Archive for May, 2012

Latest spammer appears upset that their spam comments are not posted. ;-)

May 21, 2012

The comment: “I tried to submit a comment earlier, although it has not shown up. I will remember this. 570283”

A random string of numbers at the end are the crude spammer attempts to get past the spam filters. Another spammer in the spam trap had another set of random numbers. Of course, maybe that is the spammer’s inmate number somewhere…

I hope the spammer does indeed remember having all their comments deleted before they appear. Perhaps then they will quit wasting their time trying to post spam to a moderated blog.

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Back and forth on character logic and motivation in Skyrim with the owner of www.uryaen.com

May 14, 2012

Background: Ryan Siller is the founder of the tech evaluation site www.Uryaen.com. I had a role in the site getting up and running and contribute some materials to it from time to time.

Ryan and I both played Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim extensively and an in-depth review is on the site. Ryan was the lead reviewer and listed author, while I contributed commentary to his review. The review is at: http://www.uryaen.com/Elder-Scrolls-V-Skyrim-Comprehensive-Review.html

One key difference of opinion is that Ryan loved the Dark Brotherhood (DB) quest line and I refused to do it. For consistency, I also never did it in Oblivion. I just never felt comfortable playing characters that unabashedly evil in games.

However, beyond my personal distaste for exploring the dark side of an RPG character build — I also maintained that the way Skyrim set up the mission made it illogical for any player to start the quests. It simply went against rational player motivations.

Ryan and I had a recent email exchange back and forth (Subject heading: Astrid is really, really stupid) and I noticed the emails read like a decent point-counterpoint. I pulled from them with Ryan’s permission as a blog post.

Both our email addresses are deleted and the “Astrid is really, really stupid” exchange assumes the reader has played the game, knows the main quest (Dragonborn) and DB plot-lines well, key quest characters from the game, and is comfortable with the spoilers that may be presented:

EMAIL ONE, FROM ME TO RYAN:

Ryan:

Once again, I am on the path to destroying the DB.

The orphanage owner was shown as wholly evil and I killed her before even talking to Aventus. I walk in and Grelod is talking about the beatings she will inflict and that none of the children will ever leave. Her death isn’t murder in the game, which indicates her alignment on par with bandits, and her little charges all celebrate her demise and may even bake a cake.

(Author note: I made the cake part up. It is a Portal meme.)

I talked to Aventus later to start the DB stuff in motion, but spared him having asked for a killing BEFORE it actually happened. In a teeny way, I kept a little blood off his hands. At that point he had only wished for someone to die, but hadn’t actually put out a contracted hit on them.

Now, onto the late Astrid.

At this point in my play-through, TWICE IN THE GAME these idiot DB assassins have tried to kill me. They both had notes indicating I have a contract out on me to be handled by the DB.

I am now kidnapped out of my bed after receiving an ominous note. The kidnapper then casually states she is DB – and I note that I have dual notes my inventory with DB contracts out on my life (with her name on them, as I recall).

Foolishly, she has left me all my armor and weapons.

Now, what would any LOGICAL person do if someone representing an organization that has twice tried to KILL you then kidnaps you and LOCKS YOU in a cabin with them?

Answer: One summoned Daedric Lord and two poisoned & double-enchanted Daedric Daggers. Quickly. Before she can even finish her dialog. Or react. Or do whatever TERRIBLE thing that one would rationally expect from someone who has twice tried to have you killed and has kidnapped you.

Duh.

No wonder the DB had fallen on hard time, as their leader was a moron.

Now, this logic and motivation hole could have been fixed if they had not been sending DB assassins out for me since fairly early in the game. Why wait for them to do what you ASSUME they have planned after kidnapping – which is to kill you.

Worse, you would assume they might even plan to frame you for murder by getting you to slaughter 1-3 NPCs. You don’t KNOW this nutty Astrid person in the faux ninja getup, other than that she has been ordering flunkies to kill you and has now kidnapped you.

Oblivion handled it by the player having no contact with the DB unless you committed a murder. If so, Lucian visited you and offered you an initiation test to kill someone at another location. If you refused it, he simply left (though if you were FAST you could always kill him after declining the contract. It was a suitable punishment for him waking you up out of a sound sleep and making you a tad grumpy.).

The whole logic and motivation issue was just handled better in Oblivion.

The game expects you to think like a gamer, instead of like a character in a world trying to behave somewhat logically.

James

P.S. The same logic issue is keeping me from starting the main quest. The Jarl (who I don’t know) is ORDERING me to do something dangerous. I don’t owe him anything; I am not even a Nord. Besides, he has troops everywhere to send to do it (despite their uniform knee injuries) – and he hasn’t offered me a reward. So, I am taking my time. Besides, the dragon flew away and I haven’t seen it since. So, maybe the problem solved itself.

