Are you ready for this? - my speech on Digital Dragons 2017

A month ago, I've been a third-time speaker on Digital Dragons. The biggest game industry conference in Poland. For the first time I took the main stage solo, and whith a topic I've been dabbling in for years: art production, both inhouse and outsource.

For those who have a spare 45 minutes, here's me talking a lot this time instead of writing a long article. Enjoy!


Get paid thanks to games: A game developer

This one's been a long coming. Over a year, actually. I was putting it off because I didn't quite know how to put it together in one short article. I mean, studios can really vary among themselves. And the roles within the industry are very different as well. A blanket article on how to become a part of the game-making industry is likely to become either very general or very long and both these options will make it pretty useless. Finally, I've decided on a format that has a chance of making some sense. If it doesn't, at least I tried. Oh, and some of it might seem very obvious, but after talking to some high schoolers about game development, I feel that there's a lot of people that still require this kind of knowledge.

When you decide you want to make games, the first thing you have to realize is how many options you have. Game industry is very diverse and there are tons of doors and windows you can enter through. The biggest question though is what kind of games you want to make.

Inside of the Blizzard Entertainment studio.
On one hand, you have games done by single people and very small teams (under 5 people), like Banished, Darkest Dungeon or Undertale. On the other - huge blockbusters like Assassin's Creed, GTA or Uncharted, with hundreds of people on board and hundreds of millions of dollars in the budget. The rule of thumb here is that the smaller the team, the more skills you need. However, they don't have to be as highly developed as in the big teams. What I'm saying is that in small teams, you will often have to wear several hats. When there's just two of you, one becomes (for example) a programmer and a designer, while the other one draws, animates, writes and takes care of the soundtrack. When you're trying to do so many things at once, nobody expects you to be the best at everything. You just make a game you can make. In the big teams, you don't have to be a few people in one. You get to specialize. If you want to be an animator there, you need to be a good one. That's not to say that a great game desiner can't make a smaller game. Or that there are no average people in bigger companies, but they seem to rather be an exception. It's quite logical, really - Blizzard won't hire guys that are mediocre but some small company with small budget and less applicants might.

Once you know what kind of game you want to make and how big the company you want to work for is, there remains a question of what role you will play in it. You see, there are many elements of games that need to be made while the game is being put together. To get a job in the industry, you need to have skills needed to make some portion of these elements. Also, these skills need to be in demand. Let me give you an example. A lot of people think they can write and could write for games or could come up with game ideas. Now let's put aside that it's actually not that easy and that at least 99% of those people are wrong. Let's assume you are indeed an excellent writer and would be perfect for games. Still, most studios don't need full-time writers and ones that do rarely look for them, because the job is taken. And with maybe 20 openings like that in the whole world, you can imagine how huge the competition is. On the other hand, in an average studio, there's around 10 times more 3D graphic artists than writers and many of these studios constantly recruit for the 3D art positions. That means it might be much easier to get a job in the art department rather than writing and the required skill level might also be a little bit lower. It's a simple function of supply and demand, really.

This graph might seem funny but it is actually very accurate. Thanks, SharkBomb!
So what roles are there? Let me give you a very quick overview to help you decide what you might be best suitable for:

1) Programmers: need to be skilled in a programming language. Usually C++ or C# if the studio uses Unity Engine. The bigger the company, the higher the chance that programmers will specialize: engine / UI / AI, etc. Very high demand, companies are often willing to take juniors without much experience in the industry, but great programming skills are a must.

2) Designers: there's a lot of types of designers and not every type needs to exist in every studio. It highly depends on a game they are making. Free to play games will require Monetization Designers while RPG's will require Quest Designers. There are general Game Designers, story-focused Narrative Designers, self-explanatory Level Designers or Mission Designers. The role of designers is to come up with game systems and mechanics (or levels, missions, etc.), which is much harder than just coming up with ideas - you have to expand these ideas to cover every possible outcome in a balanced, logical and fun way that possibly helps tell the story and positively surprises the player. The demand for designers is quite high, but good designers are very hard to find. Also, everyone wants to be a designer (as it seems to be the "coolest" role), so the competition is very high as well.

