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

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Michael G. (not verified)
The Problem, Matt, is that

The Problem, Matt, is that even if they didn't automatically go for where the money is, I don't know if we wouldn't still get something that is quite similar to Skyrim. We're all surrounded by media nowadays - 24/7 - and we've been consuming them like that for quite a while now. Also, for quite a while now media has focused on what people respond to, which in turn affected what people are were consuming, which in turn affects what people respond too, which eventually directs the media creators. Automated feedback loop focus testing FTW! But who am I talking to ... you're an academic expert on this stuff.

My point is that a large part of the people in the western audience draw the same connections (e.g., fantasy = gritty dark world with symphonic John Williams music in the background). If the game developers also draw the same connections and are guided by what the mass market wants, simply because they are also consumers in the mass market responding in the same way to the same products, then the product that they create will also be well received and therefore make a lot of money. The problem is that at least in North America media have moved towards a short, instantly gratifying format that keeps pushing the same buttons in our brains in a more and more focused way. People have been getting used to it. They can't even (and don't want to) handle diversions from the standard formula anymore. Just look at game reviewers that used to be able to beat open-ended games 15 years ago. The exact same people are now in tears if they are not being hand-held by the games at every step. Many of them can't even play games on anything but their 360 anymore, because Microsoft cleverly sold them the idea of profiles and achievements - which is even another layer of payment for gratification. Skyrim now uses arrows and messages above characters' heads ("FOLLOW"), because you can't even guarantee that people understand how to use a map and read some text. Games can't be "epic" enough or take some time to get started. And I could go on and on and on ...

I think to get the games you want with production budgets such as current triple-lame products, Matt, you need to move to a different planet. People here have been brainwashed into being automatons that pay money to push A in a quick time event. I'm an astronomer, so I'll try to look out for a place that you might like - if you just build the space ship to get us there. ;) In case we don't find the place, there's still the non-AAA group of games (e.g., independent games, handheld games, some PC games). Every once in a while there are even some slightly more daring AAA games (e.g., Deus Ex). But I guess we'll just have to get used to the fact that the games we used to play and that we like so much come from a time where people had not been transformed into the media addicts that they are today.

Rowdy Rob
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Playing as a mage vs. playing as a warrior

Matt, you make some great points about the problems with Skyrim, which were game-breaking for you, and certainly gives me pause about playing it. However, in a previous thread, you put it around the same level as Oblivion, which you gave a "C-," a game that I didn't think was that bad (good, actually).

However, it appears that much of the combat irritations you're having is, like you said, because you tend to like playing as a mage in CRPGs, or at least deal heavily with magic. I played Oblivion as a warrior character, and it was relatively straight-forward in most aspects. I almost never play as a mage in CRPGs unless given no choice, but it occurs to me that mage characters are generally more complex to play. In a real-time setting, I imagine that mages would add a whole level of frustration to the game.

With a fighter, you pretty much swing and/or shoot arrows (or occasional spells), but if you're dealing with primarily magical powers, you not only have to pause to sort out all the spell stuff, but then you have to unpause to do the real-time stuff (aiming, moving, etc.) . That's got to be real irritating! If only Skyrim had a turn-based battle option, like "Might and Magic 6," it would make for a much more pleasant mage experience.

From what you said, though, it seems Bethesda went out of their way to make playing a mage as hard as possible. And other things are just bizarre and illogical (80 carrots???). While I tend to play warriors, I can absolutely see the attraction of playing a mage in a fantasy game (it IS a fantasy, after all!), so shouldn't the focus be on making the mage class as easy to play as a warrior? Losing mana makes some sense, but a mage should either a) loose less mana, or b) recoup mana quickly, or c) both!

I actually had a very good (IMHO) real-time spell-casting concept that I've never seen done before, and I think it would work well as the basis for a mage-class character in realtime games, particularly the first-person variety. Heck, I might even work up a prototype in Gamemaker or Unity. Or not (probably). The point is that if I can come up with something on an odd day in five minutes, how come teams of designers of all these games can't do it???

