Archive for October, 2009

Blue Lacuna: Finishing Up

I suppose it’s inevitable that a hive mind would develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder. When the only people you routinely communicate with are other pieces of yourself, you’d forget that the world doesn’t revolve around you and that outsiders aren’t automatically interested in helping you fulfill your epic destiny. So it is in the trees’ homeworld, where the player is asked to help them spread peace, harmony, and a diminished sense of individual identity to the far reaches of the galaxy. It’s a far cry from the oppression wrought by some trees I could name, but humanoids are definitely subordinate here, connected to the trees but not to each other. There’s even some suggestion that co-evolving with the trees has left them genetically predisposed to ceding control. But they’re as happy as house pets, and the trees are certainly satisfied with the situation, so their proposal comes without guile or apology: forest life is the best, as surely you must realize now that you’ve seen it first-hand. It’s like the conviction found in some religious sects that the only reason that the whole world hasn’t converted yet is ignorance, that anyone who reads the scriptures will see how obvious it all is.

Things are very different in the treeless humanoid colony. They’ve made an impressive go at creating an entire society from scratch in a historically recent span of time, and their first city (called First City) seems to consist mostly of libraries and museums and the like (although it’s made clear that their greatest scientific and technological advancements lately have come from eavesdropping on the trees). But the crash that left them stranded has left its scars. Bereft of masters and facing the problem of liberty for the first time, the colonists wasted no time in polarizing into fascists and anarchists, with no middle ground. It’s the fascist side that makes contact with the player, and their leader is quick to offer predictable excuses about how the curfews and censorship and rounding up of dissidents and so forth are just temporary measures, made necessary by the existential threat posed by the other faction. He also claims that their ultimate intentions are peaceful, that once I had helped his people to the stars, they would try to establish a live-and-let-live policy towards the arboreal empire. I have to wonder if he’d say the same thing if I had come off as more anti-tree myself. 1Or, well, I don’t actually have to wonder. I can always go back and make different choices. He’s a politician; he’s used to telling people what they need to hear in order to get what he wants from them.

The author makes a brave try at endowing each side with a sympathetic point of view, but the whole thing left me feeling rather pox-on-both-their-houses, and I chose to deny both the Forest and the City the boon they wanted. I suspect that most other players have done likewise, particularly the Myst fans. If I had to choose one of them over the other, I think I’d side with the City, because they’re the underdogs here, and because the Forest desperately needs some kind of credible competition to break the complacency of its mental echo chamber, and because they’re the side that’s still evolving, and therefore the side that’s more likely to overcome their current problems. But as I acted on that choice, I’d be aware that I’m unleashing a planetful of authoritarian followers on the universe.

So, what is it that both sides were so desperate to get from me? The location of Progue’s planet, the only known place where “somenium carcerate”, or “bluerock”, is found in abundance — apart from the trees’ homeworld, where they’ve nearly exhausted their supply. Bluerock is the key to communicating over interstellar distances. Every particle of it is mysteriously connected, each to all. And in the end, it provides the bridge back to Rume, if you choose to take it. Which is a little disquieting, if you ponder the implications. Scientists in the City did some experiments into the effects of exposure to it, and found it could produce “symptoms of dementia, susceptibility to suggestion, and memory loss” — the very symptoms of Progue’s madness. Progue had been carving large sculptures out of the stuff, bathing regularly in a pool surrounded by it, etc., but it’s powerful in small quantities as well: those scientists had access to only 16 milligrams of it. And it’s implied that Rume has it in her body. It’s the blue pigment in her eyes. Is it affecting her mind? Is it affecting the PC’s?

