Mr. Robot Discussion

mrrobotlogo.JPG

This is it. The first discussion meeting for Game Club's Mr. Robot.

If you haven't been following along we've decided to play through the indie PC game Mr. Robot as a group. To join in you can either try to enter our campfire or just hit the jump and follow along with the discussion going on in there. We will be updating this post as the discussion unfolds. Feel free to talk about the game in the comments, but please try to keep to the rules.

Which are these:

Once in the room, I think I'm going to use another IM system to let people IM me to either raise their hands, digitally speaking. I'll tell people in the IM when they can talk in the campfire room. The idea here is that we don't want a few dozen people all trying to talk about the game at the same time. So, I hope we can get someone to ask an intelligent question and then take turns discussing it. Remember this is a work in progress so we'll make tweaks to the mechanics of how this works as we proceed.

A cardinal rule will be that there will be no off-topic talking, no trolling, no flame wars, no fan-boyism in the campfire chat or the person will be kicked out. We're all intelligent people, I don't see why we can't act like we are when gathered together online.

In general the idea is for people to discuss the current video game in a thoughtful and meaningful way. Why we won't totally disallow discussion of things like graphics and play mechanics, those particular topics should really be brought up in a way that addresses the deeper meaning and ideas presented in the game.

Hit the jump for the discussion and the link to join the campfire group.

To join our live chat just click on this link. If it's full you can always hang out here and join in the discussion as we update this post.

The Discussion

Brian C.
OK, I'll start off:
Do you think Moonpod's decision to use an isometric point of view and puzzles gets in the way of delivering the story. I found that the sometimes very long gap between plot points sort of watered down my experience.

jpnance
You know, honestly, I've found that I really don't know what going on in the plot anymore, although I'm not sure it has to do with the isometric viewpoint. It just seems that the story is delivered in such an on-the-fly fashion it becomes really easy to miss details about it.

FloatingWorld
I agree with JP. The view didn't affect the story so much, as it did my accuracy in completing the puzzles. The long breaks certainly did deteriorate the story for me, though. I often found myself going back to the message log to figure out what I was even supposed to do once I reached the spot on the map. it's unfortunate, too, as I think the story is interesting, when it's actually incorporated in the game.

darkowl
Well, I don't believe so. The game is not, I feel, entirely about the story. It is reasonable to expect that not a lot is going to happen for a while - the story is there to support the environment and creates the framework for the puzzles which play out. Though one could wonder how the ship ever worked, if every room is just deadly problem after deadly problem... so much coolant...

Dukeman330
I found that Moonpod did a decent job of presenting the story given the resources and budget they had available. Detailed cut scenes would have been more engaging, but that probably wasn't feasible for the project. Perhaps it would have helped if they had stopped the action to allow the user to focus on the plot points, though.

JimElNino
Well I think this game is mostly about the gameplay, which makes sense coming from an indie developer. I'm not saying the story is unimportant but it seems to me that it's not the focus of the game. I definitely don't think the Isometric view point affects the story in any way, at least to me. I think the plot points could be spread out better, but I can forgive that given the circumstances. I do think that when the story takes centre stage it is pretty neat and it has potential.

Brian C.
One thing I always try to do, when looking for deeper meaning in a game, is to look at the way the story is presented. I think it's interesting that a game that deals with issues of free will, religion and the greater good forces you to play from both a fixed perspective and one that looks down on the world, a sort of fourth person point of view.
Maybe we should talk a bit about the plot of the game, any thoughts on the storyline?

Tyler
I am really enjoying the story. I found it hard to keep up on what's going on at first, but the message log is very helpful. I came in expecting a cheesy sci-fi story but it's actually engaging. The twist at the end of the section is especially good.

NYLatenite
The pov and puzzles didn't get in the way of the story for me during the intro, but once you get past that, they really do start becoming a hindrance. The pov causes a lot of frustration in judging distance and orientation and the puzzles, while interesting, don't make much sense other than being there for the sake of going from one room to another. Take the water traps for example - what possible reason do they have for existing on the Eidolon? It all combines to create a break from any suspension of disbelief because you're either doing something for little reason or cursing at the game because you missed a jump or pushed a box a little too far and have to restart the room. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the puzzles, but the pacing of the story compared to the number of puzzles could be better. (second question answer (the storyline) to follow)

NYLatenite
As for the story itself, what intrigues me is the robots the humans have created. They took the route of creating servants that have the same failings, prejuduces and spirit as their masters - despite the fact that it is obviously a bad choice for am unsupervised long term caregiving trip.