I'm right with you on the subject of reading books worth of text in a game that's not a text adventure. And even then, it better be in small doses. This is why I wouldn't even contemplate playing a game like "Betrayal at Krondor," (I think) which apparently features pages and pages of reading during the game. (Betrayal at Krondor was, of course, featured in an episode of Matt Chat).

As for music, I agree that these fantasy games could be a bit more creative with the scores, but it makes sense for a medieval setting should have a classical score. I love classical music, but it's rare that the background score in these CRPGs register with me, because I'm too focused on the game. You raved about Might and Magic 6's music, but even though I've been massively playing it recently, I can't recall the score as I type this. (I'll have to pay more attention).

One thing about classical music soundtracks, though. At worst, they tend to be uninspired, but non-offensive. "Experimental" music can go very south quickly! I remember watching the pilot episode of "The Babylon Project: Crusade," a spinoff series from "Babylon 5." (It only lasted a few episodes.) Instead of traditional classical music, they went with an experimental electronic score, and it sounded bizarre, grating, and took you out of the show!

We've discussed the "gloomy" look of modern games in another thread, but I think the "grittiness" of games, movies, TV, and so forth is just a sign of the times. It's a phase we're going through, and I suspect that more upbeat, fun, and brighter fare will have to come down the pike sooner or later. Just my opinion, but you made some great points about the total drabness and gloom permeating the game with no one seeming to smile. That's probably an attempt to seem "realistic" and "adult." I suspect that has to change sooner or later.

Matt Barton
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It's not just me or mages

It's not just me or mages having problems with the combat here...Here's a snippet from a mostly tongue-in-cheek piece from Kotaku about the game. I think it's hilarious!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is like trying to rip someone's fake mustache off with a gym rope from fifty feet, when it should be like trying to use a bullwhip to cut a Snickers bar in half from five feet. If it's long been your dream to whip a balloon-animal rhinoceros to deflation with an empty garbage bag, look no further than combat in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The combat in Skyrim is ropy and unsatisfying. A sharp sudden camera tilt accompanies each swing of a melee weapon. In first-person view, single-handed swords—the iconic sort of weapon you'd think a large percentage of people would want to wield—come across the screen with three quick floppy frames of animation, in a peculiar position where it looks like your hero is trying to smash the enemy in the side of the head with the butt of the hilt. I don't get the impression I'm slashing at anything at all, and I just plain don't like the way it feels.

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
when i first seen this i was

I wrote a big thing on why I liked Skyrim, but changed my mind... erased it all... you dont like it, its not about why I do. Im sorry you dont.. as i mentioned before... not liking what is popular at the time is no fault.. but it sure makes finding stuff you like hard and for that I feel bad you, your posts seem to make it seem you dont like much anymore...

MY only suggestion, trade it NOW.. its a hot game.. get a few bucks back and get a game you do like.

I need to do a pod cast on RAGE... so far quite fun.. but the texture problems that are still no fixed (complelty) is just bad form for iD.....and HOW PISS POOR the mathcmaking of World of Tanks is :) the game I love to hate and love to play..

avalon (not verified)
About the combat anims ...

About the combat anims ... They are definitely something Berthesda took with them from Fallout 3, so if you haven't played FO3 you probably don't know this. In FO3 the VAT system and the connected 'critical' cams were one part that made the game so fun (for me at least), I'd say it's one of FO3's few strengths (I think the quests in FO3 sucked all throughout the board). But yeah, I agree in Skyrim the crit cam effect doesn't go well.

Matt Barton
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Hehe, well YMMV is what they

Hehe, well YMMV is what they say. I guess that's why guys like me are feeling so bad about Skyrim. We know we should like it, people we respect like it, etc. You get to thinking - am I just too dense or too uncool to get it ? Guess others might feel the opposite about liking a "Bad" game. I say if *I* like it, that's enough for me. I don't need to hear a critic confirm that, and if one bashes it, I just figure our tastes are different or perhaps that person just had a bad experience.

