Episode 472 - You See A Vent, You Go In That Vent!

As we return to a more regularly scheduled podcasting, the Waypoint Radio crew emerges to find that the return of the immersive sim may be upon us. Rob's been digging into Weird West, a third person isometric view CRPG styled immersive sim, and has found that a few of those gold ingots he dug up might be pyrite. Ren's been checking out Abermore, a first person Thief inspired immersive sim, that had a troubled development, but still has interesting ideas despite it's unpolished nature. After the break, Patrick talks us through his article on his relationship to E3 and the recent news that there will be no E3 2022. He's also been playing Ghostwire: Tokyo, and ended up finishing it in fact. He's not sure why, but he did!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://shows.acast.com/vicegamingsnewpodcast/episodes/episode-472-you-see-a-vent-you-go-in-that-vent
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Ghostwire: Tokyo is full of enough “Huh, that was cool” moments and has just enough “numbers go up” that I can see how it would hold together enough for Patrick to finish it. I intend to get back to it after Wonderlands.

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I deeply disagree with the take on Abermore. You shouldn’t put unfinished games up for sale. There’s no indication of its state on its steam page and it is completely unreasonable to expect regular people to seek out a game’s developer on twitter to see that the game will receive no post-release support, especially in an era where those kind of patches are common.

I also think it’s just fine for people to not want to play extremely buggy games filled with soft locks. In the same way that it’s perfectly reasonable for people to not want to watch movies where the sounds wasn’t mixed so the dialogue is inaudible or read books with significant printing errors that render pages unreadable. There are so many interesting games that are functional on a technical level, I don’t really see the value in engaging with ones that aren’t unless you in games criticism or academia.

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Yeah, if it were a “pick your price” game on Itch, that would be one thing, but they should not be charging $16 for it. I’m assuming this was a publisher decision and not something the guy who posted that Twitter thread had control over, but still.

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I probably ought to listen to the whole pod first and hear the Abermore take in question, but this piqued my curiosity. The Steam page indeed makes no indication that the game is in an unfinished state and will not be developed further (other than the reviews trending ‘mostly negative’). The Twitter thread from the dev is very short but the key seems to be one of their replies:

The mention of funds and that they can’t continue “without that backing” definitely implies it’s a publisher issue (the pub being Fireshine Games), but with limited information, it’s hard to know what happened behind the scenes.

I’m fine with unfinished and archival stuff being released - for sale - but it should be clearly marked and marketed as such. Sometimes projects just don’t come together but there will always be people interested in what could have been. Thinking of books and film, there are plenty of examples of workprints or planning documents being much sought after; one example that springs to mind because I’m reading the series now is the Aubrey-Maturin novels, where the author died in the middle of writing a further entry in the series. It was released commercially as “The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey”. But these are things that have niche appeal, and as noted in this thread, most people are not looking for a historical curiosity, they’re looking for something complete.

That said, unless there is evidence to the contrary, I hope that ire is directed at the right people: the publishers that appear to have withdrawn support for the project. Game development is a job and the team that worked on Abermore shouldn’t be expected to work on it for free. It’s reasonable that if they’re no longer being paid then development will cease. The replies to the dev are already full of people blaming the team for releasing it in its current state.

I also hope there’s some perspective or sense of scale here - much bigger publishers and development studios release things in unplayable states all the time, and while sometimes they do become the butt of industry jokes for a while (see: CDPR), it’s often smaller teams that are singled out for criticism.

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I’m only halfway through this pod but there’s fair bit of academic critic-brain happening here. (Which, to be fair, is why we probably adore Waypoint most of the time, and I say this with immense appreciation.) Before the bit about a broken game put up for sale without warning being historically interesting, the convo about Weird West also lost me a bit.

Rob spent several minutes lamenting the fact that he found the systemic interaction in Weird West unpredictable, inscrutable and potentially misfiring. He described a situation where the game was triggering a narrative event that he couldn’t circumvent. Ren then hypothesized that the game suffers because it lacks narrativization to weave together it’s interlocking systems, that good imsim design obscures systems, and that the best moments in imsims have exceptions to rules that allow systems to break down. But it sounded to me like those were the things Rob is running up against, not what he wishes for more of.