3) Concept artists: these 2D artists design the mood of the game, characters, locations and props that are used. Their concept art serves as a reference to the 3D art team. These people also often end up producing all the 2D elements that you find in the game, so if a game is in 2D, it means pretty much all graphical assets. The requirements are simple: you need to be skilled at drawing and Photoshop. The demand is high, but good artists that have a great sense of color, lighting and composition are very rare.

4) UI artists: these are 2D artists that specialize in the user interface. They don't draw characters. They draw health bars, icons, charts and menus, which is a lot harder than it seems. You need to be great with Photoshop and to have an eye for usability and clarity of visual communication. Studios don't usually need more than one person like that so the demand isn't that high, but the good ones are considerably hard to find.

5) 3D artists: these are the guys who put together 3D models for the games. Everything from a simple stool to a huge monster. They usually specialize in either characters or pieces of environment. In bigger studios, they specialize even further: humans / monsters / buildings / rocks / vegetation. There's a lot of software that can be used for that, but the most popular programs are Zbrush for 3D sculpting and 3ds Max for blocking. There is a huge demand for these artists and there seems to be an everlasting shortage of really good ones.

6) Animators: whether it's in 2D or 3D, these are the guys that make things move. The true 2D animation is fundamentally different from 3D technology- and toolwise, but the common requirement is to have a sense of every detail of motion and what makes a movement natural. In 3D, you will likely have a chance to work with Motion Capture, which is a lot of fun. Popular tools for 3D animation are MotionBuilder and Maya. For 2D it's Adobe AfterEffects and Toon Boom. There is a huge demand for animators as the number of good ones in the world is very small and animations become a bottleneck in most of the studios sooner or later.

7) Sound designers: these people take care of the sound in our games. They don't compose the music, but make sure the ambient sound is the right volume, the sound effects are all in their places and that every single torch can't be heard from miles away.  There's a lot of tools for that: Audition, Reaper, Cubase, Nuendo and if you're fluent in any of them, you should be ok. The demand isn't huge, as many studios don't even hire in-house sound designers, but there's still some possibility to do it in freelance for a number of studios at a time.

8) Composers: the folks that actually compose the game music. And music in general. They rarely focus only on games. Pretty much all you need here is to be able to actually write music and some basic knowledge how the game music loops. Studios don't hire full-time composers so it's purely a freelance job. One where it might be very hard to get noticed unless you've won some solid awards for your music.

9) Narrative designers / writers: Narrative designers put the story together and are the ones that make sure it goes well with gameplay. Writers are the ones that create all on-screen text. Very often, narrative designer is also a writer. Don't be fooled: it's not like these people write a script and then everyone follows it. Most often, they have to adjust the narrative to what's going on on the screen to give it at least some logical continuity. The requirements here seem to be very easy to meet - you need to be great at writing. Unfortunately, there are thousands of people who think they can write when they actually can't and they spam companies with their applications. The demand itself is pretty low as many studios don't even need a dedicated writer for their types of games.

10) QA testers: one of the most crucial and underappreciated roles in the industry. Testers are the ones that play the game over and over and over while it's being made. It requires a lot of patience and eye for details. There are no hard skills required, but deep interest in games, displayed by messing around in game engines, learning to draw or code or at least making your own maps in popular editors is very welcome. The pay is the lowest in the industry, but so is the required skillset. There is a high demand for testers, but also a lot of people apply, so when you do, make sure to stand out somehow.

11) Producers: the "managers" that essentially take care of the schedules and budgets, but they are also responsible for making everyone's job as easy and smooth as possible, by solving problems, providing good communication and resolving any conflicts that might arise. The top producer is often the product owner and is personally responsible for delivering the game to the market. Producers need to be skilled in business, management and development methodologies and software, as well as have great communication skills, because they are the link between all the departments in the studio. The demand isn't too high, though good, experienced producers are hard to come by.

