Escorts Aren't Free

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I'd like to note, yet again, Alyx from Half-Life. I think she had a shitton of health but she was still killable, if you just kind of stood around like an idiot. But she was a pretty good shot on her own, though she was only half-an-escort. It's been a while, but I think if anything she escorts -you- to a couple of places.

It's been a while >_<

Mass Effect 1 & 2 deserve special mention I think. You are constantly escorting two of the stupidest (meatshields have different personalities but the same combat training) A.Is I have ever seen. They will fire at the ground hoping to hit an enemy on a different level, they will stand in the open getting shredded by enemy fire waiting for someone hiding behind a crate to stand up and they always break my line of fire when I am about to knock off an enemy with my sniper rifle.

And they wonder why I only use the medi-gel when my own health is at critical levels.

008Zulu:
Mass Effect 1 & 2 deserve special mention I think. You are constantly escorting two of the stupidest (meatshields have different personalities but the same combat training) A.Is I have ever seen. They will fire at the ground hoping to hit an enemy on a different level, they will stand in the open getting shredded by enemy fire waiting for someone hiding behind a crate to stand up and they always break my line of fire when I am about to knock off an enemy with my sniper rifle.

And they wonder why I only use the medi-gel when my own health is at critical levels.

And yet, couldn't do it alone. I of course handle the bulk of the DPS but they handle aggro mitigation as well, so all the fire is not on me.

I though most gamers problem with escort quests was the fact that the character being escorted had such poor AI that they would automatically walk into the enemy you were trying to protect them from!

Alyx does NOT qualify as an escort if she is incredibly hard to kill, otherwise most of Metro 2033's companiosn count (as most pf them are actually killable, it's just incredibly hard to do so).

Which leaves Valve with L4D and the 'companions'. Dear christ, they are the worst I have ever seen, their only redeeming traits are infinite ammo, and aimbotting occasionally.

I think the ultimate in perfect escort quest is Abe's Odyssee/Exoddus. There was something very satisfying about sneaking up to those mudokens, whispering 'Follow me' and having them tiptoe after you in synchrony - and the satisfaction of chanting, opening a portal, and having the whole bunch of them jump in, was perfect. In general, I think Abe's Odyssee remains the greatest game I've ever played, the perfect mix of story, character and gameplay.

[Edit]I said 'perfect' a lot there, didn't I? My English teacher would've given me a slap for that.

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.

In all fairness, I think its lazy programming as well. I find it annoying that you/your escort/your NPC support can run out of ammo but the enemy seems to magically have infinite ammo. What the fuck is that all about? I realize that increasing difficulty is most easily done through enemies being bullet sponges and you taking greater damage and being limited in terms of weapons but I still think its a cop out. In this day and age, they should spend more on good AI and less on pretty graphics.

Hat Man:

Escorts aside, 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.

Here is a case of AI done tooooo well. We (a friend of mine and myself) tested this theory. The game will actually complete itself if you die at the end. Say what?

Personally I hate many escort missions. Dead Rising (the first one) was terrible. They acted dumb and got killed and wouldn't stay put.

In actuality, the concept is good but the AI has to be able to match up with the skill of the person playing the game. If the person you are escorting is too dumb or too good then the challenge of the scenario is rendered moot.

Three words: "Reload Doctor Freeman!"

Seriously, no mention of Yoshi's Island? That game was made up entirely of one escort mission. It was well designed so it only punished you if you screwed up, and even then you had some time to correct your mistake before you got the game over. Plus, it was the last game in the Mario franchise that actually felt new and interesting.

Metro 2033
the majority of it is an escort quest (there is an NPC who, if killed, causes game over). But more often than not, they have better equipment and experience. They rarely die, and it drives home the point that you are a rookie in this world, not an experience veteran. When you are alone, you feel the need for another gun to help you, but it isn't there. It works to improve the setting, instead of focusing on keeping the companion alive.

I maintain that Rare had the best take on the escort mission in Conker's Bad Fur Day in the section where you had to escort Rodent. There, in the best twist, Rodent protected YOU from danger while you were leading him out of the enemy base.

