Escorts Aren't Free

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Escorts Aren't Free

Yahtzee explains the ups and downs of escorting a character in games.

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No mention of Enslaved? That was an escort quest of sorts, though the woman could help you at certain points, and she could defend herself for a few seconds allowing you to get back and help her. I liked it.

To start off with, I'm a bit impressed that Yahtzee didn't mentioned Rockstar's... uh, charming gem of a game State of Emergency, which had some of the most annoying escort missions I've EVER seen. Then again, it's possible he's never played it, since it was not nearly as popular as, say, Grand Theft Auto, likely due to it being just plain awful. It's one of the few games I actually went out of my way to return.

I'll also go out on a limb here and say that I'm probably one of the few people on this planet who played 'ICO'... and absolutely *hated* it. I've never been a huge fan of escort quests in general, and that entire game was one long annoying escort quest. Maybe it's just me, but after getting bounced around by those shadow critters, and knocked off a ledge, while that gibberish-speaking wench is getting kidnapped yet again for about the sixth time, I decided to stop playing it and returned it to the rental store.

Still, Yahtzee makes some valid points, especially at the start about how escort quests are a valid medium... and I can agree with that, actually. That said, there's also something else to add, that a lot of MMOs are guilty of: escorts that want to follow their own damn pace and expect you to follow along. Generally speaking, they NEVER move as fast as the player, therefore requiring you to babysit their every step, or run ahead and have to stop every so often. Dead Rising 2 had it right when the people you rescue have the common decency to just run after you, like any self-respecting person would.

Amy gives the hint in some loading screens that if you don't constantly hold her hand she'll wander around the nearby environment and perhaps find you secrets and hints for how to proceed.

-_-

Really? That is why Amy wandered off?

That has the worst idea I have ever heard of. Besides the whole "be nearly zombified, go back to trashbin, and find Amy is gone," isn't the point of those easter eggs and those hidden items to award me for MY exploration? Isn't that the whole point, to look at every inch so I can get the rare supplies that are in this dark and dangerous world?

Hey, Mr. Heavily Armed Soldier Player Character (wo)Man, let me show you how it's done! We are equally qualified for this job! Wheee! I've poured so much fucking coloured liquid from one glass flask into another, now it's time to put those skills to use!"

Actually, I would want to play an escort quest with this guy. It could be very amusing!

Silent Hill 4, almost forgot that little gem. The method of healing her made oh so much sense.

When I think of escorts I hearken back to my first big one - Golden Eye, the Control Center.

Or if you're leaning more towards NPC support, have them attack, but just don't let them die.

The problem with that idea, is that it leaves you open to let the NPC do all the work. Its what happened with Uncharted 3 in the final mission, once I realized Sully not only didn't die, but was quite capable and had an infinite amount of ammo.

Shannon Spencer Fox:
To start off with, I'm a bit impressed that Yahtzee didn't mentioned Rockstar's... uh, charming gem of a game State of Emergency, which had some of the most annoying escort missions I've EVER seen. Then again, it's possible he's never played it, since it was not nearly as popular as, say, Grand Theft Auto, likely due to it being just plain awful. It's one of the few games I actually went out of my way to return.

I actually played all the way through State of Emergency despite the escort quests. But seeing as how I had rented it anyways, I had an incentive to get as much out of it as I could.

I think the thing that makes for a good escort vs a bad escort is predictability. The Companion Cube never gets up and moves on its own, so you always know where it's going to be. You also don't have to rely on it randomly deciding to help at the right time in order to get to a particular goal. It blocks every shot that hits it.

If there's one thing I think most gamers want out of a game, it is that good input leads to good results. There's nothing more frustrating than replaying the same section over and over again until your NPC randomly decides to act helpful.

When Im playing a game, I like for the challenge to come from testing my own skill against the game. That goes out the window when I have some dumbass following me that cant do anything and is the easiest way for me to loose.

