Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mirror's Edge, and my playing of it

I originally intended to write this post on the same day as the post about cheating and saving and whatnot, but as you can see I've been slow to get to it. Part of that is that I'm not entirely sure exactly what I should be writing about here, and part of it is that I don't know where to start.

So first thing is that I've decided to split this into two posts, this one will contain no spoilers, the next one will.

I'm not sure whether this will turn out being more about Mirror's Edge itself, or more about my experience playing it which, after a certain point, became much more about the fact that I'm not very good at games and therefore needed to find a way to cheat.

Definitely going to start with the game itself though.

I first heard about Mirror's Edge months ago when it played an important but small role in the story of someone standing up for his little brother to his dad in a game store. That is not the way that I hear about most games. Then again I've been kind out of it for the last … I'm going to say: ten years, so I don't usually hear about games that much anyway.

I ended up getting a copy of the game about a week ago and was initially blown away by it. It was, at first, very much the kind of thing I needed. It was engaging, it was distracting from the problems of my life, and it just plain fun.

I was expecting that I'd soon make a post about it that basically boiled down to, “You have to get this game, it's amazing.”

Set in a Utopian-Dystopian future that's apparently inspired, in part, by a misremembering of Firefly and Serenity* government surveillance is omnipresent and the dissenting factions were shut down (violently) years before, which has given rise to the runners. The runners are couriers who hand deliver objects and information thus allowing those who would rather not be spied on to communicate without the surveillance picking up on it.

All electronic means of communication are monitored, so one can't make a phone call or send an email without the government listening in or reading it over, and cameras are everywhere so you can't talk face to face without the government knowing you talked face to face.

Thus the runners. They've converted the rooftops into their roadways, they live free running, and they'll deliver stuff from point a to point b.

Your character, Faith, is a runner returning to work after a fall took her out of commission.


The gameplay managed to take things I'd usually hate, and make me love them. (Again: at first.)

Consider the fact that the game is built around the idea of a character who jumps from rooftop to rooftop. It's a game that's filled with jumping puzzles. I hate jumping puzzles. I especially hate first person jumping puzzles. This is a game with first person jumping puzzles around every turn. And I started playing and it was awesome. I didn't know it was possible for a game to make me feel that way about jumping puzzles, and yet it did.

One might ask about Portal to which this game has been compared on the jumping front. I don't think of Portal as really being jumping puzzles. It was puzzles that occasionally involve jumping. Don't get me wrong, I see similarities**, but the two games a very different in most ways. They feel nothing like each other. So, while I liked Portal, I wouldn't say that Portal made me find first person jumping puzzles fun.

Mirror's Edge did. Almost indescribably fun.

Another thing is what I think of as “Kato vision” but given that Mirror's Edge came out before The Green Hornet (2011) perhaps I should describe it as “Faith vision”. The name isn't important. In the movie The Green Hornet when Kato was appraising a situation in an instant objects of interest would be highlighted red, thus letting the viewer know that he was noticing that specific thing. In Mirror's Edge certain objects of interest are highlighted in a similar way to help the player notice them. (This can be turned off for those who do not like it.)

I've seen this sort of set up before, though the color in question wasn't red, and thought it was one of the stupidest thing's I'd ever encountered. I don't feel the same way in Mirror's Edge, I like it in Mirror's edge. Mostly, I think, because it's handled better. Much better.

In the other game I saw it in things were highlighted if they had an interest to you the player, which would indeed be helpful because otherwise there was no way to separate fluff from the potentially useful, but from an in world perspective there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to what was highlighted. The stuff that wasn't was more or less identical to the stuff that was, and there was no reason your character should be able to distinguish so it just came across as, “You're in a game. You're in a game. Oh My God, did you know you're in a game? HEY! YOU! YOU'RE IN A GAME! A silly game. La, la, la. You're in a game.”

Now it's not that I ever forget I'm playing a game when I play a game, but I generally like to have at least a hint of verisimilitude. Suspension of disbelief and all that. (Also note that the game it was in wasn't intentionally silly.)

In Mirror's Edge things being highlighted actually makes sense. It makes sense because the things that are highlighted are, generally, things that Faith has been trained to recognize, and more than that has practice (years of it) in recognizing so it makes sense that she can look at these things and have them pop out at her at a glance. She notices them without having to work for it, we, the players, not so much. The mechanic of highlighting bridges the gap.

Also --and I don't know if this is really necessary to explain it since the real world phenomenon of being able to almost immediately notice things you've spent a long time being trained to notice can probably cover everything-- if there is ever a place where that doesn't quite cover it you've also got a sort of metaphysical connection that that the runners have to the city. They feel “the flow” which guides them in the right direction. But as I said, I'm not sure if you ever have to resort to that to explain the highlighting.