After the story is over, you get a brief but thorough report on the important choices you made, neatly avoiding the problem I mentioned before of players not understanding the range of narrative variation. Except that it’s questionable how significant some of the choices are. I’ve read some other people’s comment on the game by now, and everyone seems to comment on how the “art or love” thing pretty much drops out after the first chapter and only returns at the very end, where it still doesn’t have any obvious effect. If you choose to paint your way back to Rume’s world once you can, you’re effectively choosing both art and love. Complaints about the pacing are also common: you start with a premise that promises world-hopping, then you stay in one world for seven chapters, only to get a big rush of new stuff at the end. (I suspect that this perceived problem could be partially fixed just by putting fewer chapter transitions into the middle section.) Still, this is clearly game-of-the-year stuff in the IF world, and will probably be the game that I recommend to new players for a while.

One more thing: I’ve already started playing the next game on my list, and I’m finding myself wishing it had some of Blue Lacuna‘s conveniences, such as noun-only commands. This is something that more text games could stand to do. It’s not even a new idea — Infocom was experimenting with it in 1987.

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1. Or, well, I don’t actually have to wonder. I can always go back and make different choices.

Blue Lacuna: The Story So Far

I’m in chapter 7 (out of 10), and I’ve got most of the backstory by now — some of it from conversation, some from visions in dreams, some from physical evidence. The game provides plenty of redundancy in presenting information, so other players will have discovered things by different means — and in different orders. Let there be spoilers.

Basically, it all comes down to sentient alien trees that need my help. Normally, these trees bond psychically with humanoids from their own planet, effectively providing the trees with the advantages of eyes and hands. But these particular ones, the survivors of a spaceship crash, have been stranded without a host. Until Progue showed up, that is.

Progue used to be a “wayfarer” like the protagonist, although the art that moved him was sculpture rather than painting. He came to the island with his two young daughters some years ago, leaving behind the world where his wife died. The daughters, both wayfarers as well, departed the island when Progue became strangely obsessed with building strange technological devices, driven by the whispers of the trees.

Mental contact with the trees ultimately drove Progue mad. The trees claim that this is was the result of misunderstanding — Progue wasn’t familiar with the concept of trees that put thoughts in your head, and the trees weren’t used to humanoids who aren’t familiar with that concept, so neither side was really prepared. Progue assumed for a long time that the thoughts in his head were his own, and felt terrified and violated when he realized they weren’t. One of the main ways the backstory has been revealed is through the memories revealed by the trees in my dreams, memories which I see from the point of view of Progue and his children, complete with their thoughts. Progue calls this the ultimate violation of privacy, and he has a point. The trees have had years to figure out where they went wrong, and have taken care to be more delicate this time. After all, even if they’re sugar-coating things and what they actually want is a mind-controlled slave, it’s counterproductive if the slave figures out what’s going on and starts resisting and subsequently goes on a felling spree, like Progue did.

And in fact the “mind-controlled slave” theory isn’t without support. The phone-home device that the trees used Progue to build has been hacked by another group: another colony from the same planet, but one where the humanoids survived and the trees died. They say they’re doing fine on their own, which throws the trees’ “peaceful symbiosis” claims into question, and their messages to me essentially boil down to “Don’t trust them, they’re just using you”.

Which is fair enough, but given that I’m to withhold trust, why should I trust either side? It’s very much a Sirrus and Achenar situation, or, since only one side is issuing dire warnings, perhaps more like Yeesha/Esher. (The humanoids aren’t quite as snide as Esher was, but they are snide enough for it to be a little off-putting.) Anyway, I feel like I’ll be called upon to pick sides soon. Maybe a third option will present itself. Maybe one side or the other will be turned into an unambiguous bad guy via revelation of atrocities, as seems to happen a lot in fiction involving moral decisions in an atmosphere of deceit. But probably not: a couple of chapters ago, Progue gave me this big speil about relativism, and it seems like that has to have been leading somewhere.

In the latest chapter, I found a shark stranded on land, and had the opportunity to help it get back into the water, if I so chose. Not a major plot point, just an incidental event of the sort that’s been enriching the experience throughout. In our world, there’s no way the shark would be alive at the point when I found it, hours after the event that stranded it. Since we’re in an alien biosphere here, I can accept it, but it’s still enough of a strain to make it clear that it wasn’t included solely for its literal meaning.