If escort mission are needed at all, I the character needs to at least hold a weapon and I need full control over what they do. Follow button, hide, run that way, ect. And fix the wasting my ammo thing by only letting them shoot when enemies are really close.

zefiris:
Hey, Mr. Heavily Armed Soldier Player Character (wo)Man, let me show you how it's done! We are equally qualified for this job! Wheee! I've poured so much fucking coloured liquid from one glass flask into another, now it's time to put those skills to use!"

Actually, I would want to play an escort quest with this guy. It could be very amusing!

Thats pretty much the Doctor from Black Ops zombie mode.

MMO escort quests are also very annoying, especially in contested zones where opposing faction members can grief you by killing your extremely slow, weak, annoying NPC by killing them or kiting mobs onto (since often the AI is programmed to attack any hostile mob it comes across on the normal mission path).

It's worse if you're on a PvE server and you just haven't signed up for that nonsense, but your dawdling NPC buddy is obviously flagged and attackable.

The only time I really found escort missions to be difficult was Legendary Halo during the one section on the Truth and Reconciliation where you need to storm the bridge with Captain Keyes.

The marines are nothing but toothpicks for Legendary-level Elites, and it's normally not so bad when they die, but Keyes is equally squishy and foolish and just as much of a plasma sponge - and the game ends if he dies, so it's more luck than anything to get past that bit without him taking too much fire. You can try to engineer your entry to keep him and the marines back, and try to control the fight a bit, but there's no assurance that he won't go charging in anyway.

Ico has done it excellently, in my opinion. No other game's "escort gameplay" measures up to it in my books. The biggest reason is probably the fact that I cared about Yorda a lot while playing, I actually had an incentive to protect her. But she also had a sufficient AI to prevent her from being an annoyance.

That's the problem with escorts, they become annoying if you don't like the particular characters, at least as I see it. Why would I go through all the trouble of guarding a shmuck I couldn't care less about and who also possibly runs straight into the enemies or jumps off clips?

Alyx from Half Life 2 had regenerating health, so fast she was almost immortal. Don't expect to sit back and let her do all the work though

I think the worst example of escort quest Ive had recently was on Skyrim, the guy from Kyraneths (?) temple that asks to come with you to the magic tree. If you attempt to walk there and not fast travel, he will die, no question. He will either go all macho on a dragon (this guy who gets up in arms about you hurting nature when you try harvesting sap from a tree) or decide to take a different path from you and slide down a cliff never to be seen again.

When the only way to succeed at an escort mission is to teleport to the end of the job, you have a bad escort mission...

UnrealCanine:
Alyx from Half Life 2 had regenerating health, so fast she was almost immortal. Don't expect to sit back and let her do all the work though

yeah. I was thinking of alyx all through reading this article. However i think valve has proved on multiple occasions to be the exception that proves the rule. although i will admit alyx never really felt like an escort. more like a turret that i didn't need to carry with the gravity gun.

Shannon Spencer Fox:
I'll also go out on a limb here and say that I'm probably one of the few people on this planet who played 'ICO'... and absolutely *hated* it. I've never been a huge fan of escort quests in general, and that entire game was one long annoying escort quest. Maybe it's just me, but after getting bounced around by those shadow critters, and knocked off a ledge, while that gibberish-speaking wench is getting kidnapped yet again for about the sixth time, I decided to stop playing it and returned it to the rental store.

For me, and it seems for Yahtzee, what made escorting Yorda bearable (apart from the storyline/emotional reasons) was that combat was focused around protecting her. You don't have to protect yourself; the shadow monsters don't decrease your health or anything. So combat is built around protecting this girl. Though the fighting was repetitive, it still worked. I can easily see how a person would not enjoy ICO, but it definitely pulls off escort-driven gameplay better than, say, Amy.

Akalabeth:
No mention of Enslaved? That was an escort quest of sorts, though the woman could help you at certain points, and she could defend herself for a few seconds allowing you to get back and help her. I liked it.

Like you, Enslaved is one of the only games when reading the article that I thought did escorting well. She wasn't a hinderance, if the action got too much she'd usually be hiding anyway, and if you got to a jumping section she'd cling to your back like a monkey, meaning you always knew where she was.

