Doom Eternal is really good. You should play it you like shooters.
It’s not without its flaws though. They tried to alter the main gameplay loop in this one. In Doom 2016 players, myself included, often stuck to the same gun (usually the super shotgun) and in Eternal they clearly want you to switch weapons more often. There’s 2 ways they do this. First is that enemies have weaknesses, e.g the Cacodemon staggers instantly if you shoot a grenade from the shotgun into its mouth. This is great. It incentivizes changing weapons and rewards you for doing so.
The second is that your max ammo is pitifully low, and so are the ammo pickups in the world. Your chainsaw, which rewards ammo when used to kill an enemy, has now 1 rechargeable fuel charge, so you’re supposed to use it more often as part of your strategies, as opposed to 2016 where its more of an ’emergency’ weapon.
This is not so great. 1 fuel charge can only kill the smallest of enemies, so when you run out of ammo you’re often scrambling around the level looking for an appropriate enemy to chainsaw. This doesn’t feel great cos’ its a disincentive. It feels like the game has an arbitrary ammo restriction, and you’re being unfairly punished for not learning to deal with it.
IF you switch weapons more often though, you won’t have to chainsaw as often, which alleviates it somewhat. The earlier you figure this out, the faster the game gets back to being fun. It does take a bit of getting used to, but once you do, the familiar flow that 2016 had returns. There are other minor flaws here and there, but this is the main one that annoyed me. Again, it’s just a matter of getting used to it. Still a good game though.
Hitler is a hidden role multiplayer card/board game which attempts to
simulate the complex political dynamics that can facilitate the rise
of fascism. Players are randomly and secretly assigned one of three
roles: a liberal, a fascist or Hitler. Only one player is Hitler for
each game. The fascist’s aim is to either enact a certain number of
fascist laws, or to elect Hitler to power. Liberals must either enact
a certain number of liberal laws, or to successfully execute Hitler.
Liberals do not know who the other liberals are. Fascists know who
the other Fascists are and know who Hitler is. Depending on the
number of players, Hitler may also know who the fascists are.
Each round an election occurs where one player runs for president with another player chosen as chancellor. If successfully elected, laws are enacted through decisions made by the president and chancellor. If six liberal laws are enacted, the liberals win. If six fascist laws are enacted, the fascists win. If Hitler is executed through a presidential power, the liberals win. If Hitler is elected after three fascist laws are enacted, the fascists win.
Secret Hitler, like most games, is composed of a variety of rules and systems. However, the rules and systems of Secret Hitler introduce only a limited number of constraints. Its defining feature is information asymmetry. Who has what information is decided by the assigned roles, but how information is communicated and transmitted between players is not limited or constrained by the rules. Players are free to speak truthfully, to lie, or to say nothing at all. The win and lose states act as incentives that guide their play but do not impose any strategy or play style.
Secret Hitler is a highly emergent game. The events that occur in the
game and the progress made towards specific goals are highly
contingent on the actions of players. Informal alliances and
rivalries can occur spontaneously. This balance, between the guiding
hand of the game’s rules and the dynamic emergent phenomena, makes
Secret Hitler particularly effective at exploring how the systems of
democracy can be vulnerable to subversion by fascists. Democratic
systems of governance ostensibly consist of a framework of rules that
are designed to be anti-fragile and self-preserving, but they are
systems that humans work with, and humans are capable of a great deal
of unpredictability. The unpredictability encoded in Secret Hitler’s
rules are minimal. The unpredictability comes from human beings. So
too does the chaos that can emerge in politics.
In 1972, German writer
Heinrich Böll coined the term ‘crypto-fascism’. A crypto-fascist
is an individual who supports fascism, but does so secretly, often
because overt support of it is an easy way to attract unwanted
scrutiny. This principle remains relevant today. In Contrapoints’
video essay, ‘Decrypting the Alt-Right’*, she outlined four
strategies contemporary extremists use to conceal the extent of their
right-wing leanings. One such strategy used is the use of euphemism.
For instance, contemporary white supremacists like Richard Spencer
often use terms like ‘ethno-nationalist’ or ‘identitarian’ to
avoid ‘dirty’ terms like ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’.
necessity for secrecy and concealment of identity is embedded in
Secret Hitler’s rules. The roles assigned to players are left
unknown. Only fascists know who other fascists are. In contemporary
reality, this secret revealing of fascist identity comes in the form
of oblique references to Pepe the Frog or the ‘Okay’ hand
The oblique gesture du jour changes frequently, ensuring that
liberals, like the liberals in Secret Hitler, are not privy to the
true identities of fascists. The paranoia endemic to the rise of
fascism is mirrored in the game. You cannot be certain of who is a
fascist, in both the game and reality.
