Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fair Game?

It's one of those mornings. 0414 as I type this, and I can't sleep. This week has sucked... and not in the definition I'm a fan of.

So, as I sit here listening to Five Finger Death Punch's new album (which fucking rocks, by the way -- Under and Over It All is easily one of the best songs I've heard in years) I'm feeling a bit introspective; which granted I usually am when I'm in what my owner calls one of my "melancholy moods".

I was playing Oblivion earlier; on a new-ish game -- I don't get off on starting new games or anything by the way, it's just that a lot of Lovers plugins are less than amazingly stable, and tend to break saves... I keep a limited number per character because of Oblivion's relative stability, and the breakage doesn't generally occur until they're all afflicted.

As I've noted in the past, I'm a fan of Colourwheel's mods in general. Tonight in particular, I had progressed far enough into the game to organize a heist on the Ladies' Bank of Cyrodiil -- the vaults of which contain literally millions of septims worth of gold and paper notes. With CW's tendency to mis-read "Guards" as "Gods" and set up her NPCs accordingly, such a heist is certainly not to be undertaken lightly, but it can be done: get in, kill a guard; loot their keys (all locks in CW's work are key-required); steal; and get out without getting a bounty and/or assraped by the level 100 "guards".

As I was offloading the loot at Khafiz, my favorite fence, a thought occurred.

Where do you draw the line? Where does it become cheating?

Now, normally, I say if you don't use a code or over the top mod -- if you work completely within the game's normal limits, it ain't cheating. Exploiting the system? Sure; but not cheating.

As I was selling loot, Khafiz's inventory bugged, and he got 65535 gold -- not an unusual event in Oblivion if you work the inventory hard enough without closing the barter window. What got me thinking this time, was that it bugged worse than usual; and went into an infinite loop: if I sold something worth enough to eat his entire remaining barter amount, it would sell and instantly reset to 65535. As my stash of septims passed 1.2 million, I started thinking... is this cheating?

I mean, I wasn't using an additem code; wasn't using a cheat mod with add-on-command items; wasn't using a mod to artificially increase barter gold. Sure, it's a flawed engine... but I was just working within it. Not my fault the devs were too lazy to patch the barter system up so it worked right... right?

So I ask you, semi-loyal readers: where do you draw the line? When does it stop being playing the game; and start being cheating?

Codes? Mods? Exploiting holes in the system?

Will you purposefully restrain yourself from using techniques and such that have the potential to make a game "too easy"? Or is anything "official" in the game fair?

At the end of the day... is the line anything more than academic? There's a fine line between "challenging" and "an ordeal". One game is fun, the other isn't.

I suppose it heavily depends on what you want from the game. As I've said before, I tend to ignore the main quest in Oblivion (and FO3/NV) and just do my own thing; exploring, buying in-game stuff.

Oblivion is easier than most to exploit, granted. I learned years ago how to become a God in Oblivion. Want to know? You'll need the ability to cast a chameleon spell of any type; access to an enchanting altar; five trapped grand souls; five equippable items -- or four of each and the Ring of Khajiiti from Meridia's shrine quest. Enchant the items with chameleon -- you'll get 20% for each grand soul; and 35% for Meridia's Ring. Either way, once you get the items for 100% chameleon you have full-time, non-dispel-able invisibility; but can still steal, attack, and interact with the environment.

It's amusing for about an hour. After that, you realize you may as well be playing in God mode with the NPCs' combat AI off for all the challenge the game presents when no one can see you.

Can't say as I do it much, despite the fact that it's fully within the game's rules -- completely attainable even without a single mod or DLC running. Handy to have on hand for a couple parts of the main quest where things are time-sensitive, though -- like stopping the siege engine from reaching Bruma. Beyond that... I dunno; it's just too easy.

Granted, the couple million septims I made off the bugged inventory means I'll not have to grind bandits for loot to sell in this game anymore... but I'm beginning to wonder. Leaves a bit of an empty feeling.

I'm beginning to wonder about FONV, as well. Since installing those communal containers, I've got enough loot to clean out every merchant of caps, every time their inventory resets. Have more than 150k caps at present, and many more if I can find someone to pawn off those gold bars from Dead Money on. With the short-sightedness of Bethsoft's devs regarding game economies, that one's pretty much set-for-life, too -- there's nothing in FNV to eat that many caps. Not even if I tried.

I wonder some days if Mystery-chan's comments to me in FNV aren't spot-on. My methods are more round-a-bout, but maybe it would be better to just use an additem and not even have the pretense.

If I go the flip side, and don't abuse the systems... where do I draw the line? Where does it stop being "smart playing" and start being exploitation...? Do I pretend I'm a GMPC; pointedly ignore that I know where the good items are in the game already, just drone-along picking up whatever the devs decided I should be allotted for my level and the point in the story?

By the same token, aren't I cheating regardless? I mean, I made my name (small as it is) modding with companions. Extra combatants who help in combat; carry more loot than you could alone; spawn with "free weapons"...


  1. Food for thought, I would say. I guess "cheating" in this case is all dependent upon one's point of view. Like the difference between PC gamers and some Console gamers: to a percentage of Console gamers, using mods in your game, what ever game it happens to be, is cheating.

    Exploiting the loopholes in the game itself can be fun for a while, but how long before you want to try it a different way, and see how things turn out? That depends upon one's personal preference as well, I guess. Some things I enjoy doing differently to discover various outcomes, and some other things I prefer to do by rote.