Brian C.
That's an interesting point. I found, in particular, it very intriguing that early on in the game Eve is described as Hel's conscious and knowledge and that he has to give her power in exchange for that knowledge.

DaveKap
I'll reply to both questions asked. :)
The fact that the isometric view is static is the real problem. This gets in the way of trying to discern how the puzzles are supposed to work. Because the puzzles are harder to understand, they are more frustrating to complete. Add to this with the fact that once you finish one or two puzzles there are more puzzles waiting for you with few rewards between them and you start to see "story filler". This filler is used merely to justify defeating a puzzle and in the end hinders a real semblence of a thick plotline.

When the game started and it told me about the HEL9000 I instantly said "Okay so HEL is in charge and he's going to go crazy but because I'm a robot working for him I'll have some kind of internal conflict over whether or not to take his commands and that'll lead to some goofy adventure where we figure out that robots have souls yadda yadda yadda." And even though I was right... I'm still enjoying the little plot they made up. Though in the end it seems more like they built the plot around the game and not the other way around.

Desmo
Like darkowl said, I think the game engine was created first and the story was added later. I do believe the story is coming across though... somewhat slowly but I'm interested whenever a message box pops up. Things really picked up in the last room where where HEL was revealed to be more than just a computer program. But overall I would have to say that it's generic and somewhat predictable. Big guys picking on little guys... overlord figure gone bad... ghost in the machine. We've seen it all before. I'm enjoying it, but haven't had any deep soul searching moments yet.

Tex
I think the storyline is good and well done. But as everyone seems to agree on, it is to spread out making it hard to follow. It has the typical weak little guy saving the world motif going for it and that seems to make for a good, somewhat compelling, story. I agree with Latenite that the story and the puzzles don't go together. What kind of ship has corrosive liquid pooling around in mass quantities everywhere? It's interesting that the humans created robots to take care of this ship on this journey but they still feared that the robots would develop feelings and emotion. I agree with DaveKap that the plot was built around the game. I'm still interested in what happens to Asimov.

Kirth G.
Well, for me this game has a first impression of being young and carefree, almost for a 8-15 audience, but then the references begin to appear. Very heavily influenced by SciFi themes and authors. Isaac Asimov being the highest influence so far. This include it's Robotics laws, the main character name and the terraforming mission like in his "Foundations" series. Of course it also touches the subject of what defines humankind or what are "feelings" love, hate, dream like Arthur C. Clarke did with 2001 (Hal 9000 anyone). It also touches our fear of being controlled again by our own creations (Matrix, or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein). The fun carefree side reminded me a lot of the movie Tron, the mini-games the sounds the whole "hacking" into a system and some of the goofy dialogue that transpires between the characters.
The gameplay might get a little frustrating at the beginning, as mentioned before POV and controls (I had to use a gamepad for easy manoeuvring my robot).
P.S. Please forgive my spelling english it's not my first language.
But don't get me wrong I have fully enjoyed the whole experience.

Brian C.
Did anyone pick up on Asimov's reaction to Zelda saying the word God? I thought that was interesting, it was almost as if he was saying that robots can have spirituality. And then later, at the end of the section there's talk of the humans being put inside the robots.

jpnance
To say nothing of the quality of the story, I found it sort of odd that the intro cinematic explicitly defined the robots as necessarily "emotionless" yet we've never seen them any other way. At first, I thought it was just sloppy writing but now, as we realise that robotic emotions are becoming the chief motivator of the story, it seems weird that we wouldn't actually see the evolution.

JimElNino
I am curious to see what role EVE will play in the game and whether or not she is the root cause of the issues on the ship. I'm not yet convinced that she is the innocent victim that she claims to be when you first meet her. I also think the sleeping crew provides an interesting backdrop for the events that are unfolding, the idea that a system put in place by the crew to watch over them during the voyage could actually be murdering them is both interesting and unnerving. It's not the most original story but it works well within the confines of the game world.

Brian C.
Good point Jim. Specifically, it reminds me that the game never really gets you emotionally invested in the humans of the ship. They are, for all intents and purposes, like luggage. Why should I care as Asimov that they might die?

FloatingWorld
I actually was going to mention what JP did, but if I may expound...
I believe the narrator mentioned that Hel would be worried if he was capable of such an emotion, yet its very obvious in the story that He/she/it is most certainly capable of emotion, as well as the robots on board. I don't mind the artistic freedom of implementing emotion into robots, yet I do have to gripe about the discrepancy, as I don't think we didn't see the evolution, I think it was simply an oversight.

