For Want Of A Horse, The Game Was Lost

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For Want Of A Horse, The Game Was Lost

Horses can be more than just vehicles with good hair.

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Ocarina of Time, as an SNES game...

What.

You've lost all credibility.

I'm not a rider but yeah I can tell the difference and it does matter, Shadow of the Colossus was a master class in how to do it right

Azuaron:

Ocarina of Time, as an SNES game...

What.

You've lost all credibility.

Aye, re-read that line a few times to make sure that yes, she was saying that Ocarina was a SNES game ("an" SNES game no less).

Aside from that the article was ok I guess. Never really considered horses to be that important in any game and she is right in the aspect that whenever I see them I tend to sigh as they're typically so cumbersome to use.

Fasckira:

Azuaron:

Ocarina of Time, as an SNES game...

What.

You've lost all credibility.

Aye, re-read that line a few times to make sure that yes, she was saying that Ocarina was a SNES game ("an" SNES game no less).

Aside from that the article was ok I guess. Never really considered horses to be that important in any game and she is right in the aspect that whenever I see them I tend to sigh as they're typically so cumbersome to use.

To be fair, "an SNES" is the correct use of "an" if you are pronouncing the acronym one letter at a time (es-en-e-es) instead of as a word (snes).

Azuaron:
To be fair, "an SNES" is the correct use of "an" if you are pronouncing the acronym one letter at a time (es-en-e-es) instead of as a word (snes).

Thats being pretty generous. If I ever heard anyone ever refer to it like that though I'd cringe even more than if you asked me to ride a horse in a game. :p

Rachel Verkade:
The horses don't act naturally, they're mechanical, they're mindless, and this destroys our immersion.

I'm sorry, but if your immersion is ruined by that, then you were never at risk for immersion in the first place. Immersion should take you beyond nitpicking and mechanical issues, which is clearly not the case here.

When writing stories, a lot of authors ask themselves hard questions about every person, animal, or even object they introduce. If it's not going to serve the story, it needs to be left out. Basically, if you're going to include it in your story, it should have character (whether or not it is "a character").

The problem is that video games have two masters to please. An object might not serve much narrative purpose, but it serves a mechanical purpose... and we often allow that to be good enough. "We have a horse because it's the wrong time period for cars and tanks, but we need to travel quickly."

What's more, games tend to frame every NPC, location, or object in relation to the player character only. There is little sense, in many games, that anything on the screen has any existence beyond your interaction with it. NPCs just stand there waiting for you to pick up or drop of quest items. Guards patrol predictable paths in some of the most unintuitively-built structures ever seen... because both are designed as challenges to the player character, not as guards or buildings in their own right.

This is not, however, about the narrative-versus-gameplay debate. It really isn't. This is about taking existing logic and applying it to game design. For instance, I have a small apartment, so I tend to buy furniture with more than one use -- a futon instead of a couch, a coffee table with shelving underneath, etc. -- to get the most bang for my spatial buck. As economical as narratives have to be, authors often do the same thing by having characters serve multiple roles (which also gives those characters a bit more depth, coincidentally).

Game developers do this quite often, too. The rise of "secondary fire mode" in shooters is evidence that someone figured, "Hey, we can get more use out of these assets if we give them two functions." All they need is to take that one step further to give these items one more function: character. It's not about whether narrative or gameplay is the more important, but rather about the importance that -- whatever they balance -- the two are connected.

Your trusted sidearm can have character (James Bond, more in the novels). Your favorite hat can have character (Indiana Jones). Your car, plane, or ship can have character. And your loyal steed can, too.

Eh. Let's go a bit further.

This was not simply a feature of the different breeds; on my first playthrough, my American standardbred was fast, but very nervous. On my second playthrough, however, the standardbred I caught was charging without fear into any situation.

And in my first playthrough, my horses would do both, sometimes within seconds of each other. These are not discrete personality traits, but rather a behavioural system that seems to be completely random. I think you are inferring a lot more than was actually present in the game.