Secret Hitler explores the dynamics of how fascism rises, but it can be argued that the game does not extend into condemning fascism. Players are assigned the roles of fascists or Hitler and are incentivized to win. The game makes no quantifiable or qualitative difference between liberals winning and fascists winning. The game simply ends with victory for either faction.
contrast, consider Brenda Romero’s board game Train. In Train,
players work together to populate a train with as many people as
possible. Little context is given during play. At the end of the
game, it is revealed that the train they were filling with people
stops at Auschwitz. Players are made complicit in the Holocaust. A
win state is subverted and becomes a lose state.
However, the emergent nature of Secret Hitler makes it difficult for the game to condemn fascism with win/lose states alone. Consider a hypothetical addition to the game: should the fascists win, a card is flipped that reveals that their victory leads to the events of World War II, resulting in the defeat of Germany, the deaths of millions, and the suicide of Hitler. Would this subvert the win state? I would argue that it would fail to do that. Due to the emergent nature of Secret Hitler, the victory earned by players feels like a consequence of the play styles and creative stratagems used by them. Gameplay in Train is fairly constrained with little room for improvisation or creativity. ‘Victory’ in Train thus feels like a result of close interaction with the rules of the game. On the other hand, victory in Secret Hitler feels causally related to a player’s creativity and decision making. Victory feels earned. Attempts to subvert it feel arbitrary and unconnected with the playing of the game. The fascists will be happy that they won, no matter what.
thematic messaging in a game results from the interactions between
player and system, then the thematic messaging in emergent games are
fundamentally more unpredictable or uncontrollable. Care should be
taken as a designer, lest the game says something that might be
unwanted or problematic.
Decrypting the Alt-Right – Contrapoints
**: Pepe the Frog and the Okay hand gesture – Anti-Defamation League
Disco Elysium begins in blackness. Words fade in against the emptiness. It is your ‘Ancient Reptilian Brain’ speaking to you. Soon enough your ‘Limbic System’ pipes up. They inform you “there is nothing” (ZA/UM, 2019). As your character (who we later learn is called Harry) awakens from his drunken stupor, we come to realize that this blackness is a representation of the unconscious state he was in. Because of his heavy drinking, he has lost all memory of who he was, down to his name and his job.
Beyond being a memorable way of
beginning a game, the blackness frames our perception of the game and our
character in it. We enter this game not as an already established character,
but as a blank slate, a tabula rasa. Harry awakens from nothing and remembers
nothing. As the dialogue with Harry’s own brain progresses, we are given
choices as to how to respond to them. These dialogue choices become the means
by which Harry, the character, is defined. The game’s dialogue system is its
keystone. All other systems revolve around it. In this essay I intend to
explore how Disco Elysium’s systems, with the dialogue system at its
core, provide players the opportunity to create an intricately detailed
character with a rich identity encompassing personal history, personality and
Disco Elysium is a roleplaying game set in the city
of Revachol, years after a failed communist revolution led to its current state
of neoliberal capitalism and soaring inequality. We play an alcoholic amnesiac
detective who’s tasked with solving a grisly murder amidst an ongoing labour dispute at the local docks, all while trying to
recover his forgotten identity (or construct a new one). Upon release, the game
was immediately lauded for its nuanced exploration of politics and its
intricate skill system and how said system tied into the game’s dialogue and
To understand DiscoElysium and its subsequent success we must first understand its systems. As a game inspired by traditional tabletop roleplaying games, Disco Elysium ‘begins’ even before it begins. Traditional tabletop roleplaying games require that players create the character they will play in the game. Disco Elysium is no different. In Disco Elysium, players must allocate skill points to various skills, which come to define their character and his areas of competency. There are four main skills, but these branch out into an overwhelming list of 24 sub-skills.
It is important to note that unlike other role-playing videogames, Disco
Elysium does not have any other mechanically heavy systems like combat,
stealth or crafting. In Disco Elysium, Harry’s interactions with the
world are almost entirely played through the dialogue system. This
fundamentally means that all 24 skills available in the skill system primarily
relate to and interact with the dialogue system, which suggests a textual richness
and complexity in the dialogue system unmatched by other games.
