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Shivering Isles Bug

Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages reports a critical bug in the new Shivering Isles expansion for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (thanks Joystiq), along with advice on workarounds. Word is:

A very serious bug has been found with Shivering Isles that will render the game unplayable in many ways after about 50 to 120 hours of play (better FPS means bug hits earlier). The bug will occur regardless of whether you access SI content or not.

The bug is thoroughly confirmed on the PC. It is not known whether the bug affects Xbox users as well -- it is reasonable to assume that it would, but might not hit until around 150 hours of play assuming 30 FPS on Xbox.

While the situation appeared quite bad initially, a patch mod is now available for the PC and a tool is available to repair savegames that are affected by the bug or that are likely hit by it in the near future. Moreover, there is an official response from Bethesda:

Regarding the issue in which Form ID's are being used at a high rate in the Shivering Isles content; we are aware of the issue and we are currently looking into a solution. We appreciate your patience, especially from those of you affected by this issue, as we carefully work out a fix that will correct this problem without adding any new issues. --NothingCatchy, Developer

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26. Re: Ack Apr 11, 2007, 01:36 Scottish Martial Arts
In RPGs, I want to be immersed in the game world.

There's nothing more annoying to me then walking right up to an enemy, swinging a melee weapon and then seeing "Miss" appear above the enemy.

All games are necessarily abstractions of reality, they differ only in the degree to which they are abstracted. Even in a first person shooter, combat is very abstracted. You have health points that are reduced when you are hit with bullets. When said healthy points reach zero you are dead. Hardly the way it works in real life is it? Even if we were to have some sort of damage modeling where the path of the bullet through the body is calculated, where bone fractures and tissue damage is calculated, and the degree to which the bullet injury immobilizes you and the amount of time you have before you pass out from blood loss is determined based off of those calculations, it is still an abstraction. It's still numbers being crunched to determine an outcome to a purely hypothetical (since it's in a game) action.

It is important to note that decreased abstraction does not necessarily lead to increased immersion. There is in fact a threshold past which decreased abstraction hurts immersion. When an in-game action is abstracted to the point that you have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks, and you are willing to use your imagination, said action will be fully real in your imagination. When said action is not abstracted and it's depiction is fully in game and not in the imagination, then the depiction in game needs to be that much more accurate for the player to accept it. Take for example the dialog in Planescape: Torment. In the mortuary you encounter various zombies, whose appearance is described in the dialog text. By abstracting the appearance of the zombie, the developer does not have the burden of creating a completely realistic depiction of said appearance. If the zombie were rendered in a 3D engine, it would 1) take a tremendous amount of work to get the zombie to have a realistic depiction of what was originally in the text description and 2) the zombie would still look like a 3D render not a real character. The closer we get to photo-realism the further away it becomes. As we give up less and less of the responsibility of imagining an image or action, we demand that the image or depiction be that much more realistic, ever moving the bar just out of reach of a game artist. Eventually we'll get there but for the forseeable future game art will continue to look fake. This goes back to the threshold at which decreased abstraction actually leads to decreased immersion. Where as in a highly abstracted game we don't expect things to look real, in a non-abstracted game we do, and the failings become that much more salient. Suddenly we notice how the ragdoll death animation leads to awkward death poses, we notice how everyone's skin looks platicky, we notice the infinitely sharp edges of the geometry, all of this pulls us out of the environment instead of pulling us in. For example, I find Thief: The Dark Project to far, far more immersive than Thief: Deadly Shadows. This is because I am mentally able to accept the abstracted graphics of TDP and therefore demand much less of them, in TDS all I can think about is how awkward the walking animation of the characters is.

I've talked a lot about graphics here because I wanted to illustrate that the less abstract the game gets, the necessary realism of what is depicted gets exponentially higher. If the necessary realism is not met then immersion suffers. Therefore, a more abstract game can sometime be the more immersive; it's all a matter of suspension of disbelief. Take theatre versus cinema. Theatre is necessarily more abstracted but good theatre can be just as immersive, if not more so, than cinema. In fact, because of theatre's abstraction, theatre has to focus on different dramatic elements than cinema to immerse the audience. Theatre therefore often has a much stronger emphasis on characterization than cinema. In cinema, any action of the plot can (theoretically) be depicted. In theatre, the actions that can be depicted are much smaller therefore the focus shifts away from plot and onto the characters themselves and their emotions. This creates a fundamentally different dramatic experience.