So that's another thing that I've felt antipathy toward in the past which I thought worked in Mirror's Edge.

Pretty sure there were other things. For example the way that you are very much placed within the character, noticing her movements, her breathing, her feet if you should feel the need to look down to make sure you don't walk off a building, and so forth is something that I usually don't approve of because it usually doesn't work. It worked.


Actually playing started out in a place that was sort of like a strange combination of euphoria and frenetic panic. The character is a runner, not a fighter, and before your first confrontation in the game a hint pops up saying, basically, “You should try to run away rather than fight.” Those aren't the exact words, but they give you the idea.

And for a while that's what the game was, running, with bullets landing all round me and helicopters chasing me and enemies at every turn I ran as fast as I could to get the hell away and keep from being shot and, while I died on occasion, it was fun. It was very, very fun.

Part of this may be that, not being very good at straight combat in most games, run and hide is often a strategy I have to fall back on and can end up being my default, so a character whose default strategy is to run and hide is probably a good fit for me, and more than that she does it with style.

Running away as Faith didn't feel like running away as most characters. With other characters running seems to represent a failure. With Faith was natural, it was exciting, it was fun. Most of the time escaping doesn't feel like a triumph, but it did, and did I mention it was fun? Because, damn, was it fun.

I reached a point where I really felt like the game could use a quicksave feature, but that frustration eventually passed and I was back to having a lot of fun.

I reached a point where I was kind of sort of ambushed by multiple enemies, I grabbed a gun from one of them, got in a position where the others would have to go through a choke-point to get to me, and then picked them off one by one.

And then felt liked I'd screwed up badly. I mean even if everything were to work out in the end, I'm a cop killer now***. Even if I prove that I'm innocent of the crimes that I'm accused of I'm still guilty of this, and what are the odds that the cops will care what I have to say if I do find proof, now that I've killed their colleagues?  Also, beyond any moral or plot concerns, the actions felt wrong.

Faith isn't a fighter, she's a runner. Standing and gunning isn't what she should be doing. I'd been sprinting through almost a third of the game at this point, running away from confrontation.  Now I'd changed their ambush of me into my ambush of them. It seemed out of character. Not Faith-like.

And then I remembered that I was playing a game where I couldn't save.

One of the many functions of saving is to be able to try things different ways. To navigate the infinite delta streams of future possibility by going back to a point before the branch and saying, “Ok, what if I try this?”

You need two saves to do that. One at the point before you choose the fork in the road that you can go back to, and another so that you don't lose the progress you made after that going down the first branch. Because “What if I had tried something different?” isn't the same as, “I want to lose all of the progress that I made in this timeline.”

Mirror's Edge isn't designed for that. Starting a new game literally means destroying the old game.  (There's a warning and everything.)  And a game with rules like that isn't likely to have the complex interplay of cause and effect that would mean my decision on how to deal with these cops mattered.

It still felt wrong though. Not so much from a moral standpoint because the cops weren't characters so much as obstacles. This isn't a game where they have family or friends or personalities or favorite colors. This is a game where, with all of three exceptions, the enemies aren't people they're just abstractions in people suits.

This is not a criticism of the game, by the way. Some stories work better that way. I, personally, think it was a mistake when the Dark Forces games† began to humanize the foot solider opponents starting in Jedi Outcast. If you're going to make a game that gives me the job of indiscriminately killing people and expect that to be fun, you've got to make sure that “people” is used in the loosest sense possible. Once I start hearing them talk about their hopes and fears and goal of retirement, a game that sets me on the path to destroying them isn't going to be fun. Well, not nearly as fun as it could have been. I'm still a fan of the Dark Forces games, all of them.

Realism should only be used in the kinds of games that call for it. A game where you kill almost everything that moves is not one that calls for that kind of realism.

So it wasn't really morally that it felt wrong.

No, what felt wrong was that I fought instead of ran. Faith, as a character, was, to me, about running. About moving. Stopping to have a fight instead of keeping on moving felt wrong. Killing instead of running felt wrong. The game, it seemed to me at that time, was first person action but not really a first person shooter.

I decided that in the future, wherever possible, I would run instead of fight. I'd try to keep moving. Even if it seemed like fighting might be safer or easier, if I could run I would run because it was what felt right for the game and right for the character.

Anyway, I got moving again, and then I hit the spot where things fell apart.

About a third of the way through the game there was this one jump that I simply couldn't get right. I'd try it, I'd fail, I'd get sent back to the beginning of a long sequence, get back to the jump, I'd try it, I'd fail, get sent back to the beginning of the sequence, and repeat. Over and over again. I'm not sure why that gave me so much more trouble than everything else, but it did.

