Letters to the Editor

Editor’s Choice


In response to “Green Barrels Don’t Explode” from The Escapist forums:
There’s a fine difference between a trope and a cliche. Generally a trope is something that uses its familiarity to help the player, whereas a cliche simply bores them.

It may be a bit absurd to have exploding barrels and item crates in nearly every FPS, but I honestly don’t think that removing them would help the genre.


It’s hard to know when and how to innovate… and it’s even harder to know if a change is “innovation,” or just “bucking the norm to be a dick.” It’s really a fine line to walk.

I think the mistakes that most folks make, in any medium, when they’re trying to “shake things up” are pretty common. You see it in reboots of franchises, retellings of classic stories, and in games that try to set a new standard by challenging the old. Those mistakes, in no particular order:

1. Trying to change too many things. If you’re going to make changes, you make them one at a time. There’s no law that says you’ve got to build everything from the ground up. Your audience needs to have a few familiar landmarks, and a few “anchors” that keep them from feeling lost. And the bigger the change you’re going to make, the fewer other things you should tweak for now. Save some for the sequel. Maybe a game in which players use the environment to construct creative “skill kills” isn’t the best time to change up cosmetic features like barrel color…

2. Trying to change too small a thing. Overreaction to fear of being guilty of #1, usually. Rather than make one change that matters, you make several small changes to things that are largely inconsequential. Change a color here, a name there, just tiny stuff. And either your audience doesn’t really notice (in which case you really haven’t made any changes)… or they go “Why on earth would they bother to change this and leave everything else the same?” Is there a reason to change the color, other than saying “We don’t have red barrels like those sell-outs,” or something? If not, consider leaving it alone and innovating elsewhere…

3. Changing something without letting the audience know it. You’re not just changing one thing. You’re also challenging a ton of prior knowledge, experience, and instruction that have gotten your audience used to a certain expectation. You’ve got to prepare for that transition if you want your change to work well. If you want exploding barrels to be green, include some content that demonstrates this for your player…



In response to “The Hands’ Job” from The Escapist forums:
I’m more worried about feet, particularly. Namely, how FPS heroes apparently don’t have them and like to float in midair. It always makes me happy to look down and see my shoes (although in games like The Darkness the downside is that the player’s maximum speed is ‘overweight man jogging’).

The Random One

I tend to hate hands because they smash immersion. Completely and utterly. They remind you that our field of vision is wholly and fundamentally different from the field of vision presented in a game and that you aren’t looking into a world, but looking into a screen into a world.

I’m sure you’ve seen the live-action FPS youtube video. Why is it funny? Because no-ones moves with their hands like that in real life. In real life, the sense of where you’re hands are, is a mixture of peripheral vision and your brain processing the sense of attachment and control. Neither of which you have in an FPS.

Your vision isn’t really square and if your hands are in the central, focussed part of your vision and directly part of how you are looking at things, you’re doing it wrong. Most FPS’ roughly do “hands holding guns” right. That is how it works, because the hand that is supporting the gun is a focus of your vision and you are using it to engage with the environment (And basically aim). But the minute they hold a knife, it quickly becomes a case of who does that? What the ef is wrong with their arms?

Try it now, raise your hands to roughly the height of your chin and maybe 20cms from your face. Isn’t that exactly what a game shows you? When you focus on a screen you tend to ignore peripheral vision entirely. And it’s not comfortable holding your hands like that.



In response to “Pills Here!” from The Escapist forums:
It’s kind of noteworthy that Dungeons & Dragons, which introduced the concept of an abstract health meter/hit points, did have a table for the side effects of mixing magic potions since at least the late 1970s. And also noteworthy for how many DMs ignored it, if they even remembered it existed.

Healing is just another of those concepts like hunger, exhaustion, carrying capacity (in terms of weight, not number of objects) that is glossed over and abstracted by most games in the name of expediency. And usually for the better. Do you really want to go to the washroom in a game, The Sims notwithstanding?


See you just explained why Fallout: New Vegas confused me. I am encouraged to get high as a kite on all kinds of varying medication and the only drawback is a chance of addiction.

However there is actually a quest in the game where one option is to kill the NPC by spiking his supply of Jet with some Psycho. This causes him to die immediately on taking some. You character previously even says to the quest giver (if your medicine skill is high enough) that a little bit of psycho added to the guy’s jet stash is fatal.

I stood over his corpse and tried the exact same thing to see what would happen (possibly not too bright here I know) and I didn’t even get addicted to the stuff.



In response to “The Princess Problem” from The Escapist forums:
The irony of using Sheik as an example of ‘Strong Princess’ is that, the MOMENT Sheik gets revealed as Zelda, the MOMENT she takes off her guise as a strong dispenser of teleportation songs….

…she gets kidnapped and you have to go rescue her. The very moment the ‘man clothes’ come off… she’s now an object to be rescued as a SIDE-EFFECT of the main quest which is already established by that point.

Let’s be absolutely clear about Ocarina of Time. Your quest is to lock Ganandorf into the Golden Land so that he stops being mean to Hyrule. You have the stakes for the adventure set clearly for you; the world is dying because Ganundorf is a jerk. You can see the ruination and decay in the land, because you’re not just looking at pictures of it or being told… you are SHOWN the results of Ganondorf’s evil. This is an example of how to set the stage right.

How does Shiek add to this by being the princess, and getting kidnapped? It serves no purpose other than to say ‘It’s legend of zelda, and zelda’s gotta get in some peril cause that’s how we do things in Hyrule!’

Sheik ain’t the subversion of this trope! She’s a card carrying exemplar of it, who exists solely to lure you into a false sense of ‘it’s not rescue the princess time’ until… oh yeah, it is.

Contrast that with Twilight Princess. Forget Midna. Take Zelda herself in that. She’s sitting there, in her sword and armor, fighting to the last until evil has assailed her castle, and she makes a sacrifice to preserve her kingdom’s future. She’s not some MacGuffin who sits there waiting to be rescued… she’s a fighter who, defeated, makes the complex choice to subject her people to the Twilight so that they can survive in limbo, in the hopes that someone can rescue them, rather than succumb her people ti extinction.

THAT is not a ‘princess peach.’ That’s a queen making a desperate sacrifice, and shows a strength of character and leadership.


That said, Princess Ashe from ff12 is a great example of a princess who is far from helpless.


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