Player Too: Episode 3 – The Talos Principle & Super Meat Boy

Hey. So it’s been a few weeks since the last episode of Player Too. To remind you, this is my documented approach to trying to introduce my girlfriend Claire, who identifies as not being a gamer, to the wonderful world of games. We try out games that might appeal to her inquisitive side, and that might have a lower skill-barrier to entry. Then we discuss the games themselves and, particularly, their value for developing a gaming interest in a self-proclaimed non-gamer.

Click the link if you want to catch up on Episode 2. In it I closed by saying we’d probably get into Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments or a Telltale Games series. While we’ve bought and just about started those (Game of Thrones by Telltale), we’re not far enough in to have enough to say about them. What we have played in the last few weeks is The Talos Principle and Super Meat Boy! For the first time, I played very little of the games and Claire chose to pick them up and play without me helping or watching or whatever. I think that’s progress!

The Talos Principle

So this is puzzle game. As I’ve said before, Claire is into mysteries, crosswords, sudoku, logic puzzles, etc. We figured this would be a good one to do. Having developed some walking skills in Gone Home we thought she could tackle this, maybe on her way to Portal, which does require a lot of skill. I’ve heard this game compared to Portal before, but the only similarities I can see is that they’re both first person puzzle games.

Graphically, this is the best game we’ve played so far. I heard Claire raving about how good it looked, then I came to check it out on her laptop and it was running everything on minimum. I loaded up the demo on my PC with my GTX970 and absolutely blew her mind! So, points there, but I think graphics are at their most important when you’re trying to sell a game through screenshots or videos. Once you’re in a flow, you don’t care what a game looks like, and gameplay trumps graphics for overall experience. Personal opinion disclaimer; whatever. I’m saying I don’t think good graphics will convert Claire to gaming. And they didn’t. She resumed play on her laptop happily enough.

She put about 12 hours into the game but has called it quits. I saw her solve a bunch of different puzzles and learn new mechanics, but in the end she was frustrated by a few things.

The story didn’t grab her at all. I also found the deity to be more annoying than intriguing. I can’t even say, from what I saw, that the story is drip-fed to you. It’s more like it’s totally withheld until presumably some later point that we didn’t reach. So without the story pulling you through those tougher puzzles, frustration sets in.

I think that with a puzzle game you should have one problem preventing your advancement. “I don’t know if I’ve figured this out correctly”. Then you use your skills and the mechanics you’ve been shown to test your hypothesis and either you were right, or you create a new hypothesis. 

Claire and I both suffered from a second hindrance, though, which I feel is a fault of the game. “I don’t know if they’ve introduced a new mechanic”. I didn’t play much of the game but I beat the demo, and even in that I was frustrated when I found a puzzle had to be beaten by doing something with a fan. You assume that a fan blows something, and it does. So the device is introduced and you see it needs to blow something. However, you also need to know that the fan is weighty enough to function like a box does on pressure pads. So you actually had two things to figure out with a brand new device that wasn’t explained.

Apparently this occurs a bit more in the full game. It feels a bit like time wasting to me, where other games make a point of introducing new mechanics in easy to understand ways. We’re used to a device having a function in a game or puzzle. Figuring that out and then testing new hypotheses with no clue that there’s another function all along feels like a cheap way to make a puzzle harder. At least there are only a handful of different devices so this doesn’t hold the game back too much but regardless, I think many would agree that in a game, particularly a puzzle one, both new and old players should be clear about what the rules of the game are.

 Okay, now how many things did you say I could do with this?..
Okay, now how many things did you say I could do with this?..

Claire was also frustrated that she wasn’t always clear where she should go next to even find a new puzzle. This is her experience, as a new player. I’m not saying all players would find these same frustrations, particularly if they’re used to an open-world or hub-and-spoke model of game world. Maybe they would. I can’t say.

A third problem she had, as someone less experienced with a first-person control scheme was “I don’t know if I’ve figured this out but can’t pull it off because of my control skills, or if I haven’t figured it out yet”. This isn’t the game’s fault, but contributed to Claire’s frustration when combined with our afforementioned second problem. This led to a lot of attempts wasted trying to do something because she believed she needed to just up her skills to accomplish it, when really there was a new mechanic in play. Once or twice I was called in to see if she had it right, by manoeuvring around enemies with more finely tuned timing. I proved her hypothesis right and she moved on, but had been frustrated because of her skill level.

This is my fault for recommending the game at this stage, perhaps. I heard that the game didn’t demand much skill in terms of movement, but maybe we should have still come via The Stanley Parable to get some more movement experience first. Claire’s skills improved over her 12 hours of play, and she had some of the satisfaction you get from beating a puzzle game, but overall she didn’t enjoy it.

Claire’s Score: 7/10. Yes, I know the game frequently scores 9/10, but understand, there’s a value in knowing what a first-time (or thereabouts) gamer thinks of a game too, not just what the games press thinks. This is more a score of Claire’s personal enjoyment. She found herself frustrated by not knowing if she hadn’t figured a puzzle out correctly yet based on the current rules, if she hadn’t figured out a new mechanic quietly introduced, or if she had figured it out but couldn’t prove the hypothesis because of her skill level. All the same, she spent a lot of time with it and enjoyed it a lot. She says she could return to do the odd puzzle in the future.