If this were a game with quicksave I'd save right before the jump and then be able to get right to the jump without having to do the sequence over and over and over again. I could just do the jump and the jump alone until I got it right.  I'd probably also save after the jump so that I wouldn't, as I did, end up losing all of that progress by missing a simple thing right afterward.

But this wasn't a game with quicksave and I couldn't do that. So I had to do the same thing over and over and over again, and even though I got everything before that jump right in the beginning and everything was nice and fluid and going with the flow, by the end there wasn't as single step in that long sequence that I hadn't fucked up at least once.

Gave up, went to sleep, tried again in the morning, same results. Everything else I could do the vast majority of the time, that one part not so much.

And that's when I tried to look up cheats. There are cheats. Including one called “Jesus mode” that I really want to know what it does. Does it let you walk on water? Multiply the loaves and fishes? Does it make it so you can die but you come back three units of time later? What?

I may never know, because the cheats have been disabled along with the console, which is disappointing because on seeing the cheats I came to realize that this is an Unreal game. A different version of the engine than the one I know, but it looks like there are some of the same console commands still in use and I have had fun with the console commands.

Deus Ex, running on the first generation of Unreal, introduced me to the concept of console commands. Far beyond the realm of simple cheats, they're like magic. It is console commands that I used to summon my herd of loyal fire breathing lizard-chicken minions. Four console commands. One to make them loyal, one to make them follow me around, one to make them pop into existence, one to make them breath fire instead of spitting neurotoxic spit.

And that's what they do, they put the power in your hands and you can rewrite reality as you see fit. The laws of the game-world become your playground, and you can finger paint upon the canvas of existence.

Also you can cry out, “Imperial battleship, halt the flow of time!” and have the order be obeyed. So long as you phrase it as, “playersonly” (to freeze everyone and everything but you) or, “slomo .01” (to slow down everything including you a lot.)

Slomo is an especially useful command because most of my problems with gaming have to do with my reaction time. With slomo you can set the time to whatever percent of normal you want. (It can also be used for troubleshooting if your game and your computer don't like each other very much and as a result the game runs too fast or too slow.)

But, like I said, the console is disabled. Can't do anything. Ditto for the cheats. You can find them, which is how one knows that Jesus mode exists, but you can't use them.

In trying to activate the cheats before realizing that that doesn't work I bumped into something else. It appears that the engine has quicksaving built right into it and the keys F5 and F6 were still bound to quicksave and quickload respectively. So it looks like the failure to include quicksave wasn't an effort saving measure, it was just a, “Fuck you,” to anyone who might possibly benefit from it.  As near as I can tell.

That was an aggravating realization.

Finally I downloaded a trainer, a third party program that, basically, implements cheats that were never programmed into the game. It turned out that the trainer made use of the arrow keys and I couldn't rebind it which meant that I had to play the game using my left hand for the keyboard and my right hand for the mouse. No good can ever come of that.

But I made it passed the trouble spot, found myself a savespot, ditched the trainer, and moved on with the game. And my weekend was rescued.

I ended up with another trainer (that didn't tie up the arrow keys) which I needed to help me with combat because damn I suck at that. I'm not quite sure how I managed to take out those cops so easily the first time.


So, combat in Mirror's Edge.

In, I think, most games I've played combat involves guns which hit their targets right away. That makes combat two dimensional. You've got the horizontal dimension (180 degrees right to 180 degrees left) and the vertical dimension (90 degrees up to 90 degrees down). If you've got things that are not instant hit it becomes more complex, at close range with relatively fast projectiles you can still more or less point and shoot, but at longer ranges, or with slower attacks, or at longer ranges with slower projectiles, it suddenly becomes four dimensional.

In addition to left-right and up-down you have range and time. You need to take into account how far away your target is (range) and where it's going to be by the time your attack reaches them (time).

So you've got four dimensions and time really requires you to think about your target's velocity which is itself three dimensions (two of direction, one of speed.) It's a lot more complex and I tend to have difficulty.

Mirror's Edge is very much in the more than two dimension's side of things.

If you get your hands on a gun then it does largely collapse into the two dimensions of the standard first person shooter, but guns are not the primary weapons available to Faith. Her main weapon is her body, specifically her hands and feet. Of those, her feet are the stronger weapon.

To deliver a kick does not mean walking up to someone and hitting the kick button. There is no kick button. There is only an attack button. Attack means kick if you're jumping toward someone or if you're sliding toward them. Both of those require you to be thinking very much about range and time. You need to be the right distance away otherwise you'll land/run out of momentum and stop sliding, before you reach the opponent. You need to be accounting for time otherwise when you get there they'll be elsewhere.

To say that I suck at the combat in Mirror's Edge is like saying that a black hole is a bit heavy.

