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Rob Zacny

Episode 402: Battle Brothers

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Three Moves Ahead 402:

Three Moves Ahead 402


Battle Brothers
This week Rob, Rowan, Obsidian's Josh Sawyer, and Troy "I told you, these leeches are medicinal" Goodfellow discuss Overhype Studios' Battle Brothers. It's been a while since the panel has been smitten with a game, but Battle Brothers seems to win everyone over with its smart tactical turn based combat. Taking a break from elaborate spells, this low-fantasy setting has your archers are melee combatants slugging it out in the mud and snow against brigands orcs.

Battle Brothers

 

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Should the episode title read "Rob Zacny and his all white panel suspect Battle Bros creators of being white supremacists"? Really shocking to get Rob's disapproving tone and statements in the middle of the game review. Maybe the title should be "Despite misgivings of its creators supporting racism and misogyny, 3MA recommends the Battle Bros". I can't wait to hear the next Civil War game review when Rob Zacny determines how racist the game designers are based on the South having "too good of chances" or "having an easy time of it". 

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6 hours ago, RocketDog said:

Should the episode title read "Rob Zacny and his all white panel suspect Battle Bros creators of being white supremacists"? Really shocking to get Rob's disapproving tone and statements in the middle of the game review. Maybe the title should be "Despite misgivings of its creators supporting racism and misogyny, 3MA recommends the Battle Bros". I can't wait to hear the next Civil War game review when Rob Zacny determines how racist the game designers are based on the South having "too good of chances" or "having an easy time of it". 

 

I remember ridiculous attacks on Witcher series for only having white European populace. This was dumb because those people missed how Witcher cleverly talked about racism between people who looked identical to us (Nilfgaardians and Northerners literally use the same models while hating each other) or racism against white European dudes with wrong shape of ears. AFAIK Battle Brothers do not do anything like that so it's not as ridiculous to ask them for representation. But if your position is that requests for representation are themselves ridiculous than the best course of action seems to be just ignoring it. Can't have a discussion when there's only a statement.

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In retrospect I think I'd probably recommend the game less forcefully, because my reservations are only getting more pointed. Where women appear in story text, it's often as sex objects. Then when Battle Brothers opens its mouth about marginalized groups, it's often to say something dumb and mean-spirited. It's a great tactics game and does so many things right, but where it's coming from is alternately oblivious or just stupidly cruel in the lazy way that Grimdark for Dumbasses often comes across.
Cripple.jpgMilkshakeBrothers.jpg

 

Also, any game making a specific comment about refugees in the last couple years is absolutely making a statement about current events.

 

Contrast this with The Witcher series. For all that representational critiques, the Witcher and especially the Witcher 3 is generally very aware of how awful the things it depicts really are. It depicts a war-torn land full of refugees, but never smirks about refugees' plight or what it says about them. It depicts gendered and racial violence, but largely also makes clear that the game's eyes are open to what that violence reflects (though not in all cases, and there are definitely places where the Witcher drops the ball).

 

Also a podcast is not a review, it's a discussion that examines a subject from several different angles. This was one of them. Hopefully this clarifies.

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I don't think I'd agree that 3MA necessarily attracts reactionary sentiment, nor that its audience leans that way. I do think strategy games get treated as an apolitical space (in part because the subject matter is often SO charged) that it can catch people off guard when the discussion raises contemporary political topics. Thumbs has a bigger community that's always been in dialogue with the critical conversations across gaming, but in strategy land a lot of those conversations have passed us by. So it might feel like we're breaking an unspoken rule when we tackle this stuff but the truth is just there aren't a ton of games that really engage with modern political debate.

 

Two things I think are changing that: one is the context has changed of late. The politics of 1930s Europe and Asia seemed more like a settled and closed discussion when we started doing this show, but obviously there are a lot of overtones to those subjects nowadays. Second, our own standards and expectations are shifting. I'm not sure Battle Brothers inclusiveness would have felt as obvious to me a few years ago, but now I regularly have those conversations about how games shape the idea of "the default" or "normal:. Also, I'm playing this alongside Darkest Dungeon where similarly simple character art is made to encompass a wide variety of skin tones. When a game omits that inclusivity, and then kind of tips its hand about other iffy positions and perspectives, it's way harder to ignore now. We both want it done better, and there are a lot of games that do.

