Thursday, 20 December 2012

I call it Vera...

Then they stepped on the isle and fought, and each bore his own shield before him. Skeggi had a sword called "Warflame," and with it he smote at Gisli till the blade sang again, and Skeggi chaunted:
"Warflame fierce flickered,
Flaring on Saxa."
But Gisli smote back at him with his battle-axe, and took off the tail of his shield, and Skeggi's leg along with it; and as he smote he chaunted:
"Grimly grinned Ogremaw,
Gaping at Skeggi."

If you don't want to pick up an axe and a flagon of mead after reading that then you and I are very different people. The excerpt is from Gislis Saga, one of the Icelandic Sags that I've mentioned before and it highlights nicely (with added leg-chomping action) something I wanted to talk about today.

Gaming weapons have no soul.

Now I can hear a few of you snorting derisively and pointing out that, as inanimate objects, no weapons have souls. I invite you to read the above passage again. With two lines each the Saga-teller has brought that sword and axe off the page and roaring to life. This isn't a unique case either, the Sagas and other epic poems are littered with stirring weapons; Quern-Biter, Truce-Breaker, Adder and Eagles-Scream all make appearances

Every one of the above is stirring, bringing to mind fantastical blades and axes along with the savage Norsemen using them.Yet in games, it's much more likely to find a 'Blade of Frost' or simply a 'Rifle +3 accuracy'. These are less stirring and the really sad part is that things don't need to be like this.

Before I get to my game-specific examples let me put this to rest; guns don't get a free pass because they're mass-produced and meant to be uniform. Case in point, Mr. Jayne Cobb:

Six men came to kill me one time, and the best of them carried this. It's a Callahan Full-bore Auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge, thorough gauge. This is my very favorite gun... I call it "Vera"
Jayne Cobb- Firefly

 So, that settles that but if we're able to make even modern weapons more unique then why do most games still not bother.

Well it's Tolkiens fault.

Just kidding, it's totally Gary Gygaxes.

Mr. Gygax, fresh from defeating the forces of tropical evil     Source

 For those who might not know, Gary Gygax co-created Dungeons and Dragons in the late sixties/early seventies and in the process brought the staples of Western Fantasy into the worlds living rooms in a accessible, dice-driven way. Emphasis, of course, on the dice. Everything gets rolled for in a game of D&D and, as a result, almost everything has numerical stats attached to it. Therefore most of the 'better' weapons, armour and equipment you got really were only better because the numbers were higher. 

When computers came of age and everything became grounded in numbers this system was quickly taken to heart in a number of fondly-remembered early RPG games. The genres dominance lasted long enough for stat-based equipment to become the norm and from there it's only a short jump to a game like Borderlands 2 which, despite having a mind-boggling number of weapons only really distinguishes them by variation in numbers (damage, ammo capacity, firing rate, element damage).

This was my fathers exploding shuriken launcher, and his fathers beforeSource

Compare this to the original Mass Effect where each pistol or piece of armour you picked up had a detailed backstory about the corporation, the reason they made the new design and it's usefulness and you may start to see where I'm coming from.

Or, for possibly the greatest example of a weapon given personality in Games, play the original Aliens vs. Predator (not the terrible remake we shall never speak of). Not only did all the classic Aliens weapons look and sound authentic but the Pulse Rifle would jam if fired too quickly.

That may sound like an annoyance, but in a game like Aliens vs. Predator where the marine campaign is a pressure-cooker of suspense punctuated by sudden, terrifying action and it helped ratchet up the atmosphere just that little bit more.

*click* FUUUUUUUU----Source

Where this disconnect between weapons with personality and those with numbers really came to a head for me was while playing Skyrim. See, most of the magical weapons in Skyrim are of the numbers variety. You have the previously mentioned 'Sword of Frost' or fire, or blessed etc. Except there are some weapons that are not like this. Not only major questline related weapons like the Gauldor items but other, more random and intriguing ones.

For the perfect example I give you this story:

If you walk along a certain mountain path in Skyrim you will spot a Frost Troll in a cave not far away. If you're like me, you instantly leap to the attack because screw Frost Trolls! That first one messed me up royally on the way to High Hrothgar and now I'm level 50 it's time for payback.

Anyway, you kill the troll and go to investigate its cave. That's when you notice this:

Bonus points for the Viking name, FafnirSource

On the body you find a journal detailing the exploits and expertise of one Fafnir Trollsbane who has been hunting trolls for years. Evidently this one finally got the better of him. Also on the corpse is the unique weapon, Trollsbane a steel warhammer enchanted with fire damage that does extra damage to trolls.

Coming upon this situation organically made me so happy that I nearly stopped using my battleaxes (that I used for the whole game, and own one for Viking reenactment) and picked up Trollsbane.

One bit of story work nearly made me change my whole playstyle, and that's the kind of wonderful thing that can happen when we put more into our weapons then just a few more numbers.

Until next time, let us say Skål! and drink together.

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