Blue Lacuna: Variables

When people hear the term “interactive fiction”, often the first thing they imagine is branching plots. And that’s seldom the case. Even when a work of IF provides multiple endings, it’s usually a matter of only one split made at the very end. This is because branching structures yield exponential complexity, and it’s largely work wasted: a player is probably going to see only one story out of the many available, and may not even be aware that the alternatives exist, if the differences are governed by hidden variables.

Blue Lacuna is at least partly governed by semi-hidden variables. By “semi-hidden”, I mean that when I type “score”, part of the output is like:

You’ve met Progue, who likes you (+6), feels dominant towards you (-1), and feels paternal towards you (+3).

.. but the “score” command is completely undocumented, even in the verbs list in the help menu. The only reason I tried it is that it’s one of those standard IF verbs handed down to us from the golden age. I’ve said before that this game is clearly built with newcomers in mind, but this extra information is effectively available only to experienced IF players. And it does affect how I play. At one point, after conversing with Progue, I discovered that I had inadvertently increased his romantic interest variable (which isn’t in the above listing — it seems to have dropped out of the list of relevant stats completely at some point). This was an unwelcome development, not only because my character (this time around) is male and heterosexual, but because it seemed like it could only cause problems later if he saw himself as a rival to Rume. So I immediately restored to my last save. Without such a concrete sign, I would have kept playing.

Blue Lacuna: Conversation

Chapter 3 of Blue Lacuna ends in a conversation with a castaway named Progue, the game’s other major character. Much of the game is occupied with learning Progue’s backstory, which Progue himself doesn’t know at the beginning. He’s quite mad, you see. He doesn’t even remember his own name for a good long time. But talking with the player apparently acts as a kind of psychotherapy, and by chapter 3’s end he’s recovered his wits enough to talk sensibly about a lot of the things you’ve discovered on the island.

The conversation system is sort of a hybrid of menu-based conversation and Infocom-style ASK/TELL: you’re limited to specifying a keyword to talk about, but the keywords you can use at any given moment are presented in a list at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t like any of the current options, you can type “subject” to bring up a broader list. There’s an occasional problem with interpreting keywords the wrong way, if they’re present as both a conversation option and a thing in the current room, but for the most part conversation is straightforward: at any given moment you’re either answering a question, in which case your choices are constrained to the possible answers, or you’re asking questions yourself, in which case you exhaustively go through your list of options, just like in most other menu-based adventure game dialogue systems.

In the particular conversation just after Progue goes sane, there was a keyword “sketchbook”. I didn’t remember seeing any sketchbook, but I asked him about it anyway. I did remember some sketches in one location, so I figured that maybe they had been in a book and I had just forgotten. It’s easy to forget details in the rush of initial exploration. Well, it turns out that I actually hadn’t found the sketchbook yet. I’ve found it now: it was in a place where I could have easily gotten to it very early on if I hadn’t been so dense. Presumably all of the beta testers found it well before this point, and thus didn’t notice that it could be discussed out-of-order.

I’m not describing this just to complain about the bug. It’s actually pretty impressive how bugless the game had been up to that point, especially with all it does with variable descriptions: all sorts of things change with the time of day, the state of player knowledge, even with the tides, and it all just works flawlessly. Rather, I bring it up because of what it illustrates about the conversation system. The fact that you’re typing in keywords makes it feel a lot like ASK/TELL, but in a traditional ASK/TELL system, this bug would have been invisible to me. The “sketchbook” topic could have been available, but I wouldn’t have known about it.

