Matt's Podcast 6: Frustration and Loathing in Skyrim

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Matt Barton's picture

It's like, how much more black could this be?It's like, how much more black could this be?I'm so angry about Skyrim that it was hard to make this podcast, but I did it anyway. I shouldn't have to say this, but if you are in love with Skyrim, this podcast isn't for you. This episode is intended only for complete morons, dolts, dullards, and out-and-out nincompoops like yours truly who are just too jaded and bitter to ever enjoy a truly fantastic masterpiece like Skyrim from the glorious design wizards at Bethesda.

Warning: There is some mild adult language here (PG rated).

Download this steaming pile of troll fat here.
Matt's Podcast 6

Comments

avalon (not verified)
I don't understand the hype

I don't understand the hype around this game. It seems to be a typical case of overly high expectation of the game, then it turns out it has great graphics (mostly it seems) and so it gets a metacritic score of over 90%. Nobody seemed to have looked beyond the surface. If I read the reviews on IGN or Gamespot I'm starting to wonder how indifferent the reviewers really are.

So here's my compiled list of what I found sucks about Skyrim ..

The game supposedly has nice graphics and great effects and animation but such things can't impress me easily. In Skyrim I found most characters are similarly boring and dull as in Dragon Age. Gone are the funny and partly weird characters from Oblivion who actually possessed personality and had great voice acting. Unfortunately it seems Berthesda decided not to go with the same voice actors but instead picked some amateurs from the Street for this game.

Then there’s the UI and menus … Wow what a miserable design job! Quite obviously Bethesda didn’t invest into a good UI designer because Skyrim’s UI is most just a back screen with some basic (and few) text and a 3D object on it. The menu navigation is rather confusing. This game lacks the nice and atmospheric UI of Oblivion and Dragon Age. And which total idiot among them had the idea to use a Helvetica-like sans serif font for the menus in such a game?

Quest-wise I haven’t come about any yet that even distantly fun and interesting as the one's I've played in Oblivion. There we have the same boring, predictable quests as in Dragon Age. At least until now I haven’t found any quests where I felt that they can mess with Oblivion’s Thief Guild or Dark Brotherhood quests. Though I’m now just after meeting the grey beards so who knows, maybe there are still (side-)quests ahead that have noteworthy plot twists.

The graphic seems to be nice initially. But I’m playing at Ultra settings and quite often I find that the game's coloring is a wish wash of greys and lacks contrast.

The dialogs so far have been utterly boring too. Same as with the characters, so far I haven’t come across any that have any dialog that doesn’t make me yawn. In Oblivion most characters had some funny or interesting dialog (but maybe that again is related to Oblivion's great voice acting). Is Berthesda out of ideas and following the Dragon Age scheme of bland and unimaginative blather now?

And yet another let-down (or dumb down) is the quest log! In Oblivion you had a decent amount of text that would let you know about the details of the quests, even after you completed them. Not so in Skyrim! Fewer words and no backlog with details. Quite often I found myself in situations where I’m not sure what to do or what was going on.

The controls are obviously geared toward Console, you can feel that on the PC version as soon as you start playing the game for the first time. If you have an XBox Controller plugged in the game assumes you want to use that for controls. But we all know First/Third-person games suck abysmally with Joypad. I only use the pad for racing and arcade games. I had to disable the pad in the device manager for being able to use the mouse and keyboard in Skyrim. Then there are more small inconsistencies about the controls that make the whole thing feel rough around the edges. For instance I'm using Cursor keys for movement controls (as left-hander) but the lockpick minigame still requires me to use A & D keys. Often There are screen texts where it says to press a key but it's their default key and not my custom assigned key that is displayed.

The music is Ok mostly, in particular the more ambient pieces are great. But apart from that the rest is a mix of 0815 orchestral mass ware and gothic choir chants which become tiresome very quickly.

So all in all here we have yet another example of a triple-A game where the developer only thought about throwing great visuals in but forgot about the refinements that really make a game shine.

Vinny (not verified)
I'm not commenting to defend

I'm not commenting to defend Skyrim, but some of your criticisms seemed rather unfair or irrelevant to me.

I truly do not understand why you were faulting the music for being written for an orchestra. This was a stylistic choice to fit in with the mood of the game. A score written for synthesizers would seem horribly out of place in this game. Whether or not the music is effective or not is another issue, and I agree with you that for the most part it rarely ascends to more than aural background filler. However, I feel it was a great improvement over Oblivion's dull and repetitive score. And also, The ability piece of music to be hummable or unhummable says very little about the quality of the music.

Also, you said that movies haven't followed the trend of using a dull color scheme and look the whole time. Uhm, since when? A few examples disproving what you said are The Matrix Series (everything is green) and The Book of Eli (everything is brown.)

