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Opinions on codex/journal entries in geymes?

Discussion in 'General Gaming' started by Dreaad, Oct 10, 2014.

  1. Dreaad Arcane

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    Recently I went back to play through Jade Empire (watching too much Avatar created a desire). So for whatever reason my attention was drawn to the world building entries you collect from clicking on objects. Largely something that Bioware has been doing ever since Mass Effect/Jade Empire. You know the literal exposition information dumps. What is interesting is that this style of story telling has become more and more popular, everything from cRPG's to FPS games have this system, it's actually kind of hard to find a game without some variety of an in-built dictionary.

    Now as far as I can see, this type of information delivery isn't all bad. A good example I suppose is System Shock 2 with it's audio tapes. It works there because it feels more or less natural, it's a part of the atmosphere and is very necessary to telling the story. Dishonored is another example of an interesting way to explain the world, by giving you an item that explains the people/situation in a way that doesn't feel intrusive. Then you have the lazy version of things like Dragon Age: O or The Twitcher where you basically get a book of crap telling you what the world is like but the actual events 'in game' contradict or ignore this information regularly.

    I was just wondering what happened in general to the "show not tell" way of doing things. IE games, fallout, Arcanum, Half Life, Doom etc. Where if you wanted to see what the world was like, you just look around and interact with the people/enemies. Why the sudden switch to in game encyclopedia entries, that half the time aren't reflected in the gameplay or contain completely meaningless 'history' timelines and other retarded nonesense? Did this shit exists during the goldbox era? Anyone think that it's a good mechanic?
     
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  2. Cadmus Arcane

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    I like having all muh books and quest logs at my disposal in the journal. I don't see how Witcher was lazy with it, I would say it was one of the finest examples on how to handle the journal and codex entries.

    Of course it shouldn't be the only method of delivering the world info but I think it's a good one because it gives you the chance to digest it at your leisure. All depends on the quality of the writing and the consistency with what's actually happening on the screen, but that's a given.
     
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  3. DraQ Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    "Show, not tell" isn't always applicable. If you have any reasonable sized world, sometimes you need to bring player up to speed, especially if their character isn't supposed to be clueless moron. Even if the character *may* be a clueless moron it's often not feasible to show every detail that may be a relevant part of conworld - some things can be shown via environmental storytelling, but others may require (often scripted) scenes or outright exposition dumps, that may be aggravating, especially on replays .
    Then you have the fact that in a reasonable conworld textual media (like books) *will* be a good way to learn shit so "show, don't tell" is often (not always, but it's definitely not an universal rule anymore) bullshit - we're not dealing with a medium where audiences just need the bare minimum information to understand what is happening and what the characters are doing, we're dealing with one where audiences are asked to *be* one of the characters and *need* all the relevant information their character doesn't need to be told (that's also why amnesiac/clueless outsider cliches are here to stay - to create characters that do need to be shown or told *everything*) .

    Second, many old games, especially strategy/RTS had some sort of encyclopaedia, so it's not exactly a new trend to present player with some sort of info compilation, and it's definitely not a bad idea to adapt this approach to represent character's knowledge in an RPG.

    Third, regarding Witcher, fuck off.
    TW1 had arguably the best journal system ever implemented in a cRPG, and you actually had to collect the information put there.
    TW2 OTOH just needed a way to bring the player up to speed because their character was no longer an amnesiac noob, and I didn't really mind the little literary experiment with journal PoV.
    Also, examples of contradictions you mentioned or GTFO.

    As for System Shock 2, its querry and help systems are more relevant here than audio logs (which are simply the way of having characters without letting player interact with them and crashing against technical limitations) as they contain infodumps about items, technology and mechanically relevant fluff.
     
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  4. Dreaad Arcane

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    I guess there is a place for it, still feels kinda like :popamole: to me.
    I just think of games like Fallout/VtM:B/Baldur's Gate/Arcanum/Planescape/Gothic/Morrowind where you get the information drip fed to you by asking questions and just looking around... I see your point though, in all those games you are an amnesiac peasant hero or new to the world around you. I mean you KNOW that the Juniper sisters in VtM:B are batshit crazy without having a book given to you filled with their personal information. You understand the conflict between magic and technology in Arcanum without having written down in bland text. You sure as hell know orks can rape you in the ass in Gothic because everyone who can kick your ass at the start tells you orks would fuck them over.

    Speaking of contradictions, I was mainly referring to Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I suppose that's not raising the bar very high though.

    As for the Witcher 1/2 my main problem is with the entries about NPC's. Do you really need an explanation in your encyclopedia about Dandelions personality or the captain of the guards struggle with his werewolf nature isn't it better let the player keep track of what the NPC's act like so they can make up there own minds? I did like how in W1 that information was periodically updated when you discovered new clues etc but I still feel that the whole thing would have felt more interesting if you weren't hit over the head with direct explanations for peoples behavior i.e. flame mage is crazy cause he drug addicted bro. Let the player draw that conclusion on his own instead of explaining it to them.

