Categories

014: Baffling Sequels

The camera pans away from our heroes and focuses on a life in the day of a wee little skill tree from Episode 10. Why? Because sequels don’t have to make sense.

In this episode we talk about

  • 1:12 – Vampire: the Masquerade
  • 4:41 – Legend of Zelda
  • 8:38 – Grand Theft Auto
  • 16:30 – Monster Hunter
  • 19:46 – Resident Evil
  • 22:55 – Evil Within
  • 23:47 – Final Fantasy
  • 25:24 – Shovel Knight
  • 34:51 – Last of Us

Introductory Guy

Hello. Welcome to Design Thinking Games, a fantasy and user experience podcast. Each episode, your podcast hosts, Tim Broadwater and Michael Schofield, will examine the player experience of board games, pen and paper role-playing games, live-action games, mobile games, and video games. You can find every episode, including this one, on your podcatcher of choice and on the web at designthinkinggames.com.

Tim Broadwater

This episode is brought to you by listeners like you patreon.com/designthinkinggames.

So if we are talking about the same that I think we’re talking about, are we talking about the thing I think we’re talking about?

Michael Schofield

This is how sequels always start, right? You think you know what you’re going to get, and every so often, you are stopped like right up front? Do you get a cold surprise welcome or not? So let’s transition weirdly into Vampire the Masquerade: Blood Hunt.

Tim Broadwater

Because definitely a sequel. Yeah,

Michael Schofield

Let’s talk about that. Okay, so 17 years ago, when games were – I guess games are good now – when games were still good, but good in a different way. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodline. Was that right? Gosh, now? No, I’m second-guessing myself.

Tim Broadwater

Yeah.

Michael Schofield

Vampire: the Masquerade Bloodlines came out, and it was – we talked about this a little bit in our VTM episode, so I’m not going to go deep, but it was a transformative game. It was a great RPG, standalone, with multiple threads and the style that the folks may think of, like Bioware games. They had good, goodish voice acting, little stilted because the main character you play is from Renaissance Europe and it sounds a little silly, but in general, the voice acting was on point. And the powers were cool. The mood was right. Cool RPG.

Tim Broadwater

And it has a sequel right this year. 2021. Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines 2 – indeterminant release date how they keep saying is quarter three quarter four.

Michael Schofield

That’s one of those games that have been delayed a little bit. But yeah, so what we’re ending up is roughly in the same time period, and if we zoom out until like a 20-year timespan, give or take a month or a quarter, Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines 2 and Vampire the Masquerade Bloodhunt are going to come out roughly around the same period.

Tim Broadwater

It’s interesting two vampire games this year.

Michael Schofield

It’s caused a little bit of confusion. White Wolf, the owners of Vampire the Masquerade, are trying to put vampire as an IP out in front of more people beyond, just like the tabletop. I think they’re trying to chase that DND glory that Wizards of the Coast are really enjoying right now. But yeah, because of that, we have two game IPs releasing roughly around the same time. A lot of concern about the sequel proper, Bloodlines 2, and a lot of confusion about the question-mark sequel Bloodhunt whether or not it’s even a sequel or anything, but just basically tagging on to that IP has created a lot of consternation because what Bloodhunt is is not an RPG.

Tim Broadwater

See, I always get confused about this with Call of Duty. I’m not a Duty person. I know that some people are Duty people, and that’s fine.

Michael Schofield

Pretty sure the Call of Duty people don’t call themselves “Duty people.”

Tim Broadwater

I call them “Duty people,” that’s a lot of shade, I’m sorry, but it’s like I get lost I have no idea – and it’s like Assassin’s Creed as well – but is there a timeline? I don’t understand the timeline. Or is it a sequel, or are we just using that word for flavor? And it’s like Resident Evil for the longest time adhered to a number system, And then it started going “Veronica,” and like, well wait, where does this fit in. Legend of Zelda’s another example where there are no numbers except 2 – the Adventures of Link – the rest have no numbers. And so there are many internet pages dedicated to how the timeline works and which ones first. We know that Skyward Sword is the very first one in the actual timeline, and then the timeline splits into three different timelines if the hero fails versus if the hero wins, and then it’s just crazy.