One of the more interesting forms this inter-system interaction takes is the internal stream of consciousness monologues that occur in response to things said by other characters. In this context, each skill functions as a ‘voice’ in this internal monologue. Should Harry’s point allocation for a certain skill exceed certain invisible thresholds, that voice will contribute to the dialogue, adding in their own response to the topic of discussion.
The above screenshot provides one example of this stream of
consciousness. In this scene, Harry and his partner Kim Kitsuragi are
inspecting the corpse of the murder victim, left to hang from a tree. After
removing the body from the tree, Harry is faced with the victim’s visage. How
he responds depends on the skill point allocation of your character. In this
example, Harry has high points in Inland Empire and Reaction Speed1.
Faced with the corpse, Harry asks who killed him and it responds, ‘communism’.
Reaction Speed then causes him to have an instinctual response to this answer –
a sense that the answer speaks to a buried truth. A different skill point
allocation would have led to a different conversation. For instance, this
imaginary conversation would not have taken place without enough points invested
into Inland Empire.
This stream of consciousness means that skill allocations – choices that
are made by the player throughout the game – have concrete and continuous
impact on dialogue and how dialogue is framed. Information is introduced or
concealed depending on the player character’s skill point allocation. Through
this, the player character’s (and by extension the player’s) perspective of the
world and of the unfolding plot is shaped by how the player built their
Stephen Trinh compares this stream of consciousness to the Kuleshov Effect in film, explaining that “the interjections act as the context shot, so that the dialogue choices [chosen by the player] can be the to-be-interpreted shot” (Trinh, 2020). This allows dialogue choices that more meaningfully and accurately reflect the chosen personality and identity of the player character. The subtext is no longer defined solely by the player’s perceptions, but the character’s perceptions as well. Furthermore, some dialogue choices are locked away if their character does not meet a specific skill threshold, thus players are guided into roleplaying their character more ‘truthfully’, choosing dialogue options that respond to Harry’s internal thoughts, further enriching and developing his identity.
Brent Ellision categorized conversation into two models: Branching and Hub and Spoke (Ellision, 2008), where branching conversations can expand but do not loop back, while hub and spoke conversations have central hubs where conversations loop back to2. Disco Elysium features both models of conversation but builds on top of these models. Each interjection from an internal voice functions like an invisible detour. At points in the conversation, detours are taken depending on the character’s skills, without direct control from the player. Players are not informed of possible detours if their skill points do not meet the threshold. Consequently, the structure of conversations becomes significantly more sophisticated. However, as detours always return to the main path, conversations continue to have well-defined scopes without branching out of control.
These invisible detours were developed with intention. In an interview
with GameSpot, lead writer Robert Kurvitz explained that the mechanics of the
dialogue system was inspired by Twitter (Kurvitz, 2020). On Twitter, a user can
elaborate on a tweet by making a reply tweet, which is displayed just below the
original tweet. Other users can also reply to the original tweet, elaborating
on the point made or suggesting tangents, thus creating an increasingly
elaborate cultural ‘hive mind’. In Disco Elysium, each interjection from
a voice functions like a reply tweet. The voices create a tangled web of
tangents, elaborations and contradictions – a ‘hive mind’ within a mind –
allowing the game to reveal the richness of the player character’s internal state
As we have seen, past skills can affect current conversations, but Disco
Elysium goes further than this. Current conversations can affect the future
as well. Should Harry’s conversational responses consistently reflect a
specific viewpoint, his Ancient Reptillian Brain speaks to him. For instance,
should Harry constantly speak in defense of the working class, your brain might
ask if you wish to be a communist. Answering yes unlocks a thought in Harry’s
The Thought Cabinet is a feature unique to Disco Elysium. The cabinet consists of various unlockable slots and a catalog of thoughts. These thoughts could be ideologies like communism, information like the location of Harry’s home, or personality ‘styles’ like ‘boring cop’. Thoughts can be assigned to a slot. Once assigned, the thought is contemplated on by Harry. After some time has passed, the thought is complete, and additional information is revealed along with possible gameplay bonuses or penalties to Harry, which range from modifiers to his skills or new conversational options.
In many roleplaying games, the player character is placed in a position
of power, and their choices have profound consequences for the entire world.