Why bring up the distinction between theatre and cinema? Because while similar media, they provide very different experiences and there remains room for both. An abstracted, traditional CRPG provides a different experience than Oblivion. Because the action is abstracted, layers of gameplay are opened up in the traditional CRPG that simply are not possible in a game like Oblivion. Oblivion's gameplay is not an improved version of a traditional CRPG, in fact it's more accurate to say that Oblivion's gameplay is a toned-down version of what exists in traditional CRPGs. That can be the cost of moving away from a more abstracted experience. That's not to say that an Oblivion style game is necessarily worse, (although I can think of a half dozen traditional CRPGs that are, to my mind, objectively better games) but that you make trade offs when you move away from abstracted gameplay. It is therefore quite foolish to assume that all games should move away from abstraction; to do so is to ignore what is being lost in such a movement. Instead, there should be room for both abstracted games and minimally abstracted games, like there is room for both theatre and cinema.

Unfortunately, traditional CRPGs seem to forgo the illusion of living, thinking characters.

One example does not prove a generalization. And NWN2 is a bad example I might add. Yes, for some reason NWN2 does not punish a character for failing a pickpocked attempt. That however is not a result of NWN2 being a more traditional CRPG, and is not indicative of all traditional CRPGs. In Fallout, if you failed a pick pocked attempt against the wrong type of person they'd pull a gun and open up on you. In Deus Ex: Invisible War, you could pick the lock to some guys safe right before his eyes and he would do absolutely nothing. I totally agree that not depicting a consequence for failed thievery is poor game design, but that is definitely not a necessary consequence of more abstracted gameplay.

When I play an RPG, I want an immersive game world with believable characters who react to me and the world with an illusion of intelligence.

A game doesn't need to be real time with full player control for there to be "an immersive gameworld with believable characters... and... an illusion of intelligence". Your use of the word illusion is key, all that needs to be provided is an illusion that allows you to suspend your disbelief. A game does not need to minimally abstracted to maintain an illusion, all it needs to do is allow you to suspend your disbelief. If a game can do that, it can be as abstracted as it wants and it can still be immersive. Fallout did that, Baldur's Gate did that, Planescape: Torment did that, Arcanum did that.

I don't mean to say that all games should be more abstracted. Rather, a more abstracted game has a different flavor of gameplay that is often more complex than what can exist in a less abstracted game. If we focus only on making a game look realistic, then the gameplay suffers. And of course this is the direction in which the industry has been moving. How many dumbed down but better looking sequels have you played? How favorite franchises have been consolized? That doesn't mean there isn't room for "dumbed down" titles but if that's all we're going to have then we lose some unique brands of gameplay. The traditional CRPG is one such unique brand of gameplay that is quickly dying out. My concern is that Oblivion is hastening it's death.

Except what's the point of making a sequel if you aren't going to improve it?

Where did I say that Fallout 3 should improve on the weaknesses of Fallout 1 and 2? My point isn't that improvements should be made but that what isn't broken shouldn't be fixed. Fallout had a core design that worked very, very well. The only iteration on that core design was Fallout 2. There is still plenty of room to iterate and improve on the core Fallout design. Given how good Fallout 1 and 2 were, my vote is that Fallout 3 should iterate on what is already established. It's not like this is Tomb Raider or Rainbow Six, where everyone has grown sick and tired of the existing design. Rather this is a successful design that for whatever reason hasn't been fully explored or tapped. Why throw that work away for something new and different? Iterate on the existing design and bring it as close to perfection as possible; there is still plenty of room for improvement. Oblivion with Guns in the Desert, on the other hand, is just a wasted opportunity that does nothing with the already existing design. And frankly, given how poor the Bethesda design and writing staff is, I want them to take as few risks as a possible.

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