A better story might have pulled her into the game, but it didn’t intrigue her (or me) in the slightest at the level we got to. She didn’t mind the deity character like I did, but he didn’t exactly interest her either.

Player Too Result: A bit of a fail. Claire retains an interest in puzzle games, but we’re still a fair ways off playing Portal. We need to up her first person control skills if she’s going to get the most out of what gaming has to offer. I may have introduced this game a little too soon. The Stanley Parable should help with this, and Sherlock Holmes should satisfy the puzzle game side in the meantime.

Super Meat Boy

So, I’ve just stated that Claire’s gaming skills may have hindered her enjoyment of The Talos Principle. How do you think she got on with Super Meat Boy, an extremely difficult skill-based platformer? Quite well, actually.

Her first reaction was quite comical, though. The face she made when seeing the blood splatter everywhere and hearing the squishy sound effects was.. well I thought she was going to throw up, let’s say that. She didn’t, however, and after a few minutes she started to find the pitter patter of bloody feet even a bit funny.

Claire really enjoyed this game, although she only has two hours on it so far and doesn’t really intend to go further. Again, the story isn’t really there, so you’re just left to enjoy the game level by level. I watched her get to grips with the controls (using a game pad for the first time since she was a kid, bar a few minutes with Race The Sun one time) and clear the first couple of levels. Then I left her to her own devices. When I returned she was stuck on the last level of Chapter 1. So that’s level 17 or so. She knew what to do (this game isn’t often hard that way), she just hadn’t gotten there yet.

She offered me a go and after a half dozen attempts I cleared it. I have to say that the game is a lot of fun, and that replay feature where you see all your failed attempts die alongside your one success is inspired! Claire then had a few goes at the boss level, then passed it to me and I beat him in about a half dozen goes again (probably more, let’s be honest). She had somehow managed to clear the first chapter without realising that tapping A gives a short jump, while holding it gives a longer, higher jump. This becomes quite important.

We then tried a few fan made levels which were infuriatingly difficult. We quit and returned to Chapter 2 where the levels were now set in a hospital (of sorts) and there were piles of syringes everywhere to kill you. We couldn’t figure out how to beat the first level (I tried jumping from a very specific spot but never felt like I had the right idea as I kept hitting a pile of syringes no matter what I did) so we skipped it and I played the next couple. At this stage, the syringes made Claire lose her mettle for the game and cast her back to the squeamishness she’d had at the start, so she decided that she was done with it. She liked what she’d played but felt she’d reached the limits of her skill and enjoyment as the difficulty was ramping up fast.

 The wonderful replay mode in action!
The wonderful replay mode in action!

Claire’s Score: 7.5/10. She found this very entertaining, and gross! She often got full-bodied laughs out of her own death, but all the same she doesn’t intend to play more of the game. She found the difficulty a to get significantly beyond her as the game progressed and had no desire to die upon piles of needles come Chapter 2.

Player Too Result: Hard to say. Here we tried a platformer that’s supposed to be difficult and Claire did pretty well at it. Like I said, I only got a few levels further than her. So she’s becoming more confident in her ability to take control of a game and succeed. This would have been a barrier before in a “no, I couldn’t possibly” kind of way. We also got her using a game pad and finding the fun in death and a quick restart.

These things would all indicate good progress towards the realm of gaming, except that she doesn’t intend to play the game again. Would she like a similar style of platformer that was less gross and a tad less difficult? Perhaps. Do comment if you can recommend any, as they’re not my area of expertise. We played Bro Force together once before but it was just hopeless. This was before the Player Too project so maybe it’s worth trying that again. Or Nidhogg, perhaps. Fez? Braid? Do comment.

 Pretty cool first boss level, with all the feels in the post-boss cutscene
Pretty cool first boss level, with all the feels in the post-boss cutscene

So that’s it for the current episode. I’d like to state that Claire’s scores for games aren’t based on any particular criteria. They’re more like her personal enjoyment of the game, tempered by a bit of consideration for the objective merits of the game, whether she connected with them or not. They’re pretty arbitrary and I don’t encourage anyone to look back at older episodes and compare scores to conclude that Meat Boy is any better or worse than Race the Sun, for example. They’re basically the scores of a first time gamer, and by design, are becoming less meaningful as such since the aim of the Player Too series is to attempt to turn Claire into a gamer. 

Basically, they’re just a bit of fun!

I can’t say if we’re any closer to turning Claire into a gamer this time, but her skills are definitely improving and she’s realising that there’s fun to be had in all types of games. So the project continues! Although we’ve learned to stay further away from blood and gore.