Michael Schofield

Do they continue to like the story after the hero fails? Do they actually continue that narrative?

Tim Broadwater

It does. And so the timeline that’s put together by fans factors in if Ganon is stopped or not stopped, and the Legend of Zelda wins. And so I believe if my understanding of it is correct, that there is what is known as the “dark timeline,” or the hero is defeated, the hero is successful. Then the hero-is-successful splits in the two timelines because there is time travel in Legend of Zelda. So there’s the child era versus the adult era, while the child era if the hero succeeds is like Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess and Four Swords where if it is the adult era where he succeeds, it’s the Wind Waker, or Spirit Tracks or Phantom Hourglass, but if the hero’s defeated: A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons Link’s Awakening, and then eventually, the first Legend of Zenda, and Adventure of Link. It’s just, it’s just crazy. It’s baffling.

Michael Schofield

Was that intentional? Or are these fan theories?

Tim Broadwater

I think that’s a good thing to talk about, because I think, for the player or user, right? And the reason why we’re kind of talking about this, in general, is sequels. Why the numbering …, or just spiritual sequels, or the theming, right? But we also live in a time where, apart from the craziness or shenanigans that can happen when you introduce numbers and break away from numbers, or if you mis-number things, or you don’t use numbers, you’re just using words (and then what where does it fit in the timeline)? You also have prequelization, where the prequels come out after the original one, like Outlast, Outlast 2, then there’s Outlast: Whistleblower, which is the third one, but it actually takes place before 1. So then, apart from that and spiritual sequels, we have ultimate timelines kind of stuff, right. And then you also have things that are like Mass Effect game carryover, like what you do in your first game gets saved in person to the second game and affects things. But now, technology-wise, we all know that software is: when you buy the CD, it literally just goes into your gaming console to download the file, right? Because you don’t have software proper anymore. Nintendo is literally the only one still doing the cartridge, right? But even if you put in the cartridge, you’re still downloading gigs of files on a switch, right? But then with DLC, it’s like do we even need to make a 2 or 3 or 4? Why make a whole new game if all we’re just gonna do is give you more quests, more stories, more items, you know, so then you just have an ever-expanding game as opposed to the traditional sequel that we’re all used to.

Michael Schofield

That’s the Rockstar formula, right? So Grand Theft Auto 5 came out, what, 10 years ago? Does that sound right? And they’ve constantly expanded the universe, introduced tons of different games, new physics. One of the functional reasons for sequels in games – let’s forget like sequelization of novels and cinema for a minute, but just in games. One of the things with sequels is that it provides literally a demarcation where teams can build brands, new technology tailored to new platforms that didn’t exist prior. They can load in a whole bunch of stuff and kind of see how it plays. So the demarcation between, you know, Title One and Title Two, and Title Three not only represents narratives sequelization but new technology. Rockstar doesn’t have to do this anymore. In fact, nobody really has to do this. And that kind of introduces kind of an interesting point, which is, you know, why? Why would they release like a Grand Theft Auto 6?

Tim Broadwater

Everyone’s having the same freakout when on the Nintendo front with Breath of the Wild because, yeah, Breath of the Wild 2. I mean, is it? Is it its own game? Or is it just DLC? They don’t think any of the rendering engines, they don’t think any of the graphics, it is literally new content, but “Breath of the Wild 2” is how it’s being presented, but it’s just gonna be DLC for one.

Michael Schofield

Do they know whether there is a new voice actor cast or a new deep narrative coming?

Tim Broadwater

Yeah, so Nintendo is like one of the last people who actually participate in E3 because everyone’s just abandoned E3, but in their 2021 E3 demo, they actually had a two-minute-long preview of the sequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And they leave it untitled. But everyone refers to it as Breath of the Wild 2, and it is the same on Google search, it’s Breath of the Wild 2. And so it’s kind of this thing to where, you know, when you’re trying to break the mold and change the model, it’s like, hey, we have this world that works. We have a system that works. Everything we have is golden. So why can’t we just keep adding more to it, like adding more maps, adding more stories, adding more quests, and let that, you know, kind of shape it out? And so I feel like you have the traditional people who are thinking, “no, it has to be a new game that has a new title,” and people are opposed to the DLC sequel. So I think what’s interesting here is what is user preference, or player preference, versus what people think it is.

