Derik Badman's Journal

2021-03-21 09:47

Finished a first playthrough of Detroit: Become Human (2018) on the PS4. It is a most unusual game not without a number of narrative flaws, but it is interesting as a game. The plot is about a near sci-fi future where androids have become ubiquitous and what happens when the androids start to gain free will and want to be treated as a free lifeform. It's a pretty classic sci-fi trope and the narrative is filled with tropes and clich├ęs (drunken abusive father, drug addicted estranged son, drunken detective mourning dead family member, giant quiet black guy protector, etc. and that's just characters). The storyline I played through (more on that later) includes the androids peacefully (for the most part) gaining equal rights, but it happens in like a couple days via edict of the President. With the thematic parallels established in the game to slavery, the ridiculously fast solution to a very complicated situation is just absurd and probably insulting.

The game also has large plot holes involving the clarity of the diegetic world's rules. In most games by virtue of their clear controller actions, character abilities, and things like hit points and other stats a certain consistency has to be maintained. This game is almost completely ad hoc in its control scheme (other than the move/look controls) and has no character sheets/stats at all, so there is no rules/system based limitations on the characters, which also means that at any one time it's not clear what you can actually do. The writers apparently also cared not for any consistency in this matter either, writing in actions and abilities as required for an end result. Sometimes the detective android can take out 5 armed guards in a second with pinpoint pistol accuracy, but in another scene his only shot at a potential murder suspect is a kill shoot (when a disabling shot would have been much more useful). Sometimes the one android must touch another android to "convert" it to have freewill, while other times it can happen at a distance. Sometimes it seems only that one android can "convert" but at other times it seems others can. A particularly galling example at the end, one android switches his mind/body with another android. Not only is this thematically problematic (if the other android is supposed to be human than what does it say that the character is willing to switch him into a dying body), but also problematic to the plot where a mystery thread is blocked off because suspects are "killed". It's never clear what consistutes death for the androids, since one of the protagonists is brought back after being shot in the head and mentions only a bit of memory loss, while other android deaths are counted as permanent. It's a lot of stuff like that (and more minor issues), not to mention suspension of disbelief issues harder to believe than sentient androids, like that the government somehow rounds up all the androids in like a day despite, an earlier report that because of the androids going rogue there are all kinds of problems running infrastructure and staffing workers and such. Oh and a hilarious line where a reporter asks the President about androids hacking reactors and weapons system and the President is like "all IT systems have been turned off."

So, ranting about plot holes aside, it is an interesting game because of its decision tree/choice matrix and the way the designers show you that tree at the end of each chapter. So after you finish a chapter is shows you a whole tree of options: filling in the ones you took, which ones unlocked options further along, and which ones were unlocked by some previous set of decisions. In a sense it ruins a certain magic of the narrative, seeing what choices you missed or that there were 3 possible endings to a chapter, but in another sense it opens up replayability because you can go back and replay chapters to try different choices or open different chapters (at least that's how I understand it, I haven't actually tried it yet). How else could the narrative have gone? Well you can go back and replay that a scene and see. Pretty interesting.

Interface wise, as mentioned, it's almost all ad hoc except move and looking (and a weird "scan" option that helps direct you to the main plot points). This caused me a lot of confusion especially early on, trying to ascertain which actions where simple and direct and untimed and which ones I had to be quick about or careful about. It also means at any one moment is never totally clear what you can do in the game. The dialogue options can also be really obscure as they are all single words, often in ways that don't indicate a clear decision as much as an attitude, where you don't know what particular topic or idea that attitude is being applied to. I often ended up with decisions I didn't really intend because of that confusion.

But for all that, it is interesting as game design, especially since it doesn't easily fall into existing types of game action. There's fighting but there's no combat system. Once or twice you have to sneak around, but it's not really a stealth game. It's not a strategy game even slightly. There are points (a score), but I have no idea what purpose they serve. It's basically like a complicated choose your own adventure done in some pretty good looking motion capture (spot the actors you know, like Friday Night Lights' Minka Kelly and Millennium's Lance Henriksen).

To further interrupt both this journal and my new comics making, I started writing up an RPG thing. Jim at d66 Classless Kobolds (an rpg blog I follow) created this Play Worlds, Not Rules: Design Challenge, and I decided to give it a try. I'm making a document, mostly of tables, for a game about playing people in an old West town, the setting of pretty much all my favorite westerns, starting with Deadwood but including movies like Warlock, The Man Who Shot Libery Valance, Canyon Passage, Rio Bravo, etc. I've got about 1000 words already, and am looking into figuring out how to lay it out in Scribus (which I've only briefly used and that many years ago).

In real world news, a lot of my family and friends have been getting vaccinated, which heralds some chance of a return to closer to normalcy (like in person gaming sessions). Most are getting the two dose vaccines, so it's still more than a month away, as I haven't even gotten a first one, and likely won't in the immediate future since the distribution in our county/state appears to be really messed up (apparently certain highly populated counties in the state were apportioned a lower percent of doses). Small steps.