Now, I'm not saying that playing Red Dead Redemption will teach one how to ride (any more than playing Guitar Hero will teach one how to play guitar), but a good game, a truly immersive game, will put the player right in the mindset of the character he's playing.

But Guitar Hero doesn't do that, and I challenge you to say those games weren't immersive, what with how they drew people in.

Fasckira:

Azuaron:
To be fair, "an SNES" is the correct use of "an" if you are pronouncing the acronym one letter at a time (es-en-e-es) instead of as a word (snes).

Thats being pretty generous. If I ever heard anyone ever refer to it like that though I'd cringe even more than if you asked me to ride a horse in a game. :p

Odd, I cringe anytime someone says "snes". ;-)

Azuaron:

Ocarina of Time, as an SNES game...

What.

You've lost all credibility.

Just an editing error. Thanks for pointing it out - fixed.

Fasckira:

Azuaron:
To be fair, "an SNES" is the correct use of "an" if you are pronouncing the acronym one letter at a time (es-en-e-es) instead of as a word (snes).

Thats being pretty generous. If I ever heard anyone ever refer to it like that though I'd cringe even more than if you asked me to ride a horse in a game. :p

I tend to say Super Nintendo, but when I read it, my mind reads the Acronym. Snes is not a word and should never be pronounced as such. An SNES is correct. Kinda like LOL, people that say it out loud as a word sound like simpletons. But then again, at least it's not riding a mechanical horse in a game. :)

I think some of you are being a bit too harsh. I personally enjoyed the read, Rachel. Mainly, this is the first article/blog post/anything I've read having to do with the evolution and purpose of equines in video games, and I thank you for the insight.

I had the same experience in Ocarina when I beat Ingo and jumped the fence, that's what bonded me to Epona and made me happy that she followed me around. I'm thinking I should replay Shadow of the Colossus thinking of Agro more like Epona, and less with the mindset of "thank god they gave me a horse so I don't have to walk for miles to the colossus".

My girlfriend rides horses, and whenever I play a game that involves them she ends up sitting there muttering under her breath about incorrect movements and so on (partially to piss me off, and partially because she's damn picky about that kind of thing). So far, the only game she's seen me play that passed her standards for a decent representation of a horse was Red Dead Redemption. And she hits me whenever I injure a horse.

Agro is easily the best horse in all of gaming, and not just because he's intelligent enough to not just run into a wall without you telling it specifically not to. That horse is the very definition of altruism. He doesn't need to be there, there is no real reason why he hauls Wander around a barren, lifeless wasteland so that he can charge into battle against creatures that could crush him with their pinkie finger, but he does it anyway because he legitimately cares about you. Even after sacrificing himself so that you don't plunge to your death, he just shrugs off a broken leg, allegedly climbs out of a ditch, walks across the wasteland, and when he finally returns to the temple the only thing he cares about is making sure that that girl is accommodated for. This is a horse that would drag you out of Satan's mouth, get his back half bitten off, and, assuming he was capable, drag you all the way back to the temple with just his forelegs before digging his own grave.

Why do people care about Epona again?

BrotherRool:
I'm not a rider but yeah I can tell the difference and it does matter, Shadow of the Colossus was a master class in how to do it right

As far as I can tell, Shadow of the Colossus was the only one to do it right.
Well, maybe Red Dead, but Agro is the only one I felt an attachment to. Aw man...Agro *sniff*

Agro was a great character in Shadow of the Colossus. I truly felt as though Wander and Agro were bonding deeply on a very personal level. But I do think that in the game of Skyrim, most horses are lame horses that just hang around and get killed all of the time, except Shadowmere. Every playthrough of Skyrim, I immediately go through the Brotherhood questline to get Shadowmere, and then never touch the Brotherhood again. I truly felt as though Shadowmere was a great character even though she doesn't interact with the world as much as Agro.