Next Time On Player Too: We’ve a lot of games to choose from for next time. We bought nearly all the Telltale games in that last Humble sale, as well as Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments and I’ve Fez and Luftrausers and Stealth Inc. 2 too! We will probably go with Sherlock and either the Stanley Parable or Game of Thrones (or both) for next time.

In the meantime, if you’ve any game recommendations or stories of how you brought a loved one into the world of gaming, do please share in the comments!

Until next time..

Boycott the Diamond Dogs! (Phantom Pain Spoof)

First off, chill! I’m not insulting everyone’s current favourite game. This is only a spoof. I’ve been playing a lot of The Phantom Pain these last three weeks. I love it! I don’t think it’s flawless but certainly a 9/10 from me. It’s excellent! I thought it would be funny to look at Big Boss’ company from the point of view of a disgruntled (and oddly knowledgeable) former client, though. This company looks pretty strange from the outside. 

There’s only one extremely minor spoiler and I’ll warn of it in advance. Anything else I say is just reference to the trailer videos and general MGS V gameplay mechanics. Also bear in mind that things I say “in character” of the former client may actually be stretching the truth, or be their misinterpretation, for comedic effect. Hope you enjoy!

An Open Letter Calling For the Boycott of “Diamond Dogs” Private Forces

Date: September 21st, 1984
From: An anonymous former client

I’ve experienced first hand the shady dealings of the Diamond Dogs private forces company. I will detail my grievances in this letter and encourage you to boycott their services, as well as calling on a full international effort to bring the leaders of Diamond Dogs to justice.

Breach of Contract

In my country, a criminal was tried and sentenced to death by a court of his peers. This man subsequently escaped and went on the run, ultimately joining up with one of the private forces (PFs) operating in the Angola-Zaire border region of South-West Africa. When his whereabouts were discovered, my government entered into a contract with Diamond Dogs to fulfil the man’s execution. They informed us that this was part of their “Side Ops” package and that none other than their CEO and mascot “Big Boss” would undertake the contract. This distinction mattered little to us as long as the contract was fulfilled, but they did sell it as if we should be assured of peace of mind.

We paid half up front, as stipulated, and the remaining half when we were informed that the contract had been completed. 

Satisfied with the Diamond Dog’s services, we recommended them under their “Combat Deployment” package (does not include Big Boss’ services) as body guards to a neighbouring nation’s dignitaries whilst on a trade mission. At said trade mission, we met the dignitaries with their new escort, and I was dismayed to find that I recognised one of the Diamond Dogs guarding our counterparts. He was the very criminal sentenced to death in my country, and who the Diamond Dogs accepted payment for having killed.

At first I thought that I must be mistaken, but my companions were also convinced and we decided to approach Diamond Dogs on the matter. Diamond Dogs’ XO Kazuhira Miller himself insisted that they had fulfilled their contract to “eliminate” the target, and that the man we had observed was known only as “Killer Wombat”. They would not divulge the date his employment commenced.

I pried further into the matter, proving from our birth records that the man who we sentenced to death had no twins or other siblings. We became convinced that the Diamond Dogs were lying to us and I did some further digging. I interviewed Russian soldiers who had served in Afghanistan, US troops who had been stationed at Camp Omega in Cuba, private forces serving in Africa, and even tracked down some soldiers who had fought both for and against Militaires Sans Frontiers in Costa Rica in 1974. MSF was a military organisation run by Big Boss and Miller until 1975.
What I discovered may shock you. Diamond Dogs are guilty of several breaches of international law, nuclear treaties, human rights, children’s rights, contract law and the Geneva Convention.

Shady Recruitment Practices

It turns out that with our contract, they simply decided to retain our target’s services for their own, and accept our payment while they were at it. Diamond Dogs want to have their cake and eat it too!

This isn’t even an isolated incident. I asked other former clients (through a middle man) if they would reveal who any of their targets were. I then had a contact in the CIA research some of them, and it turns out that several of the targets have also been spotted on assignment with Diamond Dogs. My CIA contact also intimated that one or two had been captured in the past in third world conflict zones. These captives had been questioned (humanely, I’m assured) by CIA operatives. They revealed that their XO and CEO are convinced that virtually all soldiers of the world want to fight for the legendary “Big Boss”, and that they just need some ‘convincing’ that he’s the real deal.

This convincing process takes places in a brig over several days. Exactly what goes on in there is unknown (though we know that the Diamond Dogs’ Tactical Instructor, Revolver “Shalashaska” Ocelot, was an expert in torture and interrogation under the GRU). What we do know is that formerly patriotic soldiers, many of whom with families and children, emerge from that brig with a new name (typically in the form of “Adjective Animal”) and perfectly content to live out the rest of their days inventorying supplies or developing silencers on an abandoned oil platform in the Indian Ocean, which the Diamond Dogs call “Mother Base”.

Whatever the details of the ‘convincing’ process, it’s clear that these men and women suffer from severe cases of Stockholm Syndrome and/or brainwashing.

The Cult of the Leader

Any Diamond Dog you ask will praise the courageous actions and loyalty of their leader Big Boss. Fanatically, so. The man can do no wrong in their eyes. Even the CIA’s captive was convinced that Big Boss would save him, even though Big Boss is now known to have been in a coma at the time.

