05 July 2010

Now Hiring: Experienced Loot-Sifters

For about a week now I've been clocking three, four hours a day on Mass Effect in the name of finally finishing the game. I'm not the biggest RPG fan, so playing the game takes me outside--way outside--my comfort zone. Which is no doubt why I stopped playing it on at least three previous occasions.

I lost Wrex on Virmire. I was really fond of him. And I lost Ashley, too, which really made me sad. I spent several minutes staring at my TV screen saying, "YOU MEAN SHE'S REALLY GONE? FOR THE REST OF THE GAME?" All the time I'd spent flirting with her between missions in the name of possibly having Mass Effect sex with her? Gone. Wasted. And it was too late in the game to start courting the blue woman.

Mass Effect, as you probably know, is a terrific game. I'm enjoying getting caught up in running petty errands around the universe in the name of earning scads of XP. I can't ever get enough XP. My thirst for XP is great; it will NEVER BE QUENCHED. NEVER.

But one aspect of the game that I find really unpleasant is the constant need to sift through my loot/inventory. I don't mind grabbing loot from a crime lord's lair--which, amazingly enough, looks identical to the other crime lord's lair (perhaps they had the same decorator?). I realize that the loot-grab that takes place at the end of every quest is my reward, my tangible takeaway for completing the mission. But unlocking crates and safes should be an exciting moment. For me, it's not. All I can think is this: Oh great. More junk.

Let's see. I've got Cryo Rounds III and Tungsten Rounds IV. I've got a Banshee II assault rifle, and a Scimitar VII sniper rifle. I've got enough suits of armor to fill up a Sex & The City character's closet. And I've got Biotic Amps, Scanner upgrades, Toxic Resistance things, Ablative something or others, etc. etc.

I honestly don't even know what half the shit in my inventory does, or why it's better than the other shit. Before a mission, I'll fool with the weapons, just to make sure I've got the best guns for everyone. If there's a better suit of armor, I'll be sure to put it on. But otherwise, I'm accumulating stuff until I feel less like Han Solo and more like an intergalactic Fred Sanford.

And I was fine just hauling all of my junk around until I got a message warning me that I was APPROACHING MY 150 ITEM LIMIT. This message popped up again and again, adding an extra layer of stress to the Geth-filled mission I was on at the time. Each time it popped up I thought, "JUST GREAT."

After the mission, I headed for the nearest store/junk dealer/intergalactic Salvation Army to clean out my inventory. I scrolled through my 150 item-long list, comparing/contrasting shotguns, thinking things like, "The Scimitar has a higher damage rating, but its rate of fire and accuracy are inferior to the Thunder VI. So. Hmm."


This went on for about 20 minutes before I lost all patience. What I did was this: I sold a bunch of stuff, some of which, I'm sure, was the wrong stuff to sell. And I turned the rest of it into the always-useful Omni-Gel. But this moment--right here--is exactly why I've never been a big RPG fan. I have no patience, no stomach, for the compare-contrast loot-sifting that the genre requires.

I fucking hate it.

My next thought was this: I wish with all my heart that I could bring in a neighbor boy, or maybe hire a person who would come to my house and do all of the loot-sifting for me. He or she would arrive at my home, and then proceed to comb through everything in my inventory, making sure that all the useless tripe is sold or Omni-Gelled, and that my characters are assigned only the top-shelf gear. Then this person would leave and send me a bill, and I could get back to the game.

Think of it as a kind of Geek Squad, but instead of fixing your computer (or "fixing" your computer; I have friends who've had bad experiences with Geek Squad), these experts would get you through the portions of videogames that you otherwise dread playing through. And the service wouldn't apply solely the dreaded loot-sifting. Example: I have a friend in Boston who absolutely hates boss battles for some inexplicable reason. He enjoys everything before the boss battle. He enjoys everything after the boss battle. But the boss battle itself is so painful for him--so anxiety-inducing--that he has shelved games that he was otherwise enjoying.

Example: My friend John Teti in New York has told me several times how much he hates the opening hour of nearly every videogame. He dislikes the process of familiarizing himself with an entirely new set of controls, with learning the new rules of the game world, with watching the cutscenes and meeting the characters, etc. But once Teti's beyond that first, painful hour, he says that he typically enjoys the rest.

