Saturday, January 28, 2012

Deus Ex Training, Part 6: What Is

[This is part of a series of posts about the game Deus Ex.]
[The series began with this post.  The first post in this section is here.]

Last time I talked about what isn't in this section of training, this time I'll talk about what is.

Welcome to the combat training area. I am Gunther Hermann and I will be monitoring your progress here. We will start with weapon familiarization.

Everyone say, “Hi, Gunther.”

Hermann Gunther Grassman was a German mathematician and linguist. No idea if that's related to Deus Ex's Gunther Hermann, but it seems close enough to be worth pointing out.

Gunther is the first mech you'll encounter. You won't encounter many. There are four characters with mechanical augmentations in Deus Ex. One has what appear to be medicinal augmentations, and the remaining three are current or former UNATCO agents. (Two current, one former.) Of the current agents, Gunther is the one who's not evil. That doesn't necessarily mean that he's good. He believes in something and is willing to kill for it, to the point that the evil one is actively trying to catch up to Gunther's kill count.

Gunther is a killer, and it can at times be difficult to reconcile that with the fact that I feel sorry for him.

He's a solider who has been manipulated by people who don't care about him in the least to kill in the name of justice while he's actually helping to bring about the opposite. He's made incredible sacrifices for his work (he gave up his eyes) only to realize that soon he'll be obsolete. He sees that he's on the way out and the world he'll be tossed into is one that doesn't exactly like his kind. Success is possible, as we'll see when we meet the retired agent, but it's not probable and the stigma will always be there.

He's built his life around a job that he realizes will soon no longer need him, and he worries the irreversible sacrifices he made for it will come to nothing in the end.

I've heard it said that to be a tragic figure one can neither be saint not scoundrel. Or something to that effect. If one is completely evil then their fall is justice rather than tragedy. If one is completely good then their fall is abuse rather than tragedy. Tragedy happens to those in between. Those with enough good for us to want better for them, and enough bad to destroy them.

Gunther is a tragic figure.

Now then, weapon familiarization. Depending on how we divide this up you'll become familiarized with two or three weapons. First, pistols:

Your first exercise will be to learn a little about aiming and targeting. Step up to the shooting range to the west.

The targets are released by using the buttons on the counter. Release the first target and take a few shots with one of the pistols until it is destroyed. Notice the targeting reticle appears when you aim at a target.

The shooting range is the sort where it's a long room with hanging targets that can be moved back and forward in so that one might shoot at various ranges. It makes me think of the shooting range in Lethal Weapon as I write about it, but I don't ever remember thinking that while playing.  Anyway, it's a shooting range.  It looks like a shooting range.

You press a button, a target comes forward to a predetermined range (unlike a real life one you don't get to pick that range) you shoot at it, after a couple of shots it's destroyed and it seems, oddly, to have been made of glass. Then you wonder what the point of all that was. Well fear not for Gunther will tell you:

Good. If you hold your aim for a few seconds before firing you will notice the reticle starts out wide and tightens as you hold. The longer you aim at the target without moving the greater your accuracy will become. Release the second target and aim before shooting this time.

And now I'm thinking of Silverado. Specifically this scene. The guy on the horse gets off several shots before Kevin Kline's character fires one, but it's still Kevin Kline who ends up alive. Part of the difference in timing is because Kline hasn't loaded his gun when the shooting starts, but if one pays attention they'll see that there's a vast difference in their shooting styles. Guy on a horse points and immediately shoots, plus he's on a moving horse. Kline's character takes the time to aim with a steady hand, and he's standing still, and so his shot finds its target.

I think that's the idea with this mechanic in Deus Ex. Except for the horse part. If you shoot immediately you don't have time to aim. If you fire while running your aim will suck. And so the mechanic was created that if you take some time, find your place of stillness, take a few deep breaths, and line up the shot you'll do better than if you'd just pulled out your gun and shot immediately.

Of course you don't always have time to do that and so, with two targets destroyed, we move on to the next room.

First, though, you have your pistol confiscated because we can't very well have someone using a pistol in a rifle range, now can we? The trooper doing it has the standard dialog for such a character.

This is the rifle range. Here you will learn one of the ways skill level makes a difference in your accuracy. Step up to the shooting range.

The targets are released by using the buttons on the counter. Release the first target and destroy it with the rifle. Use the rifle's scope by pressing the left bracket key "[" to turn the scope on.

Using the scope actually does a very good job of showing what's going on here. The accuracy of any given shot is going to be based on two things. The first is how accurate the weapon is. Does the gun shoot straight? The second is how accurate the shooter is. Does the person shoot straight?

When looking through the scope you can really see how not straight you're shooting. If you move it's all over the place, if you stay still and take your time it's still not completely steady.

As someone who has used rifles at summer camp and nowhere else, I'm definitely familiar with the wobble. And that's when I'm shooting prone, JC is standing up.

Anyway there will be things that can improve on the accuracy of the gun, skills improve on the accuracy of JC. Gunther demonstrates using magic:

Excellent. Now we are going to raise your skill with rifles to Master level. Release the second target and destroy it.

You can do that? How can you do that? Can you do that with other thin- I know Kung-Fu!

This time when you take aim you'll notice a lack of wobble. Also, you can run and gun at higher skill levels without it being absurdly reckless. (Mind you I wouldn't recommend doing it with a sniper rifle while looking through a scope.) It'll always be better to shoot from a still position than to shoot on the move, but if you invest skill points in the appropriate place you'll make it so you can run and shoot at the same time.

Here's what Gunther has to say:

Good work. As you can see, higher skills give you better range, accuracy, and effectiveness. Proceed to the next area when you are ready.

Yes they do. And this is one area where the skills really make sense. There are other things where that's not really the case. Actually, even here you can see the skills not making sense if you really dig down on what effectiveness means. How would higher skill with a gun cause your bullets to do more damage, for example?

Gameplay mechanics and realism, they don't always go hand in hand.

Now you've defeated four targets and are familiarized with two weapons. Wasn't that fun?

Another trooper is in another storage room looking thing behind another pane of bullet proof glass to make sure you don't step into the next area armed. The next area is demolitions, where robots will be blown up to teach you about proximity mines and you'll get to both throw and disarm some explosives. We'll get to that next post.


1 comment:

  1. I'm a role-player and GURPS is my system of choice, so I have quite a bit of experience of how characters can be better or worse at doing stuff. Pure guns skill just helps determine how often you hit (the higher it is, the more likely; the further away your target, the less likely; other modifiers cut in too). It doesn't increase damage, though it does increase the chance of getting a critical hit that's harder to defend against, and it makes you more likely to succeed at difficult shots (e.g. at someone's head rather than centre of mass).

    But there's stuff that can't as easily be modelled in a computer game: how likely you are to notice someone hiding and aiming at you, how quickly you react to a threat. (Though actually I like the idea of a computer game boosting the contrast of shadowy sections if the avatar has a high perception rating...)