The Game Jar Files: The scandal of Skyrim on PS3

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 06/08/2013

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Mention the words “Skyrim” and “Award” to me, and you’re liable to see my head explode. I’m like Chief Inspector Dreyfus when someone mentions the name Clouseau, my face starts twitching and I break out into a lunatic rant. I simply cannot be within earshot of praise for this game, without exploding with gamer rage. Why? Because I made the mistake of buying it on PS3, that’s why. Since it’s launch I’ve had to sit back and watch it win award after award, all the while suffering through the indignity of timed exclusives and broken code. The final straw came a few days ago, when Bethesda tweeted that Skyrim needed votes in Amazon’s “Generations Greatest Game” competition, and I had to let the rage out.

Just so that there’s some context to this rant, I’ll give you a little potted history of what it’s been like to be a PS3-version owner of Bethesda’s fifth  entry in the Elder Scrolls series. Being a massive fan of both Morrowind and Oblivion, I was eager to lose myself in Skyrim for an extended period of time. Long sessions behind the joypad when playing a Bethesda RPG is not unusual for me, and that’s when the first problem reared it’s very ugly head. You see, long play sessions can cause your saved game file to exceed the 6mb mark, something which causes problems on the PS3. I won’t bore with why, all you really need to know is the result is that your framerate slows to an absolute crawl. I tried muddling thorough, but eventually it got so bad I literally stopped playing the game completely and waited for it to be patched.

Eventually the framerate issue was fixed, which was good, because there was an entirely new bug on the horizon and dealing with both of them together probably would have led to me snapping the disc in half. Unbelievably, this shiny new bug was even worse than having an unplayable framerate, as it crashed the entire game when you entered the water. Walk into to any bit of deep water in the game world and the game simply stopped working. Whole sections of the world were off-limits, quests that involved swimming of any kind were uncompletable. Bethesda eventually fixed this bug too, but the damage was done by this point, I’d practically given up hope on playing a game that simply worked.

Having struggled along with what I considered to be a broken game for some time, I didn’t take the news that all downloadable content would be delayed on PS3 thanks to a timed exclusivity deal with Xbox at all well. I hate timed exclusive in general anyway, but after all the problems with the main game, I flipped out. You see, as far as I’m concerned when you say to your fans “we’re not going to sell this to you just yet, we’re only selling to these people over here”, you immediately tell those fans they’re not as important to you. Dividing your fans up in this way is always likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth in my opinion, so why Bethesda chose to do it to already pissed off PS3 owners is beyond me.

I am willing to give credit where credit is due – Skyrim is a fantastic game in many respects. I’ll even admit my issues with the game are rather specific, but I’m not going to change my stance, ever. If you own the game on Xbox 360, and have spent many untroubled hours enjoying the game, I’m genuinely pleased for you, I really am, just don’t ask me to agree with you that it deserve its multiple accolades. It pains me to say it, but at this stage I’m probably never going to love Skyrim they way I should. The state the PS3 version was released in was shocking in my view, and the only thing more scandalous is the free ride its been given by the gaming press so eager to throw awards at it.

PS3 owners were treated shabbily by Bethesda. I feel so badly let down by the company I’ve supported over many years, that I’m seriously considering never buying another one of their games again. Watching Skyrim garner award after award, or win fan poll after fan poll is a kick in the teeth for us PS3 owners, because the game simply doesn’t deserve it. There is no justification for pushing us to the back of the DLC cue, or for leaving us with a broken game for so long as far as I’m concerned. In general, I try to avoid ranting in my Game Jar pieces, but I can’t with this one. My hope in writing this, is that I can bring an end to Bethesda hiding behind a working Xbox version, because to my mind, they’ve gotten off far too lightly so far.

The Game Jar Files: I know that voice!

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 17/04/2013

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I’m slightly reluctant to write this article. The voice acting in video games has improved immeasurable over the years, so complaining about it feels somewhat counter productive. Not entirely though, because I have a very specific problem with today’s voice acting, namely the overuse of certain actors. Nothing breaks my in-game immersion quicker than hearing a voice I connect to another character in another game, coming out of a different pixelated mouth. So how big of a problem is it? Only you can tell me that. It’s entirely possible that I’m the only gamer that gets hung up on this sort of thing, but, with the move towards games with stronger stories, I very much doubt it. If we as gamers are to buy into the characters presented to us, doesn’t the voice delivering the lines need to be unique?