Glad to see I'm not the only one who didn't find Ashley mind-numbingly annoying to look after. And it's all because I could control her movements to a fair degree, whereupon I'd order her to stay at the far side of the map, while I just went out and slaughtered the entire population of Los Murderos (or whatever the place was called).

That, and I was secretly hoping for her and Leon to get it on...

I'll be frank, I don't have a problem with escort quests or NPC support so long as one thing is consistent; I'm. In. Control. What this means is that whether I'm escorting an NPC or I'm being backed up by supporting characters, I want them to follow instructions. If I move, I want them to follow with me at a respectable distance; not breathing down my neck, but also not dragging their feet. If I tell them to stay somewhere, I want them to plunk their ass down on the curb and pull out a book they've been meaning to catch up on while I scout ahead. If there are enemies around, I want them to either stay behind me, take cover, or in the event they're support NPCs, hold their ground and give me cover, only maneuvering if something hits them. Furthermore, they should be following MY lead, which means they should only attack if I attack and only what I'm attacking or something that's attacking me. If I push forward, they should push forward. If I retreat, they should follow me back. If the NPC has healing powers that are limited, i.e. a first aid kit that runs out of supplies, or healing spells that drain energy, they should ask me first before using something to patch me up.

I think that anytime someone has a gripe with a given game's escorts or NPC support characters, it stems from what degree control is taken away from the player. Thinking back to the escort quests in WoW, the biggest problem I had is how the NPC's would blithely blunder on ahead, even if you had to stop for a second to eat some rations or put a bandage on or fight off some fucking monster that spawned randomly in your path that wasn't part of the prescripted escort battles. In Fallout 3, I love the personality of the companions, but by God, they are annoying when I'm trying to fight in an enclosed space. They'll detect an enemy two rooms away, and while I'm trying to loot bodies, they go wandering off on their own because they "heard a noise" and pick a fight before you're ready, robbing you of XP if the win and getting themselves killed if they lose. The worst part is when I've got too much in my bags and I can't run. I'm left impotently cussing at them and telling them not to get ahead of me while dragging my overfilled knapsack, stuffed with the guns and armor bits I can't bring myself to discard because they're either good for spare parts or I can sell them for enough to buy a post-apocalyptic concubine.

So in a nutshell, I'd say if game designers want to make escorts or support characters a big part of their game, they don't need to impress us with how well the NPC's can do without us; they need to impress us with how well they can follow instructions.

I thought the escort mission in twilight princess was pretty great. You know the one with the carriage and the zora child Ralis. Sure it wasn't exactly a conventional escort, it was one of those "keep up with and protect these things" missions.Like the missions in inFAMOUS where you ride cars or trucks or the chopper. But the carriage escort was tolerable because:
1. The escort is on a set path.
2.If they catch fire you can put it out.
3.When damaged they stop moving forward, instead moving in a circle where you can save them and defeat the surrounding enemies.
4.You can lock on to them so you don't have to break the flow.

They do commit the one cardinal sin of those kinds of missions where you ride something but you can get knocked off. Getting knocked off your horse totally limits your ability to move or fight and it takes precious time from you.

What I hate even more than escort missions are missions with NPCs that, rather than continue to go toward their target, opt to change course to the nearest group of enemies that needs a kicking.

Sort of an MMO-style AI treatment.

Thank you, Random NPC #423, but I don't need to kill those. You don't need to kill those. They weren't going to attack us. You're just wasting our time and getting yourself beat up so I have to go over to help you.

If the escort-ee can't die, is it really an escort quest/mission? I don't really think of the companion cube as being escort-related at all (I haven't gotten a chance to play Portal 2 yet, so if there's something in that more obviously escort-like, pardon me.)

My bigger problem is when the escorted doesn't have the sense to get out of the line of fire... Especially when hitting them causes either 1) instant game over, 2) them to become violently hostile towards you or 3) all of a class of NPCs to become hostile towards you.

(Crap. How do you quick load again...?)

Ashley in RE4 wasn't too bad, it's true. But far too often, escort missions don't actually contribute anything to a game- no interesting new mechanics, no alternate tactics, not even enough of a personality to make you feel more than irritation when the escorted inevitably gets their fool selves killed. They're just there to make you do what you've been doing, only with a millstone strapped around your neck. What's fun about that?