This cult begs comparison with the phenomena seen in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Communist China, where Hitler, Stalin and Mao were worshipped unquestioningly by many of their people, ignorant of the failings and atrocities of their leaders. This is the power of propaganda and brainwashing.

While there are reportedly no statues of Big Boss (so far) on Mother Base, the similarity is an eerie one, especially when considering that many of their recruits likely undergo torture before joining the ranks. Reportedly, Boss will often assault a trooper who’s standing at attention. If they’re still conscious and haven’t been thrown off a balcony, they routinely thank him for the beat down, like some perverted version of an S&M scene!

 Thank you, sir! May I have another?
Thank you, sir! May I have another?

<very minor spoiler in next paragraph concerningearly Chapter 2, Phantom Pain. Skip to the next paragraph if concerned>

The comparison goes further. Mother Base has begun a witch hunt for spies in their ranks. They have literally begun their own Purge. Each man and woman is encouraged to report on their neighbour and posters are visible wherever one looks declaring that “Big Boss is Watching You”. It seems that George Orwell’s nightmare scenario in the novel 1984 has been truly realised for those on Mother Base in this, the year 1984!
All this from a private company! If you suspect disloyalty from your employees, you fire them, not spy on them!! Who do they think they are? Fucking Konami?! <I know I’m writing this as if it’s set in 1984, but I couldn’t resist. #fuckkonami :P>

A Rogue Nuclear Power?

This gets worse! Even though the waters where Mother Base is situated belong to The Seychelles, and are only technically on loan to Diamond Dogs, they declare themselves an independent military nation. This would almost be cute, like a marketing ploy, if not for the fact that, according to multiple sources, Diamond Dogs may possess a nuclear weapon!! 

Reportedly, they possessed one in 1975 on the MSF base in the Caribbean. A nuclear inspection was to be carried out around the same time that that base was mysteriously destroyed, so the report is unsubstantiated, but multiple sources claim the same things. That A) Big Boss and Miller’s MSF did posess a nuclear weapon in 1975,
B) The US Intelligence backed an operation to eliminate this threat near their borders, 
C) The weapon was never recovered,
and D) Diamond Dogs are currently attempting to procure or create another nuclear weapon!

Are They Insane?!

Diamond Dogs are clearly a suspect organisation, but are they completely bat-shit insane? I have learned the following, which may assist you in making up your mind:

  • Big Boss has been known to enter battle wearing a novelty chicken hat and armed only with a water pistol!
  • This is an organisation, claiming to be a country, who have named themselves after a David Bowie album! This would almost be amusing if it weren’t for the scary fact that Diamond Dogs are no heroes. They are a rebel rebel organisation which, if they possess a nuclear weapon, are putting this Cold War under pressure!
  • They have their own zoo!
  • Big Boss has shrapnel implanted in his skull, impinging on his optical nerve. A medical expert has informed me that any pressure on the shrapnel would leave Big Boss prone to hallucinations. This is a man who carries around a rocket launcher habitually! He’s actually been known to shower with it still on! 
  • Former MSF soldiers, when interviewed, report having heard Big Boss describe his battles with phychics, a man who could control insects, a sniper who could survive by photosynthesis, a Russian Colonel who could harness the power of electricity through his body, giant killer robots and even a ladder! Is this all hyperbole or is Big Boss actually mental?!
  • Rather than allow their dead comrades’ ashes to be scattered (allowing them to rest in peace) the Diamond Dogs literally attempt to form diamonds from the ashes and carry them back into battle with them! Before making this policy change, in the middle of the burial ceremony, Big Boss was observed to take the ashes he was about to scatter and smear them all over his face!


  • Diamond Dogs frequently ride into battle blaring music from their Blackhawk helicopter’s megaphones, just like in the movie Apocalypse Now from 1979. I wonder does Big Boss share a kindred spirit with the insane Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) from that movie.
  • They insist on being paid in GMP (Gross Military Product, apparently) which is their own completely-made-up currency with no apparent backing or physical note/coin.
  • Their budgeting department is also certifiable! They believe that it will cost them 85,000 GMP to research and manufacture a simple suppressor for one of their varieties of pistol. However, developing their proposed FAKEL grenade launcher from scratch will cost only 45,000 GMP. Most astonishingly, however, they budget only 180,000 GMP (a little over twice the amount for the silencer) for the construction of an ENTIRE BASE PLATFORM, similar in size to an oil rig, WITH a connecting bridge over a mile long!


If you don’t heed my advice and you decide to hire Diamond Dogs anyway, be very wary of hiring them for any non-lethal extraction mission. Operatives are known to use rubber bullets fired from shotguns or SMGs, often directly at the face of a target. This has been proven to be potentially lethal, as observed after many a soccer riot worldwide.

 Hold still while I put you to sleep. Promise this tranq dart delivered at high velocity to your eye won't hurt a bit!
Hold still while I put you to sleep. Promise this tranq dart delivered at high velocity to your eye won’t hurt a bit!