Last week or so, I was enjoying the very excellent Tomb Raider. As I’m sure you know, the latest game is a prequel, and attempts to tell the story of how Lara Croft became the girl we all know and love, and by and large, it does a very good job of doing so. I did however, have a slight problem paying attention to it, thanks largely to some of the voice acting. One of the first cut scenes up, and I’m doing a double take. Conrad Roth, he sounds familiar! A little further in, and the penny drops. Brynjolf from the Skyrim Thieves Guild is in my Tomb Raider! A bit further on from that, and I pick up one of those journal collectable things that contains spoken dialogue. Mercer Frey from the Skyrim Thieves Guild starts coming out of my speakers. From that point on, the Conrad Roth character was broken to me, whenever he said anything to Lara, I was right back in Riften, imaging he was calling me laddie before sending me off on another thieving  job.

The troubling thing is, if the sharing of voice talent is any indication, that developers seem to constantly relying on a small group of voice actors. If you played Dragon Age: Origins, Simon Templeman will be familiar to you as arch villain Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir. If you played Mass Effect 2 or 3, he’s Admiral Han’Gerrel. In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, he’s Gabriel Roman. Star Wars: The Old Republic, Dead Space 3, Jade Empire, Kingdoms of Amalur: The Awakening… his list of voice credits in video games is immense. Continuing on the Bioware/Naughty Dog crossover theme, there’s Gideon Emery. He’s another actor with a distinctive voice, that’s easily recognisable when you hear it. His role as Fenris in Dragon Age 2 is probably the biggest, but he’s also been in a variety of other Bioware games.

Perhaps the biggest culprit though is Claudia Black. Now, there is no doubt that she’s a very attractive lady, or that she has a very appealing voice, but damn she’s everywhere. The first time I heard her dulcet tones was playing Dragon Age: Origins, she voices Morrigan in that game. Next time I heard her voice, she was Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 2. After that she was Admiral Xen in Mass effect 2, followed by Samantha Byrne in Gears of war 3, then back to Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 3, and finally, Admiral Xen in Mass Effect 3! Talk about immersion breaking. Ironically, it’s the quality of her performances that causes the problems. Chloe Frazer is a well realised character, thanks mainly to Ms Black’s excellent work, and it’s that level of performance that makes hearing her work elsewhere harder.

Not so long ago, I was crying out for some decent voice acting my games, so I shouldn’t complain to much now that we’ve finally got some, but the familiar voices are jarring now. Nolan North is Nathan Drake. He just is. So when his voice comes out of the mouth of my Human Necromancer in Guild Wars 2, it feels odd. I find it very hard not to picture CSEC officer Armando Bailey whenever Colonel Saul Tigh is on screen in Battlestar Galactica. Having written this article, it’s become clear to me that good quality acting can be a double edged sword. Actors such as Nolan North or Claudia Black bring a high level of believability to Nathan Drake and Chloe Frazer, and that believability solidifies those characters in our minds. The voice is the character, and therefore it’s very hard to hear that same voice in another virtual body without connecting it to another face.

Now that developers have (finally) managed to attract a selection of quality voice talent, their next challenge is to widen that pool. If the voices coming out of your favourite characters isn’t to become jarring in the future, they need to be used sparingly, and that means having a wider selection of actors to begin with. I don’t want to be rolling my eyes at Lara Croft’s mentor because I’ve spent so much time with him in another world, I want Bryjolf to sound like Bryjolf, and xxxx to sound like xxxx. Overly familiar voice actors breaks my immersions, and in an entertainment medium like gaming, immersion is king. Story telling in games is getting much stronger, and as a result, the demand for skilled voice actors has grown. The talent pool needs to grow if all our heroes and villains aren’t to sound the same.

Skyrim – New trailer

Already Skyrim is my most wanted game of this year, trailers likes this don’t help with the not getting over excited thing.

Harry Partridge–Skyrim

This pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter…

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