Though, in fairness to myself, I've since discovered that there seemed to be something borked with my set up that might have been making it so that even some of the time I did get everything right my strikes didn't land. (And that did happen after I had the easy time with the cops, so that could account for some of the difference.)

Faith's best move of all is neither punch nor kick, it's a disarm. Now it's not something to be used all the time because it takes a while to complete and during that time you can be shot by people not being disarmed, but it does take the person being disarmed out of commission and get you a weapon. (I'm looking at dates and wondering if this is where Human Revolution got the idea for takedowns. If it is, they messed up severely by pulling a person switch, it's much less jarring to stick in first person.)

Anyway, that generally requires starting your attack at a very specific moment, indicated by the weapon going into Faith-Kato vision. See the gun change color and then hit a button is exactly the sort of thing that crappy reaction time makes you mess up.

The game actually has a feature called “reaction time” that will slow down time for you, which as you might imagine is exactly the kind of thing I could use. But you get one shot and then have to recharge it by running, which means one chance to get one thing right, and if you fail (and you're like me) you're screwed.

So the combat was not fun for me, and as the game progressed there was a lot more of that going on. Though I assume a better player who was quicker at assessing situations could have done a better job at getting away from it.


Anyway, I cheated. Which allowed me to get through the combat, and I had to switch back to the first trainer for a thing where even with “reaction time” properly used my reaction time was still too damned slow every single time (well almost, there were, I think two times I made it and then allowed myself to do stupid death-causing things soon after ) and the second trainer had nothing that could get me through.  That was interesting because, as I already mentioned, the first trainer reserved for itself all of the keys that worked well with a right hand. As it turned out that part required enough finesse even with the trainer that I needed my left hand on mouse, so that put me in a weird sort of crossed had position. Anyway, that was a short sequence and once I was passed it I could return to normal.

The biggest problem I had was that spending two fucking days missing the same damned jump over and over again completely screwed over my confidence in just running and trying to make it work. After that, every step of the way I hesitated. Even after noticing I was doing that I couldn't make myself stop. The game is about going with the flow, and constant failure had made me so I couldn't flow.

Progress was halting rather than smooth, and that messed up everything. The game is about momentum, I lost the ability to sustain it. Later on I went back and returned to the beginning, sure enough I was worse than when I started.

Still, I did have fun playing it.


So I'm not sure what to say about the game. If if I could quicksave I don't think the part that really screwed me up would have been a problem. Once I realized I was having trouble with it I could have concentrated on that part, and just that part, until I got it right. That wouldn't have taken nearly as long. I probably would have had a lot more fun for the remaining two thirds of the game.

If it were possible to access the console then there would be workarounds for any conceivable problems one might have with the game. Not to mention infinite possibilities for replaying. When you can summon anything or anyone, and change the laws of physics as your fancy is suited, the possibilities really are endless.

But in the non-hypothetical land of reality, it has neither of those things.

So if I recommend it and someone actually gets it (which, what are the odds? No one has listened to one of my recommendations yet) will they enjoy it as much as I did in the beginning, or will the end up with the frustration?

I'd like to recommend it because it was so much fun in the beginning, and really even the final two thirds were pretty fun as well even though I was increasingly thrown into combat which I didn't like nearly as much as the non-combat and I had lost the ability to just go with the flow.

Looking around I see that one of the frequently repeated complaints (beyond lack of quicksaving, which other people agreed with me on) was the length. It's not a long game. Pretty short actually. Normally I wouldn't comment on this because I'm out of touch enough that for all I knew it was average, but given that it was a pretty frequent complaint I'm guessing that is actually objectively short even by the standards of these past few years.

I have some thoughts about where it might have been good to expand it, but the key point is that there's not a lot there. There's an inconsistently reported sequel in the theoretical works (As in: “It's on.” “It's canceled.” “But we still respect you.” “No wait, it is on.”) and given where the game left off that's pretty well necessary if you're interested in story. Not to say that it left on a cliffhanger, there is closure on the narrow focus of the game, but there's a much broader story at work and it's impossible to interpret what happened in the game without knowing how the broader story goes.

I don't know. I really want to be able to recommend this game because at it's core, the actual act of being a runner in the unnamed city, it is very fun. But the lack of saving is a problem, and the fact that you can't cheat means that unless you're going to be using a third party program, you actually have to be good enough to play. I'm not.**** No idea if you are.


* The project lead cites as an influence a completely botched quote from Serenity. A tip to all who may one day wish to cite their influences, before you say, “In [movie], [character] actually says,” double check that [character] actually said that in [movie].

That's not all he says, if it were then I wouldn't list Firefly as an influence above, but the one specific example he gives beyond saying that the two things influenced him isn't actually accurate.