Their favoured approach, though, is to fire a tranquilliser dart at the target’s face. They report that this is more effective at quickly incapacitating a target. I’ll say it would be! The shock of having a dart enter your eye socket at the high velocity given to it by a long-range rifle (or even the pistol) would likely kill a man! Diamond Dogs operatives remain convinced, apparently, that their targets are only sleeping. 

Other “non-lethal” approaches employed include dropping a crate out of a helicopter onto a target’s head, pulling them backwards out of a 20 ft high guard tower, or trampling them with a horse.

If you want to be sure to keep your target alive, DON’T HIRE DIAMOND DOGS!

Aggressive Expansion and Hostile Takeovers

While Diamond Dogs have an agreement with the Seychelles government for their base in those waters, no such agreements exist for their ‘Forward Operating Bases’ which have been discovered in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with more likely to be hidden elsewhere.

Further, it’s been reported by other Private Forces companies (legitimate businesses, many of them, not mercenaries) that Diamond Dogs use their FOBs to raid personnel and materials from nearby competing PF bases like common pirates! I know that war is business and vice versa, but directly attacking a competitor is a morally bankrupt move in any industry! Even the war one!

Something is rotten in Diamond Dogs PF

I would urge all of Diamond Dogs’ clients to terminate their business with them immediately. I also urge the UN to carry out weapons inspections on Mother Base and to enforce the closure of Diamond Dogs’ Forward Operating Bases. I plead with the international banks to freeze their assets (unless their assets are in GMP, in which case I’d love to see how that currency goes on its own), and I ask for Amnesty International to help identify abducted soldiers, security contractors and (reportedly) even child soldiers, assist in their rehabilitation, and send them home!

Big Boss and Kazuhira Miller must answer for their crimes! Boycott this dangerous organisation immediately and help bring them to justice!

Thank you
From the pen of C̶i̶p̶h̶.. Anonymous


Hope you enjoyed it folks! This is the first time I’ve blogged a fictional or comedy piece. Do please leave your feedback.

Until next time..

Sword Fighting in Games

 Image from Chivalry: Medieval Warfare
Image from Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Sword fighting is a big part of our popular culture. It’s almost as big as the cult of the Gun. TV shows and movies like Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Vikings,  or The Three Musketeers romanticise the sword-wielding hero or heroine and the art of melee combat.

Games have always been a great way for us to get in touch with our fantasies and role play the hero (or villain), and while they’ve done a great job of satisfying the gun-wielding hero fantasy, they’ve always (in my eyes, let’s say) fallen short in the domain of melee combat. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very fun games centred around melee combat, but I’m talking more about simulating the real life experience, and giving the player a true virtual taste of what the real thing is like!

I’ve both been to the shooting range a couple of times (rare in Ireland) and taken fencing in college (and, of course, played countless games) so I feel a can compare both of the real experiences with the virtual to some worthwhile degree.

With guns, the essential components are that you point and shoot. The physical impact and damage aren’t part of your interaction. Games can simulate this very well. The click of a button or pulling of the Right Trigger on a controller feels analogous to pulling a gun’s trigger. Going further into the realism side, games can also simulate what it’s like to have to move to cover or work with a team in a fire fight. The only parts of gun fighting in games that I think aren’t represented are the kickback (yes I know recoil is often simulated, but it can’t give you the pain and bruising in your shoulder that comes from firing a shotgun) and reloading. Usually we just hit a button and trigger a quick reloading animation. In real life, it’s actually quite difficult to load bullets into a clip  (clip into gun is easier, but I feel Gordon Freeman would have fumbled once or twice in real life), and awkward enough to chamber a round in a bolt-action rifle. The noise of firing a gun can be physically painful too, and forgetting to turn the safety off is a concern, but where’s the fun in simulating that?

Bringing sword fighting into games is an entirely different prospect, though, and it’s miles behind its counterpart. Why is this? There are several reasons.


Well, holding and swinging a sword are easy enough to simulate, but not accurately. Your attack isn’t the twitch of a finger, but a flick of the wrist, or a swing of the arms, or a kick. It doesn’t feel as correct to just click to do this. We tend not to notice this too much however as we’re used to pressing a button in a game and seeing something happen, so this is fine in a way, but it is straight away a large disconnect between what you do in real life and what you can do in a game.

Virtual Reality might have something to contribute here, but it brings its own problems. The Oculus Touch or the HTC Vive’s controllers would allow you to hold and swing somewhat realistically. See the video below for Vive’s controllers being used by a Disney animator to paint in 3D. They can’t simulate the weight of your weapon, though. A claymore (sword, not mine) or broadsword will have a lot more weight and momentum than a katana blade or fencing foil, so the controls will still feel wrong.