One thing to keep in mind when thinking about salaries in gamedev are usually lower than in other industries. An average business software programmer can earn even twice as much as a game programmer, even though their skills are comparable. That's, unfortunately, what you get for working your "dream job".

Nowadays, even Barbie can develop games.
There are generally three ways of getting into the industry. First is assembling your own team and just starting to make games. Nowadays, with digital distribution, it is relatively easy to publish your own game. And it doesn't even have to be very complex either. You are most probably just learning and you never know where it might lead you. You may continue to work on games on your own for years to come, eventually turning into your own business - your own studio. Getting better at what you do and working with more talented people. Even if your first 30 games were absolute crap, you will learn from them. And even if your team splits up before actually making money on your games, the games you did are now your portfolio. Portfolio that will help you a lot when applying to a gamedev studio as a programmer, designer, writer, artist, producer - whatever you learned to do while making those games. I can assure you that having finished some, even small projects, helps you land a job tremendously. Just remember to know where to aim. Making two small 2D games won't help you when applying for a Senior 3D Artist position.

The second way is to become a QA tester. Even if you want to write or code, there's nothing wrong with starting out as a tester. I know lots of testers that managed to move on to design, programming or production. Being a tester lets you get to know the industry from the inside. Watch closely how more senior positions work and what is really needed in your studio. Then, when the time is right, you might be able to move on. I believe it is actually the easiest way to get into the bigger companies. The biggest drawbacks are the low salary and often long working hours which is okay early on in your career, but won't let you support a family if you're planning on getting into the industry later in your life.

The third way is the hardest, but often the only way acceptable for people that already have a career and cannot afford being a tester or staying in their mother's basement figuring out how to make a game. It is using your current career to transition to games. If you are a really good programmer, you might be able to transition quite smoothly. If you're a writer, graphic artist or a project manager you'll have to make some adjustments to be suitable for games, but you still can land in the actual development as well. There are other professions, however, that let you work in gamedev studios, in roles supporting gamedev. If your skills and professional experience allow it, you might get into the marketing or PR team. Or become an in-house lawyer. Or an HR manager. Or a finance manager. It might not be that easy then to transition into development itself and you might discover you don't even want to (game marketing can be pretty awesome with all the travels and game fairs). If you show enough interest though and prove you can be a great addition to the team, you might be able to become a dev. Oh, and keep an open mind - being a manager in a gamedev studio can be quite different from your usual work at some bank or consulting firm and sadly, the salary will likely not be as high either.

You should also remember that not only development studios are involved in making games. And I am not talking about youtubers or journalists here. I mean companies that play a supporting role for game development studios. Backend solutions companies that maintain servers for online or mobile games. Motion capture studios. Motion capture actors. VoiceOver studios. VoiceOver actors. Orchestras that record game scores. All sorts of 2D and 3D outsourcing companies. Localization companies that translate mostly game texts. These are all highly involved in production of many great games and it might be a good idea to start in one of those if you can't find a place for yourself in a gamedev studio.

Whichever way you choose, the success will highly depend on your skill and knowledge of the industry. The more you know how it works, the better chance you have at learning the right skills and attitude. Then, with just a bit of luck, it's a matter of time before you are able to call yourself a game developer. Good luck!


Hunie Pop: so bad yet so brilliant

I've played my fair share of the dating sims when I was a teenager. They were all roughly the same, but hey - boobs! And to be fair, some of them had really decent writing or even more interesting settings than "you're a transfer student, now go and hump everything that moves". When I was browsing the most recent Steam sale list, I came across Hunie Pop. Was only around 3 Euro and to be honest, looked pretty lame. What caught my eye was the "Overwhelmingly Positive" in user reviews. Could it be that the genre that used to be a one-trick-pony has something new to offer? Could it be that jRPG and Iron Maiden are the only ones still stuck in the 80's and the visual dating novel has left them behind?