Blue Lacuna: Keyword Highlighting

One thing about the keyword-highlighting system: it makes it easy to pick the keywords out, and therefore easy to take them out of context. When I see a paragraph of descriptive text with a few blue nouns in it, it’s a foregone conclusion that I’m going to type in those nouns, so I find myself often doing so before I’ve read the text around them. Entering an abandoned cabin, the first thing I notice is the word “skeleton”. Clearly a significant thing to find! Typing it in, I get the response “The skeleton, mounted on the wall, makes a large diamond,” — what? — “and must have once belonged to some flat, manta ray creature…” Not at all what I had been imagining from the word “skeleton” alone. Only at this point do I look back at the room text and notice that it was described from the first as a manta ray skeleton. It’s just that the words “manta ray” weren’t blue, and didn’t stand out.

Blue Lacuna: Myst Influence

Well, I’ve explored most of the island where Chapter 2 takes place, and I’ve finally found some puzzles. Really unmistakable ones, too: a complex bit of non-operational machinery with multiple components here, a locked door with a bunch of enigmatically-labeled buttons there. Finding the combination for that door seems to require going out and observing wildlife in various parts of the island. These puzzles all feel particularly Myst-like to me. Perhaps it’s just because that’s the kind of puzzle you get when you design for no inventory — the game still hasn’t yet admitted that it has an inventory at all, although it may introduce the concept in a later chapter.

But the author does acknowledge the Myst series as a strong influence, and it shows, even if you ignore the puzzles. The world-hopping is strikingly similar, both games using a mechanic where links are established by precise artistic depictions of the destination world. (Ironically, the graphical game uses books for this purpose, while the textual game uses graphic arts.) Chapter 2 Island has an ecology as diverse as Riven‘s, with lush descriptions that create much the same effect as Myst‘s rich (for the time) graphics, making it clear that this is a world meant to be savored. (The examine-all-the-wildlife puzzle encourages this too, of course.) And the particular situation of the wayfarer and Rume in the beginning reminds me a lot of Atrus and Catherine, living in voluntary rustic isolation, crafting their own tools and achieving the kind of comfortable lifestyle that usually requires more than two people to support it. It’s a bourgeois fantasy of life outside the city, reminiscent of 18th-century nobles escaping the pressures of court life by playing at being carefree shepherds, without the privations experienced by real shepherds. But hey, a fantasy is a fantasy.

Myst, for all its success, is reviled by a lot of people, and its imitators moreso. This is because the worst aspects of Myst are also generally the easiest to imitate. But Blue Lacuna does a good job of picking out the the things that are actually appealing, the stuff that kept the fans coming back. Obviously it’s not imitating the user interface, except perhaps in a very abstract way.

But even as it’s getting more and more Myst-like, it’s also getting more text-adventure-like. In my last session, I found a compass. If you’re holding it and its cover is open, exits are listed with their compass directions. The textual descriptions are there too, alongside the directions, like “Sand stretches south towards the center of the beach, and you could also head back southwest down to where the waves are breaking”, but it’s the compass directions that are highlighted in green, not “beach” and “waves”. This is a big change to how the game plays, and it’s completely voluntary, and can be switched on and off at will — which means that the author went to the trouble of writing two different exit lists for every room on the island. It remains to be seen how this will apply to other worlds. Since compass-direction listings are dependent on an object in the gameworld that wasn’t crafted by the player character personally, it should, according to the rules, be left behind when I wayfare.

Blue Lacuna

I first became aware of Blue Lacuna from its amusing promo, which consists of a several paragraphs of text introducing its premise and protagonist. The amusing part is that the text is spread over a series of public-content websites such as Myspace and Flickr and Youtube, each fragment ending with the URL of the next fragment. It tells the story of a “wayfarer”, someone with the rare ability to move between worlds, and the presentation was clearly chosen to reflect this. The game content doesn’t really rely on this introductory text, but I’ve seen games before that rely on external websites, and it always makes me uneasy, because it renders content which could otherwise be archived and preserved subject to the web’s transience and volatility. But then, I suppose that even this works with Blue Lacuna‘s themes, which have a lot to do with abandonment and loss. Our wayfarer can travel to new worlds, but doesn’t have the ability to go back. To fare way is to farewell, forever.