    I have also noticed the issue with the game economics in Oblivion/FO3/FNV. Oblivion is set up with a merchant having a maximum amount they will pay for an item, but no limit on the amount of gold they can spend otherwise. New Vegas seems to be the other end of the scale, with merchants having a maximum amount of cash to spend at one time, and there being more crap out in the game world to collect than you can sell off over the course of several levels. I find myself trying to do more of a "barter" style transaction with a merchant after I have visited them once, because their amount of caps doesn't vary between visits, unlike some of their inventory items.

    Maybe some of our companions should become more mercenary and require to be paid for their services. They can start to save some of the caps that they earn, and spend the rest at the various merchants you encounter to pick up some of their own supplies, or pay for their own rooms. Hell, even having the need to pay for beds for your companions would start to put money back into the pockets of merchants so we can sell off more crap.

    Always having a merchant available to sell all my loot to is one of the reasons I am always using RR Vault in my FO3 game. Chloe is wonderfully set up to have her level of caps reset after you finish dealing with her. Admittedly, though, she is one of those in game instances that can be considered cheating.

  2. "Cheating" IMHO is a subjective term, the definition of which can change from one shade of gray to another from one gamer to the next.

    My brother, the console gamer, often comments that all mods are cheats; I'm pretty sure that such a statement is just an expression of jealousy, however.

    Many Doom players will tell you that you're cheating if you can't play through an entire map without saving your progress. (I'm not one of those players.)

    I don't think that exploiting engine and A.I. glitches is cheating. Cheesy perhaps, but definitely not cheating in the same sense as using console commands to insta-kill tough enemies. It's not our fault the devs didn't fix it.

    One of my favorite ways of defeating Umbra earlier in the game than I assume the devs intended me to be able to do so, both in Morrowind and Oblivion, is quite simply to perch myself atop something where Umbra can't reach me then use ranged attacks while the moron runs back and forth unable to do anything but yell at me. Is it my fault the devs didn't give Umbra the ability to follow me up onto the rock?

    I guess it's really just a matter of restraint. I've got game editors and lists of console commands for half the games I play; choosing not to abuse them is no different than choosing not to take twenty companions with me into a dungeon, not to jump up on that rock when fighting Umbra or not financially making Tamriel my bitch. If you find you're no longer having fun playing, leave all the gold and god-items in a non-respawning chest someplace and only use them in dire emergencies.

  3. I think Druuler might be onto something there; paying our companions recurring wages would certainly make them less like cheats. Could something like that be implemented into the companion scripts fairly easily? A lot of players would probably complain about it, but I think serious players would welcome the addition.

  4. I am aware of only a handful of attempts at implementing a "pay your hirelings" idea in FO3 and FNV, and then not in any real sense of what I suggested.

    The Amy Wong companion helps you bankrupt the DC merchants, but she also helps put caps back into some of their pockets. She keeps a percentage of what she makes for you, and uses that to hire her own bodyguards, as well as equipment upgrades for them and herself.

    A version of Enclave Commander has you paying for the troops you summon, as well as the airstrikes and orbital bombardments you call in.

    The Underground Hideout mod requires you to pay for all the security upgrades on the surface as well as for any guards you want to staff the place.

    LlamaRCA's Willow companion will go shopping for ingredients that she needs for cooking. If she hasn't collected enough caps from her own scavenging, she will ask the player if she can borrow some.

    Admittedly, not all these examples put caps back into the merchants' inventories, and those that do, do so in small quantities, but I think it is a step in the proper direction to help balance things out.

  5. Have I considered companions that require payment?

    Yes. Since sometime in 2009. One of the original aims of the "advanced" version of my RR companions was that they would require food, drink, and payment if you wanted them to stick around.

    Unfortunately, every time I sat down to try to work out the code necessary to drive it, the sky would fall and some tiny chick would come crying to me that they had broken RR AND IT NEEDZ 2 B FIXD NAO!

    Eventually I gave up on the idea and just went back to working on my (non-shared) companions.

    It's something I've wanted to implement in NCCS since the beginning; I've just never figured out exactly how to use it -- flat rate per day? Bonuses per combat engaged in? Percentage of income; and if so, gross or net? I'm pretty sure I can swing to code to make any of them work... I'm just fairly sure that it'll have to be toggle-able or I'll never hear the end of it.

    Originally, they were also going to use it to shop in FO3 -- to buy new weapons or armor at their own whim. The problem is that things like that work fine in a single companion, but are hard as hell to implement for an entire system. Remember, everything I add has to be point 'n click, plug 'n play, as little thought required as humanly possible.

    We still get people saying they can't figure out how to even install NCCS.

    When I was reading through the forums the other day, someone had posted saying he wanted to create easy companions. Someone else posted, linking NCCS amazingly enough, and suggesting my tutorial specifically. The original poster responded that he had no idea how to use any of that.

    As Snake Pliskin said at the end of Escape from LA: Welcome to the Human race.

  6. It is truly frightening and disturbing to know that a large number of the mod using community are unable to follow simple instructions, or just plain unwilling to do so.

    As a side note, anytime someone asks my opinion about making their own companions, I steer the in the direction of RR Vault or NCCS, depending upon what game they want the companion for. I don't know about anyone else, but I tend to stick with mods that are well thought out and actually supported by their authors.

    Which reminds me, I have to make an NCCS companion for a friend of mine this weekend. Just have to figure out where in the game world to put the fracking thing...

  7. "Which reminds me, I have to make an NCCS companion for a friend of mine this weekend. Just have to figure out where in the game world to put the fracking thing... "

    That's my usual issue. Deciding where they go. That's why my personal companions start with what I call the "Find Nos" package installed -- they start in the game world, but come looking for the player when active. Solves the where to start issue, and lets me be lazy and not go collect the girls.

    Used something similar on my new v0.8 NCCS companion. Still need to tweak her a bit though; stupid game doesn't actually follow the StartConversation script command like it's supposed to.