** They're both first person games, with female protagonists whose primary abilities revolve around a mode of transportation, that end with songs called, “Still Alive.”

*** Actually, some of those disarms seemed to me like they might very well be deadly. On the other hand, after Human Revolution came out with their obviously-lethal "nonlethal" takedowns, I'm not sure if you're ever supposed to think about whether or not hitting someone in the head with something really, really hard might be lethal in a game. Faith certainly never does anything while unarmed that seems as lethal as those allegedly nonlethal moves. Hell, some of the times she shoots people I think the victim is more likely to survive than some of the people AJ "non-lethally" takes down in Human Revolution.

**** I could almost certainly beat the game without cheating. There is no way in hell it would be fun. If a game isn't fun, I don't see the point.

† The games are these:
Dark Forces - In which stealing the Death Star plans is only the beginning
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - In which you become a Jedi Knight and fight seven Dark Jedi.
Mysteries of the Sith (an expansion for Jedi Knight) - In which you play as Mara Jade
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - In which you become a Jedi Knight again after quitting last go round.
Jedi Academy - In which you play as a student of the original guy.

* * *


  1. Ooh, ooh! Is that jump you kept missing the one at the top of the mall, just before the end? Yeah, that one sucks.

    That said, unless I'm misinterpreting, I don't see how quick-saving just before the jump would help. Like you mention, this is a game about flow and momentum; starting without that flow and momentum just before the jump in question doesn't seem like a recipe for actually getting it. And I don't recall a segment that required terribly extensive playthroughs--I was generally very satisfied with the timing of the game's autosaves (I've played the X-Box version, by the way).

    Mirror's Edge is one of those games which I love despite being flawed in very fundamental ways. Its outdoor scenes and Faith's abilities suggest freedom and multiple paths to get from A to B, when it's more accurate to say that you have are multiple ways to take a single path. Its story is both badly conceived and badly told--the best way to play the game, I feel, is by skipping all cut-scenes and turning the dialogue off--both thankfully doable--because really, I don't care about Faith or her sister; I just want to run, jump, and climb. And in the end it feels like the Pitfall to a future game's Super Mario Bros.: it's a really solid skeleton that needs someone else to give it into something spectacular.

    And yet, gosh is it fun. Like the original Super Mario Bros. and its Japanese sequel, finishing the actual game feels like only half the battle--a preparation of sorts for the deeper metagame that is trying to go through everything as quickly as possible and abusing your abilities for quicker passage though the levels. Once that happens--once the game stops being about thinking where to go (I try to play without Faith vision) and it becomes runrunrunjumpslidejumpturnpunchkickflipvaultohmyglobohmyglobohmyglob--it becomes nothing short of glorious. It's also why I kinda think the complaint about shortness is to some extent ridiculous. It's a game you practice, not a game you beat, and I don't see how making the game longer would have helped.

  2. I think that much of the point of Star Wars is that the opponents are, quite literally, faceless baddies...

    (I played JK/Dark Forces II and Mysteries of the Sith. Quite fun, but I didn't find them terribly memorable.)

    The usual term for instant-hit weapons is "hitscan". Bizarrely, in Descent, the chaingun was hitscan but lasers weren't...

    Some games allow indirect-fire (i.e. gravity-bound) weapons, which make aiming even more complex - for example, goo gun and grenade launcher in Unreal Tournament, mortar in Tribes. I tend to regard these as great fun.

    1. Deus Ex had some weapons that traveled in parabolic arcs, Dark Forces had the mortar gun, as I recall.

      TNM for Deus Ex had the rice bag launcher. It fired in parabolic arcs and if you hit the enemy in the head it was an instant nonlethal take down. If it hit anywhere else the damage was negligible. You had to aim and time it just right. It was a lot of fun.


      Given that I think of so much in terms of Deus Ex, I tend to think of instant hit weapons in terms of unreal code, where the property is simply called "binstanthit". (B for Boolean, it can be set to true or false.)

      That's useful to know because if you'd like guns to fire things other than bullets you need to set that to false. And who doesn't, occasionally, want guns to fire something other than bullets?

  3. No, it was nothing so sensible. It was a nothing jump that you wouldn't expect to be a problem, which is probably why there wasn't a checkpoint or minicheckpoint anywhere near it. (Or there was and my install was somehow borked right there.)

    And that's the reason that letting people save is important, you don't know where they'll get hung up. It isn't always the parts that should be hard. Sometimes it's things that should be easy.

    You can't get it right for everyone, and that's why manual saving is important.