 

But that's a change and an evolution in how we approach that space, and that's going to seem discordant at times. But I don't think it says too much about 3MA.

 

 

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Great reply and discussion Rob, that is why I like 3MA, you guys cover a lot of angles about strategy games, keep it up, and always voice your opinion, games are media medium and a lot of developers/ publishers would put their controversial ideas/ point of view in them,  podcast like yours should be the critique.   

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Oh my, those Battle Brothers texts look like narrator from Darkest Dungeon is going through his edgy teen phase.

 

About reactionary auditory: a funny thing. I've recently read some Russian political analyst who discussed political backwardness of Russia youth - all that USSR nostalgia and stuff. He explocitly called one of the reasons as a "gamer mentality". Strategy games often represent inhumane choices as valid and necessary measures. Totalitarian dictatorship is just a set of bonuses that is useful when you have to fight lots of wars. It's easier for modern young men to see Stalinism as "effective play" - the country lost several millions people but it helped to get ready for war, and most games like Civilization or Hearts of Iron try to represent this as a right strategy in those circumstances. Of course such influence can't be that important. But after playing dozens of games where liberal democracy is just some trade bonus and totalitarian dictatorship gives you more troops or something - strategy gamers are probably more open to idea of everything is "balanced" in reality as it is in a game.

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I noticed in the post of Rob Zacny that you said  "Also, I'm playing this alongside Darkest Dungeon where similarly simple character art is made to encompass a wide variety of skin tones."

 

 

You may have forgotten the discussion in your podcast about the graphics in Battle Bros. The graphics seem plain and simple, but the character portraits are dynamic. Injuries and scars suffered by characters are reflected in their portrait. This makes adding a new look to be more resource intensive than would appear.

 

 

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I didn't forget that aspect of the discussion, I think we talked about that specific issue on the podcast and why that reasoning struck me as insufficient. If I build a house and spend all my money and material on the kitchen and garage, and then don't have anything left over for a decent bedrom, that I don't get to say, "Yeah, but I had to build a really fancy kitchen! It was resource intensive!" That was still a choice. It's the same thing in games: what you decide is acceptable to ignore in order to support other priorities is still an active choice, not something that "just happens". It's worth discussing.

 

Also, that dynamic character art is cute but let's not overstate how impressive it really is. We're talking about the equivalent of a few decals. Nice decals, but not something that makes me sit back in wonder at the resources and care lavished on them.

 

As for the question about what people choose to support or not... that's not for me to say. All of this is personal. Battle Brothers does some things I'm not comfortable with, but I don't find so off-putting that I cannot play the game. I totally think it's fair for another person to look at it and decide it's not for them, for those reasons. I love the Witcher series, but I'm not going to take issue with anyone choosing to pass on it because they feel excluded. People get to decide what offends them or what just turns them off, and make decisions based on that. They also get to discuss that stuff when it comes to critical reactions to the game.

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7 hours ago, ilitarist said:

Strategy games often represent inhumane choices as valid and necessary measures. Totalitarian dictatorship is just a set of bonuses that is useful when you have to fight lots of wars. It's easier for modern young men to see Stalinism as "effective play" - the country lost several millions people but it helped to get ready for war, and most games like Civilization or Hearts of Iron try to represent this as a right strategy in those circumstances. Of course such influence can't be that important. But after playing dozens of games where liberal democracy is just some trade bonus and totalitarian dictatorship gives you more troops or something - strategy gamers are probably more open to idea of everything is "balanced" in reality as it is in a game.

 

This is really good, but I think the other half of strategy gamers projecting video game "balance" back onto the real world is strategy gamers projecting an often wrongheaded understanding of real-world "realism" or "accuracy" onto a video game. It's honestly stunning to me how many games try to "realistically" reflect the challenges and struggles of women in pre-modern times with sweeping penalties to their stats, something that the developers of Battle Brothers have floated for if and when they add female mercs to their game, and The Witcher 3 is not even remotely the worst offender when it comes to replacing the lands of brown people with impassable mountains or deserts and brown people themselves with pointy-eared or exceptionally short white people, in order to make an "accurately" all-white fantasy Europe. It almost seems as though the average "apolitical" strategy gamer believes in "balance" when it comes to political and economic systems and "realism" when it comes to social and cultural systems.