I suppose parts of Bioshock 2 ammount to escort quests when your helping the Little Sisters. It's the game I'm playing at the moment, and I really don't enjoy helping them. However it's not totally terrible.

Saying all this, I still hate escort quests with a passion. The only thing worse than escort quests are timed missions and sewer missions for me.

Alex from Half-Life 2? She isn't so much escort as NPC support but she's fantastic at it.

A sound argument. The game should be testing your skill, not your patience. I don't think you even need the AI of the escorted to be very complex. It just needs to do whatever is most logical or predictable in any situation. If you can count on the AI doing the same thing every time a certain threat appears, the game is giving you a fair challenge.

I thought a really interesting take was that in Metro 2033.

SPOILERS

So there's a whiny little kid, hunched over some dead body. He talks a lot. You agree to escort him. You pick him up and put him on your shoulders. He is no longer visible. He spots creatures (though to be fair, in quite a non-specific, unhelpful way) which are behind you, and this is good because in that section the monsters are ALWAYS behind you, and move very fast.

I guess technically it's not an escort mission, because he has no separate identity, but he does seem to change your aim a little bit (it feels heavier, and it glides more than when you dont have him on your back). He helps, and it is useful. It was handled well.

To be fair, that game is mostly made up of missions in which you are running with someone else, and for the most part they work fairly well, giving you an assigned role, and allowing you to get on with it. And the NPCs are invulnerable when they need to be, and all have automatic weapons. Yeah.

rollerfox88:
I think the worst example of escort quest Ive had recently was on Skyrim, the guy from Kyraneths (?) temple that asks to come with you to the magic tree. If you attempt to walk there and not fast travel, he will die, no question. He will either go all macho on a dragon (this guy who gets up in arms about you hurting nature when you try harvesting sap from a tree) or decide to take a different path from you and slide down a cliff never to be seen again.

When the only way to succeed at an escort mission is to teleport to the end of the job, you have a bad escort mission...

The trick to that mission is to walk the path yourself first, using clairvoyance. This takes you along the same route dumbass will take, and lets you set off all the monsters that happen to be in range. Once you've done that, sprint/voice yourself back to him as fast as you can, and then sprint as much as you can back to the tree. This should get you back there before anything respawns.

Lvl 65.. haven't fast traveled yet.

OT: NPC support that doesn't die = Skyrim Housecarls = You go Fight those Deathlords while I admire the architecture, would you?

Escorts asside, I think Star Wars Republic Commando is the example of NPC support done right.

You don't have to worry about them dying, but they aren't invulnerable. You don't have to worry about their ammo, but they'll only use their best weapons in specially designated positions. And best of all you can actually rely on them.

It seems like we'll be having one of these escorts in ME3, a female Krogan if I recall. Fortunately she'll be spending at least some of the time locked in a crate.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Besides, I think a lot of the resentment players have for aggressive escortees and support characters is that having them offer combat assistance gives the unspoken implication that the player needs it. The decrepit old scientist charging at the gathered enemy soldiers swinging a retort stand around his head is saying "Hey, Mr. Heavily Armed Soldier Player Character Man, let me show you how it's done! We are equally qualified for this job! Wheee! I've poured so much fucking coloured liquid from one glass flask into another, now it's time to put those skills to use!"

I never thought of it that way actually. It's more like: This pillock is so fucking useless why do I even bother wasting my time?

hermes200:

Or if you're leaning more towards NPC support, have them attack, but just don't let them die.

The problem with that idea, is that it leaves you open to let the NPC do all the work. Its what happened with Uncharted 3 in the final mission, once I realized Sully not only didn't die, but was quite capable and had an infinite amount of ammo.

Then YOU'VE become the escortee

One problem I had with too competent NPCs was in Gears 3 where it felt like I wasn't required to pull my weight as I had a whole army of NPCs with me that far exceeded what my lone player character can do so my influence on the battle was diminishing. I've seen some even worse complaints about various Call of Duty games (e.g. a BlOps "pacifist" run and the Rock Paper Shotgun "Ungame" complaint about MW3). At some point I wonder if ally NPC AI is really worth it or if we should just go back to the Options from Gradius or the Force Pod from R-Type.