I’m not mad at the take, but I don’t feel like I got much of a sense of what Weird West is really like before we got into the weeds of theorizing about its systemic design. Is it assumed that I caught the streams? Because we seem to have glossed over the conversation about why Rob supposedly liked the game at first before his feelings dipped and then later levelled off. Beyond playing with Patrick on stream, what worked? What was fun? What are the examples of things you did that were fun on stream but probably wouldn’t do if playing solo?

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Yeah, that conversation was a little tough to follow; felt a bit like Rob and Ren were talking past each other. Taking the example they covered of the rescued businessman (?) who would charge into battle feeling weird, I think Ren was arguing something like: you need exceptions to the rules in order for the world to feel realistic, and not just like a piece of clockwork.

In this case it sounds like the game has a system where if you aid an NPC that NPC will appear randomly in firefights to help you out. Kinda neat. But when the NPC doesn’t seem appropriate for combat, it makes it pretty transparent that something weird has happened behind the scenes; that this NPC shouldn’t have been tagged for combat, maybe they should help you in other ways. If the NPC is a businessman, maybe he gives you money? Store discounts? Something that feels intuitive. Then you get the narrativization Ren mentioned - here is a cool anecdote I can tell about how I rescued an NPC and then he helped me out, rather than a weird anecdote about how some buttoned-up businessman turned up inexplicably to firefights. At least, that’s sorta how I understood the point being made, but focusing on the systems breaking down (which seemed to be exactly Rob’s problem in other areas!) didn’t make that clear, so maybe I’m misunderstanding.

I do think you’re right though - especially if you didn’t watch the stream, I’m not sure it was the most coherent coverage of Weird West, though I don’t think it helped that Rob and Patrick clearly discussed it off-mic about the ebb and flow of enjoying it and carried on the discussion on the pod. Feels a bit like the corollary to that thing where a podcast discusses a game for 15 minutes but the title only gets mentioned once, so I’m there trying to sleuth out what’s actually being talked about or hoping it’s in the episode notes.

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It absolutely seems like a publisher issue and the people criticizing the developers are fools. But the fact that it’s a small team and publisher doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re selling a broken game. The burden shouldn’t be on regular people to do the research to figure that out.

What rubbed me the wrong way about the discussion is that it felt very similar to the sort of film snob nonsense where the only “real” films are unwatchable Danish horror movies. I really don’t think the issue with the game playing public is that they are unwilling to play unfinished thief clones made by an obscure developer.

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Yeah, I agree with Ren’s closing point to the extent that I think the labour is worthwhile, shitty online behaviour is shitty, and we can still find value in unpolished shit if that’s what we are signing up for. But I also agree with you that it’s not the player’s responsibility to be so “online” as to seek out or stumble upon crucial information. For all my aspirations of appreciating the craft of game dev and everything that goes into it, I try to steer clear of making the argument that frustration with games is inevitably the result of ignorance. It certainly can be, but this 1000% doesn’t seem to be the case here, and so it is also not the moment to make the point that gamers are too focused on polish. The facts here just don’t support that argument and it comes off as pretty dismissive of anybody that simply had a Bad Time.

Patrick might be right that Steam has a generous refund policy, but if people have a Bad Time and return a thing they’re not barred from writing a (ideally respectful) review.

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I found the time to finish the Abermore conversation on the pod and… yeah, oof, I really feel like the gang missed here. Obviously I don’t think anyone in this thread is arguing games critics and journalists should just be acting as consumer advice columnists, “buy this! don’t buy that!”, but the discussion really glosses over how the Steam page obscures any of the issues. You’d likely only find the “honesty” of the devs after purchasing the game, playing it, and going to investigate what the heck just happened and whether anything would be fixed.

As I mentioned above, this is by no means a unique incident of a game being released in an unfinished state, often as a result of publisher shenanigans or a culture of crunch that does not lead to a positive outcome. Waypoint normally holds organisations accountable for their labour conditions or at least explores what happened to lead to that point. It’s very strange to just handwave that aside because some people on Twitter are being predictably rude to devs. In fairness, this is essentially the team piecing it together live during the recording, with Ren aware of the game’s problems and Patrick the end of active development, but neither having the full picture beforehand. It’s just not a great off the cuff response.

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