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7 hours ago, ilitarist said:

I've recently read some Russian political analyst who discussed political backwardness of Russia youth - all that USSR nostalgia and stuff. He explocitly called one of the reasons as a "gamer mentality". Strategy games often represent inhumane choices as valid and necessary measures. Totalitarian dictatorship is just a set of bonuses that is useful when you have to fight lots of wars. It's easier for modern young men to see Stalinism as "effective play" - 

 

God I would love to see this article or a translation of it. Because this seems like an important point about modern strategy gaming. I mean, EUIV has a lot of mechanics that add up to ethnic cleansing (and a lot of incentives and disincentives for using them) and I do wonder the extent to which these games offer rationales for really awful stuff and normalize it for modern audiences.

 

This isn't confined to games, of course. Most histories of modern China treat Mao's Great Leap Forward as a painful and ugly series of trade-offs: famine, mass death, but also the rise of heavy industry and modernization for large swathes of the country. Whereas the Cultural Revolution is often treated as the moment where Mao crosses over into actual evil, because there's no real rhyme or reason to it. But the idea is that if we can just find a reasonable outcome behind a monstrous policy, then we must somehow treat it as a considered trade-off. Easier to do from the point of the living, and not the people who died on collectives or in gulags.

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Can't find it now. But anyway, the article itself was a political essay about modern Stalinism and not much else. It discussed young Russian Stalinists and it only used the term "gamer thought process" as a clear description. Of course it didn't imply video games are to blame for young people political views, he mostly blamed passing of times. Before recently Stalinism in Russia was associated with nostalgic old men. But as the article argued for younger people who didn't live in USSR Stalin's murderous industrilization is similar to Peter the Great's murderous militarization or Caesar civilizing France, just some statistics about deaths payed for the greatness and progress. Games only slightly help you imagine a dictator as rational and righteous figure who decides to make some sacrifice for the greater good.

 

Also, Paradox (and other historical games) have this problem of really wishing you to do historical stuff even if it wasn't rational or realistic at the time. Ethnic cleansing is at least optional and rarely required. But, say, Hearts of Iron 4 has lots of things that happened in reality due to irrational thinking or dumb luck. Like Hitler's adventure in Munchen - it was a huge gamble in reality while in game it's almost automatic. Or AFAIK if you don't do Stalin's purges you risk civil war breaking USSR and leaving it ripe for the taking - so HoI4 basically agrees that Stalin was not a paranoid maniac but a wise politician. @Rob Zacny, I remember you saying you like when the wargame makes you think the way generals thought back then and forces you to go the same seemingly futile road (like throughing troops into the grind in WW1 Verden) but sometimes games portrait irrational decisions or unlikely coincedences as rational pre-determined events. Which feels wrong.

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panzeh   
On 8/13/2017 at 1:50 PM, ilitarist said:

Also, Paradox (and other historical games) have this problem of really wishing you to do historical stuff even if it wasn't rational or realistic at the time. Ethnic cleansing is at least optional and rarely required. But, say, Hearts of Iron 4 has lots of things that happened in reality due to irrational thinking or dumb luck. Like Hitler's adventure in Munchen - it was a huge gamble in reality while in game it's almost automatic. Or AFAIK if you don't do Stalin's purges you risk civil war breaking USSR and leaving it ripe for the taking - so HoI4 basically agrees that Stalin was not a paranoid maniac but a wise politician. @Rob Zacny, I remember you saying you like when the wargame makes you think the way generals thought back then and forces you to go the same seemingly futile road (like throughing troops into the grind in WW1 Verden) but sometimes games portrait irrational decisions or unlikely coincedences as rational pre-determined events. Which feels wrong.

 

That's an intresting dilemma- The previous hearts of iron just gave you a dissent penalty for not purging it, but HOI4 gives you the coup if you don't.  Is this true?  Extermely unlikely, but in reality, it's a far more interesting decision than a little dissent.  It makes it a better game.  I think strategy games in general make men like Stalin out to be wiser politicians than they really were, just in general.  The need to be a good game puts historical decisions in a very different context than real history.  The game needs to make interesting decisions, but not every decision in real life is 'interesting', particularly when you're putting in the effort to play a game.

 

Twilight Struggle assumes an Allen Dulles-addled view of Cold War politics, but it's a much better game for it.  I think it's historically interesting if you understand that, the same way Labyrinth assumes most of the Bush-isms during the post-911 world.