For some reason I never had any problems with Eileen from Silent Hill 4, because if you go out exploring you can find better weapons for her. You can even make her unequip her weapons and force her to follow you without fighting the enemies. And she wonīt game over the player if she takes much damage, but she will become more annoying to escort.

Conversely, I couldnīt stand Ashley yelling "LEOOOON!! HEEEEEEELP!" in my ear in Resident Evil 4.

As of "supporting" NPCs, Farah, from Prince of Persia was also quite useful. Even when she threw arrows at me I wasnīt quite pissed at her. Alyx Vance, too.

As other posters have mentioned, Alyx Vance remains one of my all-time favorite NPC companions, and here's why. She can take care of herself and hardly ever dies (even if she does "cheat" by regenerating health). She is genuinely helpful to you in many areas; often she has a gun and you don't. She comments on your fighting style and cheers you on when you score a hit. She doesn't act helpless. And she is a gatekeeper, opening doors that you can't. In many ways, she feels like an actual co-op partner and not a useless crate.

Susurrus:
I thought a really interesting take was that in Metro 2033.

SPOILERS

So there's a whiny little kid, hunched over some dead body. He talks a lot. You agree to escort him. You pick him up and put him on your shoulders. He is no longer visible. He spots creatures (though to be fair, in quite a non-specific, unhelpful way) which are behind you, and this is good because in that section the monsters are ALWAYS behind you, and move very fast.

I guess technically it's not an escort mission, because he has no separate identity, but he does seem to change your aim a little bit (it feels heavier, and it glides more than when you dont have him on your back). He helps, and it is useful. It was handled well.

To be fair, that game is mostly made up of missions in which you are running with someone else, and for the most part they work fairly well, giving you an assigned role, and allowing you to get on with it. And the NPCs are invulnerable when they need to be, and all have automatic weapons. Yeah.

Except Bourbon. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed.

If time has taught us anything, it's that escort missions are a very fine line to dice, and basing a whole game around them will probably be a failure. Basing a mission around them is often bad enough.

Can it be done? Yeah, but to mirror Yahtzee's sentiment on Duke Nukem Forever, it's not so much it can't be done as it probably shouldn't.

Now, Amy looked like an idea I'd like to try, until I saw how poorly executed it was. But that was really no surprise, and there should be little surprise to anyone with pattern recognition.

Does anyone remember an escort quest in the original Fable? It involved a boy lost in a cave. You only had to pass through like three small areas to leave but even that was tough. If you've played it, you know what I mean. RAGE QUIT!

UnrealCanine:
Alyx from Half Life 2 had regenerating health, so fast she was almost immortal. Don't expect to sit back and let her do all the work though

Alyx is a very good example actually. I got so used to her being with me in Episode 1 that hated the parts in Episodes 1 and 2 when she wasn't around! Much like Yorda in Ico, she gave me a reason to move forward in the game because I actually cared about her. Then again, I cared about pretty much every damn NPC in those games!

She's also pretty capable with a gun but she can die as well. Although you have to be pretty bad at the game or incredibly negligent of her wellbeing for this to happen.

Susurrus:
Snip!

Wow, yeah I'd forgotten all about that! That kind of threw me when it popped up because it was so different from the rest of the game. The kid could have easily been annoying but I found his cheery attitude quite refreshing considering all the shit that was going on around him.

In fact that mechanic would probably work for an entire game. Gives a nice way for the otherwise silent protagonist to have a voice of sorts. You could drop the kid to go scrabbling about for ammo and what-not in a kind of risk/reward sort of thing. Kinda like Bioshock 2 then I guess.

Damn, now I want to go play Metro 2033!

I have to agree with RE4's Ashley being a good example of an escort mission. She was roughly as vulnerable as you were, but was smart enough to let you take the hits for the most part. And the "shoving her in a garbage bin mechanic" is oddly brilliant, and makes sense for that sort of game. The yelling was annoying, but she had the decency to be captured on several occasions to free you from the task for awhile (she's worse than Princess Peach).