After nearly 50 years, games remain messy, shaggy, ever evolving constructs. As stream-lined and mass market as they've become, most games, if not all, in their worst moments, still evoke boredom and tedium and frustration. Not enough boredom, tedium and frustration to make me quit them, but still, more than I'm comfortable with at times.

No doubt you have your own pet peeves when it comes to gaming.

So two things:

1. What are they?

2. How on earth do you endure them?


  1. 1. Backtracking... like Zelda or Resident Evil (Expecially Zero).
    Why do you always have to go back 350000 freakin' miles away from the current mission to get a stupid little insignificant item??

    2. ... normally I don't... I just close the stupid game and never touch it again OR I ask my boyfriend to play the game... sit next to him to enjoy the cut sceens and fights and leave the room when it gets boring!

    Up until Assassin's Creed II, that's what I used to do but now I'm totally hooked on the game and don't mind the backtracking that much.

    Thanks for the envjoyable life stories and good job on ROTR!

  2. Managing inventory is something you have to do in a lot of RPGs, and indeed it can be tedious. But you stumbled on probably the worst possible example in Mass Effect. Saying that you can't stand loot-sifting after playing Mass Effect for a few days is like saying you can't stand little fairies who say "Hey!" a lot after playing Ocarina of Time.

    The Mass Effect interface made one guy so mad, he wrote an epic three-part series of articles detailing its many, many failures.


  3. 1. Initially, Fallout 3 pissed me off: its huge inventory was overwhelming, and don't get me started on creating new weapons using jerry-rigged tin cans, toy cars, and turpentine. Not interested.

    2. I usually abandon any game that pisses me off this much, but almost always go back. Thankfully, this was the case with Fallout 3. I'm a huge fan, now, and have learned to overlook what I consider to be its more annoying flaws. Come to think of it, I've adopted the same attitude towards my husband...

  4. I have to agree with you about RPGs Scott. I mean who needs 150 of anything to sift through? If had 150 pairs of shoes to go through every time I went out I would rather cut my feet off and be done with it. Or I guess I could just give 145 pairs to the homeless... that works too.

    Now to answer your questions
    1. The Cheap Death
    What really sticks in my craw (definition of Craw: a pouch in many birds and some lower animals that resembles a stomach for storage and preliminary maceration of food) is when certain points of the game mechanics are built just to increase a quota for killing the player. Example: I can leap 30 feet in the air but die instantly when touched by a drop of water. If you want me to die from a fall at least have the decency to use lava. Bastards. Or 'the Jump' that takes 25 practice jumps to actually get it right, followed by another brutal and unrealistic obstacle that makes you do it another 25 times. I thought this was supposed to be fun.

    2. I will usually give the game a few chances with this. Often these can be overcome when you understand the style of gameplay but when it starts taking the joy out of progressing through the game I just tun it off. If they're to fuck with me they're really just fuckeing themselves. I then pat myself on the back for renting the game before buying it.

  5. 1) Achievements for just playing the game...those achievements that you can earn just by playing through the game and completing a certain stage or finishing a required mission. If you just have to play the game to earn the achievement then there is really no point to the achievement. I see the achievements as something to extend your play time and to test your skill at the game. Something like "Kill 5 enemies with a single rocket" or "Kill 50 enemies with melee attacks" is something more exciting to strive for than "Finish Level 2". The "Finish the Game on Normal/Hard/Extreme etc" achievements I can understand, because for some games getting all the way through is an achievement, but the achievements earned in getting to the end naturally just don't do it for me.

    2) Nothing much I can do about it, except accept the achievement and move on...

  6. 1. Both a pet peeve and a love/hate relationship for me is games that are way too easy now. I don't like games that baby you through the entire thing. I don't mind a linear game if it's a side-scroller or something, because really...that just goes without saying. But most GOOD side-scrollers are insanely hard. *cough* Ghouls 'N Goblins *cough* And that's fine. They just set you on your way to inevitably get 58 Game Overs in 20 minutes.
    I'm a big fan of RPG's, survival horrors and games that have amazing story. Bioshock made me happy. I loved the way it played through and Silent Hill 1, 2 and 3 were amazing for what they were. 4 wasn't bad, but eh...i'm rambling. ANYWAYS, linear and over-easy baby games are what really irks me.

    2. Depending on the game, I will play through it if I feel like I want to. Some are just played through with the dismal hope that it MIGHT have a hard part or two. Or some glimmer that there might be a decent story behind it.