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On 8/12/2017 at 11:35 PM, Rob Zacny said:

I don't think I'd agree that 3MA necessarily attracts reactionary sentiment, nor that its audience leans that way. I do think strategy games get treated as an apolitical space (in part because the subject matter is often SO charged) that it can catch people off guard when the discussion raises contemporary political topics. Thumbs has a bigger community that's always been in dialogue with the critical conversations across gaming, but in strategy land a lot of those conversations have passed us by. So it might feel like we're breaking an unspoken rule when we tackle this stuff but the truth is just there aren't a ton of games that really engage with modern political debate.

 

Two things I think are changing that: one is the context has changed of late. The politics of 1930s Europe and Asia seemed more like a settled and closed discussion when we started doing this show, but obviously there are a lot of overtones to those subjects nowadays. Second, our own standards and expectations are shifting. I'm not sure Battle Brothers inclusiveness would have felt as obvious to me a few years ago, but now I regularly have those conversations about how games shape the idea of "the default" or "normal:. Also, I'm playing this alongside Darkest Dungeon where similarly simple character art is made to encompass a wide variety of skin tones. When a game omits that inclusivity, and then kind of tips its hand about other iffy positions and perspectives, it's way harder to ignore now. We both want it done better, and there are a lot of games that do.

 

But that's a change and an evolution in how we approach that space, and that's going to seem discordant at times. But I don't think it says too much about 3MA.

 

 

 

Rob-

 

I'm really glad to see that the discussion moved beyond the worst version of the "don't say things that make us uncomfortable".  I've been listening from around episode 120 and have enjoyed how the podcast has changed over time in enjoyable ways.  One of my favorite things is seeing a new episode pop up so I know I can mow the lawn and fold laundry for a joyful hour.  

My issue with your opinion is that it feels a bit like "punching down" on a five man team located in Germany making a first game in English.

This is a podcast that discussed Rimworld about a year ago (prior to the RPS article about how the game had sexuality asymmetrically coded) that didn't include a huge discussion about its problematic tone of harvesting organs, kidnapping, and growing your colony by keeping people prisoner until they agreed to do hard labor.  I'm not saying this to shut down the discussion, but to suggest an episode of regular panelist and devs to talk about about limited resources, making design choices, the cost of content.  And I think you should ask the Battle Brothers devs to come and talk about the choices.  They, along with another dev and you and Rowan/Fraser/Troy/Bruce would have what I am sure is a really interesting conversation.  And setting it up would be a fun logistics challenge that you would like.

"WILL THERE BE BATTLE SISTERS?

“Not at first, as this would mean a considerable work-load when we want a whole lot of other things in the game, too. If ever there is an expansion beyond the initial release, we’d love to get female characters into the game as well. They’d come with their own backgrounds that take into account how a quasi-medieval world treats them, so they won’t just be male characters with different heads. Just like their male counterparts, some will be more and some will be less suited to the hard life as mercenaries. “

WILL THERE BE OTHER ETHNICITIES PRESENT?

Not at first. If we ever get the chance to expand the game beyond its initial release we’d love to add different cultures to the game with the attention they really deserve. An oriental-based culture, for example, which could come with their own looks, names, character backgrounds, architecture, lore as conveyed by contracts and events, beasts based on oriental folklore, and loads of medieval-era equipment which actually makes a difference in gameplay."

I think that a discussion about the games tone choices would be very interesting and bring depth to a part of the discussion that really deserves more thoughtfulness.  Also- we know they would have to respond since they wouldn't lack the conviction to fight for their game.

 

I think that a discussion about the games tone choices would be very interesting and bring depth to a part of the discussion that really deserves more thoughtfulness.  Also- we know the battle brothers devs would have to respond since they wouldn't lack the conviction to fight for their game.

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On 8/13/2017 at 11:41 AM, Rob Zacny said:

I didn't forget that aspect of the discussion, I think we talked about that specific issue on the podcast and why that reasoning struck me as insufficient. If I build a house and spend all my money and material on the kitchen and garage, and then don't have anything left over for a decent bedrom, that I don't get to say, "Yeah, but I had to build a really fancy kitchen! It was resource intensive!" That was still a choice. It's the same thing in games: what you decide is acceptable to ignore in order to support other priorities is still an active choice, not something that "just happens". It's worth discussing.