Yeah, I bought it and I was astonished how bad it was. I mean... The assumption that if I'm playing it I must be a loser that could never get a girl was both funny and embarrassing. The dialog choices were always between "my nose is bleeding" and "my tongue is stuck between my teeth". The occasional "Hey, I'm not a total moron" options were always greeted with a "yeah, right... get real" kind of reply. Of course, not 30 minutes later, I'm a regular playboy that can ask any girl out and aks every chick their cup size and - what's even weirder - age and get a reply. With no magic involved, but just because the game wanted it that way.

The writing is so terrible that it walks this fine line between so bad I want to quit and so bad it's funny. Luckily, the Voice Acting is even worse, which pushes the whole thing to the definitely funny zone. The uninspired one-liners of stereotypical teachers, schoolgirls and gym bunnies are met with performances so dull that Siri sounds like a sex line operator in comparison. 

Yet... the game is actually the best dating sim I've ever played. Before you ask the girls on dates, you get to ask the girls questions and buy them presents. At first it feels like mindless collectible unlocking. Soon enough though, between some relationship questions where you need to simply tell the girl what she wants to hear, she will check whether you've been paying attention and ask you what her weight or favourite color is. But that's just child's play. Where it gets really good is the dates themselves.

It's the first dating sim I've seen that actually uses its mechanics as a metaphor of dating instead of making me read through pages of dialogue and descriptions to chose an option every 15 minutes. Instead, it's a logical match 3 type of game. A surprisingly deep one with a decent amount of strategy in it. Additionally, every color you're matching corresponds with an emotion or a conversational topic. Every girl prefers certain topics, so you have to navigate through the board to focus on sexuality or flirtation, but it's not always possible, when all that's on the table is talent and romance. Every now and then you accidentally trigger a bad topic and the whole carefully built up mood goes to shit. And sometimes, when you are out of your game and the colors just don't seem to match, the date ends without really moving the relationship forward, leaving you both in that "meh" zone. 

That's a pretty damn accurate mechanic to mimic the intricacy of dating. But wait, it gets better! When you finally manage to get into a girl's pants, the rules of the match 3 change. The board is now filled with easy matches. You're both in the mood. All you need to do is not to fuck it up now. You need to fill the rapidly depleting mood bar. At first, used to thinking things through, you're searching for good, strategic matches. You get some points, then a combo comes crashing down. You're already doing great. The bra is gone, but you have to act quick before the mood drops. You start getting a bit nervous. You just match whatever you find first. You're getting sloppy. You know you could probably be doing so much better, yet you keep plowing through and even though sometimes you ruin the mood a bit with your tempo, you finally get there, feeling like you've actually accomplished something. However silly that sounds. 

I don't know about you guys, but I'd take this kind of experience over an overly long sexual act description. And while it might all sound really silly and while Hunie Pop might have an awfully candyish, dumb, primitive, sometimes straightforward racist and stereotypical skin, its gameplay is solid and an incredible example of using just the right mechanics to let the player experience the complexity of the dating game. In that regard, Hunie Pop is a game that beats all entries of The Witcher, Mass Effect and Persona series all together.


Legacy of the Void - the worst Zelda game ever

Before we start, I'm a huge StarCraft fan. It was one of my first PC games. The franchise has been with me for over half of my life and what might be weird, I loved the game mostly for the story. Sure it wasn't the greatest thing ever written, but the execution was just so much better than all the mission briefings we were used to at that time in RTS. Jim was a cocky bastard, Mengsk was a major asshole and Fenix sacrificing himself was one of the most meaningful game deaths for me. And the soundtrack... Hell, I'm gonna listen to it while I'm writing this. Hey! You can listen to it while you read this, too! It'll be the soundtrack for this post, why not.