Cass Marshall explains that this can frequently pose a problem. The character
is defined largely by their actions rather than their internal perspectives (Marshall,
2019). They become heroic characters without any internal identity or personality.
In Disco Elysium, Harry is powerless to change the world. The player’s actions
are thus not directed to the external world, but to the internal. Your choices
as a player are not about affecting the world but responding to it. In the
example mentioned above, responding to economic injustice with sympathy for the
working class provides the opportunity to identify as a communist.
The Thought Cabinet allows Harry to be defined by his internal identity,
be it ideology or personality or memories. Traditional skill systems define
characters by their competencies or lack thereof, and thus do not allow the
creation of vivid characters with rich identities and histories. Some role-playing
games, e.g. Wasteland 2, provide a blank text field where players are invited
to write a backstory, but this backstory is merely ‘flavour text’ and ignored by
the game and its systems. Disco Elysium avoids this trap. The Thought
Cabinet systemizes personality, memories and ideology. Your character in Disco
Elysium can thus have a richly defined identity, which is acknowledged by
the game and which has consequences for Harry’s journey through the world.
These two systems, the Thought Cabinet and the stream of consciousness,
form a cognitive loop within Disco Elysium. As Harry encounters
situations in the world, his stream of consciousness responds. This response
shapes the player’s perspective of the world, and they make dialogue choices
based on their perspective. Based on these dialogue choices, thoughts are
formed and added to the Thought Cabinet. Contemplating on these thoughts forms
Harry’s identity, which then again shapes his perspective of the world, and his
stream of consciousness by extension. Through this loop, Harry becomes more
well-defined as a character over time.
However, it is important to note that this cognitive loop does not exist
independently of the player’s interactions. Disco Elysiumgives us ‘subjective access’ to Harry by revealing his ‘internal states’
(Smith, 2010) but like many other narrative works, players are expected to make
moral judgements of the world and its characters – a process referred to as
‘allegiance’ (Smith, 2010). Disco Elysium does not force Harry to adopt
any beliefs or identities that the player does not want him to. Thoughts are
never automatically formed from the stream of consciousness. Explicit player
choice is required. Even when a thought is formed, the player has a choice to
reject the thought. In Disco Elysium, you are not defined entirely by
your past actions. You always have a choice. Even if the state of the world and
your own instincts tempts you towards certain viewpoints, there is always the
ability to choose to believe differently. We see the ideas and perspectives
through Harry’s internal mind, but we as players, with our own identities, form
our allegiances to specific perspectives. We are then given the freedom to
realign Harry to reflect our allegiances – to reflect us.
In conclusion, Disco Elysium systemizes thinking, whether it is
conscious cognition or instincts and intuition. This systemizing, embodied by
the stream of consciousness and the Thought Cabinet, allow our player character
Harry to be defined in a concrete manner. He has a history, an ideology and a
personality, all of which have meaningful systemic and narrative consequences
throughout the game. But Disco Elysium is a roleplaying game. We inhabit
the role of Harry. Through play we engage in a dialogue with his mind and
decide who Harry is and who he becomes based on our own perspectives and
ideology. Thus, Disco Elysium is not just about understanding Harry. It
is about understanding ourselves.
1 – Inland Empire indicates an aptitude for imagining the personality of inanimate
objects like corpses, allowing Harry to have imaginary conversations with said
2 – The corpse investigation is an example of hub and spoke
conversations. The player is presented with different parts of the corpse to
inspect, with each part acting as a spoke. Attempting to detach the corpse from
the tree is itself a spoke within the conversation.
ZA/UM (2019). Disco Elysium [Computer video game]. Estonia: ZA/UM.
“This concern — that Google might just give up on Stadia at some point and kill the service… was repeatedly brought up, unprompted, by every person we spoke with for this piece.”
Notably the only real
media distribution platform Google has successfully sustained is
YouTube, which A) wasn’t started by Google and B) was initially
sustained by amateur videos before being monopolized by professional
A is something they cant change and B is something you cant really
recreate with videogames, unless they literally cloned itch.io which
they won’t because 1) itch.io already exists and 2) they’re so
chronically shortsighted they’ll shut it down anyway when it doesn’t
make money within 2 seconds.
Google, in its behemoth state, seems to have lost any understanding of
how to build network effects (if they had any understanding to begin
with) and thinks they can just buy a userbase with their huge wallet.