The author has gone to some lengths to make the game accessible to beginners. Travel by means of compass directions, that old bugaboo, is abandoned in favor of destination nouns. Important nouns in the output are highlighted (blue for objects, green for exits), and nouns are accepted as complete commands on their own, like in Ferrous Ring. In fact, we’re told in an early bit of interstitial tutorial that you can complete the game without ever typing a verb. Playing entirely by choosing highlighted words in the text you’re reading can make it feel more like a website than a game, even if the act of selection consists of typing rather than clicking. Still, you can use freeform IF commands if you want, and there are things you’ll only see if you do. There is in fact more adventure-game stuff under the hood than is at first apparent. I wasn’t even sure that there was an inventory until I tried typing “i”. The tutorial text never mentions it. Likewise, compass-direction movement really is still there, but if you want to use it, you’ll have to find exits by trial and error.

The game further accommodates both the old-school hardcore adventurer and the newcomer by offering a choice of “story mode” or “puzzle mode” at the beginning of chapter 2. I’ve chosen puzzle mode, but it’s not yet obvious to me what the effects of this choice are. Anyway, this isn’t the first momentous choice in the game. At the very beginning, you’re asked to select a gender for both the wayfarer and Rume, the soon-to-be-left-behind love interest (heteronormativity off!), but I’m guessing that this mostly just affects pronouns — I chose male for the PC and female for Rume (and will use pronouns that reflect this in these notes), but, having made that choice, Rume seems to me like the more traditionally masculine one in the relationship. But of course this is a matter of opinion. People managed to make cases in both directions for the obvious genders of the two leads in Jigsaw. No, the more interesting initial decision, when you don’t yet have any information about its significance, is that you have to choose “love” or “art”.

Love or art! Usually they’re portrayed as allies, but this is not the first work to suggest that they’re opposites, or at least rivals, both demanding the individual’s exclusive attention. What’s more, within this story, love is what makes you stay and art is what makes you leave: painting scenes of other worlds is the means by which you travel to them. As such, it’s clear from the start that art is going to win out in the short term, just to get the story going. There comes a point where you’re given a clear choice: heed the Call or refuse it? And if you refuse it, it’s just a matter of time before you heed it anyway.

But this matter of time is a matter of unexpectedly long time — within the game, long enough to bring a daughter into the world and raise her to young adulthood, and for the player, encompassing several screenfuls of text. I certainly wasn’t expecting this when I experimentally made what I considered to be the wrong choice. (After all, I want the story to advance.) The years with Rume pass by in a slightly-interactive stream of consciousness, which prompts the player periodically to type in a word to finish a sentence. Once I realized that it would accept any input at all, not just things that make sense, I started typing in increasingly inappropriate things, flippant and dark. This suited the story of a relationship’s inevitable decay so well that I can almost believe it was what the author intended. At any rate, even if the choice to stay ultimately had no mechanical effect (which I’m still not certain of), it produced enough variation in the text that it really makes it feel like a different story. Choices can actually be significant in this game. It reminds you of this whenever you type “score” (another standard adventure-game command not mentioned in the tutorial) — there’s no point system, but it gives you a report along the lines of “You’ve made it to chapter one (out of ten), exploring one region (out of twenty-two). And never forget that at first you chose art.”

IFComp 2009

Well, it’s that time of year again. The judging period of the 15th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition is underway, with a lean 24 entries, well within the power of any interested person to play through before the November 15 judging deadline.

Me, I’ve decided to sit it out this year. I’m somewhat soured on the comp-judging experience for the moment, what with the lackluster and buggy entries of the last couple of years. I was planning at one point to submit an entry of my own, which would disqualify me from judging, but the year proved to be a busy one, and in the end I had to admit to myself that being disqualified from judging was in fact my main motivation for my planned entry. If that’s all I wanted, I could spare myself the effort and just not judge.