A perfect example of your NPC support claim is StarFox64. They would fight, but they died. Their death never made your game end, but it certainly made it harder to progress through an area with one less arwing in your squad to take down enemies. (fuckin' slippy). However, you got rewarded for saving them as well as the ability to access different parts of the game. That is probably one of the better ways to do NPC support. Not vital, but certainly rewarding if you are willing to aid them often.

Aside from RE4 and Yoshi's Island, I've seen very few escort missions that weren't complete bullshit, through-and-through. I think that Mike Fang said it best:

Mike Fang:

Furthermore, they should be following MY lead, which means they should only attack if I attack and only what I'm attacking or something that's attacking me. If I push forward, they should push forward. If I retreat, they should follow me back. If the NPC has healing powers that are limited, i.e. a first aid kit that runs out of supplies, or healing spells that drain energy, they should ask me first before using something to patch me up.

This right here is everything wrong is games today. When I come up to some enemies, STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND DON'T RUN IN FRONT OF MY GUN/AXE/SWORD. Grr...

JasonBurnout16:
I suppose parts of Bioshock 2 amount 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.

Actually, the only consequence to a splicer grabbing ahold of Little Sister gatherers is that the Little Sisters stop ADAM collecting until the splicer lets go. In one area in Pauper's Drop, there's a gather spot that happens to be within range of a camera. If you manage to get within the building within the locked door (without unlocking it), you can watch splicers get torn to pieces from the summoned security bots over and over again xD. Hopefully, you can understand what I'm talking about. In other words, you don't always have to pay much attention to Little Sisters.

Mike Fang:
I'll be frank, I don't have a problem with escort quests or NPC support so long as one thing is consistent; I'm. In. Control. What this means is that whether I'm escorting an NPC or I'm being backed up by supporting characters, I want them to follow instructions. If I move, I want them to follow with me at a respectable distance; not breathing down my neck, but also not dragging their feet. If I tell them to stay somewhere, I want them to plunk their ass down on the curb and pull out a book they've been meaning to catch up on while I scout ahead. If there are enemies around, I want them to either stay behind me, take cover, or in the event they're support NPCs, hold their ground and give me cover, only maneuvering if something hits them. Furthermore, they should be following MY lead, which means they should only attack if I attack and only what I'm attacking or something that's attacking me. If I push forward, they should push forward. If I retreat, they should follow me back. If the NPC has healing powers that are limited, i.e. a first aid kit that runs out of supplies, or healing spells that drain energy, they should ask me first before using something to patch me up.

I think that anytime someone has a gripe with a given game's escorts or NPC support characters, it stems from what degree control is taken away from the player. Thinking back to the escort quests in WoW, the biggest problem I had is how the NPC's would blithely blunder on ahead, even if you had to stop for a second to eat some rations or put a bandage on or fight off some fucking monster that spawned randomly in your path that wasn't part of the prescripted escort battles. In Fallout 3, I love the personality of the companions, but by God, they are annoying when I'm trying to fight in an enclosed space. They'll detect an enemy two rooms away, and while I'm trying to loot bodies, they go wandering off on their own because they "heard a noise" and pick a fight before you're ready, robbing you of XP if the win and getting themselves killed if they lose. The worst part is when I've got too much in my bags and I can't run. I'm left impotently cussing at them and telling them not to get ahead of me while dragging my overfilled knapsack, stuffed with the guns and armor bits I can't bring myself to discard because they're either good for spare parts or I can sell them for enough to buy a post-apocalyptic concubine.

So in a nutshell, I'd say if game designers want to make escorts or support characters a big part of their game, they don't need to impress us with how well the NPC's can do without us; they need to impress us with how well they can follow instructions.

In Fallout New Vegas, they fixed most of those issues. Instead of dying, companions only get knocked unconscious (meaning, instead of losing them permanently, they're simply unusable until combat is over), and according to one of the loading screens, you get xp from monsters they kill. I'm not sure about the picking fights issue however.