When Wings of Liberty came out, I played the crap out of it. Got all the achievements in the story mode. Even the Lost Viking ones, because I just wanted to show my respect to the guys at Blizzard that made it so beautiful. So what all characters had depth of a puddle, at least they were diverse and worked well together. The missions were diverse, the goal clear and Raynor relatable. It's been 5 years and I can still remember some of the maps.

Then Heart of the Swarm came, with its in-your-face romance and pink Kerrigan. Up until the end of Wings of Liberty, the word "love" has never appeared. The relationship between Jim and Sarah was hinted, but never explicitly shown or confirmed. The beginning of Heart of the Swarm could have easily featured them as good buddies, with Jim having hots for the HotS (sorry for the terrible pun, couldn't resist) and Kerrigan not really being that interested. Still it wasn't so bad after all. Seemingly faceless Zerg got amazing new representation in Zagara and Abathur. However, it's probably not the best thing that I don't know what the end goal was.


Legacy of the Void has been so much worse though. The whole thing is a MacGuffin fest. Starting with the introduction of a "bad god" very originally named Amon. Although, if main characters have the most popular American names, Jim and Sarah, it's probably fitting that the bad god has the name out of top three popular god names. What's worse, is that the only purpose this Amon serves is for us to know what we want to hit in the face in the finale. The coolest Protoss alive, Zeratul, gets sacrificed to free the most boring of them, Artanis. "Screw Zeratul, I want to play as Artanis in the last part of StarCraft" said no one ever. It's as if the creative director played Metal Gear Solid 2 and thought "hey, this Raiden guy was so cool!" or something equally ridiculous.

What follows is resurrecting the one character that should have stayed heroically dead - Fenix. What's worse, he's resurrected, but not quite. He's now having existential problems and becomes a plot device in a story that keeps getting worse with every passing mission. Way to dig out a corpse of a beloved character and spit on it. Accompanying the bland Artanis are also a green-eyed female, a blue-eyed female that occasionally turns red, the only protoss with a beard and a red-eyed bad protoss that for a completely unexplainable reason manifests free will. Yes, I just finished the game yesterday and already cannot remember the names. The only good moments in the campaign cutscenes are when Kerrigan, Raynor and Swann appear. The rest is just one still face babbling to another still face.

Back to MacGuffins - almost every mission goes like this: "Hey, Artanis, I've discovered the xhtehyean... ah screw it, I discovered these magical thingies that you need to collect or destroy so you can advance." At some point you find yourself chasing 3 pieces of Triforce to be able to collect 5 gems to free 6 sages to find 7 crystals. Unfortunately, Artanis doesn't have a fun green hat and what's worst, he talks. Makes me wonder whether all the level designers were reassigned to Heroes of the Storm and Legacy of the Void was left with just a team of juniors.

The pinnacle of this is the final mission of the epilogue, where instead of an epic bossfight or commanding a massive final battle, you get to... You guessed it! Destroy 7 floating crystals! And as a reward, you get to see burning Kerrigan using a laser pointer attack on the forehead of Cthulu Amon. And don't even get me started on Kerrigan trying to rival Dragon Ball Z characters in the amount of transformations and how cliché her final form is.

When I finished the game yesterday I immediately googled whether they changed the person responsible for the story, but no. It's been Chris Metzen all this time, but apparently struck by some midlife dementia. You thought the ending of Mass Effect 3 was bad? Well, it must be some space opera curse, because Legacy of the Void manages to deliver an even worse ending to a much better franchise. After it's all over, you end up feeling like Blizzard has just taken a long, boring piss on your favourite characters.


Sexualization in games? Why not!

I was sitting in the office, minding my own business and then my wife sent me a link to this picture:

It got me thinking... The artist here is right. The nudity and sexualization of games or any other medium is only a problem for those who can't see through it. Kinda obvious, right? Took me 30 years to realize that? Maybe. You can skip the rest if you want. I will continue though. Stop laughing, I'm dead serious.