Dark J.
I remember at the part where HEL tells you to recycle yourself and Zelda stops you, I went in the recycler anyways but I just spawned in the room again which ruined the story a bit. So to me, it seems that the story is more of an excuse to move from room to room. I did like how they twisted up some of the puzzles when they added elements like the big robot guy and when you had to roll that robot around. I agree about how annoying it is that the isometric view is static and you can't rotate it. It is especially annoying when doing jumping puzzles.

Tyler
In response to BC's point. It's almost like the exact opposite of most media. The humans are disposable and the robots are who you become attached to.

DaveKap
It was pretty easy to pick up on Asimov's reaction to Zelda saying "God" because I myself actually reacted to it. So much so that when I read it, I kinda sat there and thought out loud, "God? What is she talking about? That makes no sense for a robot to talk about God." Then I go ahead and further the dialogue only to see Asimov reacting the same way. Did a good job of rattling me a little bit as it felt like a fourth-wall breaking.

MTVERNON
(br00tusv4)I found it interesting that Zelda reacted with (what I seem to remember being) curiosity when Asimov mentioned death. The fact that she brushed off "thank God" as "just an expression" had me
assuming that she might not have much notion of either concept. I'm undecided as to how much stock we should put in the robots as emotional beings.

Tex
I didn't think anything about the word "God" when it was mentioned. Humans programmed these robots so they may have programmed that kind of language.
...while humans are secondary to the story we can't forget that they still made these robots.

Kirth G.
If we keep on analysing this, we can see that there is too much actually to say that it was a "glitch" in the main story. Maybe the developers are toying with us. Asimov since the beginning has show quite an array of emotions making his colleagues to question it's behaviour. But at the same time he is amazed by Zelda reference to "God". I feel that all this is on purpose.

Podcastauto has a question:
How many influences on the developers could you spot? Things like Asimov being an author, Raistlin a figure from DragonLance books, Zelda from games, etc.

Brian C.
I personally thought the choice of Zelda as a name was bizarre. It didn't seem to add anything to the story and keeps distracting me.

Luke P.
I actually found the references a little off-putting. Little too obvious. Call your thinking robot Asimov and your heroine Zelda and it just throws you off, like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer

Tyler
I don't think we can judge the story quite yet. At the end it we could find that the developers created a masterpiece where we were led along believing that they were throwing random things in. Or it could really be just random things thrown in

MTVERNON
The name's definitely have me intrigued; so many of them are loaded with meaning. Raistlin, in particular, surprised me. And then there's Energon, an alternacurrency. Not to mention enemies that are reminiscent of robots from movies like Short Circuit and The Black Hole. It all has me wondering just how much of this game's meaning will be derived from references, popular culture and otherwise.

jpnance
I agree with Brian that those names (especially "Zelda") feel a bit out of place, especially when you consider that most of the ghosts have sufficiently made-up-sounding labels. It would seem to indicate that they COULD have given the characters original names but chose not to for a specific reason.

Kirth G.
As influences go I noted Isaac Asimov (foundations series, robotic laws), Tron (master control, hacking into the system), Transformers (energon cubes, humour), Arthur C. Clarke (2001 Space Odissey, someone killing the crew who is on suspended state), Black hole robots etc. I did not find the Zelda reference as being particularly distracting (Zelda's Prisoner but who is the prisoner, you or the humans in cryo?.).
I meant of course the robots.

Luke P.
See, MTVERNON, I think that's the danger in reading too much into a game like this. It's a small-time puzzler/RPG. The plot, while interesting on a broader level, is quite derivative and poorly communicated. Reading deeply into every line or event could lead you nowhere, since in the end they're just words propelling you from one puzzle/conflict to the next, not part of some grand, sweeping narrative.

MTVERNON
I totally agree, Luke; it kind of allows you to make excuses and/or enrich the narrative on false pretences. It's a distraction. Though maybe the developers will have justified it by the game's end.

Brian C.
And that's the jaded point of view. While Luke is mostly likely right, where's the fun in that? I'd much rather try to turn every bug and puzzle into some thoughtful representation of deeper meaning. Maybe the lack of saves is representative of an uncaring God. Maybe the abundance of robot destroying liquids is really meant to illustrate the United State's dependence on oil. See, it's fun!