The other problem with VR controllers would be the clash. In real life you might swing your arm all the way from upper right to lower left, but in the game your sword hits an opponent’s armour, or blade, or a wall, and it stops! So your real arms are now in a different place to your game arms. You’ve immediately got another big disconnect in the experience. This is why I don’t think VR will improve sword fighting in games at all. With that said, it could offer some neat experiences. A lightsabre or nano-blade can cut through anything supposedly, except for another blade. So if the VR game let you wield a sword like Raiden has in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and never fight somebody with a similar weapon, then the experience would be very fun, but it wouldn’t be a sword fighting experience, just a sword using one.

At 1:43 in the video below these input problems are summed up very well, and humorously. Sadly, even though it passed Kickstarter, Clang was later cancelled. If you watch the video look out for Gabe Newell’s cameo!

So we can’t get around input with currently available technology, but there are several other areas to improve upon to give us better sword fighting in games.


As I mentioned, the clash of blades can’t be simulated in the player’s input device (beyond a little vibration in the controller, maybe) but it’s also quite difficult to truly simulate in the computer. We use physics to bounce objects around the room after an explosion or crash or whatever. Essentially, each frame, the computer checks where an object is and what its velocity is, if it’s in collision this frame it will calculate the new positions and velocities for the colliding objects on the next frame. If not, it will continue on its trajectory (usually adjusted for gravity and air resistance in some form). This happens 50 times per second or so. To be clear, a physics check is checking where something is at a given time. The collision happens if the objects’ “colliders” are touching.

To try to use this system to detect the clash of swords is impractical. To take just one measurement I found online, in an experiment, a sword slash was found to travel 190 cm in 1/4 of a second. So 7.6 metres every second. If the physics check is done sixty times per second that means the sword moved 12.6 cm every frame. That’s a lot! The thickness of a foil is less than 1 cm, so even saying that two foils coming at each other have a combined collision-thickness of 2cm, there’s a high chance that they won’t be in the same place on any frame. One frame they’ll be 6 cm before colliding, and the next frame they’ll be 6 cm after colliding without ever having made the collision. 

So a literal physical simulation is impossible. Can we cheat? Well, yes. We have to. That same physics limitation above is why bullets aren’t physically simulated in games but are instead simulated using “raycasting”. This is shooting a line straight out from somewhere (a gun) at a given time to see what it touches. Most bullets in games work this way but even long range sniper shots have developed to the point where they still use raycasting but can also simulate bullet drop, wind resistance, and travel time. They cheat to deliver a very physically ‘real’ bullet for the player. Computer game design is all about cheating the limitations to fake realistic experiences!

So we have to cheat to make sword virtual sword fighting a “reality”. 

What’s been done before?

Titanic: Adventure Out Of Time (1996)

This was earliest game I ever played that had any degree of simulated sword fighting. I should actually do a retro review of that game but I’d have to get my hands on it again. Go to 7:19 in the video below to see the fencing scene.

There are very few lets plays of the game and the ones that are there just have the player spamming the attack button to win, sadly. Stamina wasn’t represented in this game so this was possible, but if you played it ‘properly’ there was quite a bit in there. You moved your blade around the screen with the mouse and clicked to attack from that direction. If I remember correctly, right clicking would block. The attacker (who didn’t get a chance in this video) would telegraph his moves a little before he made them. This is realistic and seen in games. You can’t just hit somebody. You have to start by swinging your arm, and the position of the arm gives a clue as to whether you’re going to attack overhead, left, right, or forward, for example. Games draw out this telegraphing longer to make it easier for the player. In real life, you try to attack as quickly as you can to not give the opponent time to successfully block. Harder enemies in games often give you less telegraphing time than easy ones.

To be clear, the Titanic game was a point and click adventure/mystery game. Not a combat game, but I saw great promise in its sword combat segment and thought that more realistic sword combat must be on its way soon. How wrong I was. About the “soon” part anyway.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 (1997)

Long name for one game. This one let you wield a lightsabre in first or third person. Sadly, it didn’t have a block move. None of the Dark Forces games in the years since did either. I think this is the greatest failing of these games. You finally got to simulate real lightsabre battles for yourself, but none of them had any of the nuances of a sword fight. To not get hit you just ran out of the way, then started a swing and ran back in. Occasionally you would get in a ‘lock’ (a pushing battle against another blade) and have to click frantically. This mainly happened if you and an enemy were attacking at the same time. It added a token dimension to the combat, but they never tackled a real sword fight simulation and I always found the games to be disappointing on that level. Mostly you just spam the attack button and are shown a few different animations. There’s little skill or decision making involved.
This is how the majority of first person games handle sword fighting and it’s quite disappointing, especially considering how ignored some of the better examples have been. Examples such as..

Thief: The Dark Project (1998)

The first Thief game was a first person stealth game set it medieval times. This is the first game where I ever saw a block move as a useful part of the combat. You weren’t supposed to fight in this game, but if discovered by a guard you could at least defend yourself a little. It was a rudimentary sort of block. If the enemy hit you with a sword it would hurt you, unless you were holding the block button. Satisfactorily, pressing the button made you hold your sword out across your body and if you blocked there was a great sword-clash noise. Importantly, this didn’t reduce damage, as the block seems to do in a lot of games (making it pointless), but it blocked all damage. 
I though “great! We’ve arrived! All sword games should have blocking like this from now on”. They didn’t.