I grew up in the 90's, with the games from the 80s and 90's and all the surrounding popculture. And with the 90's being the age of Lara Croft, Baywatch and Duke Nukem. I confess to all the sins of a teenage gamer. I did always have Tifa in my party in Final Fantasy VII (one of the reasons was because her limit break was the only skill-based one, but let's be honest, boobs were important too). I did play only female characters in Dead or Alive (because frankly, who choses the guys?). I did play Wet: The Sexy Empire as an underaged kid, along with several Japanese erotic game novels (and I frankly, I mostly enjoyed he writing - sex scenes got tedious and repetitive really quickly).

You now have every right to discard my opinion as biased, manipulative and sick to the bone, but... All this was a natural part of growing up. It allowed me to play BioShock: Infinite without staring at Elizabeth's boobs and instead focusing on her story. It allows me to look at Akiba's Trip not only as a fan service, but also a really fun game with decent story and really, really cleverly abstract mechanic. It allowed me to critically look at Catherine and what choice I would make if I were in Vincent's shoes. And I did not base it at all on which pair of tits I liked better. I am able to look at Quiet as a tragic character, completely ignoring her appearance and not getting a boner during the water scenes. 

But I still want to be strong and fast like Solid Snake. Be able to pull up myself and a busty gal with one hand like Cloud. And I wouldn't mind having muscles like Duke, because hell, who would? Apart from gymnasts, volleyball players, anyone who wants to fit in any door... But you get my point :) Does the fact that I'm physically inferior to the idea of these characters make me rage? No. They are representations of physical traits that many of us find attractive. I can either bitch about it or go to the gym.

Sex and sexualization is a part of life and part of every medium and every art. It makes perfect sense that in a fantasy world we want to see visually pleasing characters. Because I like Quiet as a character, I don't dress her in the baggy outfit just to prove some moot point, because I don't want her to feel uncomfortable. Even if mechanically she won't suffocate or anything. (explanation: the character is supposedly half-naked because she breathes with her whole body. Changing her clothes does nothing to her but it does to my immersion and suspension of my disbelief in that quirky world) And yes, sometimes the pervy stuff gets pretty ridiculous, but I love how games like Lollipop Chainsaw or Bayonetta grew so self aware that they are practically parodying themselves while still having lots of fun, innovative, amazing gameplay. 

People are saying that sexualized characters in games promote impossible standards among the audience and that is partially true. Partially, because these standards aren't impossible and some fantastic proportions can be successfully translated (not transfered to real life. Just look at the professional cosplayers. Both male and female). Also, there is nothing wrong with the second part. Is it bad that a medium makes people want to be more fit? Can anyone tell me with a straight face that liking big boobs or cleavage is somehow wrong? I always wanted to be with a girl who isn't  just smart, but also gorgeous. I married a girl who isn't just smart, but also gorgeous. Sweet and caring too. Did I hurt anyone? Did the world stop turning because somewhere out there there are women and men that actually fit those "impossible standards" bills? Or is it just the howls of the envious?

The problem starts only when we can't look past the sometimes oversexualized coating. When we automatically call the character a bimbo just because she shows some cleavage. When we deny the characters any personality they might have just because they have muscles bigger than ours. Ass rounder than ours. I can only hope that the ones that feel offended or endangered by more sexualized content will someday be able to clear their vision of their unfulfilled, perverted, juvenile thoughts and see the busty and muscular characters as virtual persons, not just pieces of virtual meat.

And seriously, go hit the gym, you lazy asses. Those juicy chicks and hunky dudes won't just settle for any fat nerd ;)


Games and morals

Very recently, Steam held a quick sale on Darkest Dungeon. I have a huge line of games I own and still need to finish (or at least play), so even though I've been meaning to give DD a try for a while now, I was putting it off, because of this huge queque. Well, the sale won. I'm somewhere around 7 hours in the game at this point and getting a hang of it much more than I expected.