  7. And oh hi, lack of sleep and messing up your comments. I meant Ghosts 'N Goblins of course. Wow. Epic fail right there.

  8. I also found the inventory system tedious in Mass Effect 1. In Mass Effect 2 I found the complete lack of inventory frustrating as a game that is billed itself as RPGesque. If the developers could find a happy medium between both games I in turn would be happy. Here's to hoping they hash things out in the third installment.

    Another pet peeve of mine was the ammo aspect of Mass Effect 2.I thought the way they handled it in the first game masterful. It's tedious running around picking up orange blobs on the ground. Let me fire at will! Just like the hapless storm trooper.

    To be honest though I think our arguments over the game is really nit picking. We hold everything we play to high standards that will never be met. No gamer is an island. If viewed overall the series is epic in scope and accomplishment. It is a game I hope to own for the rest of my life and feel sorry for those nincompoops who dismiss a video games as an art form. They don't know what they are missing.

  9. 1. Execution of the storyline is a hot topic for me in games where it's an important part of the experience.

    At this stage of gaming evolution, I think it's unacceptable to have to read every bit of the plot for new releases. I will use Super Paper Mario Wii as an example for this. The creators are lucky that the dialogue was amusing at times or else I would have never gotten through the entire game.

    It's also irritating to have game-play constantly interrupted for cut scenes. I was a fan of the Final Fantasy series (I-VI) but when I finally got around to playing X years ago, I was so put off by the amount of cut scenes that I didn't get past the 10 hour mark before moving onto another game. I'm probably over exaggerating a little bit, but it certainly felt like only 2 of those 10 hours was actual game-play.

    I read books and watch movies on a regular basis... so when I sit down to play a video game, I want to PLAY the video game. Overkill on reading/watching sucks up a lot of time that I'd much rather spend learning the controls, furthering myself on tasks/quests/etc, and/or mercilessly killing things. :)

    2. I have stopped playing games because of horrid plot execution before... but sometimes the game-play itself is good enough to overpower it. In this case, it is helpful to have ample snacks and a few brewski nearby so that I actually have something to do while reading/watching. Playing the game in shorter sessions spread out over a longer period of time helps too.

  10. 1. I hate when it looks like I can get somewhere, but through some bizarre game dev trickery, I cannot. For example, if there is a knee high fence that my level 50 barbarian axe murderer cannot step over, I'm instantly irritated.

    2. I still tend to probe the limits of every environment, but I really appreciate when a game dev takes the time to make the barriers not only clear, but logical. If there's a huge mountain with an insane slope angle, I feel fine about not being able to walk up it. If, on the other hand, there is a wood sawhorse police barricade still standing after some apocalypse and I can't simply jump over/duck under/push it aside, it pisses me off.

  11. I hate it when you fail a certain moment in the story line and you have to repeat it (that's not the "hate part") --> but the save point is JUST before the cut scene video... So if you are not a uber good player and you do NOT get everything the first time you try them you have to see that video a million times... I want to punch the face of the level designer who is making me suffer for this....
    But the worst thing is probably like you, I can't go thru the inventory and compare the weapons and armor... I just... can't! Why can't the game tell me "This one is faster, this one is more accurate and this one makes more dps, dump the rest..." Why? would that be too hard? Is there anybody who loves sitting and comparing? I end up choosing the one I like the most how it looks and sell the rest... Then I wonder why I have a hard time... Or I give the controls to my boyfriend and ask a pretty please if he could help me go through it all :)
    But now you've given me the idea to start such services to gamers... we'll see how it goes ;)

  12. I love the Rpg genre... as well as older games. Pre-merger Square rpg's were the best.... My BF never understands how neone can old games but there are a few oldies that i rotate through every year or so...

  13. 1. Walking combined with big environments
    This applies specifically to RPGs. I hate it when you have to walk everyone and your character is slow as molasses and the world itself isn't even that interesting. I'm thinking Morrowind and Fallout 3. I started playing Fallout 3, and the time in the Vault was okay, but once I got out into the world and couldn't find where I was supposed to go I just got bored and turned it off. Morrowind is even worse, walking slow as heck to different places just to read NPCs spew large amounts of identical dialogue.

    Give me a top-down RPG any day like the old Ultima or Phantasy Star games. Putting the world 1 to 1 and very expansive is not necessarily a good thing.

    2. I just quit playing them. Which is the case with both of the above games.