Plus, this seems to just be an unusually rich year for IF outside the comp — or at any rate, at least one of the editors of ifwiki.org seems to think so. The current featured article there is a list of this year’s significant non-comp releases. The only thing on this list I’ve gotten around to trying before now is the first chapter of Blue Lacuna, so my intention is to play and blog them in lieu of the comp games. If you want comp comments, I suggest you hop over to Emily Short’s blog; not only does she provide thoughtful and articulate commentary of her own, she’s keeping a list of other blogs with comp reviews.

TF2: More Things

I think I really have to declare TF2 to be off the stack by now, if only because I haven’t been posting about it. Completion was a difficult concept with this one from the beginning anyway. Also, I have an unofficial policy that work-related gaming doesn’t count, and arguably TF2 as I’ve been playing it fits that description. At one point, when discussing the day’s tasks with a manager, he explicitly included TF2 in the schedule. It isn’t mandatory, I objected. He replied that it kind of was: for the sake of morale, we have to take advantage of the lulls in an otherwise frenzied schedule. And, due to my machine’s illness, I’m still not playing it at home at all.

And anyway, I really have met my initial goal of playing every class for a substantial period of time. The one that I took to last was the Engineer, whose main means of attack consists of building an automated sentry gun and then sitting back and waiting. I had found it very difficult to do anything useful as an Engineer on the King of the Hill maps: sentry guns don’t last long when all the action is concentrated in one place. But we’ve been doing some Capture-the-Flag maps lately, and those are positively ideal for the Engineer. In CTF, the general pattern seems to be a raging battle somewhere in the middle of the map, with an occasional solitary player (usually a Scout) slipping through the cracks and penetrating the base where the Intelligence 1In TF2 CTF mode, the “flag” is a briefcase full of important documents. is kept. So there’s a place where enemies will inevitably eventually show up, and when they do, they’ll most likely be alone.

I’ve managed to get First Milestone with only one class since my last post: the Spy. It happened quite unexpectedly, when there was only one other person on the server, which makes some of the Spy’s Achievements a great deal easier. The one that pushed me over was the one you get for killing the player you’re disguised as. Well, when there’s only one other player to be disguised as, that’s not hard. I have some misgivings about this — I’ve been adamant about getting my Achievements honestly over the course of normal play, and we were just messing around at the time, not actually playing the game per se. But “messing around” is playing, no?

Anyway, I’m mainly playing Scout lately, because that’s where I’m lagging behind in Achievements. There are a couple of Achievements that you basically just get for playing a Scout for a long period of time, but most of the Scout Achievements depend on playing well, and the Scout actually requires skill to play well. Its chief strength is being able to move fast and dodge fire, which doesn’t happen automatically. (This is the opposite of the Heavy, which basically can’t dodge anything but also has less need to dodge anything.) I’ll say one thing for it, though: after you’ve played as Scout for a while, all the other classes seem unbearably sluggish. In fact, pretty much all of the classes have specific virtues that the player can acclimate to, and then miss when switching to another class; I get the impression that a lot of people just play one class exclusively as a result.

Let’s talk about the Team Fortress 2 scoring system for a moment, if only because I had a couple of paragraphs typed up already. (I was intending another “Five Things” post.) TF2 has a scoring system. (In fact, in a sense, it has two. See below.) This was not obvious to me when I first started playing, because the score is irrelevant to winning and losing. You get to see the individual players ranked by score at the end of a match, and the players on the winning team tend to have more points than the players on the losing team, but that’s because the things that get you points tend to be the sort of things that help you win, not because there’s a direct cause/effect relationship. (I can imagine a game mode in which the winning team is simply the one that scores the most points total, but if such a mode exists, I’ve never seen it.) Obviously you get points for kills, but if that were it, it would be unfortunate for the Medic. You get half a point for assisting a kill, which usually means doing damage before the killing blow is struck. Medics get credit for kill assists just by healing the person actually doing the killing. That’s a pretty good bit of design: it gives the medics a way to get points that requires them to be involved in the battle like everyone else, rather than hanging out where it’s safe and waiting for people to come to them. Some other classes also get points for being played the way the designers want them to be played when it’s difficult to do so: Spies score extra for backstabs, Snipers for headshots. Getting a Revenge kill — that is, killing someone who’s killed you three or more times — is worth a point. Working directly towards your mission objectives is worth points: capturing a control point is worth two, defending one by killing an enemy in the process of capturing it is worth one, etc. It’s all rather complicated, which is why it’s fortunate that you never actually have to think about it.