One of my favorite missions from CoD4 is where you and a sniper buddy have to find a way in and out of the warzone. While escaping he get's injured so you have to carry him across the rest of the level. You're unable to fight while you carry him, but when you need to fight you can dump him somewhere and he acts like a portable turret. It's not the typical escort mission, but it's one of the few I know that's actually fun to do.

playing through either of the left 4 dead single player campaign (for those of us without friends) does a fairly good job of being support...most of the time. it is difficult to give them orders i recall

Steve the Pocket:

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.

I think it's laziness, possibly even artificial difficulty, myself. I could be wrong, I mean your altruistic look is at least favourable to the people making the games, but so many of these games seem to employ copy/paste ideas.

I prefer not to have escort quests... although if I am to have them I prefer 3rd person games... The ammount of times I tried to escort/keep someone alive in Oblivion/Skyrim and ended up with them dead, or worse, them running in front of me, and me ending up killing them with a mistimed arrow, due to the fact I didn'tsee them coming! :(

A lot of people seem to be comparing escort games/quests to support characters, which is a totally different thing, as illustrated by the RE4/RE5 example. Alyx was NOT someone you were escorting, in any of her appearances. Nor was the majority of NPCs in Metro 2033 (when's the sequel to that coming btw, that game was unbelievably good).

But to stay on topic, I find most escort quests to be quite annoying. But this is a sliding scale depending upon how hindered your own character is by the "escorting", and how weak or stupid your "escortee" is. The furthest I appreciate is Metro 2033, having the boy on your shoulders is a bit of a balance because although you turn slower, he warns you about those rat things if one is approaching from behind. Basically this whole situation is alright with a good shotgun in your hands.

The worst kind is when you have to carry them (like in Dead Rising) and you are completely useless, moving very slowly, and being surrounded and hacked at. Although most of the time in Dead Rising you can just pick a path and sprint it, to be fair. Having someone over your shoulder and shooting with the other hand is pretty cool too, despite being quite unrealistic. But people getting in the way of gunfire, or wading into enemies and getting themselves killed makes it extremely annoying.

A good mechanic to implement would be like in Rainbow 6: Vegas, although you are not escorting your teammates, you can give them solid, simple commands as go there, hold position, or follow me, which is just about all you need.

The best escort game ever was Primal. In this game you had 2 characters with 2 separate skillsets - one a human/demon hybrid that could use the skills of demons she's killed. The other - a non-combat puzzle-solving gargoyle whose sole purpose was pulling levers and going places the human character could not. The only time these characters hindered each other was when there was an obstacle between them or a puzzle that needed solving.

I personally hate escorts involving helpless characters/pets. I have pets at home. When I play games, if there's a sidekick they better be helping else I will perforate them then never play the game again. This is probably the one thing that made me groan about The Matrix Reloaded - the keymaster. The second he showed up, I thought " virtual environment, escort mission". Luckily he was dead by the movie's end.

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.

I think he was harkening more toward New Vegas companions on casual, if their health drops to zero they fall unconscious until the fighting is over then they wake up with full health.

No mention of ResQ?? oh wait, it was never released. Probably the only Sega Genesis games that was all about escort missions NON STOP

So I'm the only one who finds ICO's gameplay mechanics, erm... not so good? I know I was supposed to care for Yorda because she's this cute little innocent princess girl. But most of the time I was very very annoyed because the dumb bitch was so retarded that she could not even run away when the shadows were getting close, and her AI often had big problems with pathfinding (in PS3 version at least - haven't played PS2). So ultimately I never felt this big connection with her and was very very relieved when she finally bit the dust.
Don't get me wrong, I overall liked the game for its idea, art direction, characters and atmosphere but I honestly find that gameplay of ICO is mediocre at best. I think it would have been better off as an anime or a movie where the viewer does not have to struggle with a crappy AI.

As for good escort/helpful NPCs games - quite a few come to mind. Enslaved (escort), Uncharted, Prince of Persia 2008 (companions), God of War 3 (both).

fabrimuch:

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

You're kidding, right? I wanted to kill little miss I'll-just-stand-here-shooting-arrows-at-point-blank-range-instead-of-taking-two-fucking-steps-back-to-avoid-taking-damage.

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.

Or just do what Mass Effect and Fallout:NV (non-hardcore) did, have it so they can be taken out of the fight, but once it's over they get back up.