Otherwise I agree with you on a lot of the problems. I wouldn't say Skryim is a bad game, but it's definitely dull and repetitive.

avalon (not verified)
@Vinny I have no problem

@Vinny I have no problem with Orchestral Music ... IF it's well made and original. Skyrim's orchestral music sounds exactly the same like in 10123 other unimaginative games/movies/film/cheap tv series/whatnot. Music and sounds are almost more important to me than any graphics and I can sense bad music ten miles against the wind. Skyrim's major music theme is not good or original!

The visuals are all gray in gray, regardless how high you set the resolution, it doesn't make the graphic look nicer, only removes aliasing.

Matt Barton
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Thanks, Vinny, I know it's

Thanks, Vinny, I know it's unfair. Everybody but the indies are doing it, so it's not fair to single out Skyrim for going the generic movie soundtrack route...BUT!

Couple of issues even if we allow them the courtesy of going with canned music.

First, the bard music playing in the taverns is GREAT. I loved that, with the lyrics that matched the context and all. I wish the rest of the soundtrack could have been as energetic. Maybe not with lyrics, but at least with period instruments.

Second, I come back to the notion that this is a world where magic exists! If you can make electricity come out of your hand, why can't you make them produce sounds? That's all a Theramin is, right, just some noise generated by interference with an electric field (or something like that). You're telling me that with access to all of this gee-whizzery, musicians would be content with the standard orchestra sound? At any rate, it's not a stretch to say there's a solid pretext for "synthesizer" music, or at any rate something more evocative.

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Michael G. (not verified)
Hi Matt, thanks for the

Hi Matt,

thanks for the podcast. You really seemed quite annoyed by Skyrim - even more than in your other podcast about the "shooterification" of classic franchises. I hope the venting helped to regulate your blood pressure a bit ;). I've been playing Skyrim for about 15 hours now (been on a break for about a week because of the release of the new Zelda) and enjoyed most of the time spent there. I'm not quite sure yet where I can agree or disagree with your opinions. I understand your points with some of the gameplay problems. Concerning the general design, however, I'm struggling to find a game that is very similar to Skyrim that would suit you much better. Dragon Age, or Dungeon Siege, are quite different types of RPGs, and Daggerfall is simply from a different epoch of gaming. Could you find a recent example for an first person RPG that does it right? How did you like Fallout 3 or Fallout: NV?

What follows is a bit of an excursion, but what I'm most interested to find out is how you came to loathe the game that much. I mean, you obviously started out with a neutral (or even optimistic?) outlook. Did the things immediately pop up and then everything from that moment on just reinforced your opinion? Or did you do quite well until some really severe problem happened? You know, some of the issues you raised in the podcast seemed to me more like "posterior complaints", i.e., at some point you already hated the game and continued looking for things you don't like - somewhat like a confirmation bias. It happens to me sometimes that I enjoy some piece of work that has a lot of problems. At other times, I hate something that from an objective perspective is pretty flawless but that somehow offends or annoys me in a deep way. From the point of view of decision theory, we take new data and evaluate it according to our current state of information. If we are already leaning towards one interpretation ("The game is great.") uncovering problems will only affect us a little bit, whereas things we like will continue to reinforce that interpretation. On the other hand, if we already lean towards the other interpretation ("I hate this game") it is exactly the other way around. In order to actually change our point of view we need a lot of evidence for the contrary. The interesting part is at the beginning where we don't have a strong tendency to prefer one opinion over the other. Assuming that we encountered a piece of work completely unbiased, what is it that forms our opinions, and how can we develop such strong viewpoints such as yours on Skyrim?

Anyway, I'll stop this rambling excursion at this point - looking forward to your next podcast :)

Matt Barton
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Hi, Michael. You raise an

Hi, Michael. You raise an interesting question. If you follow the forums here, you know I started to get negative pretty early on, but I definitely went into it feeling pretty good. I've never been a huge fan of the Elderberry Scrolls series, mind you, but didn't expect to loathe one.

Truth be told, it's been a long time since I've been genuinely impressed with a CRPG from a major developer. BioWare has produced some games that are decent and playable, but not what I'd call great. I actually enjoy their Mass Effect series more than Dragon Age, mostly because the former doesn't try so hard to fool you into thinking it's an RPG (to me, it follow more the space sim genre of games combined with Halo).

Fallout 3 is a decent game as well, though the interface puts me off. Again, it's the little nitpicky things that, if isolated, wouldn't be a big deal at all. However, if you have lots and lots of little nitpicky things, pretty soon they really start to diminish the fun factor. I don't want to have to be struggling with an interface all the time. All the boring, tedious stuff should be eliminated as much as possible.

