Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Does Saints Row IV hold the answers to video games’ relationship woes?

Image for article titled Does Saints Row IV hold the answers to video games’ relationship woes?

Nuclear Love

In the wake of news that Bethesda would be adding some sort of romance system to Fallout 4, William Hughes dropped by with an op-ed about love’s place in the Fallout series. There really isn’t much of one, he argued, and if Bethesda is going to do right by the series’ personality, it’s going to take a more nuanced approach than the simple, idyllic relationships that have become standard for role-playing games. Suckerfish would be more confident if Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas) were handling the development:

I might be more optimistic for romance from an Obsidian-developed Fallout because they handled follower relationships and the followers incredibly well in New Vegas (relatively speaking, at least), including having the chance that they’ll leave you for ideological reasons. This could translate well to a sort of romance system, if handled subtly and tactfully. Fallout 4 though, leaves me less optimistic. I don’t think I can stomach much more romance crap from Bethesda proper. Skyrim romances were exactly the situation William described in his essay, only they’re somehow less subtle because there was literally an item that lets you get married.

It would be an improvement if they went ahead and aped BioWare because that developer can get some nuance into its relationships, even if it is scripted and confined. But I would love actual romances that have layers. Maybe the other character loves you as a person but decries your insensitivity and inability to focus on your relationship. Maybe you’ll be in a situation where you can’t really fix things and instead have to just drop romantic options entirely, just like how it works in real life. Maybe there could be romances you have to work on after you fuck, rather than treating the characters like sexual rewards for dialogue puzzles and ending things there. This won’t happen, because at some point all games are about wish fulfillment, but it would be interesting.


CNightwing also applauded the relationships New Vegas let you forge with its companion characters, and argued it let your imagination fill in the romantic blanks:

I think part of the charm of Fallout: New Vegas is the way your companions become your best friends. They open up to you, share their problems, and support, both in combat and sometimes with dialogue in the right place. It’s a form of romance that’s platonic in appearance, but has a power that lies in the minds of the players who imagine what happens behind the scenes. After you’ve convinced Boone to move on and get over the loss of his wife, doesn’t it make sense that he’d be attracted to you? Wouldn’t Veronica leave the Brotherhood because of more than just respect for your opinion of their future?

In some ways, it’s a shame that these relationships could never be fully realized, but maybe it’s for the best. If the romance was out in the open, the game’s limitations would make it hollow. With the same lines and actions repeated, it would become tedious. It’s much better to hint and let the player’s imagination fill in the blanks. Much better to fade to black.

And Fluka provided some more examples of these natural unofficial romances:

Implicit romances that organically grow out of friendships are always the best when it comes to games like these, regardless of whether they are actually canonized in an “official game relationship.” In New Vegas, my Courier and Boone felt like actual comrades, and I definitely imagined a romantic undertone in their later interactions. Tali and Garrus became fan-favorite romances in Mass Effect because they were friends and confidants in the first game and developed a stronger rapport with Shepard than romantic options, like Kaidan and Ashley. Likewise, my favorite unofficial “romance option” in The Witcher series will always be Vernon Roche, since the two of them build a relationship based on cooperation and earned mutual trust, rather than being written in as “the pretty person Geralt already has a past relationship with and thus can bang.” (Plus, they look so cute together!)

Long story short, I’ll be intrigued by romance in Bethesda games when I become convinced that Bethesda can actually write a convincing human relationship.

But duwease had a different suggestion for a romantic template Fallout 4 should copy:

I think the best route would be if they aped Saint’s Row IV. That’s really the modern apex of romance in game design.


It may or may not have been a joke, but as Roswulf pointed out, the more you think about it, the more that actually kind of makes sense:

Saint’s Row IV is Fallout romance done right. Virtually no soap opera, a focus on sex rather than love—and writing that is both funny and genuinely portrays its characters.



Image for article titled Does Saints Row IV hold the answers to video games’ relationship woes?

In the second part of our Special Topics In Gameology series on commerce in games, Jake Muncy looked back at Grand Theft Auto IV and the way the absence of the series’ traditional late-game entrepreneurial ventures added to the hopelessness of Niko Bellic’s story. But was the extra focus on story really worth the sacrifices it required Rockstar to make? Moosh thinks not:

Lots of commenters have addressed the many problems plaguing the recent GTAs, but here’s my personal big one: railroading. I usually shy away from self-described “cinematic” games nowadays because I’ve learned that this usually means “play this the way we tell you to damn it!”

It wasn’t always like that. In Vice City, there was this impossible racing mission. I tried it multiple times, failing badly every time. (I forget the name, but I’m sure people remember the one I’m on about.) I happened to be good with the sniper rifle, so eventually, what I did was jump out of my car at the start of the race and try to shoot the other guy’s tires. On around my fifth try, I got one of them. I then won the race while he plowed into somebody’s backyard. This felt great and was perfectly in character for Tommy Vercetti. Whenever I tried that kind of thing in GTA4 or GTA5, the game would always announce that I’d failed the mission. There’s no longer any real freedom, just “choose A or B.”


And needlehacksaw argued that this is indicative of a larger mistake Rockstar has been making:

It’s like Rockstar just can’t accept the fact that it excels in building magnificent playgrounds and spaces, but is just competent, at best, when it comes to telling stories. The ones it writes are not nearly good enough to beat out the stories players could create on their own if the game just would let them.

Just compare it to, say, Gunpoint, SpaceChem, or any good immersive simulation where the designers have a few optimal paths in mind for their challenges but seem to applaud the player instead of chastise them when they come up with other creative solutions. Why should you care if I get from point A to point B in a specific car, in a jetpack, or on an AI dog I somehow tricked to walk to there? You better have reason other than a specific camera angle you want to show the vehicle in or a specific bit of half-baked dialogue that is only triggered when I cross an imaginary line. Player freedom can totally mess up the story you want to tell, but players will do that anyway, so you might as well accept it and adapt your writing to it. You don’t have to go full Saints Row, even though the increasing absurdity of that series certainly is a reaction to accepting that freedom.

A GTA that would give in to the chaotic spirit that, frankly, has made the series what it is to this day, could be a marvelous thing. That said, there are amazing things done with the game anyway. For example, I just discovered this fictional photo journal, which I found to be strangely moving.


Elsewhere, Ben had a problem with the way Rockstar tends to forget the compelling characters it does cook up:

Rockstar seems to do this thing where it sets up a bunch of interesting characters at the beginning of the game (Brucie, Packie, Lil Jacob in GTA4; Bonnie and Irish in Red Dead Redemption), and then you get to a point where those characters completely disappear and get replaced with less and less interesting characters. Like after you go to Mexico in RDR—even though there’s specifically a mention that Irish is going with you—you never see any of those characters again. GTA4 turns into a cast of random mafia dudes whose names I can’t even remember because they were so forgettable. The studio does it again and again and it’s infuriating. You made cool characters. Let me hang out with them more.

I think for all the crazy wacky fun in Saints Row, that’s actually the big thing those games do better than GTA. The characters stick with you and grow and evolve over time.


But GTA4 did let you hang out with those characters. It was such a big part of the game that your friends and acquaintances called your cell phone every once in a while, something fans have been ragging on for years. MattS, though, welcomed the social networking opportunities these calls opened up:

I always kind of liked the phone calls. It’s nice to be needed, even in Eastern European video game avatar form. You can also decide to be a dick to some people (fuck off, Roman, you’re needy and a bad drunk) and nice to others (I’m in for whiskey and darts with Packie). I liked the ability to cull your relationships—just like in real life!


Well, that does it for this week, Gameologians. Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!