As Time Went On..

 God of War. Great game, but in so way a sword combat simulation
God of War. Great game, but in so way a sword combat simulation

The hack n’ slash genre was where sword games went to grow up it seems. You know these. God of War, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and the newly released Onikira: Demon Killer. Maybe even the Arkham games and Shadow of Mordor have these elements. These are never first person games, and while they sell melee/sword combat and deliver great sounds and visuals and their own unique gameplay, they are far from sword fighting simulations. It’s a well established genre with its own merits and hit games, but it’s a far cry from simulating what it feels like to fight with a sword. As a sweeping generalisation, these games show you sword combat, but you don’t do it. They get away with having you perform combos like A+A+B to do a certain attack, and often press a single block button (sometimes with a direction) to block an attack, no matter what type of attack it is. The animation systems then take over to show you the pretty results, but there’s no real sword combat happening or being simulated in this genre.

Where are the games that took the ideas of Thief and ran with them? They’re few and far between. What could we have had by now if sword fighting in games had been building from 1998’s Thief all this time? It’s hard to say. We could have an entirely unique genre of game today and it’s a minor tragedy that we don’t, I think. Maybe the market was just never there, but I haven’t seen many attempts along the way either.

In Recent Years

We’ve started to see an effort in the last few years to breathe new life into sword fighting in games and evolve the gameplay that Thief hinted to us well over a decade before, but while they’re improvements, and a lot of fun, they are still quite limited.

Mount & Blade: Warband (2010)

Note that the very similar Mount & Blade came out in 2009. I played Warband, not the original, so I can’t speak to sword combat in the first game.

This game is still my favourite example of sword combat. It’s a fantastic game and what sold me on it first was the combat. Swords are far from the only weapons, and each have their own strengths, speeds and weights, but the  basics are similar across all melee weapons. The developers really went out of their way to show off something unique and not enough people know about this game. I never even heard of it until 2014 and a Free Weekend on Steam.

An attacker will telegraph their hit, say by raising their sword over their head if they’re going to attack overhead, or to the left for a slash from your side. The length of time they telegraph for is only ever a split second, but the enemy’s skill level will make this time shorter or longer. You’re not locked onto your opponent. You’re free to look and move in any direction, so after they telegraph, you could just step back out of the way, or you can block in a meaningful way. You hold the right click to block, but that’s not enough, you need to block up, down, left or right (assuming you don’t have a shield, in which case your block covers most directions at once) by moving the mouse correctly up, down, left or right to block the attack. You basically want to look towards the enemy’s weapon to block it. Then you can riposte (fencing term, meaning counter-attack) with an attack of your own in the same four directions. Move your mouse a little to the right while attacking and you’ll slash from the right, and so on.  And when I say riposte, I don’t mean that the game now allows you to attack. You can choose to attack whenever, but getting hit during your swing will stop your attack so you have to use timing wisely. You can even kick to wind your opponent to get a clear opening for a powerful attack, but the kick is short range so it’s hard to hit with. There’s a lot going on here.
One-on-one fights against the computer in this game are the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was fencing in UCD again, without facing a human opponent. In the options menu you can simplify the blocking to just always work, but that destroys this amazing gameplay.

The flaw is that most players, and especially in multiplayer, just spam the attack button and hope to come out on top. Players don’t necessarily engage with the amazing mechanics provided for them. Possibly because they haven’t been trained to in games in general to because this game is so unique.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (2012)

This came along a little later. While Mount & Blade is a strategy/RPG game, this is focussed purely on single level skirmishes (90% of them in multiplayer, though you can practice against bots). This game went further and added a feint move. For a small stamina cost, you could try to trick a player into blocking. Blocking with a blade works as a single move when you click. You click to block, and block for about a second, then have a second of recovery before you can block again. This makes the feint pretty useful to force a block then attack during the recovery time, but it’s not very realistic as a real opponent could just hold their block.
With a shield you can hold your block indefinitely unless you are kicked, but without the shield you automatically drop the block. 

Nicely, you can also use mouse wheel down to perform an overhead smash, or mouse wheel forward to stab forward. This feels pretty good to use and also does a little to remove some of the button mashing problems, but again, this game suffers in large multiplayer battles from players just charging and clicking, without using any blocking or feints in most cases. 
Also, because you can’t hold a block, if you’re outnumbered you’ve no way to block two attacks at once and will nearly always lose. This encourages swarm tactics as the main gameplay and a lot of the sword fighting nuances are lost. If players are outnumbered, you’ll usually just see them running backwards away and blocking, hoping to find some friendly players. (Perhaps these types of games should make it so if you’re running backwards and hit a low obstacle you fall over).

The part of this game I find the best for sword fighting are the one on one multiplayer duels against a human opponent. Since you can’t get bum rushed by one guy, you can actually focus on them and use feints, kicks, and parries much more effectively.