Michael Schofield

The way my gear is starting to spin toward identifying what the jobs to be done here are. On the developer side, I think the job to be done of sequelization is pretty clear. A sequel is a convenient production container, right? It’s something that can have a finite budget; you can see a finite or constrained return on investment. You hire or contract VO and engineering work and whatever design work for that specific unit product. And I get it that as a business sequelization makes sense because you need to modularize things for your own sanity, I can appreciate that long-running long running franchises that are largely DLC, maybe something like World of Warcraft, I can appreciate like that the management of such a thing as probably more difficult.

Tim Broadwater

DNDs like that as well. Or Guild Wars when you add new content,

Michael Schofield

The job to be done for users for when a sequel comes out, I would guess, probably relates to the job for the developers. There’s something about a sequel versus DLC that you pointed out where I think a sequel represents whether or not anyone would use this language, but you know, feel like you know, let’s feel this out. I think I’m onto something here, but a sequel represents a focused allocation of money from the developer. And so when you see a sequel, you expect, you know, production value, right? Whereas DLC literally sounds cheaper.

Tim Broadwater

What you were saying before, which is, a sequel traditionally was like, hey, we have new tech, we have a new console, so let’s release something on this new hardware capability. And so, the software is matched to the hardware. But I think what we’re seeing increasingly is software being agnostic of hardware. We’re in a time where recently, this year, Netflix has announced they’re going into gaming, and those games can be delivered on whatever you get the Netflix app, so that could be your PlayStation, your phone, your Roku TV, or wherever. So it’s it doesn’t really matter what the hardware is. To me, as opposed to thinking of it like hardware, and I know we’ve talked previously about the great interaction models hardware that Nintendo uses because Nintendo, in that regard, is always ahead of the curve. You know, they had the first 3d rendering on the 64. That’s why the controllers looked like Starfox ships, in my opinion.

Michael Schofield

Whoa, wow, what an observation.

Tim Broadwater

I think the GameCube is the first one that lets you plug in four controllers by default, and the games were like, let’s do Super Smash Brothers, or Teen Titans or Godzilla Destroy All Monsters, which allows four players on screen at the same time, then they went into motion control with the Wii, and then they had the first tablet, and the tablet was literally a step to the Switch. And then, the first pen interaction was with the DS and 3ds. And, and so I like the hardware chasing, you know what I mean, but there are certain gamers who don’t care about the hardware at all. But what they love about Mario is the fun sidescrolling mechanics of it. And how, from one edition to another, are those mechanics improved? In Monster Hunter, which has tons of sequels, how do they look at the preview? I think there’s a piece here that is also how do we improve? How do we improve? How do we improve? Apart from the hardware piece, there is how do we keep the essence of it, add to the world the narrative but then also improve gameplay. So it’s a tough order to fill. And so what people love about the new Monster Hunter Rise, which just came out for the Switch, is everything that was laborious and took tons of time and was a huge time suck they automated. And just by doing that, like gathering, materials mining, fishing, like doing all these things that were just like, Dude, this just take so much time, they just made it “oh, no, it’s one click,” you just have to go do it. And people loved it, because then the focus became hunting the monsters and killing the monsters, not like all of the tedious things. So that type of improvement, improving the gameplay, but adding to the story, and embracing the hardware advances, is kind of what sequels are about. But some of them never change, right? I mean, some games, like every single one that comes out, are literally the same. And I think that’s maybe where the perception of this is why certain people maybe don’t get into certain franchises.

Michael Schofield

We’re kind of in a time both technologically and spiritually, maybe where sequelization is a big umbrella category for a lot of different things. You’re talking about Monster Hunter Rise. And I was going to ask whether you consider that a proper sequel? Or is it an expansion? Do you consider an expansion a sequel?