None of the big guys give two burps and a fart what I think about their stuff, but I'd recommend overhauling the loot system. Just make 99% of the corpses drop gold coins and be done with it. You shouldn't even see other loot unless it's an upgrade to what you have on. Likewise with herbs and ores and such. Okay, fine, people like that stuff...so make it painless. You run over a bush, it automatically adds the herb to your inventory with no need to click (maybe you could have a setting to auto harvest). Get rid of the stupid mining animations, anything that just slows you down (again, a toggle would be nice for those who for whatever stupid reason WANT to see that clunky animation over and over again). I mentioned other things to ease the burden, so to speak; bags of holding, pack mules, spells to convert loot to gold, etc. In any case, you should never, ever have to line up and click on a corpse to loot it. That's tedium, pure and simple. If it's got something valuable (like coins), just auto add them to the inventory as soon as the mob is dead. Even if you kill it with a ranged attack--it's NOT FUN to have to run to the corpse.

I also think the skill system in this game bites. Huge, separate trees for lockpicking, sneaking, and pickpocketing? Really? I could see if you got 3 or more perks per level, but as-is this is just horribly balanced. Blocking, heavy armor, and light armor? Why not just one for armor and make those specialties higher up the tree? One handed and two handed? Again, why not just have "melee" as a base skill and have these specialties as branches higher up? I could go on, but you get the point.

I'm not a professional game designer, yet playing Skyrim I'm constantly asking, "Why didn't they do this? What didn't they do that?" I mean, this is stuff that should have been raised early on in development phase and corrected long before it went gold.

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avalon (not verified)
Matt I must somewhat disagree

Matt I must somewhat disagree with what you say about the looting. Where is the the fun if you wouldn't be able to loot the clothing off from any of the corpses?! ;)

Seriously though if we'd follow your 'simplifying scheme' to the max we'd end up eventually with a game of tic tac toe! The books and all that stuff adds depths! TES is a sandbox game and all this loose, random stuff is part of an immerse world, more or less. Since computer games first have been developed it was a major goal to do just that, create free-roaming worlds with loads of stuff that doesn't necessarily add up to the gameplay. But it still adds depth. You don't have to read the in-game books but for others such stuff adds a huge lot of depths to a game. That's something I find positive about TES.

Vinny (not verified)
Ok, I'm starting to get where

Ok, I'm starting to get where you're going with the synth music in a world of magic. I just think it would be a pretty risky decision to make as it would be really easy to make it sound too techno-like or there to just fill out the sound like a lot of movies did in the 80's and 90's. I think there's potential to do something really creative and new there, but I'm not sure the Elder Scrolls guy could pull it off. Sorry, I'm a music major going off on a tangent.

I also like looting through corpses, but that's just me. I can understand where it would be an annoyance, especially in the middle of a battle with a lot of enemies. To each their own I guess.

Tuco40
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Is Matt Barton just outgrowing computer games?

This podcast hit a real nerve with me. I actually listened to it twice.

The first time, I cringed at all the nitpicking. I mean is this the ranting of a man who simply doesn't really like to play games anymore? God, what an ingrate. Could you imagine what it would have been like to play something like Skyrim fifteen to twenty years ago? As a kid I think I would have probably dropped out of school just to spend all day playing it.

I had all of these thoughts despite the fact that I played a few hours of Skyrim and utterly hated it too. But I thought maybe it was just me. Maybe a guy in his mid-thirties shouldn't expect to really enjoy a game like Skyrim anymore. The time just isn't there anymore for me to be involved in this world and all its needy denizens asking me to go fetch this and cure that.

THAT"S RIGHT I BLAMED MYSELF FOR HATING THIS GAME.

Then comes along Matt Barton and his dissection of this game manages to pinpoint what's wrong with many AAA title games that have been released over the past decade.

It's not my fault at all. Bethesda just made a real crappy game. Nobody wants to fight rats for a month in level one, but I sure as hell didn't want to fight a giant dragon 20 minutes into the game either. Man, did they blow this.

Anyway, thanks to Matt podcast for assuaging my guilt at having hated this game.

Matt Barton
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Da Books

I was elected to lead, not to read. ;) Remember that one?

Listen to the podcast again if you think I'm against the inclusion of books. I don't object to the principle, I just don't like the way it was handled. You want me to read stuff like that? Then print it up and include it as a journal with the game. That way I can read it in comfort and style, not on a TV screen.

Regarding playing it safe with music and such, well, that's why I call them "Triple-lame" developers. All about The Mighty Dollar (TM) and couldn't care less about being original or creative in any way. I have no patience for goons who use that as an excuse to be lame. "What, shouldn't we care about making a profit?" My answer to that: No, because that mindset leads to the tail wagging the dog. Let the design team do what they want; don't let the marketing people with their charts and surveys tie their hands. Do you think a marketing lackey with a clipboard and a case study report is better qualified than a game designer to decide what will be fun or not?

Do you think games like Minecraft get made because the designers set out to make the most profitable game possible? No, they set out to make the most FUN game possible, and when it works, the money finds its way to them. The triple-lame games are being churned out like widgets; the suits running the show might as well be making towels for all they care about games.

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