I might be happily chomping that 87th cabbage right now if I'd rolled a warrior. :)

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Nathaniel Tolbert
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The hobbit town you couldn't remember?

The name of the hobbit town you couldn't remember is Hobbiton. Please hand in your geek card as you exit. :-P

I was laughing so hard, while listening to your podcast, because it so accurate in description of the problems. It is an interesting note that it isn't the large things that draw the most ire, but the little things.

Interestingly, I wonder why it is that you cannot have a horse and cart like you used to in Daggerfall. I remember going up to the exit of a dungeon, dumping all of the gear I would find into my cart and then riding back to town to sell it all for lots of gold.

Keep up the good work.

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clok1966
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clam meat
Matt Barton wrote:

Hehe, well YMMV is what they say. I guess that's why guys like me are feeling so bad about Skyrim. We know we should like it, people we respect like it, etc. You get to thinking - am I just too dense or too uncool to get it ? Guess others might feel the opposite about liking a "Bad" game. I say if *I* like it, that's enough for me. I don't need to hear a critic confirm that, and if one bashes it, I just figure our tastes are different or perhaps that person just had a bad experience.

I might be happily chomping that 87th cabbage right now if I'd rolled a warrior. :)

I was (as mentioned) all about saying why its great (to me) but ...... I never "got" the love of HALO, or.. (gets behind cardboard shield) civilsation games.. I like Sim City, MOM (which is a magic with CIv Lite city building).. so I do understand the "why dont I get it" feeling. The SIMS! when i got it I wanted to Like it so bad.. all the other SIM stuff was pretty good .. (heck I spent hours on SIM ANT and SIM FARM!) but the SIMS! making time for a bathroom break so I didnt pee on the floor and have to mop it up.. but then i missed sleep, and then missed cooking so I was hungry and... and.. WHAT! this isnt fun! One mans fun is another mans work... I sometimes think I set the bar to low.. really nowdays the only thng that get me really going is POOR interface design.. now Im not talking workable.. but Really bad ( Oblivion was close).. There are a couple games Borderlands.. loved the game.. hated the interface so much I almost quit playing it.. it was almost backwords ..

I must admit Im tempted to listen.. I do enjoy when matt get vocal :) but being its something I like maybe I wont like it :) who knows.. its just a game.

oh.. and I still havent cooked.. 3 games in they decied all those carrots and potatoes need to be cooked? i was eating um RAW! even that clam meat I looted and kept in my pack for a week! good stuff :)