The game has a number of really simple, but interesting mechanics that nicely show, how you can reforge the limitations you face in development into beneficial design choices. However, there was one mechanic that really got me thinking. One I consider an excellent excuse to talk about moral choices in games. To simplify, I will break down how games approach the moral choices into 3 "levels". Level 1 being - in my highly subjective opinion - the lousiest and level 3 being the crowning achievement of how games approach morality. Let's get this over with.

Level 1: Morality scales
We all know those. Mass Effect's Renegade vs. Paragon. Catherine's Loyal vs. Cheating bastard. Fallout's karma. Elder Scrolls' popularity (or whatever it's called). Baldur's Gate's reputation. There's a lot of games that try to quantify the morality. To put everything on a single axis between good and evil and then make the game's world react to us accordingly, or in most cases, just giving us a few more dialogue options. Yes, I consider this the worst thing a game can do with morality. Because no matter how robust the system seems to be, it always boils down to where we are on a scale from 1 (bad) to 100 (good). It does pave the way for some interesting scenes sometimes, but it rarely teaches the players anything about themselves. How would they react in a certain situation? Who knows - the game only gives them a few predefined options, none of which usually gives the players the reaction they're after. Stack up enough of this communication bondage and the end result of the game will vary greatly from what the player was expecting. Not to mention how in your face most of these games are about these choices. Come on, BioWare - color coding?

Level 2: Moral choices
This is kinda the Telltale category. The game puts you in front of obvious choices. Be it dialogue choices or gameplay choices like in BioShock. There is always some build up for these moments. Whenever they arrive, you know the consequences of your action will affect the game, or at least you're to believe they will, because in most games they really don't (that's probably a topic for a whole other article, but to keep it short: even games that are "not linear" are often on rails anyway and the moments where you make a decision that splits the gameplay timeline are often kept as short as possible and the game gets back on track very shortly after while giving the player an illusion of actually changing the story). This kind of approach is in my opinion much better than morality scales. You make your decision and no statistic tells you what percentage of you is a good person. In many cases, these choices don't give us an obvious right or wrong answer, so you can feel like your decision is meaningful. Mass Effect did that on few occasions when they didn't scream red or blue to us. The Witcher series is doing pretty well in that department as well.

There's just one problem I have with those. In most cases, you can be at least 90% certain what the consequences of your choices will be. Gameplay consequences. Remember the choice in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty campaign, when you had to choose whether you believe Nova or Tosh? What was the decission really about? Who you believed or whether you wanted Ghosts or Spectres in your campaign? Way too often these choices end up not being about our morality or what we'd do in a certain situation. It's about what loot we get or what mission we unlock. And even when the choice isn't tied to a gameplay reward, knowing the results of your decission is a complete game changer for making up your mind. With no risk factor involved, the moral choice turns into calculation and can quite easily remind you that you are only playing a game. That you can take a step back and just disconnect from this decision.

Level 3: Gameplay
Yes, this is the moment when I get back to Darkest Dungeon. It's a roguelike in which you explore a dungeon - nothing special so far. Unlike many roguelikes however, you don't have to play till you cannot reach further and die, but you can withdraw your party, failing the quest but keeping the little loot you collected. Like in roguelikes, dungeons are procedurally generated and you have no idea what you will find a step ahead of you.

The game tells you from the very beginning that the adventurers you hire will die. A lot. Still, I refused to treat them like cannon fodder, even though I was getting a handful of new ones after every quest - failed or not. You rarely know what lurks behind the next door when you're exploring the dungeon. Merely telling your party to move forward can make the difference between life and death. Every loot crate or book you encounter can give any of your party members a lasting disease or personality quirk. And if you want to progress in the game, eventually one of your party members will die. And when that first one died on me, I just replaced him with a new one. A bit less familiar face and skillset, but still quite useful. While some of the adventurers in my roster died, some eventually got stronger. When I mix them with noobs I get, I now focus on not getting the experienced ones killed, but sometimes the temptation to open just one more door is just too strong and one of these veterans of mine dies of heart attack anyway.