On another note, it's sad that Agro had so much characterization in interacting with the environment and yet any time I am wandering around in the Uncharted games trying to solve a puzzle, Elena just stands there staring at the wall. Agro, a horse, had more character than Elena, a human.

gigastrike:
Agro is easily the best horse in all of gaming, and not just because he's intelligent enough to not just run into a wall without you telling it specifically not to. That horse is the very definition of altruism. He doesn't need to be there, there is no real reason why he hauls Wander around a barren, lifeless wasteland so that he can charge into battle against creatures that could crush him with their pinkie finger, but he does it anyway because he legitimately cares about you. Even after sacrificing himself so that you don't plunge to your death, he just shrugs off a broken leg, allegedly climbs out of a ditch, walks across the wasteland, and when he finally returns to the temple the only thing he cares about is making sure that that girl is accommodated for. This is a horse that would drag you out of Satan's mouth, get his back half bitten off, and, assuming he was capable, drag you all the way back to the temple with just his forelegs before digging his own grave.

Why do people care about Epona again?

Seconded to hell and back. I liked Epona plenty, she was a noble steed and in Twilight Princess suprisingly to scale but Agro was just there. It's weird but I did end up questioning why the horse put up with Wander's crap, why is it willing to help kill these 16 giant things that clearly isn't going to end well? The answer is just he is a Damn Good Horse! I cared a shit-ton more about Agro than any of the followers in Skyrim.

Considering I've yet to see a game where movement didn't involve wooden legs moving and feet sliding across the floor, getting horses right is probably not much of a priority. When the humans move more realistically, then we can focus on the other things. When hips no longer look like they're gonna dislocate while walking at a slow pace, then horses can get fixed.

Zachary Amaranth:

Now, I'm not saying that playing Red Dead Redemption will teach one how to ride (any more than playing Guitar Hero will teach one how to play guitar), but a good game, a truly immersive game, will put the player right in the mindset of the character he's playing.

But Guitar Hero doesn't do that, and I challenge you to say those games weren't immersive, what with how they drew people in.

It did so by putting them in the mindset of "a lead guitarist." You weren't imitating the skills in any meaningful way (though Guitar Hero and Rock Band games can do wonders for folks looking to develop rudimentary drum set technique), but you were "acting like the guitarist."

I mean, when a kid pretends to be a fighter pilot, he's not worrying about fuel or G-forces, he never runs out of bullets or deploys flaps... he's not realistically portraying a pilot, but he's sure in the mindset of one.

Suicidejim:
My girlfriend rides horses, and whenever I play a game that involves them she ends up sitting there muttering under her breath about incorrect movements and so on (partially to piss me off, and partially because she's damn picky about that kind of thing). So far, the only game she's seen me play that passed her standards for a decent representation of a horse was Red Dead Redemption. And she hits me whenever I injure a horse.

Do you play Mount&Blade?

You should definitely play Mount&Blade.

gigastrike:
Why do people care about Epona again?

Well, she had a pretty cool theme song.

I haven't played any of the more recent Zelda games, but Epona was treated fairly respectfully as a character in OOT, insofar as much as dynamic animal behaviour programming would allow at the time of its development, so I'm willing to give her a pass.

But yeah, Agro all the way!

This kind of attention to detail reminds me of an article I read recently on the mechanics of archers in movies. The guy was an instructor and spent time pointing out how certain movies (Avengers) get it wrong and others (Brave, Hunger Games) get it right.

And that kind of attention to detail matters. Time and time again, I see instances where when people need to get it right, the do so and it shows in the entire experience. Not that Avengers was a bad film--but archery wasn't a focus.

If horses are critical to your game, then you'd best do the horses right.

AGROOOO!

Seriously, Agro was awesome. My favorite bit was the super-pointless trick riding you could do, which only existed to cement the relationship between the horse and rider.

Smokescreen:
This kind of attention to detail reminds me of an article I read recently on the mechanics of archers in movies. The guy was an instructor and spent time pointing out how certain movies (Avengers) get it wrong and others (Brave, Hunger Games) get it right.