    Or am I complaining about a non-issue?
     
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  5. DraQ Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Indeed.
    For example in Morrowind you're baka n'wah that doesn't even know "wats a foyada".
    And then, also in Morrowind (which coincidentally - with expansions installed - has the second best journal system) every single unique bit of info you hear is recorded in your journal and stays there, indexed by keyword, for you to read, so in the end you are still compiling a codex of sort.

    Indeed.

    Does it really matter? Especially when you aren't guaranteed the veracity of this information (see Witcher)?

    Yes.
     
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  6. taxalot I'm a spicy fellow. Patron

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    Codex 2013 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015
    My favorite way of doing this is still the Ultima way. Have the player either learn from the world itself, or have a separate book (heck, even a PDF by today digital standards) serve as a tourist guide to the game environment. Fallout 1&2 did that right also ; I'm also tempted to think GTA IV had the right idea.
     
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  7. WhiteGuts Arcane

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    About Mass Infect, the codex entries made sense because they gave you infirmation about stuff that wasn't directly involved in the game and but is still relevant to the universe as a whole. I didn't read everything in Mass Effect 1 cause fuck that, but it was necessary I think.
     
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  8. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    Codex entries are cool and worth a read if they are either relevant to the game or interesting. If it's just bland generic fantasy realm backstory like some of the entries of Dragon Age, I don't give a fuck about them.
     
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  9. DraQ Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    So what's wrong with embedding this book into the game itself and filtering it through what the PC actually knows?

    As much as I like muh thick paper manuals I see no downside.
     
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  10. Machocruz Arcane

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    How did GTA4 do it? I played it but I don't recall any codex of information or the like.
     
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  11. taxalot I'm a spicy fellow. Patron

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    It did not. It was in the ingame box : a map of the city, and a "tourist guide" to Liberty City.
     
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  12. Machocruz Arcane

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    I do remember something like that with the GTA games, but I didn't think it was 4 since I had a used copy with no documentation.
     
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  13. a Goat Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck

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    Depends on context.

    In Morrowind(or any TES really) it's perfectly obvious and natural that people have books etc. or that they are easily accessible in libraries and so on. If you'd use audiologs there, well it wouldn't fit here, so maybe less intrusive stuff like item design etc? You won't explain the weird-ass pieces of lore with them. On the other hand that mage on Seeda Neyn - Gnaar Mock road(sorry if I've got names wrong, didn't played the game for a loong time) and his journal was kinda too obvious. Seriously, we have a guy in a robe with magic scrolls increasing acrobatics to extreme levels, do you seriously have to explain that he was a mage that tried to learn how to fly? This is where "written" stuff sucks, when you're overdoing it.

    Bioware kinda uses wordswordswordswords because that's how they've decided to fare with explaining more abstract parts of their settings without hiring voice actors :decline: in The Witcher they're here to explain who's who for people who didn't read the books and suffer from autismus maximus which makes "reading" personalities difficult. In both they also do other thing, they sum what should your character know about gameworld in case if anybody would mention places you have no idea of(especially visible in Mass Effect) without going into age old dialog:

    Shitter: "We need to go to X!"
    Player Character: "X? w-what's X?"
    S: "Have you lost your mind silly boy? X is the place where you've spent your childhood!<detailed description> Why would you ask about something so obvious :33333"
     
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  14. Unkillable Cat Prestigious Gentleman LEST WE FORGET Patron

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    Codex 2014 Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy
    I don't mind a game using a journal system to help players document and keep track of what they're supposed to be doing in the game, but what has occupied my mind lately is how the information is conveyed to the player. There are far too many games nowadays that just dump tons of into on to the player and let him sort it all out. Games like Star Control 2 and Ultima Underworld don't have journals, but they also make the player investigate matters for themselves. Want to know where the troll took the princess? You ask people in the Abyss about it. Want to know more about the history of the galaxy? You can dig up bits and pieces here and there, or buy the whole story from the Melnorme piece by piece. In a way you choose how much information you get, but you don't need to know this information to be able to finish your objective. The player controls the information flow.