NYLatenite
I also think another problem with the names is that in many ways they define the roles of each character. Asimov, for want of a better term, is the voice of reason, HEL is referred to as the Master Control Program in the introduction - both names of which were programs with massive rampancy issues, Zelda is the female character and friend of the protagonist who early on is in need of rescuing, Samson is a huge strong robot, etc. It's almost like telegraphing what a character's role in the game is before that information really should be learned.

JimElNino
To comment on what Luke said, I think it is important to keep in mind that nearly every small time developer tries to make a name for themselves with gameplay, and I think that is the case with this game. I still think we can judge and analyse the finer points of the story, but we should keep some perspective while doing so.

DaveKap asks:
How does the use of recognisable names for key characters affect your opinion of the game? Does having all the references make you think it's cute, take away from the believability, force you into pre-conceived notions as to what the characters will be like (as it did for me)?

FloatingWorld
I would say that it takes away from the believability. It's just too derivative. But the question one has to ask themselves is; with characters that are so derivative and reliant upon reference, did the developers ever intend for us to immerse ourselves into the storyline?
Not to say that we can't look further in, but I think the developers only ever intended for its players to take the story at face value

Tex
The names while recognisable are what they are, names. I don't think there is deeper meaning. One can say that the developers chose those names because they wanted to use names from science fiction and fantasy to provide some aspect of familiarity for the player. Or they might have needed names and chose randomly. We will have to see what happens to Asimov and whether there is an correlation to the other stories these names are from. that will be interesting to explore later.
and look, here I found a deeper meaning to the names....huh.

Brian C.
OK, so lets talk about the actual gameplay for a bit. I was sorta fascinated with how Asimov dies (repeatedly at my hands). For a main character, your character, his death is very sudden. I found that it often startled and sometimes angered me. I'd be at the ass end of a long series of painfully hard jumps and manoeuvres only to have Asimov disintegrate. It's sort of like having a firecracker go off in your hand, but with less blood. Do you think this is meant to have meaning or was just the result of fast coding?

darkowl
I think it was neither. To me both the platforming and JRPG hack sections were a throwback to those games from the 80s and 90s where the difficulty was high - they were a real challenge, and a real reward.

DaveKap
I think the developers played a lot of Super Mario Sunshine. If you've played the game, you'll know that the bonus stages consist of you manoeuvring Mario in some difficult manner over intricately placed obstacles only to, most likely, die many times in the process forcing you to restart the stage. This wasn't the first game to do it and it obviously isn't the last, but there are certain types of players who see this as a challenge to overcome while other players will see it as a frustrating experience. I personally felt it was frustrating but can understand how some may find it fun. In the end, I don't believe there's any true meaning to it, but I doubt it's poor coding either. In the end, it's merely the way the game was meant to be played in order to not be a simple "walk to the right side of the screen -> win" kind of game.

Luke P.
I actually enjoyed it. I thought the way they dealt with his "existence", ie you can store his memory and just get new bodies for him, took a lot of the frustration out of it. I think because you never got the impression you were ACTUALLY KILLING him, every repeat felt like a continuation of the same attempt, not a reboot. "Oh, that body's gone? Get him a new one and let's try that again".

NYLatenite
I think for one, it's there to add challenge. I you respawned at the exact point of death, the game would be over in a far shorter time. What annoyed me was how a lot of times it was simple things that shouldn't happen that caused those deaths or the need to reset the level. I can push a box, but not pull?, etc. It probably didn't help that I was using a gamepad to play (360 wired) where the analog stick isn't quite ideal for the controls.

FloatingWorld
While some of the puzzles rooms are rip-out-your-hair hard, I could see the developers throwing us a bone every once in awhile. For example, in the room where you get one of the leg servos, the one with the platforms that disappear, once you actually reached those platforms, the rising/falling platforms activated, saving you the heartache of starting ALL the way over. It's almost as if they say "we know, we know...here's a little help." In that way I know the difficulty is there on purpose, but they try to appease in small ways. I appreciate that.

Tyler
I think that the margin for error was the most frustrating part. It was minuscule in most places and the slightest bump plunged me to my death. The rising water puzzles are the biggest offenders of this. Even if you completed 90% of the puzzle and just messed up on the last jump, you were screwed. As I was time and time again.

JimElNino
Well on one hand he is a robot, so it does make sense that he violently explodes (video game sense at least). I agree with you in that the sudden deaths startled me a few times. Is that intentional, I can't really say with any confidence either way. I will say that I think the devs put too much care into the look and feel of this game to simply get lazy with the main characters death animation, so I don't think that is the case. Think of it this way, if it was the other extreme and he just sort of stops moving in an animation that takes 15 seconds, would that be better?