Darkest Dungeon never gave me any morality scale and never really told me that there's a choice ahead of me. A choice with consequences. Still, I was making such choices all the time. StarCraft II confirmed that I prefer blondes to dudes with dreadlocks and Mass Effect confirmed that a racist with boobs is still worth more to me than some random guy. That wasn't news to me. Darkest Dungeon however showed me how much my curiosity could make me devaluate human lives. How in just a few hours I could shift my focus from saving everyone to pushing forward, just to make these sacrifices worth it. I don't know where it puts me on the scale between an angel and an asshole, but I couldn't care less.

This is the type of moral choices I want to face in games. Ones that make me think, not calculate. Ones that make me invested in finishing the game for the sake of sacrifices I made. Ones that leave enough impression to write an article about them.


Fallout Shelter vs. SJW

Let me tell you the story of my Vault 666. Room and resources were scarce. Everyone had to contribute. The expansion went fairly quick until we've hit the population of 14 or so. At this point, new dwellers did not appear and the growing production rooms needed manpower. In one of the lunchboxes my dwellers found a Medieval Ruler Outfit, adding to charisma among other stats. Quick check what charisma is for later, I've selected a man with the most charisma, added the Ruler outfit and that's how King Woland was born. His role - staying in the living quarters and impregnating all the women in my vault. This was the fastest and most efficient way, as everyone else needed to help with the respource production. Once all the ladies showed significant signs of pregnancy, King Woland, having the highest stats, went out to the wasteland, to find more weapons and outfits. In the meantime, it turned out that in case of any disaster, like fire or a raid, my pregnant dwellers run for their lives, leaving men to deal with the problem. This quickly taught me to give all the weapons I found to men, tasking them with defence. We are facing extinction - there's no point in arguing. Men get to defend the next generation with guns. Women with not endangering the fetus. Hard to imagine it the other way round.

A week later my Vault already has 120+ dwellers. Population is not an issue, I have more people than I need anyway. I keep training the dwellers to maximize production and caps income. Breeding is not necessary, since I have a fully upgraded radio station with six gorgeous girls in lingerie with their charisma maxed out. There's no reason not to give women weapons or education now. Some of them are as highly trained as men, some even explore the wasteland. Life is good. 

Now let's imagine Bethesda wanting to suck up to Social Justice Warriors while designing the game. After reaching the 14 dwellers point I would probably find out that half of the population is homosexual. Keeping track of everyone's sexual preferences would be extremely annoying gameplaywise, but I would probably finally manage to get one or two women pregnant, after hour-long minigames that show how respectful the men are towards these women. In a few days, I'd crawl my way up to the 20 dwellers treshold to unlock the radio and right after that a Wasteland Adoption Agency to let all the gay couples in my vault have a baby. In the meantime, the only women that were willing to get pregnant a couple times with different partners would be slut-shamed into leaving the vault and pretty quickly the Wasteland League for Equality would enforce parity that would make me unable to accept any straight white males into the vault. Within a week my shelter would be abandoned by its Overseer, who got tired of micromanaging and women screaming "rape" each time the poor raiders just want to steal some water. All those poor dwellers would die, equally irradiated, starved or slain.

What a terrible game that would be! Not because there would be homosexuals in it. Because gameplaywise it would be tedious and most of all, it would be unfitting for the world of Fallout. I am extremely glad that Bethesda did not give in to the pressures of seasonal feminists and other groups that aggressively refuse to think outside their narrow agenda. Fallout Shelter's gameplay quite realistically shows how a vault dwelling society in nuked 50's USA would get organized. I'm actually quite surprised that there was no shitstorm here like with Kingdom Come: Deliverance for example. Maybe the internet finally got tired of trolls? Maybe we're finally growing up and people are starting to use their heads for something else than angrybanging their keyboards? Here's hoping we are finally starting to let people make games about fun again, not enforcing social concepts.