    Fast forward to System Shock. The player having a "journal" of sorts makes sense due to the digital storage medium he uses, but the task of acquiring the information is mostly about finding the proper audiologs and/or receiving the email prompts at certain pre-arranged times and places. Look at the start of the game, the moment you pick up the email reader the game starts feeding you information AND ordering you around, what tasks must be done and in what order. Here the roles have reversed, the game controls the information flow. Want to advance the story? Complete this objective first. SS was not very strict on this, but later games would "refine" this bit of gaming design so that there is NO way to advance the plot without doing EXACTLY what the game orders you to. Look at System Shock 2 and Bioshock, and now Alien: Isolation, which is just the latest example of this: Even if you know in advance what must be done, you CANNOT take shortcuts to get the job done faster, you CANNOT break the sequence of events, you CANNOT input that passcode unless you've "learned" it from a proper source, even though it never changes. Games nowadays string the player along and purposefully taking the longest and most convulated paths possible to "maximize gameplay". Which game do you blame for that? System Shock. Because Looking Glass Studios didn't feel that the conversation system in Ultima Underworld was "refined enough" so they decided to create a game where there never would be any conversation - the game talks AT the player, not TO him.
     
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  15. Hobo Elf Arcane

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    As far as journals and diaries go I think it's an overdone concept at this point. Devs spend too much time telling me the stories of doomed individuals and their inevitable death when they could (and should) set up interesting set pieces of things, bodies etc. whatever and tell us a atory via intelligent prop placement. The best thing about this is that it doesn't always give us the absolute story and so leaves our imagination enough room to speculate.
     
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  16. Cool name Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    It is important to consider that 'show, don't tell' can be pretty hard to pull on a game. If the protagonist is suposed to know of the world, to have explanations on common knowledge topics pop up in conversations and the like qualifies as bad writing, as for example with the infamous, and very common in games, 'As you already know...'

    In theory Codex entries serve to sidestep this problem. Information the protagonist should be already familiar with receives an entry instead of exposition dialogue which makes no sense within the context. If you decide to, for example, set a game in historical Joseon you either create a comprehensive Codex, make the main character a hollywood amnesiac, or make your game unassailable for anyone who isn't either a Korean or a historian. This is even more so if the context is important to either progress through a game or understand what the hell is going on. Which is probably why we don't see that many properly historical games, nor games in cultures, real or fictional, which are either partially or truly alien to the generic westlandic one. Even a RPG set in the european middle ages or victorian times would require reams of Codex entries, or the most awesome manual ever, if the player must understand the historical, cultural, and social context to get anywhere, at least if they don't want to go with hollywood history or pop history instead.

    Considering the writers and developers we are discussing, such as Bioware and Bethesda, I would say in practice it is more that they are hiding the world building away so that those players who just want to shoot shit full of holes don't have to deal with walls of text. Which in turn makes the Codex superfluous, as the information to be found on it can't have any weight or purpose without forcing the pewpewpew crowd to read it, defeating the purpose.
     
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  17. Telengard Arcane

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    We had manuals, not in-game cyclopedias.
    No.
    A confluence of events.
    1) The loss of the manual means all the newb information and high-end detail has to be put somewhere. Somewhere in-game.
    2) With the loss of people keeping track of their own quests & maps, that info now has to be in game and has to go somewhere.
    3) When you're going after the casual market, one must always remember that they have difficulty with plots more complex than the black hat/ugly guy is bad and shoots people. Plus ze casual can be away from a game for weeks at a time. So now you need a method of explaining all the game characters' motivations for those who can't/won't remember/understand, and that info has to go somewhere.
    4) Casuals don't want lots of info in their face all the time, but they do want info when they want it. For instance, if they forgot what's going on. So, the info has to be there, but it has to be out of the way, only involved when they want it. Thus, out of the way, but easy to reference. Like in a reference manual.

    Since one has to stick in the game manual in-game somewhere anyways, it's easy to just throw everything else in there as an encyclopedia entry along with it.

    Since the in-game cyclopedia is removed from the actual game events (in order to keep it out of the way of everyone's face), it has little bearing on the actual game. Because if it did, then it would be need-to-know information, which puts the info dump as mandatory in-your-face. And because it all lies at remove from the actual game, it's easy to pass off its development to someone else, like an intern or an outside contractor, and get it done on the cheap. Thus, the cyclopedia entries might be highly researched and heavily detailed (or might not, depending on how much the intern cares), but the person doing the work will be doing it from a broad outline passed on to them from back when the game's was lore first being organized and hashed out, not where it is now, and then simply told to get to it. So, not only will the cyclopedia entries inherently not be integrated into the plot, since they're being done outside development, the person making those entries might not even know the plot, nor be alerted to any changes made to the lore during later game development.

    And while the devs could go back through and rework the cyclopedia to correct any discrepancies and reflect any changes to lore, why do all that reference work when the people who actually will read every one of those entries mostly don't care if there are discrepancies. Or at least, not care enough for it to change their opinion of the game.