Podcastauto asks:
Potential questions - Would better graphics make this a better game? Is the game itself worth $US25? (I believe the game+gameclub is worth $15, but not $25 to play it alone.) How many secret areas have you found?
personally, i loved the graphics, there were a few minor graphic bugs, but the over the top lighting and compact feel of the game were perfect for the experience I was expecting

jpnance
This sort of gets to a question I was hoping to bring up. We've gotten so used to the idea that games made these days are getting to be too easy but should it be acceptable for poor implementation to add to the difficulty of a game? At what point do we decide that these boxes are just way too easily moved and not that the developers thought a high sensitivity would make for a good challenge? Specifically, I'm reminded of the original Final Fantasy's "Ineffective!" message whenever you'd have an attack queued up for an enemy defeated earlier in the round.

Luke P.
Don't think it's worth $US25, there's not enough polish on it for that. $15 is a sweet price for this, $20 at a stretch if it came in a nice box :) The graphics were great, though. Loved the lighting, especially in the darker sections, it was a lot more atmosphereic than I was expecting.

Brian C.
OH, jpnance touches on one of my very, very, very favourite subjects. I've long held that gamers are in need of some major tough love. I'm so tired of the endless auto-saves that allow you to baby-step your way through a game, no matter how difficult. And don't even get me started on MMOs. I spent much of E3 trying to convince devs at Blizzard, SOE and others that they need to institute permanent death in MMOS. You die in a game, it's over. But I digress...

DaveKap
I love the style of the game, both in and out of hacking. The way the enemies warp or explode makes for a satisfying experience while the lighting effects and textures looked really slick. I'd have to say the only thing that could have used work was the UI, as it currently not only looks poor, but is poorly built and accessed as well. It feels like a $15 game but not a $25 game, primarily because the experience doesn't feel very rewarding or as enjoyable as other $US25 games I've purchased in the past. I've found about three secret areas and I don't think I would have gotten as far as I have without them. I dare say they shouldn't be secret because they're practically necessary to advance.

JimElNino
I think the graphics are actually really good for this type of game, they seem very crisp and there are very very few ugly textures. The lighting is more than adequate and the animations get the job done. I'd pay $US25 for this game, I almost feel like I owe them the rest of their money actually. Hell, with the $10 "next-gen tax" any game under $US30 is a steal nowadays. I have only found one secret area, and it wasn't very hard to find.

Brian C.
Darkowl and Br00tusv4 both want to talk about the differences between the game's isometric puzzle elements and its JRPG elements.

br00tusv4: I'm curious to see what everyone thinks about the relationship between our isometric POV and the vaguely top-down "hacking" segments.

Darkowl: The turn-based ghost hacking is a strong contrast to the real-time isometric platforming. Do you feel that this inclusion of such contrasting styles provides for a more rounded game experience (both world and gameplay) compared with the game just having focussed one or the other?

FloatingWorld
As someone who grew up on JRPG's, the battle sessions are a breath of fresh air. Though I can completely understand that some who have expressed dislike for these portions. I'm surprised at the amount of depth in skills, and the well-executed manner in which you engage. Combined with heavy puzzle elements, I really think the developers produced something original in Mr. Robot, gameplay wise.

JimElNino
I think for a game to blend/cross different genres when it comes to gameplay, each genre has to be done well, and I think this game does a great job with that. It's definitely more of a platformer/puzzler than it is an RPG, but the RPG elements don't feel tacked on to me at all.

Tyler
If this game didn't have the JRPG system in it, I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I do now. It really gives me a break from the excruciating puzzles.

Brian C.
Amen! :)

jpnance
I disagree with Jim. The hacking segments seem like a total chore in that you just go around searching for the stuff to kill. There's a little bit of strategy involved in the battles but none of them have been especially intensive. It really feels to make like I just sort of meander around the capacitors and have to find whichever enemies need killing.

MTVERNON
The change in perspective from isometric to JRPG is interesting to me because I think it says something about Asimov's character. Only I'm not sure what. Maybe the "hacking" segments speak to the robotic side of him, the one that wants logic and order? While the iso. bits represent Asimov's human-like emotions?

Brian C.
OK, folks I think that's it. Feel free to talk without raising hands now. First, I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to help with this experiment and I look forward to talking a bit more about it next Thursday. The next assignment will be to make it through the cryo chapter. For now, I wanted to ask everyone what they thought. How should we change things? Did this work for you?


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