    Anyway, given that I never had the experience of, "I have to do all of that again," after that one area I have a feeling that most of the time I died where I was expected to die. Because the rest of the time it did seem like the the mini-checkpoints were pretty damned frequent, though there was still one other place where I really needed the ability to say, "Ok, this sequence and I do not mix, I need to save right here because otherwise it's going to take me twenty or more tries to get back here and god knows how many tries to get from here to the next save point."


    I don't see how quick-saving just before the jump would help.

    Consider for a value of "just before" that gives enough space to build up momentum. It means that you can try to get the right thing done, and then try again and again on just that one thing, which is a lot of difference in terms of practice.

    It's the difference between "I'm having trouble throwing so I'll hit, run, slide, catch, and so on and then and only then throw the ball once," and, "I'm having trouble throwing so I'll throw the ball again and again until I get it right." The second one solves your problem a lot faster because it lets you focus on the one thing that is messing you up.


    Screw it, blogger says I have too many characters, everything else on earth says I'm within blogger's stated limits, blogger won't tell me how many characters over the limit it thinks I am, thus two posts here.

    1. And for fuck's sake, the reason I had that as a reply to Ian was because it was a reply to Ian, how the hell did it end up in the wrong place?

      Anyway, continuing:

      It's a game you practice, not a game you beat, and I don't see how making the game longer would have helped.

      The first thing is just more variety. Not everything has to be, "Where do I go?" a lot if it, especially at the beginning, could have been the act of going.

      The second thing is that there's that whole plot thing that wasn't really implemented very well. I'm going to make a post about the plot, so I shouldn't bog it down here too much, but giving some time to have a plot could have improved the plot.

      You mentioned not caring about Faith and her sister, that makes a fair amount of sense given that you never had a chance to know them. The same goes for all of the characters. Pope is hardly mentioned (only one of the three mentions was unmissable) before he becomes the center of the plot. That's a Jerry Jenkins introduction. How much can one really care about him?

      Or a big thing for me is that the job of running is what the plot revolves around, and your character is a runner, and yet how much of the game is her doing that job? The (short) prologue, which the game makes sure to note was completely atypical.

      If you'd had more actual working before the plot really ramped up you'd have more runrunrunjumpslidejumpturnpunchkickflipvaultohmyglobohmyglobohmyglob because you'd be mostly on the roofs, where runners are supposed to be, where it isn't so much a question of trying to figure out, "Ok, what the hell am I supposed to be doing here?" it's just about going. And in that time you'd have the possibility of getting to know and actually care about what was going on in the setting.

      That need not be via cutscenes, by the way. AVPII told a lot of its story via things you overheard while playing, so it's not like you need to stop the gameplay to tell the story. There's a certain amount of that in Mirror's Edge, but given that they throw you into the plot right away there's not enough to establish much of anything.

      The plot would have been a lot better if you'd had a chance to actually get to know Celeste and Kate, and if you'd had an opportunity to hear more about Pope, and generally if there'd been more substance to it, which could have happened if more time had been spent actually working as a runner in the beginning.

    2. Ignoring the plot for a moment, might it work better if you had a sandbox-type setup - e.g. a cityscape in which you can move around more or less at will, and find your own routes to places, rather than being constrained to a particular set of paths?

      (In fact I can see a competitive game working like this: you are here, you have to get to there, pick your own route across town.)

    3. I definitely think that that would have been a a lot of fun, and as I was playing I certainly thought that that was something I would have liked to have had, but I also realize it would have been a lot of work.

      Sticking to basically one path (with some variation around the edges) means that the developers had to make a line, more or less, for a given level. Being more freeform would require them to make a space, and you can make several lines for the same amount of work.

      I haven't looked at the non-story parts of the game very much, but I get the impression that they did in fact expand the areas a bit beyond what was used in story-mode so that you can take different routes through the same areas, but I don't think it's nearly on the level that would allow for a sandbox approach.

      I definitely would have liked the opportunity to go more sandboxy. The game essentially presents you with a playground, but you never get the opportunity to just play.

      If there had been more running before the plot got started, I'd like to think that it would have been more of picking your own route and such.


      So, basically, in response to your question: Yes. I think so.

  4. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd have found more story to be better, here. Maybe it's because the game at times feels like a spiritual sequel to the old Mario games, butMirror's Edge felt, to me, like one of those games where telling the sparsest story possible works best--just include a prologue in the manual, a scene at the end where Faith rescues her sister, and I'm good.

    And while I didn't say so in my last reply, I don't actually disagree with the idea of including savestates as an option for people who might not wish to repeat whole swaths of games (at least for any game not called Shiren the Wanderer, where doing so would be a capital crime); it's just an idea that feels somewhat foreign to me. And while I liked it well enough when executed in Beyond Good and Evil, the idea of it in games where it's not actually included is not one I'm terribly comfortable with, even if it's something I could y'know, just not use, if I don't want to. To me, there's a substantive difference between a game that is hard because the creators intended it to be, and one that's hard because you have to will yourself not to use all the available options. Still, not everybody feels that way,

    The first thing is just more variety. Not everything has to be, "Where do I go?" a lot if it, especially at the beginning, could have been the act of going.