I have the silly Golden Claw already and opened the final door, but didn’t go inside. In another logic breach – the game won’t let me return the claw for the promised reward UNTIL I get the silly dragon stone in the final room from the boss. Yet, what do I care about the Dragon Stone (or entering the final dangerous looking room) if I go do the Golden Claw quest before seeing the Jarl? I just want the reward for retrieving the claw. My character is broke at that point in the game and some shopkeeper wants to pay me for getting his trinket. I now have it in my inventory and tried to take it back – but the game won’t let me hand it over and get paid. Hello, I have it! Here is the shopkeeper who stays up 24/7 in his shop HOPING I return with it! Why can’t I casually reach into my backpack and toss it on the counter and leave with some swag?

Yes, I rave on Witcher 2, but I just felt at each point that the things I did were internally logical for the world and my character. It was something the game mostly got right.

RYAN’S REPLY BACK TO ME:

I figured it out, what your problem is.

You’re trying to apply modern post dark ages capitalist/American thinking to this situation, especially with the Jarl.

That’s just not how a world like this would work, you’d do what you were told, because you’re not in charge, the Jarl is. And if Astrid gives you a job offer, you’d be the RARE saint to turn down easy money. It’s MONEY. No one else has that.

Try winding the clock back about 1000 years in your thinking and I think you’ll snap into place in this world a lot better. Besides, wouldn’t the dragon born have more of a sense of entitlement and less a sense of honor really?

MY REPLY BACK TO RYAN:

But, I don’t KNOW that I am the Dragonborn. Since I haven’t fought a dragon, there is no way to know I am special. I am just some schmuck that the Imperials were going to execute.

As for the Jarl, only ONE PLAYABLE RACE IN THE GAME is actually from Skyrim. As such, the only race that might be expected to automatically obey him are the Nords. Yet, the Skyrim Nords are in a bloody civil war that has ravaged their legitimacy. The Jarls have pretty much lost most of their authority to tell anyone to do anything as each one tries to hang onto power. The Imperials openly run Solitude and the Thieves Guild has taken over Riften. There is a power struggle going on in Whiterun between two families and even the Jarl seems pretty powerless to do anything about it. Indeed, bandits operate just outside the boundaries of EACH TOWN and the hostile wildlife is prowling the roads. This is a country in chaos, with the Jarls now mere figureheads, and hanging on by their fingernails. Some of them are also openly corrupt.

The Whiterun Jarl and his wizard nag about the quest each time I see them – but they never try to compel me to do it. Again, they seem impotent to do it themselves. They need to rely upon some newcomer to the town to do something as basic as explore an old nearby tomb. Why not wear a sign that says, “I am WEAK!”.

Again, I have absolutely no reason to trust Astrid. She has twice had people try to kill me and has now kidnapped me. I don’t need money. I am awash in it. Indeed, I have piles of weapons enchanted with Banish & Paralyze (a high-priced combo) that nobody in Skyrim can afford to buy. I took a room in the kid’s house in Windhelm who starts the DB quest and started tossing all the extra swag on the floor. Another pile is behind the blacksmith shop in Whiterun. If I need cash, I can simply take an iron dagger and dual-enchant it and fetch crazy money for it with a cheap soul gem. Or, I can go sell a potion that costs me dirt to make and can sell for thousands. My abilities to craft armor & weapons, enchant, and alchemy are so advanced that money is a trivial item to me. I have pretty much run out of items to buy unless I start looking at a house. To do that, I need to start the main quest or move one of the others along further.

It was better in Oblivion where you could buy your first shack in the Imperial City just by having some cash. The other homes also mostly had price tags. As I recall, one did have a requirement to do some sort of quest for the owner, but mostly if you wanted a house – you bought it.

Astrid has been a threat to me for at least 30 levels. Now she has kidnapped me and locked me in a room with her. I see a chance to eliminate a threat to me and I have the means to do it because the nitwit left me armed and armored. So, I don’t even bother to talk. Talk to a summoned Daedric Lord, lady.

EMAILS END

Anyhow, while kind of roundabout, I hope the reader/player gets some insight into the logic and character motivation issues in Skyrim. Other emails with Ryan looked at how the issue of characters trying to stay true to their particular moral compass (good or evil) can’t do a “do it all” play-through. Some of the quests are so dark that a character build attempting to do fidelity to their moral alignment simply is unable to logically do them. You can’t — as a consistent character — save an old widow one day and refuse a reward (light build) and then coldly kill her the next for a couple of bucks (dark build).

If you care about logic and consistent character behavior, this clearly works against any player who wants to “do it all” in a single play-through. A future post will provide a cursory list of “light side/dark side” quest options I saw in the game for player builds who wished to maintain fidelity to their character’s moral compass.