June – July Roundup: ‘VINPCs’

It’s the end of the month! I’ve got ten tabs open in my web browser and am listening to loud, aggressive music! It must be time for another Blogs of the Round Table roundup!

June / July’s theme was ‘VINPCs’:

As players, writers and readers, we are often focused on player-characters: the protagonists, anti-heroes and avatars whose destinies we directly control, whether alone or as a party of adventurers. Yet there are so many other characters we meet, befriend, bed and kill whose stories are perhaps even more interesting than our own.

Tell us about a memorable experience you had with a non-player character (NPC). Were they were fighting by your side in Skyrim or visiting your house in Animal Crossing or The Sims? Did you ever have a fierce rivalry with a faceless driver in Ridge Racer? How many attempts did it take you to defeat Goro in Mortal Kombat? Whose audio diaries intrigued you in BioShock without ever meeting the character who recorded them?

Grant Howitt tells you how to save Knight Solaire in Dark Souls. I still haven’t played Dark Souls beyond the first fifteen minutes – it’s on the shelf behind me, mocking, goading, ALWAYS WATCHING. Every time I read or watch something about Dark Souls, I immediately want to play it and also immediately don’t want to play it. Grant’s blog makes me feel the same way – but at least it also makes me laugh!

Mary Hamilton travels through Morrowind with Ralen Hlaalo, the corpse cupboard – “He is the most memorable NPC in my twenty-odd years of gaming, because he is the only one that never pretended to be human.” This is a classic example of how the Elder Scrolls series are memorable because of their sheer gamey-bugginess that you either love or can’t stand. I love the silliness, and I think Skyrim suffered compared to Morrowind and Oblivion because it got a bit po-faced. The bugs were still there in droves, though: it was still a Bethesda game, after all.

Justin Keever thanks Kane of Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, and we may as well get this out there – I am disappointed this blog isn’t about Kane from Command and Conquer. However, the disappointment soon ended when I started reading this great essay:

“Kane and Lynch 2 is misery calcified; a long march through a hellish city stuck in a purgatorial loop of violence, death, and rebirth that mirrors the aesthetic of internet snuff.”

It’s really interesting how Dog Days was excoriated on release, but many critics are now discussing it as a “proto-anti-shooter” in the vein of Far Cry 2 and Spec Ops: The Line. I guess the question is when a game is being intentionally “oppressive”, and when it’s just shit.

Dakoda Barker is attached to their players in Football Manager 2014, everyone’s favourite mod for Microsoft Excel. I’m working on the next issue of Five out of Ten (it’s not out yet – we both know I’d have promoted it in this space), and one of the articles is a piece on bonding with the denizens of Dwarf Fortress that has parallels in this one. Both games work to create micro-stories that are more interesting than any kind of overarching narrative, but also reinforce it: what would the story of Barker’s Grimsby career be without the work of Lenell John-Lewis? Football Manager is still my idea of gaming hell, though.

Joseph Garvin over at Game Intellectualism has a crush on a game character! oooooOOOOOoohhh! I’m a little ashamed I had to look up Heavy Gear on Wikipedia – sounds a bit like Mechwarrior. It has an interesting permadeath mechanic where NPCs won’t necessarily survive missions: bad enough if they’re a key member of the team, but far worse if you’re a teenager with a crush on them.

Andrei Filote remembers the good times and the bad with videogame guards. The guards who called you a taffer, the ones who got gunned down in failed attempts at stealth, the thousands in Assassin’s Creed with their perforated necks. Makes you think – has there even been a game with genuinely good guards, or a game where you’re the guard?

Back in Tamriel, Daniel Parker writes an ode to Skyrim’s Lydia. I remember a few Lydia-themed blogs at the time of Skyrim’s release – nothing sordid, mind – but I used to leave her in Whiterun, letting her enjoy an early retirement. Based on Parker’s experiences of keeping Lydia alive for 130 hours of adventuring, I think I made the right choice. Either way, it’s nice to have the choice.

Finally, Philip Regenherz writes about Bastion’s Zia. Bastion is a game that’s full of exposition from the narrator, but also ambiguous – even ethereal – when it comes to the details, but Zia is an exception to this. The narrator Rucks has plenty to say about her (he’s got plenty to say about everything) but she doesn’t speak for herself much. Damn, Bastion was such a clever little game.

And that’s it for this BoRT, and from me. This is my last Blogs of the Round Table: don’t worry, the feature is in safe hands. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this month’s BoRT and over the past two years or so – a round table is only as strong as its knights. I’ll still be around at Critical Distance, but I’ll miss you all…

I know now why you like Football Manager, but its something I can never do