Classic WoW's escort missions would drive me nuts. You'd get some weak bastard who refused to move at more than a snail's pace, meander through some cave filled with orcs and other nasties, then suddenly find the strength/speed to SPRINT towards an enemy while screaming, "Help! I'm under attack!" I yearned so much for a Fireman's Carry skill when I had to do quests like that. Even if I couldn't use my weapon, I'd rather pitch that nuisance over my shoulder and make a bee-line for the exit rather than wait for them to get their heads on straight.

You definitely hit on my frustration with escort quests, too: Getting punished for something that's not your fault. When my escort suddenly runs head-long into danger and dies because of it, I find it so unfair that I have to start over because of that. Whose idea was it to program the lame duck to go into battle, anyway? If my character is there to rescue them, shouldn't they be waiting behind me whenever battle starts up?

But that's just my main complaint about escort missions in general, not just the ones I ran into in WoW.

I loved Ico.

I think the game making mechanic was holding her hand. Whether dragging her out of frustration, tentatively exploring or wildly escaping from shadows, the simple act of pressing down a button to keep her with you made the connection to her more real.

And the light sabre on the second play through was hilarious. "Hold my hand! My sword will get really big!!"

In a partially unrelated note.
I saw this yesterday: http://www.gameinformer.com/blogs/editors/b/gidan_blog/archive/2012/02/11/dad-plays-more-games-he_2700_ll-hate.aspx

Some dude on game informer has his non gamer dad play various games (funny stuff actually). On a short playtrough Portal first levels they call a weighted storage cube "Ashley".

rayen020:

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.

She was pretty much /my/ escort during the beginning of HL1 where ammo is scarce (on Hard at least) and you learn to rely on using your flashlight so she can unload her bottomless magazines.

All in all she was more of a partner than an escort really.

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

I actually thought that scene was too tame.
They did everything to take out the frustrating parts of an escort mission, but that took out so much of the escort mission that gameplay-wise you only noticed the heavier mouse control and got some... "advice"? I thought checking every nook and cranny was one of the first things Metro players learn, so by that part in the story they shouldn't need such a "tutorial" anymore (could've been nice as one of the first missions tho with the tutorial possibility in mind).
The kid wasn't even all that torn apart by his loss. I guess it's partly fault of the mute protagonist type (why they made him silent in gameplay but gave him a voiceover in the loading screens I have no idea), but the boy really took the initiative and overall seemed very unbelievable as a human character in my opinion.
Not to say the mission was terrible or something, it was just that it wasn't much of an escort mission.

----------------

I'd actually very much like for the Damsel In Distress stereotype I usually dislike to make a return in escort missions as long as the character is written well enough so we care for him/her. An escort mission loses its value if the ones you protect get too powerful and capable, but that's exactly what devs do to make it less frustrating. When really we just need a little bit of smarter AI so we get the feeling we're completely responsible for whether our friend dies or not and it's actually a challenge to protect them, not a matter of shooting bad guys until they shoot your VIP to death.

I think you don't even need NASA AI for that if you put control in the player's hands without making it obvious and without making it too easy.
For example, make the AI follow your path and execute the same actions as you at the same time as you did. Then you should have to only blame yourself. Press button once, path is being recorded. Press button again, old path is discarded and new path is recorded. Double tap button, path is executed by the NPC. Hold button, NPC will determine the closest route to your current position and follow it at your own risk. Hold button while NPC is next to you and they'll stick as closely as possible to you (while still mimicking all your actions like ducking behind cover). You lose this "auto-follow" the next time you use the button. Button + mouse click will make the NPC go to the position in your crosshair while auto-calculating the shortest route at your own risk again.
In battle, the NPC will stick to the closest bit of cover, but if there's no nearby cover they'll hide behind you and yell if they see someone behind your back. Once you move closer to cover, the NPC will favor that cover so they don't get in your way. Tho I guess you need some advanced AI to determine what is real cover and what's standing on the side of the wall the enemies are shooting at.

"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."

There is an exception for this in war games, or any way scenario really.

My allies are soldiers on equal footing with me fighting a large swarm of bad guys. Having them do nothing and making me kill every soldier within 50 yards, is annoying and breaks immersion.

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