James (not verified)
Skyrim

Matt, I don't agree with your comments about looting. Loot appearing in your inventory automatically after making a kill means less interaction with the gameworld. It's the lazy gamers wet dream. Picture this if you will, I'm playing Skyrim on expert creeping about the threshold to a bosses throne room, I sneak attack x3 damage then fire off 2/3 shots in quick succession killing him without a fight occuring, it's assassination. He's supposed to be a master but he's pathetic. I enter his throne room to loot his corpse and that's where the fun lies. The fun lies in the loot drop. IF you can call that fun. If I had assassinated him then auto-loot occurs where is the fun? Loot magically appearing in my inventory? That's a lazy system. No fun at all. Pressing E over a corpse then cycling through separating junk from the good stuff is fun. It's fun. Believe me. Think about World of Warcraft raid encounters for a moment. Spam a cycle of keys repetitively to damage the boss, moving to avoid hazards, bunching up with other raiders to suck up damage and so on for share of loot. Or not if you suck at automated rolling. The essence of gameplay I'm sure you're all too aware is to devise a key gameplay mechanic, or perhaps several interchangeable mechanics if you're lucky, that's fun using to kill, rinse and repeat baddies. Over and over until there aren't any enemies left. Or you're bored to tears. The payoff for repeating this procedure in the name of gameplay is the epic loot drop. The potential that the next corpse you've spammed to death will yield an epic loot drop is the driving force of grind gameplay. So you can walk about azeroth showing off your unique epic loot drop to others who admire your skill because you're the best at what you do.
A few comments about Skyrim. Have you noticed that certain objects in the inventory are stacked single and also together ? 1 of an item 3 times separately and then 4 of the same item bunched together. Is that lame UI design or ? There's no categorisation of items if I store them in a chest which makes for a headache if I need quick access to an item. Cycling through a chest inventory with no order is tedious and no fun at all. The 3d star system perks menu is awkward to navigate with a mouse and keyboard even with the 360 pad option off and tapping conversation lines with a mouse can be unresponsive I'm having to cycle through with keys. Obviously it's designed for the 360 which makes up the majority of sales but simple things that don't work that are essential to flow when they don't work can be frustrating. Some of the bugs are unintentionally funny. Like a dead dragon lying underneath the bridge in whiterun lol How on earth did it get itself lodged under the bridge? Strange. Mammoths flying vertical is also weird. Characters spinning horizontally on beds too. There is a quest to meet a shady figure on the DB quest line who is guarded by imperial guards. What made me laugh was when one of the guards tried to fine me for a crime I had committed in one of the towns. There's me thinking he's a corrupt agent of the DB and he's fining me for a crime miles and miles away from any town for the empire lol. Suspension of disbelief -1.
The other thing I dislike is independently of a quest working my way through a dungeon only for a quest to pop later to go back to that same dungeon which has me traipsing through empty rooms to fetch the ancient book for some old guy. Boring!
There's much to admire about the game and overall I have enjoyed myself but some of the design drives me nuts and on contemplation does affect my enjoyment. I could go on with my criticisms. Swinging a sword gains skill points. lol. Where is the skill in that? See Magicka. A game of skill! :)

Matt Barton
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I hear ya, James. I agree in

I hear ya, James. I agree in principle, but would qualify it a bit.

Let's be precise about what makes looting fun. It comes down to a random chance that we might get a pay off. A good designer has to adjust the chance carefully so there's a nicely tiered system of rewards. WOW is great at this. There's always a chance, however small, that just killing a regular bear out in the woods will get you an epic item or extremely rare pet, etc. This has happened to me at least three times. It only needs to happen once, though, for you to forever have that pleasure in mind--so when you're mindlessly grinding, somewhere back there is the anticipation that you might strike the jackpot again. If you NEVER hit it, though, of course you don't have it nearly as strongly. The odds of getting a good drop improve under certain conditions.

As far as I know I never got anything "epic" from a common drop in Skyrim. Maybe it happens, but all I usually got was very predictable stuff, maybe some coins and perhaps a bit of jewelry that for whatever reason I was not able to melt down to get more gold or silver (nor I could tear apart the leather or iron armor they dropped and melt that down). Again, stupid stuff. If you're going to have blacksmithing and ore smelting, don't half ass it! Imagine for a moment if you could've melted down all the metal you found (swords, armor, jewelry, etc.) and used it. But I digress; might as well imagine that you could use your magic to melt and smelt; Bethesda Knows you need to go to a special place far away and behind a couple loading screens to do that.

But anyway, it gets tedious sorting through junk. WOW is the same--after awhile you get overloaded there, too, and it's not fun. It'd be different if there was something you could do with the junk (other than just sell it), but that's the only option we get most of the time. In my opinion, "junk" is a waste of time for everyone. Don't put it in the game. Just give the player more gold instead. Alternatively, make the junk usable stuff; hey, you can melt that dagger down, tear apart that for scraps, cook that, etc. Of course I don't mind funny junk.

The bad groupings in the inventory in Skyrim is caused by the skills system. For instance, alchemists brew better pots, so they don't want those improved pots mixed in with the not so good ones. A better design is simple--if you're a skilled alchemists, you automatically improve all the pots you have. Simple. But no...We get this big mess of 3 pots with 17 points of resistance, 2 with 20 points, 1 with 14 points, etc. Endless clutter.

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