So those are two good sword games. They do a lot to “cheat” and deliver a lot of the realities and considerations of sword fighting into a virtual space, but they still don’t come close to simulating real sword fighting. Nothing I’ve seen so far has been able to balance the strategy, the mind games, the body language reading, the stamina factors, the shock to your arm of a blade impact, the stances, speed, and reactions of real sword fighting. 

If I could explain it in just one way, I’d sum the problem up thus: In real sword fighting, you could be thinking of striking, but worried that you’re becoming predictable and that your opponent might be ready to parry and riposte while you’re off balance in a lunge. You sacrifice your block for an attack, and it also costs you stamina. Real sword fighting is as much about dozens of tiny choices every moment as it is about delivering well-practised attacks. In games, while stamina is now often taken into account, most players still just attack madly because left clicking isn’t as hard as as a lunge attack. Some fighters I’ve known in real life do attack just wildly, but in real life you can beat them easily with just a little skill whereas in a game, they’ve often just chosen the winning tactic. 

The Future

There is a greater awareness coming back to the mechanics of sword games, and many different titles in the coming years will try to tackle to problem in their own unique ways. I’m excited to play all of them.

For Honor

This game looks like a lot of fun. I can’t wait to try it. I would say that its focus is on delivering large scale sword battles. This is pretty unique. We tend to see the large battle in a cutscene or the background and then just fight a couple of guys in the game. It has a new(ish?) take on sword combat where you attack or defend from one of three zones on your body: up, lower left and lower right.

You read where the opponent is aiming for by their body language, and you try to defend into your corresponding zone by moving the control stick to that area. I see this as being more of a step towards sword combat from a hack and slash game than I see it as a sword fighting simulation, but it’s still great to see. The emphasis seems to be too much on a broader battle and third person action (I think first person is important to simulate any real life action, personally) to convince me that this is the game I was always pining for, but it looks awesome for what it is and I can’t wait to try! I particularly appreciate that you have to read body language and adjust your block to succeed. This is very important.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Now these are the guys I think are going to come closest to delivering a good sword fighting experience any time soon. You can see from the video above that they take it very seriously.

I backed them on Kickstarter because of the promise of delivering unique sword fighting. The currently available build is Alpha 0.4, the first version where you can see their sword fighting in action. I played it today (and many of the other games I mentioned) as prep for this article.

Even at the early stages, I can see a lot of promise in the fighting. I was able to slash with the left mouse, stab with the right, or block with Q. All of this from 6 different zones. You are locked onto your opponent, something that serves to simplify your movement and direct your attention. I’m not sure if I like this, though. You only fight one enemy at a time currently, but I wonder what happens when there are multiple enemies.

You can do the normal things like feint, block, attack, but depending on your timing with your block or movement you can also sidestep or dodge a strike and then counter-attack, all through a smooth procedural animation system. It is the smoothest flowing combat I’ve seen and there’s enough going on that there is really room to improve your skills through practice (and the RPG stats level-up system in the game), but I would have preferred a non-locked camera. You need to be able to check your surroundings in a fight, even just quickly. I presume the game will have a disengage kind of command, because most of the game is free roaming anyway, but it wasn’t in what I played today. There was also no kick, though that may appear. What I didn’t love was that I seemed to sometimes be able to just hold block to defend an attack from any direction, and other times I couldn’t, so I’m not sure which way the game is going with this. See a gameplay video from the alpha below.

To wrap up, where are we lacking?

Knowing where to block is probably the single largest gap between real sword fighting and what most games do. In reality, you could hold a block, but there’s nine directions you could get attacked from (assuming the enemy is only in front of you then it’s left, right, or middle times high, low, or middle; 3×3), and then they could ‘disengage’ the attack and stab around your parry anyway (with certain weapons like a foil or epee, look it up) to nullify even that block. Most games just let you press block and you’re fine.

Games are supposed to be ‘fun’ (many say, anyway). When I shot clay pigeons in real life, the shooting wasn’t great fun. It hurt (the kickback is enormous)! The fun part was seeing a moving target down range explode into clay fragments. Shooting guns in games is fun because we’ve nailed how they sound and the environmental destruction and death animations.
When I did fencing, I found the most fun part was successfully parrying an attack (giving me the satisfaction of knowing that I was smart enough and quick enough to deflect a real physical attack) and for bonus points, landing the riposte. A bit like how in tennis the most fun part is the back and forth, not the actual scoring of a point.

I think that most people who have designed sword fighting in games must not have done fencing, or if they did then they didn’t remember what was most fun about it. Most of the time the systems seem to be designed around causing damage. I think it should be more about the clash of the blades. The back and forth. You really only need to hit a person once with a sword to end the fight. That should be the result of successfully winning the more fun part of the fight, not the whole focus of the fight, if you ask me. Certainly it would make for a more unique angle to your sword fighting game, and we definitely have the technology to fake these results well, as long as they’re well balanced and play-tested.

Food for thought.. For more, read this great (and shorter) PC Gamer article on the subject.

Until next time..