Tim Broadwater

Yeah, so that is also where they just kind of jump and change in the middle of the processes. So Monster Hunter has been on a lot of different platforms. You have Monster Hunter, then Monster Hunter 2, and then for we they did “Tri” but three. And then there was 4 that came out on 3DS, and then they abandoned the numbering system, then it became World and then it became Rise, and as it went to PlayStation or Xbox or Switch. I feel like the numbering is something maybe from the 80s that we all have to do.

Michael Schofield

That could be.

Tim Broadwater

Maybe, because Street Fighter seems to be that way. I would also say Resident Evil, right? I can’t even tell you like all the things: but there’s Resident Evil. Resident Evil 2, 3is Nemesis. Then there’s Veronica, then Zero, which comes out, I guess before the first one, then there are remakes of them, Outbreak, Resident Evil 5, 6, 7, so they’re keeping largely to the same number series just like Final Fantasy does. Final Fantasy is very specific to the numbers. And when they say Final Fantasy 16, people know what that is, you know, because they’ve played 6789 or you know 123 and 4.

Michael Schofield

As the user, as a player, as a consumer, I find this equalization obnoxious. I am often confused. When I think of a sequel, I am thinking of the narrative next step. The fact Mortal Kombat one and Mortal Kombat 2 largely bleed from one to the other, I think, is an accident because I do not consider Mortal Kombat 2 a sequel when we’re talking about it. I would consider Mass Effects 2 a sequel to Mass Effect 1. Red Dead Redemption 2 is actually a prequel to Red Dead Redemption 1. When you’re getting into Assassin’s Creed, I think they kind of stopped numbering things after 3. They are loosely aligned but so loosely rooted in the same narrative that, eventually, they do what I think sequels do, and that like trends towards the entropy of just dropping the numbers entirely. And considering themselves expansion, but as a user, it’s hard because, like, I’m an XBot. But one day, I’m going to pick up a PS4 or a PS5, and I am going to go play some of those Naughty Dog games. I tend to expect that I can’t play Last of Us 2 before I play Last of Us 1. That’s probably true.

Tim Broadwater

I will make myself do a horrible prequel that’s 10 years old.

Michael Schofield

Well, you’re doing that now. Right? You’re playing, or you have played Mass Effect 1.

Tim Broadwater

I started out with this is one of my favorite games is, as you know, The Evil Within. I saw the trailer for Evil Within 2 at E3 years ago, and it gave me shivers like, it was like, Dude, this is something I need to play. But then, when I found out like, oh, the first one came out for PS2, it’s really old, you know, and, and so I or PS3, maybe I can’t remember. I went and played it. It was painful. So I get why people say that they’re like, just start with 2, don’t worry about it. But I will say, there’s so much context and story, and you will not feel, and it will not hit you in the feels, too, if you did not play 1.

Michael Schofield

That seems like a proper sequel. And that’s really interesting. Because that’s kind of like what you expect where it becomes spooky is like the Final Fantasy game. Were things that have like tons of sequels, Bro, I haven’t played Final Fantasy since seven.

Tim Broadwater

Well, the numbering there is like crazy, like you know, basically like Final Fantasy one comes out many years ago and it’s released in Japan and us, and it’s like Final Fantasy, but then two and three come out in Japan, but they don’t get released in the US and then Final Fantasy 4 comes out in Japan, they released in the US, and they changed to the number 2. That’s a whole nother issue.

Michael Schofield

My general argument here, and maybe I’m not making the argument, my general feeling is that sequelization is bad for player usability.

