenging.

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    6. I meant to add that I would agree with your "saving time" position for certain boring tasks for which there IS no alternative. Imagine an otherwise-fun RPG that forces you to navigate a huge maze to progress. There's no way around the maze. There are no challenges, treasures, enemies, or role-playing options in the maze. You just have to spend hours slogging through the maze until you finally reach the exit. In such a case--assuming you don't like mazes much--I could see a case for just cheating your way to the end and continuing from there.

      BattleTech had such a scenario. The final maze was so utterly rote and pointless, that I wouldn't consider it cheating to just look up the shortest path in a walkthrough. The controls for becoming a "space ace" in Ultima I are so difficult, the process so boring, and the entire sequence so silly and un-RPG-like, I could see a case for just hex-editing the reward into your character. If there had been a way to just hit the major plot points--skipping all the aimless wandering--in Faery Tale Adventure, I might have finished the game.

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  39. I occasionally cheat a little - I'm too incompetent and lazy to use hex-editors, trainers and the like. But yes, I searched the internet for hints to several games. But I always make an honest first effort without them. I occasionally save much more than needed - for example, if my companions die (especially Dogmeat in Fallout). Well, that's partly my defense against bad AI.
    Anyway, I think the Addict has to obey his rules. This elevates this blog from simple game reviews to actual experiences. I am still a little annoyed that he used a hex editor for Mission: Mainframe, which was basically a cheap short-cut (but I understand that it was necessary for the blog to move on, as there were several Wizardries, Bard's Tales and french games to play at the same time and too many failures could have broken the blog...but... since this is a long-term project of a serious, historic nature, there have to be rules. This isn't only about enjoying oneself or killing some time. The goal is not just to check boxes on a list (ok, that's part of it), but to play these games as intended. And if one starts to make some exceptions to the rules - where will it end?

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