And that kind of attention to detail matters. Time and time again, I see instances where when people need to get it right, the do so and it shows in the entire experience. Not that Avengers was a bad film--but archery wasn't a focus.

If horses are critical to your game, then you'd best do the horses right.

Ooh, where was this article, I'd love to read it. Loved archery since I was a kid

8-Bit_Jack:
AGROOOO!

Seriously, Agro was awesome. My favorite bit was the super-pointless trick riding you could do, which only existed to cement the relationship between the horse and rider.

Smokescreen:
This kind of attention to detail reminds me of an article I read recently on the mechanics of archers in movies. The guy was an instructor and spent time pointing out how certain movies (Avengers) get it wrong and others (Brave, Hunger Games) get it right.

And that kind of attention to detail matters. Time and time again, I see instances where when people need to get it right, the do so and it shows in the entire experience. Not that Avengers was a bad film--but archery wasn't a focus.

If horses are critical to your game, then you'd best do the horses right.

Ooh, where was this article, I'd love to read it. Loved archery since I was a kid

I am pleased to help: http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/02/new-brave-trailer-gets-it-right/

Dastardly:

Zachary Amaranth:

Now, I'm not saying that playing Red Dead Redemption will teach one how to ride (any more than playing Guitar Hero will teach one how to play guitar), but a good game, a truly immersive game, will put the player right in the mindset of the character he's playing.

But Guitar Hero doesn't do that, and I challenge you to say those games weren't immersive, what with how they drew people in.

It did so by putting them in the mindset of "a lead guitarist." You weren't imitating the skills in any meaningful way (though Guitar Hero and Rock Band games can do wonders for folks looking to develop rudimentary drum set technique), but you were "acting like the guitarist."

I mean, when a kid pretends to be a fighter pilot, he's not worrying about fuel or G-forces, he never runs out of bullets or deploys flaps... he's not realistically portraying a pilot, but he's sure in the mindset of one.

Huh, I remember playing falcon 4.0, and I'm pretty sure I had to occasionally managed flaps and bullets did run out. As for g-forces I know there was mechanic for even though you personally never felt it.

I once read somewhere that the Team Ico members responsible for Agro took a few riding lessons beforehand to understand it better. I say it really payed off.

I have nothing to comment on about the article, but the bit about games where one horse may spook easily and another won't got me to thinking: Are there any games where your mount, of whatever species, can gain XP and level up along with you? Like maybe it starts out kinda useless but over time you can put points into it being less timid, having more endurance, that sort of thing.

Fasckira:

Azuaron:
To be fair, "an SNES" is the correct use of "an" if you are pronouncing the acronym one letter at a time (es-en-e-es) instead of as a word (snes).

Thats being pretty generous. If I ever heard anyone ever refer to it like that though I'd cringe even more than if you asked me to ride a horse in a game. :p

It's not being generous at all. That's how I pronounced it in my head when reading it, and how I've always pronounced it. "Snes" is an incredibly awkward thing to try to pronounce, and I'd never even considered pronouncing it that way until your earlier comment.

Good article about the way expertise can make us lose immersion. I've been learning to ride for the last year, and the more I know about horses, the more I notice that most videogames (if they have a mount at all) use the "Automaton Horse" trope. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AutomatonHorses

Videogames aren't the only ones who do this, of course. How many times have you seen a movie with a non-rider character spot a likely looking beast, leap onto it and tear off at full gallop? Bonus points if he does it bareback.

So, yeah, videogames aren't realistic, and we don't flinch at the tireless Skyrim horses anymore than we flinch at the unrealistic swordsmanship. BUT. Taking the combat as an example, we do want it to be fun and engaging. Having a no personality horse that just functions as a car (at best) misses a lot of possibilities, especially when horses were such a huge part of medieval combat and legends, especially for knights. And the more realistic the basic gaits and other movement, the more likely we'll believe it when our beastie does more fantastic things.