Tim Broadwater

And I think where it’s properly used is when it’s when it fuels the story, right? Definitely, playing Last of Us 2 without playing Last of Us, you’re missing out so much. I don’t know if you know the Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and the Oracle of Ages. It’s like a light/dark version. Yang/Yang. The two games exist simultaneously, and the actions you do in one game affect the other game. But you need the left part of the story for the right part of the story. I like that model because it tells a story. Similar to that is Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight is amazing. If you’d like those grindy hard old-school sidescrolling games, it is there. And if you’re a Mega Man person or Metroid or you are into Metroidvania games, which is an actual genre, but it’s like the map and sidescrolling. Yacht Club games came out with Shovel Knight, and it’s like, hey, this is a tech, this is what it looks like, it looks old school, pixelated. However, we’re not changing our engine here. We’re going to release four games. They’re all going to tell you four different sides of stories of the same story. So you play the first one, Shovel Knight, which is Shovel of Hope that tells you Shovel Knight’s story where he’s like the main hero, and he’s saving is another knight that he works with. But then you get to play Shovel Knight Plague of Shadows, where it’s like you’re an evil guy who’s one of the evil knights you go up against him, and it’s for the evil queen. But you see, his story is different; the reason why he’s doing what he’s doing is a totally different motivation, right? But then you when you play the third one Specter of Torment, or the fourth one, which is King of Cards. It’s they’re all like different stories of the same game, but different perspectives and motivations, much like Octopath Traveler.

Michael Schofield

That’s really interesting.

Tim Broadwater

I love sequelization for the story, and I’m not a story person, you know that. But I love sequelization for the story. I don’t like equalization when it’s Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter 2 Turbos.

Michael Schofield

I think when we’re talking about Street Fighter, we’re talking about product containerization. We’re talking about different technologies. I mean, one of the ideas about sequels, which the popularity may come from the 80s, is that your sequel, your Destiny 2, will make a lot more money than revamped Destiny expansion. You know that when Grand Theft Auto 6 eventually comes out, Rockstar is gonna make a billion dollars. So it’s one of those things where it could technically be built on the same thing, but there’s a product moment around these kinds of sequels that are lucrative to the company. To your point earlier in the episode, I wonder if we are in the death throes of that type of sequel now that technology doesn’t require it. Because now the barrier to entry to create games in a particular IP is lower than it has ever been. And the technology doesn’t require product containerization because you can ship entirely new engines over the wire. I mean, it’s interesting.

I have some vocabulary and what we’re kind of discussing when we’re talking about Bloodhunt, and some of the others, like Octopath Traveler, we’re talking about something that is classified by the Library of Congress as a “standalone sequel” that works that in the same universe that has very little of any narrative connection to its predecessor and can stand on its own. We kind of talked about this sort of product containerization thing, and the Library of Congress isn’t going to classify a sequel like that, although I think the point stands.

Another one that’s coming straight out of our background of engineering and tech world is “sequel as semantic versioning.” Some of our listeners may not know the numbers on versions like 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2 have meaning. And a lot of the time, it’s a three number based system where it’s like 1.1.1, where the rightmost number is a patch or a bug fix, the middlemost number is an additive feature that doesn’t break anything, and the first number, the 1 to 2, the 2 to 3 represents a breaking change. And so when it comes to software —

Tim Broadwater

Oh, wait for a second. What do you mean by breaking?

Michael Schofield

Breaking changes: semantic versioning tries to standardize how these version numbers are made. And the idea of going from 1.0 to 2.0 is that you are signaling to consumers of your software that whatever you’ve done, or used or built around 1.0, should not be expected to work. You are signaling that there is a breaking difference between 1.0 and 2.0. And so I don’t know that players know this internally. But when it occurred to me, I guess, when we were talking is like one of the great reasons for maybe doing a version change like that a 2.0 to 3.0 isn’t just for the ability to market the shit out of it and like and then squeeze all the dollars out of it. But it’s a signal, not so much that something’s new, although people interpret it as that they expect new software, new goods, new changes, or whatever, bug fixes or whatever, but also that it is not going to work in the same way. It’s saying like this is significantly different.

Tim Broadwater

Substantial enough change to reset your expectations. We’ve changed from the core, built it from the ground up differently, or if made it more efficient.

Michael Schofield

Exactly. So like, if an API is 1.0 to 2.0, whatever you built around that 1.0 API will probably break if you upgrade. When I’m looking at these, like Library of Congress, classifications of sequels, we just added to the right, from engineering numbers. And I think one of the things with games is that you’re smashing the right brain of the game industry, which is like narrative and story and experience with a left brain, which is engineering. It kind of mushes together, and I wonder if that might be a reason why numbering systems are stupid bananas and, at this point, baffling.