    Insofar as variety and openness goes, yes I do agree the game could have used more of it. I'm just not sure that it's something that necessarily requires more game, rather than better use of the game they already have. For example, I would have been more than happy to see large swaths of the final level cut for the more sandboxy initial level you suggest. And when it comes down to it, I'm not a big fan of the "more game" argument in general.

    That said, I don't feel that Mirror's Edge was ever at any point at risk of wearing out its welcome, so yeah, maybe one or two levels could work.

    1. To me, there's a substantive difference between a game that is hard because the creators intended it to be, and one that's hard because you have to will yourself not to use all the available options.

      To me, there's a substantive difference between a game that is hard because it has hard gameplay, and a game that is hard because it is hard to play.

      When a developer is working on getting a game to the intended level of hard, I think they should be working on the side of hardness of gameplay, not how hard it is to play the game.

      That might require some explanation and Mirror's Edge provided examples of both at the beginning. Before starting playing I did two things. One was choosing a difficulty level, which is all about what happens within the game, thus gameplay. The other was adjusting the controls. By default they're set up to accommodate someone who uses the mouse with their right hand and the keyboard with their left. I do the opposite.

      If I hadn't adjusted the controls then the game would have been harder for me. Changing them made it easier. But this didn't change the gameplay at all, everything within the game was the same. The difference was how I interacted with the game.

      Having the controls in a setup that doesn't fit how I operate makes the game harder to play. The developers let me change it to make it easier to play, and I think they were right to do that. I think that games should be easy to play, with the difficulty entirely on the gameplay side. If one wants to make a hard game they should make hard gameplay, not make the act of playing hard.

      We could imagine a developer disagreeing with that and increasing the difficulty of their game by removing the option to customize controls and mapping them in a weird way so that, regardless of whether you're using your left hand or your right, it was more difficult to play than it would be if you could chose the controls yourself.

      That would definitely make for a harder game, but in my opinion it is the wrong way to go about making a game harder.


      As you might expect, I see screwing with saving like screwing with controls.

      Imagine one wanted to make Mirror's Edge harder by changing the saving. Easiest thing in the world. You could remove the mini-checkpoints, if that weren't enough you could remove the checkpoints themselves, and if that weren't enough you could even remove the chapters. That would make Mirror's Edge a metric fuckton harder to finish, but it wouldn't change gameplay at all. Every single moment in the game would be just as hard, or just as easy, as it was before you removed the saving. The only difference is in how you interact with the game. (Which is a pretty massive difference.)

      Changing saving doesn't make gameplay harder or easier, so if developers have gone there to adjust difficulty they're doing it in a way I disagree with and, quite frankly, don't respect. It seems the lazy way out to me.


      Almost entirely unrelated to that, how much willing yourself is needed?

      Faith-vision and easy difficulty are both amoung the available options, if you decide to play on normal difficulty with Faith-vision turned off does that require a lot of willing yourself not to turn Faith-vision on or restart in easy mode?

      I certainly know that things that I want to use on occasion but not excessively can be very tempting to use all the time, but I don't think I've ever had an experience where there was a feature I didn't want to use at all and I had to force myself not to use it. So I don't exactly have a point of reference for what you're talking about.

  5. I won't be able to respond substantively to your comments today, but question: Do you feel I'm being dismissive of your opinions? Cause I'm having a hard time reading the ton of the conversation and can't tell if we're stating opposing points of view or actually arguing.

    1. No, I don't think you're being dismissive of my opinions.

      I was worried that my last post might have come across as dismissive of yours (which was and is not my intention). If it seems like I was angry in my last post that's probably reality seeping through (today was a fairly stressful day for me), it's definitely not about you.

  6. Crap...I accidentally closed the tab where I was writing my response to you. This has taken way longer to write than I thought it would, and I can't assure its coherency or consistency. I fact, I'm pretty sure I end up contradicting myself on at least one occasion. Also, I'll be splitting this into several parts, and I may not actually post them one immediately after the other.

    First, I hope that your weekend was better than you week was. Second I hadn't actually read your previous post on quicksaving when initially responding; doing so. I'm not sure I agree, for reasons that can probably be best described as elitist and privileged, but I can see why you would feel that way. I've also realized that I've taken on the role of That Guy--heh.