Akisa:
Huh, I remember playing falcon 4.0, and I'm pretty sure I had to occasionally managed flaps and bullets did run out. As for g-forces I know there was mechanic for even though you personally never felt it.

(Talking mostly about a little kid sitting in a chair pretending to be a pilot -- you know, "Vroooom! Tatatatatatatatatat! Booooooom!" kind of stuff.)

Smokescreen:
This kind of attention to detail reminds me of an article I read recently on the mechanics of archers in movies. The guy was an instructor and spent time pointing out how certain movies (Avengers) get it wrong and others (Brave, Hunger Games) get it right.

And that kind of attention to detail matters. Time and time again, I see instances where when people need to get it right, the do so and it shows in the entire experience. Not that Avengers was a bad film--but archery wasn't a focus.

If horses are critical to your game, then you'd best do the horses right.

I'll tell you what bothers me more than anything: When actors are playing instruments or conducting ensembles, and they're not even remotely doing it right. Seriously, give me 10 minutes with these people, and I'll give you a pro-quality "faker" that's fit for the big screen. It's not that hard.

Actually, I don't think you could beat Dirge without your horse. It's almost impossible to get the snake to rear its head at an angle you can hit if you're not letting it chase you on your horse.

Horses could, and should, be implemented in games like dogs have been in the best scenarios.

Dogmeat in Fallout 3, and the freely-named Mabari in Dragon Age: Origins. I cared for those creatures more than other characters. Although I'm a dog person, and as it tends to stand for many people; the death of a dog, or another animal for that matter, in a movie for example, can be a lot sadder, than the death of a human character.

But still, horses could very well be utilized. And they are practical in the way of transportation, as dogs tend to help you with the fighting, in video games.

In Red Dead Redemption, for the little I played it, I didn't care for the character's horse at all. It was just a tool. The same thing, with even lengthier extent, is true with Skyrim. They weren't even good tools there.

I've ridden horses as a kid and a teenager. My sister owned half of a horse for a good while and another one was often on a field just a stone's throw from my home when I was a young kid. I've carried water for a horse for a couple of Finnish winters. Even still, I've basically never had any kind of connection with horses.

I think the affection for horses is largely different with women and men. I used to work for a couple of summers with two 50-something men. They were kinda rugged, but one time they began talking on horses they, or their families had when they were young, and horses were still used for actual work and they were like family members. They almost got emotional talking about them. How strong, useful they were and what characteristics they had. Whereas all the female relatives, friends and girlfriends I've known, seem to have a very different aspect when it comes to horses.

So, video games still being somewhat dominated by males, and the ones developing them are subjectively young, from urban backgrounds, and designing the games for male audiences... It's not that difficult to see why horses aren't what they really are in video games. There should be a change though.

I used to ride horses too, and I also tend to mutter about how mechanical some horses are in gaming. More than other animals, horses have very subtle, almost sophisticated body language. Never played any Elder Scrolls games or RDR, but I have played Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and SOTC. Seen many articles that compare Epona to Agro, often they end with Epona "winning" mostly from a control standpoint. Perhaps Epona does control better, but Agro is just so unique and alive. Epona handles like a robot. She spins around on an axis, moves stiffly, doesn't react to anything, she to me feels like a dead-eyed NPC or a car. Epona was one of the things I got really excited for back as a kid in the 90s, and although she was still neat to have around (and had a dash more personality than most disposable horses), Agro stole my heart. He was more than transportation. He was your companion and partner into battle. He had feelings like fear, grief, anger (have you ever plowed Agro through lizards or doves? It's not anger exactly, but it's still hilarious to see everything that touches him drop dead lol), excitement, as well as a genuine connection to Wander. All told through actions and body language. 3 of those colossi would be impossible without Agro, while Epona (OOT) I don't believe to be necessary unless you're going for 100% or want the side-plot.

And I will end in saying I've never ever had problems with Agro's controls :3. None that I didn't have already with other horses at least.

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