In addition to the in-game score system, there’s a fairly popular server mod called HLstatsX that tracks your lifetime performance on the server where it’s installed. It was recently installed on the server we use in our office sessions, which, since I’m still having problems with my home box, is the only place I’ve been playing lately. You can see my stats here. It tracks many things, but the one thing it makes you aware of during the game (via in-game messages) is its own point system, which persists from session to session. HLstatsX points are usually awarded for the same things as TF2 points, but in different quantities. In particular, kills yield a number of points determined by the ratio of the the killer’s and victim’s point totals; killing someone who has more points than you gives you more points than killing someone who has fewer points. At the same time, the victim loses half as many points as the killer gained. It seems like the intent here is to make the points system into something like the ranking systems used in Chess and Go, but those systems are designed to make the ranking depend solely on the player’s skill, whereas in HLstatsX, it’s not. Because the victim loses only half the points gained, killing isn’t zero-sum; each kill increases the average score. As do the points from other sources. So the number of points you have is only partly a measure of your skill; mostly it’s a measure of how much time you’ve spent playing. (When someone captures a control point, their entire team gets two points each. So it’s possible to get points just by sitting in your base and waiting.) Thus we see the variable score for killing as mainly a way to let newer players catch up to everyone else faster.

Anyway, looking at my experience of the game so far, I find that in the heat of battle, when the mind is focused on pursuing a goal, it’s easy to forget to notice the game’s absurdity. Every once in a while we try a new map, and sometimes that’s enough to bring the absurd back to my attention — many of the maps are based around rustic or decrepit exteriors as a facade over secret bases, where you can see gleaming boardrooms and computer banks just out of reach (and of course the secret bases of the two enemies are usually separated by just a few dozen yards) — but sometimes it actually takes me a while for this to penetrate my consciousness, which is otherwise occupied with trying to figure out the lay of the land. But I suppose that it all affects the experience of the thing even if you’re not paying attention to it, as architecture always does. (Are there people with training in architecture working in level design? It seems like a relevant skill.) And besides, the developers have made it clear in commentary and interviews that they, too, put the gameplay first and the absurdity second — that, in fact, the absurdity was developed as a way of enhancing gameplay. The bases are unrealistically close together because that makes for a better game, and once they do that, they might as well play it for laughs rather than make excuses for it. The broad caricature in the character design was adopted to make it easier to recognize different classes from a distance. Rocket-jumping was inherited from Quake 2In a sense, even Doom had rocket-jumping. You couldn’t use it to jump upward, because you couldn’t aim downward, but there was at least one map where the only way to get across a pit was to fire a rocket point-blank into a wall, propelling yourself horizontally fast enough to clear it. , where it was an unintended consequence of the physics model, and didn’t really fit the fiction; in TF2, it comes off as not just unrealistic but downright cartoony, which makes it fit in perfectly. I was recently shown a Youtube video of a Demoman using explosions to launch himself long distances like a missile. There are similar videos for other games — Halo alone seems to have dozens of “Warthog Launch” videos, where players try to get a vehicle up on top of an unnavigable cliff by detonating a piles of grenades under it — but this is the first time it’s seemed like a legitimate part of the game, and a viable tactic.

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1. In TF2 CTF mode, the “flag” is a briefcase full of important documents.
2. In a sense, even Doom had rocket-jumping. You couldn’t use it to jump upward, because you couldn’t aim downward, but there was at least one map where the only way to get across a pit was to fire a rocket point-blank into a wall, propelling yourself horizontally fast enough to clear it.

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