    Perhaps it's because I'm mainly a console game player, I tend to think that games that are hard because of hard gameplay and games that are hard to play are sometimes one and the same. The original Castlevania is one—playing with Simon is like trying to control a cannonball wearing trampoline shoes; the original Resident Evil is another. There's also stuff like fighting games, with action commands that some find natural, and some find impossibly counter-intuitive, and where one generally cannot alter when it comes to character-specific moves. In cases like these, I do feel like changing the way characters control fundamentally change the game; Resident Evil would not be as scary if it had non-wonky controls; practicing combos in King of Fighters would not feel as satisfying*. Does this mean that there are some people that inevitably can't finish the game or won't be able to play as every character? Sure. I don't necessarily see this as a flaw.

    Now, difficulty levels are thing that I feel generally don't compromise the game (although there's the occasional game who doesn't do them well, and where the only difference between difficulty level is how long it takes you to defeat an enemy or large the margin for error is). However, there are exceptions games like I Want To Be The Guy which was designed to be impossibly hard, and Castlevania: Order of Ecclessia, which displays better design in its harder difficulty level than it does in its default setting, since it requires the player to actually utilize the variety of combat options that are presented to you, instead of having options that are there because of a (misguided, IMO) belief that more combat options are inherently better.


    * This doesn't mean that I don't support gameplay modes that help people get acclimated to playing—practice modes are a mainstay of contemporary fighting games, and something I feel is a must.

    1. Substantive response will have to wait a bit, but since this is quick I wanted to ask: what was wonky about the controls of the original Resident Evil? It's been a while since I played, but I don't remember anything particularly wonky about the controls of any of the first three games (which are the only ones I've played.) As you might expect, I'm not the biggest fan of the save system they had, but the controls seemed pretty straightforward.

  7. As for saving—and I'd like to note that quicksave usually isn't a thing in console or portable games--I do feel that games should allow you to interrupt them at any moment without losing your progress.
    And there's plenty of occasions where I've gotten frustrated at having to repeatedly repeat segments. And yet, I can't help but get conflicted about stuff like this, for reasons I can't quite explain. And like I mentioned before, I feel there's some games where autosave doesn't really work at all. Shiren the Wanderer for example, is a game that is designed around the concept that the player will continuously die, and every death comes with a steep penalty: not only are you returned to the beginning of the game (it's not a terribly long game) your level is reset to 1, and you lose every item you possessed, unless you managed to be lucky enough to have in your possession a pot that allows you to rescue items and send them to the warehouse (and even this has to be conscious decision; if you die before you place the items in the pot, then they're lost forever). There's also a high element of randomness in the game, depending on what items you manage to get, you might die at floor 3, or you might get all the way to level 50. This is what makes the game work and why I feel that autosaving , were it to be included, subverts the game's purpose entirely. You may disagree about this being a bad thing—that you're perfectly capable of creating your own purpose, and that you don't have to limit yourself to what the creator intended. And you'd be right! However, say it did include autosave: a decent creator would in turn have to alter the game significantly in order to accommodate it (after all, what's the point of penalties if they expect players to avoid them?) resulting in a completely different game.

    1. On another note, a couple of years ago there were news of a patent Nintendo had taken out on a program that, among other things, allowed a player to activate, at any point during a game, a tutorial that would show the player how to surpass a specific obstacle, or even allowing the player to bypass the problem area entirely. Inside the online videogaming community I belong to, a lot of people saw this a bad thing; Nintendo, in particular, had come to been seen as a company who attempted to draw in non-gamers in manners that felt condescending to people who already knew the language of gaming (for example, the tendency in Zelda games to state what a type of object does every time you obtain one, in stark contrast to the way nothing was explained in the original, establishing an undercurrent of mystery and encouraging exploration and experimentation) and this seemed like the epitome of that: a statement that you don't need to be good at videogames in order to succeed at them. A minority suggested that it could in theory bring about the opposite: with the skill gap now in theory closed, they were now free to create the next Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels or their own version of Dark Souls. From what I understand (I'm skipping out this current generation of games), the latter has not happened, save for possibly one exception.

      And that's one of the reasons, I feel, why erring in the direction of accessibility can be bad: as a design philosophy, it can lead to creative stagnation. Like I said before, the original Zelda was one of the first proto-sandbox games. You could make your way all over the map. The eight dungeons could be anywhere and could be tackled in more or less any order. You were eventually given items, with no idea of what they did. In the end, while the game in itself had obvious limitations, it managed to replicate the feeling of exploring a world where you had no idea what would happen next. About four iterations into the series, however, it began becoming impressively more hand-holdy and linear. Dungeons had to be tackled in a specific order, with little to no deviation allowed. Items had very specific uses, and bosses had to be defeated in very specific ways. The sense of exploration in the original game was gone, and in ways that couldn't be changed with selectable difficulty levels. I could be argued that it was only ever there accidentally, but I miss it.