    *

    My opinion. If the lore isn't reflected in the actual game experience (in the motivations, attitudes, and events of the action in game), then it's not real lore. It's just filler material. Which fits with modern game development - dumbed down, empty, but really flashy core; then lots of empty and unused filler material thrown in around the core, representative of some larger, more complex experience. All so everyone can pretend that they're playing some deeper, richer game than that which they actually are.
     
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  18. Dreaad Arcane

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    Couldn't it at least be integrated into the game better? Rather than some encyclopedia completely out of context with the game. The elder scrolls series has plenty of lore, stories and legends, all portrayed within the game as books that you can make little collections of or just read randomly. I get that it's a convenience thing but I mean so is a quest compass.
     
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  19. Cool name Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    It depends on the context, I would say. A game set in modern day Seoul, or a small tribe down in Amazonia, or an alien culture somewhere in Beta Reticuli being full of books introducing cultural and historical concepts so basic everyone knows them would be as stupid as having your born and raised Korean protagonist requiring lessons on how and when to bow, or your born and raised beta reticulans having books around about which tentacle means what when waved like this in beta reticulan body language.
     
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  20. Dreaad Arcane

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    I didn't say it had to be books, it was an example. There are other ways of integrating information into a game.
     
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  21. Cool name Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    I would like to hear about other ways of integrating information on basic cultural and historical concepts into the game. How would you deal with such, other than books or a codex? And by books I mean any means to, uhm... Damn english words. Contain and communicate information? Somethingie like that, such as audiologs, in game websites, magical crystals, and so on.

    And this is not me trolling you. I am honestly interested in such methods, if any.
     
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  22. Dreaad Arcane

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    Well I suppose if you are dealing with a futuristic setting.... you might say have a small non intrusive bot floating around, which you can use to scan people to get basic information about them and in general can ask it questions about aliens or whatever else that is supposed to be common knowledge in your setting. Feeling adventurous... could make a statistic on your character that lets your bot hack and get access to more information that isn't available to general public.

    Dealing with a game that has a society that doesn't have a written language? Create a system where you can zoom in on cultural art depicted on temples or on what clothes someone is wearing which then translates the pictures or symbolism into text the player can read. Sure it's probably not entirely accurate but it doesn't have to be unless you are going for hardcore historical realism in which an encyclopedia really is the only appropriate solution.

    Realize also that these aren't grand ideas, I thought about them for less than 10-20 seconds.
     
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  23. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    Which is why one of my favourite character origin stories is that of outlander: some guy or gal who isn't a clueless amnesiac, but knows little about the area he is in because he's a travelling adventurer from far away. Think Morrowind's background where you're an outlander and know very little about Vvardenfell, or think Marco Polo who went to Asia in an era when only few Europeans even knew what those places looked like. You can have an accurate historical game with many details but it's not a problem at all that the player has only rudimentary knowledge about that place and era - his character doesn't know that much more about it either, and none of the NPCs would expect him to as he's quite obviously a foreigner!
     
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  24. Dreaad Arcane

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    ^ This. Or even things like gothic 1/2. You are not really an outsider, as in you understand the way the world works. You character just needs to be drip fed small pieces of information based on the local 'political' situation or on the specifics of how magic works, which is reasonable because no one but practitioners know how magic works. For example you know the orks are invading not because you get a paragraph explaining it but because you can see the ork war camps and because the people around you keep grumbling "Fucking orks always raping and pillaging." Little details that make all the difference.
     
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  25. DraQ Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Possibly, but did you pick up the guy was a low ranking Telvanni?

    Anyway, even such "overdone" writing is going to be tame by default compared to pretty much any game containing audio or text logs as primary means of communication with (mostly deceased) NPC cast (so System Shock 1&2, Unreal, dat Deus Ex level with submarine base etc.).

    :gumpyhead:
    This. This is important.

    You avoid the PC being clueless out of character.
    You avoid having to write in character NPC response to out of character cluelessness ("u ok bro?").
    You avoid player being clueless due to justified OCD (what if the character will respond as if they don't know if I don't ask), especially given that it might be difficult to know what the character should know, especially at the beginning.
    You avoid terriburu infodumps.

    Or, as Agassi summed it up:
    :salute:

    [​IMG]

    TES are special case because "whats a foyada".

    Except the part I quoted sums up the whole problem: why? Why would your character ask questions about whatever is common knowledge and what they presumably already know?

    You can't create in-game in-character solution for a problem that exists entirely out of game and out of character - namely the knowledge gap between the player and their character. Codex or encyclopedia is out of character, unintrusive, economical and universal, why invent half-assed solutions that aren't?

    It looks like, at this point, you just keep arguing your point for the sake of argument - cut it.


    Yeah, but it's not, by any means an universal device.

    Even when used well (like in Morrowind) cracks can appear (try asking about the Emperor Uriel Septim the VII or Empire when handing in your papers at the beginning to get a variant of "u ok bro?".
     
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