I have to also second Alyx Vance. The only time she will ever die is if you legitimately try to get her killed or do nothing at all. You could accidentally toss explosives at her and she would probably survive. She was still able to be killed though, so she doesn't totally clean the battlefield on her own at least.

Sheva of RE5 was terrible, much more of a liability than even Ashley was. It didn't help that the inventory system was legitimately broken.

About Alyx Vance...

Remember that bit in episode 2, where she had just been brought back from the brink of death and you had to cross an antlion-infested plains area?

Valve changed Alyx's behaviour during that part, while in development, because she originally dragged herself along at a pace that you would expect from somebody who sports a fresh perforated line across their torso and this apparently aggravated playtesters to the point they developed a sense of disdain for the character.

Seems incredibly unfair, I feel -- I'd like to see /their/ performance under the same circumstances and there is something mismatched about having healthy distance to the story and holding gameplay above characters, yet projecting gameplay quibbles onto said characters.

Anyway; A change for the better was made and in the final product Alyx will rest at each safe spot, but steel herself for a determined sprint to the next one.

Of course; This is a developer who playtests to a fault and is not squeamish about tearing out their most precious ideas, even rather late in development, if they can not get them to do well in testing.

Akalabeth:
No mention of Enslaved? That was an escort quest of sorts, though the woman could help you at certain points, and she could defend herself for a few seconds allowing you to get back and help her. I liked it.

UnrealCanine:
Alyx from Half Life 2 had regenerating health, so fast she was almost immortal. Don't expect to sit back and let her do all the work though

I agree with these two mentions.

Trip adds a lot to Enslaved, without being overtly whiny (ok maybe a little bit, but that's part of her personality). The sections where you have to come to her rescue are important and well done.

I don't know if Alyx technically qualifies as "escort" because she's nigh invincible and there isn't really any point where you have to protect/save her (that I remember at least). But yes, she's definitely one of the best examples of companion to date.

Well as long as the one I'm supposed doesn't do anything stupid. Like "help" me shoot bad guys by walking in front of me whilst I'm shooting... Or set up a surprise mess for me to clean up. Or die when I don't know where they are. Or worst of all when they are "hard" an pushes you around bu you can't make them move...
Had to many times where I'm in cover and then a friendly NPC I'm supposed to escort gets up to my cover and pushes me out in the free where, well I usually die... A big thank you to the game studios makes those "it can push you around, bu you can no push them around" NPC by he way....

Didn't really consider the companion cube an escort mission but now when I read it yea that was a escort mission. But if you somehow manged to screw up it was your own fault and not that some programmer made a "bad" NPC so it's hard to get annoyed at anything else than your self...

And can Alyx in HL2 actually die? I haven't managed to get her killed so far...(that I can remember anyhow)

"... I realized that in a lot of cases there wouldn't be a game at all, not when escorts are supposed to be one of the central challenges."

Okay, Yatzee, WHAT IS A GAME TO YOU? You hint at a game needing some challenge or goal or whatever, but it's confusing. To me, a video game is a projection (usually on an electronic screen) of some plane of existence that is influenced by the player's/players' movements. Therefore, Minecraft is a game under my definition, even without The End and its ending text and credits.

Zachary Amaranth:
If time has taught us anything, it's that escort missions are a very fine line to dice, and basing a whole game around them will probably be a failure. Basing a mission around them is often bad enough.

Can it be done? Yeah, but to mirror Yahtzee's sentiment on Duke Nukem Forever, it's not so much it can't be done as it probably shouldn't.

That's my thinking as well. Considering how much people complain about escort missions, I suspect developers' main reason for continuing to make them is that they believe it can be done right, and they want to challenge themselves. Thing is, though, most developers today have a hard enough time getting the tried-and-true game mechanics to work properly, so they probably shouldn't be pushing themselves for its own sake.

It could actually be a fun game to have a stealth game with a NPC as well.

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