Tim Broadwater

So with semantic versioning, and we think about things of software, that’s one piece of it, that’s gonna play into how it works, but then also, the story piece as well. So this story piece may or may not relate to the semantic versioning is kind of what we’re saying. And so does it matter having Final Fantasy 12345 all the way through 16? Or, can we just have DLC, which would be okay, 1.2 1.3 1.4, you know, version of the software? And then, of course, there’s a purchasing model; we want to sell DLC, we want to make money from it. Will we get five bucks or one player if we add DLC, or is it better to get $60 for a brand new game per person? Will they pay more if it’s an expansion of the story?

Michael Schofield

That’s fascinating. I can see the motive as the motivation coming in either direction, sometimes it sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes it’s cheaper to rebuild the whole thing from the ground up, you know, once you build enough what they call technical debt, or whatever. And so I can totally see a world where it’s like, Hey, Unity 5 is out, and we need to rebuild on on this new engine, and we’re just gonna scrap everything, because now the developers who work in this framework don’t exist anymore, because that’s 20 years old, and you know, we’re going to get something new. We’re gonna start from scratch, breaking change, new number, then creative has to be like, oh, shit, well, do they just slap a new story on that? I think what we might be pinpointing is, if anything is like, why numbering systems for games are strange because really, it is a question like, Is this just a book? Is this a narrative? Is this like a movie? Is this art? Or is this technology? And the answer is yes.

Tim Broadwater

There is an answer already. I mean, or let me give you an example of what you just described. We have the Last of Us. We have The Last of Us 2. Huge award-winning games on both accounts, phenomenal story. Makes the player hurt at what difficult decisions they need to make, right? Last of Us: Left Behind, which is the DLC, that is for the first one, The Last of Us, which expanded the story and showed Ellie’s girlfriend and that kind of relationship with they built out between 1 and 2. That seems to be a win-win, right? It’s like this is DLC that also furthers the story. And people want that story piece, but it is DLC, you had to pay for it, you know? So I think that is probably, you know,

Michael Schofield

One of the problems as a player with DLC is that – I don’t know – if I had to look at DLC, I think my bias is that it’s at least skippable. So something like that, which I seem to remember, the news around that revelation was huge. But is that considered an extension of one as, like, 1 isn’t complete without this additive story before you can get to 2? Or could you skip it?

Tim Broadwater

So my understanding of this from playing the games and not have to play the DLC, but kind of knowing 1 and 2, and kind of what the DLC is, is that that’s character is in 1 proper, but you never know what happens. There seemed to be something there some meaning in the relationship, either really good friends or whatever, you know, if you wanted that story being developed, that’s it. That’s what you get it for. That is related to the story, and it kind of adds and fleshes out its character development. That’s what you’re paying for. It’s very different than Bioshock, where they were literally just DLC the crap out of you for a whole new story, or just a little mini-game or like a new kind of thing in the same place. And like “this also happened in Rapture, pay for it.” That doesn’t really contribute to the main story, but it does show another story that happened on the same maps, and to me, that feels I’m less inclined to experience this also happened versus like, Oh, this is a deeper dive into character development or the story or what was going on? Just for me.

Michael Schofield

So the Library of Congress classifies what you just described as a “midquel.” Stories that take place between two proceeding stories or between events that serve as a sequel to nothing. It’s lore-building, right? It’s like, Hey, tell me more about this red dragon from beyond the hills. Clearly, it’s eaten a whole bunch of villages and stuff. Tell us a story about those villages, right? It’s in the same world, it’s lore, that doesn’t change the value – that doesn’t change what happens to Bilbo and his companions. But it’s more.

Tim Broadwater

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Introductory Guy

Thank you for listening to the design thinking games podcast. To connect with your hosts, Michael or Tim, please go to designthinkinggames.com, where you can request topics, ask questions, or see what else is going on. Until next time, game on

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