 

Also, that dynamic character art is cute but let's not overstate how impressive it really is. We're talking about the equivalent of a few decals. Nice decals, but not something that makes me sit back in wonder at the resources and care lavished on them.

 

As for the question about what people choose to support or not... that's not for me to say. All of this is personal. Battle Brothers does some things I'm not comfortable with, but I don't find so off-putting that I cannot play the game. I totally think it's fair for another person to look at it and decide it's not for them, for those reasons. I love the Witcher series, but I'm not going to take issue with anyone choosing to pass on it because they feel excluded. People get to decide what offends them or what just turns them off, and make decisions based on that. They also get to discuss that stuff when it comes to critical reactions to the game.

 

If Battle Brothers is the house described in this analogy, then the bedroom is only lacking a ceiling fan. It's completely functional but is lacking one thing that might make some people uncomfortable.

 

I'll admit, I rolled my eyes when the discussion shifted towards the idea that the lack of diversity and inclusiveness in this game is a bad thing. Is there something inherently wrong with a bunch of white guys doing white guy things in a racially homogeneous setting? Is creating diversity for no other reason than the sake of diversity a necessary moral decision? I'm inclined to say no. If we (white males) are going to cast a critical eye towards Battle Brothers for a lack of diversity are we deserving of the same criticism when we do things strictly with other white males? Am I some sort of crypto-fascist the next time I play golf without a woman or a black guy? 

 

That said, while I find the obsession our society has over identity wrongheaded and often times distasteful, I'm more interested in the freedom of producers and consumers to act as they wish, in a truly open and meritocratic marketplace of goods and ideas. If people are demanding diversity in games, fiction, and other media, then producers will be rewarded for it. For example, there's a reason why female authors are dominating the Hugo and Nebula awards as of late. Ann Leckie's 2014 Hugo and Nebula winning Ancillary Justice would have been virtually ignored if written alongside Larry Niven's Ringworld in 1970 when science fiction was a white man's club. If the roles were reversed, I'm not sure if someone like Niven, Heinlein, or Pohl would be particularly well received today in a community that is increasingly demanding, and getting, more than white guys in spaceships. 

 

I'd say that the better argument against Battle Brothers, which you also identify, is how unnecessarily crass and vulgar it can be. Filly Fiddler? Really?

 

Anyway, I'm a relatively new listener to the show, but I love it. I have a long commute to work so it's nice to have intelligent and stimulating dialogue before and after a soul-sucking day of retail work. Keep up the good work and thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 hours ago, galaxyscribe said:

I'll admit, I rolled my eyes when the discussion shifted towards the idea that the lack of diversity and inclusiveness in this game is a bad thing. Is there something inherently wrong with a bunch of white guys doing white guy things in a racially homogeneous setting? Is creating diversity for no other reason than the sake of diversity a necessary moral decision? I'm inclined to say no. If we (white males) are going to cast a critical eye towards Battle Brothers for a lack of diversity are we deserving of the same criticism when we do things strictly with other white males? Am I some sort of crypto-fascist the next time I play golf without a woman or a black guy? 

If you're interested in why anyone might have a problem with media that is just 100% white men, there are zillions of places to look. You can find lots of good quick articles if you Google "why is representation important" or something similar, but if you want a more specific suggestion, this is one of my favorite podcasts, and because of the topic they obviously end up having lots of discussions about why it's important for media to be more than just 100% white guys.

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22 hours ago, TychoCelchuuu said:

If you're interested in why anyone might have a problem with media that is just 100% white men, there are zillions of places to look. You can find lots of good quick articles if you Google "why is representation important" or something similar, but if you want a more specific suggestion, this is one of my favorite podcasts, and because of the topic they obviously end up having lots of discussions about why it's important for media to be more than just 100% white guys.

 

And as far as I can see this podcast is American and about the situation in America. Developers are from Germany and they have a very different history of ethnic problems.

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1 hour ago, ilitarist said:

 

And as far as I can see this podcast is American and about the situation in America. Developers are from Germany and they have a very different history of ethnic problems.

The podcast was a suggestion for @galaxyscribe, whose concerns are less parochial and less Battle Brothers-centric than yours.

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cornchip   

I can get standard gamer culture stuff about skin color and flavor text from a hundred other places, so it does feel like the opportunity cost is high when it comes up on the one and only 3ma. I didn't mind a few comments in a meaty 70 minute episode, though.  Appreciate having Troy back and the four-person panel!

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